Oleg draws a series of comics called “Cat”. He started the strip while he was working in Moscow, Russia. The “Cat” is amazingly popular in Russia: several heavy volumes of “Cat” comics have been published and invariably sold out. The English version of the strip is available as an iPad app “iCat”.
Exactly a year ago Oleg drew a strip about flying to space and mailed it to one of his fan friends in Moscow who liked it a lot. In fact, the friend passed the strip on to Sergey Ryazansky, a Russian cosmonaut who flew to the ISS last year, and served as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 37 and Expedition 38 before returning to Earth aboard the Soyuz on March 11, 2014. Sergey took the strip with him to space, and then brought it back with him in the Soyuz TMA-10M on March 11.
Oleg has received his strip back in the mail today! As far as everyone involved is concerned, this is the first hand-drawn original comic strip in the history of human kind that flew to space, resided on the International Space Station for six months, and returned back to Earth. Congratulations, Oleg!
That officially makes Rukuku visual design truly heavenly and super highly technological. Sky is no longer the limit.
Rukuku Mediaboard is awesome: speaking and sketching in groups has never been easier. When you download and install the app, make sure to allow the App to access your iPad’s microphone and contacts when you first fire it up.
Once you are registered with Rukuku, invite your friends, students and colleagues using the Invite icon in your media board. Enjoy the conversation when they join.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, the cost of education is an important topic for us. One of our goals is to expand the number of education options for everyone in the entire world. Lots of people are trying to do similar things, especially those in the movement to have more open source educational material.
Senators propose public funding for free textbook creation.
Those folks are getting some support from two US senators. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota have proposed a bill to offer public funding for the creation of education textbooks on the condition that the material then be offered free of charge.
Here’s what Senator Franken said about the bill. “I’m proud to introduce this bill because it will help provide cheaper alternatives to traditional textbooks and keep more money in students’ pockets, where it belongs.” Here is what Al Franken said when he used to be an actor on Saturday Night Live. I bet he’s proud of that, too.
Textbook costs are more significant than one might think. The average student at a four year public university spends about $1200 per year on textbooks, according to the College Board. Since 1978, the cost of textbooks has risen 812%, according to this analysis from Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute. That is higher than the growth rate for healthcare, real estate, and general consumer prices.
The high costs translate into big business for education publishers as well as textbook renters and re-sellers. They are reluctant to cede that market to the open source movement. That does not mean they are not preparing. The three largest publishers, London-based Pearson, New York-based McGraw-Hill, and Boston-based HoughtonMifflin Harcourt, are all working on digital content strategies. Check out more about that in this great article by Michelle Davis at Education Week.
In terms of the Senate bill to fund textbook creation, I can see a potential problem. I am no hardcore capitalist or anything, but if the funding comes without regard to how often the textbooks are used, then the authors lose some incentive for making engaging, high quality content. They don’t need to be as competitive. That may or may not be a problem. Time will tell.
On the positive side, the increasing use of electronic formats for e-readers and laptops could reduce textbook costs further and expand the reach of free educational content. The benefits could easily overflow the borders of the US, helping students around the world.
At Rukuku, we’ve done our best to make content creation as painless as possible. Our Composer feature allows teachers to simply cut and paste text, graphics, and video into class worksheets.
The trend, regardless of whether this bill passes or not, is toward open resources. Composer can help teachers organize those free resources into class materials. Those materials can then be shared, or possibly even sold, on Rukuku’s Marketplace.
When venturing into the online classroom, many teachers worry that they will lose the personal interaction present in the traditional classroom setting. There, students and teachers are face-to-face, which creates that old-school type of interaction called conversation. In many popular online learning management systems, that interaction changes to a written format, which allows students to continue making comments 24 hours a day. This flexibility is one the biggest selling points for online education.
Teachers can utilize video chats, virtual whiteboards, and forums to increase student interaction.
At the same time, the spontaneity of live class discussion can be lost. Students often learn more from those discussions with teachers and classmates than from their homework, reading, and problem sets. The slower format of class comment, and even live chat, which operates in real time through written formats, can dampen that discussion.
At Rukuku, we’ve tried to maintain all of these elements by offering a live video chat feature, as well as written chat and comment sections. We also include a virtual white board, which allows both teachers and students to write via iPads or on their computer screens. For example, a teacher could write a math problem on the white board and let the student solve it. Through all these features, online channels can actually strengthen interaction.
Strengthening that interaction takes more than technological tools, however. It takes time. This is one of the biggest surprises for many first-time online teachers. Because class discussion can continue 24 hours a day, teachers must commit to checking in on their classes and commenting often. For better or worse, most online students have come to expect prompt responses.
Toward that end, many online class services require teachers to respond to student comments within a certain time frame, usually 48 hours. Teachers that don’t have those requirements specifically should impose them on themselves. We all have emails from friends and family sitting in our inboxes, waiting for responses. Those responses usually don’t happen if they don’t happen quickly. If you are planning an online class, set a deadline at 12, 24, or at most 48 hours to respond to your students’ comments.
AND, in addition to that, schedule a video chat, just as you would in a traditional course. You may be able to include your lecture in recorded video form as preparation material, together with assigned reading. But make sure you schedule some time each week to lead a video chat. It will add spontaneity and virtual face time, while bringing your students closer to you and to each other.
Once all the number crunching was done and we were certain that “rukuku” would be our brand, we set to design the image. We needed to marry the ideal etalon brand qualities with those perceived to be attached to the word “rukuku”. We soon realized that the main challenge was to come up with an interactive solution that was also easy. Looking at the list of perceived brand traits in the previous post, it becomes apparent that we also needed to link some very contradicting traits: male and female, aggressive and cute, facetious and serious, etc. This was becoming really fun!
Our mighty design and programming team is exceptionally strong. Our graphic design work is led by a world-class illustrator, graphics designer and book author Oleg Tischenkov (you should definitely buy his fun interactive book for iPad). Here’s how the process went:
Hm… this sort of looks like an owl with teeth; owl is a bird, but a weird one, and it is generally considered smart. Good idea. Where’s the interactivity we need?
This origami idea is brilliant! It is as interactive as it gets: anyone can make our logo themselves and interact with it. Plus, origami is Asian, it can be both puzzle and art, and it is fun, and can be easy! This is an ideal solution.
That’s the direction we should go—origami owls. Let’s see what is there in the world of origami owls. Google search reveals hundreds of paper owls, and we like three of them. The idea is to use one of these designs as a basis for our own design:
All of them look adorable. The next challenge is to choose the one that is ideal for us. The perception histogram for the ideal emphasized easiness, so that’s what we decide to test, and for a couple of days we folded dozens of owls.
The one with long horns (“mimizuku” in Japanese) by Hideo Homatsu is absolutely stunning:
Let’s try to fold one:
This takes some persistence and skill, but we do not give up:
Finally, we make a bunch of those mimizuku’s, and the results are disappointing. While Hideo Homatsu’s is a brilliantly designed origami owl, it is not easy one. Reject!
This is much easier—a good candidate for modification.
What did we like in the difficult one? It was a mimizuku, i.e. the horned owl, and the horns gave it a mildly aggressive look. We liked its three dimensional eyes and the symmetry of the design. However, Fumiaku Shingu’s owl is definitely facetious, cute and just lovable. Let’s play with it futher and give it the qualities we liked in the mimizuku:
We discover that with a profound change to the design the owl can be put on its feet. Great! We love more interactivity—the Rukuku Owl can be placed on a desk or a bookshelf as a decorative object. Three dimensional blister eyes are great, but the owl is almost too cute. We need to make it a horned owl. The solution is simple: make small cuts in the folded edges above the eyes and unfold the horns. Done:
Now we need folding instructions for the Rukuku Owl. They have to be easy, but not too easy. We go through several versions of the folding instructions, use our friends as test subjects, and settle on the one below:
Finally, we were completely happy, and our super smart lawyers filed for copyright protection. Done.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow’s post will be about our approach to user interface design.
While the rapid introduction of new technology into the world of education brings many obvious benefits, it’s worth noting that it creates a host of new problems. An overview of some of the most discussed issues follows.
Cost and socioeconomic disparity. As alluded to in the previous post, the cost of adopting new technologies can be prohibitively high, especially for economically disadvantaged students and locales. The ubiquitous iPad, for example, will set you back at least $500. The fear, then, is that technology could widen the socioeconomic education gap because the quality of education for students of affluent backgrounds, or those that attend cash-rich schools and universities, will skyrocket ahead, while that of their poorer counterparts languishes in mediocrity.
Resistance to the adoption of tech by educators. This problem stems from a very simple set of circumstances. Much of the faculty, both at schools and at universities, is not technologically savvy. The primary reason for this is pretty obvious: the only kind of Blackboard your 60-year old history professor knew when he was growing up was the kind that gave him chalk allergies and occasionally made dreadful screeching noises. Without ever having seen the benefits of new advances convincingly demonstrated, many educators either ignore or actively resist introducing technology into the classroom.
Red tape and institutional resistance. Resistance from bureaucracy is nothing new. Smaller and more autonomous institutions have had an easier time transitioning to new methods of learning; unfortunately, bringing change to a big public education system is like rolling a giant boulder up a hill. It shows: as late as 2010, over a third of US schools still did not have internet access.
Technology as a distraction. Many educators and schools are concerned that introducing iPads, computers, and internet access into the classroom will facilitate students’ knowledge of Farmville rather than science and math. It’s hard to argue with this one; anyone who has sat in the back of a college lecture hall knows that this is a valid concern. By the way, if this is an issue for you, check out our procrastination post.
Lack of research on the effectiveness of particular technologies. Because much of the technology we use in education is so new, there is no conclusive, thorough, peer-reviewed research on its effectiveness.
These concerns are legitimate and serious, and rightly invite robust discussion among stakeholders in education. However, here at Rukuku, we know a couple of things for sure. The problems are not insurmountable, and solving them will only reinforce a very exciting expectation: that technological advancement holds the promise for vast improvements in teaching and learning.
In the next installment, I’ll be discussing the various solutions to the problems outlined here, as well as the very exciting prospects for education in the near future.