Handheld Augmented Reality Project

The Handheld Augmented Reality Project (HARP) has developed an "augmented reality" game designed to teach math and science literacy skills to middle school students. The game is played on a Dell Axim handheld computer and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to correlate the students' real world location to their virtual location in the game's digital world.

What is augmented reality? AR is an environment in which virtual images have been layered on top of those in the real world. So while students are moving in a real physical location - playground, sports field, parking lot - a map on their handheld displays digital objects and virtual people who exist only in the AR world superimposed on the real map.

There are two kinds of augmented reality: place-dependent and place-independent. HARP is working with place-independent augmented reality. The former type would require students doing a game based on walking on the Gettysburg battlefield to actually be on the battlefield while the objects, buildings etc. would be created digitally. Since field trips are very prohibitive, place-independent AR allows you to walk the battlefield on your soccer field.

These types of AR simulation "games" played in a real world environment have students taking on the roles of professionals who use scientific and math literacies. Teams generally have 4 roles: chemist, linguist, computer expert, and FBI agent. Depending on your role, you will see different pieces of evidence.

To make it through the augmented-reality environment and solve various problems, students must share information and collaborate within and among the teams. At the close, they form hypotheses based on their data and present their findings.

Students develop math and literacy skills with both reality-based problems (causes of toxic spills, outbreaks of disease, the cultural history of their neighborhood) and fantasy-based problems. A fantasy-based scenario might be that aliens have landed on Earth and seem to be preparing for one of several possible actions: peaceful contact, invasion, plundering, or simply returning to their home planet. The teams explore the augmented-reality world, "interviewing" virtual characters, collecting digital items, and solving math and literacy puzzles to figure out what the aliens are planning.

One of the main goals the project states is:

"...to determine what effects, if any, AR simulations have on student learning when compared to a “standard” curriculum. Augmented Reality is an emerging technology with little experimental research supporting or disputing its effectiveness in K-12 classrooms. We hope to be among the first in the world to conduct experimental research on AR and publish results that will help schools and teachers make informed decisions when considering this technology. Specifically, during Year 1 we will collect data that centers on the experience of using AR technology in your classrooms. We will interview, observe, and survey both you and your students as well as administer and analyze pre- and post-tests that target specific content standards."

The project has funding from a U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Program grant aimed at enhancing math and literacy skills in urban school populations, researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the Teacher Education Program at MIT

Chris Dede (Harvard's Graduate School of Education) and postdoctoral fellow and colleague Matt Dunleavy say that the project arose from "trying to think about where society is going, what students will need, what the educational properties of these devices are, and how we can design something interesting with these devices."

Here's a video link (RealPlayer required) about the project.

Open Social

Back at the start of summer, Google launched Google Gears. They said they were making the web better by making it work offline

This month they launched a way to make the web more social. They introduced OpenSocial, which is a set of common APIs that make it easy to create and host social applications on the web. Developers can write an application once and it will run anywhere that supports the OpenSocial APIs. Those of us using the sites get more applications in more places. OpenSocial Using uses standard JavaScript and HTML.

Who has signed on to this OpenSocial application community? So far, it includes MySpace, Engage.com, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo, Salesforce.com, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING.

Anyone missing? Uh huh - no Facebook. Those guys are building their own less-open social network of API's - and an advertising world.

On the "social net" part of the Internet, hundreds of millions of people are sharing photos, videos, ratings and reviews, bookmarks and forming communities. But if you're a developer, do you create for MySpace because it's a big player and then adapt it for the next site? And then do it a few more times? OpenSocial opens platforms for developers to extend.

Wait - isn't that what Facebook did awhile ago? They opened their own APIs and gave access to user profiles and friend networks, and if a user elects to add an application (and it seems like their are a few new ones every day on Facebook) it can post activities so that all your friends know your activities.

Good, but developers still need to customize their application for each one. Considering how many of these Web 2.0 companies are just a few people, it's not very practical.

Do you think that any of the big educational software companies will ever open their applications like this?

Maybe in platforms like Moodle, but I just don't see it happening with players like Blackboard. Remember when Blackboard created Building Blocks to allow developers to add on? Then Turnitin.com was able to connect. Now, Blackboard has unveiled a new plagiarism prevention service of its own, SafeAssign that detects unoriginal content in student papers and delivers reports within the Blackboard Learning System. Open?

Blackboard is selling features. Facebook is clearly using the APIs to drive more traffic to their advertising. Google is... well, I'm not sure. Driving users to their ads? Helping organize the web?

Colleges can use these APIs too, but some will question whether driving traffic to a site is something they want to do. Maybe schools AND developers will want a slice of the revenue.

If, like me, you didn't get an invite to the CampFire One event at the Googleplex, you can watch the video version. The developer types that were there explain this open, programmable web.

A Laptop Left Behind?

Ken wrote about it. And I did it.

I ordered a pair of XO laptop computers from the One Laptop per Child project folks last weekend -- one for me and one for (hopefully) a child in a village somewhere whose name I can neither spell nor pronounce. Not only am I looking forward to playing with my new Green Toy, but I'm eagerly (and anxiously) anticipating where the "third-world" road that this technology is paving is going to lead.

Not all noble efforts are without controversy and the OLPC project is no exception. There have been polemics posted about the hardware and pricing of the units and reviews and announcements of competing products that didn't have broadcast pieces on 60 minutes The Eee PC by Asus appears to be a formidable competitor in the micro laptop market, but it remains to be seen if it can achieve the support and distribution network of Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC Foundation's product.

Beyond the technical abilities of the XO or the Eee PC to bring higher technologies to economically underdeveloped areas, many questions remain. I have to wonder if the new technologies will spawn thoughtful interconnected communities among people in diverse cultures, or if we will bring the joys of spam, gambling, prescription-free pharmaceuticals and escort services to a new population.

More to come after my new toy arrives....

Is Kindle A Novel Idea?

kindleOn November 20 Amazon.com released an eBook reader/service called Kindle.

I assume that the etymology they were following in that name is the verb, to kindle, as in to start (a fire) or light (a torch). or maybe (the transitive) to arouse or inspire (a passion, etc). (Probably not the obsolete - but cute - collective term for a group of kittens.)

It has gotten a lot of online reviews, and people have been hard on it. I doubt that many of the reviewers have even held one or have played around with it very much. Still, Amazon is sold out of units as of this writing. In searching online, I found this post from the folks at 37signals on their blog, Signal vs. Noise, that sums up the noise nicely.

I agree with Jason (who answers my titular question):

I am not suggesting we get rid of books as we know them. Ever. I'm suggesting there is plenty of room for another model that shines the spotlight on convenience rather than the legacy attributes of print. The Kindle sounds like a really interesting device with an interesting value proposition. It's not tethered to a computer. That's big. It's more about the convenience and benefits of your books, small size, instant new books, morning paper delivery more than the physical product or the technology. Kindle isn't the first eBook reader, but it is the first portable bookstore. That's novel.

Perhaps, it is novel - though not unique. The Sony Reader has been out for months (longer in Japan) and serves the same type of market. (Here's a comparison of both units.)

The questions for educators are more likely to be: Are we (teachers+students) ready to start reading books, periodicals, and writing like this blog post on an e-reader? Will this revolutionize the textbooks we use with our students?

Personally, I hate reading anything of length on a computer screen, but this is not that experience. Pause here and watch the video about using the Kindle to get an idea about that experience.

Not all the reviews are negative - there are those of the opinion that the Kindle is "revolutionary."

Back to Jason's post-

...if he's really really lucky [Jeff Bezos at Amazon], he'll sell a million of these things in a year. And that means that at $10 a book, you need to have significant market share to make an impact. The Sony reader has been out for months and it has sold, perhaps, a few thousand units. My thought was to use it, at least for a few years, as a promotion device. Give the books for free to anyone who buys the $400 machine. (Maybe you can have 1,000 books of your choice, so there's not a lot of 'waste'.) You'll sell more machines that way, that's for sure. And the people willing to buy the device are exactly the sort of people that an author like me wants to reach. No harm, no foul, all three of us win. If there were a million of these machines out there and an author had a chance to have her next book show up automatically on all of them, few among us would say, "no thanks to that exposure." This is a disruptive approach, the sort of thing only a market leader could pull off. It changes the world in a serious way.

Disruptive. The good kind (not the student behavior in your classroom). The disruptive technology that gets us thinking in new ways. This is a lot more than just HOW we read. It's WHAT we read and how that content is DELIVERED to us. Just looking at the product features quickly should give you some ideas about how things MIGHT change.

  • electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper
  • no computer, no cables, no syncing
  • wireless connectivity enables you to buy titles from almost any location & download is less than a minute (text downloads are fast)
  • 88,000+ books available (100 of 112 current New York Times'® Best Sellers), most at $9.99
  • free book samples - the audio download model - read first chapters for free before you decide to buy
I think this will send a ripple out there. A wave? Not yet. This is not the truly disruptive product, but it's coming.

2007 EduBlog Awards Finalists

The finalists are posted (no, not Serendipity35). Check them out. Good things to read there and you can vote if you wish.

Try the Most Influential Posts as a starting place.

Gone Fischin’ - Dangerously Irrelevant

How to Grow a Blog - blog of proximal development

How to Prevent Another Leonardo da Vinci - Wandering Ink

Is It Okay To Be A Technologically Illiterate Teacher? - The Fischbowl

The Ripe Environment - Discourse about Discourse

An Alternative View of Education

Did you ever watch Connections on TV in the late 1970's? It was a great ten-episode documentary television series created and narrated by science historian James Burke.

The subtitle of the series was an "Alternative View of Change" because he chucked the usual linear and teleological view of historical progress, and viewed an event as the result of a series of interconnected events that connected more like the Internet or your brain than the pages in a history book.

Call it connective thinking or network thinking. It's not a new idea. I believe it's what teachers have valued most in their students forever. It's not what we assess or grade students on usually, but it is what we value. Employers value it too. It's also interdisciplinary studies. It's all the new majors I see coming into being at NJIT (like computational biology that officially mixes biology with math).

I try very hard in the classroom to make connections to prior learning, other classes, the news, and things my students are interested in already. I hopefully encourage them (if not by my modeling, then by assignments) to make connections themselves.

The series would be a good way to kickstart some thinking about teaching in this way. Each episode of the series focused on a person or group's work done without any idea of the modern result of what they had done. The idea for the series was that you shouldn't (couldn't really) look at the development of any part of our current world without viewing the entire gestalt of things that led to the present event. An episode would start with a particular event or innovation in the past and the follow it through a series of (seemingly unrelated) connections to our modern world.

The shows looked at discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events and how they came to be using his witty narration, reenactments, working models, and frequent location video. The original series had two sequels (Connections² in 1994, and Connections³ in 1997) that were on The Learning Channel.

Now, he has the James Burke Institute for Innovation in Education and its flagship project is called the Knowledge Web. The K-Web is a site (or rather, "an activity", he suggests) "through time, space, and technology to map the interior landscape of human thought and experience." Largely using volunteers, he hopes that it will become "an interactive space on the web where students, teachers, and other knowledge seekers can explore information in a highly interconnected, holistic way that allows for an almost infinite number of paths of exploration among people, places, things, and events."

Watch the news, and every day you see proof that the world is increasingly interlinked. Nowhere is too far away to matter, now. More than ever, we need to understand how other people and events across the world affect the way we live. Take a journey on the Knowledge Web and you see how this has always been true. The modern world was shaped because of the way people and things in the past were connected. Thanks to information technology and easier access, today’s global interactivity is also beginning to involve many more people. For the first time, everybody makes an impact. The Knowledge Web provides an opportunity for users of all kinds and ages and interests to learn about how interactivity works. It offers the chance to experience history the way the players at the time did: full of surprise twists and turns, accidents, discoveries, friends and foes. Above all, the K-Web reveals how they never knew what was coming next. Just like you. The Knowledge Web also shows how all knowledge is interlinked, and how applying K-Web techniques to your own situation can help you to second-guess your own future as an individual, or a community, or a company.

K-WebThe Institute exists to encourage innovative uses of educational technology. I know there are still teachers using the original series in classes (probably just in science or social studies - that's a box that we need to get rid of too.) Here's a chance to do more with connective thinking.

You could look at a Connections episode and say, "Well, sure, he can see those connection NOW. No one sees those things while it's happening to them." True? Do we need to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror?

The Knowledge Web was also a book that came out in 2000 that shows the interactive and sometimes serendipitous connections among ideas, events, people and innovations.

Burke's writing style follows the series style - though this isn't typical for print. He skips from one topic to another, including hyperlink-style footnotes to other parts of the book. A chapter on feedback systems moves from neural networks to computers that simulate the human brain's workings to studies of the physiology of animal emotion, then the transatlantic telephone cable, Napoleon, James Watt, and theosophist Annie Besant.

It might be worth looking at the series or the book as a way to trigger your own alternative view of teaching.

About Burke's work:

Watch Burke's video introduction to the K-Web.

Video from Re-Connections, the 25th anniversary piece about the series and K-Web and others clips collected by a James Burke fan on YouTube

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."    Albert Einstein