The Crisis in Higher Education – Technology Review

“While MOOCs are incorporating adaptive learning routines into their software, their ambitions for data mining go well beyond tutoring. Thrun says that we’ve only seen “the tip of the iceberg.” What particularly excites him and other computer scientists about free online classes is that thanks to their unprecedented scale, they can generate the immense quantities of data required for effective machine learning. ”
via Diigo

Great. So all the things I do on the Coursera-site serve a higher purpose – learning the machine how we learn.

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Python in four weeks. Or in eight!

The Mechanical MOOC is in full preparation of the Python programming course. As reported before the mMOOC combines several existing open courses, such as the MIT Opencourseware, Peer 2 Peer University, OpenStudy and CodeAcademy.

During the preparation the learners are introduced to those other platforms. The first instalment was interesting: I was aware of the MIT Opencourseware (the semester-long course Introduction to Computer Science and Programming by Prof. John Guttag), but the mMOOC points out that MIT also offers a four week Python-course, A Gentle Introduction to Python teached by Sarina Canelake. Actually, that course will be the basis for the mMOOC, but they’ll cover it in eight weeks. Indeed, why hurry!

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Mimicry beats consciousness in gaming’s Turing test – tech – 25 September 2012 – New Scientist

“The idea is to design more realistic virtual characters, which, in turn, should make video games more compelling and software simulations used for training more useful. In the future, the software could drive physical robots capable of navigating the real world in a human-like manner.”

Okay, the bots are not ‘really’ intelligent and language is much harder to crack. But still, it’s a nice result, this  human thinks.  

via Diigo

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Unleashing Workers Is Going To Lead To Drastic Changes In How We Work | Co.Exist

“As technology evolves to make the office more obsolete, it’s going to result in massive changes–and massive opportunities.”

But the process is sometimes painstakingly slow, as it conflicts with traditions, the desire for ‘real face time’ and office politics. 
via Diigo

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There is more about games than competition…

I’m working on my final written assignment for the Gamification Course at Coursera (our professor is Kevin Werbach, The Wharton School, Univ. of Pennsylvania). One of the most inspiring comments were made during the interview by Werbach of Amy Jo Kim, an expert in game design, gamification and and ‘the development of social architectures’.
On the question about the future of gamification, she answered:

I think what we see right now is the awakening of what will be a much bigger and longer trend, and I don’t think it will be called gamification cuz I don’t think it’ll be one thing. I think it will be many different techniques that are inspired by games, that get embedded in different ways in software. So short answer is, I think the word will go away but the wave will only grow bigger and will become an integral part of most software.

Werbach asked about Richard Bartle‘s notion of player types – something which is also much discussed by virtual worlds experts. In Bartle’s player type model for Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) we distinguish:
– achievers, acting on the world, wanting recognition for their achievements.
– explorers, those who want to interact with the world.
– socializers: those who want primarily to interact with other players.
– killers: they not just want to win, but want to totally vanquish and destroy other players. Or they can control a group by playing a very crucial role, like that of a healer, keeping the whole team together.

Amy Jo Kim warns that while useful for a specific kind of game, Bartle’s model as such is not useful in other contexts – like in most gamification contexts (which are not games in themselves, but where elements and gaming design principles are being used). She works with ‘social engagement verbs’:

Very similarly, there’s competing, collaborating, exploring, and expressing. Explore is right out of Bartle, so that one is similar. Competing is similar to the achievers, but more specific. Collaborating is very much what he calls socializers, but with a very game perspective. (…) and then what Bartle didn’t talk about at all that is a huge driver in social media and social gaming is self-expression. That one was missing. And the drive toward self-expression. For many people, that’s a primary player

This is crucial, as for instance young moms or middle-aged moms will respond more to collaborative mechanics and social mechanics. Which is very interesting, as games do not have to be zero-sum games. There is competitive gaming, but there are also collaborative games. Games such as The Sims and The Sims Online, or Rock Band (she worked on those games) don’t have quantifiable outcomes. ‘You just keep playing’. Amy Jo Kim defines those games as a structured experience with rules and goals that’s fun to play. ‘Rules and goals are pretty critical, fun to play is pretty critical, or at least pleasant, engaging.’
I think what she describes is very interesting for gamification in general, it really broadens our vision of what ‘games’ are, and I guess it could also be applied to open-ended virtual worlds, such as Second Life or OpenSim.
Here you see Amy Jo Kim during Google Tech Talks about applying game mechanics to functional software:”><

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The future is better than we think.

One of the big inspirations for the MixedRealities blog is the book Race against the machine, written by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. These last few days I’ve read another book about globalization and exponentially growing technologies, Abundance, The Future Is Better Than You Think, by the engineer and entrepreneur Peter H. Diamandis and journalist/entrepreneur Steven Kotler.

I wrote a column (in Dutch) about the book and the reaction of our newspaper community during a chat session, but here I’ll give more a ‘MixedRealities-take’.

Our brains are hard wired to be in constant alert, changes around us can always be catastrophic. This is useful when your life is constantly threatened by predators, but in a contemporary society it makes us far too pessimistic. It makes us look foremost at the dangers and the negative news while we downplay positieve news.

Cover of the book AbundanceIn the meantime we evolved from beings with a very local horizon and a linear technological evolution to people living in a world defined by global collaboration and an exponential evolution of key technologies. Diamandis gives a very positive, even exhilirating view on developments in sectors such as biotech and bio-informatics, nanotechnology, computer networks, robotics and sensors, pharma and education.

Small and highly innovative teams accomplish breakthroughs, eventually stimulated by prize competitions and with a considerable push in the back by techno-philantropists. But there’s also the ‘bottom of the pyramide’, the one billion poor who are doing better because of technologies such as mobile communication and microfinance-institutions. Those people represent not only a new market, but their needs lead to innovations which are applicable elsewhere (like the manufacturing of ultra-cheap cars or the use of distributed energy production).

Education, international collaboration, telepresence, knowledge networks and the organization of small teams of innovators are subjects about which MixedRealities wants to post on a regular basis. The blog starts about five years ago with a firm focus on virtual worlds, and I’ll continue writing about those environments but in the broader context I mentioned above.

Even though Abundance is exhilirating optimistic, the authors do recognize the challenges ahead. 3D printing can help small teams to engage in the production of goods on a worldwide level, challenging multinational companies. But it can also be used by other small teams to collaborate in the production of weapons of mass destruction. The same applies for biotech labs, which become ever more affordable, but also this DIY-revolution can be used for destructive purposes. Or nanotechnology, which could lead to massive destruction of matter – the grey goo scenario.

The solution for all this is not less technology, but more. The restrictions on stem cell research in the US did not end that research, it simply moved abroad. It appears to be impossible to stop the technological evolution – even world wars, revolutions and financial meltdowns don’t stop technology.

It’s easy to consider Abundance as a typical example of a naive American optimism. But in reality, it’s the only hope we have: advancing as rapidly as we can in the development of knowledge, science and technology, and enhancing worldwide collaboration. There are many, many very concrete examples of all this in Abundance.

The site Abundance.
The twitterfeed and the hashtag #Abundance.
The sites of the authors and
Diamandis is also co-founder and chairman of the Singularity University and chairman of the X Prize Foundation.
Here you can watch a TED-presentation by Diamandis:”><

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Navigating the massive open online courses by Mechanical MOOC

Another week, another Coursera-course (via the University of Toronto): Learn to Program: The Fundamentals by Jennifer Campbell and Paul Gries:

Behind every mouse click and touch-screen tap, there is a computer program that makes things happen. This course introduces the fundamental building blocks of programming and teaches you how to write fun and useful programs using the Python language.

Which is a good thing, because my experiences with Code Year were not exactly stellar. The html and css part really went very well, but the scripting part, stuff such as jQuery and Python, was rather frustrating.
On October 15 another platform, edX (Harvard and MIT) starts CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science (Harvardx). While Coursera offers a 7 week-course, the Computer Sciences course runs till April 15, 2013. It goes far beyond an introduction to one particular language:

CS50x is Harvard College’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for computer science majors and non-majors alike. An entry-level course taught by Harvard Senior Lecturer David J. Malan, CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, encapsulation, data structures, databases, memory management, security, software development, virtualization, and websites. Languages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. Problem sets explore the real-world domains of cryptography, finance, forensics, gaming, and beyond. As of Fall 2011, the on-campus version of CS50 (Computer Science 50) was Harvard College’s second-largest course.

On that very same platform, MITx offers their version of an Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, starting October 1.

But then again, there is the Mechanical Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), hence the Mechanical MOOC. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment.This is the mail I got from them (course starts on October 15):

Good people of the Mechanical MOOC,

Welcome to an experiment in online learning. MOOC knows you’re mighty excited to begin learning Python. We’ll be up and operational shortly. Read on to find out what happens next.

When Do We Start?
The course begins October 15th. Mechanical MOOC kindly asks you to start your engines.

What Should I Do?
Get to know the participating sites. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment. This gives you the best of what’s out there, but it means you need to take a few minutes to learn how each site works.

How Do I Do That?
Over the next couple of days, we’ll send you e-mails with a brief description of each site and links to key features so you can begin to get to know these resources. You can begin to set up your accounts and profiles as you explore.

We’ll send more specifics on how the course will work soon.

Get MOOCing!

— The Mechanical MOOC

Tweet #mmooc
The Mechanical MOOC’s A Gentle Introduction to Python is a collaboration between Peer 2 Peer University, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy. For this course, Peer 2 Peer University has developed an email scheduler that coordinates student activity across the participating sites to facilitate collaborative learning. This email was generated by the scheduler. For more information, please visit

So it will be interesting to find out whether the Mechanical MOOC helps to filter and aggregate open course content, or whether it will just increase the avalanche of course materials. While in 2008 Stephen Downes and George Siemens had their first MOOC, these days there is a steadily increasing supply of MOOCs (of very different styles, from the free and wild Downes/Siemens model to very structured, formal class-like models.

But then again, how easy will it be to combine the existing course material? ‘Open’ does not necessarily mean videos, texts and presentations can just be plugged in somewhere else. Stanford University now offers Class2Go, yet another MOOC-platform, but… :

It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

Which must rejoice the guys at Mechanical MOOC, I presume. Oh yes, if you want to follow up on the MOOC courses, here is the class-central list for Coursera, edX, Stanford, Udacity and MIT. Stephen Downes also curates a list, which includes of course also Connectivist-style MOOCs (the free and wild variety), peer2peer styled courses etc. I’ll wait for some more curated lists to come before I’ll launch a curated list of curated lists :)

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Mobile telepresence via an iPad on wheels

So how can we transcend as seamlessly as possible the restrictions of distances and geography? Affordable telepresence can be achieved using virtual environments, or by an increasing array of cheap or free videoconferencing tools, but there are emerging new possibilities which are very exciting. I’m looking into the possibilities of (relatively cheap) drones, and I discovered today the Drone Journalism Lab:

Links, thoughts and research into using drones, UAVs or remotely piloted vehicles for journalism at the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

But the second thing I discovered was almost unsettling. It’s like a drone on wheels. It’s telepresence, a bit like Mr Rabbit in Rainbows End (Vernor Vinge), demonstrating telepresence of a (possible) A.I. in a dramatic way:

The rabbit hopped onto the unoccupied wicker chair and thence to the middle of the table, between the teacups and the condiments. It tipped its top hat first at Alfred Vaz and then at Günberk Braun and Keiko Mitsuri. “Have I got a deal for you!” it said. Altogether, it was an unremarkable example of its type.

Alfred reached out and swiped his hand through the image, just to emphasize his own substance. “We’re the ones with the deal.”


From the other side of table, Günberk Braun gave the creature a long stare. Braun was as ephemeral as the rabbit, but he projected a dour earnestness that was quite consistent with his real personality. Alfred thought he detected a certain surprised disappointment in the younger man’s expression. In fact, after a moment, Günberk sent him a silent message.

Anyway, we’re not quite there yet. But this is very cool, as it allows you to be at two places simultaneously in a relatively natural and mobile way. Eventually two places very far apart. Double by Double Robotics:”>< Peter Murray on Singularity Hub has more about this.

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Can Ethnography Save Enterprise Social Networking? | Ethnography Matters

” For example, companies try to incentivize employees to fill out social profiles, or blog, or join communities, but often employees don’t understand why, or what’s in it for them to change their behavior to collaborate in such a public way. The result – slow adoption of the ESN. Can better design practices solve the problem? How can ethnographers help fill the context and cultural gap?”

Interesting (see also my previous post about ethnography and virtual worlds). It’s common sense to put the human in the center of stuff such as entreprise social networks (ESN). I’m wondering how to combine ethnographic insights in this regard with gamification. 
via Diigo

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