Google Glass — “Nauseous, unsteady, naked”*

glass mice

Of course anytime we see a novel technology enter the consumer market we also see nerd-minded educators (like myself) and business-minded observers (not usually me) begin asking how the Latest New Shiny will revolutionize education. Google Glass, wearable computer with a brand new acronym (OHMD) is one of those.

Actually, I don’t know if Google Glass is one of those. ”New shiny” suggests a sexy device that everyone desires, even if secretly; so far, Google Glass is a device that most people just resent – little else.

In just a few months the idea of using Google Glass for education has generated a good amount of buzz and some thoughtful thinking. I don’t see anyone leveraging Glass to implement difficult instructional theories, but we’ll give that a pass since they’re just getting started.

Most educators talking about Google Glass aren’t looking to it as a means of providing real-time monitoring of student behavior or analytics (an application that carries as much anxiety as potential). They speak primarily of its function as little more than a convenient video camera (the other potential benefits are common in most connected technology). As we’ve seen with other technologies that approach the invisible, the best thing technology can do for education is enhance teaching or learning while staying out of the way, so I’ll definitely give wearable cameras that.

On that note, my list of interesting possibilities for Google Glass (adapted from everyone else’s) is relatively shallow:

  1. First-person video for…
    • Teacher demonstrations
    • Student demonstrations, including teacher training

    When you want to see process, not just product you need video. Unobtrusive video. Any web cam, tablet, or modern phone can give you that, but wearable video adds the first-person point-of-view, which can give additional detail and perspective. When tasks require physical action or manipulation of objects, you need hands-free. OHMD seem ideal for that.

  2. Eyetracking for literacy development

    I’ll own this one: I’d like to have a screen in front of my eyes to project words a la RSVP. But for students developing reading skills eyetracking technology could provide feedback to teachers using algorithms that infer speed and even attention. Software could then adjust reading content to student’s optimal level.

  3. Augmented reality, especially in labs or field trips

    In essence, I look at something and useful multimedia is triggered. Someone do this right so I can be convinced, plz.

  4. Facial recognition:

    • For attendance-taking (yawn)
    • To trigger the display of real-time learning analytics (eek)

So there are some decent ideas. I don’t see one that outweighs the serious concerns I have about wearable technology like Google Glass, especially when it is imposed on students and teachers. It puts student privacy at risk, and tempts policy-makers to invest in bio-monitoring rather than outcomes as a means of inferring learning. Indeed, I was going to start by excusing this post as “obligatory” but I actually believe it is obligatory to discuss ed tech that may have as many — or more — cons to pros.

The biggest obstacle proponents of Glass will face is the years it will take for this wearable makes its way into the mainstream consumer culture, let alone classroom. Tablets are taking years, even decades depending on who you ask.

But maybe a shift in marketing will change the pace of adoption. Indeed, the latest version of the Google Glass “About” page markets it as a product “for those who move”, suggesting that Glass’s real purpose is to augment reality for active humans engaging with the physical world.

Spandex + Google Glass; the ultimate fashion statement.

Spandex + Google Glass; the ultimate fashion statement.

In context of education this positions Glass as Phys Ed gear or assistive technology for trades. I like that a lot better than “glassrooms”.

* The quote comes from an article on Steve Mann, a wearable computing and OHMD pioneer, describing how he feels when he takes his wearable EyeTap technology off. It does not describe the author.

Flipping isn’t a thing apart

Re-posted from Keep Learning

Slate’s article on “flipped classrooms” in colleges by Rebecca Shuman is useful as a hub to recent work on the approach. But it’s also an interesting starting point for conversation on what “flipping” is all about.

Schuman points out several potential problems with flipped classroom models that deserve consideration. It’s not just that “professors are forever annoyed—often justifiably so—at the possibility of “disrupting” an instructional style that is often the result of years of trial and error”, it’s that the flipped model seems risky; indeed, the article starts by warning students that they may be part of an experiment and not even know it! (So much for the “years of trial and error” it’s taken to perfect the traditional model…)

First, Shuman suggests that, at least in the humanities, “the flip threatens to flop” — presumably due to the discussion-based nature of the traditional f2f course experience prevalent in many humanities courses. Rather than discounting the flip, the answer is probably just to move the course up the technology-enhanced teaching spectrum and begin using asynchronous online discussions in addition to synchronous f2f. See, flipped classrooms are really just one variation of blended, with plenty of opportunity for variation and experimentation even within the definition of “flipped”.

Second, Shuman asks, if students have to watch you lecture outside of class time, when will they find time to do their readings? (I’ll set aside the evidence that students typically spend about half as much time on homework as they are advised to do.) Readings are homework, so if students’ only homework is reading and you’re flipping your class to put the in-class experience offsite, then inventing new onsite activities while maintaining those reading assignments you’re falling into the course-and-a-half syndrome — a common mistake made by teachers first getting started with blended or online course design. One way to avoid this: redesign based on outcomes and a total learning time standard like the traditional 3-to-1 study-time-to-credit-hour formula.

Shuman explores these concerns using an example of a typical Shakespeare course where the teacher doesn’t lecture much in the first place; class sessions center on discussions instead. Students read the text outside of class, and participate in-class based on that reading. This kind of course seems hard to flip and maintain effectiveness, right?

But that’s really only because this Shakespeare course is already flipped. See, like many technology-based education buzz-trends, the flipped classroom model is not really new; it’s only that new technology facilitates adoption of the model for more courses, in more subject areas, with greater flexibility, and with the potential for different or better outcomes.

What happened to “cyberspace”?

I used Google’s Ngram Viewer to investigate a hunch that the word “cyberspace” is falling out of use:

Of course, Google Ngram only represents usage of words in books that Google has indexed, and only goes through 2008, but this trend line is not surprising.

I think about my own usage of the web, and if anything I dwell in places not cyberspace. But I remember the cyberspace metaphor being quite fitting — especially in the late 90s, but even through the 00s — and not just because I had read Stephenson and Gibson.

In fact, the bulk of my activity online nowadays is actually more akin to listening to the radio — a purer connection to the information. I find myself “tuning in” to different “stations” depending on my mood/interest, or even just to see what they have to offer right now. If I’m looking for baroque I hit the classical station and my odds are good, just as if I’m looking for current insights from colleagues I hit Twitter; when I need punk rock I find the local high school-run indie station or I search on my iPhone, just as when I need a Dr Who fix I turn to Netflix, or I check my media folder.
I don’t pretend to have anything more than anecdotes (yet). But speaking of anecdotes, I did ask my 11-year-old son whether it makes sense to think about the internet as a space or place that he “visits”. He answered, no. “It’s just what I do,” he said. “When I want to find something I just get it.”

The loss of meaning of the cyberspace analogy is likely due to a combination of factors, including (1) the more task-centric nature of modern web behavior, (2) the modern web’s more reliable ability to serve up what we need without “surfing”, or (3) the congregation of social networks by niches into services like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Feedly, etc.

Before they published great books on web dev, New Riders published the WWW Yellow Pages. FRD.

Before they published great books on web dev, New Riders published the WWW Yellow Pages circa 1997. FRD. I had a copy.

But by in large I think we don’t use the word “cyberspace” because we no longer think of the interwebs as a “space”. It’s not that cyberspace has collapsed on itself, but rather our conception of the web is more fluid, blended with the everyday activities that we engage in regardless of place. The physical place we are at is the place we are at; the activities we do — physical or virtual — are no longer dependent on that place. Mobility and API-driven mobile apps have removed not only the walls, but even the metaphorical act of traveling to cyberspace: No longer must we boot the computer, connect to the internet, open a browser, go to a website, login, and browse. Now our mobile devices tell us when there is something to pay attention to and delivers that information to us unfettered. Connections are formed by way of people, circuited through social network services, regardless or even in spite of place.

At any given moment our proximal place blends with cyberspace, to the point that cyberspace becomes invisible, and the invisible is ignored.

On Richard Curwin’s Wonder, Prediction and Student Engagement

Richard Curwin‘s post, Wonder, Prediction and Student Engagement, provides some classic recommendations to help teachers and instructional designers use methods like compare/contrast, Socratic questioning, and learner predictions.

The idea of focusing on predictions reminded me of Derek Muller‘s work that suggests students tend to ignore new information in favor of their own pre-existing understanding, even if it’s wrong. But if you call attention to students’ misunderstandings as predictions (as Muller sometimes shows in his Veritasium videos), this can help students adjust faulty mental models by creating cognitive dissonance when they compare their prediction to the correct answer.

Cross-posted from Keep Learning

Michael Feldstein starts discussion of solutionism in ed tech

OK, maybe “starts” is not the right word as this discussion has been happening – albeit often in small, sometimes closed circles — for some time (see also Klapdor and Fernandez for example).

But having been on both sides of the ed tech purchaser / vendor fence (I spent over a dozen years in higher ed online learning and currently work for Canvas by Instructure), and still having the desire to turn that fence into something more neighborly, I agree with a lot that Michael Feldstein has said about the challenges that hype-driven trends toward solutionism present to both parties. Some abridged quotes from Feldstein’s latest e-Literate post, emphasis added:

…We seem to go through endless hype cycles for technology-enabled education solutions, whether those solutions are general online learning programs, MOOCs, adaptive learning, competency-based education, et cetera and so on, ad nauseam. And the context in which these solutions are discussed is usually either a pitch by a vendor or some breathless bit of fluff utopianism in the tech media or the mainstream punditry. … Conversations tend to be collapsed into which thing we should buy rather than what’s the best way to solve the problem that we’re worried about or reaching the goal that we’re aspiring to achieve.

Given that situation, educators generally have three choices. First, they can trust most everything the vendors and media say… Second, they can distrust most everything the vendors and media say… Third, they can put together a review process which attempts to codify the differences amongst the solution candidates. Unfortunately, what often happens is a combination of the worst of all three of these options. Somebody will make a (labor-intensive) attempt to codify every feature of all the solution candidates and make the vendors respond to a massive RFP. … because the RFP is usually written to document differences among products rather than illuminate important features of the problem being solved that might recommend one solution over another, the results of the process often don’t change many minds. … So either the vendor that checks the most boxes wins or the vendor who had the most support going into the process wins. Obviously, this is not a good situation for educators, students, or schools…

But the biggest problem that solutionism causes is that it distracts us from focusing on the problems the solutions are supposed to solve. Who cares about adaptive learning, really? What we care about is student success.

(From e-Literate TV Update and Request for Help)

It’s exciting to hear that e-Literate is targeting this challenge with their e-Literate TV project, and I’m anxious to see what insights they gather and share. For everyone else, I have no answer aside from the idea that repelling the temptations of simplistic solutionism may be as easy* as honest dialogue that is both goal-directed and widely inclusive, and open enough to run broad and deep.

On Kristen Hicks’s The Benefits of Blogging in Education

Blogging for learning is nothing new, but Kristen Hicks presents seven ways learners can benefit from blogging as a way to share their learning progress. Two of these benefits include:

  • Increased student opportunities to interact with each other

  • The opportunity and incentive for students to take ownership over their ideas and voice

Implicit in these benefits is the idea that when students understand that their work will be public, they feel pressure to write better. This kind of pressure is akin to the scrutiny and opportunity for either praise or criticism students may face in their future careers, and, of course, on the open web.

Keep in mind, educators often use “blogging” to simply mean any shared journaling activity, ignoring the value of the individually-owned, public-facing blogs that we all know and love. Hicks’ list doesn’t specify benefits inherent only in real-world blogging; they also apply to walled-garden style class journaling.

Cross-posted from Keep Learning

Setting wheels in motion: Mindsets workshop structure at MIT Media Lab

I’ve organized small and medium-sized workshops and even large conferences in my day, so I’m always interested in how others execute their events to encourage engagement and meaningful outcomes. So, setting aside the richness of the discussions, the knowledge-sharing, and the many connections at today’s mindsets, motivation and online learning workshop (hosted by MIT Media Lab) I want to describe the very clever structure and sequence that Philipp Schmidt and team used to combine and re-combine a group of over 30 researchers, teachers, technologists, and administrators from various backgrounds into fully engaged teams of collaborators:

  1. Small groups introduced themselves to each other to forge strong initial connections around their own interests in the topic at hand.
  2. These initial groups accumulated post-its that described their groups’ take on important challenges and opportunities on a shared wall, serving as a visually conspicuous place of individual contemplation and casual discussion.
  3. Two rounds of “speedgeeking” were organized at 10 separate stations. Each station featured one participant sharing their current interests and projects in 5 min or less to rotating groups. The two rounds were for “researchers” then “platforms”.
  4. (Lunch)
  5. The post-it wall was re-organized into themes by the workshop facilitators. When the participants regrouped in front of the wall, a “dotmocracy” activity gave each participant the chance to up-vote 3 topics using a white board marker.
  6. The top 5-6 topics were then adopted by participants for another group activity, where members discussed the topic for about an hour, aiming to highlight just a few key insights or questions.
  7. Those insights and questions were shared back with the entire cohort of participants, and formed clear agendas for continuing discussion the next day.
  8. Finally, each participant was asked to quickly share one take-away from the day with the group before breaking.

From someone who typically hates group activities and by nature avoids social interactions, this day was tremendously useful and surprisingly comfortable. A few ideas about what attributes or factors contributed to its success:

  • All activities were interrelated, even if accidentally
  • Activities seemed design to deliberately alternate between active sharing and listening
  • Group members varied throughout the day so that by lunchtime I probably remembered the names of at least half the people
  • Participants had clear and simple directions at each stage that consistently aligned with both individual and collective motivations
  • All participants were open, collaborative, and friendly

It’s difficult to determine whether that last point facilitated the success of the workshop, or was a by-product of the design of the activities. Regardless, I’m looking forward to more interactions with the group tomorrow, and some time over the weekend to process and reflect upon the possibilities.

The Black Mountain SOLE Project

In a recent post on MindShift, Luba Vangelova summarizes David Dobias’ work on self-organizing learning environments (SOLE). The SOLE model encourages self-reliance and autonomy, situating learners in a loosely structured (but deliberately supported) environment with other, similarly “engaged learners.” The Black Mountain SOLE project is a physical gathering place for cooperative, collaborative learning. It’s not an alternative to more formal educational paths; rather, it complements them by addressing those less codified regions of learning and practice. It’s an incubator of sorts for social learning with motivation as one of the key outcomes. According to Dobias, “The point is people getting clear on their passions and taking action.”

Read the full post here.

Cross-posted from Keep Learning

“User innovation” and the opportunity to build broad, innovative teacher communities

Mike Caulfield wrote a great post musing on the origin of and instruments for innovation in teaching over at e-Literate, focusing on an area that I’ve always been particularly interested in, if only peripherally: the users. The following is a slight expansion of the comment I left on that post:

Almost from the beginning, one of the central efforts of my own education technology career has been faculty development. My personal fascination with the possibilities that technology offers to both teaching and learning has been irrepressible, and I’ve enjoyed sharing that fascination directly with teachers (and, occasionally, students). From admitted technophiles to technophobes, I’ve enjoyed nearly every conversation about the possibilities and limitations of technology. I’ve been challenged and contradicted; I’ve been told that technology is not the answer to a particular problem so forcefully that I’ve had no choice but to rethink my assumptions, and re-evaluate the technology itself.  And thus I’ve learned from every single conversation, and discovered that teachers scattered around your campus, yes your campus, are even now experimenting with instruction — whether your faculty development center is aware of it or not, and regardless of whether technology comes into play.

One of the keys I can’t seem to stop pounding is that every institution needs to invest deeply in ed tech faculty development for everyone, not just those teachers who self-identify into the ed tech user community. Simply enlarging the quantity and diversity of the ed tech participant community is one path toward discovering new, innovative ways of applying technology to education’s challenges. This is a hypothesis born of years of meeting and consulting with higher ed faculty who embrace or reject technology, and learning that great teaching (like poor teaching) isn’t exclusive to either technophiles or technophobes.

In one example, an English teacher was doing great things in his class discussions, things that would be hard to do online. These discussions engaged the students, and students produced high-quality work in subsequent essays. Understandably, this teacher felt online could never replicate the face-to-face discussions he had in-class.  nevertheless trusted a single anecdote power of blending onsite with online, and gave it a try. We discovered we were both right: online discussions did not replicate his students’ face-to-face experience, but they did expand and enrich discussions by providing different affordances. This blending was a small experiment, and that’s where .

Now, the current methods of ed tech faculty development may, in fact, produce a greater proportion of well-designed or even innovative instructional methods (if only because they tend to be supported by ed tech staff and more deliberately instructional designed), and that’s another great reason to invest in ed tech.

The challenge for ed tech staff, then, is to

  1. Get  faculty from across campus (disciplines, teaching methods, tech adoption, etc) in the door.
  2. Learn from their current (and dreamt-up) teaching practices.
  3. Uncover the root challenges they face in helping students achieve outcomes.
  4. Explore, together, new ways forward, whether face-to-face or online.

Then comes the fun part: the design, implementation, evaluation, iteration, and sharing of the results of those experiments. But as long as we (rather, you, at this point) in ed tech faculty development allow ourselves to be content with the self-identified community of participants, we’ll never fully realize the potential for innovation. Mike’s conclusion points out, “If we wish to engage in ongoing innovation, we need to focus on generating conditions that foster more communities of more such people, not less.” This is probably true simply because inclusiveness creates more opportunities for individuals to experiment, share, learn, and catalyze their instructional approaches, with and without “technology”.