• NECC: Wicked Problems Published 2008-06-30 under , ,

    iste Summary and take-away's from NECC session "Immersive Collaborative Simulations in Augmented Reality"

    "Wicked Problems" as Chris Dede describes, are problems that are too big for any single individual to be an expert on. Global climate change is an example. Such problems are becoming more common place in today's complex world and to address such problems a team with diverse and complimentary skills / knowledge sets is required. And, the lecture is not the place for teaching such complex learning.

    Dede offers three alternative learning environments all focusing on what he termed as "Situated Learning".

    1. Internships and apprenticeships where tacit learning is available.
    2. Multi-User Virtual Environments such as Second Life and MMORPGs
    3. Ubiquitous computing learning environments - augmented reality

    This last category - augmented reality - suggests a new approach to computing where we depart from the traditional desktop approach to access. Access to information, experts, and even virtual worlds has been through the desktop and it is this form of interaction with technology that we are most comfortable. The desktop offers a portal to other worlds whether they be as simple as a dictionary for looking up word, to communal like Wikipedia, to social like Facebook, to all-encompassing like Second Life.

    In an augmented reality, we will leave our desktop and move around in our physical world that has been enhanced, augmented, with virtual artifacts. Thus, on your next visit to Target, you may encounter a virtual personal shopping assistant who knows your needs as well as your tastes and will use this information to better inform you of the newest products and those items that are on sale. Your complete interaction with this assistant might be through your phone or PDA.

    In education, augmented reality can be used to create (reproducible) learning opportunities for our students. Dede and his group at Harvard have put together a "challenge" where students explore their neighborhood looking for clues to help explain the reported landing of an alien spaceship. These clues are virtual and are activated using GPS technology when the students move (physically) to a particular place. Students are presented with a set diffentiated clues based on the "role" that they play in this augmented reality. One student might be the FBI agent, so her clues are geared toward information that an FBI agent might discover. Another might be a NASA scientist and another might be a linguist (to help decipher the alien language). Students work in a team collecting their information, solving problems, sharing their results and collaborating on a solution.

    This sounds rather far out, or at least non-traditional, but I was surprised to hear that it was funded by a grant from US Dept. of Ed. to address poor (standardized) test grades. While I did not hear how effective the project was in regards to test scores, it did sound very successful at engaging students with "real" world learning. I guess the folks in Washington are happy enough as Dede, et. al., are in the process of creating their second scenario where a gray whale has beached itself and students are clamoring to find out why. Sounds interesting and what a fun way to simulate "wicked problems"!

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  • NECC Opening: Diversity Matters Published 6/30/2008 04:59:00 AM under ,

    iste Why is the wisdom of the crowd greater than the smarts of the most intelligent individual? James Surowiecki explains in his keynote at NECC.

    My NECC experience began yesterday with a very engaging keynote address by James Surowiecki. His basic premise is that a mass of people has greater intelligence than the smartest single individual - the The Wisdom of Crowds,. Of course there are some conditions for this phenomenon to hold true, the most interesting for me being the requirement that the mass be a diverse group. The principle is that the a wide range of ideas (even if some are really out there) will lead to a better solution than a narrow set of "informed" ideas.

    Surowiecki offered several stories that illustrate this principle the last involving the search for a lost submarine in the 60's. After loosing communication with one of its subs, the Navy assembled its top folks to coordinate a search. After the search was unable to uncover the sub, someone put together a team of very diverse individual including those you would expect (e.g. sub commanders and navigation experts) as well as some you would not expect (e.g. mathematicians). The group came up with several scenarios and then were asked to bet on which of the scenarios each thought was the most likely. This process resulted in a location that turned out to be within a couple of hundred yards from the sub. The diverse mass did better (much better) than the group of experts the Navy put together.

    Surowiecki's keynote reminded me of two books that have been very influential to me. The first is "Medici Effect " by Frans Johansson that suggests one ingredient for innovation is access or association with a diverse group of people. Rarely are innovation born from like-minded people sitting around brainstorming on how to improve a process. What they usually come up with is an incremental improvement on the process, not an innovation - a revolutionary change in the process. If you have not read this book, please do. It gives us a model for our professional development: namely, we should look toward diverse sources for our learning.

    The other book of which Surowiecki's message reminded me is "Made to Stick " by the Heath brothers. For me, the connection is in the form of Surowiecki's message. He has followed the six principles of creating a idea that will stick with us: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. Interestingly, Amazon partners "Made to Stick" with Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds".

    While some may have come away from the keynote questioning its relevance to education and work in the classroom, I found it engaging and timely offering motivation for teaching the skills of collaboration, problem solving, and even probability/statistics.

    Here are some links to the books mentioned in this post

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  • What Are You Talking About? (WiR) Published 2008-06-25 under

    talking about? This Week in Review posting focuses on a couple of sites that help us keep track of what's going on in news and the blogisphere - what are you talking about?

    As you can see, I have decided to change the name of Week in Review (WiR) postings. This was done, first to better reflect a theme for the week but also becase "Week in Review" is boring. It does not attack any attention. And it is not interesting in a RSS feed. So, without further ado, let's talk a look at what you are talking about.


    Twitturly is a site that shows what URLs people are talking about as they tweet on Twitter. As you can imagine, there are lot of Twitter conversations on videos. The recent "Ball Girl Makes Incredible Catch" was included in 42 tweets. (If you have not seen the catch, it is quite incredible!). And "Lady Spinning on an Escalator" was mentioned 28 times. (Again, worth watching - I could see using this video in class.)

    Twitturly also breaks the stats down by time including how many "active" tweets the URL is mentioned on. An "active" tweet is one posted in the last 24 hrs. It also approximates how many people have seen the URL via Twitter. This is based on the number of people following a Twitter member who tweets the URL.

    The real beauty of Twitturly is discovery... the ability to find things that you never knew you really need. For example, you should check out this wired.com how-to wiki page.


    Daylife gathers news from thousands of news sources across the world and organizes it into related stories, quotes and images. If you check out their site, you will see that you can the latest hot topics, top photos starred by Daylife users, as well as the latest news stories. You can search for news articles based on a topic. Results are not limited to just the stories. You can see images or quotes based on a topic. You can also see related topics.

    For this alone, Daylife is an interesting resource. But what makes the service so unique and exciting is its eagerness to open its data to developers in an effort to create new innovative services. Daylife is currently running the Daylife Developer Challenge encouraging developers to create exciting new applications. The term that they use is "newsware". Kinda Cool!

    There are a number of sites that have already created newsware apps. A couple worth checking out include:

    • The Washington Post's Issue Tracker lets you see news and opinions on the presidential candidates and the major issues of the 2008 campaign.
    • Universe, a Daylife powered creation by the incredibly talented artist/technologist Jonathan Harris. Check out his session at TED.
    • [editors node: this last app does not appear to be still active but is a very interesting idea] CNN's Meme-o-meter ranks the hottest memes being discussed in news stories and blogs. Clicking on a meme will display the latest news for that idea/concept.

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  • Writing for the Web or the Stupid? Published 2008-06-19 under

    stupid? What is the rule for writing for the Web and is it making use dumber?

    Are you stupid or do you just have an attention span of a flea? If you listen to the usability experts, then you are probably just scanning this article, looking for keywords that pop out of the text.

    You might just look for


    • Links
    • Words that standout in a sentence.
    • And of course lists!

    Last week, I found an interesting link thanks to Brian Lamb's del.icio.us bookmarkings. The link was to an article from "The Atlantic" by Nicholas Carr titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid". This sounded really interesting; I bookmarked it to use in my Week In Review posts. You see, I don't believe that the Web (or Google) is making us dumber. I still feel that we have the same or perhaps better capacity to delve deep into a subject.

    It wasn't until later that I realized that I only scanned the article and didn't actually read it in depth.

    While I may believe that I still have the ability to sit for long periods engulfed in a book, I know that my mind wonders. I am constantly thinking how what I just read relates to a project that I am working on. Or I read something that sparks an idea of a new project. This constant attempt to contextualize the information that I am reading is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does speak to either my impatiences or my restless nature.

    I have since read Carr's article and agree with the general premise that attention spans are decreasing; folks just want the "facts" wrapped in a quick and easy to digest package. The Web both offers, enables, and even promotes this behavior.

    What I found even more interesting was Carr's suggestion that Google (perhaps as representative of the God of the Internet) believes "that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized." In other words, Google is attempting to solve the problem of artificial intelligence using their vast number of smart people who work at the GooglePlex supplied with terabytes of click activity that they capture daily from our activity on the Web. His fear is that intelligence is being defined as vast amounts of information readily at hand and "ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed."

    I personally, don't share Carr's fears. In the first place, the Web offers an unbound source for both the Cliff notes edition of information as well as access to the primary sources and deep discussions on the information. Actually, the Web embraces ambiguity through dissenting opinions. This post is an example. I also don't fear Google's quest of artificial intelligence. Actually, my concern is more that Google is confusing click activity with actual answers. Just because a site is popular does not mean that it is the best soruce for a particular piece of information. But my concern is tempered by the knowledge that the brains at the GooglePlex probably realize this and are motivated to excel at connecting us with the best source for the information that we seek. I am also aware that popularity not equating to the best is just as relevant in the printed world as it is on the Web.

    So what does this mean for us who write for the web? Well, if I am writing copy for a page that will be scanned, I will keep in mind the differences between print and online content. But that does not mean that there are not places for the narrative or storytelling on the Web. Similarly, the Web offers a perfect platform for papers that promote deep thinking and expanded intelligence. But unlike other mediums, the Web also offers the platform for reflection, commentary and further discussion.

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  • Week In Review: 2008-June-09 Published 2008-06-17 under , ,

    Alltop Education This week in review includes a discussion on open access, effective training, and the Alltop badge contest.


    The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School celebrated their tenth anniversary this past academic year culminating in a conference - "The Future of the Internet" - that was held on May 15-16, 2008. There are numerous videos of the conference sessions / panel discussions and I encourage you to hear what these folks are saying.

    But one of the topics really caught my eye - Open Access. In conjunction with the conference, the Publius Project published two essays on "access", the initial essay by Peter Suber and a response by Melissa Hagemann.

    I have always been curious about the mystic behind journals and why researchers choose to publish in journals where they are not paid, they relinquish their copyrights, and the access to the ideas is limited to those who can afford subscriptions to the journal. Open Access is "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions" (source).

    The conversation continues in Melissa Hagemann's Open Scholarship where she discusses open education. "Open education resources", Hagemann writes, "are digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research" (source) An innovative teacher could compile a set of these resources, add her own material and product a textbook customized for her class - and the cost would be far less than traditional textbooks.

    Effective Training

    I enjoyed Doug Johnson's recent post titled "Seven Qualities of Highly Effective Technology Trainers". In a nutshell, here are his seven qualities:

    1. The problem is on the desk, not in the chair.
    2. No mouse touching.
    3. Great analogies.
    4. Clear support materials and advanced planning.
    5. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing.
    6. If it breaks, we’ll fix it.
    7. Perspective.

    These "qualities" revolve around the theme of creating a safe environment for the technology student (e.g. teacher) so that they feel confident to try and even make mistakes. It is worth reviewing these seven ideas before any workshop, presentation or training day, as they remind us that we are not all geeks and what we might find exciting (and perhaps easy) is to someone else a scary mountain with no clear path to conquer.

    Alltop Badge Contest

    If you have not already discovered Alltop, it is a site that shows the latest posts from a selection of news and blogs organized by topic. For example, education.alltop.com provides a rich source of news and views on education. You will find the obvious (NY Times, NPR, BBC, US Dept of Ed) and the big guys (Dave Warlick, Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Kathy Schrock). But you will also discover new sources of information or opinion like the "Generation Yes Blog".

    Alltop has hundreds of topics ranging Ajax to Women. And their growing all the time.

    Currently, they are holding a contest for folks to create badges for Alltop that bloggers or others can paste on their sites. The prize is an Apple iPod Touch so I had to try my luck. I have posted three so far (see blow) and may try some more. Deadline is June 29th, so you better get busy.

    alltop - education alltop - education alltop - education

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  • New Look for Digital Crosswalks Published 6/17/2008 11:31:00 AM under

    digiwalks I have been working on a new design for Digital Crosswalks, so look for it in the coming days now.

    While it has been a long time coming, I have finally dedicated some time to a new design for Digital Crosswalks. Over the past few weeks, I have been fiddling with not only design but also what I want to include in this blog.

    I have learned so much about Blogger and its templates. My emotions have ranged from "This sucks! I am moving off Blogger and going on my own!" to "Cool, Blogger makes it easy." As of now, I am sticking with Blogger. My decision is more about Blogger being more expedient than learning another blog-manager (e.g. Wordpress, Drupal, etc.) or writing my own code (which I may still do in the future).

    At this point, I want to return focus to the numerous projects I have in the works - many of which will be of great interest to digiwalks readers. I am reminded of a quote that I recently sent to a friend who was trying to educate his bosses that websites are more about what is in them than their design. "Users don’t search for design, they search for content. If your site doesn't have content people want, no one will look at it." Just Creative Design

    So look for the new design and PLEASE let me know your thoughts. But most importantly, look for announcements of new projects in the coming weeks. Who knows, there may even be a chance to win something.

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  • Edutopia Membership Published 6/17/2008 10:34:00 AM under ,

    edutopia Edutopia is a fantastic resource for teachers striving to be their best. Are you a member yet?

    If you have not already become a member of Edutopia, I would highly recommend it. Here are some of the benefits of becoming a member:

    • Subscription to Edutopia magazine - a great treat in your mailbox.
    • A New Day for Learning, a DVD discussing how learning can be extended beyond the classroom.
    • Occasional opportunities to chat (online) with education thought leaders and change agents.
    • A copy of The Best of Edutopia Cool Schools: Project Learning. Have not gotten mine, so I can't comment :-(

    But this list fails to mention the most important benefit of your membership - that you will be supporting an quality organization with an outstanding vision:

    Our vision is of a new world of learning. A place where kids and parents, teachers and administrators, policy makers and the people they serve are empowered to change education for the better. A place where schools have access to the same invaluable technology as businesses and universities -- where innovation is the rule, not the exception. A place where children become lifelong learners and develop the technical, cultural, and interpersonal skills to succeed in the twenty-first century. A place of inspiration, aspiration, and an urgent belief that improving education improves the world we live in.

    Edutopia - About Us

    Why am I pushing this group? In fact, Edutopia represents a better organized and funded version of the non-profit organization that I am in the process of founding. To some, they may be seen as the competition or at least a group that already exists with our purpose. Just one look at the focus of edutopia.org and you can see that they value most of the exact topics I value: Project Learning, Technology Integration, Teacher Development, Social and Emotional Learning, and Assessment.

    It is this similarity that gives me such passion for Edutopia. Their vision and path toward change is consistent with mine. And, regardless who is carrying the torch, I want to support these values. I hope that you will join me in your support for Edutopia and perhaps later offer your support for my organization when it gets off the ground.

    PS - for more information about the organization that I am founding or if you want to get involved, drop be a line at rob{at}myhallpass{dot}com.

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  • My New Buddy Published 2008-06-10

    buddy I have a new Buddy and have been showing her off to all my friends.

    I have a new Buddy and unlike other buddies, this one is Genuine. In case you haven't guessed, my Buddy is a scooter - 125 tangerine. My wife and I have been talking about getting scooters since our honeymoon when we tooted around Victoria Island on two that we rented. With the price of gas as it is, we finally decided enough talk, let's get serious. I guess we are not alone. Just during the time I was in looking at my Buddy, three folks came in all ready to purchase and one even buying three scooters. The scooter companies recognize this as the price of ours went up significantly just two days after we purchased.

    Zipping around town on our Buddy is great fun tempered by the constant reminder that there are crazy drivers out there - and they are driving big cars and probably talking on their cell phones while ignoring our little Buddy. I reroute my trips to include a lot more side streets which has its own reward. I am also learning that ridding a scooter exposes you to not just the other cars but bugs, road defects and the weather. A splattered bug on the windshield is an annoyance, a bee crashing into your neck is hazard. The other evening, after a long board meeting, I nearly froze as I did think how the cool air can be really cold if you are unprepared.

    I am glad that we have our new Buddy and hope to see more of you tooting around town.

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