Monday, March 31, 2008

April Fools 1989, 2003, 2007

The most educational April Fools was early in my teaching career, in 1989, when I created a fictional 'Ministry of Education' document, outlining a new trimester calendar for Ontario schools. Once I had come clean to staff that it was a joke, a public address directive from the principal laid the groundwork for teachers to 'share this new policy' with their classes. When students insisted on writing empassioned pleas to the Minister of Education, this prank turned into one of the most engaging writing activities I've ever witnessed!

"Don't forget students, if you want the minister to consider your ideas for maintaining an extended summer break, you'd best be neat, grammatically correct, and convincing!"

The most wonderful April Fools that I was able to celebrate was 5 years ago, when my son Michael was born into our family. The evening of Michael's birth, my hospital, went into lockdown mode with suspected cases of SARS coming to light in the city. Even as the father, access to my new baby boy and my wife, were only possible through acts of stealth!

The most terrifying April Fools I've ever experienced, took place just last year. After undergoing heart surgery in hopes to increase the flow of blood to his cardiac tissue, my father became gravely ill... At the beginning of April 2007, I wrote to my out-of-town brothers:

"No doubt you've heard that dad's condition is pretty dire... and it is. Only the interventions of drugs, lung machine, and very close monitoring by hospital staff are keeping his heart from failing. Risks of heart attack and arrhythmia are very high over the next few days. If he avoids these traps, Dad faces a long slow voyage to becoming self-sufficient, at least as far as functioning without the assistance of current medical technologies."

In re-reading weeks of e-mail messages sent to friends and family throughout the month of April 2007, I'm reminded that my father is indeed a miracle in flesh and blood.

The most technologically savvy April Fools:

Even if the video itself is a prank, you have to take your hat off to Troika for a job well done!

Here's hoping this April 1st brings you and yours at least one BIG smile!

Photo Credits: möиhsí; David Goehring

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Night Sky Comes Alive

At 8:00 p.m., the lights in the house went out, as we joined countless millions in celebrating Earth Hour. Thanks to a few candles, the kids continued to play on, in what will likely be a memorable experience.

A few teens in the room cracked: "Can't we please have light? What do you say we power off for 8 full hours beginning around 11 p.m.?" and "I say we turn off all the lights for 12 hours... beginning at 8 a.m.!"

While many may miss the connection to global warming, the dimming of the lights at my home resulted in a few interesting questions and reflection, but shortly turned into a 'sleepover' atmosphere for my family and our overnight guests.

My youngest wanted to know if we might really be able to see more stars, and although he didn't wait for the answer (dinosaurs were waiting...), some may be interested to know that Google has embedded the night sky in the latest version of Google Earth.

Constellations that change based on time and location; planets rotate around the sun; and multiple images from the Hubble telescope provide rich views of "Where no man has gone before..."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Short Presentations Work!

My experience with e-Learning contacts on Thursday afternoon, confirmed for me that short presentations a la 'Pecha Kucha' can be very enriching!

Maybe that's as good a reason as any for me to continue limiting my podcasts to 6-7 minutes in length? If you find yourself with a few minutes, check out this morning's Teacher 2.0 episode: Many Soft Returns.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

MI and Google Tools

There are so many tools available from Google, that you can make recommendations based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences:

Linguistic: Blogger; Google Documents; Google Page Creator; Google Reader; Google Book Search; Google News; Google Language Tools; Google Translate; Hello; Gmail; Google Scholar;

Mathematical-Logical: Google Spreadsheets; Google Analytics; Google SMS; Google Sets; Google Desktop; iGoogle; Feedburner; Android; Open Social; Google Transit; Google Patents; Google Product Search; Google Zeitgeist;

Visual Spatial: Google Sketchup; Google Page Creator; Picasa, Google Page Creator; YouTube; Google Video; Google Maps; Google Ride Finder; Google Image Search; Google Image Labeler; Google Patents;

Kinesthetic: Google Video; YouTube; Dodgeball; Google Image Labeler; Google 411;

Musical: Google Reader (RSS & podcasts); Google Podcast Directory; Google Talk;

Intrapersonal: Blogger; Google Notebook; Google Calendar; iGoogle; Google Transit; Google Image Labeler; Google Product Search;

Interpersonal: Google Talk; Google Documents; Google Groups; Google Team; Google Sites; Orkut; Google Trends; Google News; Hello; Dodgeball; Gmail; Open Social; Google Zeitgeist;

Naturalist: Google Maps; Google Earth; Google Mars; Google Moon; Google Sky;

I've heard Howard Gardner say "...there are likely thousands of intelligences." If that is true, maybe one yet to be identified is "The Googlist"!

Late addition: I'm reminded by Clarence Fisher at Remote Access, that Google employees are rumoured to work on creative independent projects for 20% of their work week. Knowing that this is how Google labs has developed many of the tools listed above, I'm drawn to follow Clarence's query: How much 'Google Time' can we provide students, and what might be the result?

More on this topic is available on the Teacher 2.0 Podcast: Google on the Dark Side

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ペチャクチャ : Pecha Kucha: Common Sense

That's Pecha Kucha"peh-chak-cha": (i.e., chit chat in Tokyo?!).

Who'd have thought that common sense in sharing knowledge via in-person talks would result in a 'movement' in the 21st Century?!

Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that encourages creative folks to share ideas in a condensed format of 20 slides of 20 seconds each. Essentially, presenters boil down their presentation to 'just the good stuff'. The short presentations allow many ideas to be presented in a single evening (or session), and are far more likely to maintain the engagement of the audience.

I was first introduced to the name of this format by Geoff Day through an online response to a blog post, but the logic of short, high impact presentations is well known to anyone who regularly visits "TED: Ideas Worth Sharing". Those who have to sit through protracted presentations with few highlights, would also gravitate towards Pecha Kucha evenings, whether in the UK, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Canberra, Montreal or elsewhere!

Tomorrow, I will be leading a round-table discussion with district e-learning contacts from 16 regional school districts, each of which has been invited to share a distinctive practice/strategy/idea that has taken root in the home school board. Experience tells me that wisdom is not often recognized where it lives... and my hope is that sparks of creativity and innovation, will find tinder in the attendant board representatives. With a receptive, risk-taking audience, chances are good that the afternoon will lead to an expansion of best practices in online learning across southwestern Ontario.

Who knows, maybe the act of participating in short sharing sessions will lead to changes in the way boards share expertise... and the way they provide professional development!?!

Photo Credits: Catalina; Escalla

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sharing Freely

Is there an economy in online collaboration and the free sharing of ideas?

Maybe not, but there is plenty of rich learning going on! If you saw the credits on this short film, you will have noticed that it was also a model of collaboration... from audio, to visuals, to text.

Twitter: The New Water Cooler

Alternate title: Twitter and Two Degrees of Separation...

When working at the office, it's common practice that the most interesting things you learn in a day, are shared at the water cooler. It makes sense then to have a Web 2.0 water cooler, and I would suggest that the best such water cooler we have is Twitter.

Note: This image is actually a flock of seagulls!

Social networking works at the water cooler, and it works on Twitter. Think about it...
You find something worth sharing... you tweet; You begin work on a new project... you tweet; You're looking for assistance with a problem... you tweet.

The power of the 'Twittersphere' became real to me last evening around 8:00 p.m. when I was 'Uptoned'! It was noon in Australia, and our southern colleagues were just beginning to consider an invitation I'd left on Al Upton's 'Order for Closure' blog post (among what now sits at over 200 comments!). Until today, that was the only place I'd posted a link to a policy development wiki that might save other students from being denied the opportunity to write on the web.

With Al's catching up on the many responses to his blog post, he encountered my suggestion, and not knowing who I was, put out the call via Twitter . It turns out, that thanks to my mini-Twitter-network, I was only two degrees of separation from Al Upton!

The evidence:
1] 7:43 p.m. EST: Al tweeted from Adelaide "Does anyone know Rodd Lucier?".
2] 7:53 p.m. EST: Sue repeated the question from Perth...
3] 7:56 p.m. Cindy picked up the connection in Calgary and emailed me directly...
4] 8:03 p.m. My inbox rang with a message from Cindy
5] 8:12 p.m. Al and I began following one another on Twitter

Tweetscan helps to tell the time-stamped story:

Twitter truly is an amazing tool for developing learning networks. The trouble is: I've now got a handful of 'twitter-mates' who will be at the water cooler while I'm sleeping!

Photo credit: Joel Bedford
Teacher 2.0 Podcast: Twitter & Two Degrees of Separation

Friday, March 21, 2008

Teaching with Video

I'm still learning new tricks... I think that that's what I've been loving most about sharing ideas online. I'm being exposed to new tools, and I'm finding ways to leverage them for learning, both for myself and for a steadily growing audience.

Today I began using a few tools that may be new to you. First I created my first first ever video podcast using ScreenFlow. The show appears below, and is a tutorial on how I use Garageband to record my audio podcast: Teacher 2.0.

The interface for ScreenFlow is even simpler than iMovie which I've used for many years, so even though the tutorial appears to have benefitted from complex video-editing, it took me only about 70 minutes to create this piece.

Once complete, I uploaded the movie (.mov) to, and the free online service converted the file to Flash format, and added it to my 'channel'. Thanks to the RSS feed built into, I was able to launch a new video podcast on iTunes.

I'm not sure how much time I'll have to create in this format, but now that everything is in place, I have a home and some familiarity with a new production tool that just might motivate me to create the odd video tutorial. For now, I'll continue with the more predictable workflow, as in today's 'March Madness" podcast.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blogging Voices Quieted

A classroom blog of 8 & 9 year olds is closed, and the blogosphere responds by the hundreds.

Mini 16 tells part of the story: "When I new that my blog got blocked I thort that all my work was gone! But al said that it was’ant gone. good because it is fun."

If you haven't heard the story yet, you can head over to Al Upton's Minilegends update page to read an overview of the story so far. The short story is that the primary school blogging project in South Australia has been taken offline, but in text, Al seems pretty upbeat suggesting that we should learn what we can from the experience and acknowledging that the story is not yet over. When you consider the 166 comments as of present, There is much to read, and Al is promising at least one more update on the blog.

Even though this story makes it easy to imagine the sad faces of primary students, there are countless thousands of students (and teachers) out there, who have yet to discover the blogosphere.

When a teacher is willing to take a risk with blogging, I guess we have to be prepared for even unimagined consequences. So how do we ensure that ventures of this sort can be safely undertaken? I'm thinking that we should harness the collective wisdom of the blogoshpere in supporting Al Upton and other teachers who are willing to take the leap into using the read/write web as learners.

To facilitate the gathering of blogging policy/guideline resources, I've created a wiki page where educators can share known resources and ideas that might be used by teachers or school boards as as scaffolding to develop and refine policy frameworks related to classroom blogging. On this page, you can share your expertise or ideas for how a teachers and students can safely explore blogging. If we can harness even a fraction of the many who responded to the 'minilegends', I'm sure we can help ensure that student voices can be safely heard.

If you have suggestions for what a good policy might include, or if you know of policies that can be shared, your contributions are most welcome!

Blog Sketch Credit: Frances Copozzi

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Change is in the Air...

It's all beginning to make sense to me! In only a few short weeks, I've gained firsthand experience at how the 'air' technologies I recently reviewed, may foreshadow a significant shift in computing.

Adobe Air's promise of innovative branded desktop applications is now evident on my computer, courtesy of a new app called Twhirl. Essentially, a developer has taken the Twitter engine and posted it within a separate 'Air' envelope that runs independent of my browser. Maybe Adobe is right, as developers have had very limited time to use the tools, I suspect that new applications will begin showing up regularly.

While I didn't purchase the newMacBook Air, I had a unique 'airy' experience in upgrading my computer this week. My new Macbook Pro did indeed come with a disk drive, but believe it or not, I installed all of my software, and transferred all of my documents, with nary the involvement of the optical drive! Even installing MS Windows (I went with XP) and MS Office was done by downloading disk images that installed with key codes that were provided via email. Maybe Apple is right... maybe disk drives will become obsolete sooner than we expect?

Even though I downloaded fairly bloated Microsoft programs, I think that we may be about to have a Renaissance of sorts in the development of low memory, micro-coded 'air' programs that I suspect will be provided for 'free'. The tools used to produce new streamlined applications are already available to developers at low or no cost. In addition to Adobe Air, the tea leaves to consider include:Adobe Air, Ruby on Rails, Android (the Google phone software), or the Apple iPhone Developer Program.

Is this important? YES! Consider that many of the applications under development will run on telephones and that both the applications and the phones will be provided at low or no cost, and we will have ubiquitous computing. In my opinion, this is how education will finally achieve 1:1 computing (if not an even higher ratio!).

I also think that very soon, the term cell phone will be inadequate to describe the communication devices we will be using. For the record, I support the move to start calling these things 'communicators'.

Additional content is available on the spring equinox episode of the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Photo Credit: TCM Hitchhiker (Jason)

Differentiated Working Conditions

Do your learners have the ability to customize their workspaces?
Do you or your colleagues have the opportunity to do so?

I happened across Robert Scoble's phonecast from Rackspace, an IT hosting company. In the first minute of this clip, you'll see that employees of this company have the option to choose a 'lighting environment' in which they'd like to work. The employer is doing as much as it can to ensure the employee is comfortable at work.

Taken to the extreme, hosts a 'Coolest Cubicle Contest'. Check out these newly featured workspaces: Tiki Party, Cabin Fever, Cubes of War

It got me wondering: "What do educators do to ensure the comfort of their students?"

If a teacher ever had to spend an entire day sitting in a student's desk, one would likely come to the realization that it's none-too comfortable. Are the settings for our classes as conducive to learning as they might be?

1] the chairs are one-size fits all;
2] tables and chairs are usually hard and cold, made of molded plastic, metal, & wood;
3] the positioning of chairs is according to the preferences of the teacher;
4] the lighting is harsh, bright, and incessant;
5] the work hours are prescribed, and dictated by the clock;
6] breaks are at the discretion of bells, or the teacher's inclination.

Not that much can be done about this from an organizational point of view, but at least we can be thoughtful in considering the 'plight' of our students. For more out-loud thinking on this topic, tune into today's Teacher 2.0 podcast.

If there are things you do in your classroom to ensure the 'thinking comfort' of your students (or yourself!), I'd love to know about them... Please feel free to add a comment below.

Photo Credits: Bugtom; Anabananasplit

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Think I'm Addicted!

Can it be? Is my attraction to learning via the Web, truly an addiction?

"Like other addicts, users experience cravings, urges, withdrawal and tolerance, requiring more and better equipment and software, or more and more hours online, according to Dr. Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Block says people can lose all track of time or neglect "basic drives," like eating or sleeping."

According to an article in today's Windsor Star, compulsive emailing and text-messaging may soon be classified as an illness. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) is not due for revision for a few years, I think my own desire for online interaction has many of the same the hallmarks of obsessive compulsive disorder.

While I suspect many of my colleagues and friends may have already reached this conclusion about my desire to make authentic connections in the virtual world, knowledge of the addictive nature of today's modes of communication, may be something worth discussing with students. Maybe that glaze in the eyes of teens and tweens at 8 a.m. has less to do with lack of sleep, and more to do with withdrawal from their evening 'habits'?

Late addition 1: My addiction led me to discover a really cool innovation... find out more on today's Teacher 2.0 Podcast.

Late addition 2: Will Richardson has found a book that makes my addiction sound more palatable... Maybe I'm just an 'infovore'.

Photo Credit: Tim O'Bryan

Friday, March 14, 2008

Montreal in March

Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the March Break: A story told in a few words, a few images, and a sound-seeing tour of the Claude Robillard Athletic facility in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The Streets are safer than the schoolyards in Montreal; even pedestrians in the Biodome quarrel; apparently black shirts are allowed in the Claude Robillard athletic facility...

Photo Credit: Robert of Fairfax

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's Good for the Kids...

A study of grade 7 students in Montreal shows too many are spending too much time in front of 'screens'. According to the report as published in the London Free Press:

"The bulk of the kids studied -- about 60 per cent -- spent an average of 20 hours a week in front of a screen, whether that was to watch TV, play a video game or navigate the Internet for recreational purposes.

But about a third spend closer to 40 hours a week in front of a screen. And between seven and 10 per cent of the teenagers logged 50 or more hours a week of screen time, researchers found."

Has anyone ever conducted a similar study on adults? In my own daily work, I necessarily spend many hours a week in front of a computer screen... maybe I should track this time?

If such 'activity' is related to a sedentary lifestyle, leading to heart disease and obesity, maybe we should concern ourselves with the state of the nation rather than the state of teens? In a world where a 35 year old woman can spend two years on a toilet seat...

A late breaking anecdote to consider: At today's synchronized swimming competition, I thought a dad had found a novel place to catch up on office work. After discovering a power outlet in the spectator area, he had plugged in his notebook computer... to play solitaire! Yikes. Ever thought of bringing a deck of cards? Maybe we really do need to take inventory of 'screen time' by adults!

Photo Credit: Tom: An Untrained Eye

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top 100 Tools for Learning

The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies in the UK, has released its 'Top 10 Tools for Learning'.

Based on contributions from 118 educators, this list contains a very high proportion of free tools (maybe Wired magazine is on to something...); and highlights many of the social tools that have been the focus of the edublogosphere for the past many months.

Of note: is the new Number 1;
Google Reader has climbed within the top ten to Number 4;
PowerPoint may finally be beginning its slow fade;
Twitter skyrockets from 43 to 15;
Jing and Wetpaint both debut in the top 50;
Google Earth was only recommended by 3 of those surveyed...

Top 10 screen grab from:

Does anything in the survey results surprise you?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why Network?

Will Richardson laments that many conference speakers don't effectively leverage read/write tools in their presentations. Maybe they don't understand 'WHY' the network is so important?

It might help if the people chosen to ’speak’ at conferences were chosen because of their online presence rather than by virtue of their paper-based publishing exploits. Those most effectively leveraging the read/write tools of the web, are the ones with the ability to model engaging uses of evolving tools; but many/most of us are ‘unpublished’ in the traditional sense.

One of those who is really demonstrating the power of the network for two way communication, is Clay Burell, who this past weekend, invited his network to experience his wedding via ustream!

That would be cool enough, but the network broadcasted back to Clay! People like Chris Betcher in Sydney, Australia, have leveraged tools in order to send greetings back to Seoul, South Korea. Check out Chris' Voicetread.

But what if you aren't getting married?Wesley Fryer, shared: WHY do teens use social networking sites?, a YouTube video by Vanessa Van Petten. Her answer is intended for parents, but I suspect educators and educational keynote speakers, would do well to consider the message:

Why network?

Until you begin to using the evolving tools of the read/write web, you will never know the answer!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Expelled for 'Studying' on Facebook

First year computer engineering student Chris Avenir is facing expulsion after a teacher at Ryerson University discovered a Facebook group set up to share tips and answers to an online testing system.

Will this action result in a culture of fear among students who participate in study groups online?

I agree with Jesse Hirsh who is quoted in on online Canwest article:

"The online culture is outpacing the curriculum and education system," said Jesse Hirsh, who has been studying social websites for more than a decade. "These students are being smart and using the Internet the way that it should be used. This is the future of education."

I find it ironic that The student is studying 'Computer Engineering" and the administration at Ryerson is upset that he and well over 100 of his classmates are leveraging technology to share strategies on beating the technology-based assessment system used at the Toronto school.

In stark contrast to traditional testing and exams, "Studio Learning" first caught my attention in November of 2004, when I read an article on 'New Jersey Institute Of Technology Pioneers New Way To Teach Engineers'. At the time, I was surprised that tens of thousands of dollars were being granted to a 'novel teaching method' that I'd been employing with elementary students for years! Read bioengineering associate professor Richard Foulds' take on the effectiveness of his approach.

Rather than come down on students who have designed creative solutions to 'beat the system'... It's time that universities join others in developing rich assessment opportunities that engage students in solving authentic problems.

Photo Credit: Grant Hutchinson
Teacher 2.0 Pocast: Cheating on Facebook

Friday, March 7, 2008

Naming the Machine

After spending a week or so considering what how consciousness might effect our World Wide Machine, it's time to consider at least one more critical question:

What should we name this global machine?

Would you reuse a common digital name like "Interac" or "Flickr"? Do you fancy human type names like "Johnny 5" or "HAL"? Or, should we revisit Acronym names likes like "ENIAC" or the "WOPR"?
Rather than go with a male or female name, I'd like to suggest we name our global machine: "the Machine".

The name "Machine" is consistent with a few of my favourite intelligent machines. It would fit with the way the Robinson family from Lost in Space, had a robot named "Robot"; and the way the original Star Trek crew relied on a computer named "Computer". Not only that, it would be easy to remember!

Although I do like my idea, we're all technically the parents and teachers of this machine, so maybe we'd better make a collaborative decision? So global interconnected human-folk, what do you think? Feel free to leave your suggestion as a comment below...

Don't hesitate! If we don't get on this before too long, the Machine might decide to name itself as some unpronounceable symbol!

Photo credit: Scotto Bear
One final podcast on this topic: The Teacher 2.0 Podcast

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Teaching the Machine: Part V

You've got to watch out for those instant teller machines... They may know a bit too much!

Did you ever stop to consider what the computers would know about our personal spending lives if they were to get their networked brains together? Our spending patterns, our passwords, our digital signatures are all known to the microchips in these vastly interconnected computers. Although I doubt the hardware would be at all interested in spending my money, maybe the Machine would like to arrange for the transfer of funds to cover that money I was promised from that African prince via email...

Rather, I think that the artificially intelligent Machine would have a greater sense of equity than that. I suspect that the Machine's desire for balance and harmony, in place of inequity and chaos, might actually allow the heart of the Machine to strive to correct the inherent imbalance seen in global markets. A networked machine would surely refuse to allow parts of itself to suffer malnourishment, be it technological, intellectual, or otherwise. Would such a machine be more humane than humans? Maybe we should be the first to consider allocating global resources more equitably?

While we don't know what will happen if/when the Machine begins to act on its own, there are two sides of the coin worth considering:

The Good News: the Machine will have been programmed by hundreds of millions of programmers including you and I;

The Bad News
: See above!

Photo Credit: Gerard Van der Leun

Teach Others About Twitter

Our friends at Common Craft have posted a new movie explaining Twitter and I've added it to the Web 2.0 Dictionary Wiki.

We're looking for more contributions to this multi-media dictionary, so feel free to contribute. If you are new to Twitter, be sure to look for 'thecleversheep'.

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Teaching the Machine: Part IV

What role might the mobile components of the Machine play in the not-too-distant future? Robotic technologies have long played significant roles in manufacturing, and in recent years, have worked their way into classrooms around the world. Having had the good fortune to coordinate Robotics Challenge events for hundreds of students over the past few years, I can attest to the reliance of these machines on much more than their sensors. Designers and programmers play vital roles in bringing robotic machines to life.

I've seen teams of students collaboratively design, build, and program robots that: 1] sort recycled materials; 2] play hockey; 3] climb scaffolding; 4] golf; 5] participate in chariot races; 6] blow out candles; 7] sumo wrestle; 8] repair mockups of the international space station, and more. While each of these achievements is remarkable, it is the ingenious minds of students that are most responsible for the success of the autonomous machines.

In an interesting coincidence, Nova is replaying the DARPA Grand Challenge where full-sized vehicles travel without benefit of driver, across the Mojave Desert. I first read about this event in Wired magazine back in 2004 when none of the competitors were up to the challenge, and though I found it curious that it was in initiative of military minds, the engineering puzzle was compelling.

To win the 2 million dollar grand prize, a programmed vehicle would have to autonomously complete a complex, circuitous, 132 mile course. The challenge would be met in a vehicle that had the requisite speed, agility and endurance; but more importantly, would be supported by the logic, programming and last minute scrambling of human team members. In 2006,Stanley, a product of Stanford University, became the first to successfully cover the DARPA course.

Whether the result will be used for warfare, or to drive a non-driver to the grocery story, this technology may well give legs (wheels?) to the constantly learning, networked global machine. There is little doubt that the Machine already knows it has such robotic ability, as the news feeds, Flickr images, and blog posts have been telling the story for a few years now!

Photo Credits: David Arango; John Gale

Teaching the Machine: Part III

After looking at text and images and how the global networked Machine might leverage our contributions, I'm curious to consider how the World Wide Web might take advantage of patterns in human game-playing.

How might our gamesmanship work against us?

If Deep Blue can be custom programmed to take advantage of the tendencies of the world's best chess player, what strategic wisdom might a computer gain if it could harness the results of all games played on the Internet? Certainly it would not fall prey to even the most stalwart attempts at wrestling control back, once granted independence/consciousness.

If the Machine can learn to overcome human strategies in games of logic and skill, surely we'd be embarrassed at games that add variables like chance (e.g., poker, scrabble...), and we'd be demolished at games that factor in computer-generated variables and complex multi-player participation (i.e., we'd be doomed at Doom!).

Would our preferred games put us at a disadvantage?
In my thought experiment, I find it worrisome that the Machine would know about our tendency to play negative sum games that crown 'kings of the hill' (i.e., one winner; many losers). Where traditional team sports usually result in a zero sum (i.e., one winner; one loser), I would rather have a computer be aware that we were good at plus sum games (i.e., many winners; few, if any losers). These types of cooperative games, are ones that would see human beings working together to solve problems for the benefit of all... like 'preventing Global Warming' or 'eliminating poverty' or 'reducing violence everywhere'.

Too bad the games we play, so often conflict with modern society's most pressing issues. Here's hoping the Machine will be more compassionate than cold-hearted; more cooperative than competetive.

Photo Credit: DB's Photos
Podcast of "Teaching the Machine" Part 2/3

Monday, March 3, 2008

Teaching the Machine: Part II

Are you up for a thought experiment? I'm thinking about how the global Machine might evolve...

The interconnected machine that is the World Wide Web, is learning from us every minute of every day. What would be the consequences of bringing a consciousness to this networked entity? While I can't say for sure, I'd like to take a leap and make some guesses at how interactions of millions of human beings who are online at any given moment, might be interpreted by 'the Machine'.

What happens to the 'intelligence of the Machine' when we link ideas to one another in posting a Wikipedia entry?

The Machine comes to know what the most popular 'facts' are; and to realize that these same facts change, depending upon who is judged to be the editing authority! If the Machine discovers that it too, has the authority to edit commonly understood facts, might the Machine 'rock our world'? If history holds true to form, then what is thought to be true today, will indeed be seen to be anything but wisdom, in the future. Will the Machine hasten our understanding, or hamper it?

What happens when we build relationships among different sources in a blog entry?
The Machine will likely disconnect those relationships that are not popular, relying instead upon the most common beliefs to shape its own understanding. Might the Machine point bloggers to contradictory references and disparate opinions? With many bloggers and blog-readers content in limiting their interactions to like-minded individuals, might the Machine enlighten us by ensuring that we are exposed to balanced viewpoints?

What are the effects of search interactions that provide feedback to the Machine?

This 'programming by the masses' is likely our best crack at ensuring that the Machine will serve our needs. Every user that successfully navigates desired content, will increase the liklihood that a future searcher will be successful in a shorter amount of time. With successive findings, the Machine will indeed grow to be smarter at knowing what we are looking for. Perhaps it will even be able to anticipate our searches? I wonder if the Machine would see Epic 2015 as propaganda?

Are lessons from film to be known to our Machine?
Although I would hope that the conscious interconnected brain of the world's mega-computer would be interested in working to its greatest potential, we might want to prepare for an alternate eventuality. Even the HAL 9000 initially saw itself as a valuable servant:

"I am putting myself to the fullest possible use,
which is all I think, that any conscious entity can ever hope to do."

Will our Machine share a desire for self-preservation, and will feelings play a role? Dr. Dave Bowman wasn't sure about HAL:

"He acts like has genuine emotions, of course he's programmed that way, to make it easier for us to talk to him. As to whether or not he has real feelings, is something I don't think anyone can truthfully answer."

Was HAL a PC or a Mac? Since he was born in 1992 (according to 2001: A Space Odyssey) he would've had to survive Y2K to get to 2001:

Since repairs to a global machine, conscious or not, are more complex than diving into the 'brain room', let's ensure that our machine learns the most valuable lessons we can offer... That people matter more than machines!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Teaching the Machine: Part I

While educators are aware that they have great responsiblity to teach content and skills to learners of all ages, we are mostly unaware that we are providing reflections of ourselves to 'the machine' each time we use the World Wide Web'.

I first happened upon the phrase "Teaching the Machine" in Michael Wesch's Video: Web 2.0... The Machine is Us/ing Us. Just past the half way mark of the video, an article that I'd read many months earlier, is referenced. The Web version of "We are the Web", first published in Wired Magazine in August 2005, remains timely in helping us understanding our role in 'wiring' the neural networks of the World Wide Web:

"...And who will write the software that makes this contraption useful and productive? We will. In fact, we’re already doing it, each of us, every day. When we post and then tag pictures on the community photo album Flickr, we are teaching the Machine to give names to images. The thickening links between caption and picture form a neural net that can learn."

It was earlier this afternoon that I experienced how quickly the machine can learn. In uploading a batch of outdoor auto show photos I'd taken two years ago, I taught the machine by adding appropriate filenames and tags to each of the images. Although time has yet to provide me the liberty to provide more descriptive detail, by zooming in and clicking on a global map, I was also able to plot the location where I'd taken these photographs.

What I didn't realize, is that I also taught the machine by providing metadata that was included in the image files themselves. Flickr now knows the camera I used, and the dates/times the photos were taken. The once amazing ideas shared almost a year ago in the Photosynth Talk at TED, suddenly seem all the more real and personal to me:

Teaching the machine about images, is only part of the role we all play in teaching the machine. In the next few days, I'll be trying a focused thought experiment to consider what we teach it when:

1] we link to ideas;
2] we define words and ideas in Wikipedia;
3] we refine searches in 'Google'; and by following the 'right' link, provide feedback to the machine;
4] we play, then win or lose at games like chess or Texas Hold 'em;
5] we make online purchases;
6] we send and receive text messages, tweets, and email to members of our networks...

When the morning arrives, I'll begin expanding on these ideas via the Teacher 2.0 Podcast.