The Augmented Reality of Pokémon Go

People have been searching for creatures and running down their phone batteries this month since Pokémon Go was released.
Is there any connection of this technology to education, Ken? Let's see.

First off, Pokémon Go is a smartphone game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon creatures appear around you on the screen. The objective is to go and catch them.

This combination of a game and the real world interacting is known as augmented reality (AR). AR is often confused with VR - virtual reality. VR creates a totally artificial environment, while augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.

The term augmented reality goes back to 1990 and a Boeing researcher, Thomas Caudell, who used it to describe the use of head-mounted displays by electricians assembling complicated wiring harnesses.

A commercial applications of AR technology that most people have seen is the yellow "first down" line that we see on televised football games which, of course, is not on the actual field.

Google Glass and the displays called "heads-up" in car windshields are another consumer AR application. there are many more uses of the technology in industries like healthcare, public safety, gas and oil, tourism and marketing.

Back to the game... My son played the card game and handheld video versions 20 years ago, so I had a bit of Pokémon education. I read that it is based on the hobby of bug catching which is apparently popular in Japan, where the games originated. Like bug catching or birding, the goal is to capture actual bugs or virtual birds and Pokémon creatures and add them to your life list. The first generation of Pokémon games began with 151 creatures and has expanded to 700+, but so far only the original 151 are available in the Pokémon Go app.

I have seen a number of news reports about people doing silly, distracted things while playing the game, along with more sinister tales of people being lured by someone via a creature or riding a bike or driving while playing. (The app has a feature to try to stop you using from it while moving quickly, as in a car.)

Thinking about educational applications for the game itself doesn't yield anything for me. Although it does require you to explore your real-world environment, the objective is frivolous. So, what we should consider is the use of VR in education beyond the game, while appreciating that the gaming aspect of the app is what drives its appeal and should be used as a motivator for more educational uses.
The easiest use of VR in college classrooms is to make use of the apps already out there in industries. Students in an engineering major should certainly be comfortable with understanding and using VR from their field. In the illustration above, software (metaio Engineer) allows someone to see an overlay visualization of future facilities within the current environment. Another application can be having work and maintenance instructions directly appear on a component when it is viewed.
Augmented reality can be a virtual world, even a MMO game. The past year we have heard more about virtual reality and VR headsets and goggles (like Oculus Rift) which are more immersive, but also more awkward to use.This immersiveness is an older concept and some readers may recall the use of the term "telepresence.” 

Telepresence referred to a set of technologies which allowed a person to feel as if they were present, or to to give the appearance of being present, or to have some impact at place other than their true location. Telerobotics does this, but more commonly it was the move from videotelephony to videoconferencing. Those applications have been around since the end of the last century and we have come a god way forward from traditional videoconferencing to doing it with hand-held mobile devices, enabling collaboration independent of location.

In education, we experimented with these applications and with the software for MMOs, mirror worlds, augmented reality, lifelogging, and products like Second Life. Pokémon Go is Second Life but now there is no avatar to represent us. We are in the game and the game is the world around us, augmented as needed. The world of the game is the world.

The Return of Synchronous Distance Learning


A course at the University of Texas at Austin offers 24 "lucky" students a seat in a face-to-face classroom for an introductory psychology course that enrolls 1,500 undergraduates who take the course each semester online. The course’s professors, try to make the classroom entertaining ("like it’s a TV show"), according to an article on The article is titled "Same Time, Many Locations: Online Education Goes Back to Its Origins" and it is categorized under the old-fashioned heading "Distance Education."

To many of us, this move to large-scale, real-time distance education for introductory courses is a throwback to the pre-broadband era of the mid-1990s. Then we relied on synchronous offerings in distance learning (that was often the name of the department that organized the offerings) because the technology didn’t allow us to do much more. ITV, instructional television, was another term we used and many campuses had ITV rooms dedicated to hosting a F2F class that was sent out to other locations.

In my early days at NJIT, we sent classes to area high schools as dual enrollment and many schools that had several campus locations, especially community colleges, used it to offer low enrollment courses on one campus to other campuses to keep the numbers up - and the cost of faculty down.

UT Austin has been doing this flashback since 2012 and sounds committed to synchronous online courses. It seems strange since the appeal of online learning is very often its asynchronous nature. In synchronous courses, students must watch remotely at a set time. Many of those early courses were videotaped at he end of the 20th century and then repackaged as asynchronous courses.

As the article states: "Most of the excitement, support, and growth in distance education has come as a result of advances in courses that students can watch at their own pace: asynchronous online education."

Higher Education in 2026?

1915 women graduates - University of Toronto - via Wikipedia

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new report, "2026 The Decade Ahead," it has recently published. I haven't read it and I probably won't read it. My involvement in higher education is less involved these days, but more so, I'm not going to spend $149 for the digital version ($199 for paper) of the report. There are always predictions of where we are headed in technology, education and in general. Many are free and I don't know that the differences in accuracy between free and paid versions is significant.

People do pay for these reports, and there are companies built on the job of predicting. Today, predictive analytics is a whole field and industry that seems to do quite well crunching numbers. In this election year, that is certainly a popular game, though one I rarely find interesting or instructive. Usually, I find these predictions to be wrong, but it is rare for people to go back and check on them. Idea for (someone else's) blog post in 2026: Check back on this report. Set a calendar reminder. So, what changes are in store for higher education over the next 10 years? The Chronicle's teaser says that "evolutionary shifts in three critical areas will have significant consequences for students and institutions as a whole."

1. Tomorrow’s students will be significantly more diverse and demand lower tuition costs.

2. Faculty tenure policies will be reexamined as deep-seated Boomers retire.

3. How colleges are preparing students to succeed in an evolving global economy will be intensely scrutinized. 

My immediate observation is that all three of those shifts have been evolving for at least the past decade - if not for several decades and possibly for a century or two in some ways. Of course, the answers are hopefully in the details that come in the full report.  Did you read it? How about a comment for those of us without an expense account or purchase order?



Deep Text

What is "deep text?"  It may have other meanings in the future, but right now Deep Text is an AI engine that Facebook is building. The goal of Deep Text is big - to understand the meaning and sentiment behind all of the text posted by users to Facebook. It is also intended that the engine will help identify content that people may be interested in, and also to weed out spam.

The genesis of Deep Text goes back to an AI paper published last year,"Text Understanding from Scratch," by Xiang Zhang and Yann LeCun.

Facebook pays attention to anything you type in the network, not just "posts" but also comments on other people's posts, Facebook researchers say that 70% of us regularly type and then decide not to post. They are interested in this self-censorship that occurs. Men are more likely to self-censor their social network posts, compared to women. Facebook tracks what you type, even if you never post it. 

Why does Facebook care? If they know what your typing is about, it can show it to other people who care about that topic, and, of course, it can better target ads to you and others.

This is not easy if you want to get deeper into the text. If you type the word "Uber" what does that mean? Do you need a ride? Are you complaining or complimenting the Uber service? What can Facebook know if you type "They are the Uber of food trucks"? 

This is a deep use of text analysis. With 400,000 new stories and 125,000 comments on public posts being shared every minute on Facebook, they need to analyze several thousand per second across 20 languages. A human might be able to do a few per minute, but obviously this is far beyond the capabilities of humans, The intelligence need to be artificial.

A piece on talks about how in Facebook Messenger might use Deep Text for chat bots to talk more like a human, interpreting text rather than giving programmed replies to anticipated queries. Saying "I need a new phone" is very different from "I just bought a new phone."The former opens the opportunity to suggest a purchase. The latter might mean you are open to writing a review.

Along with filtering spam, it could also filter abusive comments and to generally improve search from within Facebook.
Parsing text with software has been going on for decades. Machine scoring of writing samples has been an ongoing and controversial since it began. Ellis Batten Page discussed back in 1966 the possibility of scoring essays by computer, and in 1968 he published his successful work with a program called Project Essay Grade™ (PEG™). But the technology of that time, didn't allow computerized essay scoring to be cost-effective, Today, companies like Educational Testing Service offer these services, but what Facebook wants to do is quite different and in some ways more sophisticated.

Deep Text leverages several deep neural network architectures. These are things that are beyond my scope of knowledge - convolutional and recurrent neural nets, word-level and character-level based learning - but I will be using it, and so I want to understand what is going on behind the page.

If you read about Microsoft’s Tay chatbot, you know that it was artificial intelligence that was supposed to learn how to talk like a teenager. users gamed the software and "taught" it to talk like a Nazi, which became big news on social media. The bot was created by Microsoft's Technology and Research, and Bing divisions and named "Tay" as an acronym "thinking about you."

Facebook is testing Deep Text in limited and specific scenarios.

Where LinkedIn Is Headed

LinkedIn has been around for more than a decade and is the social network for professionals with 433 million members in 200+ countries. It is still thought of by many people who use it and by those who don't use it as being just a "job site." And it is that, but it also became a B2B site. But beyond those B2B interactions and using it to find a job and advertise your personal brand, it has been getting much closer to the world of training and education.
LinkedIn certainly took note that online learning back in 2011 had about $35.6 billion spent on self-paced e-learning worldwide and in 2014, e-learning was a $56.2 billion industry. So, they spent $1.5 billion in 2015 to buy online training website You want a new job, you quite possibly need new training. A natural combination for LinkedIn.
Perhaps, we will see LinkedIn begin to offer partnerships with colleges to offer some of that training - and I don't think those will be free and open courses (think MOOC) but rather paid professional learning. has also identified publishing content as a place they see LinkedIn headed to now. Also a natural fit with training. They are already sharing professional content in partnerships with industry news publications and outlets, and they encourage crowd-sourcing of content. I share/publish native blog posts and re-posts there and it does give you a new and larger audience. There are also podcasts, tweets and videos inside the platform.
Higher education should be paying attention the road LinkedIn is traveling on, because it leads to their campus.