Education is not there in top mobile web sites. Wow! The kids all have mobiles. As the mobile web expands in the next months and years, the opportunity is obvious to deliver learning directly to students. The top ten mobile web sites reviewed this week by all about symbian.com include just one of the ten where there is anything like academic material to learn; that one is the mobile BBC.
The roadmap image with this post promotes Apple’s iPhone software roadmap. Education needs another kind of roadmap for this era of smart phone emergence. We need a roadmap for putting learning into the mobile mix.
There are more posts from the mobile blogosphere about the status of the mobile web at this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists.
Unbundling gives us a much needed new word in the education vocabulary. Today the word is in an Opinion piece in the New York Times:” A bill pending in Congress would require publishers to sell “unbundled” versions of the books — minus the pricey add-ons.”
Nicholas Carr has a whole chapter called “The Great Unbundling” in his book The Big Switch, a top seller in the latest wave of books about the Internet. Carr, who writes for the Harvard Business Review and other financial publications, uses this word from finance that becomes wonderfully apt for what happens when many kinds of content arrive on the Net: they unbundle. He explains in The Big Switch (page 153) what happens when newspapers are put online:
The publisher’s goal [in print] is to make the entire package as attractive as possible to a broad set of readers and advertisers. The newspaper as a whole is what matters, and as a product it’s worth more than the sum of its parts. When a newspaper moves online, the bundle falls apart. Readers don’t flip through a mix of stories, advertisements, and other bits of content. They go directly to a particular story that interests them, often ignoring everything else.
The lesson for educators is that education is fighting the nature of the Net unless it allows its online resources not only to be open, but also to unbundle. When a study course or curriculum is a bundle online, having inside it several bundled lessons, each of which lessons bundles a number of related ideas, that are in turn bundles of webpages, images, and videos – with all that bundling potential users do not quickly find the particular idea or facts they want to teach or learn. Since they cannot go directly to what they want, Net users typically go someplace else where they can.
Realizing the force of the unbundling nature of the Net presents educators with an innovation challenge and opportunity. Flat World Knowledge, mentioned in the New York Times Opinion piece today, is in the vanguard of education methodology that empowers teaching and learning in the Net environment. They plan to let professors pick and choose content to bundle custom textbooks for their own courses.
Another area of innovation the unbundling realization is sparking for educational resources folks is search engine optimization (SEO. The bundled educational content can be modified so the search engines can find the parts inside and/or some of the best parts can be duplicated as findable learn nodes outside of the bundles where their clones are lodged.
As my recent post on findabity introduced, I am discovering tricks from the SEO (search engine optimization) guys in the online commerce world that educators can use to improve online learning in major ways. Take for example giving link juice. That potential professorial power is defined by a post at getfoundnow.com: “Link Juice refers to the quality or weight that any website can pass on to other sites through links.”
Interestingly, professors have been giving link juice for a long time in the form of listing their favorite links on a webpage they make themselves about the content in which they are expert. In his book Building Findable Websites, Aarron Walter puts the idea this way (p. 80):
Content that Sucks (Users In)
Well-produced, valuable content on a website has a gravity that can suck users in with great force. When people find something on the Web that’s exciting, they love to be the first to introduce others to it. Perhaps it’s ego or maybe it’s altruism. Combine this fact of human nature with the inherent connectivity of the Web and you have a recipe to unite a large number of people around your website.
The midway for the Carnival of the Mobilists this week is set up this week at MobileJones. Featured posts are a reflection of mobile’s push to data and multimedia in 2008: Handset companies, former handset companies, Internet companies, new entrants and social networking giants are all involved in mash-ups of services. The best mobile blogging is showcased each week at the Carnival.
Included this time is a post last week on SmartMobs: “Can the Cell Phone Help End Global Poverty?” introducing an article from the New York Times Magazine on the travels and intelligence gathering of Nokia’s Jan Chipchase. Carnival host Debi Jones writes for her mobilist audience: “With the ubiquity of the cell phone comes opportunities beyond sales of games and dating applications.”
When someone links to something online, they “give it juice” in the lingo of search engine optimizers – the SEO experts. If you are an expert on the armadillos and link from your website to someone else’s webpage about armadillos, you give juice to that webpage. The search engines know you know something and the link from you to the other webpage tells the search engine spiders that the other webpage is a respected resource about armadillos.
In his excellent book Big Switch about what is happening on the Net, Nicholas Carr has a chapter he calls “A Spider’s Web.” He begins that chapter by recounting how two New York Times reporters used the keywords she had entered in AOL (and gathered by spiders) to identify user 44317749. Carr writes (page 186): “Number 44327749 turned out to be Thelma Arnold, a sixty-two-year-old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia. On August 9 , Arnold woke up to find her name and picture on the front page of the national edition of the Times.”
What happened to Thelma Arnold can seem scary, and it most certainly is spurring the development of more and more sophisticated methods to protect online privacy. That is well and good. But there are huge findability opportunities here. The education industry has pretty much held the Net at arms length for years, and one of the main excuses has been that it was difficult to find things in the profusion of online materials. Finding something very specific turns out not to be hard at all. (Just ask Thelma.)
It is not hard at all to give juice to the good nodes so they will be at the top of the searches made by students and teachers. In fact, a lot juice is already going to this fine armadillo website that comes up at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages): Armadillos Online! (which is the source of the image with this post.). Joshua Nixon, who has hosted this website since 1995 is careful and generous with is juice as is clear on his Other armadillo resource on the web page.
Educational findability is the next big thing for learning. A white paper released today by GoldenSwamp describes the sequence from searching to search optimization to findability that is the logical course of our learning relationship with the online ecology. Although education is not far along in any of the steps, the paper points out that the progression is both necessary and inevitable as learning moves into the connective age.
The image with this post was captured from a tiny moment of Internet activity by the School of Engineering, University of Tokyo. The concept educators have had of teaching teachers and students to search for quality learning materials in the enormity and complexity of the Net is obsolete. As we move even beyond the Web 2.0 interlude, network laws are exerting functions and powers we are only beginning to understand. None of these is more exciting and hopeful that findability. Peter Morville writes in his groundbreaking book Ambient Findability (O’Reilly, 2005, pp. 4-6):
Ambient findability describes a fast emerging world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime. We’re not there yet, but we’re headed in the right direction. Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically. Most importantly, findability invests freedom in the individual. As the Web challenges mass media with the media of the masses, we will enjoy an unprecedented ability to select our sources and choose our news. In my opinion, findability is going ambient, just in time.
Educators should help make this happen, and as teachers have the fascinating new endeavor before them of using what they know to help related cognitive materials find each other.
My attendance this week at Virtual Worlds 2008 has been quite virtually opening my eyes to new worlds. A basic and pervasive concept among the many virtual worlds that have sprung up as 3D on the Net works better and better is this: virtual worlds are a place where I can reflect me. Kids love doing that and the virtual worlds give them lots of ways to express themselves.
Targeting girls, the uber-growing virtual world, BarbieGirls.com, is founded on this principle, which is not much different than the traditional plastic and fabric Barbie doll of the pre-digital age. At Virtual World folks talk of the avatar age. An avatar is a representation of me that mirrors from the digital world to us flesh and blood folks on the other side of the screen.
The illustration for this post is from a “PG-13″ virtual world: There.com. When I saw this one, I itched to have teaching experts grab some sectors and build virtual environments for learning. Actually, this is beginning to happen in virtual worlds, including There.com, and I would predict confidently that ideas to learn will be mirrored in this way as a major aspect of future education.
The illustration to this post shows some of the options in creating one’s There.com avatar. As we move some of the billions of dollars we still spend annually on printing educational materials on paper, education will surely benefit from the work now being done to develop virtual worlds for fun and commerce.
How about, for example, being able to study some famous women in history by creating their avatars? Would Cleopatra have dark mascara like Ashley does in the illustration? Probably so, since ancient Egyptians wore dark stuff around their eyes to ward off insects. Studying Cleopatra would get interesting for biology students when it was time to select her asp.