Thursday, May 31, 2012

Augmented reality makes print go 3D

Too much discussion of technology is built on the conflict between old and new as if the two cannot coexist. Digital technology is seen as sweeping away traditional media; analogue versus digital, books versus e-books, learning versus e-learning etc. This polarization creates the view that digital and analogue are mutually exclusive. Studying online does not rule out meeting face-to-face but it provides a way to study and communicate when face-to-face is not feasible. Studies indicate that people who are active in social media are more likely to also have very active social lives offline. The one does not rule out the other and in many cases the digital can enhance the analogue instead of replacing it.

A good example of this is Augmented Reality which is increasingly used to enhance print media in increasingly more inventive applications. Take a look for example at this new service called Blippar. Using a smartphone you can see 3D extensions to magazine pages that let you access more information, see videos or see animations. It is also used to make packaging come alive, by viewing your breakfast cerial packet through a smartphone and seeing cartoon characters come to life or accessing more information about the product. Have a look on the Blippar site for more film examples.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If students are digital natives why don't they like our e-learning?

50 by bandita, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  bandita

A new report has been published by Toronto-based Higher Education Strategy Associates with the superb title The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities, 2011: If Students Are Digital Natives, Why Don’t They Like E-Learning? It's a study of Canadian students' attitudes to e-learning and finds, not surprisingly that today's students are not so enthusiastic towards universities' net-based courses as we would expect. Despite growing up with the net and labelled as "digital natives" by generalising parents, they are not automatically attracted to the e-learning on offer.

It's easy to draw the conclusion that traditional classroom education is, after all, best since the students in the survey seem to prefer it to net-based studies. The best online resources in their opinion are recorded lectures and they prefer printed books to e-books on the whole. Traditionalists will heave a sigh of relief and say "I told you so" and we can all get back behind the lectern and keep lecturing.

However the report ends with some very relevant thoughts. Maybe students' lukewarm attitude to e-learning is because the e-learning on offer is simply not very compelling or well designed? What if the e-learning of today is simply a pale electronic version of traditional teaching and therefore is always compared to the "real thing." Maybe we haven't actually changed anything, we've just put the classroom on the net without much thought of why we might want to do that.

"Another way to read the data is simply that the e-learning resources being deployed in Canadian universities aren’t of high enough quality to really engage a very digitally-savvy student population. Perhaps with more investment not just in the user interface but in the integration of in-person and online learning, e-learning resources can move from being a technology that helps students find alternatives to being in class to a technology that actually enhances and is additive to their inclass experience."

I think there is also a comfort factor behind the students' attitudes. They have been raised on classroom teaching and are used to lectures and studying to pass exams. The real potential of using the net in education demands different skills and a new approach to teaching and learning that is more challenging. The e-learning that this report examines represents a traditional linear model based largely on information transfer and self study.

As long as e-learning is simply an electronic version of a face-to-face activity it will remain a pale copy, a next-best-thing instead of something new and exciting. It's the same with many other digital phenomena. If we define digital online publishing as simply e-books, electronic versions of "real" books, we're missing the point. When the electronic version transcends the original and becomes something else then we will be able to see the benefits.

Work in progress.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Who teaches social media?

teenager on laptop by Spree2010, on Flickr
CC BY  Spree2010 on Flickr 
Our kids are using social media every day and are constantly communicating, sharing and creating. There are great opportunities for learning and networking out there on the net but there are, of course, many dangers. So how do they learn to use these tools in a responsible way? The answer is they have to do it themselves. Some succeed superbly whereas others make mistakes, sometimes even fatal ones. Isn't this a critical literacy that must be addressed in schools?

That's the theme of an excellent post by Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Will we value the skills associated with Social Media like we do traditional literacies? She is worried that although some teachers are doing a lot of great work helping pupils to use social media responsibly and taking charge of their digital identity it is not seen as a key competence.

"While I am thrilled that we are having these discussions online and within our PLN, it continues to concern me greatly that our districts and public education policies continue to put very little emphasis on the teaching of social media as part of a literacy program. While it is discussed and modeled in various capacities around the districts, it continues to be done as extra or optional, rather then as a required aspect of our children’s learning, like we do with reading, writing and math. And yet- it is the only literacy medium that can have serious personal safety consequences if it is used inappropriately."

Considering the volume of media coverage about teenagers' net use it is strange that so little is done to provide guidance and training in public communication. Zoe gives a great list of practical lesson ideas to let kids practice responsible blogging, tweeting and networking in a controlled environment. One idea is particularly interesting; paper blogging from an idea by Rodd LucierPaper blogging. This is completely off-line and involves pupils writing blog posts on paper and posting them on a notice board. Comments can then be added on post-it stickers creating a very analogue, hands-on blogosphere. It's public communication and highly social but with the school or class as audience and is a good place to practice the skills needed to get attention and deal with comments when you finally go online.

Since we spend so much of our time communicating on the net and are likely to do so even more in the future surely it's time to recognize this as a critical literacy and ensure that it is part of the curriculum. It can't be left up to individual teachers or schools, we need national initiatives.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What learning is all about

Here's a short inspiring video that I discovered from a Twitter contact. It ties in the post I wrote last week about internal and external motivation and illustrates the limitations of an education system based on regulation, standardisation and efficiency. I'm not sure about who's behind the film but the message is compelling. Only by stimulating internal motivation can formal education become truly relevant and, despite many good intentions, the effects of testing and result-based financing are nearly always negative when it comes to learning.

It's all about two conversations; one you have with yourself and one you have with your community.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hitting the nail on the head - with a mobile

It's war out there in the mobile business with vendors competing fiercely for attention. Here's an interesting example from Sonim and Nokia who are carving a niche in the hardware business with their extra tough devices. First came this video from Sonim about how to hammer nails with their Sonim XP2 Spirit.

Impressive? Well have a look at Nokia with their Lumia 900 in action on the work bench.

However, a hammer is still the best tool for the job. Don't try this at home kids!

Thanks to an article on the Swedish news site Ny Teknik for this story.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Learning from failure

We learn by failing. Sometimes by failing again and again till we eventually get it right. Many of us give up after a couple of attempts but those who don't are often the ones who learn new things and create new solutions. I'm as guilty as anyone at giving up all too easily. It's tough when your great idea falls flat on its face and colleagues say "I told you so" or remind you that you have to live in the "real" world and accept that we don't do things like that round here. But new ideas almost never work first time, new technology always has problems and we need to learn to understand the process of innovation instead of expecting instant success every time.

When talking about using technology in education I often hear people say that they tried a particular tool or method but it didn't work as expected and as a result was discarded. Sometimes the technology isn't really up to the mark yet and sometimes the user has not fully understood it. The trick is to have the patience to learn a bit more, try again or look for alternatives that work better for you. Sometimes you need to change the way you work to be able to use an innovation effectively. Often people use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail and then say that the screwdriver is a useless hammer. Often we expect to learn a new tool without any effort and get frustrated when it doesn't work as expected rather than putting in a bit more time to read the instructions first. Not everything is intuitive. Learning involves changing habits, mindset or both.

We learn to fear failure instead of learning from it. When we're under pressure to perform there's no room to take chances so we play safe. However if we can overcome this fear then we could achieve so much more and maybe one of the main differences between creative, innovative people and the rest of us is their ability to keep trying.

To illustrate this have a look at this inspiring TED talk by inventor Regina Dugan, Why we should never fear failure. As she says, "We can’t both fear failure and make amazing new things."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Passion for learning

Learn by sabeth718, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  sabeth718

Why do so many people devote the majority of their non-working hours to hobbies, clubs, community work and so on with little or no financial reward and more often than not at a considerable cost? Kids who show little interest at school or adults who simply do their duty at work and seldom more can then go home to study complex problems, organize events, create works of art and so on.

It's all about a passion for learning that all of us have but that has been extinguished in so many. Some find rewarding jobs that stimulate this passion whereas others see work as simply a way of earning money to be able to do their "real" work. Work and school rely mostly on external motivation; salary, incentive schemes, grades, compulsory attendance etc. Hobbies and interests rely however on internal motivation where you simply love learning and working because it is meaningful to you. Internal motivation lies behind most of the great work done in the world. Organisations that succeed in harnessing employees' internal motivation will lead and those who rely on external motivation will lag behind and ultimately fail. The same is true of phenomena like crowd-sourcing. Internally motivated contributors built Wikipedia for free just as open source programmers created Linux.

External motivation does not seem to motivate, or at least not very much. We all need a salary but it's not enough to motivate people to be inventive. Could it be that external motivators in education like grading and standardised exams kill off the internal motivation that is essential for any real learning to take place? When you are learning because of the promise of good grades you learn to pass the test rather than learning for life. The product of the learning becomes the certificate not new knowledge and skill. Of course I generalize but it's a factor in explaining why learning in school is so often unconnected to learning outside school.

Monday, May 7, 2012

It's not what you know ...

Create Color by Jonah G.S., on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Jonah G.S.

I've just read a highly quotable article in Forbes, It's yet another in a long line of "what's wrong with education today" articles but for me this one really sums up the fundamental issue. The article reports on a presentation by Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: Why America's Education System Is Obsolete, where he focuses on the need for schools to produce entrepreneurs and innovators. In a world where information is everywhere, a school's value is no longer in the information and knowledge it has assembled but on the teachers' ability to inspire, create context and guide.

“Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

Wagner sees a number of reasons why schools aren't producing the innovators and entrepreneurs:
  • schools focus on individual achievement rather than teamwork
  • learning is specialized instead of being interdisciplinary
  • risk aversion is the norm
  • learning is mostly a passive activity
  • learning is driven by external motivators (eg grades) instead of internal ones
Basically the present school system is not geared to generating innovative thinkers and problem solvers because the model is still that of the educational production line. The article's main point is that we need to rethink education to be able to produce a new type of society where innovation and cooperation are fostered rather than a competition and individual achievement. Notice there's no mention of technology. It's not the technology that is important but technology can enable us to create a new type of learning environment where innovation and cooperation are encouraged. We need to focus on greater goals than simply filling the classroom with devices.

Wagner is not suggesting we change a few processes and update a few manuals. He says, “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming.”

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Infographics made easier

If I was asked to sum up the trends of 2012 so far I would probably mention the deluge of MOOC-like courses and the use of infographics to present attractive and effective overviews. Most infographics are intended for reuse with Creative Commons licensing and embed codes easily accessible and I have embedded quite a few on this blog so far this year.

It's no surprise therefore to find a tool that helps you create your own infographics with the help of attractive templates and drag and drop image import. The tool is called It's free and you can start using it immediately without creating an account, though an account is of course advisable. They claim that infographics are 30-40 times more likely to be read and shared than an equivalent text and even if it would be nice to know what study the claim is based on it sounds a reasonable statement.

Have a look at the introduction video below and then have a go.