CAT | Development
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.
“Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves”
Classrooms are changing. Technological advances are transforming the way that children learn, or at least are taught. This is happening fast – there are dramatic differences between my school experience and that of someone only 5 years younger. My French teacher used chalk and a blackboard to teach us our verbs, something which now seems positively prehistoric, although some teachers were more high-tech and favoured the overhead projector.
It is widely acknowledged that technology can aid learning: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt demonstrated that children who learn from an ipad version of a textbook compared to a standard paper version can score up to 20% higher on standardised tests. Through engaging children and capturing their attention with colours, videos and games, technology can improve learning with the same content just in a different format. But this applies in a school setting with teachers, so what if there are no schools and no teachers? Can technology help children to teach themselves? The organisation ‘One Laptop Per Child’ (OLPC) has teamed up with MIT to give children in Ethiopia Motorola Xoom tablet PCs. In villages with no schools and near 0% literacy rates they distributed solar powered tablets in unlabeled boxes with no instructions and monitored the results.
“Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android” Nicholas Negroponte.
So did it succeed? Can children teach themselves? They taught themselves how to use the tablets and even how to hack into Android but it is as yet unclear whether they will teach themselves to read and write. The fact that the tablets are in English rather than their own language probably won’t help. But even if the children do learn to read and write, to say that the children have ‘taught themselves’ is not strictly true. They may not have been taught by a ruler toting, glasses wearing, librarian-esque old woman but instead they are being taught by app designers and content devisors – the people who wrote and selected the “preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs” . Tablets were chosen over laptops because of their intuitive usability which captures and works with the natural curiosity of children. Features which seem intuitive to the user are heavily designed and the fact that they seem easy and natural is a result of brilliant design. The same is true of programming and writing – e-learning programs have to seem intuitive, mimicking the natural learning process to guide you through it.
Even in non-education focused games “good game designers are more like good teachers” because they need to teach you how to play the game; anticipating your possible next moves and steering you through the process without you even realising it. Subtle signaling, encouraging and gentle nudging in the right direction is the style of teaching involved here – in line with the vision of OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte “I believe that we get into trouble when knowing becomes a surrogate for learning” . It is true that in contrast to the traditional slate tablets which Victorian children used to rote learn facts, modern tablets – some even named after slates – facilitate a more exploratory and creative development but it is not true that the user is unaided in this path to discovery.
This week we lament the loss of Ceefax. The information service has been running on televisions since the 1970s but is now outdated and underused. The digital communication of information has evolved and Teletext has died out. Ceefax is replaced by the BBC’s Red Button but ultimately the internet is winning in the digital communication jungle: it is more visually appealing, faster and contains far more information. But obviously this isn’t the end of the evolutionary line, so what does the future hold?
Several factors can influence the future of the internet – government intervention, corporate behaviour and us, the public. Government policy and business decisions shape internet supply, availability and functionality but we drive usage and demand. In response to unwelcome changes by the former, websites have been set up to complain or monitor effects, books have been written and large scale protests have taken place.
Tension is increasing between two opposing views of the internet – as a haven for freedom of speech and expression or as something within the jurisdiction of legal and moral rules. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; offline we normally consider ourselves to have a right to freedom of speech whilst at the same time culpable for illegal offenses. Yet in the case of the internet, either side seems to believe that to make even the slightest concession to the other is to open the floodgates to a worst case scenario – be that a heavily censored internet under complete government control or a hive of illegal and immoral activity.
The argument is between pragmatism and idealism- do we accept that the internet must be regulated in some respects or do we maintain an ideology of the internet as free, universal and limitless? There is a huge debate surrounding the issue with influential supporters on both sides and the way in which resolution – if possible – occurs will dictate the future of the internet. Modern technology is ‘completely out of control‘ according to Lord chief justice, Lord Judge – but is this in practice or in principle? Sarkozy argues that the internet ‘isn’t a parallel universe’ – why should we allow anything online that we legitimately do not permit offline? Meanwhile, Neelie Kroes, the vice-president of the European commission, calls for the removal of ‘digital handcuffs’ in agreement with Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s belief that the internet is ‘for everyone’.
But this is not just a verbal dispute – this year we have seen action on both sides. In the UK we have seen the removal of videos featuring and promoting gang culture from youtube, a crack down on illegal downloads and the proposal of an ‘opt-in’ system devised to protect children from online pornography. There have even been multiple arrests over offensive tweets in cases of racism and other types of abuse prompting questions over whether this type of action is too ‘heavy handed’. From the other side, we saw websites such as google and wikipedia take part in a blackout protest against US government anti-piracy proposals in the allegation that they would lead to government censorship.
The issue with individual governments exerting control over the internet is that the internet, in that it consists of the world wide web, is intended to be world wide. Sir Tim Berners-Lee claims that ‘This is a question of principle, it’s a right to be able to access [the web] anywhere‘. Government controls introduce localised differences raising worries that the future could bring a series of fragmented, independent internets. This is already noticeable on a small scale – the internet looks different depending on where you are in the world. Many countries ban specific websites containing political or religious content and social media sites completely. This year we have seen Twitter introduce and implement a new ‘Country Withheld Content’ feature, allowing the removal of specific content from one country only. It was recently used to remove neo-nazi content in Germany and France but not the rest of the world.
Perhaps protestors are too idealistic in regarding the internet as something ‘universal’ because this is merely a concept and not the reality of the internet as we know it. The internet did not begin freely open to all and is now being restricted- perhaps as an idea but as an actual entity it is limited by hardware and physical infrastructure which are not equally freely available. A digital divide has existed between developed and developing countries preventing equal access to the web. In view of this, maybe the recent government interventions we have witnessed seem less like a drastic and sudden attempt at control.
So is the internet out of control, uncontrollable or beyond control? Which side is right, or perhaps more importantly, which side wins will shape the future of the internet. We can’t predict the future of the internet as clearly as these children from the 90s but one thing is clear – hyperbolic slippery slope arguments are not what we need, because if we remain at a standoff then we miss opportunities for mutual benefit.
This Christmas will see the 2012 Furby revival. The mechanical fur covered children’s must-have of the late nineties has been revamped and is back for a new generation of children to enjoy. The 2012 re – furbish – ments include LCD screen eyes which are even more disturbing that their slowly blinking predecessors, a more complicated mechanical body for an impressively large array of dance moves and more sensors so it will be even harder to turn off. Furbys remain without an off switch. But the most exciting addition is that the 2012 Furby comes with its own smart phone and tablet app.
You will be able to feed your Furby by virtually flinging food at it via an app – a vast improvement on just putting your finger in its mouth. And at last you can get an app that will translate Furbish. So you can finally understand that “yoo?” means “Why will you not play with me today?” along with the subtext “This usually means the Furby is upset”. This is, of course, only useful if you are too lazy to teach your Furby English.
The return of Furbys may not seem significant and indeed the popularity of the 2012 Furby may prove to be as short lived as its forebearers. But the kind of technology they offer and the uses to which it is employed are unlikely to be a fad.
Smart phone and tablet apps for children are very popular – 75% of parents share their smartphones with their children according to a recent study in the UK. There are thousands of apps specifically designed for children which range from educational games to apps for their favourite Disney character. The combination of an app with a physical – more traditional – toy is the next step in the evolution of children’s entertainment. The simplest way to integrate an app and toy is to create an app that functions as a remote control. For example, you can use your phone or tablet as steering wheel to control toy cars or helicopters. More impressive apps go beyond this, such as the app gun which uses a device’s camera to turn the screen into a view finder; transforming your surroundings into a battle field.
The app enhances the toy and the act of playing with it beyond the physicality of the toy itself and in doing so the app creates an augmented reality. Playing and experimenting is how children learn, so there will inevitably be worries regarding any detrimental effects relating to augmented reality i.e. that children will somehow be unable to function in reality.
Will it confuse children? Will it spoil them? Will it make them lazy? Whether augmented reality and gaming are beneficial to learning is a topic that we discuss regularly in this blog. Augmented reality creates new experiences and new ways to interact with topics and as a result facilitates learning.
Many commentators on news reports favour the ‘in my day we had nothing but imagination’ approach to attacking advances in augmented reality. The danger being that children could be presented with toys so brilliant that they don’t have to use their own imagination to have fun. These commentators forget that augmented reality works with imagination to ignite it not to replace it. Augmented reality involves the suspension of disbelief which requires imagination.
There are augmented reality apps that harness children’s imagination for their own benefit, for example the app that claims to make plasters fun. It aims to take away the fear associated with plasters for the child’s –minimal – health benefit demonstrating the possible constructive applications of this technology.
In 1998, age 8, I had a Furby for Christmas. A year later my sister had a Baby Furby. My main memories of the late nineties Furby craze are children telling horror stories. Terrifying tales of Furbys awakening mysteriously in the middle of the night were swapped around the classroom. Furbys that mysterious moved from across the bedroom through the night. Furbys that kept talking when they had their batteries removed.
Just typing the phrase ‘furbys are’ into google produces the above results indicating my recollections may be part of a wider phenomenon. It is very hard to prevent a child’s imagination from enhancing any toy and I doubt that the toys of the future, including this year’s Furby, will escape any imaginitive improvements.
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.
It is widely agreed that increasing demand for Android mobiles is largely behind the huge growth being experienced by the smartphone market this year. ABI research has forecast that 45% of the smartphone market will belong to the little green robot by 2016, while Gartner put the figure at 49.2% by the end of 2012. According to their prediction, Apple’s iOS will languish in second place with a comparitively paltry 18.9%.
The press have recently been quick to seize on Android ownership outpacing iOS, with 28 per cent of smartphone users using phones based on Google’s OS versus 26 per cent for Apple’s.
Android’s predicted gains come as a loss to the majority of other brands, with Apple’s iOS, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS, Nokia’s seemingly doomed Symbian, and other mobile platforms all losing market share to Google. The only other company predicted to gain share next year is Microsoft – likely helped by its recent partnership with Nokia. Gartner expect Nokia’s decision in February to move from Symbian to Microsoft’s Windows Phone to boost Windows Phone market share to 11% next year and 20% in 2015.
However this does not mean that Apple’s bottom line will suffer. The analysts predict that even with 20% of the market, the iPhone will net Apple more money than Google gets from Android. Piper Jaffray estimates that Google will make $1.35 billion in revenue from Android in 2012, whereas Apple made $1.5 billion in revenue from iPhone in just the first quarter of this year.
But all is not well with Android. News emerged this week that the popular music streaming website Grooveshark’s app was removed over the weekend from Google’s Android Market amid cries of copyright infringement from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Grooveshark are shocked by the snub as the company claims it does abide by DMCA regulation. “Google notified us on Saturday that it had removed our app from the Market,” Grooveshark’s Ben Westermann-Clark told Wired in an interview, “but frankly, we’re baffled by this. We’re always compliant with DMCA regulations to make sure that we operate within the law and respect the wishes of content owners.” Grooveshark also reminded Google that Android is an app ecosystem, and the company issued this statement:
“Unlike Apple’s iPhone ecosystem, Android is an open platform, and Google is traditionally a supporter of DMCA-compliant services — indeed, Google itself relies on the DMCA for the very same protection that Grooveshark does.”
Unlike Apple, Android has no vetting process for the apps that are submitted to the market. However, Google has removed apps from the market and even remotely deleted them from customers’ phones when it has adjuged apps to have been malicious or misrepresented themselves.
Google is hitting back at accusations that Android is not so open after all. Google’s Andy Rubin blogs that Android is as open as ever, despite accusations. Writing on the Android Developers blog, Rubin says “recently, there’s been a lot of misinformation in the press about Android and Google’s role in supporting the ecosystem. I’m writing in the spirit of transparency and in an attempt to set the record straight”.
He insists that since the launch of the first Android device, in 2008, Google has been “committed to fostering the development of an open platform for the mobile industry and beyond”. The implication, of course, is that this openness is in contrast to the approach of rivals such as Apple. The competition is heating up, and this can only be good for the consumer. May the best operating system win.
It was only ever a matter of time before our two main channels of media communication were united. The Internet has revolutionised everything from accessing news to purchasing music – our social lives are managed online, and now the opportunity to transform television has been given the green light.
For those of you who are new to the idea, YouView (née Project Canvas), in a nutshell, is TV delivered over the Internet. It is a collaboration between broadcasters (the BBC, ITV, Five, Channel 4 and Arqiva) and broadband network providers (BT and TalkTalk) to develop a subscription-free, web-linked TV service combining Freeview digital channels with on-demand content such as iPlayer. This long-awaited IPTV project, hailed as the ‘Holy Grail’ for future public service broadcasting by BBC Director General Mark Thompson, promises to ‘change the way we watch television forever’, and is coming to our living rooms in early 2011. Such proclamations are to be expected from one of the project’s main backers – but they leave the rest of us wondering whether we really need another set-top box to add to our collection and whether IPTV really is the way forward.
The answer from the YouView consortium is, unsurprisingly, a resounding ‘yes’. It maintains that this simple and free-to-access service, with its easy-to-navigate interface, will soon be a necessity for all UK homes. YouView Chief Executive Richard Halton says the scheme is a great alternative for those who lack the ability or inclination to pay a monthly subscription for similar services offered by companies such as Sky and Virgin. These rivals are predictably unimpressed by YouView’s developments. But complaints to Ofcom that YouView will stifle competition are undermined by the fact that they’ll always have the lure of additional premium channels to tempt viewers.
The evolution of Project Canvas has been something of a roller coaster. It didn’t exactly have an easy start, with the failure of a similar BBC project (Kangaroo) back in 2008 still looming and vocal criticism coming from the likes of Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch. To make matters worse, Five opted to pull out of the deal in July (they later decided to rejoin). Recently, the scheme has earned a little more support, and Project Canvas was re-christened ‘YouView’, a name touted for some time, in September. Perhaps it’s just a happy coincidence that this name bears an uncanny resemblance to both Freeview itself and a certain global video sharing site owned by Google. A more appropriate moniker might have been ‘iView’, in keeping with ‘iPlayer’ or, better still, ‘iTV’ – although I’ve definitely heard the latter somewhere before.
In terms of functionality, YouView will enable you to watch so-called ‘Linear TV’ (the channels currently offered via Freeview and Freesat) as before, along with video-on-demand services like iPlayer and 4oD. In addition, you’ll be able to access popular sites like YouTube, Facebook and Flickr and on-demand pay TV – films, US drama and sport – all with a wave of your remote control. A recent YouView press release also boasted that it would be a potential platform for local TV services, making it ‘easier for viewers to discover and interact with localised content’.
It’s true that there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about YouView. It has the usual suite of features you’d expect – HD, a video recorder and the ability to pause/rewind live TV – but what it does do is combine this with the enormous potential of the Internet in one nifty, take-home box. The fact that VoD services are available on something other than a laptop screen (or a Virgin Media package) will be the biggest draw for some.
On top of this, as an open platform, YouView is set to boast a whole array of interactive features – apps, widgets, games, you name it. This presents a massive opportunity for content, device and application developers to dip their toes into the IPTV market. The implications for viewers (or perhaps ‘users’ would now be a better term) look exciting.
It will be interesting to see whether this BBC-backed venture pays off. As competition to take over the small screen hots up from a clutch of other big names like Apple and Google, we have to wonder whether YouView will be the one to make the cut. If you’ve been following YouView’s development, or would like to comment on any of the above, please get in touch!