Learning, Video and a Sewing Machine

So, or should I say, sew what does my experience with trying to figure out how to use the sewing machine that I gave my 8 year old daughter for Christmas have to do with the recent report by Greenbert, Medlock and Stephens on blended learning?  Well, a lot it turns out. Let me explain…

For some reason I thought that buying my crafty daughter a sewing machine was a grand idea, and one that shouldn’t cause me much grief as far as Christmas gifts go. It didn’t, however, take long to show how wrong I was in this assumption because while I consider myself a bit of a technology geek, especially in the learning space, I am ashamed to admit that I couldn’t tell the difference between a presser foot and a feed dog.

Purchasing the sewing machine for me was in itself an education. I spent several evenings pouring over specs and reviews without any clue as to what they meant. Finally, I decided to go for an intermediate machine that might allow me to do some sewing of my own (friends and family are chuckling as they read this). With machine purchased and stowed in my trunk, I realized that a sewing machine opened on Christmas morning without anything to sew, was like a toy without the batteries so off I went to the sewing shop.  The sales person was about 17 and a fashion major and looked at me curiously when I opened with “I haven’t the faintest idea of what I need, but I’m giving my daughter a sewing machine for Christmas and I need something for her to sew”.  The young woman proceeded to walk me through picking out what she assured me was a simple pattern (note: simple pattern still unfinished), the fabric and thread.

Fast forward, it’s Christmas morning, my daughter is thrilled with her gift, and of course wants to start sewing. I mistakenly assumed this machine was going to be some version of a plug and play piece of hardware. All I needed was the USB port and the installation wizard and I was ready to go …but alas…it was not to be so simple.

After spending an embarrassingly long period of time (read: hours) threading the bobbin, the machine was sew-ready, but I wasn’t. My daughter just assumed her mom could do all, so there was only one way of getting up to speed quickly on Christmas morning (without losing face), and that was via YouTube.  With only a few quick searches I was ready to learn everything from sewing 101 basics to high couture on YouTube.

So, now that I’ve established the context, I can go back to the report I mentioned at the start of my post. This report set out to “test several assumptions of the blended learning movement” by using a sample of students from the Khan Academy.

The BlendMyLearning project brought together Envision Schools, Google, Khan Academy, and  the Stanford University d.school to chronicle the performance and engagement of low-performing High school algebra students receiving a mix of traditional teacher-led instruction and self-guided instruction through the Khan Academy website. (p.2)

What resonated with me about this study was that in addition to their examination of blended learning, was their questioning of the value and use of videos as part of the blend. As you probably know, or have heard, the Khan Academy is well known for its almost 3000 videos and mission to provide free learning, but the findings, however, from the pilot suggested that not every type of video posted had the same merit or value for the student.

The students greatly preferred working through the problem sets to watching the videos. Students turned to their peers, the hint, and the classroom teacher much more often than they did the linked Khan video. One possible reason is that the videos are aligned to the broader concept, but do not link directly to the problem students are struggling with. A second hypothesis is that the videos may be too long at eight to ten minutes. If students have 60‐90 minutes to work through multiple concepts in a class period, an investment of ten minutes for a single video feels like a lot.(p.17)

So, now that you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering “what does this have to do with her learning to sew?” Well, after scanning dozens and dozens of sewing videos, I found that it was precisely those videos that “linked directly” to the problem that I was struggling with at that moment in time and that could offer 2-3 minute solutions that worked for me. I was impatient and I also knew exactly what I needed and even more importantly, what I didn’t need and because my time on Christmas morning was precious, I just wanted what I wanted– no more- no less.

When I look back at some of the agonizingly long videos and lectures I’ve been guilty of posting over the years, I can completely understand why learners would have found them unbearable.  Video is a great learning vehicle but we have to be careful as educators and instructional designers to not make them virtual digital content dump yards simply because video technology is now so easy and cheap for us to produce. Actually, the fact that we no longer have to carefully and thoughtfully prepare and script video because it’s cheaper and easier to develop, produce and deliver doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still plan what and why we put something out there. What it does mean, however, is that we have more than one shot at creating better learning bites becausewe can more easily continue to tailor and pilot (and take risks) with our own learning projects and also to take 2-3 minutes to learn from the videos of others.

By the way, I found a great 3 minute video on pinning patterns – anyone, anyone?

<Sewing update – my daughter did sew a purse but the pj pants pattern remains untouched At this point it either stays that way or I don’t finish my thesis. >




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