OLnet regular meetings

As well as iSpot, one of my big current projects is OLnet, which aims to research Open Educational Resources (OER) and the OER community, and to support the OER community in developing its research capabilities.

We want to model being open in what we’re doing, so we’ve decided to liveblog our regular team meetings – you can see my notes from our first trial today over on the OLnet site. I probably won’t crosspost everything here and there, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to track the OLnet news as well as my blog!

iSpot helps six-year-old spot new-to-Britain moth

Katie Robbins, a six-year-old living near Newbury, spotted an interesting moth on a windowsill. She and her Dad couldn’t identify what it was, so her Dad put a picture of it on iSpot, the nature identification website produced by the OU as part of the OPAL project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund.  (I’m leading the development of the iSpot website.)

Martin Harvey, one of the resident nature experts on iSpot, saw it and thought it was an exciting rare find, and got the identification confirmed by the Natural History Museum.

It turns out that the moth was the Euonymus Leaf-notcher, Pryeria sinica, and it had never been seen before in Britain.  It’s native to Asia, and has turned up in the last decade or so in North America as an invasive pest. Its larvae eat Euonymus shrubs (known variously as Spindle bushes, Spindles, and Burning bushes), which are widely planted in gardens. Martin Harvey’s blog post mentions that the Euonymus Leaf-notcher was observed in Spain last June, in the only other known sighting in Europe (so far!).

Furry Moth (Pryeria sinica)
Furry Moth (Pryeria sinica)

This is really exciting – according to press reports (I’ve not talked to her directly!) Katie and her family are “really excited”, and it’s a significant discovery.

You can see how the story unfolded on the ‘Furry Moth’ observation Katie’s Dad added to iSpot.

You can also see accounts of the story in the press  (thanks to Gemma Bessant in the OU press office!):

And the story will be appearing elsewhere – for example, listen out on Radio Five Live at 4.55pm to hear Martin Harvey himself!

(As a total aside, it is amusing to note the spin the different papers put on the story. For example, only the Mail mentions a potential ‘foreign invasion’, and only Newbury Today mentions which school Katie goes to.)

This discovery is exciting in itself.  But it’s also very significant in that it’s an example of amateurs making observations of interesting species, and those observations being positively identified and flagged up to the wider biodiversity community.  This isn’t the first time that’s ever happened, of course, but what iSpot aims to do is to make identifications like this easier, harnessing ‘citizen science’ to improve our monitoring of biodiversity, and also being a fun and interesting way for the general public who are a bit interested in the natural world to take part in a positive activity and learn a bit more.

This is great news for the project at an early stage in its development. We’re certainly hoping for more of these ‘big news’ observations, but more quietly, week in, week out, lots of people are using iSpot to make observations, getting help with identifying what they’ve seen,learning a bit more about the natural world, and contributing in a small way to science.  That’s also very good news.

Update: more coverage

Tangibles, tabletops or mobiles: which is best for collaborative learning?

Liveblog notes from an IET Technology Coffee Morning by Yvonne Rogers, on Tangibles, tabletops or mobiles: which is best for collaborative learning?

(Podcast version will be available at podcast.open.ac.uk)

Review of her work over the last 10 years. Has been looking at new technologies – shareable technologies – and how they support different activities.

15-20 years ago, students working together f2f would huddle round a PC. One would take control of the mouse, the others would be onlookers. Taking control was awkward. Touchpads and laptops allowed people to move outdoors – but interaction much the same.  Then 10 years ago, mobiles came along – designed for one person to use, but children use them in pairs.

Now, new technologies – tabletops, tangibles – designed specifically for multiple users at one time. Reactable for collaborative music-making using tangible things on a tabletop.

These seem to give better support for collaborative learning than 1-person PC. But which works best for what activity? What are the opportunities and constraints of these technologies and contexts?

Continue reading “Tangibles, tabletops or mobiles: which is best for collaborative learning?”

The Public Domain

Liveblog notes on a book discussion seminar on The Public Domain, by James Boyle, led by Ray Corrigan. It’s another in the series of senior seminars on the implications of technology for the world that I’ve liveblogged before (last was on The Future Of The Internet).

The audience included notable OU blogger and genius John Naughton, Niall Sclater and a host of other clever technology-informed people from round the OU. Ace senior administrator Tony Walton  introduces things by self-deprecatingly observing that he spends half his time reading boring reports, and the other half writing them, so it’s nice to have a discussion like this.

The book covers ‘the second enclosure movement’, enclosing the ‘commons of the mind’. Ray says the book is the Silent Spring for the information society and should be compulsory reading for all OU senior management.

Continue reading “The Public Domain”

Web Squared

In the runup to the Web 2.0 Summit later this month, Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle have been outlining their vision of what comes after Web 2.0.  Their answer: Web Squared.  They’ve set this out in a white paper (also available as a 1.3Mb PDF), a webcast,  and a Slideshare presentation:

They say:

Ever since we first introduced the term “Web 2.0,” people have been asking, “What’s next?” Assuming that Web 2.0 was meant to be a kind of software version number (rather than a statement about the second coming of the Web after the dotcom bust), we’re constantly asked about “Web 3.0.” Is it the semantic web? The sentient web? Is it the social web? The mobile web? Is it some form of virtual reality?

It is all of those, and more.

They set out a vision in some detail – it’s well worth a read if you’re interested in what the leading lights of Web 2.0 think happens next.  In a nutshell (as you’d expect from O’Reilly) it’s  ‘Web 2.0 meets the world’. The boundary between the web and the real, physical world is in some ways clear, but in other ways very blurred, and the transition across it is one I am fascinated by.

As with Web 2.0, of course, lots of the things they proclaim as part of Web Squared can be seen going on right now.  As William Gibson said, the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

There’s smarter algorithms to infer collective intelligence from the ‘information shadow’ of real-world objects, cast in space and time by more sensors and more input routes; and smarter ways of visualising and exploring the outputs, and delivering them to people in more contexts and situations.  And all of this happening in ever-closer-to real time.

The ‘information shadow’ and ‘new sensory inputs’ is exactly the potential that Speckled Computing is mining and looking in to (and I’m very interested in pursuing for learning).  And the increased sensors/input routes, building collective intelligence from many individuals collaborating with low effort is the sort of thing that iSpot is doing – using geolocations and photos from a wide range of individuals to build a bigger picture.

(As a bit of an aside, one ‘key takeaway’ is that ‘A key competency of the Web 2.0 era is discovering implied metadata, and then building a database to capture that metadata and/or foster an ecosystem around it.’ – I’m certainly convinced that’s a more scalable system than one where humans do the hard work of marking data up semantically by hand.)

The potential for the web to learn more and better about the world is huge – and as the web learns more, we too learn more.  As they say, we are meeting the Internet, and it is us. And we’re getting smarter.