Computer education is more than coding

A recent story on NPR asked "Should Computer Education Cover More Than Just Coding?" My answer is, "Yes." You can read their story for the full details, but the takeaways are that teaching other computer (really "technology") skills and the accompanying "soft" skills like critical thinking often require coding.

For example, students learning to work with and structure data, or ones working with an Arduino will need to use code and understand basic concepts such as algorithms.


Is Education Ready to Connect to the Internet of Things?

IoT

I first encountered the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) in 2013. It is the idea that "things" (physical devices) would be connected in their own network(s). The talk was that things in your home, office and vehicles would be wirelessly connected because they were embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity. Things would talk to things. Things would collect and exchange data.

Some of the early predictions seemed rather silly. Taking a tagged carton of milk out of the refrigerator and not putting it back would tell my food ordering device (such as an Amazon Echo) that I was out of milk. My empty Bluetooth coffee mug would tell the Keurig coffeemaker to make me another cup.

But the "smart home" - something that pre-dates the Internet - where the HVAC knew I was almost home and adjusted the temperature off the economical setting to my comfort zone and maybe put on the front light and started dinner, was rather appealing.

In 2014, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) published its “7 Things You Should Know About the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (and its annoying abbreviation of IoT) sounded rather ominous as I imagined them proliferating across our social and physical landscapes. The ELI report said “the IoT has its roots in industrial production, where machine-to-machine communication enabled the manufacture of complex items, but it is now expanding in the commercial realm, where small monitoring devices allow such things as ovens, cars, garage doors, and the human heartbeat to be checked from a computing device.”

Some of the discussions have also been about considerations of values, ethics and ideology, especially if you consider the sharing of the data gathered. 

As your watch gathers data about your activity, food intake and heart rate, it has valuable data about your health. I do this on my Fitbit with its app. Perhaps you share that with an online service (as with the Apple watch & Apple itself) in order to get further feedback information about your health and fitness and even recommendations about things to do to improve it. If you want a really complete analysis, you are asked (hopefully) to share your medications, health history etc. Now, what if that is shared with your medical insurer and your employer?

Might we end up with a Minority Report of predictive analytics that tell the insurance company and your employer whether or not you are a risk?

Okay, I made a leap there, but not a huge one. 

This summer, EDUCAUSE published a few articles on IoT concerning higher education and the collaboration required for the IoT to work. I don't see education at any level really making significant use of IoT right now, though colleges are certainly gathering more and more data about students. That data might be used to improve admissions. Perhaps, your LMS gathers data about student activity and inactivity and can use it to predict what students need academic interventions.

It's more of an academic challenge to find things that can be used currently.

History Lesson: Way back in 1988, Mark Weiser talked about computers embedded into everyday objects and called this third wave "ubiquitous computing." Pre-Internet, this was the idea of many computers, not just the one on your desk, for one person. Add ten years and in 1999, Keven Ashton posited a fourth wave which he called the Internet of Things.

Connection was the key to both ideas. It took another decade until cheaper and smaller processors and chipsets, growing coverage of broadband networks, Bluetooth and smartphones made some of the promises of IoT seem reasonable. 

Almost any thing could be connected to the Internet. We would have guessed at computers of all sizes, cars and appliances. I don't think things such as light bulbs would have been on anyone's list.

Some forecasters predict 20 billion devices will be connected by 2020; others put the number closer to 40-100+ billion connected devices by that time.

And what will educators do with this?


The 24th Best Job in 2015

It doesn't make headlines when a career ranks 24th on the list. Top 10 lists are more popular. But it caught my attention that Careercast released the 2015 list of top 200 different jobs in the U.S. and technical writing was number 24. Technical writing is one of the courses I teach at NJIT and Montclair State University. Considering the number of careers out there, 24 is a good number.

The ranking is based on four critical aspects that are inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook (Growth, Income Growth, and Unemployment), and stress. Their data for this report came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government agencies in U.S. Technical Writer is the 24th best job in 2015, gaining 12 moves up from being the 32nd best job in 2014. The average salary of a technical writer in 2015 was $68,165, an increase of $2665 from 2014.


Instructional Design in Education


design



I found it interesting that when The Chronicle of Higher Education assembled its list of national trends for its Trends Report, they included instructional design as one of them. It's odd to think of it as a "trend" since ID did not start in education, it has been around for several decades and it has a big role, especially in higher education, today.

Instructional design started during World War II with the armed forces. It came from a need to provide technical training to large numbers of people efficiently.

Having worked in instructional design formally since 2000, I have seen the field change during the past 15 years. I subscribe to a few of those job alert websites and every week I see more openings for designers. Some of those jobs are in academe and even more are in industry. Most major companies now use instructional designers to develop employee training materials.

In higher education, instructional design is likely to have started at a college as a way to prepare distance-learning and extension programs. Those programs initially appealed to non-traditional students with family and work obligations and often as a distance from the physical campus that made attending classes difficult.

As the proportion of those students increased and as the technology to deliver courses became more sophisticated, online learning became more popular. Its acceptance by faculty lagged behind its acceptance by students. Designers who worked with faculty helped gain acceptance as they learned what an ID could do to actually help design their course for online delivery.

The share of students taking online courses has gone from less than 10 percent in 2002 to 28 percent in 2014, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. Babson also found that the percentage of academic leaders who see online learning as critical to their institution’s long-term strategy went from about half to nearly two-thirds. And that is why the one of their ten trends is to say that there is increasing importance and visibility for instructional designers.

A professional ID is needs technical ability, design skills, pedagogical knowledge, and the interpersonal skills to work 1:1 with subject matter experts - SMEs, or in this case, faculty. 

In my early days of managing an ID department, we often met faculty who were told that they had to "teach my course online" and who fully expected to just digitize all their regular face-to-face materials. They would ask us to scan hundreds of pages of handouts and readings, create or convert PowerPoint slides, and they wanted to videotape their usual 90 or 180 minute lectures. It was a very big learning curve.

A few saw the opportunity to translate their in-person courses to be offered online as an opportunity to really rethink the course objectives. In those early days, all faculty had to learn technical skills, especially whatever the current course management system was that the college was using. (Those often changed, much to their dismay.) 

For me, the best outcome over the 16 years that I worked in instructional design was that we were viewed not as just "the people who do online courses" but also as a department that could help improve the quality of teaching, whether in online, in-person, or hybrid courses. 

Having myself been trained as a K-12 teacher and doing graduate work in pedagogy, I was initially surprised at the lack of knowledge that professors had in that area. I shouldn't have been surprised since they always told me that they never took an education course and tried to "do the things my best teachers did and avoid the things the bad ones did." Objectives versus goals, rubrics, Bloom's Taxonomy and almost all of the things I had been taught and used in my secondary school classroom were brand new to higher education faculty. My knowledge about pedagogy needed to be diplomatically transferred to professors, but the best ones were intrigued and eager to know not only how to teach online but why to teach in new ways.


The Augmented Reality of Pokémon Go

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.
AR
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.