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Google and Apple innovations should be heads-up for educators


Posted on 3rd January 2010 by Judy Breck in Biology, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, History, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Networks and Open Content

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How do educators anticipate new tech opportunities? Do educators think ahead, or are they still “innovating” what was new tech quite a while back? Let’s see: At Edgelings today Michael S. Malone gives us peeks at the big, cool offerings from Google and Apple due out soon. They are sketched in the excerpt from Malone quoted below about these two big things coming down the pipe:

1. “‘Webphone’, a device that uses the Internet, a la Skype, as its transmission medium and thus escaping forever the tyranny of the phone companies.” Malone does not think Google will do the Webphone in its new Nexus. If/when it does arrive, he says such a device will “stun the tech world.” When the Webphone does arrive, it will stun the education world by ending establishment control of learning content. A student with a Webphone will have individual, free access to the internet in his or her pocket. Here are some opportunities educators should be preparing for in the coming Webphone era:

  • Only open educational resources (OER) will be findable online by Webphones doing searches.
  • Because educational resources will move to the cloud, they become globally within reach.
  • Connecting to any education resource can only happen via a single url (node) making it necessary to optimize nodes for findability (or, for sure, they will not be found)
  • You may think of others . .  .

2. Apple’s new “‘category-buster,’ . . . think of an oversized iPod Touch, but no doubt with much of the functionality of a personal computer (not to mention all of those iPhone apps). It will also no doubt, have one or two very cool and unexpected new features . . . .” Of course, the iPod Touch is already a wireless way to access the internet without phone company control. Webphone changes for education again come into play. Other factors educator might anticipate in mulling how to teach toward students interacting with stuff to learn through their Apple tablet that is interfacing the internet:

  • Should, and how should, curricula and pedagogy in general intrude into the natural patterning of knowledge subjects in the open internet?
  • Can, and should, education standards writers impose grade levels upon learning resources being directly accessed by students? Here, for example, are expertly curated learning resources online; what is education’s remaining role in standardizing them, if any?
  • Library of Congress Today in History
    Molecule of the Week

  • How else should educators anticipate the handschooling era that is fast upon us?

moleculeAs this image from the Molecule of the Week reminds us, patterns of networking nodes emerge to create much of the real and virtual worlds. Educators need capture this emergent abundance from within OER. To do so education must focus on two kinds of nodes: the ones online that form OER (not the just the bundled pedagogy) and the nodes that each are a student toting 24/7 access to the internet cloud.

. . . But if any could stun the phone world it would be Google.  It too [like Apple] is full of smart, arrogant people, the company has lots of dough, and because phones are outside its core business it can in theory take a big risk without worrying about legacy issues.  For example, as many industry insiders have suggested, Google could stun the tech world – and hit Apple at its weakest point – by coming out with a “Webphone”, a device that uses the Internet, a la Skype, as its transmission medium and thus escaping forever the tyranny of the phone companies.  There’s a lot of problems with that strategy, of course, but it would certainly shock the world, and put Apple on the defense.

Unfortunately, the early reports suggest that what Google will introduce next week, the Nexus One, will be a largely conventional smartphone.  That’s a pity, because I suspect Google will never get this chance again.

Meanwhile, strong on momentum and flush with cash, Apple isn’t waiting around for the world to catch up with it.  Two weeks from now, the company is expected to introduce yet another category-buster:  this time it’s rumored to be a tablet device – think of an oversized iPod Touch, but no doubt with much of the functionality of a personal computer (not to mention all of those iPhone apps).  It will also no doubt, have one or two very cool and unexpected new features that will make it a gotta-have for Apple fanatics everywhere.  Once again, Apple will have a new product that challenges convention, seemingly obsoletes an entire multi-billion dollar industry (in this case, handheld computers) while overwhelming a second, newer industry (netbooks, such as the Kindle) and yet is still stunning to look at.

UPDATE: Coursesmart has a video imagining Apple’s tablet from the viewpoint of textbook publishers.

Take online courses to advance your career.

Educational nodes need to signal like our bacteria do

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Posted on 25th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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bodyPoliticSince the late 1990s, when I was working with education study subjects that were then pouring in to the internet, I have been convinced that what is known by humankind would form a “grand idea” online. By that, I have meant a large network, fully interconnected, of all the subjects we know — what we call academic subjects, the stuff we learn in school. That grand idea network would not and is not something that has grown from the top down. It begins as nodes that signal and connect to each other based on their meaning — the cognitive content they have that is learnable by us humans.

Can it be that the grand idea is like a superorganism, as described in a fascinating article in SEED magazine on this topic: “Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and remain invisible to us.” The following are some excerpts from the article [with some comments by me] that suggest similarities between the communication among our bacteria and the behavior of knowledge online. The fundamental reason they are alike is that bacteria and bits of learnable knowledge are small pieces that communicate in network patterns.

Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. [Learning resources in libraries look very different from what is online.] There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? [to the workings of knowledge when it gets online] . . . .

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. [Yesterday I posted about signaling by cells and signaling by learning nodes.] Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry. [The influence is a form of connectivity.]

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages [again: signaling connects] that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. [Open educational resources (OER) often are, and need to be, able to converse (signal) each other.]

Signaling cells show education how to use online resources


Posted on 24th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Placing OER (open educational resources) online without optimizing their components to signal is like expecting a single cell or group of cells to perform their role in isolation. Yet educators and subject experts put non-signaling lesson plans, courses, and curricula into the internet all the time. This was not surprising in the early days of the internet: educators were used to analog materials like textbooks, lesson plans, and and the separation of experts by geography. But the best knowledge for learning is now online, and education is far overdue in utilizing the cognitive connectivity of the internet.

What the e-Commerce world calls SEO (search engine optimization) is one way to give resources signals they can use to reach out to related stuff online. For OER, SEO is vital, but just a first step in the creation of signaling pathways. There are other very effective signal methods inherent in learning resources including: experts linking to (creating a network with) other OER they respect, landing pages that point (signal toward) excellent OER, and RSS-type signals that roll out expertise as it is published.

So would this signaling stuff work in a real network? Yes, and molecular biology is a very compelling model. The Wikipedia article on Cell Signaling (from which the above illustration is taken) explains:

Traditional work in biology has focused on studying individual parts of cell signaling pathways. Systems biology research helps us to understand the underlying structure of cell signaling networks and how changes in these networks may affect the transmission and flow of information. Such networks are complex systems in their organization and may exhibit a number of emergent properties . . . .

nihNetThe following excerpt is from a current article in Molecular Systems Biology. Click on the small illustration from the article at the right to see a chart of network relationships — which are the real world way in which life itself works. Instead of bundling a course or textbook in a pdf and tossing it online, how can we instead optimize the knowledge within the OER with some of these principles in the excerpt that follows by which our cells keep us alive and keep us thinking?

Despite their value in aggregating diverse and scattered information, protein networks inferred purely from data and those assembled from the literature suffer from significant and complementary weaknesses: reverse-engineered networks ignore a wealth of existing mechanistic information about individual proteins and reaction intermediates, whereas literature-based networks are too disconnected from functional data to encode input–output relationships. Thus, even the most comprehensive interactomes do not capture the logic of cellular biochemistry and—critically—cannot predict the responses of cells to specific biological stimuli. Two nodes in a node–edge graph might have a positive effect on a downstream node, but a graph alone cannot specify whether the target is active when only one upstream node is active or whether both must be on.

Education is overdue dealing with the data deluge


Posted on 16th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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It is unacceptable to teach standardized dabs of school subjects to youngsters who will be confronted in their careers by the data deluge described in Science Times this week:

In a speech given just a few weeks before he was lost at sea off the California coast in January 2007, Jim Gray, a database software pioneer and a Microsoft researcher, sketched out an argument that computing was fundamentally transforming the practice of science.

Dr. Gray called the shift a “fourth paradigm.” The first three paradigms were experimental, theoretical and, more recently, computational science. He explained this paradigm as an evolving era in which an “exaflood” of observational data was threatening to overwhelm scientists. The only way to cope with it, he argued, was a new generation of scientific computing tools to manage, visualize and analyze the data flood.

In essence, computational power created computational science, which produced the overwhelming flow of data, which now requires a computing change. It is a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing landscape.

The image posted above is from a screenshot of how Google’s “Wonder wheel” search feature offers related subjects for a search for “Organelles of the Eukaryotic Cell.” The search returned about 518,000 data links for organelles.

The education establishment has dealt with the abundance of data Jim Gray described primarily by screening and choosing for students. The practice has been to deliver pre-selected knowledge items via standards, textbooks, curricula, and courses — all of which are creatures of the analog age now almost over. Education has yet to embrace the reality that computing is fundamentally transforming the practice of engaging knowledge.

Education as the selective gatekeeper to learning inevitably will be swept away by the deluge of data available in the hands and pockets of essentially all students within a handful of years. Education must, as science must, give learners access to: a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing education landscape.

A major step toward a more positive feedback to education is making resources findable at the node level at the time experts put their subject knowledge online. The effect of that is to open the gates of knowledge, connecting those who know the most to those who would learn their subjects.

Smartphones will become textbooks as well as game consoles


Posted on 26th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and games

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The image above is’s display of iPodtouch features — most of which would be superb features for the sort of educational products that will soon replace paper and ink bound textbooks. The textbooks have the same fatal digital age flaws that game consoles are revealing, as reported in a New York Times story today titled, “Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Game Console Makers.” From the article, reporting the Tokyo Game Show:

Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?

And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot’em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple’s App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents — or even are free?

The everyday devices that now offer games can not only bring the stuff of traditional textbooks — text and printing images — into the hands of students. These devices can offer later versions of constantly updated text, moving and interactive images, live cams for subjects studied, capture of images and locations being studied, and games that teach.

In fact, it is so obvious that individual mobile devices are at least as effective a replacement for textbooks as they are for game consoles that one wonders why the changeover has not been made long ago. My guess is that schools make decisions for large groups of students instead of one individual at a time. When it comes to buying a game console, a single player or family does the shopping and decides how they want to play the game. Also, billions of dollars spent annually on textbooks are at stake. Surely we can find a better way to spend those billions than on paper (remember the trees), ink, and delivering (making a big carbon footprint) millions of heavy books for kids’ heavy (spine stressing) backpacks.

Social media towers, education still mostly absent

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Posted on 10th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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The arriving socially networked online world is flashed at you through this video — and it is an exciting place to see. Changes in communication, media, commerce, and social venues are huge. I continue to be astounded that schools and education are still very little in the mix. But there are two facts in the video about education and they are very interesting.

kindleSo we think people don’t like to read books except on paper: 35% of book sales on Amazon are for the handheld digital reading device, the Kindle.  And then there is this fact that I have not seen in the news: online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction. doe

Thanks to Teemu Arina for this one. Teemu is one of the most brilliant and perceptive people I know. To stay at the edge, read his blog where I found this 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.

Power law reveals elitism in public schooling that we can fix


Posted on 9th June 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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It is a safe guess that in the best public schools at least 80 percent of students have their own access to the internet through their laptop or smart phone. It is unlikely that even 20 percent of students in the worst public schools have such access. The 80/20 Rule is an expression of the power law, and here makes clear one of today’s education’s heels on the necks of non-elite kids.

Great pertinent news today is the new $99 price for a smart phone by Apple, last year’s iPhone. We have strained and groaned too long at leaving no child behind a standard line of mediocrity. We can now afford (at just $99 per child) to give them all a tool to pursue each’s own curiosity and inherent ability. How can we afford not to do that? Sure, there is more than the cost of the smartphone itself. You have to add about $1000 per year per student for a wireless plan so the internet can be browsed on the smartphone. The cost of public education is roughly $10,000 per year, so smartphone cost is around ten percent of that. It seems certain that smartphone costs will go down and that using the devices instead of printed textbooks will save a great deal of money.

Thinking about students in public schools as populating a bell curve masks the elitism. It makes the kids without the access to 21st century knowledge riches within the internet seem to be okay. We have assumed too long from the bell curve that they are in that safe middle somewhere. We feel good about trying to move some of them up the steep side of the bell curve. Yet I would bet my G3 that 80/20 individual internet access mirrors 80/20 school achievement.

It gets easier and cheaper to fix the inequity revealed by the power law: To provide every teacher and student with a mobile device to browse the internet. We have strained and groaned too long at leaving no child behind a standard line of mediocrity. We can now afford (at just $99 per child) to give them all a tool to pursue each’s own curiosity and inherent ability. How can we afford not to do that?

The Blob’s network learning bummer


Posted on 19th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Networks and Open Content

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A nickname for the education establishment is The Blob. The Economist ran a story earlier this month called “The golden boy and The Blob,” with the above illustration of the new US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The illustration gives you the idea of where The Blob gets its name.

The Economist article concluding section “Enemies of promise” is pessimistic about things getting better for education — because of The Blob. It is also unsettling that the section on education now online describes what looks like about 100 billion dollars that will soon be flowing toward The Blob.

One of the chapters in my book 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning is about The Blob. The point I make is that virtual learning is a real bummer for The Blob because it is emergent from the open internet and increasingly available to individual students beyond The Blob.

Already a great deal can be learned individually by students through the mobile device under their arm or in their hand. This is a new intellectual liberty and 21st century civil right. The mobile device places the option to learn this way outside of the education establishment. As I wrote about The Blob in 109 IDEAS:

Does The Blob really know more than you and I do about education? Does The Blob have any sort of real handle on the digital age we have entered? Is this ogre really better qualified than you are to judge your children and help them choose their path in life—and then to decide with what they should be equipped for the twenty-first century? Should we really commit our kids by law to twelve years of confinement under The Blob?

The biggest threat The Blob has ever faced is the migration of education’s most obvious commodity, knowledge, into the virtual knowledge ecology.

The voyage of the Starship Education


Posted on 8th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning and Schools We Have Now

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In 1966, when I saw the first episode of Star Trek, I was an advertising copywriter in El Paso, Texas. In that fairly small market, I was present at the local television studios when we taped the spots I wrote for clients. Production was visually analog. The insert above from the first episode of Star Trek gives you the idea. The stars were walking on a stage with rocks undoubtedly made out of cardboard. The cliffs and sky was surely painted props too. Nothing was digital.

The larger picture above is from a trailer for the new Star Trek movie that opens today in theaters. We see the silhouette of a young James Tibernius Kirk against a gorgeously complex digital depiction of the future.

When I got to thinking about the contrast between how the Star Trek story was conveyed by media 40 years ago to what we have now, it struck me how little the presentation of subjects they are supposed to learn in schools has changed for students during that same period.

Having completed high school in the 1950s, I found the 1966 Star Trek production compelling. Times, however, have changed. The television ads I created back then with a few analog props have been replaced by dazzling digital commercials. Millions of school kids who will enjoy the new digital extravaganza of this year’s Star Trek movie — and are accustomed to the dazzle of digital ads –  will return in the fall to essentially analog classrooms.

For educators to take on this Starship Education challenge would be a lot better than throwing huge amounts of money once again at the analog education methods our children endure:

Learning… the Final Digital Frontier. This is the voyage of the Starship Education. Its five-year mission: to explore the strange new worlds of the internet and mobiles, to seek out new ways to teach ideas and new access to knowledge, to boldly go where where our youngsters already are.

Network platform integration for the new education


Posted on 13th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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The brain of your child whom you entrust to standardized schools is the most complicated thing in the universe, with 100 billion brain cells none of which seem to be in charge. So explains Steven Strogatz (about the human brain) in the above video. He and Duncan Watts are introduced in this first of a five-part explanation of network theory. Strogatz and Watts discovered small world networks and are top tier scientists of their generation. The other videos are available on YouTube: two, three, four, and five.

What we are learning about networks make standardized schooling obsolete. The platform for the new education will be the interaction of four networks — each of which we are beginning to understand from the new network science introduced in the videos. The four networks are: the internet, the brain, what is known by humankind, and the network in which humankind is interconnect by six degrees or so of separation.

Although networks and education have yet to be heard much above the education din, GoldenSwamp will focus increasingly on this fundamental subject. For example: It is downright silly to impose watered down stand alone standards upon an eager brain that is a network of 100 billion cells from which thought seeks to emerge by connecting patterns.

Fitting education into the smarter world


Posted on 10th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Networks

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This new IBM ad tells us: “When systems connect the world gets smarter.”

There is a principle here that should be central to how we reconfigure education. Throwing a lot of money at education that is disconnected from the changing world is throwing a lot of money down a dark hole. When students connect to the smarter world network the world gets smarter. The mobile internet will connect kids so they can connect with ideas and systems of ideas. Doing education any other way in the 21st century is not smart.

Our education policy should be shiftable

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Posted on 10th March 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Open Content

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Siftables Music Sequencer from Jeevan Kalanithi on Vimeo.

We need to walk away from the pathos of 20th century education’s demise and get every kid a pocket full of siftables. What a wonder it would be if every siftable was interfacing the internet, showing related nodes of science, history, literature — whatever a student was working on learning as he shifted incoming ideas, thinking about their relationships. For now, kids with smart phones can browse the internet for these and other subjects — though educators usually don’t let them do that at school.

The siftables are a project headed by David Merrill at the MIT Media Lab. Merrill describes them to the TED audience on a page linked other coverage. The siftables are not browsers yet, but already are powerful pedagogic devices.

A new global education that embraces the internet’s knowledge and connectivity is within our grasp. Am I being too visionary? Or is the ongoing dumping of resources into very 20th century ideas something that does not see reality?

Thanks Matt for the siftables

Information is a happy camper in networks

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Posted on 18th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning and Networks

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The brilliant folks at Maya have created this video that explains what information is. The Golden Swamp – the internet – is a new habitat that information has been flooding into for the past couple of decades. We do not understand very well yet the life of information within the swamp. I think a fundamental fact about the internet will turn out to be this: information is a happy camper in the internet because, like the internet, information is a network.

As you will see in the video, confusing information with cups and colors is not recognizing what the stuff really is. The narrator shows how he has to give the information of his color choice for us to know. The internet has vast amounts of information to give – which is a key to the future of learning.

Via information aesthetics

Harnessing the internet for education is not about technology


Posted on 4th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Mobile Learning and Open Content

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This photo from a series Macs through the ages at is the first laptop produced by Apple in its PowerBook 100 series. This colorful seven pounder does not look all that different from today’s laptop, yet this picture was taken in 1991, nearly 20 years ago! The biggest tech difference between then and now is today’s portable computers are usually use unplugged; they are wireless.

It is common practice to refer in education circles to using computers as using technology. But that nomenclature refers accurately only to the now hardly novel machines and their infrastructure.

In 1991 the internet was small, the World Wide Web was one year old, and browsers were still on the drawing boards. In the 1990s, content poured into the internet, including bountiful academic knowledge resources. In 1998 Google came online to replace overloaded indexes and simple keyword search engines with a usage weighted search engine.

Those of us who have spent a lot of time in the past couple of decades working with a machine like the one in our picture will not have noticed a lot going on with the machine itself. For a while it seemed important for the machine to be able hold a lot of content, but when the internet came along content and the action moved online. The cognitive resources of education moved into what I like to call the golden swamp – the internet.

Harnessing the internet for education is not about technology. Instead, organizing the internet cognitively is the challenge. Educators need to focus on optimizing the best knowledge resources so that they are findable. Subjects need to be tagged and interlinked. The gold in the swamp needs to be found, organized, and used.