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0 Comments | Posted by naomi in Alternate Reality Games, BETT, Development, Education, Events, MOOC, Personalised learning, Uncategorized, augmented reality, online learning, online university courses
Running from January 30th to February 2nd last week was the 29th Bett show, the British education training and technology event. This year was bigger than ever before and to accommodate the increasing demand Bett moved to the Excel arena which meant our journey involved an exciting trip on the DLR. There was a lot of hype around the event this year with #Bett_show trending throughout the week:
New this year was the Bett Arena, a 750 seat amphitheatre to host talks from influential thought leaders in education from around the world, including Vince Cable and Professor Brain Cox. The education sector was shaken up in 2012 – ‘The year of the MOOC’ – so it was exciting to see two MOOC pioneers also attended the show – Shimon Shocken and Daphne Koller of Coursera.
In the opening ceremony Microsoft’s VP for education Anthony Salcito’s proclaimed that ‘’Technology will always step up to the challenge we need in our classrooms’’, so let’s take a quick look at what stepped up this year:
Innovation was abundant and it was focused around tablets, apps and cloud technologies. As expected, everywhere you turned to look there was an interactive whiteboard and some were showcasing some impressive improvements – SMART were exhibiting their Short Range Projectors which can be mounted only 50cm away from the board, meaning no more blinding lights for teachers. GloView have launched Any Surface IWB which can be used on any wall to turn it into a touch sensitive interactive whiteboard. 3D projectors like 3D Visualisation by Reach Out Interactives Ltd were another exciting development meaning that students can see objects such as a beating heart in 3D, moving it around to view all angles. Augmented reality apps also featured at the show with Samsung showing an app that scanned codes to show 3D objects that could be moved around on a 2D screen.
The range of interactive learning resources on show was incredible and we particularly enjoyed being shown around the Royal Society of Chemistry’s interactive periodic table:
Big this year was the Cloud; looming and ominous, it looks to be supplying programmers and educators with unlimited possibilities. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 were promoting their cloud based applications. Microsoft Office 365 enables you to run Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel within your web browser – to launch the program all you need to do is log into a website. Integration with SkyDrive cloud storage and the fact that you don’t need the programs installed on your harddrive to run them means that students can access the programs and their files anywhere.
However, whilst there were lots of impressive technologies on show, this does not always translate straightforwardly into improved learning in the classroom. In November NESTA found that “costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it”. Chief executive Geoff Mulgan said: “The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware rather than how it is to be used.” The technology available offers so many valuable opportunities to educators and students that it cannot afford to be underutilised. The show opened with the message that technology should follow the needs of teaching and this was a theme ran throughout Bett 2013. The slogan “vision before technology” was used by Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Promary School) and Tom Rees (Simon de Senlis Primary School) as they expressed the “need to take an educational perspective as opposed to a technological approach to digital learning by training our best teachers to talk about how it benefits them and their classes’’. This is where Bett becomes all-important; events like TeachMeets allow teachers to share their experiences, favourite resources and to learn from each other. Resources such as Teachers TV, which we were very happy to see in it’s new form at the show, are vital to share knowledge and helping keep teachers up to date and informed. The countless workshops, meetings, breakout sessions and LearnLive talks that Bett facilitates provide a platform to bring together and encourage discussion between the developers, teachers and content providers. Communication on this level is vital to ensure that the exciting technological advances exhibited at the show are used to their full potential and not left clean and shiny in their boxes.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are running for president in what has widely been said to be the first true social media election. The Democrats’ superior use of social media is claimed to be one of the factors behind Obama’s victory in 2008 and four years later the Republicans are determined to keep up. When 94% of social media users of voting-age are likely to watch an entire political message online the opportunity to be heard is unmissable.
Much of the debate surrounding this issue focuses on what social media means for politics and future political campaigns. Will facebook friends, followers and retweets become marks on a ballot form? Will events such as Obama’s ‘Twitter Town Hall’ replace more traditional grassroots political activities? Social media might be reshaping the political landscape, but what does all this political interfering mean for social media?
Politicians need to spread their message as far and as wide as possible and social media provides a platform to communicate with a vast network of users. We’ve seen businesses do the same and use social media sites to spread their brand message. But are they ‘taking advantage of’ or ‘manipulating’ social media? No, because social media can facilitate communication between politicians and citizens; on a broad scale as well as a personal one but most importantly it allows citizens to communicate back.
There is something about harnessing social media to aid political campaigns that makes me feel uneasy. But I think the reason for this is because campaigners’ approaches feel measured and calculated in a way that is in opposition to the free and easy flow of information that I associate with Web 2.0. There are teams of people who run the social media side of political campaigns and this can make them feel orchestrated or fake. Facebook even have their own Political Outreach Manager to advise political officials on how to use facebook most to their advantage in campaigns. However, social media can also facilitate interaction on a more genuine and personal level; Obama took part in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on reddit and Romney is running a competition to win a ride in his private jet. In these instances both candidates are trying to engage with individuals rather than a whole population; a task made much easier by social media websites.
The wonderful thing about Web 2.0 is the control it gives to users. Politicians can try to use social media to spread their political messages but ultimately they have little control over that message once it is released and as a result their attempts can backfire. Web 2.0 is a two-way street and if you communicate through social media you become involved in a dialogue. Therefore, politicians can’t carelessly throw out propaganda on social media sites because it will inevitably be thrown back and normally in a much more amusing format.
The fact that social media facilitates a dialogue means that it also allows citizens the opportunity to express political opinions. Social media is reported as playing a role- the size of which is disputed- in the recent political revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Twitter provided a fast way to spread information of protests with hash tags detailing times and dates. Facebook pages with times and dates of protests were created. But it is not true to say that social media provides a universal platform for communication free from the confines of geographical and political boarders. Mark Zuckerberg may intend Facebook to “bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people” but the ways in which politics and social media interact differ vastly between cultures with some political regimes ban social media sites completely. In comparison to this, politicians engaging with social media and using it to increase interaction with citizens looks like a very good thing.
UK politicians have made tentative steps into social media but it will be interesting to see if the recent trends observed in the US are mirrored over here. If the run up to the 2015 UK election has a strong social media focus, we may have more than just the return of WebCameron to look forward to. Is politics reshaping the landscape of social media? Yes, but social media is a constantly changing entity. The beliefs and actions of politicians shape every aspect of our lives – a lot more than a tweet about someone’s breakfast or a youtube video of a surprised kitten.
On 24th August this year Apple won $1.05b in a lawsuit against Samsung for patent infringement. This is just one stage in an ongoing battle between the two companies over intellectual property rights. Samsung challenged the verdict and have recently retaliated by extending their counter claims to include the iPhone 5 . It appears that the war between them is likely to rage on.
What does this mean for us, the consumer? If the situation continues with a constant back and forth of claims and counter claims then we might lose interest because it doesn’t seem to have any direct effect on us. Why should we care if one mutli-billion dollar company has to pay another a billion dollars?
We should care if we want newer designs, more choice and more innovative mobile phones. Here’s why: intellectual property patents, which are the subject of such disputes, are designed to protect ideas. They protect the investments made in the generation of these ideas. New ideas lead to new innovations and as consumers we benefit from new innovations because they provide us with more choice and better products. The Apple/Samsung dispute raises the issue of whether these same intellectual property patents can sometimes stifle creativity and innovation instead of protecting them.
US Judge Richard Prosner recently claimed that the US system of patent protection can be “excessive” and many commentators have questioned the relevancy of intellectual property patents in a digital age due to the incremental nature of technological advances. Some go a step further and claim that through preventing imitation, patents prevent innovation. This is the philosophy of highly popular open source systems which are owned by no-one and freely available. According to this side of the argument patents create barriers to competition and perhaps Steve Jobs would agree having once expressed the sentiment “good artists borrow, great artists steal”.
It is a problem if patents stop acting as incentives for companies to invest in R&D and instead shelter companies from industry competition. Competition is good; it is what drives business forward. Industries develop and grow through companies learning from each other and building on each other, if they don’t – or indeed can’t – do this then progress is slowed and the consumer loses out. However, it has been a long time since phones just phoned and if additional functions are recognised as an industry standard they can be protected by essential patents. These are licensed to competitors on ‘fair and reasonable terms’ in order to prevent barriers to innovation and competition.
But it is the presentation of such functions and their interaction with users that forms focus of recent disputes. Apple’s legal claims against Samsung are focused on physical design, visual design and features such as ‘scroll-down and bounce up’ or ‘tap to zoom’. This is where the other side of the argument surfaces: patents – even if excessive – force companies to invent different approaches to products in order to compete. This type of competition is arguably more valuable because it creates new ideas. Different user interfaces may introduce switching costs to consumers in terms of time spent learning to navigate a new handset and different software complicates app designing, but they do provide the consumer with a real choice between alternative products.
We need to find the best way to protect ideas, promote competition and create incentives for companies to keep producing new, exciting, cutting edge designs. Perhaps patents – at least in their current form – are not the best way to do so. The Apple vs. Samsung case is so complicated that it may never be fully resolved but spending large amounts of money, time and effort in court doesn’t seem the most efficient way to try.
The real-time environment of the internet has evolved a concerning dichotomy for fact and fiction. When Michael Jackson died in June, word spread too fast for Google to cope, and the site began blocking any search for “Michael Jackson”. But the lust for up-to-the-minute news could not be kept at bay – word spread through tweets and other micro-blogs regardless. Real time reporting had the edge.
Or did it? On the very same day, Jeff Goldblum was also reported dead, provoking a similar unstoppable surge of rumours and gossip
Real-time internet may be powerful in keeping up-to-date with news, but it most certainly lacks reliability – Jeff Goldblum, as it turns out, is not dead after all. Therein lies the problem. In the explosion of information surrounding extremely recent events, how can we distinguish fact from fiction when we don’t know how the fuse was lit?
Real time is the talk of the internet search town at the moment. Twitter, the biggest contributor to real-time data, continues to grow in popularity and Twitter Search, the only real-time search engine with access to all tweets, is in a powerful position. But a wave of search engines which pull together data from across the web have sprung up recently. Sites like Collecta, OneRiot, and Scoopler broaden real-time search to include blogs, articles, photos, and videos as well as tweets. And in recent months the big players have shown that they want a piece of the action too: Google, Bing and Facebook have all taken steps to keep up with the real-time crowd.
But what exactly is real-time search and why is everyone so excited about it? Traditionally, search engines like Google have organised their results based on authority. Sites have authority if they have grown slowly and organically over time. Real-time search engines, on the other hand, sort their results by how recent they are. Through these search engines, users can access a river of the latest information on whatever topic they choose.
Increasingly people are turning to the web to find out what is happening right now – the recent protests in Iran are a perfect example (and a frequently mentioned one). But when you search for a term in a traditional search engine the results look very similar day after day. If a volcano is erupting, followers on the web do not want to read an old article about the properties of lava, however authoritative it may be. With the real-time web your results will be different every time, and often refresh before your eyes. So no out-of-date articles, and no need to wait for news; users have access to up-to-the-minute comments and images. They can find out what is happening at the heart of a demonstration or at the site of a volcanic eruption as the event is taking place.
The real-time web also tells you what topics everyone’s talking about. Most real-time search engines display trending topics, the most popular at that moment, and many can sort results by categories such as sport or entertainment. Want to know what your colleagues will be talking about at work tomorrow? A real-time search will probably tell you.
But a real-time search will probably also tell you all the information you didn’t want to know, or didn’t care about. Aside from rumours becoming gospel faster than you think possible, the current main disadvantage of real-time search engines is their inability to filter unwanted messages or irrelevant noise from results. The river just keeps on flowing regardless of what it has picked up along the way.
Collecta have openly stated they are currently paying no regard to relevancy in their results. Oneriot, however, have begun to experiment with reliability by introducing Pulserank, a toolbar which not only takes into account the freshness of the information, but also the authority of the website and person posting the information, alongside the velocity of the information passing around the whole web. The potential for the tool is huge, but although this seems like a reasonable approach, it may not catch something important as fast as simply watching the unadulterated stream.
Although far from fully effective, the Pulserank toolbar does pave the way for the necessary filters which real-time searching will require as the phenomenon grows. More users will undoubtedly lead to more spam and more noise being generated, increasing the need for an effective filter barrier. The challenge for real-time search engines is to combine recency, relevancy and reliability in their results without becoming elitist and losing the organic chatter of the online crowd.
Problems aside, the current animation surrounding the technology should lead to exciting developments. One such possibility being the use of real-time internet searching as an alert system – by signaling variations in the stream of mentions for a particular query, any abnormal rise in the quantity of chatter would trigger a notification. So the future of real-time search is bright, if hazy. Entrepreneur Edo Segal believes that old-school search will never vanish, but real-time news will create a society where we have an omnipresent sense of the moment.
Hopefully decreasing the assessment burden on both students and teachers will allow for greater learner voice and increased opportunities for personalized learning in the early years of secondary school. Perhaps it will also result in more informal learning techniques being used in classrooms for 11-14 year olds… As Dan Sutch pointed out at Education Unbound, assessment is currently one of the most significant barriers to teacher-led innovation in schools.