October 24, 2012To Whom It May Concern: EVALUATION OF «THE INDONESIAN WAY»
I am writing today to provide my professional evaluation of the course materials developed by Dr. Uli Kozok and Dr. George Quinn, specifically «The Indonesian Way» and the accompanying content technologies. I have more than a decade of educational experience, including academic leadership of one of the most successful online education companies in the world.
From 2002 to 2005 I served as the Assistant Coordinator for the Center for Learning, Teaching, Communication and Research, the student support and faculty development center at Berea College. In late 2005 I joined EduGuru, now TutorVista, as a founding team member and served as the Academic Director with oversight over all instruction, teacher training, and content development. We provided online supplemental learning services for students in the United States and abroad, and through our content development subsidiary, Edurite, developed online courses, content and textbooks. TutorVista earned more than $30 million in venture capital, grew to be the world’s largest supplemental education service, and won several prestigious awards including the Manthan Award for Best e-Content Development, the President Award for IT, the Marico Innovation Award, and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. TutorVista also acquired Smarthinking, the United States’ largest higher education supplemental education provider. TutorVista was then acquired by Pearson Education in 2011 with an evaluation of $220 million.
Since 2009 I have served as Executive Director of Woodford & Wheeler International Cultural Consultants, Inc. (WWICC) WWICC works with educational organizations and publishers in the United States, United Kingdom, India, and Singapore to develop effective online content, provide online teacher training, and online course development, and in 2009-2010 together with Pearson Education and Beth Hewitt I developed Pearson Writing Services, an online service which employed over 90 USA-based M.A.s and Ph.D.s and provided services to a 200,000 student user base. I also currently serve as an online education and online textbook expert for Maven Research, Inc.. I have been responsible for evaluating and selecting off-the-shelf digital learning solutions as well as their development and implementation, and have led the development of learning materials in various formats and mediums and in various learning management systems (LMSs).
I am also currently a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa where I have attended since 2008 fully funded by a Jack Kent Cook Graduate Scholarship, one of the United States’ largest and most competitive academic scholarships. Therefore, I am highly qualified to provide a technical and pedagogical assessment of the materials developed by Dr. Kozok and Dr. Quinn. I have personally used different language learning software programs, both online and offline. Also, I am familiar with these specific materials as I have been using «The Indonesian Way» myself to gain proficiency in Indonesian language, and therefore can attest to them not merely as an expert but also as an experienced user.
«The Indonesian Way» is actually a bundle of course materials that consists in four platforms and multiple mediums. These platforms are «The Indonesian Way» online textbook, the Web Audio Utility (WAU), the ANKI software, and the Laulima LMS. First, I will provide some technical specifications for «The Indonesian Way», and then provide my evaluation of it and its use along with the three other independent software platforms it is incorporated with.
The «The Indonesian Way» is itself mostly presented in a single HTML file with three scripts on each page, which is better than industry standard. The standard page has three CSS files which is also better than industry standard. The pages are 508 Standards complaint in regards to Section 1194.22, which requires when a web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with §1194.21(a) through (l) which all those on «The Indonesian Way» do. The site is image heavy, all images being in universal .png or .jpeg formats. There are a few images that do not include ALT texts (a textual description of the image). Additionally, .ogg audio players are embedded into the site which uses universal .mp3 audio file format. Because the pages are image heavy and contain multiple audio files, they are large, usually over 700,000 bytes, higher than industry standard, but the .mp3 files do not automatically load, increasing the speed of the site, making its loading time fast, under 10 seconds for a 56K modem connection which is excellent for an object-heavy site (an average page of the textbook contains over 30 objects). These technological features make The Indonesian Way highly accessible, fast-loading even on slower Internet connections, easily viewable and all the utilities or applets are easily usable. Its design follows best practices in online content design for multimedia Web pages. The only technical recommendation I would make it the addition of ALT text to all images. Additionally, my testing has shown that the site is easily accessible on both Android devices (specifically a Samsung Galaxy 2 smartphone) as well as iOS devices (specifically, an Apple iPad 2). The loading time for the site using a 3G connection is under 15 seconds, and using a Wi-Fi connection it is typical of the times cited above for a 56K modem. It is also easily accessible and useable on Samsung’s proprietary Maple browser which runs on Samsung’s proprietary Linux-based and Android integrated operating system that runs on various Samsung devices such as their “Smart TV.”
In terms of the content and pedagogical utility, I must say that «The Indonesian Way» is the single most successful online textbook I have yet encountered. I am very familiar with Holt-McDougal’s online textbooks, Pearson’s SuccessNet, Flatworld Knowledge’s texts, as well as online textbooks available through Cengage Learning. I have recommended the latter two publishers’ online textbooks to client organizations in the past, and I have been in past discussions with Flatworld Knowledge about publishing an introductory philosophy text online. That being said, I have often told individuals and clients that the time of the online textbook is not yet upon us because so far they have failed to make use of available technologies but instead have simply moved text from a printed book to a Web page. The Indonesian Way does not suffer from this defect as it makes full use of the available technologies to provide what an online textbook should be—a multimedia learning experience. The textbook itself employs a communicative approach, and while not a second language acquisition expert myself, I am a firm research-based believer that it is the most effective pedagogical approach for language acquisition. The format of the text is conducive to this approach, with conversational and topical situations being set, as well as “warnings” about particular usages or traps learners fall into, and communicative practice. There is also a block that can be opened that displays the new vocabulary for the lesson and their definitions, as well as multiple blocks that include the transcriptions of the dialogues and videos as well as vocabulary words. It also features downloadable .pdf exercises such as language tables and other activities.
Each lesson also includes a “flashcard activity” in which the review words in focus are accessible as flashcards using Adobe Flex, an open source framework for building rich Internet applications that rely on Flash Player, an application that is now almost universally required for browsing the Internet or accessing items such as YouTube videos. In addition to text, The Indonesian Way makes use of embedded audio dialogs that allows users to hear appropriate conversations by native speakers, providing examples of native speaker pronunciation and intonation as well as listening comprehension exercises. In addition to these, there are often embedded Flash videos, hosted off-site (which also generally increases the speed which the page loads), in which native speakers, all filmed on-site in Indonesia, engage in conversations, demonstrate body language, or provide other culturally and linguistically relevant examples in ways impossible to do through images and text alone.
Each lesson also includes a series of about a dozen activities that reinforce the primary learning objectives, each built using XHTML and CSS and therefore fully compatible with industry standards as well as fast loading. Students get immediate feedback on these activities; they are provided with a prompt to try again, or they may get the correct answer. «The Indonesian Way» has achieved what other online textbooks have not in my experience—a cohesive and effective use of appropriate technologies. While it is becoming more common for online texts to incorporate video or animations into their texts, it is still rare, and often ad hoc as it is apparent many of the materials have been re-appropriated for the online text. It is very clear from «The Indonesian Way» that the materials, particularly the accompanying audio and video, have been specifically produced for the text. The result is a holistic learning experience for the user.
The Indonesian Way therefore provides a technically sound multimedia learning environment where the student is provided with textual, pictorial, audio and video learning materials. These multiple modalities of learning provide various opportunities for practice and exposure, can incorporate native speakers and authentic depictions of cultural and linguistic interactions, and as such goes far beyond what is possible in the typical classroom environment, and of course it exceeds any printed text in its ability to offer multiple learning opportunities. The Indonesian Way is, however, incorporated with three other Web utilities—WAU, ANKI, and the Laulima Learning System.
WAU is a tool maintained by the Language Learning Center (LLC) at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. It is used in the context of «The Indonesian Way» as a way for students to record spoken assignments. In this way, «The Indonesian Way» is able to address all four mediums of language—reading, writing, listening and speaking. Students submit recorded assignments, each in the context of one of the textbook’s lessons, and are able to get individual feedback and coaching. This utility allows for the “online-offline” divide of instruction to be bridged, particularly for those students taking the class in an online-only format. The textbook is able to naturally incorporate spoken activities within the text itself—something impossible with a traditional text. Combined with the aforementioned activities, the result is not merely that The Indonesian Way is multimedia, but it is also an interactive textbook. The opportunities for learning and reinforcement are simply astounding, and quite frankly go far beyond what I have seen in any online textbook in the past. Even expensive off-the-shelf software such as The Rosetta Stone have not achieved the mix of practical language instruction with the various modalities that The Indonesian Way offers.
There is also a third-party software tool in use called ANKI. ANKI is an “intelligent flashcard program” that is available for various operating systems include MacOS, iOS, Windows, Linux and Android. It can be installed on computers, tablets and smartphones. It provides “smart” flashcard vocabulary practice, using an intelligent scheduler based on the SuperMemo SM2 algorithm to ensure you see new words more often than older words and also allowing users to mark words as easier or harder with the harder words appearing more often. It is free except for iPhone installation. It is a fairly small program at 35.5MB for a Windows installation. Dr. Kozok has prepared eight ANKI Indonesian flashcards decks, to accompany the eight modules which The Indonesian Way’s 113 lessons are divided into. Each deck releases new cards daily; such releases track the lessons of «The Indonesian Way» and are cumulative, so you are introduced to the new vocabulary in ANKI at roughly the same time you encounter it in the textbook. I have to say that this is a wonderful tool; I have the decks installed on my Android phone and review while on the bus or anytime I have time to kill. The result for me has been constant vocabulary reinforcement. This is an incredible addition to the “pedagogical arsenal.” Most language courses have no way of offering students this sort of opportunities outside depending on the student to make flashcards or perhaps, in more widely studied languages, buy flashcards for study. After having discovered this though «The Indonesian Way» I now strongly believe that this should be standard for all language courses. I have never had such a useful vocabulary learning tool at my disposal before.
Finally, «The Indonesian Way» makes use of the Laulima system, used across the University of Hawai’i, for the administration of online texts, quizzes, and homework assignments as well as a “discussion forum” where students post and have discussions on various topics in Indonesian. The assignments are often drawn directly from exercises in «The Indonesian Way» and I think offer a reasonable way to submit such homework assignments and allow for evaluations of students’ writing performance.
All in all, I must say that the materials of The Indonesian Way and its accompanying technologies surpass anything I have seen in my decade’s experience in education even while working at the cutting edge of online instruction. While adopting a communicative approach, it does not neglect grammar and grammatical constructions as I see in my Rosetta Stone Indonesian program. It provides much richer content than my other experiences with online language learning, such as a [language deleted] course using the BRIX LMS. That particular course was limited to a traditional printed textbook, online recordings, and the ability to write and record speaking practice. However, within the BRIX LMS the rich content possible with HTML and CSS was not as possible, creating a rather dull and somewhat “dated” learning experience. I have also done a self-paced Pali course built within Moodle, the open-source LMS. While I have often used Moodle to create online training courses, using SCORM-complaint software packages to create interactive Flash modules, my experience was that the Pali course simply used it to house text online—typical of online textbook environments. While Moodle, with its ability to incorporate such SCORM-packages materials is promising, my experience seems quite typical of how it is actually being used by language educators. In addition to these personal experiences, I have reviewed scores of online texts for English, English as a Second Language, mathematics and the sciences in order to make recommendations to educational organizations and stay abreast of the latest innovations in the field. As I stated earlier, my experiences have largely taught me that online textbooks are the future of education, but so far most of them are simply text put online.
In conclusion, I must say that The Indonesian Way stands alone in my experience. Not only does it offer such rich content, it does it on a platform that is technological sound, employing both education and Web design industry best practices to allow for easy access even on slower connections and across different devices, the use of universal formats, standard applications or “plug-ins,” and formatting and technical specifications aimed towards usability. The materials in The Indonesian Way and the supporting materials and technologies are most definitely the exception, creating multiple mediums of instruction and reinforcement in the most cohesive manner I have yet experienced. If one is a fan of holistic learning models, then one must love this bundle of materials as it is the greatest example of such I have yet seen. I look forward to using them as a model and showcase for what can be achieved by the effective and cogent use of appropriate technologies to create a textbook that is not only “online” but is multimedia and interactive. Finally, I must say the fact that this textbook is available for free reaffirms to me that there are some who still value learning for learning’s sake; it is my hope that more textbooks of this caliber will become available across the curriculum for I cannot imagine a more positive change in pedagogical practices. But at least now I have a model that I can hold up and employ as an example.Respectfully Yours, Jarrod W. Brown jarrod @ culturalconsultantsinternational.com Executive Director, WWICC, Inc.