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Closing the Idea-to-Curriculum Gap
June 8, 2010 - 9:26pm

One advantage of learning technology is it can help us close the gap between and idea and curriculum. When I first started teaching (in grad school in 1993) the task of finding teaching materials was extremely time consuming. I remember spending lots of time at the photocopy machine, transferring charts and graphs to plastic transparencies that I'd display in class with the overhead. Collecting VHS tapes to show video segments in class was a particular passion of mine - leading my (shared) grad student office that was cluttered with tapes. Good teaching content was a scarce and valuable commodity, and it was difficult to rapidly locate and process "just in time" non-text based curriculum.

Today we are able to find and share rich curricular materials with amazing agility and ease. YouTube, Google Image Search, and FlickR, combined with the ease of sharing these materials in the LMS (as links or embed code), has moved rich curricular development from a scarce to an abundant good. Where in the past we may have shared with our students only a few short video clips, images, or diagrams, we can now offer a buffet of evocative educational materials.

Beyond scale, the other big change is agility. It is possible now to introduce new rich curricular materials into the course once the class is in progress. When I'm teaching a course I'm always highly attuned to any materials, information or stories that relate to the curriculum we cover. I'll hear a story on NPR, or read a newspaper article, or watch a movie that will cause me to say "this story or scene perfectly illustrates what we are talking about in class." More often than not, the NPR story, newspaper article, or movie scene is available online - and can be linked to the LMS with a few clicks of the mouse.

I ran into an example of this phenomenon this week. I'm reading Dan Ariely's terrific new The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home. At one point Ariely describes a FedEx commercial to illustrate the "not-invented-here" bias. In the commercial, a bunch of business people are sitting around a table listening to their boss inform them that they need to find ways to save the company money. A dorky looking junior employee speaks up, saying that: "Well, we could get an online account with FedEx and save ten percent on all our shipping costs". At this point everyone at the table is silent, until the boss repeats word-for-word the junior employees suggestions (this time with an authoritative hand chop). At that point, all the employees around the table cheer and congratulate the boss for his brilliance.

As I was reading Ariely's description of the commercial I kept thinking how well this video would fit in to illustrate a number of concepts in classes I might teach or work on. The fact that the video funny and short goes a long way toward improving its worth as a curricular object. Sure enough, I was able to search YouTube and find the commercial. I then took the embed code, and pasted it into to a discussion board for a course on Internet Marketing that I'm currently co-teaching. The point I want to make for my students is about the reasons I have them find and share articles and videos related to the course materials, as by finding the materials themselves (and making an argument as to why they are relevant to the course and their fellow learners), the content will be more important, relevant and memorable for them. I had been struggling to get across my rationale for my teaching methodology, the FedEx video perfectly capture the idea in 30 seconds.

Have you found that learning technology, the combination of your LMS and YouTube/Google/Flickr, has also made it easier for you to find and share "just in time" materials for your courses? Any short, funny videos that illustrate core teaching points that you'd like share?


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