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Part two: Tablets could change the fate of the Western World

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Yesterday, we looked at the sorry state of Western education. Now we’re going to consider the ways in which a digital classroom — made manifest by the modern tablet — could reverse the decline.

Digital education isn’t a new idea. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project started shipping cheap, reliable computers to students years ago, and the Web has been a critical resource for many rural and remote schools. But it’s the arrival of ubiquitous tablet computing that can really transform the modern classroom.

If students have their own tablets, they’re equipped with a powerful platform for learning. Here’s why:

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Part one: The state of education

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

In his novel The Diamond Age, author Neal Stephenson describes a digital book his heroine carries with her. Dubbed the Young Lady’s Interactive Primer, this device is part guidebook, part tablet, and part personal guardian. It’s interactive, changing stories and allegories based on the predicaments our heroine faces. Some of its content is recorded; much of it is prepared, on the fly, by actors thousands of miles away.

Much as he colored in the picture of virtual reality — Stephenson coined the term Avatar as a representation of a virtual self, and his novel Snow Crash is the inspiration for Second Life — he may have nailed tablet computing. With the release of Apple’s iPad, we’re finding dozens of uses for a device we didn’t know we needed. It’s a console, a reader, a movie screen, a musical instrument, a game board, and a window into other worlds.

Beyond all these uses, however, the killer app for tablets could be education. Done right, personal tablets can reverse the precipitous decline of learning in much of the Western world. By putting the world’s knowledge at a student’s fingertips virtually for free, making it interactive, and tailoring it to each student’s abilities and interests, tablets could completely alter the way we teach and learn.

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color stay by unclestabby from http://www.flickr.com/photos/unclestabby/2706034988/

As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »

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Bitnorth 2010: The Human 2.0 Weekend

In late August, CAMMAC (a music camp north of Montreal) hosted the third annual Bitnorth conference. This year the theme was Human 2.0. Attendees presented a 5 minute “short bit” on a topic of their choice, which inspired many lively debates. Slides and recordings will be online soon but in the meantime, here are some of the interesting Human 2.0 ideas and questions that emerged over the course of the weekend: Read more »

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The Mobile Radicals Research Group, from Lancaster, UK, today presented their paper “Harnessing creativity to broaden the appeal of location-based games” at the HCI2010 conference.

Kate Lund from the group highlighted the limitations of the few location-based games that have reached the public attention. For example Foursquare and Gowalla have very simple actions and very limited gameplay. The group had took inspiration from geo-caching, noting that is is inclusive and easy to do, but has limited appeal.

They re-invented geo-caching as a game for families and children, creating a new mobile game called “Free All Monsters”. Children can use their creativity to draw monsters, these monsters then get transplanted into the real world, where they and their friends can then use a “Magical Monstervision Machine” (a Nokia N95 running special software) to detect and find monsters in the real world. The display overlays the sensor information and monster pictures onto the real world, much like Layar and other augmented reality applications:

The game reinvents geocaching in a creative, understandable way. For example, the strength of the GPS fix is represented as a “Captoplasm” gauge – you can’t capture monsters if you haven’t got enough. The game reinforces creativity throughout. Children’s monster creations are added to a “Liber Monstorum” (book of monsters), which is used to populate the game world – personalizing the game to the players.

Players also have a “Monster Spotter’s Guide” (which helps encourage teamwork) and have a set of thought-provoking questions for players to answer for each discovery, like “What does this monster dream?” or “Where would he go on holiday?”

The game is also designed to keep players focussed on the real world (which is why the camera augmentation approach is chosen) and favours teamwork and fun over speed and competitiveness.

The game has been used successfully on a small scale at a number of outdoor open days, and will soon be released for use anywhere in the world as an iPhone application (early video here).

There’s more about the group and their research at mobileradicals.com

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Ben Schneiderman opens HCI2010 in DundeeToday at the opening keynote of the British Computer Society’s HCI 2010 conference, UX pioneer Ben Shneiderman gave an uplifting address about the need to expand the use of technology and social media for civic good.

He gave many examples of existing systems that harness the Internet to help with human problems – such as 911.gov, a conceptual site which would allow US residents to report crimes, but more importantly to request and give assistance to each other. For example, allowing a disabled resident being able to find a volunteer to help them get out of the building in an evacuation. Real-world examples included amberalert.gov and nationofneighbors.net as well as the use of Twitter to track the spread of Californian wildfires. Another example was patientslikeme.com which takes a more open view to the sharing of personal medical data than most current medical institutions, but has shown measurable benefits for the participants.

Ben highlighted the nascent nature of such thinking in the public consciousness, and speculated that greater steps need to be taken to help the public see both what is possible but also to give them the tools to make better use of data for good. To achieve this, he said, we will need deep science research to take place which can then be applied to everyday systems and functions.

As an example, Ben introduced SocialAction, a network analysis tool for researchers which can uncover hidden information in human networks. In the following video you can see the tool being used to uncover the strength of relationships between US Senators who voted the same up to 2007. Read more »

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Pulling SMS data from used phonesAt the HCI 2010 conference in Dundee, Scotland, researchers from Glasgow University announced preliminary results that show that a high number of re-sold mobile phones contain personal information left by previous owners. In some cases the data was highly sensitive or incriminating – and in some cases was believed deleted, but still recoverable. Read more »

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Computers make better decisions than humans because they aren’t weighed down by biases, ego, and the need to rationalize decisions after the fact. An economically rational player would make more money on Deal Or No Deal than a stupid human. We can’t help it: it’s the way we evolved. Everything from shopping, to teamwork, to the way we elect our leaders is tainted with the stupidity of how we make decisions.

Just as external storage can become a form of prosthetic memory, so computers can become prosthetic decision-makers. If we were to make them understand the dilemmas before us, computer assistants could advise us on the economically rational thing to do.

Would we be able to deal with being told we’re wrong so much of the time?

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Is photography a human right?

Today we photograph more than ever before – and thanks to the negligible cost, we film situations that would never have been captured before. But police and other authority figures do not want to be recorded, and all over the world a battle is playing out between officials pushing current laws to extremes to prevent such recordings, and citizens who fight back with equal vigour to protect their freedom to photograph.

Should photography be criminalized and recording devices banished from any situation where that recording might be used for ill? Or should we assert our right to capture anything we experience as a fundamental right?

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