Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How to be smarter than your smart phone

QR Code for this site

The final confirmation of the conspiracy was when the trees in the Company's Garden acquired QR Codes, and the City of Cape Town, together with some partner institutions also provide free Wi-Fi access to people who wish to read these codes.  Although there was some political discussion about the extent to which the digital divide was really being addressed, there was complete silence about the fact that the users of the Wi-Fi and the OR codes were not the chief beneficiaries of this technology.  The chief beneficiaries were the providers of the codes and the access. While visitors to the Garden would acquire some information about the trees, it is the trees that are collecting information about the users - and this information is much more valuable than that Encephalartos Princeps Zameaceae have reproductive organs in the form of cones. The trees are discovering who are accessing this information. When are they accessing the information? What devices are they using to access the information? What routes are they taking through the garden? Which trees are viewed more than others? What other information are they accessing through the wireless network? To what extent is this information relevant to the trees? What patterns of use are emerging in the Garden? And you thought you were just finding out what tree it was. The moral of the story is that by acquiring a simple QR code, the trees have joined the Internet of Things, and the trees have become generators of information, rather than just providers of information.
    The stated beneficiaries of the Wi-Fi-enabled trees are, among others, school groups who will come on field trips and learn about the trees.  So here it is where it becomes interesting.  What will they be doing once they get back to the classroom. Will they be writing the traditional essay - my trip to the Company's Garden? Might they be required to produce a slideshow of the trees they had visited, or, heaven forbid, might they be given a test to give the botanical name of the Kei Cycad? Here then is the first challenge. If the information is already on my phone - I just have to point it at the tree - then why would I need to learn (read memorize) that information?
    It is not just the QR code, however, that has connected things to the Internet. All over the world Geocachers are squirreling away little boxes of trinkets and connecting them to the Internet via GPS coordinates. This map shows the caches within walking distance of the Hilton Hotel Anchorage. So, my whole world is be-speckled with little boxes that collect information about me.

The value of Geo-caching for education is clear. Numerous sites of historical or geographical importance have already been cached, and the planters of the caches usually take some trouble with providing relevant information - more often than not copied directly from Wikipedia. Teachers use these caches as way-point on field trips, they hide their own caches for students to find, or even encourage students to plan their own caches!
     But it is not just things that are getting permanently connected to the Internet. So are people. In your pocket you carry roughly a million times more capacity than the first IBM PC of 1981, and that XT computer had eight times more capacity than the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer. And most of the time the computer in your pocket is connected to the Internet, and sending back information about what you are doing. Then we use it to send text messages.
    More importantly, though, is that the phone in your pocket has unlimited capacity when it is connected to the cloud, Most of us enter the cloud through the Chrome gates of Google
        This is more than just a blog. It is also the text of my Keynote at the Social Media in Higher Education conference, Johannesburg  8, 9 May 2014.  In this talk I am trying to use a "Flipped Classroom" approach, using cell phones as response devices.  So here is the first exercise.  
Follow this link and list what you consider the "Trends in 21st Century Learning"
Here's a word cloud or the responses till 2014-06-02
You cannot use your Android phone without it, and you'd be silly to use any other smartphone without it. Once you have logged into Google Chrome on all your devices, they start discussing your movements among one another. When your phone alarm wakes you, Google Now will gives you a weather update and tells you how long it will take to drive to work.  It will even remember where you parked your car.  If you search for a place with Google Chrome on your desktop, Google Now will alert you on your phone to say how long it will take to get there.  If you drive there using Waze as a GPS navigator, not only will it let you bypass heavy traffic, it will allow you to see which of your friends are travelling, and even let them send you pic-up requests so that you can collect them on your way. If you run with the phone in your pocket, fitness trackers such as Endomondo will trace your route on a map, report on your progress every kilometer, tell you if you are ahead or behind your target, and even tell you which of your friends are running. And if running alone does not make you thin, a calorie counter such as Myfitnesspal will calculate how many calories you need to eat per day to achieve your target weight, and allow you to record every morsel you consume, either by entering the data manually, or by scanning the bar-code on the box of the product you eat or drink; and it will even communicate with Endomondo to give you credit for any calories you burnt on your run! Many of these apps connect with one another, and of course all of them with Google and Facebook. So, once again, while you think you are the one who benefits, actually, think of all the lovely data you are generating... When all this has you dead tired, then just put the phone on the mattress next to your pillow, and it will graph your sleep cycles, and ensure your alarm adjusts to wake you at the optimal level of your sleep cycle. Of course, all the information that all the apps collect, goes into the cloud, and that is where they get aggregated and disaggregated.
   Now here's where it gets interesting for me as a professional student of the learning process.  It takes us back to my post of July 5 2013, where the question is, if I can now navigate with friends, see traffic jams 10 kilometers ahead, and avoid them, really lose weight and keep it off, achieve a personal best with the assistance of a coach, then I have learnt. But what did I learn, how to launch an app? And, as I said previously, the answer is, no, it is not I who learnt, it is the system, the Rhizome, that has learnt, and it is all of us who benefit.
   Then there are two new questions: What should we be teaching in a world where everything is learning? How should we be teaching it?e
   I answer to the first question many Universities are developing a set of "Graduate Attributes" that they believe should characterize their graduates.  The move towards attributes rather than knowledge resonates with the well-established tacit knowledge we all have that "Good programmers teach themselves to code", or, for that matter, good writers teach themselves to write, etc. So our jobs seem to be to teach our graduates how to achieve those attributes. Samantha Thomas (2014) talks of the "Semantic Web and Personalization". She identifies two identities created by students working in a Web 3.0 environment: a personal and a narrative identity.  The personal identity is built upon sharing, openness and collaboration, while the narrative identity is one of personalization and automation, as we adapt to our ever-changing personal ecology. Then, of course, there are any number of websites that tell us of the characteristics of 21st Century learners, such as these 21 Characteristics of 21st Century learners from Dr Susan Elaine Eaton, and these from the DCS literacy framework.
   Closer to the answer to the second question may be Terry Heick's (2014) teachthrought on the eight things that students may learn in the future. These are Literacy, Patterns, Systems, Design, Citizenship, Data, Research and Philosophy.
   I believe that the answer to the second question, "How should we be teaching 21st Century Skills" lies in Project-based learning  (PBL), as described by the Buck Institute (BIE), who define PBL as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge". BIE identify eight essential elements: Significant content, 21st Century competencies, In-depth enquiry, a Driving question, the Need to know, Voice and choice, Critique and revision, and a Public audience.
    Once such a problem has been defined and the problem-based learning brief is being developed, one must consider the channels of delivery. It is here that the concept of blended learning comes into its own.  But what has to be blended? Terry Hick identifies Six channels of 21st Century learning: Community interaction, Absraction and creativity, Media literacy, Play, Self-direction and Dialogic response. So, How would you rate the various channels?
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