More Wiimote goodness from Johnny Chung Lee

If you’re at all interested in new ways of interaction with computers, have a look at Johnny Chung Lee’s latest brain-dump post about low-cost interaction technologies.  Throwable displays, cheap 3D motion capture, universal remotes and more.  The video demos in particular are great for helping you understand what he’s talking about and seeing the potential.  (I also like the way the Cambridge one reminds me a lot like old-school OU TV programming/Look Around You.)

No, Google isn’t making us stupid

There’s been a lot of commentary about Nicholas Carr’s article in The Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid?  Carr is worried that, like HAL in 2001, he can feel his mind going.  He used to read for long stretches, but:

Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. […] The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.

The article then goes on in quite a thoughtful way to explore the complex relationship between what you might call thinking tools and thinking.  He’s not a thoughtless Luddite (as he has been unfairly portrayed in some places), and points out that this sort of thing is not a new concern: Socrates bemoaned the introduction of writing, and there was much criticism of the introduction of the printing press.  However, he does seem to think we’re losing something valuable:

The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

I really don’t agree.  Sure, time to think is important – which is why I think it’s important to be offline some of the time.  The Internet makes it so much easier to see other people’s associations, inferences, analogies and ideas.  But it doesn’t make it so much harder to make or foster our own.

There’s another, more fundamental point here.  To me it feels like new technology makes me cleverer, not stupid.  Sure, if I was cut off from the Internet and computers I’d need to relearn the compensatory skills one needs to manage without ejournals, blogs and the whole wide world of useful information you can find within a minute of wanting it.  But I’m not cut off, and I can think better with all that stuff than I ever could without it. For me, the technology feels like an extension to my self, so it’s easy to include it in the “me” that I’m considering when I say “makes me cleverer”.  To take the systems view of Searle’s Chinese Room argument a little askew, the system that includes the pure unextended biological “me” acts as if it is cleverer, so we might as well call it cleverer.

To draw my own analogy (!) with another tech, my distance vision is rubbish without my contact lenses (or glasses).  If I didn’t have them for a prolonged period of time, I’d develop ways of managing (squinting and compensatory behaviours) that would enable me to see better than I can at the moment when I whip the lenses out at the end of the day.  So one could say that I would see better if I didn’t have the lenses.  This would be true in a certain sense – which I think is the same sense in which it is true that “Google is making us stupid”.  But it’s patently false in most broad senses.

If I want to see better, I should use the lenses.  If I want to think better, I should use the Internet.

TEL Away Day: learning activities

Grainne – learning activity competition – we all write learning activities on bits of paper, stuck up on wall around the outside of the room. Everyone rate them *, **, ***. Ask is this giving you good ideas? Online? Web2.0? (All learning activities will go in to Cloudworks.)

Interesting real-world process process similar to social networking/Digg etc – I came late to looking at them and noticed which were the ones with a lot of annotations and paid more attention to those. Which is what the conversation is centring around.

Interesting stuff about appraising ideas about learning activities. Issues about scale and reuse. They are context free, though, which makes it hard to make concrete. As an array of things without a purpose makes it hard to sort or select.

More feedback collected on the IET WetPaint site. 3rd place was Tina about blogs. 2nd was Patrick with the instant video vox pops. 1st was Canan with discrepant events – she gets a box of chocolates.

TEL Away Day: Social Learn

[Stephen Godwin has also blogged about the morning session.]

Martin Weller on SocialLearn – movie developed for mtg this afternoon, will go to VCE later.  We get an early draft still in Camtasia.  Microlearner – Move from expressed goals to relevant OERs via a Google CSE?

Then we get it again as a conventional PowerPoint.  Usual outline – part of response to Web 2.0 disruption in education.

SocialLearn is a profile, an API, a suite of learning applications, a site.

New tool called Microlearner – “Little snippets of learning that lead to a vast mind” – writes to and imports goals, resources, stream.  Also 2Learner – create/import goals, tasks, aggregate.  Pull in and publish relevant content (OpenLearn), relevant courses/designs (Cloudworks – “Flickr for learning designs”), publicise what you’re doing via Facebook apps, make connections with Cohere.

For – informal learners, students, educators (create your own PSE), partners, geeks, vocational learners.

Beta (invites) in July.

Business models hard – still don’t know how it’s going to make money, more work needed.  Use as springboard to get research in.  Then at end Feb appoint a ‘grown up director’ and make it all official.

The learner’s profile is held in one place, which is how you pull together everything together.  Though it’s an open API so you could read/write it from elsewhere.

Partnerships – could be e.g. Pearsons, Microsoft, etc.  Critical mass is key and hard to get.  Target two close-to-home groups initially – CPD and potential students who are ELQ and hence put off by high fees.

Is SocialLearn a Creepy Treehouse?  Less so since you give the choice/portability to the student, so they can make the decision about what’s work and what’s fun.    Clash between HE culture – we decide what you learn, and how – vs Web 2.0 where everyone does it.  Martin thinks SocialLearn should sit in the productive middle ground – students appreciate structure but it’s bottom-up – filter on the way out, not the way in (David Weinberger).

Most of Pearson’s money is from accreditation.  Tools For Change meeting – publishers’ get-together.  Trying to push aside HEIs from the business.  The point of SocialLearn is to create the nightmare competitor that puts them off.  A disaggregated education market place.

Relationship between SocialLearn and the OUVLE?  Duplication of MyStuff and profile?  MyStuff is an application that could plug in to the architecture.  SocialLearn could be seen as the VLE-killer (in the far future) – but more likely to be a tool that feeds in to the VLE, but comes with you after you leave university.  Need Eduglu to stick this all together, Microsoft, Cisco are all trying to build this stuff too – so clearly an idea whose time has come.

TEL Away Day: Content

Martin Weller presentation – showing us his Broadcast Strategy Review video [Flash, behind OU firewall]. And his Edupunk Youtube vid. And his Future of content vid. And his Everything is Miscellaneous Slideshare.

You can do all this yourself.

The future of work/learning/recreation is the sweet spot is the overlap between personal/fun/informal and the professional/work/formal.

(Side point – Martin’s created a TEL internal wiki on WetPaint.)

So we – TEL – should get away from doing reports/papers for everything. Broadcast stuff may get reused.

Small groups: think of one thing you do now that could become ‘broadcast’ – what would it look like, how would that be better/worse, what skills/help would you need?


Tension between OU model/skills/unique talents and low-entry barrier/anyone can do it. Scale/QA issues. Good to get students to do it. Tension between fun/social and ‘serious education’ – is the former somewhere we can go? PhD students doing a sales pitch video for what-their-thesis-is – to help develop their fundamental argument. Fundamental skill of being able to identify the main point – and that is a fundamental educational skill, whether in an essay, a blog post or a short mashup vid. We all find it difficult. Being open to creativity through another way. Writing ability and thinking ability and mashup vid ability – are separate skills. So could be a useful extra item in the repertoire for assessment. (A conceptual theremin?!) [This report videoed by Patrick – available later?]

Other feedback – time is a recurrent theme, both how you find the time to do new things, and how much time it takes to produce things like videos when you’re not very skilled. (One group went off task and did things on the TELSNS Ning/blog/Twitter instead.) Low quality is Ok if tradeoff for immediacy.

Digital literacies is a real thing. Martin says it’s not that difficult, but you learn by playing, so it has to be fun to do that. (Hence his sweet spot.) RobinM says it’s a little harder than we might think. Competitions in YouTube/Slideshare for world’s best X – then literacies people coming along to explore why they’re good.

TEL Away Day: second session

The meeting accounting is running at nearly £2600 as we return from coffee.

Instant feedback from the small groups captured by Patrick’s little video tool as talking heads over coffee. (May be available later online?) There’s a general feeling of skepticism bordering on cynicism about some of them but some enthusiasm. Boundaries between the personal and the professional/work worlds – some people mix them seamlessly (apparently) but some people experience a lack of separation between work and other life as very problematic already.

Patrick is going to suggest things we should do:

  • Let’s give Twitter a try. No compulsion but that’s where people will gather. Follow PlantOUTEL if it’s not already following you (so we can see all the TEL people’s Twitter accounts).
  • Wikis – I did a (private) wiki for last year’s conference – but we can use WetPaint, pbWiki, etc, and there is an IET wiki again. Should use for monthly and quarterly reports.
  • Blogs – encourage people to try – let Juliet/Will know and they’ll put it in to the aggregator.
  • KMi tools – do play with them.  Can we occupy Cohere (Compendium?) to support IET’s ideas?
  • Ning – have a look at the Ning Anesa and Rebecca have set up.

TEL Away Day: New ways of working

At an internal conference thingummy – the TEL group (Technology Enhanced Learning) is my organisational bit of IET (for now).

Patrick is encouraging us to use our laptops and do what we want to do, and he knows (and doesn’t mind) that we’re not all paying complete attention all the time (Martin is deep in something). About 24 people, with about 19 laptops (some have none and some have more than one). Wants us to work in new ways.

Has Tony Hirst’s meeting cost counter running – £1690 already just getting coffee (although £1500 is the meeting room hire). Many techies in one room gives plenty of people who can fix tech issues … but also creates more tech issues to fix. (Sound issues, projector not showing whole screen, etc.)

Grainne: Write down a really great teaching and learning idea – on slips of paper. Pin up on wall, tick ones you like, the winner will get a box of chocolates. Link to Learning Design work and CloudWorks.  (Except lots of people don’t have accounts and Juliet who issues them is off on honeymoon … another tech issue. And Twitter is intermittently giving the FailWhale.)

Patrick: Wikinomics is widely read in the OU.  Lots of people in the room have blogs; only about two have one on the official internal OU blog hosts.

Groupwork – four or five groups, way in which we can adopt open technologies to help us work, what are our preferred ones.

Extensive small group discussion about tools and their use – distinguishing between social, organisational, and purposeful/educational use.  Then a lot of discussion about our experiences of using stuff as diverse as Twitter and Cohere.