Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Announcing the Digital Revolution Event: December 9, 2010

(Image credit: Andrew DeWitt)

Update: See a preview for the event by clicking here!

Events are awesome learning tools -- far more authentic, I think, than the artificial deadlines that drive most academic work. With events, a sense of social expectation energizes collaboration. Nothing like a clear purpose, a destination, and an audience to motivate people to bring their A-game.

That's why for our Digital Civilization class we have scheduled a showcase of final projects -- projects that we are going to try to demonstrate to a much broader audience than the forty people of our class. It's been a fantastic semester, full of challenges and opportunities, and this public event on the evening of Thursday, December 9, 2010 is going to help bring it all together. Here's the title for our event:

Digital Revolution:
Upgrading Education for Digital Civilization

This two-hour event will imitate the Ignite event format in which speakers are given exactly five minutes to make their presentations. This is a high-energy format that allows an audience to be exposed to a range of interesting ideas and people within a short period of time. In our case, we have ten presentations based on group projects. Between each presentation, Dr. Zappala and I will recognize students and blogs for their achievements in meeting our learning outcomes and for trailblazing digital literacy. A contest is also in the works, spearheaded by our event planning team, Kristina Cummins and Megan Stern.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Freedom from Wires

Wireless networking enables us to communicate wherever we are, without having to plug a cable into the wall.  Wireless networking is also economical -- I have heard estimates of $1 million per mile to lay fiber optic cable in an urban environment where streets need to be dug up.

While most of us are familiar with basic WiFi networking that provides us with Internet access at a wireless hot spot, computer scientists and engineers are developing many exciting new ways to use wireless technology.  Follow me across the fold for some examples.

Sharing Links Intelligently

Links are the neurons of the Internet. How, when, and where should one share hyperlinks?

In this post I go over

  • Links within Blog Posts
  • Links Shared on Facebook
  • Links Shared on Twitter
  • Social Bookmarking: Serious Link Sharing
  • A Tool for Presenting Sets of Links
  • Tools for Sharing Sets of Links 
It's that last item that I'm most excited about today, due to the arrival of a new tool from bit.ly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Member Sourcing": Mormon Crowdsourcing

I presented on Friday, November 12, 2010, at the Mormon Media Studies Symposium at BYU. This was a very energizing conference with many different kinds of people attending from the worlds of journalism, media production, academia, the Internet, and diverse constituencies within the church (public affairs people, archivists, audio-visual producers, etc.). There's obviously a lot going on in this space and that's why conferences like this are so important. It was good to see Kristina Cummins there, one of our classmates, who blogged about using Twitter during the conference.

My topic was looking at crowdsourcing from an LDS perspective. I really enjoyed creating this Prezi presentation in which I put "member sourcing" into context and looked at recent and prospective uses of this means of organizing labor through online tools. The biggest takeaway from my research: the LDS church is looking more to develop creative collaborative communities through crowdsourcing than they are simply trying to use a top-down task delegation approach. And I'm convinced they have incubated the tools to accomplish this more substantial kind of crowdsourcing. Especially within their online tech community, they've proven they can motivate and encourage individuals with a talent pool, matching projects to interests, recognizing contributors, and building community at the same time they are developing specific projects. Very good sign.

My Prezi presentation follows the break, followed by the audio recording of the presentation if you want to listen to that while going through it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Keynesian Beauty Contest

In Chapter 12 of General Theory of Employment Interest and Money Keynes uses the example of a beauty contest to explain price fluctuations in the stock market.  Imagine a newspaper contest in which entrants are asked to choose the most beautiful face from a set of six photographs of women.  If your choice is the most popular, then you get a prize.

The "first degree" strategy is to choose the face you truly choose is the prettiest.  But if you care about winning, you might instead use a "second degree" strategy in which you choose the face you think other people believe is the prettiest.  A "third degree" strategy chooses a face based on the average opinion of what the average opinion of beauty is.  And so on ...

Relating this to the stock market, Keynes wrote that investment in the stock market is driven by expectations about what other investors think, rather than your own expectations about whether a particular investment will be profitable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Using the Internet as a Supercomputer

This is a Prezi presentation I created to provide some background on distributed computing projects that make use of spare computing cycles:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Computers LTD: Chapter 2 Review

A friend loaned me his copy of Computers LTD: What they Really Can't Do, by David Harel, and I've found it to be a great resource for explaining computability and complexity theory to a general audience.

Chapter 2 of this book discusses computability, covering the major results in this area.  Harel starts by introducing the tiling problem, which is easily understandable because it can be represented graphically.  This is the sort of problem that can be really vexing -- it seems like you ought to be able to devise an algorithms for arranging the tiles on a plane  -- yet it turns out to be undecidable.  This is a great way of revealing the idea of noncomputable problems, a basic theoretical result that may catch the amateur by surprise.

Social Discovery

My greatest insight regarding digital literacy is that our most efficient and interesting use of electronic tools for teaching, learning, and research happens through what I call "social discovery." What I mean by this is that instead of pursuing a given subject, it is better to search for the people who are invested in or discussing those subjects, connect with them, and take it from there. I think this is the big game-changer.

But social discovery requires changing how we think about searching and researching. It requires integrating social efforts into intellectual work. I really think what it means is that technical-social skills are integral to emerging literacy. If you don't know how to find, contact, engage, respond to, and collaborate with people in real time or near-synchronous time -- well, you just aren't digitally literate. Not in a world that is networked both technologically and socially. I'd like to compare conventional intellectual work in a college class with intellectual work that is enhanced by social discovery, using the example of one of my recent students who had great success in using "social discovery."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Human Interfaces

What makes a computer easy to use?  The field of Human-Computer Interaction studies how humans and computers interact, combining the fields of computer science, linguistics, social sciences, and psychology.  Much of the work in this area has the goal of simplifying complexity and making computer interfaces simple and intuitive.

A great introduction to this field is the work of Dr. Donald A. Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things.  In this book, Norman examines how ordinary objects are designed and explains how failures of a product are often failures of their design.  He uses principles of cognitive psychology -- how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems -- to explore fundamental principles that guide good designs.  (Notice the picture of the teapot on the cover of his book.)  Another classic book by Norman, The Invisible Computer, goes so far as to argue that the computer ought to be hidden behind the scenes.  His premise is that companies have become too technology-centric and need to focus instead on designing products that are human-centered or activity-centered.  In this work he advocates for information appliances -- simple objects with computing embedded in them.

Course Project: Group Formation

We hosted a lively discussion in our previous post on the course project.  Our next step is to form project teams so you can begin working together on these exciting ideas.  Read on for the next step ...