Monday, September 5

CNN vs Education

I would not suggest that higher education institutions need to operate like CNN, but I find it fascinating to read Elliot Masie's observations of how CNN dealt with the flow of content and information in the wake of Hurrican Katrina. In CNN Newsroom in the Midst of Katrina - "Rapid Development... Content Objects... Learning Implications":

There were some incredible learnings and observations as I quietly watched the news gathering and assembly process and interviewed the Learning team at CNN. Many of these items relate directly to how organizations will be assembling content in the near future.


The question is, will educational institutions be one of these organizations? Below I have take some of Maise's descriptions of CNN and put them besides a gross and likely over generalized observation of higher education. Yes, there are numerous exceptions and counter examples to every one of my points, but as a whole, when you read how CNN operates and put it besides how your higher education institution operates, the contrast should be rather vivid.

CNN: Content From Multiple and Unconventional Sources: The nature of content in journalism is changing dramatically as media flows from non-traditional sources. CNN calls an aspect of this "Citizen Journalism" as they receive pictures and video feeds from digital cameras and even mobile phones.


Education: Content comes nearly solely from instructors and "trusted" resources like publishers and "refereed" journals. And content from students would be suspect or written off as "cute" but not useful. Is there an equivalent of Citizen Teaching? If so it is the inspired individual's effort of placing a tutorial or resource on the net.

CNN: Content To Multiple Formats: As content was created in the CNN newsroom, it flowed to multiple formats. Content started as video feeds, became streamed video, text on the website and even a mention for a scroll at the bottom of the screen. Each piece of content was "tagged" as it came into the newsroom, timecoded, meta-tags were added with context and it could be viewed by CNN staff around the world in low-res format. The concept was to see each media object as being highly reusable and redeployable.


Education: Content primarily text, email, PDFs to print, hand coded/Dreamweaver-ed HTML, and.. PowerPoint. Media objects are un-reusable, un-findable, and in-redeployable and would never be available in this kind of time frame.

CNN: Digital News Gathering: The footprint and format for news production is changing radically as the size and mobility of equipment evolves radically. I watched newsfeeds coming from CNN reporters using satellite phones (after the cell network dropped). They were even feeding content that was edited on laptops in the field using Final Cut Pro.


Education: Not much to compare except we do not think of educational content being created "in the field" or with portable devices... while some are moving towards laptops in place of desktop computers, they are used primarily in the same vein (a laptop on the desk). We still print a lot of material or offload this printing to students-- we do not "think"/"operate" primarily in digital, and much of what we do digital is the digital equivalent of print.

CNN: Content Repository: CNN operates a content and media repository that is quite impressive. The content objects are viewable, editable and sharable. Key levels of data is kept for how each object is being used and deployed. Digital Rights Management is tracked, to honor the appropriate use of each media object. I was struck by how easily every CNN staff person could access and work with this content repository.


Education: This is still a dream, despite years of wrangling over "Learning Objects" and the construction of numerous "repositories" few if any that have the features described above AND as much content. Data on the use of objects is absent and DRM is spotty.

CNN: Rapid Development: While CNN clearly has a breaking news model, it was fascinating to watch this process in action, including use of templates, collaborative and team-based editing and content refinement, focus on content ethics, standards and legal/compliance issues. I witnessed a team of professionals, drawn from a wide set of backgrounds, deeply focused on producing content that had value for viewers and the hurricane's victims.


Education: The development cycle is measured in months, perhaps as summer projects or long term grants, and is pretty much an individual cottage industry. Editing and development are solo projects.

So, how does Big U stand up to CNN?

15 comments:

Donald Clark said...

There is an interesting article in the The Buffalo News - Building a future based on knowledge. So while I do believe that schools need improvement and have plenty of room for growth, I think we also have a tendency to slam them a little too hard at times. So to give some counter-points to the discussion:

Multiple and Unconventional Source: I believe one of higher education's most valuable assets is their research. And students often play an important part in it as almost all research efforts have students assisting in it and at times leading it. In addition, many of their papers do have an impact in the education/research circles.

Content: A lot of education's media has been developed for elearning (distance learning now plays an important part). However, we have to remember who pays for the development of content. CNN is paid for by advertisers and is meant to be accessed by as many people as possible. While a school's income is mostly tuition and donation driven. However, it is not completely cut-off from the public's access as you can often find a wealth of information from their websites, libraries, and cable channels (e.g. here in the greater Seattle area we get access to the University of Washington's cable channel).

Digital News Gathering: I believe we have to look at the context - News is mostly about reporting while education is more about research (and of course they both cross over).

Content Repository: CNN is information driven while education is knowledge driven. I think in many ways that Learning Objects are not really that viable for higher learning purposes for they are based on content, and content alone is normally data driven or at its best, information driven. While the basis of knowledge is indeed based on content (data and information), what gives it is true power is context. Thus, we have information that moves rapidly across the world, yet how do you also move the context that is a vital part of knowledge?

Rapid Development: I don't think we will ever see schools move at the speed of CNN as again one is information driven while the other is knowledge driven. But I think if we actually take a closer look at education's learning strategies and methodologies, that we would actually see they have improved and sped up over recent years.

Cheers,
Donald Clark

Donald Clark said...

Another comment -- today, everyone's a reporter; yet, we have always been learners.

The net has given us the power to rapidly transmit data and information. At one time the professional reporters had a lock on experience, resources, and the ability to get their message (news) to the masses. The net has given everyone the ability to rapidly transmit their message to a wide audience (and it is NOT just the bloggers). Along with this ability, we have started to gain some experience and resources, although we are still lagging behind the professionals in these two areas, and we probably always will, thus the world will still need professional reporters.

Yet, when we first pictured the web as a learning/knowledge resource, we simply looked at it as a huge repository of information. Yet information does not necessarily lead to learning and knowledge. Denham Grey writes that to generate knowledge, we need community, dialog, crafting distinctions, shared awareness, and information ecology.

I simply boil in down to content and context -- taking various sources of information (content) and then reworking it into patterns that allow us to connect it to other information (context). The reworking can come via such activities as reflection, experiencing, sharing with others, experimenting, or studying.

For example, if I see a picture and explanation of what a chair is or if I actually sit in one, then I have some information of what a chair is. However, the more I sit in or learn about them, then that information starts to transform itself into knowledge -- I know what chair is best suited for working, relaxing, reading, using it for other tasks, etc. It reaches a point where I don't even have to sit in one to be knowledgeable about it. When I first saw a picture of Herman-Miller's Aeron chair, I automatically knew that it would not only make a wonderful chair for sitting at my desk, but that it is also a very cool looking chair -- experiencing it was unnecessary.

So one of the challenges of the net is not simply to view it as a vast source of information, but rather a means of discovering the circumstances and interrelations to other information so that it starts to paint a pattern.

When information is brushed against information...the results are startling and effective. - Marshall McLuhan

I have a friend who by all definitions is a net-citizen -- he has been connected to the web for several years, emails, loves to play games (both on and off the web), surfs the web, yet he still sends me those urban-legend bits of information that either he finds on the web or someone emails him. For example last week he sends me the one about hotels that uses the credit-card-type room key is bad as it contains all your personal information (such as name, credit card number, address). Thus you should always destroy the card, rather than turn it back in.

Why? Because he will harvest the information, but then he refuses to "brush" it against other information to check its truth.

Cheers,
Donald Clark

Dave Lee said...

I have to step forward and defend higher education, at least one program at one school, much in line with Don's comment. I'm slowly working through a Masters program in Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State. In the six courses I've taken or am currently taking, only two have had a suggested textbook - and in both cases it was for background information.

The vast majority of content in all of the courses has been student generated. Sometimes through projects, sometimes through constructivist activities while in the classroom. In one case, students team were to research the week's topic, prepare a presentation, an interactive activity and/or bring in a speaker from the community to share on the topic. The instructor sat as an observer - only stepping in when the "teaching team" went astray.

This semester, I'll be learning about needs assessment by working in a team assigned to work with a Southern California police department to determine the direction of a new leadership program.

Not only will we need to worry about the details of a needs assessment process, but we'll have to tend to learning a very distinct workplace culture from 400 miles away and figuring out what technologies we can/should best use to communicate to assure a solid engagement.

Oh, and though it's not a part of the course content, my teammates and I agreed that we better have our ducks in a row when it comes to leadership development content. This isn't a scenario from a textbook. These cops expect a real leadership program!

At the end of the semester, we have to prepare and deliver a client presentation on site to the decision makers.

As far as content repositories go, I've found that Google has built a very accessible repository in which I can access just about anything I can imagine needing (police squad car configuration yielded 33,100+ hits). A search for "Police [community name] Leadership" yielded 10,500 hits - the first three mentioning our contact by name. I'd call that a pretty unconventional source and a pretty hot repository!

Slow moving? Lacking innovation? Puleasseee! This sure isn't University learning the way I experienced it as an undergrad 20 years ago!

Institutions of Higher Education may not be able to compete with the world's media conglomerates, but since when was that the goal of Higher Education?

Downes said...

Not to sound to snarky, but... some people have been talking about this for a long time. Tell me, then, why this isn't just Elliott Masie using a recent catastrophic event to promote Elliott Masie?

And for that matter - what would this discussion not be picked up by others until it was phrased in the context of the recent catastrophic event?

There are, it seems to me, certain attributes to CNN that we should maybe refrain from adopting in online learning. Or are we all sensationalistic and ambulance-following mini versions of CNN now?

Clark Aldrich said...

Zzzzzzzzz... "eLearning must be like a CNN 24 hour coverage of a breaking story." - Clark Aldrich, Strategic eLearning, Gartner, 2000....zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Donald Clark said...

Interesting questions Stephen. I realize from reading your "Old Daily" that you and perhaps others have written about this before Masie, but we have to take in to account what "messages" we do read. McLuhan once wrote how we are shaped more by the nature of media than we are by the actual content. Although he later changed some of his ideas in that he came to believe that we are active creators of our environment rather than just passive responders to media, I believe the media does has a strong effect on us.

I subscribe to your RSS feeds and you normally have 5 - 10 news items each day, add to that about 30 other blogs that I subscribe to, in addition to a number of sites that that I have listed on my learning news page, in addition to Google/ig, in addition to a few newsletters and discussion groups that I subscribe to and I have a couple of hundred "headlines" to read each days. However, I simply do not have the time to read each one in-depth, so I simply scan and choose which ones to read more fully. Of those, I read some partly, some entirely, and the rest I read fully plus do some more in-depth research.

If you and others wrote about the subject before, then I simply choose not to read it for one reason or another. So why did I read Masie's?

Masie's message came via email with the subject "Special Report: CNN Newsroom During Katrina - Content Futures". Catchy title, which drew my attention to read on. I realize that some people out there do not really care for Masie, but one thing he does do well is to write clearly and simply, thus his messages are normally extremely readable. Was this message interesting? Yes! So when I saw Alan's post (a.k.a. cogdogblog), I had to read it too...and respond...and respond...and respond again [smile].

Is this ambulance chasing? I don't believe so as Masie says that his visit was scheduled several weeks before Katrina occurred and I do not see any reason not to believe him. Are we ambulance chasing? Again I do not think so as we have been focusing on the media (in particular CNN) and higher education rather than the unfortunate event of Katrina.

Cheers,
Donald Clark

Alan said...

An interesting comment feeding frenzy. Had I read my post, I might have come back with some of the same responses y'all have thrown out already.

It's been more interesting that wide range of directions people have latched on to this piece, and har far they strayed from what I had in mind...

It is not a slam against education, nor a suggestion that education model itself from CNN. I painted a grossly unfair brush stroke of generalizations, some intended to raise some discussion back. While there are many wonderful exceptions as citedc by David and Donald, if you are to walk through the halls of most undergraduate institutions, i would bet a decent steak dinner you will find many more rooms full of students passively sitting in those awkard wooden chair desks listening to an instructor lead from the front of the room, and that most of the content is non-digital. Please do not judge the forest just because of your favorite exotic tree.

The point again is not that we operate like CNN or that Maise is a shill or that you know of some individual counter example to my gross analogies... its what can we *learn* from this method of using digital content.

Harold Jarche said...

Have to agree with Alan's last comment - What can we learn? Elliott has a knack for checking the pulse at the right time and then putting it into terms that anyone can understand (I still use parts of his Computer Training Handbook, 1995, because he distills a few key processes to their basics).

I wouldn't want to see educational institutions run like CNN, but I don't want to see them stalled in the bums in seats mode either. I think that Elliott highlighted something that he found interesting at a point in time that is of historical, political and cultural significance. He and Alan have generated some good comments to boot.

Donald Clark said...

What can we learn? Stephen noted that ideas or news are put forth at times and no one comments on it, yet when a similar idea is put forth, it is then picked up and discussed. Harold noted that Massie has a knack for checking the pulse at the right time and then putting it into understandable terms.

One of the best blogs/newfeeds for our profession is Stephen's Old Daily, so I urge you to subscribe to his RSS feed if you don't already. However, I not sure if his feature that allows readers to supply comments is really user-friendly. I have clicked on the “comments” occasionally and I have never seen any comments (I’m not even sure if you can see other’s comments or if the feature is strictly for providing you own comment).

I have a blog that is somewhat similar to Stephen’s, although on a lot smaller scale (most of my spare-time energies are directed at my web page). Since it is operated by the same service that runs this one, its comment feature is the same in that it shows you how many people have commented on a blog segment and allows you to click on it and read their comments. However, hardly no one leaves a comment, rather they will email me about it (going through my web page) and tell me that they enjoy my blog when they are commenting about something else on my site (I have only had one person comment strictly about my blog and not anything on my website and it is funny that they used email rather than the comment feature on the blog).

Thus, the first feature that any news service similar to CNN’s that is directed towards learners should meet a twofold requirement:

1. A feature that allows the learners to quickly read other comments and related items and then allows them to interact with it in some way. When we see news, most of it is unusable information – it is snowing in the East, it is raining in the South, it is nice where I’m at (which I already knew because I looked out the window). When I have all these unconnected facts, then it is for the most part useless bits of data; sort of like learning about one chair and one chair only. However, when I can see connections then I can start building a pattern that allows me to interact with it, thus giving me the opportunity to do something useful with the information.

2. The news items that come across need to be in usable terms for the most part – sort of like what Massie does – at the right time and in usable terms.

Cheers,
Donald Clark

Marc Rosenberg said...

The issue isn't that CNN has lots of content; there's lots of content everywhere. It's what CNN does with the content -- it aggregates it in a way that makes all of it easy to find and use, and then lets the user pick what's relevant at the moment of need. Go to www.cnn.com/specials to see what they've done over the years, and also go to www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2005/katrina/ to see how they've aggregated all their Katrina content in one place, easy to find and use.

Now compate that to Education, that first requires content to be placed into segmented courses, then requires separate registrations and log-ins for each (sometimes, separate payments for each), and provides no clue as to which content is in which course. Then the education system assumes that the user should see every screen in the course, in the way the course was designed, rather than just the screens of interest or need (hense the complaint that no one completes an online course).

Can you imagine CNN telling a users that they have to veiw the content in the way CNN wants them to? Or that they have to register for each link they want to open? Or that they have to revew instructional objectives before they see the content? Or that they admonish the user for not looking at all the materials?

On these pages of its site, CNN is acting like a good educator -- providing content in a way that makes learning easy. Education would be wise to act a little more like and journalist -- providing content to users quickly, easily and seamlessly.

Dave Ferguson said...

Don Clark says, "hardly no one leaves a comment [on my blog], rather they will email me about it (going through my web page) and tell me that they enjoy my blog when they are commenting about something else on my site...it is funny that they used email rather than the comment feature on the blog..."

I'm not surprised. Blogs tend to attract bloggers, and I can't help thinking that at times cross-linking is symptomatic of a technophile mutual-admiration society.

More to the point, though, I suspect that many people, like me, are drawn to dialog-like exchanges, which skew toward one-to-one. To over-generalize, I think that except for those very comfortable with them, blogs strike the casual reader as one-to-many, even if the "one" invites comments like this.

So if I'd prefer to talk with you after your in-person presentation, I'd probably prefer to contact you through email as opposed to the more public forum of your blog's comment feature.

I'm not saying one's preferable; I suppose I'm saying in part that people go with what they know and in particular with what's similar to what's worked in the past.

Online Degree said...

There are some interesting points made here. I recently graduated from from the Masters program and I felt like the curriculum was very dynamic and up-to-speed. I am sure that this depends largely on the institution as well as the professors, but the information I was receiving through my courses and labs was very accurate and up-to-date. I happen to have been working in the same industry as my degree was in for the last two years (a strange anomily to actually use what you learn in school) and I can affirm that the information provided in class/labs was current... and that says a lot, because my degree was in technology, which changes rapidly.

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