Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's the Missing Piece? Could it Be Zane Education?


Many years ago, in a land far, far away...okay, maybe not so many years ago (about ten) and maybe the land was not so far away (Iowa), but it was someplace away from home about a decade ago, when Tex was just in the process of learning to read. In any case, I remember visiting older relatives who had trouble hearing so they always turned on the subtitles (closed captioning) when watching television...sports, news, shows. There's nothing monumental about that. Lots of folks use that feature on their television sets. The monumental thing that occurred was that following that trip, I noticed that Tex's reading skills had improved faster than what I would normally have expected given the amount of time we were away and the fact that we did not regularly read while on our trip.

It took me a while, but finally, when he asked where the "cool words on the screen" had gone (after we got home) I realized what had made the difference in his reading: the closed captioning. While I thought he was just sitting there being quiet and polite while the grown ups had been talking, he'd actually been practicing reading by listening to the baseball game announcers and reading their words on the screen!

Unfortunately, our television did not have CC capability, so our opportunity to use reading tied to audio visual went away, but I've always remembered that event and it has made me wish many a time that words were automatically included at the bottom of the screen for any video we watched. We do currently have a television (which we use in a limited capacity, mostly for educational reasons and family movie nights) that does subtitles/CC, and our younger kids always like it when we remember to "turn on the words."

Well, Zane Education has been thinking the same thing I thought back then for a while now, too. If you go check out this article about "The Missing Piece," you will read that using subtitles in conjunction with video learning can dramatically increase reading skills, by as much as a one year gain in ability!
This improvement benefits not only the average student, but also students with special needs, ESL learners, and students with a diverse array of learning styles.

We recently were able to review Zane Education's extensive collection of online educational videos. 

We were given a Gold (full) Membership which includes access to over 1500 videos, lesson plans, quizzes, online tools (such as a dictionary and thesaurus), and learning guides. I have to say that while it is apparent that the development of the site is still in progress (there are small things I will mention later that could use tweaking, but they did not alter our enjoyment and appreciation of the service), it is impressive.


The topic base is immense. Here is an overview of the video content:
  • Art (history, style, and great works)
  • Science (Biological classification, Biochemistry, Genetics, Habitats, Botany, and reproduction)
  • Geography (US regions, World Geography, Communities)
  • Health (hygiene, sex edeucation)
  • Elementary Science topics (from animals and plants to the solar system and the human body)
  • Ecology (Junior science topics such as climate and classification, oceanopgraphy and photosynthesis, weather and the five senses)
  • General Science (scientific method, branches of science)
  • Astronomy
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Physics introduction
  • American History (Exploration and colonization, Revolution and nationalism, slavery and the Civil War, Reconstruction, Pioneers and the Old West, Old Texas, Native American cultures, Great Depression, Civil Rights, Industrial Age, , WWI, WWII, Modern America)
  • World History (beginnings of civilization, Ancient Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Religious Wars, Reformation, Age of Exploration, Revolution, Imperialism, Industrial Revolution, Scientific Revolution, Empires, )
  • Government (different US eras, foreign policy, social reform, Democracy, elections, branches of government, philosophies and ideologies)
  • Library Skills
  • Mythology (Greek, Roman, Norse, African)
  • American Literature ("The life, times, and works of...")
  • British Literature ("The life, times, and works of...", Victorian Literature, The Romantic Era, Shakespeare)
  • European Literature (Ancient World Lit to the Beginnings of Modern Literature)
  • Great Themes from The Classics (Red Badge of Courage, Rip Van Winkle, Kidnapped, and more)
  • Short Story Writing and Analysis
  • Narrative, Informative, Expository, and Imaginative Writing
  • Women in Literature
  • Understanding Literature (drama, poetry, short fiction, biographies)
  • History Through Literature (Mesopotamia through Modern)
  • Mathematics (using Khan Academy---covers the basics of addition and subtraction through Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, and Geometry)
  • Music--Great Composers (Bach, Beethoven, Dvorak, Mozart, Handel, Greig, Chopin, Schumann, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and more)
  • Music Appreciation (rhythm, melody, dynamics, tone, instruments of the symphony, parts of the orchestra, the art of listening)
  • Music--History (from American folk tunes to jazz to African)
  • History of Art and Music (from the Classical Era to the Twentieth century)
  • Religious Studies (Christianity and world religions)
  • Psychology (states of consciousness and perception)
  • Sociology (culture and societal change)
  • History of Crime (Old West to JFK Assassination)
Once you log onto your Zane account, you will see a screen listing the available topics. You can narrow your search by topic (such as art) or level (such as Elementary), then those topics are displayed for you to see. 

You then choose the topic you wish to cover that day and watch the video. You can choose to simply discuss it, have your child narrate back about what they watched, or have the child take an online quiz, once they have watched all of the videos under a particular topic heading. As you watch a video, there is a star that lights up next to that choice (on a different screen than the one pictured above) to show you that you completed watching it. That helps you keep track of your viewing.

As you can see, learning objectives are also listed beneath the screen you watch the video on. This helps you focus your learning, and will help guide your discussions and perhaps lead you to research the topic more deeply.

 There are even handy lesson plan guides that you can print up and use to help you formulate a lesson around that video or topic. Pretty nice, huh?

New members get access to 260 quizzes, 384 topics,1544 videos, as well as the objectives, lesson plans, quizzes, and extra resources to support using the videos as a supplement to your home education program. You can email yourself the quiz results to help track progress.

There are several levels of membership. You can choose to subscribe monthly or you can save a little by subscribing annually. There is also an option to subscribe for just the videos in one subject area that you feel you need more supplementation in for just $8.99, or $12.99 for a specific grade level. Full membership is $17.99 a month. You may choose one specific topic and for just $5 try the "topic taster" option...if it works for you in that one area, you might just like to try something a bit more later...See more details on membership levels at the Zane Membership page.


Zane Education is having a July/August promotion that I’d like to share with you:
A 35% discount on the purchase of any annual 12-month Gold, Silver or Bronze Membership subscription through until the end of August 2012 for purchasers using the unique code: ZE722HSM (case sensitive!)


Zane is a great option for many types and styles of educators and learners:
  • Useful for both visual and auditory learners
  • Helps improve struggling readers' skills
  • Works well for special needs students
  • Improves language skills for ESL students
  • Ideal for supplementing current curriculum
  • Great for unit studies and topical research
  • Even works for Charlotte Mason schoolers who might appreciate the art and music videos
  • Perfect for self-directed learners
  • Supportive for many types of teachers, providing plans and educator's guides
  • Secular and Christian educator's guides are available
  • Supplements public school programs, as well

There were some small issues that I believe will be resolved over time, as the developers continue to improve upon the system. Currently, the videos do not open full screen (or at least they did not on my computer). Also, there are "buttons" visible on the videos which I believe used to have functions within the software program the videos came from. They do not actually do anything now, and may mislead (disappoint) a child who wants them to work. I don't know if they are planning to convert these to functional or get rid of them or leave them. They did not actually bother my kids once they figured out they were not supposed to work. Also, just FYI (but not really a problem to me) is that the math videos are not unique to Zane...they are actually Khan Academy videos. My son Tex has been using Khan Academy all year and has loved it, so I have no complaints there, other than I might just use Khan's videos straight off of their site rather than through Zane.

My final concern is that while there is a Christian Educators Guide available for free with a Gold (full) membership purchase which helps you choose which videos will best suit your program, there are videos available I would not want my children to watch. There are a few that cover sex ed topics, and some of the science videos have an evolutionary bent. We just filtered these out, but it did require my involvement.

Overall, our family liked this product. The kids especially loved the music and art videos. There is a HUGE selection of history videos available, and while we did not have time to watch them all, I am very excited to use them to introduce topics of study this year as we work through our US History curriculum. I liked that the videos were nostalgic. I will warn you...they are not the high-tech, audio-visually high tech stuff some of your kids may be used to. They remind me of videos we saw in school when I was a kid...sort of like the Bob Jones science collection we have. Occassionally, the images they used to supplement the content did not make one hundred percent sense to me, but overall, we did all like them. And the little ones REALLY liked being able to read the words on the screen as the information was shared.

Before I go, I want to share with you some further information I received about this product when I spoke with Nicholas Tee of Zane Education and asked him about the history of the company and where they obtained many of the videos they use. Here is his gracious reply:

Okay that is an easy one. Back in the mid to late 1990's I owned a software distribution company over in the UK. One of the companies that we were distributing the software for was Zane Publishing Inc, who were then based in Texas - and at that time were one of the largest educational software companies based in the United States. They had developed over 260 CD-ROM titles specifically for delivering curriculum material to schools and homeschools and they had a widespread following in the school and homeschool communities. The content contained material written by a team of academics so it conformed with both Christian and Curriculum requirenments and the actual videos and graphics used came from a variety of sources.

By 1999/2000, the market for most types of software on CD-ROM was shrinking because of the growth of the Internet and they had got into financial trouble. So I saw the opportunity to convert all of those CD-ROM titles into online educational video. So I made an offer to buy Zane which was accepted. The trouble was it was going to cost quite a lot to do that at that time.

Unfortunately, just after I purchased the company, that first Internet collapse took place. Therefore, it was not until 2006 that I got together with a friend of mine, and we embarked on a 4 year job of converting all that material over into online video, and online interactive testing, so it could be delivered online. I spent 4 years of my life totally without any income, building not only this content, but all of the online subscription system too, so we could deliver it online. It has been a huge task, and I guess, a labour of love. Hence the reason why we are so committed to what we do - and take it so seriously.

If I am to be quite honest, we don't have the huge financial resources that most companies do because of what it cost to put all this together. However what we may lack in that area is made up by a love for what we do - and the belief and the heart to make it happen.

One of the coolest things for me personally is the job satisfaction of being able to raech out across thousands of miles and being able to touch the lives of so many kids. And to especially discover that so many different types of Special Needs children can be benefitted has been a HUGE bonus. The use of Visual Learning and subtitles is so powerful for all children, and sadly it is only now that people are starting to become aware of the impact on reading and literacy skills that subtitles have.

There really needs to be a greater awareness of this.

Many of the ways we look at, and see things (at Zane) are rather different to what you might expect in a business ---I think you need to be a different kind of person to be a home educator in the first place, don't you?

Intersted in reading more about Mr. Zane and his vision? Check out this article from EdTech Digest.

To further the effort to increase awareness among parents and educators about Zane's vision and its ability to help a diverse population of students improve reading and educational skills, Zane has developed a Facebook page. 

I also asked Mr. Tee about their new Facebook page. Here are his thoughts about it:

 We made a decision recently to make (our Facebook Page) more of a community page to help and include others, rather than just a place to promote Zane. So to help accomplish that, we brought onboard a team of volunteer parents and homeschoolers from many different walks of life across North America as part of the Zane Education Facebook Admin team, and they each have their own area of knowledge to share. There are home educators, parents of many different types of special needs, and even teachers and some unschoolers are represented - and they can post whatever they choose as long as their knowledge can benefit and help others.

The initial team we brought onboard was largely from across North America and now we are asking in others from Australia, New Zealand and the UK, because 'sharing and caring' can never be confined by geographical borders.

I think we all agree that the traditional school and education systems in many countries is an absolute mess, and the only way we can hope to change and improve that is if we come together as a group and 'share and care'.

If you would like to "follow" the Zane Facebook page, feel free to click here to go there.

     If you'd like to read more reviews about Zane Education from other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, check out the Review Crew blog.


1 comment:

Noteable Scraps said...

That is really cool. I had never thought of the closed captioning being a benefit that way until I had the opportunity to review Zane, but it makes sense!

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