SyncUp With StudySync
On my way to a meeting in San Francisco, I'm driving south on Highway 121, the Sonoma vineyards racing by on both sides - nice place to live. Being the stimulus junky that I am, I scrolled through the iTunes playlist on my dash. Nothing. So I hit the radio, clicked off the rap station my teenage son had set, and tapped into 88.5 catching mid-conversation the CEO of a major book retailer, an executive from a large publishing company, and an NPR interviewer. Articulate, thoughtful, FM voices. The topic if the day - books going digital and how all the new devices are affecting the experience of reading.
Am I wrong or was this the same conversation from, oh I don't know, maybe a dozen years ago? Ink on a page vs. pixels on a screen. That's news? Really?
The audience called in with comments, like:
One of the cornerstones of StudySync is SyncTV. We define SyncTV as broadcast quality videos that capture the experience of college-level students interacting as they construct meaning from a short text or excerpt.
The students model excellence in critical thinking by exchanging ideas, examining premises and assumptions, and reading the author's words closely for meaning.
In his white paper (pdf), New Rules For A New Game, Dr. Lawrence Baines, Chair of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum at the University of Oklahoma, notes:
Recent analyses of classroom discussions have found that students are engaging in few in-depth conversations about reading during the school day. Indeed, the liveliest discussions in the best classrooms were found to be superficial and fleeting—lasting, on average, less than a minute. Students today may not know how to participate in a good discussion because they have seldom participated in one.
"How do I engage my kids in current events, so that they not only learn from them, but actually participate in the process, and enjoy the experience?"
Our answer: make it engaging, utilize technology that is second nature to them, allow for real-time participation, and make it fun. That was the idea behind StudySync Blasts: an interactive tool designed to stimulate student interest and encourage thoughtful discussion about important, present-day issues.
Each Blast contains a thought provoking question posed to students based on relevant issues that they face as they try to make sense of the world around them.
Then, as ratings are compiled, the students are shown the top ten posts. This adds a competitive, gaming component to the process as well. So students not only have fun, but become inspired to make the most concise, compelling, and intelligent statement.
But don't just take our word for it.
English teacher Ryan Gilbert describes his classroom experience:
While a Blast might limit them to 140 characters to respond, which in itself is good practice in being concise, students can do far more than the five reviews and ratings than I require. And they do.
Recently, the Auburn, Maine school department approved an expenditure of $200,000 for 285 iPads, equipping both students and teachers. Now, that alone isn’t news; it’s the fact that the iPads are going to kindergartners in an effort to boost literacy rates.
This is a very interesting development, especially to someone who develops educational software, and who has a kindergartner. I can only imagine the debate in our household if this announcement came about our child’s school.
When my own 6-year daughter comes to me, iPad in hand, and says, “Look, Dad. I just scored my highest score!”, I cringe as my wife shakes her head. If Fruit Ninja and the promise of perfecting the four-finger swipe was the only thing available on the iPad, it would be gone from our household forever. My wife would rather see our daughter swiping a paint brush. I believe that our child's use of the iPad is perfectly acceptable provided that she's looking to get her highest score in Math Bingo instead.
Certainly, this discussion doesn't end within the walls of our homes. Without great surprise, there has been a lot of chatter about this topic on the web. Is access to technology overly pervasive? Are kindergartners too young for this type of technology?
I’m a single dad with two high school children, both of whom live with me full-time. They’re good students. Good kids. I’m very lucky. My house has been the go-to place for their friends since they were little, and, having coached sports for years, I feel I know most of them well.
So, I’m not worried when I say, if you can show me a teenager who read Walden over the summer, for fun or even as an AP English class requirement – and I mean cover to cover – well, I’ll eat a bowl of raw mushrooms (and those that know me know that’s saying a lot).
What does worry me is that my bookshelves are filled with titles of similar fate, fiction and nonfiction. Those volumes are the accumulation of centuries of knowledge. Without a basic understanding of what’s in them – the core purpose for education – opinions are unsupported and society cannot advance.
When these kids get to college, and their professors make reference to Thoreau’s reflections on isolating himself from society (conveniently neglecting to mention his frequent trips into Concord for a fine meal and a glass of vino with Emerson), my guess is these students will recall the summary in SparkNotes that they gobbled down a week before summer ended. They will not have experienced the subtle poetic language or the grace of his internal reflections.