Archive for April, 2009

I have been thinking and researching about how to enhance traditional virtual classroom platforms. The obvious improvements over the years have been in standardized tools such as whiteboarding and application sharing, or in terms of modalities such as quizzes, surveys and breakout rooms, or in being able to accommodate audio, video and chat streams.

Not so obvious are the improvements in terms of providing tools to the instructor to teach a particular subject effectively. From what I have seen so far, at the content level instructors and/or students could benefit immensely from adding generic or subject specific online interaction – sort of bringing  multi-user games/simulations/interactions into the virtual classroom. Of course, traditional web/desktop applications on which teams could collaborate through application sharing and control, are still very useful in many situations.

However, what I am referring to is to bring structured and creative solutions into the virtual classroom platform itself.

An example of this could be in Sales. When it comes to selling a product, you would need to not only understand what the product is (etc) but you would also need to profile your customer needs in order to suggest the best product for her requirements. When we focus on developing this skill in a virtual classroom session using a simulation or game that multiple participants can use to profile the customer and implement sales techniques effectively, facilitated by an instructor/expert, virtual classrooms can come alive.

These augmentations could be built into the platform, but I would rather that the platform allows plug and play integration and service providers continuously build and innovate to come up with new ways of collaboration.

Obviously, this need not only be restricted to a simulation or game built using Flash or Silverlight, but could be one or more Web Services that could be integrated. These applications could leverage the virtual classroom context – users, presenters, groups, participation data etc. For example, imagine adding emoticons (I think elluminate has those) or blogs or tagging services to a virtual classroom session.

As a corollary, since many organizations like to record and store these sessions for future consumption by its learners, the same web services could be used by individual learners or formal/informal groups  to make the recording come alive, perhaps reliving the live session sans the instructor.

I believe that this kind of an augmentation is really important to consider as more and more organizations move towards the virtual delivery platforms. I would love to hear examples of other platforms that have adopted similar approaches and augmented their platforms. Please do let me know if you have come across any.

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Our shame

Violence in the classroom. How many of us realize how unsafe our children are in their classrooms and schools? How many of us are still silent spectators to child sexual abuse, corporal punishment and all forms of safety violations for children going to our schools?

The recent horrifying stories of corporal punishment (15-year-old girl assaulted by teacher dies in coma, Delhi girl in coma after school punishment dies, Student abuse: School sacks teacher), sexual abuse (Teacher gets death for rape, murder of student, 10-year-old raped in MCD school) and the state of legislation/policy (Despite law, no sparing the rod, Finally, strict norms to curb child abuse, Teacher hitting child may become crime), leave me stunned.

In an environment where the child’s personal safety cannot be ensured, how can any learning happen?

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Linked Data

Tim Berners-Lee’s passionate exposition on Ted Talks on linked data starts with his expression of frustration with silos of content and proprietary nature of formats 20 years back when he first started working on the idea of creating a virtual repository of documents accessible anywhere. He thinks that this time around linked data (see semantic web) is a solution around a similar frustration, this time with data. Will it be as revolutionary as the World Wide Web?

For teaching and learning, perhaps it may offer some completely new analytics. For example, who has the same or closest matching initial conditions for learning as I do when I am about to learn something new and which resources did he or she use to learn? Who teaches the way I do? Which teacher would best suit my learning preferences? If this kind of information – curricula, learner profiles, teaching methods – all could be made widely available as a linked data resource, imagine the newer applications that could be made available on the basis of these new analytics!

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You just have to watch this video of the innovation that MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group created. Like all innovations that blur the lines between two or more ways of experiencing or doing things, this innovation is breathtaking.

In this innovation, Pranav Mistry and his team blur the lines – the projection target is not your gaming console or computer/projection screen – it is any projectable surface. Extending the idea, the interaction is not through the keyboard or mouse or through a gaming console, but through simple hand movements that are captured through motion sensing.

Applying it to commercial uses, Pranav uses the technology to blur the lines between an internet database and common uses such as buying a product or finding if your flight is delayed, between a group of users and common uses such as collaboration to create a 3D model (look at inkuitive on the list of projects on Pranav’s home page).

If you look at TaPuMa (again on the list of projects on Pranav’s home page), you can see how the lines are blurred again – take a wristwatch, put it on a console or in front of a scanner, and it tells you which duty free shop in the airport terminal where you are standing, sells the watch. Interestingly put, Pranav states:

The broad concept behind the project TaPuMa is ‘Object Amelioration’, where the functions of everyday objects can be expanded by using their affordances or functionalities in a variety of different contexts.

Microsoft Tag (and other existing mechanisms like QR Codes) is blurring the lines by merging print with online experiences. VoiceThread blurred the lines by allowing a phone to web integration of user comments. Others are blurring the lines in many other ways and using many other devices (see iPhone apps, social media/network integration, Film 2.0).

The lines are really what we are used to doing. Blurring them causes us to react emotionally and with surprise at the possibility (with more than a little awe, too) which is in front of us but we had not thought of or thought possible. When the dust settles, we look for the utility of these innovative ideas, the cost, the production capabilities and the availability.

What is really interesting is that perhaps a simple analytical process of juxtaposing two or more different types of objects, experiences, media etc. can be the starting point and result in innovative ideas such as these. Many of them may not be implementable given the current state of technology, many implemented only through  sheer genius and lots of them may be already taken, but there is really a whole universe there waiting to be explored.

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