Kinkos Coursepacks Revisited

Educators have long had mixed reactions to heavy reliance on textbooks. For those of us who teach at the college level in courses emphasizing research, we wanted students to have an exposure to original sources rather than read a secondary and likely dated textbook. This meant the assigned of journal articles. It was easy enough to create a syllabus listing a dozen or so articles students were supposed to read. Even with smaller courses of 25 or so students, this could lead to problems as many students would wait until it was close to the time for a given article was to be read and then try to find it in the library. This competition often meant that the journal was not available or perhaps left on a desk somewhere in the library not to be reshelved for a day or two. There were some other issues. Some students just did not like to work in the library or wanted to have a permanent copy so they tore the articles out of the journal. Copy machines were originally 5 cents a page, but some students must have thought this was too much. Other students made personal use of the assigned journal articles by highlighting or underlining the articles in the journal as they read. A useful study tactic for some, but a mess for others who got there late.

The course pack was a solution to this desire for the desire for personal copies of required reading. College campuses always had several copy services near campus that met various student needs. One of the most common was Kinkos. Kinkos and other copy services started creating course packs for sale to students. The prof or a grad student would make copies of the entire collection of articles to be read and take the collection to Kinkos. Kinkos would duplicate all of the articles at a price lower than the per page cost when using a library copy machine and sell the collection to students. Typically, purchasing a course pack was not required, but the time and frustration in locating assigned readings and the opportunity to have a personal copy that could be annotated and was personal were such advantages most students when with the course pack. It was a good deal, but it was eventually decided when Kinkos lost a costly court case that this was a violation of the copyright held by the authors and the journals. Kinkos continues to offer course packs and will attempt to obtain permission for the articles, but there is a cost required by most journals and this was pretty much the death of course packs.

Copyright is a complex topic when it comes to educational applications. As an educator or student, you can go to the library and make a copy of a journal article. What you can’t do is make copies for others – I assume especially if you charge. You may know that college libraries pay thousands of dollars for some of the journals they carry and this is likely to be many times more than it would cost individuals (especially if a journal is controlled by a scholarly organization and you pay dues to that organization). The high cost to libraries assumes multiple users but it does not allow for mass reproduction.

Many have likely forgotten this situation or maybe never knew it existed. Now, most libraries purchase digital access. They may still carry some paper journals but digital access allows libraries to offer a far larger collection at a lower cost. The downloadable pdf is the modern equivalent of the paper copy generated by a copy machine. I found it to have great advantages and even for those journals I purchased and were sitting on the shelves in my office, I usually would download pdfs of what I wanted to read. These pdfs could be highlighted and annotated and services such as EndNote could be used to create collections of such pdfs online so that they could be searched and reread from any location with an Internet-connected computer. This technology upgrade really made academic work easier and more productive.

Here is where the copyright thing comes in again. College students have access to these online collections as well as faculty members. However, the digital search systems take some learning and experience to use successfully. Some students and some faculty thought that it would just be easier to for the faculty member to assemble a collection of the pdfs to be read and simply make them available to students through the class course management system (CMS) or some other sharing mechanism. This is again a technical copyright violation (in my opinion). Since it does not involve a charge, I really don’t know if legal action has ever been taken. I don’t do this with my students and simply explain that learning to locate the pdfs of primary sources is a skill that is important to learn as a professional competency.

This lengthy introduction was intended to broach the issue of copyright and related skills students should be expected to acquire as related to online content (web pages and video). Students at all levels are being assigned more and more online content. It can be a matter of cost, but certain current topics are going to be available online and not in a textbook. As we prepare the students we work with for their futures, we also realize more and more of their informal learning will rely on online content.

Online content with certain issues. Dealing with these issues and helping learners deal with these issues is part of the preparation of learners for their futures. Online content is less vetted than educational content so we must be concerned with inaccuracies and spin. The issue I am raising here – not appreciating the rights of content creators – is likely less familiar to educators, but I think of great long-term importance.

Anyone familiar with technology can likely offer multiple suggestions for collecting and offloading online content. The can recommend ways to copy and download a YouTube video. I use a popular service called Evernote that allows me to save a clean copy (no adds or surrounding material) of the content from web pages. I assume the same rationale applies to online content as it does to content in the library. A learner is allowed to make a personal copy for personal educational use. Sharing this content might be easy, but it is a violation. So, I can download the content I have captured in Evernote as a pdf I could distribute. I would regard this as inappropriate behavior.

So – what to do when you want to use online content.

1. The most obvious approach is to send all learners to the source. This is the equivalent of asking each student to download their own pdf. I recognize that students need equipment and Internet access to do this. I recognize that some schools block services that might have useful content (YouTube). These are issues that are important, but the solution is not copying.

2. Ask permission. Why not? The author may not regard it as a big deal and happy to say go ahead. I just finished a Kindle book in which I wanted to use screen captures. After writing a book with a commercial publisher I am sensitive to the expectation that such content must be provided with permission. I was 5 for 5 in my requests. You may be ignored or turned down once in a while (most likely ignored) but then just move on to something else. It wouldn’t hurt to let students know that you are asking the author if it is OK to make a copy as this would be a good lesson.

3. Use a service that takes care of the permission issue for you. A K12 service I really like (Newsela) is a good example. This company offers content on a wide variety of current topics and is most unique in offering each “story” at multiple reading levels. There are other tools for the learner and student associated with this content and I think it is an impressive service. It does cost, but so do most quality educational resources.

4. Layering (this may sound like an ad, but you can learn this on your own if it sounds interesting). Layering is the term I am using to describe services that combine original content and educator or learner contributions. By layering I mean that the core content as created and served by the author is combined with secondary content served by the layering service. Layered content might include questions, highlighting and annotations, prompts and suggestions, links to other content, etc. It is a way of giving users the opportunity to personalize without taking away any of the rights assumed by the author. You do see ads as intended by the author and content in the margins as might be a function of the service the author used to offer the content (e.g., a blog service). I understand that ads are an issue (especially for learners under 13), but if so this would be one of the situations in which should look to suggestion 2 or 3. The layering services I am describing are available for both web pages and video and I see this as a little known online service category that will grow in popularity among educators and researchers. I also see this type of service as offering similar opportunities to EndNote for less formal online content.

If you are curious, I suggest you take a look at my book. You can download a sample at no cost if the $3 price tag is a concern. If you want to start on your own, I would recommend taking a look at DocentEDU.

Layering Newsela

Newsela is a great classroom resource because it motivates through the use of current issues in the news and it adapts by allowing everyone to read these stories at a level appropriate to their reading ability. Because Newsela offers many layering capabilities (highlighting and notes, questions and prompts), I intended to explore in my Kindle book on layering, I contacted the service and was grant permission to use screen captured images in the book. As I worked out what I would include, I decided to not include Newsela because the service provides both the layering tools and the content. Layering for learning is focused on services students and educators can use to annotate online content and video selected by the users. There are advantages in the approach Newsela takes and the service can probably do more sophisticated things because it provides tools and selects the content. The quantity and variety of content is also impressive.

Newsela provides both a free and a subscription (Pro) model. Annotation is available in both models, BUT the use of annotations in an interactive way between teacher and student is not. If as a teacher you are lucky enough to have access to a Pro account, the opportunity to share annotations with individual students is worth exploration.

Highlighting within Newsela is always enabled. When text is selected, a color palette should appear (Newsela encourages educators and students to use these colors strategically to indicate different things) and so does a “write something” prompt in the margin. I have found with several layering services that highlighting and annotating are potentially linked. I am considering one possibility here – asking each student to comment on a specific remark appearing within the text. The process (teacher to student) would work something like this. Identify and highlight a specific comment appearing within the text and ask a question relevant to this comment. Select the “share” link that should appear with the “write something” textbox. Just to be clear, within the same document, you can either highlight and annotate for personal use or to share with students. This makes sense as personal highlighting and annotating would be helpful in preparing to discuss an article with students.

When the article is assigned for students review, the highlights and comments designated to be shared will appear when the student reads. A text link appearing with the teacher annotations opens a text box allowing students to write a response to the teacher comment. Students do not see the responses generated by peers, but the teacher can view all comments.

The comment and response process can work in the other direction. Students can generate an annotation that the teacher comments on. So, students might be given an assignment requiring annotation and the teacher could provide feedback.

There is one tricky thing educators using this system will need to understand. The highlighting/commenting process must be performed on each “reading level” for a given article. This could be a little tedious, but a system that would allow highlighting of text segments that end up being stated differently for different reading levels would be asking a bit much of the service.

 

Moving beyond clueless

I have been reading “Clueless in Academe”. This is one of several books I have been working my way through attempting to understand issues such as why information I find so useful has so little impact on the practice of so many and why so many seem willing to discount the findings of science. I do understand that some of the issues that interest me are complex and frustrating, but it is more the anti-intellectualism that seems to be growing in acceptance that has me stumped.

“Clueless” is sometimes not easy to follow (why should it be). The author has a background in literature and literary criticism so my ability to easily relate to many of his examples is a bit of a push. I did spend my career working with college students and I do recognize that only a subgroup truly connects with content even though a much larger group understand the content.

This is not intended as a book review and I am offering only an interpretation of a couple of his ideas here. I latch on to these ideas because the ideas are very much related to my core perspective as a textbook author. Graff (Clueless author) suggests students understand argumentation and promotion of personal positions from personal experience but fail to see academics engaged in similar processes. How an academic goes about advocating for a given position and pointing out weaknesses in competing positions is what drives science and many other academic fields forward. For the academic, it is this battle for the truth or a cause that is the fun/motivation for what we do. Understanding this or becoming part of the process is either unappreciated or outside of the experience of most students.

The other issue Graff suggests is also interesting. The simple version is that students learn from isolated courses. Sometimes these courses present concepts that contradict each other. Contradictions are seldom explained in much depth. How can conflicting ideas be promoted without explanation? What the instructor wants then becomes the goal rather than building a personal knowledge structure that makes some sense. The author argues students get the message you can believe pretty what you want because you are going to encounter someone who is an advocate who believes pretty much the same thing.

I hope you can see some overlap in these two issues. Without an appreciation of the contest of ideas and how some attempt to address these controversies, it is easy to see why enthusiasm is often lacking. I find the opportunity to analyze and participate in conflicts motivating and productive. Certainly, there are likely many conflicts I can leave alone, but I am at a loss when it comes to why practitioners in a field (e.g., education) are not captivated by the issues and what is at stake.

Anyway, I said some of the ideas in “Clueless” relate to my own thinking about books I have written. I have long written a textbook that is used in courses intended to prepare preservice and practicing teachers to make effective use of technology. I have more recently written more of an advocacy book – a book with a narrow focus and an unapologetic agenda.

With the textbook, I make an attempt to identify key conflicts in the field and do the best job I can considering the research and the supposed advantages and disadvantages of what I consider the opposing positions in such conflicts. A great example of such a conflict is the direct instruction vs. experiential learning conflict (e.g., problem-based learning, project-based learning). I know there are plenty of books taking one of these positions or the other and there are plenty of speakers taking one position or the other, but without taking an honest approach to understanding the controversy what practitioners end up doing is buying into the best sales pitch and never really developing a personal understanding of the what the core controversy really is or what the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence for the competing arguments are. If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes a surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing.

Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

With the textbook, I make an attempt to identify key conflicts in the field and do the best job I can considering the research and the supposed advantages and disadvantages of what I consider the opposing positions in such conflicts. A great example of such a conflict is the direct instruction vs. experiential learning conflict (e.g., problem-based learning, project-based learning). I know there are plenty of books taking one of these positions or the other and there are plenty of speakers taking one position or the other. This seems very much the isolation problem Graff identified. Without taking an honest approach to understanding the controversy, what practitioners end up doing is buying into the best sales pitch and never really developing a personal understanding of what the core controversy really is or what the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence for the competing arguments are. If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing. I always enjoy arguing with folks who I see falling into this category. I will take either side. If you are unaware of the weaknesses of your position, I can quickly identify them for you and ask for your justification. Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

If you are unwilling to immersive yourself in the argument, it all pretty much becomes a surface level, fan girl or fan boy type thing. I always enjoy arguing with folks who I see falling into this category. I will take either side. If you are unaware of the weaknesses of your position, I can quickly identify them for you and ask for your justification. Avoiding these complexities is not a good thing. It is why education as a field drifts about so much like a pendulum. Coding was in, then it was out, and now it is in again. We have to do better than this and part of being better is moving beyond simplistic dogmatism. One reason I am a technology advocate is that I think learning experiences must become more individualized and I see no way various forms of learning experiences can be suited to individual needs relying on the time of individual educators.

The advocacy book assumes learners will be asked to spend more time learning from online resources and many of these resources will not be designed purposefully for instruction. As learners outside of formal educational systems, this is pretty much what many of us do now. Were we prepared for our new reality? Are K-12 students put into similar situations being prepared?

A research area that fascinated me throughout my career has been study behavior. This is not a high-prestige research area. Teaching study skills is so often reserved for those students who struggle even though we also continue to promote the life-long skill of learning to learn as what was learned in the past has a shorter and shorter shelf life. We did things “to study” as students and we continue to do things “to learn” throughout our lives. I was never really taught to study and I think this continues to be the case with most learners. Did I take notes effectively? Did I highlight and annotate a book effectively? Did I interact with a study partner effectively? Did I evaluate my own understanding and remediate deficiencies effectively? Did I have to figure out tactics for myself or did someone help me consider tactics I might try? I think it is time to elevate the importance of learning to learn especially when it comes to online content. I think there is relevant existing research and I think there powerful tools available.

I like to consider what I do in this advocacy role as offering suggestions. In this case, I will let someone else be critical of these suggestions.

Putting things together

I am getting to the point I am willing to make the argument that the limits of the present K12 education system have been reached. I say this considering the resources citizens of this country are willing to spend on education and an awareness of the variability along multiple dimensions that exist in classrooms. Those who promote innovation are typically focused on practices that amount to nibbling around the edges.

Here are some realities I accept:

  1. Aptitude differences are real and result in differences in the speed of learning – time allowed is for all practical purposed fixed.
  2. As a function of aptitude differences and factors both inside and outside of the classroom, the variability in what students know grows year by year.
  3. The variabilities in aptitude and background exceed what educators are capable of adddressing. This leads to frustration resulting from boredom and hopelessness. Frustration is one of several sources of motivational challenges that must be addressed.
  4. Students need both a general education and the opportunity to pursue personal interests. The role of mandatory education is to assure a common knowledge/skill base. Complete student-centered learning is also foolish as both young and old appreciate the importance of a common knowledge base and can anticipate the needs of a future world.
  5. Direct instruction and problemm-based learning opportunities each have important uses. The focus on one or the other because of turf wars miss the value of either efficient learning or learning to learn.
  6. Technology must be part of the answer. Human resources are unable to meet the individual learner needs that are present.

What do I think should happen. I think public schools should take a more aggressive role in implementing blended learning. Allowing charter schools in this area immediately leads everyone into political controversy and poor sampling that allows flawed evaluation. I would think larger districts should be able to apply blended models in elementary classrooms and alternate middle courses of core areas (math, composition). I think we should immediately focus on these levels because waiting means the damage has already been done and secondary education already allows a greater level of individualization.
I have been very busy the past view months researching and writing a book (now finished). I will take some time in the weeks ahead to expand the core ideas I h