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.

Using Minecraft to Teach Information Security and Threat Management

Most parents and educators who are aware of Minecraft as a way to teach programming, critical thinking, design thinking and other skills, and that it is something many students love to use. I came across a presentation by Jarred White that he has delivered at security conferences on "Threat Modeling the Minecraft Way."

He talks about this unusual application of Minecraft as a tool for threat modeling and the parallels between information security and Minecraft's game mechanics, for example, asset protection. 

There is a video online and at about 14 minutes he compares Minecraft's "threat agents" to real-world security attacks: creeper monsters are very similar to denial-of-service attacks; skeletons shooting arrows are similar to remote code execution; zombies are similar to viruses. 

That means that players can also design passive security measures, such as architectural feature that can block spiders from climbing up walls.

Not only is this approach an interesting one for younger students to examine, and perhaps will be an introduction to the next generation of security workers. It can be also used at higher levels and ages to model the basics of cybersecurity, work in 3D spaces in a real-time simulator. 

This is Jarred's presentation from the Bsides 2016 information security conference 

How Transparent Is Your Teaching?

by Daniel Baránek CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

by Daniel Baránek CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It seems that I am most likely to hear the word "transparency" used these days in the context of politics, science, engineering and business. The term implies openness, communication, and accountability. Being transparent means operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. I don't hear it much in terms of education. 

Mary-Ann Winkelmes is now the Coordinator of Instructional Development and Research at the University of Nevada (UNLV) and an affiliate scholar in UNLV's department of history, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). But Mary-Ann started in higher education as a teacher of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. She developed an interest in trying to learn more about how her students were learning the content. Over the years, this has moved her away from art history and towards teaching and learning. 

If you teach, think about a lesson or exercise that is one of your favorites to use. How much of your teaching of that is now habit and how "transparent" is the assignment or task? She found that many traditional assignments come with little or no explanation and that students complete them because their professors tell them to. What she wants faculty to think about how is not only how they teach but also to ask their students to think about how they learn. 

In a 2015 interview, she defined transparency in this way: "Transparency means teaching students about more than just the course subject matter. It means telling students about your rationale for how and why you've chosen to shape their learning experiences. Most of the time, college faculty think and plan carefully about how the required work in their courses will lead students through a meaningful learning process. But students don't understand that because teachers stop short of discussing it with them. Transparency in teaching and learning requires that teachers and students talk about the process of how students are learning just as explicitly as they talk about the course content – or what students are learning."  

Winkelmes spent time at Harvard University's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, the University of Chicago's Center for Teaching and Learning, and the University of Illinois where she created the Transparency Project in Teaching and Learning in 2010. Now she trains professors in “transparent” teaching.

This approach helps students understand why they have received an assignment, what they are expected to do, and how they will be evaluated. In The Unwritten Rules of College  How Professors Can Make Assignments Transparent, she describes how faculty involved in the project considered three questions when creating assignments: the task, the purpose, and the criteria.

This sounds so very basic to creating an assignment, but she finds it is frequent;y lacking in assignments. Perhaps those assignments are more translucent or even opaque.

Students need to be told exactly they are to do, including knowing the purpose of the assignment. Why are they being asked to do this and what is the instructor’s goal? What are the criteria that will be used to evaluate the work that the students submit?

She believes that knowing those three things can help motivate students and make their courses relevant.

Backwards Design


I brought up the topic of "backward design" last fall in one of my classes at NJIT and the students had never heard the term. One of them, not surprisingly, took his phone and did a search on Wikipedia, and we were both surprised that there was no entry. Not on Wikipedia? Then it kind of doesn't exist.

So, I put in a request for a page to be created, and recently I was notified that one has been created and we are adding and revising it.

Backward design is a method of designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment. That seems so logical, but we very often go the other way. "Teach to the test" would be a very obvious example.

The 3 stages are usually described as:

1. Identify the results desired (What are the big ideas and skills you want students to take away from the learning? What should the students know, understand, and be able to do?

2. Determine acceptable levels of evidence that support that the desired results have occurred (How will you assess those results? What will you accept as evidence that student understanding took place - observations, tests, presentations, projects?

3. Finally, design learning events that can make desired results happen (For example, what knowledge, skills and even tools will students need to achieve those desired results?

Backward design challenges common methods of curriculum planning, such as starting with a textbook as the content.

A common analogy used in explaining backward design is to think of it as using a "road map" where we start with the destination and then look for the best way to get there.  By that analogy, traditional design would be using a road map with no destination in mind. 

My NJIT students, some of whom are engineers, thought this sounded like "reverse engineering." Reverse engineering, also called back engineering, is the processes of extracting design information from anything man-made and re-producing it - a process that often involves disassembling something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) and analyzing its components and workings in detail.

Backward design is not so hands-on, but it wasn't a bad place to start with the students. Actually, backward design is closer to the components of the ADDIE model which is commonly used in instructional design. These days instructional design is most often associated with technology and platforms for the development of learning experiences, especially online, and, unfortunately, less often associated with face-to-face teaching and pedagogy.

Historically, Ralph W. Tyler is given credit for the idea of "backward design" (though he didn't use that term in 1949). He was referring to a statement of objectives used to indicate the kinds of changes in the student to be brought about so that instructional activities can be planned and developed in a way likely to attain these objectives.

In curriculum design in the late 1980s, Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins launched Understanding by Design (UbD)which promotes a backward approach to design that delays the planning of classroom activities until goals have been clarified and assessments designed. They promote this as a way to avoid the problems of "textbook coverage" and "activity-oriented" teaching, in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent. UbD also promotes the use of standards and regular reviews of results (achievement data and student work) followed by targeted adjustments to curriculum and instruction.

UbD has been widely used in K-12 education and Wiggins' and McTighe's "WHERE" approach is also used for the assessment stage of the process. W stands for students knowing where they are heading, why they are heading there, what they know, where they might go wrong in the process, and what is required of them. The H stands for hooking the students on the topic of study. E stands for students exploring and experiencing ideas and being equipped with the necessary understanding to master the standard/outcome being taught. R stands for providing opportunities for students to rehearse, revise, and refine their work, and the E stands for student evaluation.

As the new Wikipedia entry notes, criticisms of this backward design approach do exist. For example, this approach ties teacher effectiveness more on the success of the students based on formulated assessments rather than ability to connect knowledge and skills to the needs and interests of students. Some critics feel that this approach shows a lack of concern with social and cultural differences within the classroom.