The Internet As Café

caféI was quite charmed last year when I made my first visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had in my mind a Romanticized version of the city and its famed café culture. In my imagination, it was people sipping coffee on sidewalk table and talking about art and literature. When my wife and I went for coffee and dessert at the Café Imperial, it was certainly much grander than anything I had imagined.

We did find those little cafés too, so I was able to embrace my Romantic version of the city. There is also the well-documented role of  the coffeehouse in the Age of Enlightenment. These informal gatherings of people played an important role in innovation in politics, science, literature and religion.

Next year, I hope to visit the Café de Flore which is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, it is known for its history of serving intellectual clientele. At one time, those tables overheard conversations from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,  writer Albert Camus and artist Pablo Picasso.

In science, breakthroughs seem to rarely come from just one person working alone. Innovation and collaboration usually sit at the table together. We are currently in a time when, at least in American politics, collaboration seems nonexistent.

This notion is what caught my attention in an interview I heard with Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From.
He writes about how “stacked platforms” of ideas that allow other people to build on them.  This way of ideas coming together from pieces borrowed from another field or another person and remixing feels very much like what has arisen in our digital age.

One example he gives is the 1981 record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. It is an innovative album for that time in its use of samples well before the practice became mainstream. Eno was inspired by the varied voices and music and advertising on New York AM radio which was so different from the straightforward BBC radio he grew up with in England. He thought about repurposing all that talk into music.

We call that “decontextualizing” now – in this case a sound or words taken out of context and put in a new place. But this borrowing and remixing also occurs with ideas in culture, science and technology.

Unfortunately, ideas are not always free to connect with each other. Things like copyright and intellectual property law get in the way. We often silo innovators in proprietary labs or departments and discourage the exchange of ideas.

I didn’t know that Ben Franklin had a Club of Honest Whigs that would meet at the London Coffeehouse, when he was in England and they would hang out and exchange ideas.

Johnson describes these as “liquid networks” – not so much for the coffee, but for the fluidity in the conversation. These informal networks work because they are made up of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity is not just necessary as a biological concept but as an intellectual one.

The Internet was built on ideas stacked on top of ideas. A whole lot of code and ideas are underneath this post. At its best, when I write online I am connecting, if only virtually, with other writers, artists and thinkers, and connecting literally through hyperlinks to those ideas.

I know there are “Internet cafés,” but what about Internet as a café?

Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning


Virtual reality, like rock n’ roll, is not something that can be described well. It must be experienced in order to be fully appreciated and understood.

Interestingly, it has been catching on among educators.

Since 2013, Emory Craig, Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle, and Maya Georgieva, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Digital Bodies, have been presenting workshops on the topic. They’re working with developers, researchers and educators who are embracing the immersive learning technology, which seems to be on the cusp of widespread use...as well as being on the receiving end of a lot of hype.

Around the time Craig and Georgieva began exploring this emergent medium, the arrival of Google Glass seemed to have ushered in greater popularity. Georgieva was one of the educators to experiment with Google Glass. People suddenly had a wearable ideal of what could be tapped to create an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). The much-heralded yet now all-but-defunct product left its mark, as several key technological developments have sprung up to satisfy a new market.

One key development also came from the Internet giant: Google Cardboard. An accessible solution that was ‘easy to get into the hands of educators,’ Georgieva noted, it has helped to generate interest in the use of VR in the learning environment. With only a smartphone app and the inexpensive piece of cardboard, students can be transported to other worlds...




continue reading... "Outside the Boundaries: Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning" by Kristi DePaul


You Are a Data Point

Does it disturb you to be thought of as a "data point" or "test subject"? A data point is a discrete unit of information, a single fact usually derived from a measurement or research. A person as a data point can be represented numerically or graphically. That sounds pretty cold. 
An article on chronicle.com about Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online-only institution that enrolls 80,000 students worldwide, talks about how it has enlarged its institutional-research office the past few years and how students are very much data points. Of course, students, as well as employees and customers offer a valuable source of data for researchers.
In an educational setting, this data could be used to improve student outcomes and to make assessments that can lead to improvement in learning design and delivery..
One of the often stated benefits of MOOCs has been the opportunity to use these very large courses to obtain data about how students learn online. Critics of this approach say that learning online in a class of 25 versus a class of several thousand are not comparable experiences. And are there valid comparisons to how students learn online to learning in a face-to-face class? That has been argued for several decades. 
WGU is also a competency-based institution. Standardized measurements and goals are how their courses are designed. If not a good thing for a student's education, it certainly is an approach that is great for researchers who can hold certain variables constant while testing tools and interventions to see how they influence students.
No one likes to be thought of as just a number. It reminds me of sci-fi novels and media about the future like 1984 and Brave New World (or the cult favorite TV series, The Prisoner, illustration at top). But we are all very much considered as data points by advertisers and in many modern technologies, social networks and institutions.

Machine Learning and AI

AI


What is the difference between artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)? AI is an umbrella term to describe a branch of computer science that deals with the simulation of intelligent (human) behavior. Machine learning is a subset and currently the most common type of AI. We encounter it, consciously or unconsciously, in our every the average person will encounter. 

Amber MacArthur posted in one of her recent newsletters some examples of AI & ML. Any phone "assistant" (such as Apple's iPhone assistant Siri, works because it relies on huge amounts of data, but its development is based on machine-learning technology. These machines "learn" over time based on our interactions with them. This happens without being programmed to say or do new things. 

It takes more than data for people and machines to learn. It requires being able to recognize patterns in that data and learning from them, being able to draw inferences or make predictions without being explicitly programmed to do so. It needs to do critical thinking.

Another AI example noted by MacArthur is SnapTravel. It is a chatbot that uses machine learning to run its "half-bot, half-human" service with its users. It uses SMS or Facebook via Messenger to work with a "bot" agent to book your hotel reservation.

During the 1960s and 70s, the technology alarm was that computers will be taking our jobs. It turned out that some jobs disappeared, but many more were created. The new technology alarm is that AI will take away jobs. And that will happen if people are "disinclined to technical skills" because they may not be able to earn a good living in a market economy. One prediction is that "as AI improves and gets cheaper, many of the jobs left for humans will be those so badly paid they are not worth replacing with a machine." Ouch. 

Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses

I did a presentation last month titled "Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses" at the NJEDge Faculty Best Practices Showcase

I talked about using serious games, primarily the Web Adventures series developed by Rice University, as a way to increase students’ science knowledge and to inspire science-related careers. I was interested in “gaming” these STEM programs for teaching humanities courses.

I used the Web Adventures in several courses, but I particularly liked using it in an undergraduate critical thinking course. Take a look at the slides from the presentation.





 


Myths of Social Learning

follow upI had only posted about social learning here recently, but a few days after that post someone sent me a link to an article about "Four Myths of Social Learning."

Myth 1: Social Learning is a New Fad - Learning and social are a very natural ways we want to learn. A Google search on "social learning" will get you more than 44 million results. 

Myth 2: Social Learning Means Only One Thing - Social learning means different things to different people. We even use different terms to describes types of social learning, such as guided social learning, communities of practice, networked learning, communities of inquiry, social networks, and social media.

Myth 3: You Don’t Have to Be Social to Get Social - You do. 

Myth 4: Social Learning is About Forcing Your People to Use Your New Social Learning Platform - As Helen Blunden writes in that article, "Instead of focusing on your social learning system, consider how your people are searching, finding and sharing information currently and helping them to improve this.