Friday, 25 October 2013

Immersive “Holodeck” Classroom with Leap Motion Control

I don't know about you but the Star Trek 'Holodeck' is such a fun dream that I get very excited when I see it start to become reality. That is what has happened at OHIO university where they have created an immersive "holodeck" classroom a leap motion controller. Using consumer grade tech like the leap motion controller brings this vision into our living rooms as well as classrooms. Essentially opening up the possibility that any room can become a holodeck or an immersive classroom.

What I like most is how the associated video presents the concept. It just makes sense. See what you think.

I'm slowly working towards an infrastructure and process that enables this. It is work and sharing like this that spurs me on because it shows that it is hear and now if you know where to look and who to talk to. Bringing this to education. That is my longer goal. It is nice to know I'm part of a much wider movement.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bacteria ‘hijack’ human immune system

Just logging a fascinating new insightfrom the Royal Society that Bacteria 'hijack' the human immune system. It's no real surprise to me. I've talked about how we are made from bacteria and this can both benefit and harm us

The lesson from this article is that bacteria are continually evolving. Most live within us and help us. But we are to them just like the earth is to us. We are they environment in which they live. As well adjust they adjust and as our immune system seeks out harmful things it looks for bacteria like any other potentially harmful organism.

Without going into detail this understanding can have implications for cancer, recovery, allergies, activity, diet

Learning: Is it Online or Offline. Are we letting fear get in the way?

Just a short post inspired by reading notes from an upcoming e-assessment faculty meeting. A question came up about offline learning and ereaders in particular. How far can we go with them. A very informed answer was given by Niall Sclater taking reference from his existing article making ebooks more interactive: logistics and ethics. Niall is a key influence in many of the Open University e-learning initiatives and his insights are characteristically insightful.

The article highlights the fragmented e-reader ecosystem. Something we have seen with mobile devices like mobile phones and tablets. Particularly the issues of whether anything more than a static learning interface can reliably be supported across all devices in a sustainable manner. That certainly seems a challenge and highlights how far e-readers need to get. We finally have mobile phones and tablets that can do this reliably but we waited a long time for it. e-readers will probably be no different.

The other side of the coin is where I feel more work can be done. A big step would simply be to look at things in a positive instead of negative light. The idea that users will have concerns over being tracked and put pressure on them is certainly a fair argument. It can and will, but so does taking an exam and people still do it. In fact every time we evolve a new simple approach to doing things this same argument is presented and it blocks just about everything. Ultimately it is about the fear of change. I just talked about conquering fear in another blog and I feel similar challenges are relevant in this issue. The argument is valid but there is always a way to address it and keep people safe.

We need to be skilled at understanding our fears and know what is necessary to deal with and overcome them. People are scared of being tracked because personal data is out there being used incorrectly. It is a real concern. But most of life is a risk and you learn ways to minimise those risks to yourself. In this case the question for me is about how much data to track, how to put users in control of their data (Can they delete it and know it's deleted, or just not share it).

To simplify the issue even further the first thing I would do is allow the choice of whether data is shared or not. Explain briefly that data once it is shared becomes part of the learning experience and thus we haven't yet figured out how to remove it once it is shared but if a user trusts the OU and is willing to share then they can do so. Explain why it can benefit them, that they can stop at any time and what they can do if they want to stop sharing but make it clear that it is like doing most things publicly, you participate at your own risk. Just like sharing your views in public like at a school, work or the supermarket. Other people will hear those views and make their own opinion. They may also share your views with others in misleading ways that affect you negatively. We all accept that sharing information is part of living and it is our responsibility to learn how to do it. Even things we don't always think about like body language are increasingly becoming things we must pay attention to. I feel the same goes for all our new tools. Make it easier for people to understand what information is being shared and how it can be view by others. I feel we need to build this into the process of delivering any experience.

This approach will put many off and they will not share. Fair enough. The point is that they were able to make an informed decision. Others will. I do all the time. Mainly because I trust the person or institution I am dealing with and because I understand the issue quite deeply both as a developer, teacher and as an informed citizen.

My point here is about preventing fear from stifling incremental changes. Learning is going online sure but offline will always exist. Handling fear properly can allow the both to coexist well and shift the focus on the learning and teaching instead of being stifled by fear.

Education: New Rules

Lifelong learning is a topic close to my heart. I'm very frustrated that mainstream education is only provided for the young rather than for every age. That was appropriate in the last century. Not this. It supports a culture where if you don't take your opportunities when you're young then you miss out.

So I'm interested in the discussion I found in the New York Times Sunday Review titled New Rules. This article makes a strong argument for the growing need for lifelong learning that I haven't heard put so well before.

The basic idea is that technological advances are, year on year, making less skilled jobs obsolete. So we must compete for the higher skilled jobs. So those who have invested the most in education generally out compete those with the least.

The problem is that our educational systems aren't built to train people for such regular change. They ignore lifelong learning and instead focus on providing a good start. That's great but since skills go out of demand so quickly and that's only going to accelerate we need to focus on educational systems that help people adapt throughout their life.

To end I'd like to look at it another way. What I see is the evolution of our world right before our eyes. Those who are fittest thrive. Those who aren't fall by the wayside. The capitalist system, in my view, matches the principles behind our own evolution and so it follows that the survival follows the same principles too.

That means quoting the famous Darwin line "It's not the fittest, but the most able to adapt that survive". So I simply note that our current system tries to produce the fittest employees for the current or near future market. Given how quickly things change it's pot luck whether the skills you gained will support you as the needs of the workplace do.

More appropriate now is easy access to the tools to adapt your skills to be relevant for each challenge you face. Reducing the pressure on getting it right before you've even done a days work. Spreading the pressure out across your life. That means an infrastructure that helps you fix any shortcomings you need to fix and take new directions, instead of trying to be perfect on the first attempt with little or no opportunity to fix problems or change direction later on.

Do GCSEs favour women?

You know. I never really thought about it that much. I first came across this notion during my A levels studying education as part of sociology. Since, at the time, women and girls had had such a long time being the second class citizens of education and work it didn't really bother me. I did notice that in all the top classes guys were generally absent. That left me pretty lonely. I hadn't really thought that the structure of the GCSE with its emphasis on coursework might actually favour women over men.

Not until I read a daily mail article I found on an education discussion group. I'm only half way through the article but with the extra years I now have I can see exactly what it means. I like most of the men I know prefer short bursts or sprints of intense activity instead of long term patient effort. I never enjoyed school because it was so focused on painstaking work that girls preferred. Like any guy my age I just wanted to be active. That's why I pursued it all the way to a sports science degree.

So I was wondering why Michael Gove felt the need to replace GCSE's. Now I feel I understand. I don't expect the implementation of the new system to be amazing. It's likely to simply tip the balance the other way and promote boys over girls. It may also devalue the aspect of coursework that I really appreciated. It proved the value of having completed work in the bank.

Overall though I can see why a change may be needed to balance out the equation for boys. Thought will  it take a generation for us to see if this really has the benefits we hope?

To be fair though I'd rather have much more regular testing amd much smaller forms of tests. If it's supposed to prepare you for work then it should reflect work and help you understand that in real work you're often learning on the go.

I deliver websites and software applications. Each week there'll be a set of bugs to address and every few months new features or sites to work on or create. Many times there'll be something I haven't covered before. Maybe an entire product I've never used and I have to build a piece of software out of it in a stupidly short amount of time. That's life. It's the same in all spheres of work and the ability to deliver is what gets you work. Each time I deliver it's the same as passing an exam or delivering coursework.

What is key is that it's an accumulation of knowledge and skills which of course is experience. The constant learning and applying or knowledge. At school what was missing for me was any one explaining the relevance of school and testing to work. That's because I don't think they know how to explain it or they might not like how it sounds if they do. My view is that work is like school because the school stuff you don't like is preparing for the work you don't like. Everyone, even those living their dreams have aspects they don't like. In fact those most successful are those who have learnt how to succeed and even appreciate the stuff they don't like. Rihanna, Tom Daley are a couple of examples.

I encourage regular testing only if it's accompanied with good support. I like sports because it's about putting yourself on the line. You can be great in practice but poor during a match. It's just like an interview or making a web site under really short deadlines with no resource. The pressure is the test and how you handle it is what you're practising. So failing at tests if they're regular isn't important. There will always be another. But learning the skills of passing tests is crucial to getting ahead. Looking back I've notice a consistent trend that the exams and pressure situations I did best in were those where I'd had lots of practice in those pressure situations before. Subjects that emphasised several mock tests prepared me better than those with none.

I'm not saying regular testing is easy and I don't like the stress it can create. I'm saying we should get better at helping teachers and students handle the pressure. Life is full of pressure much harder than exams. So it's better to learn how to deal with these lesser pressures so that we're better prepared to deal with work, marriage, parenting and all the other really difficult things we'll be doing later on.

A message for life

My philosophy is that 'The way you think defines what you achieve'. By that I mean that your philosophy determines the decisions you make to any given situation and thus the outcomes you can expect. It is through these decisions that you define the life and accomplishments that you end up with.

Of course there are other factors but I prefer to focus on my mind because it's the one thing any human has control over. Many of us don't control our physical characteristics or the world around us. Yet we can all control our inner world.

This is excellently expressed in an inspiring poem I came across while watching Bruce Lees Enter the Dragon. It's a poem that was pinned to the wall in Bruce Lees office in Golden Harvest studios.

A message for life

If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, then you don't.
If you like to win, but think you can't,
It is almost certain that you won't.

If you think you will lose, you are lost.
For out of this world we find,
Success begins with a fellows will,
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are.
You've got to think high, and to rise.
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go to
The stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later the man,
I'm hoping wins is the man,
Who thinks he can...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Learning is innate. How the changing world can help education

The evolution of learning is a fascinating topic. Learning is my strength because I was brought up to think that learning is innate and every challenge is surmountable. In fact learning is never really changing, only the tools and processes we use to learn will change. The education industry has been struggling to figure out how these new tools can help people learn.

I've never thought it's that difficult because learning is about the human process, the tools are just facilitators. I've been waiting for years for my employer the Open University to realise this. Listening to a 2012 HEA conference keynote by Martin Bean my CEO/Vice Chancellor excites me because he seems to get it. So much of what he says in this keynote reflects what I think. That is why I really like what is happening under his watch at the OU. I simply feel that all the new things we can do these days are simply what we have been waiting for.

The most sophisticated technology in the learning process is always the learner not the tool used to teach them. Learning is really just a case of getting information into a persons head and body and then helping them figure out how to use this information to get something done. You have learnt something when you overcome a challenge that you previously couldn't. That is how I see it.

Humans have an incredible capacity to consume information and get it into their brains. We have senses including eyes, ears and touch which we can use all at once. The quantity and quality of data these senses can consume is terrific. Newer tools are just making it easier to make full use of these senses. Humans are also able to combine their senses to achieve secondary or tertiary senses like proprioception and kinaesthetic awareness. It is now getting possible to speak to these senses through devices like the kinect.

The point here is that people will pay for the ability to overcome a challenge that matters to them. If you can make this happen faster and more easily then people will pay more. So, learning isn't really changing because humans aren't changing. They're just doing what they always did but with better tools and more support. So standards have risen, content is now cheap and the market is exponentially larger. Surely that is a huge opportunity.

What is needed is simply going back to the essence of learning and re interpreting existing content, tools and assessment methods in light of what is possible today. Surely we can make the learning process the innate, natural and easy process humans are designed for?

Many thanks to Jonathan Vernon (@mymindbursts) who inspired this post by sharing Are we at the Napster moment in HIgher Education. A thought provoking article.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Spore: Why it didn't work

A dream of mine is to create a game or piece of software incorporating evolution and cellular development. So I was very excited to read Spore: My view of the Elephant written by someone who actually worked on the game Spore. It is a highly worthwhile read. Capturing both the complexity of the task and also the lessons learned that doomed the project to failure.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, 7 October 2013

David Attenborough. Rise of the animals and the rise of simulation

I have always loved simulations for their ability to put concepts into the context that makes most sense. I am developing such respect for David Attenborough as I see his ability to take this relatively niche medium and bring it to the mainstream. Using it with his usual attention to detail.

The show fascinates me because it shows the progress of evolution and because I just love anything to do with nature. What makes it worth writing about is the use of 3d and simulation technology to immerse the viewer in the natural world as it was. This isn't new but the level of quality with which it was done shows the evolution of this tool and of the people using it. It shows how 3d, simulations and virtual worlds are being used to express biology in ever more realistic ways.

I prefer it when the story and concept is foremost and the tools used to convey the story disappear into the background. Something they have achieved in this series. A favourite scene of mine depicts a Tiktaalik vertebrate that is extinct as though it were alive and moving from water to land. The treat is that the whole landscape is so realistic despite being a virtual recreation. It literally would not be possible to re create this in real life. It is only possible in the virtual world yet, at least on screen, it appeared anything but virtual. 

My interest in 3d is also because I am learning the skills of producing virtual worlds and simulations using tools such as Unity3d. It is pioneers like David Attenborough who are my teachers because they are using these tools in the way I hope to. Their efforts make it easier for me to show others the value that simulation and similar tools offer.

Just like the simulation used in the hidden life of the cell it's such a rich way of expressing our knowledge.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Launch is dead for free to play games

Recording a thoughtful timely article Launch is dead for free to play games I found through linkedin. I am now seeing my route to like minded people through providing content just like this post. I write a lot of stuff myself but also share good stuff from others.

I am finding it help me connect with people who have similar interests. From there I feel symbiosis will occur naturally in that other things I create like apps and tools will be useful to them and things they do will be useful to me.