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Posts in category 'Technology'

2 February 2013

Dan Hill’s critique of the smart cities movement

fabrica

Dan Hill (of CityofSound, ARUP, Sitra and now Fabrica fame) is not only extremely prolific, but his writing is also very much to the point.

His latest Smart City (or better “Smart Citizen”) manifesto is a case in point. Weighing in at 10,000 words, it is a “cleaned up” and “stitched together” version of two separate pieces he wrote for the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, which he is now sharing on his CityofSound blog as “one single critique of the smart cities movement”.

The goal, he says, is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology.

The essay surveys three types of activities, and scenarios, demonstrating active citizens, noting some issues along the way, and then critiques the opposite—the production of passive citizens—before asking a couple of questions and suggesting some key shifts in attitude required to positively work with the grain of today’s cultures, rather than misinterpret it.

“The promise of smart sustainable cities is predicated on the dynamics of social media alloyed to the Big Data generated by an urban infrastructure strewn with sensors. Feedback loops are supposed to engage citizens and enable behaviour change, just as real-time control systems tune infrastructure to become more energy efficient. Social media dynamics enable both self-organisation and efficient ecosystems, and reduce the need for traditional governance, and its associated costs.

Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?

And in terms of engaging citizens, we can certainly see evidence of increased interest in using social media for urban activism, from crowdfunding platforms to Occupy Everywhere and the Arab Spring. Yet does it produce any more coherence or direction for the new cultures of decision-making required in our cities, or simply side-step the question of urban governance altogether? And what if the smart city vision actually means that governance becomes ever more passive, as it outsources operations to algorithms or is side-stepped by social media, whilst citizens also become passive in response to their infrastructure becoming active? Or might they be too distracted to notice as they’re all trying to crowd-fund a park bench?”

Bruce Sterling’s reaction:

“*After reading this I feel that I understand myself better: I like *other people’s* cities. I like cities where I’m not an eager, engaged, canny urban participant, where I’m not “smart” and certainly not a “citizen,” and where the infrastructures and the policies are mysterious to me. Preferably, even the explanations should be in a language I can’t read.

*So I’m maximizing my “inefficiency.” I do it because it’s so enlivening and stimulating, and I can’t be the only one with that approach to urbanism. Presumably there’s some kind of class of us: flaneuring, deriving, situationist smart-city dropouts. A really “smart city” would probably build zones of some kind for us: the maximum-inefficiency anti-smart bohemias.”

11 January 2013

Intel’s ‘Women and the Web’ report

womenandtheweb

From the press release:

Intel Corporation released a groundbreaking report on “Women and the Web,” unveiling concrete data on the enormous Internet gender gap in the developing world and the social and economic benefits of securing Internet access for women. To better understand the gender gap, Intel commissioned this study and consulted with the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, UN Women and World Pulse, a global network for women. The report issues a call to action to double the number of women and girls online in developing countries from 600 million today to 1.2 billion in 3 years.

On average, across the developing world nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report. Further, the study found that one in five women in India and Egypt believes the Internet is not appropriate for them.

Seeing another 600 million women online would mean that 40 percent of women and girls in developing countries — nearly double the share today — would have access to the transformative power of the Internet. This goal, if realized, could potentially contribute an estimated US $13 billion to $18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.

The report’s findings are based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women and girls living in urban and peri-urban areas of four focus countries: Egypt, India, Mexico and Uganda, as well as analyses of global databases. The findings were unveiled during a panel discussion today in Washington, D.C. as part of the 2-day international working forum on women, ICT and development hosted by the State Department and UN Women.

12 December 2012

Welcome to 2020 and 2030

 

Business Technology 2020
Human-like technology. The potential downfall of the data center. Hyper-personalization of data. These are some of the responses IT leaders gave to us when we asked, “What will business technology look like in 2020?”
In 2020, tech experts say, computers could learn from experience, much like the human brain. The end of the data center as we know it might arrive. And technology will know the most important things about us to help us become more productive.
In the new ebook, Business Technology 2020, the experts — who represent organizations such as Intel, IBM, Frost and Sullivan, Aberdeen, ATLANTIC-ACM and Current Analysis and more — also cover topics that include the cloud, health care, cognitive computing and the role of the CIO, giving a holistic preview of how technology will impact your business in and leading up to 2020.

Global Trends 2030
Every four or five years, the futurists at the National Intelligence Council take a stab at forecasting what the globe will be like two decades hence; the idea is to give some long-term, strategic guidance to the folks shaping America’s security and economic policies. On Monday, the Council released its newest findings, Global Trends 2030. Many of the prognostications are rather unsurprising: rising tides, a bigger data cloud, an aging population, and, of course, more drones. But tucked into the predictable predictions are some rather eye-opening assertions. Especially in the medical realm.

5 December 2012

No one likes a city that’s too smart

Songdo smart city

This week London hosts a jamboree of computer geeks, politicians, and urban planners from around the world. At the Urban Age conference, they will discuss the latest whizz idea in high tech, the “smart city”.

“But,” writes Richard Sennett in The Guardian, “the danger now is that this information-rich city may do nothing to help people think for themselves or communicate well with one another.”

“A great deal of research during the last decade, in cities as different as Mumbai and Chicago, suggests that once basic services are in place people don’t value efficiency above all; they want quality of life. A hand-held GPS device won’t, for instance, provide a sense of community. More, the prospect of an orderly city has not been a lure for voluntary migration, neither to European cities in the past nor today to the sprawling cities of South America and Asia. If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”

3 December 2012

Intel’s UX research on touch interface usage and Ultrabooks

darialoi

One of the more innovative studies to come along at Intel in regards to user experience and the Ultrabook is Daria Loi’s global survey of touch interface usage.

Dario Loi, who is UX Innovation Manager at Intel’s PC Client Solution’s Division, presents in this video, entitled “How Multi-Region User Experience Influences Touch on Ultrabook (video),” an overview of a recent multi-region User Experience study and discusses how it is influencing Intel’s Ultrabook strategy, particularly in view of Windows 8.

The study, a qualitative UX investigation focused on the use of touch in clamshell devices, was conducted in Q3 and Q4 2011 in US, Italy, PRC and Brazil. The talk focuses on the research’s motivations, insights, recommendations, strategic impact and influence, providing a number of key examples which are narrated through users’ voices.

To read more about this research, see the article The Human Touch – Building Ultrabook Applications in a Post-PC Age.

The topic of touch features in Ultrabook apps is further explored in an ongoing Intel series by Luke Wroblewski. He provides a thoughtful look at how various touch factors work when integrated into working apps. The videos are by Luke Wroblewski, the accompanying articles by Wendy Boswell:
1. Touch interfaces: Video | Article
2. Touch target: Video | Article
3. Touch gestures: Video | Article
4. Location detection (article by Wendy Boswell)

Intel has also posted three overview articles on the topic:

Keyboard and Touch: Like Peanut Butter and Jelly
by Wendy Boswell
Is there really validity for a so-called “pure” touch experience? Is getting rid of the keyboard something that should even be seriously considered? Are we moving towards a completely touch-only computing age? In this article, we’re going to take a look at the touch experience without the keyboard, evaluating this perspective both from the developer and the consumer side. We’re going to pretend that the upcoming touch-based Ultrabook isn’t coming with a nifty keyboard, and in fact, only offers touch as an input method. Let’s take a look at what all of this might look like.

Innovating for User Experience on Intel Ultrabook
by Rajagopal A
Get the secrets of innovating for your users. This article (video) gives you the approach, the design concept to innovate User Experience on your app. We share with you how we created an cool Ux on the Intel Ultrabook. To find out a novel way to interact with your PC, see the videos in this article.

User Experience and Ultrabook™ App Development
by Wendy Boswell
In this article, we’re going to take a look at what user experience is all about, especially in regards to Ultrabook devices and Ultrabook app development. We’re also going to figure out how usability fits in with user experience, and how UX can impact app development (for better or for worse).

26 November 2012

Research on Android tablet use in 5th grade classrooms

Learning-is-Personal

The series of research projects on tablet use in schools (see here, here and here) now also has an Android study.

A small research project by Marie Bjerede and Tzaddi Bondi, equipped a 5th grade class of 27 students in Portland, Oregon (USA) with 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab devices with mobile broadband data to use for learning as well as for their own purposes. Though there were a number of technical issues the results were overwhelmingly positive with greater student engagement.

Below are some of the conclusions, observations, and opinions:

Surprisingly, the quality of student writing on 7-inch tablets and on netbooks was essentially equivalent. Student preferences, however, regarding which device to use for creating content varied. In general, though, students prefer to use laptops for large projects (e.g. content that requires substantial editing) and mobile devices for quick notes (e.g. content that requires essentially no editing at the time it is created).

For the purposes of writing, mobile devices share many of the limitations of writing with pencil and paper – it is linear and cumbersome to edit, though fairly straightforward to create. Although mobile devices are great for capturing pictures, video, voice and even draft writing, laptops with their bigger screens and keyboards and mature software are at an advantage for editing and polishing large projects as well as at combining multiple media.

Although Android devices have a number of desirable qualities, including a lower cost and an open ecosystem for apps, the relative immaturity of the Android ecosystem prevents us from being able to recommend Android devices for school implementations at this time. There is no guarantee of backward compatibility – that new apps will work on older devices. Though this is also beginning to be true in the iOS ecosystem, the problem there is much smaller as there are far fewer operational devices not running the most current version of iOS. Also, since the Android operating system, the hardware, the vendors, and the communications providers are separate organizations, there is no single organization responsible for the whole system as sold, making it cumbersome for educational institutions to manage successfully on their own.

Some of the concerns discussed regarding the use of mobile devices for students strike us as red herrings. In practice, we found no need for device management software as students took ownership of their devices, their learning, and the management of their device images. We found students became savvy and safe Internet users when exposed to authentic Internet user experiences (though social networking happened only within a secure, teacher-managed platform). We found students quickly established a culture of responsible use of their devices, which seemed to enhance their learning rather than distracting them from it. We noticed students becoming confident of hardware and software obstacles, turning first to each other for support and generally finding answers within their classroom community or online.

We observed an organic shift in educators’ approach to teaching, transitioning from primarily preparing and delivering content to the class to an environment where students independently seek out content and contribute it to ongoing classroom discussion. The outcome was a culture where the educator and students learned together, and from each other. We believe that two conditions were essential for this shift: first, that each student had his or her own, connected device that was used for personal purposes as well as for classroom learning; second, the classroom learning culture supported the students’ individual freedom (and responsibility) to explore and experiment, permitting them to decide how to best use the devices to support their learning in the 5th grade.

We found that students independently chose to use their devices in “snippets of time” for math, spelling, word games, reading, and other educational uses that matched their interest, level, and pace. In effect, the students essentially eliminated down time from their day while self-differentiating their learning.

Over the course of the year, the students developed skills and habits in using the tools and resources available through their mobile devices. In their culminating project, a presentation of a colonial trade, the implications of those skills became apparent in project work that was significantly richer, more complex, and more sophisticated than that of students in prior years.

18 November 2012

UK study: tech in schools requires a rethink of how learning is organised

Decoding_Learning

In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology. From interactive whiteboards to tablets, there is more digital technology in schools than ever before. But so far there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes.

Something is going wrong.

Nesta, the UK innovation agency, commissioned the London Knowledge Lab (LKL) and Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI), University of Nottingham, to analyse how technology has been used in the UK education systems and lessons from around the world. Uniquely, they wanted this to be set within a clear framework for better understanding the impact on learning experiences.

The report, Decoding Learning, says that for the past decade technology has been put ahead of teaching, and excitement at innovation has been put ahead of what actually helps children learn.

Therefore the report includes proof of technology supporting effective learning, emerging technologies that show promise of impact, and exciting teacher practice that displays the potential for effective digital education.

> See also BBC article

18 November 2012

Scotland study: Tablet devices in schools beneficial to children

ipadscotlandevaluation

School children who use a tablet computer benefit the most when allowed to take it home, rather than just using it in school, reveals research from the University of Hull, reports Engineering & Technology Magazine.

The iPad Scotland Evaluation Study set out to establish the impact of handheld computer tablet devices in schools, and found that personal ‘ownership’ of such devices is the single most important factor for successful use of the technology.

The study is the largest of its kind ever conducted within the UK, covering students from eight schools across six Scottish Local Authorities over a six-month period.

The research focused on four central themes in order to evaluate the overall effectiveness of these devices in assisting with learning, and was carried out by researchers from the Technology Enhanced Learning Research group at the Faculty of Education at the University.

1. Impact of tablet devices on teaching and learning generally
The study found that benefits included greater motivation, engagement, parental involvement and understanding of complex ideas.

2. Leader and management issues (stemming from a deployment of devices)
The study found that teachers are ‘equally engaged’ by the use of such a device, which has a low learning curve enabling them to use it immediately as a teaching tool and a learning tool for themselves.

3. Professional development of teachers and how teachers cope with using new technology
The research found that ‘use of the device is contributing to significant changes in the way teachers approach their professional role as educators and is changing the way they see themselves and their pedagogy’.

4. Parental engagement
The study showed that parents become more engaged with the school and their child’s learning when the iPad travels home with the student.

The study resulted in 18 recommendations for using these devices in schools, with specific comments aimed at government, local authority and school level.

Recommendations include a wider roll-out of devices on a one-to-one level, pricing considerations – including leasing schemes – need to be considered carefully, and further studies should take place to continue evaluating this kind of technology.

11 November 2012

Finally a serious research study on tablet use in schools

 

Although there are many tablet deployments in schools worldwide, there is a glaring lack of serious research on what actually happens in the classrooms with these devices. In fact, there is so far no aggregated evidence that tablet technology significantly aids learning. Obviously, official endorsement for the widespread use of tablets in schools cannot really happen without substantiated, independent evidence to convincingly prove the case for tablet technology.

Carphone Warehouse (corporate site), a UK mobile phone retailer, recently commissioned the Family Kids and Youth research agency to conduct a qualitative study of schools situated in Belfast, Kent and Essex where children are already benefiting from tablet use. The aim of the research, which ran from April to July 2012, was to find out more about how tablets are actually being used in education.

Family Kids and Youth carried out focus groups and ethnography at one of the schools (Honywood Community Science School, Coggeshall, Essex), interviewing pupils, staff and teachers, and observing the way in which different subjects and age groups used tablets in learning. Research was also undertaken with teachers, pupils and parents in one control school and two primary schools. In addition, an online quantitative research study was carried out between 22 June – 2 July with a UK nationally representative sample of 1,120 parents of children aged 3-16, 933 children aged 7-16, and 202 teachers.

The research findings (pdf) are generally rather positive (assuming that Family Kids and Youth has done its research properly, given the obvious interest of Carphone Warehouse in tablet sales): tablets enhance learning, improve communication, engage and motivate pupils, and stimulate proactive querying, initiative taking and creativity. Interestingly, the study points out that particularly less engaged pupils, those who had previously struggled with their homework, and pupils with special educational needs appear to be benefiting most from tablet use in schools (read the short report for more details).

Often cited fears – about distraction, misuse such as gaming and texting, time spent, theft, loss of writing skills, challenges in terms of classroom management – were clearly not confirmed by reality.

Yet, it is worthwhile underlining what Carphone Warehouse considered to be three primary issues regarding the use of tablet technology in schools (as summarised in the introduction of a follow-up project that is running during the school year 2012-2013):
1. A lack of specialised training for teachers around the use of tablet technology
2. Concerns for students when faced with sitting traditional paper-based examinations
3. The growing mass of unregulated content in the app world and the lack of appropriate interactive content
(“Teachers have the impression that educational publishers are merely publishing text books in the form of an app without fully appreciating the possibilities that tablets can offer.”)

If you read French, you may also be interested in the dossier “Tablette tactile et enseignement (école, collège, lycée)” – on the website of the French Ministry of Education. The (very long) web page provides an overview of what is currently going on in France, contains many links, but does unfortunately not include a deeper analysis (unless you delve deeper into the linked reports, such as this one from Paris and this one from Fribourg, Switzerland).

10 November 2012

A tablet still is not a book … not yet

books-b-small

Dan Turner discusses why the experience of reading a book on tablets (iPads in particular) is a chore rather than a delight.

In a long article for UX Magazine, he discusses a number of reasons, often related to usability and even biology, why that may be so:

  • The physicality of books is linked to comprehension and memory, and reinforces focus and comprehension
  • The glossy, reflective screen is a physical strain, degrading the reading experience
  • The combination of thinness with weight puts a physical stress on your hands that a book does not
  • As a light source often used in darkened environments, potentially disrupt our sleep cycles
  • Due to the regular notifications we receive on our tablets, we are easily distracted and find it hard to achieve concentration or flow
  • We are conditioned to see screens as ‘work’ or ‘entertainment’ devices, again making it hard to enjoy a reading experience on them

So, he asks, what could we as hardware, system, and app designers do to help reduce distraction? And how can serious user research help us in that?

24 October 2012

Core77 report on the Design Research Conference

DRC2012

A few days before the EPIC conference in Savannah, Chicago’s IIT Institute of Design organised and hosted its yearly Design Research conference.

Although no videos seem to be available yet, Ciara Taylor provides a concise report on two of the interactive sessions at the event on the design blog Core77: Elliott Hedman on Understanding Data, and George and Sara Aye on Human Behavior.

18 October 2012

Wearable tech pioneers aim to track and augment our lives

nikefuelband

Wearable technology is still in its infancy but as it increasingly taps into a desire to have the functionality of technology without the intrusiveness.

A BBC article covers some of the recent products on the market: the GoPro camera, the Nike Fuel Band, Sony’s SmartWatch, the Pebble e-paper watch, Google’s Project Glass, and the Autographer wearable camera.

6 October 2012

Understanding the sensing city

Roger_Dennis

Consultant Roger Dennis, who identifies himself as “serendipity architect”, has been writing a series of posts on meetings he had related to the sensing city. Together they give a good overview of some of the most recent initiatives and thinking on smart cities.

Singapore meetings
Meetings with the MIT Sensable Cities Lab and the ETH Zurich Future Cities Lab – both part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology

Intel meeting in London
Meeting with Duncan Wilson at Intel, who heads up the newly created Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities – a partnership with two universities. The aim of the initiative is to understand how technology can be used as a tool to create better cities.

Cosm meeting in London
Meeting with Usman Haque, who founded the company Pachube, which has since been bought and its name changed to Cosm. He also now has an Urban Projects Division that works on special projects with cities around the world.

Siemens meeting in London
Meeting with Elaine Trimble of Siemens, who works with the (relatively new) global cities team based at The Crystal. It opened a couple of weeks ago and is “the world’s first center dedicated to improving our knowledge of urban sustainability.

Arup meeting in London
Meeting with Volker Buscher, one of Arup’s smart city people. He has a massive range of experience with cities around the world.

University College London (UCL)
Meeting with Dr Andy Hudson Smith who is the director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), a UCL research lab. Among other things the group is responsible for the fascinating London Dashboard.

Cisco meeting in London
Meeting with John Baekelmans, the CTO for the Smart Connected Communities initiative and JP Vasseur, who is a Cisco Fellow.

> See also this frog design interview with Cisco CGO Wim Elfrink on the same topic

New York meetings
Meetings with Ashok Raiji of Arup; Bjarke Ingels, founder, and Iben Falconer, Business Development Manager of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Naureen Kabir of New Cities Foundation; and David van der Leer, the Curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab.

5 October 2012

An enchanted Odyssey on your iPad

ulysses

Article by Francesca Salvadori, Scuolalvento blog
Translation from the Italian

Technology is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think about poetry and how it can be captured and transmitted. But this emotional and colourful voyage with Ulysses would not be the same on paper.

The application is based on a book with gorgeous illustrations and wise and simple storytelling, but without the diffuse backlighting of the screen that transforms even the deepest greys and blues into something lively and vibrant, the enchantment of the narration would never be as strong.

Polyphemos really walks into you, ever bigger and frightful; the captured winds in the bag of Aeolus hurl themselves on the sea; the lure of the Sirens, seated between corals and opaline jellyfish, hypnotises you; and the shining Calypso, notwithstanding her blond grace and the surrounding flowers of an eternal spring, has a broken heart due to the hero’s rejection…

It’s hard to imagine a more convincing introduction to the Odyssey. And although events have been ordered diachronically, resulting in the loss of the flashbacks and flashforwards that characterise the typical circularity of the time of Ulysses, we capture the tragedy of the shipwreck at the glance, seeing him exiled in the waves of the vast Mediterranean Sea.

This little jewel – created by the Milan publishers of Elastico – will be precious for anyone who needs to engage young people with the works of Homer, as it is full of synthetic but intelligent page scenes and narrated by an assuring, fluid and relaxed voice, while containing a coherent selection of the story’s episodes.

The simple and moving digital story allows any of us to seed the taste for literature with children and pupils, paving their way into the pages of poetry.

And hopefully they will start to love other literature as well.

The Voyage of Ulysses (available in English and Italian) cost 3.99 Euro (4.99 USD).

But even if it costed 10, it would be worth purchasing…

3 October 2012

How to create a cutting edge Smart City visitor experience

logo-EN

A four step guide from the Milan Expo 2015:

Step 1
Ask your main sponsors (in this case Cisco, Enel and Telecom Italia) to indicate the relevant “Smart City” technologies that they already have, are currently working on, or are generally trendy.
In the Milan case these are push technology services, QR codes, smart phone apps, mapping services, RFID tags, biometric identification, security services, electronic walls, gestural interfaces, augmented reality (and eyewear), immersive virtual reality, 3D avatars, health tracking services, and foldable tablets.

Step 2
Agree with these sponsors to hire an advertising agency to develop a short video scenario of the Expo 2015 visitor experience, using all these technologies, and obviously adhering to the general vision and principles of the Expo.

Step 3 (VERY IMPORTANT):

  • DO NOT make it realistic by introducing context, such as the City of Milan, traffic, other digital services people might use, other people, or anyone who may not be familiar with smartphones, gestural interfaces, QR codes
  • DO NOT base your ideas on the actual behaviour of people – since it will be impossible to say how people might behave in 2015, any user research is distracting
  • DO NOT show any use that goes beyond what you can already do on a smartphone or website in 2012 – like navigating, browsing and communicating – and emphasize passive media consumption
  • DO NOT indicate that people (and small companies) can create their own bottom up services – as this might be a security risk

Inadvertently doing any of the above, will diminish the power of the perfect visitor experience you aim to create.

Step 4
Use this video in key presentations on your Smart City credentials and highlight how these services will resolve the key visitor experience problem that came to the fore during the recent Beijing expo: queues.

The result: Expo 2015 Smart City video (Italian version)

(I hope you capture my irony.)

11 September 2012

Intel conversations about the future

tomorrowproject

Intel dabbles in science fiction, titles ReadWriteWeb.

On Monday, they write, Intel debuted a book of science fiction stories. Dubbed Imaging the Future And Building It, the book includes a number of stories – from professional authors like Madeline Ashby and Karl Schroeder, plus more pedestrian efforts from analysts like Rob Enderle. But the most interesting bits come in the introduction – where Intel lays out its vision of the future.

Over the last few years, Intel futurist Rob Johnson explains, Intel has been running a “futurecasting lab,” where the company whiteboards what the future will look like. The effects-based models help guide Intel’s product development; Intel is working on its 2019 model right now.

In 2020, however, “something remarkable happens,” Johnson writes. “As we pass 2020, the size of meaningful computational power approaches zero.” In other words, with a microprocessor that small, you can put a computer in just about anything.

11 September 2012

The bling approach to the school of the future

 

Recently I have been exploring developments on the impact of new technologies on the future of education, particularly in high schools. The latest trend in education is all about tablets, of course.

My provisional assessment is that there is a lot of bling: shiny objects promoted all around us make us focus on the tools rather than on the didactic objectives.

With this post I want to open my reflections and initial analysis – in twelve hypotheses – to a wider audience. Comments are highly welcome (no registration needed). Italian readers might also be interested in the Scuolalvento blog for more discussion.

  1. A technology-first approach thrives. The dominant Silicon Valley driven ideology is one of technology fixing all problems – institutional, social, cultural, educational. By bringing in tablets and iPads in particular, we will be “more successful at engaging our students,” we will “better prepare them for the future,” learning will be “more collaborative, co-creative, hands-on, and ‘fun’,” and we can “open up the classroom to the outside world.” These assumptions are largely unquestioned, even though the discourse is not strong on educational and didactic objectives.
     
  2. There are dominant but untested preconceptions about schools, learning, teachers and students. The ideology above gets reinforced through the messages we get about schools (out-of-date, closed-off from the real world, stressed), learning (hierarchical, old-fashioned, boring), teachers (tied to an antiquated paradigm of learning, really looking forward to new tools), and students (digital natives, experts, but unfortunately without the right tools). Little is said about the value of existing and often quite interactive educational methods, or about the lack of technical skills of students (who are experts in Facebook, but often not on text editing a history paper or doing an advanced search in Google.).
     
  3. There is a boom of iPad and tablet deployments in schools in rich and less rich countries alike. From Italy to the USA, from Thailand to Belgium, from India to Russia. Little information about these deployments is available beyond short announcement texts on school websites and local newspapers.
     
  4. Little research has been done on educational impact. Although deployments have occurred for at least two years, there is a nearly total lack of serious research that evaluates them, particularly on their educational and didactic impact. This stands in strong contrast to the sizeable size of research done on e-learning.
     
  5. Governments are pushing hard. Government ministers and heads of institutions want to be seen as modern and ahead of the times. Funding a tablet deployment also creates better media coverage than increasing the budget for teacher training. Digitization finally allows for more quantitative data on the qualitative activity of learning, which is something governments, managers, and bureaucrats tend to like.
     
  6. There is a lot of money to be made. The spending on education is huge: not only by governments and institutions, but also by parents. No wonder that companies like Apple and Pearson (the publishers) are so active in the field. Even Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation recently unveiled Amplify, its new educational division “dedicated to reimagining K-12 education by creating digital products and services that empower students, teachers and parents in new ways”. (Listen to this WNYC broadcast).
     
  7. Apps, e-books and software are often of dubious quality. While these tools definitely enable interactive visual gimmicks (zooming, 3D panning, videos, clickable contents), these are often inserted for their seductive value rather than for their educational impact.
     
  8. Other digital tools are not part of the debate. Tablet deployments are often argued for as isolated interventions, with limited discussion on how this all relates to interactive whiteboards or simply the web. In fact, with all the smartphones and computers in the homes and hands of high school students, it is now entirely possible for the teacher to create a totally free, open source WordPress site that students can update on the fly. Moreover, they can be made highly interactive due to the large quantity of (free) online plugins available. It is an attractive zero-cost intervention, yet very few bring this into the digital education debate.
     
  9. Teacher training and resources are lacking. Teachers are literally left to their own devices. The tools to support them and their schools in deploying and effectively running these implementations are few and far between.
     
  10. Initiatives to support schools and teachers are rare and often quite local. Few governments have set up structures to support their schools and teachers with this new challenge (this Australian one is an exception), and initiatives are often driven by teachers (like this Belgian one), or independent associations that are anchored in civil society or local companies (e.g. this Italian example). These initiatives are local or regional at best, and little exchange takes place between them.
     
  11. We are facing a bubble. There is such a huge discrepancy between the hype and the reality that we could face a backlash. Schools and teachers are increasingly complaining. Results will be less impressive than expected. In view of all this, it is not impossible that many initiatives will soon be shelved.
     
  12. Valuable opportunities definitely exist for players big and small. The opportunity is both on:
    • people-centred training – What is it that schools and teachers really need? And how to present and convey it in a way that really helps them and creates lasting, positive behavioral change?
    • the creation of tools where educational and didactic qualities and impact are the central drivers in their development.

    There is not that much happening in these two areas, and I think this is where governments and consultants, tech companies and non-profit associations can really aspire to claim leadership, if they so desire.

14 August 2012

Touch in cars is still too complicated

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It is not a secret that touch is not as easy as it seems and very difficult to get right, writes Wolfgang Gruener on Conceivable Tech. Cadillac is the first company that is trying to translate touch in a comprehensive way to be used in conjunction with a car’s entertainment system. He and his colleagues have had a few days to play with the CUE system and they walked away impressed and confused at the same time.

“I wrote about CUE (Cadillac User Experience) a few weeks ago after an initial demonstration that was admittedly breathtaking. However, that was in a parked car and only a product demonstration. This time I actually was given Cadillac’s new XTS sedan for a test drive over a week to see what CUE can accomplish in driving scenarios. After 200 miles, I am still impressed by the execution of this system, but I am convinced that not everyone will like the no-compromise translation of the smartphone/tablet concept into an in-car entertainment system. There is no grey area – either you like it and it is going to convince to buy the car around it, or you are going to simply hate it.”

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5 August 2012

Social media’s neoliberal world view (and how it affects us all)

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Recently I have embarked on trying to understand better the underlying ideology and world view of the Silicon Valley tech scene, and how this is impacting our daily lives through the products and services they create.

My mission is still far from complete and reading suggestions are more than welcome. On Twitter, Brian Schroer guided me to a few books and to this inspiring 2010 NYU doctoral dissertation by Alice E. Marwick, currently an Assistant Professor in Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies. Previously she was a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England in the Social Media Collective (and therefore a frequent co-author with danah boyd), and a visiting researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

Marwick’s 511 page dissertation, which she is now reworking into a book for Yale Press, is based on ethnographic research of the San Francisco technology scene and explains how social media’s technologies are based on status-seeking techniques that encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life.

Rather than re-publishing the abstract, I want to cite a few paragraphs (on pages 11-13) from her introduction:

“David Harvey defines neoliberalism as “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey 2007, 2). Neoliberal policies emphasize “trade openness, a stable, low-inflation macroeconomic environment, and strong contract enforcement that protects the rights of private property holders” (Ferguson 2006). [...] Neoliberalism is also an ideology of the integration of these principles into daily life; neoliberal discourse reproduces by encouraging people to regulate themselves ―according to the market principles of discipline, efficiency, and competitiveness‖ (Ong 2006, 4). Aihwa Ong identifies “technologies of subjectivity,” which use knowledge and expertise to inculcate this expertise in individual subjects. Exploring such technologies reveals how neoliberalism is experienced, and how these subjectivities are formed.

I argue that social media is a technology of subjectivity which educates users on proper self-regulating behavior. Internet and mobile technologies create the expectation that white-collar professionals should always be on the job, decreasing personal agency and creating conflicts between the often-contradictory demands of work and home life (Middleton 2007). Social media encourages status-seeking practices that interiorize the values of Silicon Valley, which is a model of neoliberal, free-market social organization. In the technology scene, market-based principles are used to judge successful social behavior in oneself and others, extended through social media. Status increases up to a point with the ability to attract and attain attention online. The ability to position oneself successfully in a competitive attention economy becomes a marker of reputation and standing. Web 2.0 discourse is a conduit for the materialization of neoliberal ideology. I isolate three self-presentation techniques rooted in advertising and marketing to show how social media encourages a neoliberal subject position among high-tech San Francisco workers: micro-celebrity, self-branding, and lifestreaming.”

24 July 2012

Silicon Valley worries about addiction to devices

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Computers, smartphones and other gadgets have made life easier, but now tech firms are worried that they may be harming people.

Huh? Tech firms worried about addiction to devices?

As also the author of the New York Times piece writes, it “sounds like auto executives selling muscle cars while warning about the dangers of fast acceleration.”

“The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.”

Could it have something to do with their stressed out employees?

“Many tech firms are teaching meditation and breathing exercises to their staff members to help them slow down and disconnect.” [...] “Google has started a “mindfulness” movement at the company to teach employees self-awareness and to improve their ability to focus.”

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