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Why “cloud” is a good word for where we are going

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Posted on 31st May 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge

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This quotation is from Amazon.com’s description of William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, in which he coined the word cyberspace: “Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills.”

Cyberspace and the information superhighway became the mental images of the late 20th century for how we humans experienced information “out there” on the new Internet. In October 2006 WIRED, George Gilder used another image: “The desktop is dead. Welcome to the Internet cloud, where massive facilities across the globe will store all the data you’ll ever use.”

This week Nicholas Carr, author of the excellent Big Switch book published this spring, has written a post in which he says: “The metaphor of ‘the cloud’ is a seductive one, but it’s also dangerous.” The dangers he writes about, both in the post and in the closing chapters of his book, are real – but they are not caused by the word “cloud.” I suggest there is a danger in losing the very helpful word “cloud” in the growing Net vocabulary.

Gibson got thinking off into a repositioned analog frame of reference with the words “surf” and “highway.” Particularly for education – the preoccupation of the Golden Swamp – emergent patterns for learning are key. Cloud is a great word here: emergence from a cloud is a useful image; emergence from surfing or a highway is very hard to imagine. Findability of quality learning resources is another area crucial to online learning – and not something that happens by surfing or following a road. Findability results from standing out in the cloud.

Cloud education has great potential to fulfill the promise of the Net to lift learning from its 20th century woes. Cloud education is connecting into the cloud to learn and to interact with other learners, and with teachers and knowledge experts. The cloud is already there, but education is barely into the cloud at all. Cloud education policy is to use the cloud for learning – and this policy is what we need to promote and adopt.

We need the word “cloud” to say these things.

Great new tool education could grab: gesture power for mobile

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Posted on 31st May 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

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Gesture interfacing for mobile is another of many exciting new digital technologies that offer educators innovations that can deliver teaching and learning to the new generation. GestureTek Mobile has moved into motion sensing technology for mobile applications:

Our EyeMobile application is a mobile middleware solution that uses a device’s existing camera to power motion based mobile games and mobile applications. EyeMobile technology is more cost effective than hardware-based accelerometer technology. GestureTek Mobile’s motion based technology and motion sensing gaming technology is blazing trails in gestural mobile gaming and navigation. A mobile user interface based on gesture-recognition is more natural and intuitive than traditional button presses.

Via MobHappy – where Carlo captures a demo in which: “they use a handset’s camera instead of an accelerometer to detect movement, and it allows them to do some cool things.”

Edupunk unbundled

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Posted on 30th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Findability

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A post in The Wired Campus today is titled Frustrated with Corporate Course-Management Systems, Some Professors Go ‘Edupunk.’ The post begins:

A group of tech-savvy professors are claiming punk music as inspiration for their approach to teaching. They call their approach Edupunk.

Punk rock was a rebellion against the clean, predictable sound of popular music and it also encouraged a do-it-yourself attitude. Edupunk seems to be a reaction against the rise of course-managements systems, which offer cookie-cutter tools that can make every course Web site look the same.

There is a basic insight from Edupunk into the network force of unbundling. It is hardly the same thing to dissect something into its meaningful parts as it is to chop something up with a cookie-cutter. Perhaps this ancient wisdom from Chinese Cook Ding about the skills of a butcher applies:

“A good cook goes through a knife in a year,
Because he cuts.
An average cook goes through a knife in a month,
Because he hacks.

“I have used this knife for nineteen years.
It has butchered thousands of oxen,
But the blade is still like it’s newly sharpened.

Good old school days a myth for most

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Posted on 30th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Only a fourth of Americans graduated from high school a century ago – dismal record on which to argue for fixing schools back to the good old days. The chart above is taken from a PDF report on American High School Graduation. The lowest line on the chart shows that college graduation never got above about 31%. The top line reflects that high school graduation climbed to and then hovered (for decades) around 75%.

In the final decade of the chart, the Internet appeared and the knowledge that measures what it means to be educated became available on the Internet in an open, free virtual cloud. My guess is that a chart for the 21st century will have climbing lines that will show how knowledge started flowing to students from the Internet – and that the lines will go into the 90th percentile. Attending a school at a certain level and getting a certificate at a school may become less and less relevant. Educators are working right now on how to rethink education to take advantage of these hugh changes, as in this new book, to be published soon: Turning Education Right Side Up.

Fading campus computer labs a sign of M-learning

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Posted on 29th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

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Mobile learning is increasingly implemented by laptops and mobile phones – somewhat in bits and pieces. A report in The Wired Campus describes a strong sign that M-learning will own the future:

Most colleges have them: computer rooms with rows of PCs—usually loaded with expensive software needed for certain courses—where students can work on assignments. But will a new approach to IT services make campus computer labs obsolete? North Carolina State University is one of a handful of colleges to set up virtual computer labs, where users enter it remotely, from their own computers in dormitory rooms or libraries . . .

Officials at NC State say they have no plans to close their computer labs, but they will no longer build new ones. It seems possible, however, that down the road colleges could decide that computer labs are as old-fashioned as typewriters.

Unbundling college courses will challenge universities

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Posted on 19th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

Unbundling is a word for a network mechanism that will change the way education does things. A post here earlier this month explained why: “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.” Today Wired Campus reports comments by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt in a story titled Colleges Must Shake Up Their Business Models to Counter New Competition Online . . . :

“The music industry had the following view, ‘We’re going to package these songs, maybe you’ll like one of the songs a lot but the rest will be our way,’” he said. In a similar way, colleges are saying to students: “You take these 25 courses, we’re going to give you a degree — some of the courses you’ll really like, others you won’t but we’re telling you what you have to do.”

Now that professors are putting course lectures online and new for-profit colleges are emerging, he said, students may soon ask themselves why they have to do things the old way. “That basic model is under assault when you create so many different channels of supply, and when you create so many ways for the audience to reach the suppliers,” he said.

Santa Fe Institute on importance of complexity in education

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Posted on 19th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Networks

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Watch the Santa Fe Institute video on complexity in education on the webpage where the above screenshot was grabbed. The message is simple: science education is failing, and teaching complexity is a powerful way to prepare scientists and citizens for the 21st century. The Learn@sfi page begins with this quotation: “The core problem is that our education and training systems were built for another era. We can get where we must go only by changing the system itself.” —National Center on Education and the Economy 2007, Tough Choices for Tough Times

The Islands of Science slide captured above depicts the fundamental idea of this GoldenSwamp.com blog: Subjects the young generations must learn in order to become educated are not islands; they are bits of gold bobbing in the complex virtual swamp of the open Net. As learning occurs, patterns of connected golden bits focus in our minds dynamically. Taking our cue from what the SFI slide says, students should not be taught islands of facts. They should engage the complexity of nodes connected in patterns. Bits from genetics, chemistry, and energy, for example, form important patterns needed to understand molecular biology.

Importance in open educational resources OER of Chaos Theory in SEO

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Posted on 16th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Findability

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chaos.jpgThe Chaos Theory is featured in a newsletter this week by SEO marketing gurus at Bruce Clay Inc. The piece, honoring the passing of Edward Lorenz, explains for its search engine marketing clientele a principle that educators can use to great benefit. To use the SEO lingo, that edu principle is: academics who are expert on a subject can give juice to a webpage by linking to it and by commenting on excellent Net assets that they respect for their area of expertise. Here is why doing so nudges order from chaos, from the Bruce Clay SEO newsletter:

This idea [Chaos Theory] has been dubbed ‘The Butterfly Effect’, derived from Lorenz’ example that a butterfly’s wings flapping in one area can make changes in the atmosphere so strong that they could force a tornado to develop somewhere else. His ideas have altered the way that we look at most scientific fields, and we would be wise to understand its importance in our endeavors as well . . . .

As for chaos theory specifically, search engine optimization is also directly tied in with the observation and management of minute changes within the system. Tweaking is often the term used in this regard. These small changes, when applied correctly, can prove to have vast effects on the system as a whole.

For instance, depending on the status of the rest of the system, it is possible that if one were to do something as small and insignificant as adding a specific word to the title tag of one of their pages, a large effect on rankings for that term could occur. This would then have a huge effect on the system itself. Obviously, in order for one page to increase in rankings, it must displace a page above it. Let’s say that your page was before in 50th place, and has now displaced pages above it to become number eight. . . .

A hypothetical example of applying this to open educational resources: There are 20 webpages on hypothetical molecule OERX. Professor Smith, who is the world expert on OERX, comments in his blog about one of those 20 webpages, and hyperlinks in his post to that webpage. Within a week, the page he commented on moves to the first page of Google SERPs (search engine result pages). A laboratory chief where OERX molecules are studied reads Smith’s blog post, writes about it on his own blog and links to the page Smith liked. The next week that page is at the top of the Google SERPs. Particularly for an academic subject as small as a particular molecule, just 2 jolts like these of academic juice can dramatically affect SERPs ratings. In this example, teachers and students who searched for OERX would find a page at the top of their SERPs that is respected by 2 leading OERX experts.

The image above is from a work in progress on my Learnodes.com website about how edu can use network tools to morph searching for learning into emergent findability. As educational resources are released into the open Net (as I have tried to suggest in the image), educators can ply to wonderful educational advantage, the SEO tools explained by Bruce Clay Inc. and other online marketing experts. The butterfly effect for academic experts can become to juice the emergence from the online chaos of the nodes that they respect.

The Net is a microcosm where micro pieces take on life like E. coli

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Posted on 15th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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microcosom.jpgCurrently I am reading Carl Zimmer’s book, just out, titled Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life. Nearly twenty years ago I read George Gilder’s then best seller of the same main title: Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution In Economics And Technology (1990). Both books are about how micro pieces make things happen.

The premise of this blog and generally of my writing is that the Net is a swamp filled with the gold which will cause global enlightenment as the 21st century rolls on. Both Gilder’s and Zimmer’s Microcosms describe the sort of swamp where tiny pieces interact to cause it all. In the golden swamp, gold too is micro. Take this sample (page 43) from Zimmer:

How does E. coli’s metabolism manage to stay so supple when it is made up of hundreds of chemical reactions? With thousands of possible pathways it could choose from, why does it choose among the best few? Why doesn’t the whole system simply crash? Part of the solution lies in the shape of the network itself, the very layout of the labyrinth.

How does the massive heap of information we call Wikipedia emit supple knowledge. With millions of of possible paths to webpages to choose among why does Google choose to place the best few at the top? Why does the chaos of content connections online make sense emerge instead of just crashing?

There are big answers for understanding the future of learning in two principles at work here.
First: Yes, the Net is a content microcosm — what happens emerges from of cosmos of tiny pieces.
Second: That cosmos is a network. Zimmer writes (page 42): “In neither case does robustness come from some all-knowing consciousness. It emerges from the network itself.”

As Gilder has done in the past, Zimmer exercises our thinking for getting our heads around online education. We need to know we fail when we impose some all-knowning education practice from the analog world. Letting E. coli show us the robustness, flexibility, and versatility of micro bits in the action of life suggests how we might entice knowledge to emerge from the content of the Net.

Harvard Law School scholarly articles go open access

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Posted on 9th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content

Harvard Law School is the first law school to make open access mandatory for its scholarly articles. The Harvard Law School faculty made the move to open access by unanimous vote, requiring each faculty member’s scholarly articles to be available online for free. The venerable institution’s announcement includes some justifiable pride:

“The Harvard Law School faculty produces some of the most exciting, groundbreaking scholarship in the world,” said Dean Elena Kagan ‘86. “Our decision to embrace ‘open access’ means that people everywhere can benefit from the ideas generated here at the Law School.”

Under the new policy, HLS will make articles authored by faculty members available in an online repository, whose contents would be searchable and available to other services such as Google Scholar. Authors can also legally distribute the articles on their own websites, and educators here and elsewhere can freely provide the articles to students, so long as the materials are not used for profit . . . .

Ten things cell phones could be good for in classrooms

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Posted on 7th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

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High school teacher Steve Dembo blogs that he is fed up with arguments that keep mobiles out of classrooms because they distract from learning. He writes:

Paper clips are a distraction. Spiral notebooks are a distraction. And as we’ve seen recently, students certainly do NOT need a cell phone to cheat on an exam. So off the top of my head, I decided to rattle off a few things that cell phones could be good for. Such as…
1) Check the spelling/definition of a word
2) Research a topic
3) Look up reference images
4) Pull up maps (even with satellite imagery)
5) Document a science lab with built in digital camera/video
6) Fact check on the fly
7) Mail questions to the teacher that they might be embarrassed to ask
8) Classroom response system
9) Take quizzes
10) Record and/or listen to podcasts

If you check out the list on Steve’s blog, he will point you to examples for most of his list.

Via The Wired Campus where writer Catherine Rampell invites visitors to send in more ideas.

RSS injects edu with accuracy, freshness, and cool stuff

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Posted on 7th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Findability

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The Wildlife Disease Information Node in the image with this post came to my attention through the RSS (really simple syndication) feed from the USGS (United States Geological Survey). By subscribing to the USGS Newsroom feed, I get a headline linked to each news story from the science being done and observed at this major earth sciences institution. As the story from the image shows, the science that can be delivered is real, fresh, and something unlikely to reach a classroom or school lab through print. The subject in this illustration is turtle cancer in Trinidad and Tabago, reported in April 2008. The interactive map is definite cool stuff technically, but is also a superb tool for biological studies.

The potential of RSS is only beginning to be glimpsed across all Net sectors. In promoting the use of RSS for as a public relations tool for online commerce, one of the top firms in online marketing observes:

Feedburner recently reported that they track around 60 million RSS subscribers. Even if that number were 70 million RSS users (counting people that use RSS with other applications or platforms) this would still convert to a meager 5,4% of the Internet users around the world, says Daily Blog Tips.

RSS is a Web 2.0 tool that educators can use to grab fresh learning content. It is also a way that creators of educational resources can spread the word about their materials, as open educational resources MIT Open Courseware is already doing.

Carnival of the Mobilists #122 features mobile med imaging

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Posted on 5th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists

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Carnival #122 invites you to sit comfortably and get ready for a blast of the best mobile writing of the week :) – and includes GoldenSwamp’s post about medical imaging via mobile texting.

Mobile learning is blind to race

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Posted on 5th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

The recent uproar in United States politics about race stirred up by Jeremiah Wright has led to a flood of analysis. In the Washington Post this weekend there was an especially powerful piece by Gary MacDougal in which he lamented:

Imagine getting up each morning to go to work in a society that doesn’t want you, doesn’t respect you and seeks to hold you back. Your spiritual leader has told you this, after all. With powerful rhetoric, Wright has asserted, for instance, that white America sees black women as useful only for their bodies. If this is the message you got from your mentor, would you expect that you could succeed? Would you try very hard, if at all?

If you are a black youngster in an academically strong mainly white school, you may feel intimidation, especially if you have been listening to Wright and his ilk. If you are a black student in an all black inner city school, you can feel certain you are there because you are black and that you won’t be learning as much as if you had been born white and were attending the academically strong white school on the other side of town.

The day is now here that our example black kids can pull their mobile phones out of their pockets and catch up on the news from the BBC. Their white counterpart at Highland Park High School in Dallas, the most elite prep schools in Korea, rural villages in Kenya, and the finest and/or worst schools across the planet will all see exactly the same news.

Mobile learning is blind to race, and of course to gender or anything else that we humans employ to demean and elevate. All we have to do is optimize open educational resources for mobile to have true equality in knowledge delivery. The end to academic intimidation is already in our kids’ pockets. We can be quite sure that the mobile has no inkling of a society that doesn’t want you, doesn’t respect you and seeks to hold you back.

Medical images for the simple cell phone by texting

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Posted on 2nd May 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous

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From UCBerkeleyNews, come news that is the edge of an incoming wave. That wave will bring good things PCs have been able to do to literally billions (about 2 billion) new people. The news from Berkeley is this: “The Boris Rubinsky, professor of mechanical engineering tells how his team conceived and developed a new device that uses cellphones to make medical imaging much cheaper and more accessible to the poor.”

The news release contains a video narrated by Professor Rubinsky in which he briefly shows how technology works, gives the point of view of the developers, and touches on some implications that they see. The 2:30 minute video sweeps away a long list of short-sighted dismissals of the potential of the mobile. We learn these and other things:
- Medical imaging is one of the most important advances in medicine, yet three-quarters of the world does not have access to medical imaging.
- Humanity can be served, with lives saved, by developing advanced medical imaging that is accessible to everyone around the world.
- The technology developed by Rubinsky is a very simple device, with a component that is attached to the patient. The device measures electrical information from the patient and conveys the information to a simple cellular phone that transfers information in the same way as a text message. The information is transferred to a very powerful computer at a processing center – and then the doctor gets back the image on the cellular phone.
- All the physician needs in a remote area where there is no medical imaging is a simple recording device and his/her own cellular phone.
An in-depth article about this project is online at the Public Library of Science.

My focus in the mobile field is in its potential for education. I discovered news about this medical image project in The Wired Campus report. Although there is certainly no argument that the medical imaging delivery by cellular phone is stunningly good news, what about leaping to the obvious conclusion that: hey, we could do something like this for delivering education! Folks are forever saying mobile phones will not deliver education because most of them can just deliver voice and limited text messages. That did not stop Professor Rubinsky’s team. Educators need to make sure they are riding the incoming wave of mobile innovation.