A new day, a new blog…

That’s right, folks. I took the plunge and am now hosting my own WordPress.org blog. This blog will remain available so as to not break any links you might have; however, it will no longer be updated.

For my pearls of wisdom, you’ll need to visit me at aprilhayman.com.

P.S. Make sure to update your RSS feeds too!

Google Chrome OS: 5 Ways It’s Completely Different

Google Chrome OS: 5 Ways It’s Completely Different

Nice summary of how it differs from other OS and web browsers. Make sure to read the comments as there is an interesting discussion going on what the OS can and cannot be used for as well as issues with a monopoly a la Microsoft with IE.

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The Zen of Design and Learning Styles

Today’s Z(e)n Learning moment  is about learning styles. Wait! Don’t leave. I know that learning styles have been talked to death: which theory to use or not use, how to develop e-learning to incorporate it, my learning style is better than your learning style. In the middle of the roaring tide of developing e-learning for our learners, we forget a very important concept.

Humans adapt their environment to suit their needs.

Interesting concept, is it not? We’ve been doing it for millenia basically in the form of social learning. We create tools to make life easier and depending upon the environment, the tools and culture differ.

Now, how does that apply to learning styles and design? If I develop a course that is text based, those who support the various learning styles may cry foul. What about the auditory or tactile learners? Or the converger, divergers, assimilators, and accomodaters? Think about the children!

I am, actually, because I believe that a learner will adapt that text only information to suit their learning style and needs. How? Screen readers, tactile graphics, scanning/reading software, video captioning, voice recognition programs to name a few. While these are meant for people with various disabilities, anyone can use them in conjunction with how they believe they learn best. The fact that these tools exist only underscores my point about adaptability.

When I design, one thing I keep in mind is that no one learns in the same way. Do I bend myself over backwards to incorporate every type of learning and personality style available? No because it would be impossible to do so. My focus is on developing excellent and spot-on content ,i.e. outcome-based information, for that particular course.

However, I am aware of that learners access information in a variety of ways and design accordingly. Text documents typically have images incorporated into them and are supported by videos and podcasts when needed (none of which I produce, by the way, I link to fabulous resources available on the Internet for that). Activities cover a wide variety of types from Internet research to getting out the chair and dancing around (yes, I actually had them do that in a course I designed!). Small and large group work is included as well.

Design is zen. I contemplate and then on  a moment of inspiration, I act. I don’t worry about learning styles because I don’t have to. Humans will find a way to learn, if they want to, no matter how I much effort I put into the design.

What’s On Your Horizon?

Today I attended “What’s On Your Horizon?”, a webcast offered by New Media Consortium (the people who put together the Horizon Report), TCC (Technology, Colleges, and Community conference), and Learning Times Network. During the webinar, Rachel Smith, Cyprien Lomas, and Alan Levine, discussed the six emerging technologies from the report as well as key trends and challenges.

If you haven’t read the Horizon Report , go do so now. It’s chocked full of information on 6 emerging technologies or practices that will be used by learning institutions within the next five years. It also discusses some of the challenges and trends associated with these technologies and their implementation.

The webinar itself was a very basic overview of what’s in the report. Since I already read it, what I really took away from the experience were the examples used to illustrate each of the technologies (I’ve included those later in this post).

I also enjoyed the research questions asked by the moderators at the beginning of the webinar. There were some surprising, and not so surprising, answers to the questions. It was a good interaction and segue into the emerging technologies, challenges, and future trends discussions.

The first question was: what technologies do you see used in some places that most learning focused institutions will be using less than a year from now? There were a wide variety of answers, as you might imagine. They included everything from mobile learning to social bookmarking to wikis and blogs.

Question 2 was: what technologies that have a solid user base in consumer, entertainment, or other industries should learning-focused institutions be activley looking for ways to apply? This added in some interesting additions, including mobile applications, gaming, iTunes, live chat, and online tutor support.

Finally, they asked: what emerging experimental technologies you see developing to the point that learning- focused institutions should begin to take notice during the next 4 to 5 years? The answers were wildly different ranging from a netflix model but educationally oriented to  holographics to cloud computing, social networking incorporated into the classroom and or learning environment.

What surprised me, at least, was that cloud computing was already in the Horizon Report 2009 as on the first adoption horizon (less than a year).

The emergence of large-scale “data farms” — large clusters of networked servers — is bringing huge quantities of processing power and storage capacity within easy reach. Inexpensive, simple solutions to offsite storage, multi-user application scaling, hosting, and multi-processor computing are opening the door to wholly different ways of thinking about computers, software, and files. (Horizon Report, 2009)

Apparently cloud computing is here and already in use by many people. Used Google Apps lately?  And I guess the reason I didn’t think of it as an emerging technology is that I already use it to collaborate with subject matter experts. To me, it’s already old hat. But the people at Moodleroom don’t think so as they are in the process of integrating Google Apps for Education into their application.

What didn’t surprise me out of the webinar or the report itself was that mobiles were on the first adoption horizon.

Already considered as another component of the network on many campuses, mobiles continue to evolve rapidly. New interfaces, the ability to run third-party applications, and location-awareness have all come to the mobile device in the past year, making it an ever more versatile tool that can be easily adapted to a host of tasks for learning, productivity, and social networking. For many users, broadband mobile devices like the iPhone have already begun to assume many tasks that were once the exclusive province of portable computers. (Horizon Report, 2009)

The point to remember with mobiles is that they are continuously evolving. The cell you buy today won’t have the apps that the next generation will have in a month or three. They are moving towards becoming mini-computers but have not reached that level of sophistication as of yet. I doubt it will be long though. What we need to do as IDs is really start thinking about the effective use of this new medium and how or even if it should be incorporated into our learning designs. As mlearning is a particular favorite subject of mine, I’m definitely keeping an eye on this trend.

On the next adoption horizon, 2 – 3 years, are geo-everything and the personal web.

Geo-Everything. Geocoded data has many applications, but until very recently, it was time- consuming and difficult for non-specialists to determine the physical coordinates of a place or object, and options for using that data were limited. Now, many common devices can automatically determine and record their own precise location and can save that data along with captured media (like photographs) or can transmit it to web-based applications for a host of uses. The full implications of geo-tagging are still unfolding, but the impact in research has already been profound. (Horizon Report, 2009)

For some reason, I thought these might already be ubiquitous but apparently not. I think, at least for geo-everything, the uniqueness of its inclusion is the sentence “common devices can automatically determine and record their own precise location…..can transmit it to web-based applications for a host of uses.” This is not something that has been able to happen before because the mobile technology was not advanced enough. So these two, at least, go hand in hand as far as developing technologies.

The Personal Web. Springing from the desire to reorganize online content rather than simply viewing it, the personal web is part of a trend that has been fueled by tools to aggregate the flow of content in customizable ways and expanded by an increasing collection of widgets that manage online content. The term personal web was coined to represent a collection of technologies that are used to configure and manage the ways in which one views and uses the Internet. Using a growing set of free and simple tools and applications, it is easy to create a customized, personal web-based environment — a personal web — that explicitly supports one’s social, professional, learning, and other activities. (Horizon Report, 2009)

Mashups have been around for a while now but I think that the importance here is that by personalizing their experiences, teachers are encouraging students to take charge of their learning and become responsible for it. Some examples are: Google Docs, flatworld knowledge, Terra, Pageflakes, Netvibes, hosted or organized blogging platforms through the schools.

On the last horizon, 4 to 5 years, are semantic-aware applications and smart objects. These are some very cool subjects and I can see a myriad of uses for them.

Semantic-Aware Applications. New applications are emerging that are bringing the promise of the semantic web into practice without the need to add additional layers of tags, identifiers, or other top-down methods of defining context. Tools that can simply gather the context in which information is couched, and that use that context to extract embedded meaning are providing rich new ways of finding and aggregating content. At the same time, other tools are allowing context to be easily modified, shaped, and redefined as information flows are combined. (Horizon Report, 2009)

A very cool semantic-aware search engine that Rachel Smith of NMC shared was something called TrueKnowledge (in beta stage now). Instead of looking for each word or a data set, this search engine looks at the pieces of information, connects it from all the pieces flung across the very wide and deep Internet, and then returns contextual results. Her example was “how many world leaders are over the age of 60?” Basically, TrueKnowledge will eventually be able to take the term “world leaders” connect to the term “60” and give a list of all leaders that are over that age. It doesn’t work yet, though. I know since I tried it. However, I did pop in the term “who is the oldest world leader” and got back a handful of articles with some information. One of them gave me this:

The World’s 10 Oldest Leaders

  • ROBERT MUGABE, 84, president of Zimbabwe, 28 years in power
  • KING ABDULLAH , 84, king of Saudi Arabia, 12 years in power
  • GIRIJA PRASAD KOIRALA, 83, prime minister of Nepal, two current years in power
  • ABDOULAYE WADE, 81, president of Senegal, eight years in power
  • HOSNI MUBARAK, 79, president of Egypt, 26 years in power
  • SHEIKH SABAH AL AHMAD AL SABAH, 78, emir of Kuwait, five years in power
  • RAUL CASTRO, 76, president of Cuba, two years in power, including unofficially
  • MWAI KIBAKI, 76, president of Kenya, five years in power
  • MANMOHAN SINGH, 75, prime minister of India, four years in power
  • THAN SHWE, 75, chair of Burma’s military junta, 16 years in power

Which brings us to smart objects, the last of the emerging technologies in the Horizon Report.

Smart Objects. Sometimes described as the “Internet of things,” smart objects describe a set of technologies that is imbuing ordinary objects with the ability to recognize their physical location and respond appropriately, or to connect with other objects or information. A smart object “knows” something about itself — where and how it was made, what it is for, where it should be, or who owns it, for example — and something about its environment. While the underlying technologies that make this possible — RFID, QR codes, smartcards, touch and motion sensors, and the like — are not new, we are now seeing new forms of sensors, identifiers, and applications with a much more generalizable set of functionalities. (Horizon Report, 2009)

A real world example of extending the technology of smart objects is for use in your local library. Embed the books and other items with smart tech and it could mean that books are shelved correctly every time, people stop walking out with items they haven’t checked out, among other things. Or create a whole new hands on experience for kids at the library, like the project ThinkeringSpace.  Another very cool idea can be found at Siftables. They’re basically little blocks that you can arrange to your hearts content to interact with digital information and media. Make sure to watch the video on their site to get a better idea of what these cool learning toys can do. Basically, I want a set for myself. My kids can have it after I’m done.

Join me next time when I go over the challenges and trends identified in the Horizon Report.