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Carnival reviews CellScope in the GoldenSwamp


Posted on 27th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists


This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists #184 includes a review of our post here on Collecting visual information mobilely. The work of Joe Pemberton and the site’s Punchcut team, Carnival #184 guides us through a breadth of topics from convergence to apps to widgets and webs and the Pre — showcasing ideas from mobile’s top bloggers.

Ants, brain neurons, and finding things online


Posted on 24th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability and SEO

ants_320x198Search engine optimization (SEO) is a cousin, if not a twin, of the way ant colonies and neurons make decisions. A new article in SEED Magazine suggests how this can be true. The article is called Insect colonies offer insight into the mysterious conversations of neurons, illuminating how billions of individual brain cells work in concert to make a single decision.

Search engine spiders collect information about activity related to zillions of internet ants (keywords, etc.) and about what synapses (webpage links) are doing. Based on the concert of this activity search engines make decisions on ranking a webpage. I suggest that if you are interested in how emergent complexity creates findability on the internet, reading the SEED article will loosen up your synapses for pondering this fascinating topic. Here is a sample from SEED:

Choosing a new home, or house hunting, is the most complicated decision an ant colony makes. When an ant nest is overcrowded or damaged, scout ants begin searching for a new building site by making independent evaluations of different spots and reporting back to the colony. A decision is made when a “quorum” is reached, when a certain number of ants agree on a location.

This same process occurs among neurons in a monkey’s visual cortex when the animal performs a visual discrimination task. In the task, a monkey is flashed an image of dots moving in different directions and must decide which way the majority of them are going. When the image appears, neurons in the monkey’s visual cortex gather bits of information from the monkey’s eyes, much like ants evaluating a nest site. As more data is gathered, the neurons with the correct answer gradually increase their firing rate. When their activity reaches a certain threshold level, the monkey makes a decision.

Thus, decisions in both brains and ant colonies are based on thresholds that can be adjusted for either speed or accuracy. Understanding how these mechanisms work “will not only advance our understanding of collective decision making by social insects and individual decision making by vertebrates, but could potentially give us ways to design machines for tackling these kinds of problems,” [researcher James] Marshall says.

One of “these kinds of problems” is adjusting the thresholds of link placement on search engine results pages. Millions of people (think ants) at any moment in time are making decisions on which webpage to open and/or link to (think neuron). It is the collectivity of these decisions that determines online findability.

Collecting visual information mobilely

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Posted on 23rd July 2009 by Judy Breck in Biology and Mobile Learning

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Making microscopy portable is the vision of CellScope developer Associate Professor Daniel Fletcher and his colleagues at UC Berkeley. He explains in the video posted here that the ability to take images wherever you happen to be and transmit them to a clinician has major potential for improving health care in developing countries where to a large extent microscopes are not available. The medical uses of the CellScope are described this week in a SEED Magazine report that is based on a PLoS One article titled Mobile Phone Based Clinical Microscopy for Global Health Applications.

cellScopeCellScope also swings doors open to a new virtual science hall for learning! The student with a CellScope on her mobile can explore and learn the microscopic world in the same manner as a medical worker can, for example as the PLoS article describes: image “P. falciparum-infected and sickle red blood cells in brightfield and M. tuberculosis-infected sputum samples in fluorescence with LED excitation.” There are educational applications in biology, geology, ecology, forensic science, health, and many other subjects.

For learning, there is profound parallel potential to the distance-microscopy described by Professor Fletcher in the video. The CellScope can take student science into rich real world venues. A student with a CellScope can do remote fieldwork, sending images to teachers and laboratories for instruction about what she has captured from the microscopic real world.

Don’t you think it will not be long before the mobile manufacturers will include magnifying lenses in their cams?

Testing students as nodes releases them from class notches


Posted on 22nd July 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Testing

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kidAfganThe emerging networked system that increasingly links a student to knowledge, teachers, other students — and now testing — will release that student to compete globally. Treating a student as is our usual way, as a member of a class, traps her in the bell curve that evaluates her achievement in relation to others in her class.

This locks her learning into a notch within a group directed by a certain teacher and happening in a certain place or time. Doing this is an advantage if she is in a class of superior students at a terrific school. Not so much if she is a member of a class in a mediocre or failing school — where the student in her class who tests at the top of her class would score below the bottom student in a better school. This mechanism defeats all the optimism and cash dumps toward “getting scores up” in awful schools in Chicago, Detroit, New York — as well as many schools in developing countries, etc. etc, etc.. Analog student testing is affected in major ways by the school setting where it is happening.

The future online system will let a student anywhere take a test for Algebra 1, for example, and be scored against everyone else — in the world! — who takes it. The setting where this will happen is the emerging global network of learning individuals who are interlinked as individual nodes. And as Clay Shirky put it: Here Comes Everybody! In the next very few years virtually everybody in the younger generations will be connected — each becoming a node, free from the old time class notch.

One of the most elevating changes for a student that networking will bring to education is this transition of testing and assessment from the class group to the individual learner, accomplished by connecting an online test to a student being evaluated. We are just a little way down that road so far, but we are moving inexorably in that direction. An article this week in WebWire describes: Fifteen hundred college exams proctored online:

. . .  Jarrod Morgan, co-developer of the unique online system [says]: “We have improved the system by adding live certified proctors, real time audio/video using TokBox, technical assistance, practice exams, identity authentication, and the ability to assist exam-takers by remotely controlling their computers during an exam,” said a proud Morgan.

“Now that we’ve perfected online live-proctor exams and coupled the service with identity authentication,” commented Morgan, “and actually proven the system by proctoring 1,500 exams, we’re attracting more and more interested colleges and universities each week.”

Picturing connections happening in life and online


Posted on 19th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability, Networks and SEO

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The mechanisms inside of a living cell and inside the materials we read and see on the internet are remarkably similar. Both emerge and network from the complexity of many, many little pieces that somehow find each other and connect meaningfully. The gorgeous video embedded in this post is an animation of what happens inside of a cell.

As you watch this amazing BioVisions – The Inner Life of the Cell video, imagine that the pieces are webpages connecting and forming patterns. Think of, for example, information about the astronauts who are working far above the Earth this week making repairs and alterations to the International Space Station. Linking online is going on profusely within a cluster of NASA personnel managing the event, reporters researching it and writing about it, the public following the astronauts activities online, etc. You could also think of what you watch on the video as the activity of all the people on the planet who are currently using the internet for travel information: booking tickets, following flights, trying to find lost luggage, controlling traffic from towers, etc. Zillions of little pieces find each other, connect, form patterns, roll into clusters, dissipate — all of it creating and carrying meaning. It seems to me, that is exactly like what is going on in managing life with the cell.

And how do the pieces find each other? How do they know at what point on another piece to connect? At least for the internet we are understanding these answers more and more. Actually, makers of webpages have powerful control over the process. A major means of this control is search engine optimization (SEO). As I have written here often before, educators can use SEO to greatly enhance learning. To see what I mean, try watching the video again, thinking of the connecting stuff as molecules of knowledge for physics, or French history, or Native American linguistics, or the ecology of Australia — or anything else you would like to teach or learn. All of those subjects and everything else humankind knows is becoming virtually and dynamically interconnected in the great online global knowledge commons. The inner workings of this commons, at least metaphorically, are remarkably similar to those of the living cell.

Educators need to switch from focusing on searching among junk — and learn how to fine tune the good stuff causing it to emerge to become findable.

Digital learning sources from American Chemistry Society


Posted on 18th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Chemistry


The American Chemistry Society is making significant moves toward replacing its printed journals with digital versions, as described yesterday in The Wired Campus. This policy is enlightened. It is the future.

The Society’s excellent website includes a page for National Chemistry Week: “Chemistry — It’s Elemental!” October 18-24, 2009. Regretfully, most of the resources there that students could use to learn chemistry are bundled inside of print designed PDFs. There is a wonderful exception: a Dynamic Periodic Table available in 34 languages. A portion of the Chinese (I think) version of the table is grabbed in the above image.

My guess and hope is that by Chemistry Week 2010, all of the Society’s learning resources will be online, dynamic, and, importantly, browsable on the mobile devices that students will all soon carry.

Walter Cronkite, giant of bygone media


Posted on 18th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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Twice over the years I met and chatted with Walter Cronkite, both times in buffet lines at parties. He was the opposite of Peter Jennings, who nearly knocked me down in the inner halls of ABC, loudly telling me and my teenage nephew Aaron, for whom I had wangled a private tour, to “get out of my way” as he burst through some hallway doors and swooped toward the newsroom. Cronkite was almost shy when I spoke to him, and somehow I found us talking about our fathers who both had done work at the Mayo Clinic. He also discovered we had Texas backgrounds. His instincts as a reporter were powerful stuff — managing between the salad bowls and deserts at the end of the buffet table to learn a lot about me! I feel another connection to this giant of bygone media. He raised his family on a quiet 84th Street block on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, 2 blocks from where I have lived since 1971, though I never saw him on my many jogging jaunts down his block toward the East River promenade.

This post is a hail and farewell to yet another pillar of past media. There is a New York Times Media Decoder story today that I recommend to readers who remember the heyday of Walter Cronkite. The story captures how very much times have changed: from one trusted voice to crowd reporting and, I think and I cheer, media inoculated with wisdom of the crowd. The Media Decoder begins:

Sean McManus, the president of CBS News, learned of Walter Cronkite’s death while he was at the dinner table on Friday evening, sharing a meal with his two children, ages 8 and 10.

After taking the phone call, he tried to explain to his children — who have grown up bombarded with news and information — the value of Mr. Cronkite’s once-a-day news updates.

“There probably will never be anybody who has the presence and the stature and the importance that Walter Cronkite had in this country,” Mr. McManus said in a telephone interview, recalling what he told his children.

“I tried to explain to them that most people in America expected to get both good and bad news from one man, and that was Walter Cronkite,” he said. “That will never be duplicated again,” because of the fragmentation of the media. . . .

Image above from New York Times Video

The Blue Brain waves patterns to educators

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Posted on 14th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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The Blue Brain project, first reported on GoldenSwamp in January 2008, is the subject today of a Wall Street Journal feature: In Search for Intelligence, a Silicon Brain Twitches. The illustration above compares excerpts of Blue Brain’s neural network construction (left) and connections in the internet among science articles from the Map of Science (right).

The left network is thicker because brain connectivity is thicker than the connectivity of ideas about science on the internet. But the same thing is happening in both places: a structure from which idea patterns emerge is present.

Of course, the Blue Brain is not flesh-and-blood. It is a model made of silicon, and yet, as the WSJ reports:

Dubbed Blue Brain, the simulation shows some strange behavior. The artificial “cells” respond to stimuli and suddenly pulse and flash in spooky unison, a pattern that isn’t programmed but emerges spontaneously.

“It’s the neuronal equivalent of a Mexican wave,” says Dr. Markram, referring to what happens when successive clusters of stadium spectators briefly stand and raise their arms, creating a ripple effect. Such synchronized behavior is common in flesh-and-blood brains, where it’s believed to be a basic step necessary for decision making. But when it arises in an artificial system, it’s more surprising.

The implications for this same sort of activity within networks of human knowledge online are a big “Hello” to educators — a Mexican wave, as it were, hailing them to harness the internet for reflecting knowledge to students.

Study webpages for coal mining and the mining industry


Posted on 13th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Mines and metallurgy


The coal mining, mining industry, and metallurgy on my webpage with the above image go back a long time — in a couple of ways.

The webpage is part of a collection of excellent study subject links called — now the GoldenSwamp Study Subjects — that I have been pecking away at since 2005. When I first made the pages, I used as illustrations postcards from the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair. The Fair had huge pavilions erected for subjects of the day such as electricity, sciences, and liberal arts. My grandmother, born in 1875, attended the Fair and among her papers I found postcards for the pavilions. So I used the postcards for my subjects.

The postcard above goes back to the time over a century ago when Mining and Metallurgy were a major industry. Interestingly, I received an email today from a teacher who was using the page for a summer school class. They found an outdated link and sent me a substitute. They are studying coal mining, which I guess is not so outdated with the focus in coming weeks on energy legislation.

The swamp that is the internet has become a golden network of study materials — old and new — for teachers and students to connect into what they are learning.

That golden stuff doesn’t get out of your hair


Posted on 13th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists


So says Carnival of the Mobilists #182 host Antoine RJ Wright, as he points to GoldenSwamp’s invitation to take a dip to learn about mobile browsing. I think you would enjoy a dip into Antoine’s imaginative carnival tale to enjoy the highlights of this week’s best mobile blogging.

Interacting web patterns, link love, and the literati


Posted on 10th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Findability, Networks and SEO

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The internet is a swamp full of gold. It is the patterns of connections among the bits of gold that cause dross to float away and allow us to connect to refined and authenticated meaning. As I wrote in my last post: The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls the “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence.

The image above is derived from the actual internet swamp; it shows only a tiny portion of its complexity. To make the image I took a 400 pixel square from the Los Alamos Map of Science, a 400 pixel square from a Berkman Center mapping of Iran’s public blogs — and superimposed these two bits of networks. The science map depicts ideas interconnecting and the Iran map depicts points of persons connecting to the internet. (The Iran map does not depict the interconnections among the blogs, which are profuse in reality.)

A crucial key for educators to master and employ into the future is that the two kinds of swamp stuff these maps focus on interact to select and vet what forms the emergent patterns. If the blogging depicted were among chemists and their pattern of interaction included linking to some of the chemistry webpages in the science map, those webpages would get “link love” and get boosted on the findable scale for search engines.

Education is arriving late on the scene for appreciating the tools of online emergence. Suddenly now, the politicians are all over it. I wrote this post after reading Micah Sifry’s post today at Personal Democracy Forum titled Needed: Better Tools and Data for Understanding Social Media’s Role in #IranElection.

As chemists and historians and linguists and other literati twitter, blog, and link among themselves and with content pages they respect, they too cause useful, meaningful, golden patterns to emerge in the internet swamp.

Mobile-browsing the internet and the new learning

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Posted on 9th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Networks

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Last week I wrote about A fourth orb (world) for Roger Penrose’s diagram, and included an illustration with his 3 orbs and a fourth circle that I added representing the internet. Today I have added the little boy using his wireless device to browse the internet.

I have been working in recent weeks toward refining the focus of my blog. The illustration with the orbs and the boy mobile-browsing the internet pretty well captures where I am going. What the boy is doing changes education in ways that are almost too beautiful to be true.

Two big things are bringing the new global golden age of learning into view:

ONE: The amassing of the contents of Penrose’s 3 orbs within a single open venue where networking laws can refine the knowledge gold within the grand swamp of information. The process presents what humankind knows in a totally new, integrated way.

TWO: The individual mobile (untethered) device will soon connect everyone on the planet with the will and wits to use it into this knowledge.

The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence. No longer separated by print and ivy walls, learning resources within the internet are for the first time experiencing the honing and enrichment of emergence.

David Wiley writes about digital textbooks and new business models


Posted on 8th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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Professor David Wiley, leading innovator and advocate of open online learning, is writing terrific posts at Wired Campus as July guest blogger. His column today, “Digital Textbooks Call for New Business Models,” picks up on what I wrote earlier about the coming of free learning resources. Here is some from the Wiley vision:

In the online era, the competitive nature of educational materials has disappeared. While Selma is running calculations in the online chemistry laboratory, another million students can be using it too; while Nick is exploring genetics in the online simulator, another million students can too. It’s just like when you read the news on while a million other people do. An online educational resource is different from a physical educational resource because every student on the campus can use the same online resource at the same time. We don’t need to ask each and every student on the campus to buy a copy — though that’s what publishers of online textbooks ask students to do.

How networks will make learning resources free


Posted on 8th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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We are not there yet, but the billions that geography used to cost the education sector will be restreamed in part to make delivery of learning materials to all students everywhere free.

There is an enlightening, if a bit comical, opinion piece on the subject of free in today’s Wall Street Journal. It is written by a newspaper executive about the new book Free by Chris Anderson, who the article author says, “strains to sound provocative, at times, but flirts instead with absurdity. . . .” The author Jeremy Philips is an ExVP of Dow Jones, where “free” disquiets.

The newspaper industry is collapsing because geography is gone: readers online do not need their printed product sold on the street or delivered to their homes. The newspapers do not have alternate sources of revenue to replace their news stand sales and subscriptions.

Education, however, will be in better shape financially when free finally dismantles the ivy walls. Buried in the WSJ article is the reason why this is true: “the potent network effect that derives from scale.”

When students use free online textbooks and other digital learning resources that are free, billions of dollars are no longer needed for printing and delivering the textbooks and other resources. The potent network effect of every fifth grader using the same free online math textbook is that savings are derived from scale. If the printed textbook cost from creation to putting it into the hands of a student is $20 and 1 million fifth graders get a copy, that equals $20,000,000 freed up for something like increasing teacher salaries.

For companies that own newspapers, the revenue does not come in when geography makes their product free. For education, the disappearance of geography caused by the free online network makes learning not only free, but frees up money for the non-networkable human-to-human aspects that are crucial to individual learning.

Access centered learning instead of place centered learning


Posted on 6th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Math and Schools We Have Now

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Future kids will learn from the internet via mobile devices wherever they are: at home, on the bus, on the beach, at the workplace, and yes, perhaps at school. For 21st century learning to move ahead, we have to get it clear in our minds that having a place where children spend all day is not the same thing as learning.

As a long-time high school debate coach, I judge this contention by Michael Horn to be a red herring:

“It seems obvious to me that for a variety of reasons, roughly 90-plus percent of students (that number is derived from some projections we ran when we were researching the book) could never take part in a fully virtual school program because of family structures and associated economic realities and the like, which is why hybrid-learning of various sorts will ultimately be so important to the future of education. Having a physical place for most students to go will always be important.”

Sure, kids need a place to spend the day. In the future, though, that place is highly unlikely to be where very many of them can find the best material to learn for science, history, math, technologies — and even the 3Rs, like this sampling of math study pages that go far beyond standards teaching in the grade trap of each individual student.

Forgive me if I use the debater’s tool of narrowing the contention I challenge. I realize that in the excellent book Horn co-authors, Disrupting Class, traditional education practices are helpfully called into question. Yet I would go farther than trying to repair schools as the platform of education. Radically, I know, my suggestion is that the individual student connection to the internet must become the platform for learning. After that, it will be time to figure out what use places we require our children to spend most of the days of twelve of their years may have.