On Learning

The tools we provide are designed to aid students, teachers, and researchers. What connects these three groups is something that’s easy to forget when you’re focused on details: a passion for learning and knowledge.

Education News recently ran an illuminating interview with Professor Sir David Watson, a leading academic light who teaches at the University of Oxford, on a wide range of subjects, including his ideas on what the ideal academic system looks like, standard tests, emotional and intellectual development, and critical thinking.

One important theme he keeps returning to is instilling in students a global perspective and appreciation for critical learning:

“The public discourse is heavily dominated at present by a perception…of student instrumentalism. What counts is “employability” (even more than “employment”) and whether or not students are prepared for it.  Meanwhile, students themselves confound expectation further: by returning to the liberal arts, by returning to volunteering (even while they simultaneously have to work much more frequently for money than their predecessors), and by reviving student-led political activism (all around the world).”

What makes this comment stand out is that online learning and online courses do tend to focus on what’s “efficient” and “practical”, especially in emphasizing convenience over physical classrooms. It will be interesting to see in the coming years whether this changes—or simply continues as produces students who are less civically minded.

Major Schools Announce Plan to Offer Credits for Online Courses

In a largely unprecedented move, numerous major public universities have announced plans to offer free introductory online courses—with credit.

As the Times article explains, the schools will select which courses to convert into an online format and students who successfully complete those courses will earn credit toward a real degree:

“‘We’re taking the MOOC idea, but now it will be part of a degree program, not a novelty,’ said Randy Best, the chairman of Academic Partnerships, a company that helps public universities move their courses online.”

Schools involved in the bold move include the University of Cincinnati, the University of Texas, and the University of Arkansas.

The hope, of course, is to draw more students into public school systems facing budgetary problems due to state funding cuts; Masters and Bachelors programs will be offered.

The move represents an interesting, and increasingly strong, synergy between the world of MOOCs and brick-and-mortar schools, and shows that the relationship doesn’t need to be antagonistic.

Some Schools Say ‘No’ to Technology for Students

In the education-technology space, we collectively spend a lot of time talking about the integration of technological tools inside the classroom, and even apart from the classroom altogether.

But some have chosen an entirely different direction: completely offline education.

A Maryland news outlet (via Education Week) ran a fascinating article last week on this subject, highlighting one of the more than 120 Waldorf schools across the country that are eschewing tech tools in the classroom.

At the Washington Waldorf School, the article notes, “you’ll find woodwork, cross-stitch and sculpture classes — but you won’t find web design, graphics or film classes. As schools race to the top, innovation here looks basic, artsy and unplugged.”

The school’s faculty chair advocates for the approach by saying, “”They’re comfortable in their own skin — in real interactions with people as opposed to what you see with teenagers today interacting with the device versus each other, which is sad.”

That educator is not alone. The article also points to two reputable polls showing that “teachers overwhelmingly believe digital technology is curtailing attention spans and critical thinking skills.”

This apparently widespread belief, and the attendant school movement to remove tech from the classrooms altogether, raise some challenging questions for those of us who work directly in the tech-ed space. Is there a point to be made that introducing technology tools to kids at too young an age can be a distraction? Or is that too sweeping a statement that doesn’t take into account the virtues of specific tech tools?

What Would A ‘Supportive Environment’ Look Like Online?

An article in Education Week earlier this month pointed to an increasing data trend showing that a supportive school environment helps students learn more effectively.

Summarizing the findings, the publication observed:

“Mounting evidence from fields like neuroscience and cognitive psychology, as well as studies on such topics as school turnaround implementation, shows that an academically challenging yet supportive environment boosts both children’s learning and coping abilities. By contrast, high-stress environments in which students feel chronically unsafe and uncared for make it physically and emotionally harder for them to learn and more likely for them to act out or drop out.”

The findings apply to K-12 brick-and-mortar educational settings, but it also forces one to think about how some of the prevailing issues might translate as schools increasingly look to online solutions. Could online education, for example, circumvent the troubling issue of bullying that has dominated headlines in recent years? Or would the influx of information, delivered through a computer screen without a sympathetic human guide, make students more prone to stress and anxiety?

As national education moves forward with increasing integration of online and real-life worlds, the consequences of these kinds of complex issues will doubtless demand the attention of educators.

Citelighter Launches PDF Capture & Storage Function

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                 January 14, 2013

Citelighter Launches PDF Capture & Storage Function

Turns Web Tool Into a Fully Functional Research Repository

Citelighter, the company responsible for the intuitive and easy to use fully automated research and citation tool, has released its newest educational product offering aimed at making research more credible, efficient, and productive.

With a release date of January 14th, 2013, Citelighter will now allow users of its platform to capture content from PDF documents, as well as store and capture information from offline PDF documents in their personal accounts. The feature is available to subscribers of the Citelighter Pro service, which currently has a price tag of only $10 a month. The Pro version of the product will function in the same manner as it has since its release in September, 2012, providing users with access to the Questia Database (a Cengage Learning product) while makings recommendations about relevant premium content based on a user’s research patterns.

The ability to capture PDF is a large step towards making Citelighter an even more advanced information hub and content repository for anyone conducting research. The newly added feature widens the breadth of functionality by allowing users to highlight from the Internet, Citelighter Pro (Questia), and academic information databases, as well as offline books and journals.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer Citelighter users the ability to capture information from yet another source,” said Citelighter CEO Saad Alam. “ The ability to capture PDF will expand the offering even more and will allow users to store information from an exponentially larger array of academically sound, credible content.”

In preparation for launching PDF capture, Citelighter optimized its plug-in support for the Firefox Internet browser. PDF capture for Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers will be available in Spring 2013, as will basic plug-in support for Microsoft Internet Explorer. In the coming months Citelighter will also be launching a word processing and complex analytics component for educators.


Citelighter is an academic research platform that allows students to save, organize, and automatically cite information on the web, and store these facts privately or aggregate them by topic to be shared with the community. Citelighter launched in September 2011 and is used by students in over more than 1,500 schools in 50 countries. – www.citelighter.com.

For more information on Citelighter or the Citelighter Pro platform please contact us at team@citelighter.com.

Online-Only Charter Schools on the Menu?

Nothing says “online learning” quite like replacing traditional education altogether with an online experience. And that’s increasingly what’s going on in some parts of the country, as this article on North Carolina’s ongoing consideration of the issue reminds us.

The state’s Board of Education is considering an application for virtual schools that would cater to students as young as five years old—and would be supported by taxpayer dollars. This particular move came about because of an ongoing legal battle between the state courts and N.C. Learns, a company that aims to deliver K12 education entirely online.

Such education doesn’t seem to deliver promising results. As explained in a New York Times editorial early last year, research shows that students in an online-only environment fare twice as poorly as their brick-and-mortar counterparts when it comes to progress on standard tests.

Some disadvantages of an online-only environment at such a young age seem clear—lack of socialization and individual interaction certainly stand out. On the other hand, one advantage would seem to be cost, as there’s no building infrastructure to support, but curiously, these online charter schools still receive the same funding as would a brick-and-mortal charter.

Age Limits for Interacting with Tech Devices?

We’re so frequently surrounded by electronic devices of all sorts—phones, monitors, tablets, laptops—that we take their ubiquity for granted. That’s even truer for the youngest kids, who are literally growing up surrounded by glowing bright screens of all sizes and aspect ratios.

In a thoughtful post on the topic, “Young Kids and Technology at Home”, Digital Literacy Advocate Doughlas Rushkoff recently noted that parents and educators ought to pay more attention to what kinds of devices kids spend time on, depending on their age group.

“On a most rudimentary level, this means they either depict two-dimensional realities (like cell phone interfaces and sideways-shooter arcade games) or use their 2D displays to depict 3D realities, such as TV shows,” he writes, continuing, “No biggie — except for babies and toddlers, whose ability to understand and contend with 3D worlds is still in development. They don’t fully understand the rules of opaque objects (that’s why peekaboo behind a napkin poses endless fascination), so high quantities of time spent sitting in front of 2D screens may actually inhibit some of their 3D spatial awareness. That’s why so many pediatricians recommend that kids under the age of two probably shouldn’t watch any TV at all.”

He also raises interesting questions about whether the digital equivalents—tablets and handheld video games—do more to hinder than help children’s intellectual development, as “The weightless world of a digital game or virtual environment fascinates us for the way it defies the rules of the real world; until we are firmly anchored in the former reality, however, these new principles are not neurologically compatible with a developing sensory system.”

What kind of age-appropriate limits have you seen or implemented in classroom and home settings with respect to electronic devices?

Surprises About Learning

Students learn material in dramatically different ways, a point highlighted recently in an interesting Edudemic article, “30 Surprising (And Controversial) Ways Students Learn.”

One striking examples is video games, which have earned the ire of many parents, politicians, and pundits for their often violent content. But as the article notes, citing a psychology study, games can offer a host of psychological benefits, acting as “a safe alternative for the release of pent-up emotion” , a new medium for children to socialize, and a virtual playground that allows room for experimentation and adventure.

Another assertion around learning that bucks conventional expectations is that “practical” lab work in science may not help students. A review of how labs are often constructed illustrates that many of them “are designed so that students follow a ‘recipe’ or list of directions that don’t exercise critical thinking skills.”

What unorthodox methods of learning have you witnessed or tried out in the classroom, and what conventional methods have you encountered that seem ineffective?

The Power of Your Mindset

Returning to the theme of powerful education-related strategies that exist outside the online-technological space, I recently started reading an insightful book by the psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”

The fundamental point made by the author (and illustrated through countless examples and experiments) is that there are two kinds of mindsets that govern our thinking when it comes to striving for achievement: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

In the former case, people think their qualities (personality traits, intellect, or both) are set in stone, and they look at tests with dread and anxiety because those tests will, in their minds, either confirm their supposedly fixed talent or out them as failures. In the latter case, people eagerly learn from their mistakes and see challenges as changes to grow and improve their intelligence or ability.

It’s easy to see how this framework can powerfully inform students at all levels, and Dweck provides and references a plethora of cases involving schools to showcase the value of the growth mindset. In general, students with the fixed mindset become easily discouraged when the going gets tough, whereas students with the growth mindset excitedly tackle the problem and improve their performance.

What examples of  growth and challenge mindsets have you exhibited and encountered in your classroom, and beyond?

Citelighter PR Director