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DEMML

Distributable Educational Material Markup LanguageTM

News:

First Alpha version of schema published.

Though it is still rough and only covers the fundamental constituents of a DEMML™ topic, the DEMML_0.1 schema is available for viewing here.

Created DEMML™ blog site.

It took me a while to get around to creating a blog but it is finally up. (Updated July 8, 2009)
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Added new Features and Benefits page.

DEMML is truely unique but I seem to have a hard time getting people to see that. Hopefully this will help. (Updated Dec. 10, 2007)
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New Powerpoint about Communications Systems

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History:

How DEMML™ was Invented

Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
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The Ongoing Problem with Education


Information is not available when needed.

Everyone who has read a textbook or sat in a classroom has experienced the difficulty of not understanding the material being presented. Even the brightest among us has been confronted with some explanation for some topic that they found confusing. Either because the explanation was inadequate or the student simply didn’t have the background to easily grasp the material. In a classroom setting it is sometimes possible to ask questions and get a better or different explanation. However, this is not always an option. Class time is limited and many college classrooms are crowded with over a hundred students. Getting help outside of class can be difficult as well. Many college professors maintain a mere one or two hours of office hours per week for hundreds of students from multiple classes. Many students have schedules which conflict with these posted hours. Appointments are often available but this consumes a considerable amount of time in making and attending an appointment, especially if only one or two questions need to be asked.

Textbooks have only one explanation.

Studying from a textbook can be even more difficult. While some textbooks are easy to read, many are quite difficult for most students. If a student cannot understand the first few pages of a chapter then they have an even more difficult time grasping the rest. Let alone understanding it well enough to do the homework. This often leaves students feeling as if they have hit a wall with no way through it till the next class period or office hours. As noted above, even these may not prove helpful. The main problem with a textbook is that only one explanation is available for any one topic. Many explanations are quite terse, getting straight to the point and moving on. For many students, that “moving on” is done much too quickly in most textbooks. Even a very thorough explanation my simply not suit a student’s needs. It may assume the student already understands all prerequisite material. Even students who received an A in a previous course usually do not remember all of the material from that course. Imagine what it is like for those who got by with a C or a D. On the other hand, a textbook’s explanation may be so thorough that an advanced student skips over it, missing important information.

Internet searches can be fruitless for studying.

So what, then, is a student to do when the material they have available to them is inadequate for their particular needs? They can hire a tutor. An additional expense in terms of both time and money. They can try to look up what they need on the internet. There is a lot of material out there. Students should be able to find something to suit their needs, right? Unfortunately, the promise of the internet has been buried in its success. There is just too much material to look through. It can take hours of sifting through search results to find even a few web pages with pertinent information. And even these may not really benefit the student. The problem is that the vast majority of the content on the world wide web is commercial. Even among the few web sites that do specialize in educational material, it can be difficult for a student to find exactly what they need in order to answer their question. Differing terminology is used. Content is free-form and not classified well or at all. If the student does not already know exactly what they are searching for it can be an exercise in futility. And when they finally do find something, after hours of searching, it is more often than not written for the advanced student and unsuitable for the beginning learner.

CBT is hard to find and still only has one explanation.

Another option is Computer Based Training (CBT). Computers have been used to augment education for quite some time. Unfortunately many implementations of CBT are not much more than textbooks copied into a database. The user reads a paragraph then clicks a “Next” button to go on to the next paragraph. This “ClickWare” gets tedious and boring very quickly. More advanced versions of CBT ask the user a question after presenting a certain amount of material and take the user back to re-read the material if they don’t answer the questions correctly. This is very beneficial but is still nothing more than can be accomplished with a paper study guide similar to what has been used for decades. CBT can offer rich multimedia and the user can often go back and review the material until they “get it.” But they would be reviewing the exact same material over and over and over again. Almost all CBT material suffers from the same shortcoming as a standard textbook: There is only one explanation for any one topic. If the student does not understand that one explanation then they are stuck against the same wall as a student using a textbook.

Textbooks and CBT are expensive to create and buy.

Another characteristic that textbooks and computer based training share is expense. This expense is at least partially justified. Both textbooks and CBT modules are very expensive and time consuming to produce. There are many who question the appropriateness of major corporations making billions of dollars for doing a poor job of disseminating knowledge that, by all rights, already belongs to the public. No one owns the definition of the trigonometric sine function, but a lot of companies and institutions make a lot of money every year providing this and similar information to the public.

Not enough teachers choose to stay in the profession.

High teacher attrition rates is a world-wide problem1. In the United States the consensus among education professionals is that the average teacher only lasts about two to three years2,3. This average includes those who leave the job in the first year as well as those who work till retirement. Without getting into the causes, this issue has dire consequences in terms of our ability to educate the world's children.

The total number of people born each year is about 144 million4. This birth rate is holding pretty steady despite the increase in total world population. If we take that total number of births per year (which is replaces with 'B' in the following calculations) and multiply that by 12 years in school, we get the total number of student-years that must be taught for each year's new batch of students. In other words: For each child born, that child will need someone to teach them for twelve years of their life. That is 12 x 144 million or 12B. Now, if we assume that each teacher can teach about 30 students at a time (not the ideal classroom size but not intolerable either) then we get 12B / 30 = .4B teacher-years required to cover each year's crop of new students. Finally, if we divide that by an average of 2.5 years on the job for each teacher we get .4B / 2.5 = .16B total new teachers needed each and every year in order to educate that year's crop of students. The full calculation is shown below.

Teacher Replacement Calculation

All this means that .16 x 144 million new teachers would have to be produced just to keep up with the birth and teacher attrition rates. Put another way: 16% of everyone who is born, would have to decide to become teachers, each and every year. That comes to 23,040,000 new teachers every year. To put that number in perspective: It would require more than the entire populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Huston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and San Antonio combined5 to decide to become teachers every single year, in order to be able to give the whole world a high-school education. And that is not counting what it would take to catch up to where we need to be, considering how far behind we are now.

Barriers lie between people and their education.

All of these issues combine to create quite a large barrier between what is public information and the public who is trying to learn it. From professors who are often more concerned about their research and getting the next grant than about their students. To high tuition and textbook costs. To the huge investment in time required to get a basic undergraduate degree which is now considered inadequate in many circles. To the high cost and often proprietary nature of most CBT material. To the high cost of producing enough teachers. Finally, to the very nature of almost all educational material available. All have conspired to create a situation where many view education as something for the “Haves” and not for the “Have Nots.”

We need something better.

What is needed is some way to make education as easy and inexpensive as possible for anyone at any educational level. We need a way to make it easy and inexpensive to create and distribute material. Then we need a way to make it easy for students to use exactly the material that is most appropriate for them right when they need it. Not after hours of searching, not tomorrow or next week. Finally, we need a way for students to get their questions answered quickly and easily. If education researchers can also receive a vast quantity of research data about exactly what educational material students have used and exactly how effective it has been over the entire course of their academic careers, then so much the better.

Next: Imagine a Solution

Footnotes

  1. Macdonald, D. (1999). Teacher attrition: a review of literature. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15(8), 835-848. doi:10.1016/S0742-051X(99)00031-1  
  2. Grove, G. (2008, January). Educational Psychology course, Washburn University, Topeka, KS.
  3. Clift, R. T. (2010, December 17). Personal Interview with Renee T. Clift, Associate Dean for Professional Preparation, University of Arizona College of Education.
  4. U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). International Database. (view graph here)
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Population Division. (view chart here)

First Published: April 12, 2007 — Last Modified: December 19, 2010
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