The dark side of accelerating technological change

Virtual worlds and virtual reality make us dream about telepresence and the death of distance. Some even suggest the concept of citizenship may change as we’ll be citizens of nation-states and of virtual worlds. But then again, we should consider also the reality out there: technology is a crucial element in the power struggle between nation-states and between states and groups (or networks).

Colin Lewis on RobotEnomics tells us about a report by James Kadtke and Linton Wells II about Policy Challenges of Accelerating Technological Change: Security Policy and Strategy Implications of Parallel Scientific Revolutions. Consider the advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. It becomes conceivable that swarms of drones operate without human intervention while they try to achieve objectives such as securing territory or destroying enemy forces.

The technology required and the cost for building these systems become more achievable for others than the US military – authoritarian regimes and terrorist groups will probably try to build their own robot warriors.

The same worries exist about biohacking for instance – another technology becoming more affordable and the knowledge is spreading around fast. DIY-groups act responsibly, but then again, there is no guarantee that all groups will have noble intentions, which is rather inconvenient as the technological possibilities of individuals and groups will only increase. Add to this similar concerns about nanotechnology and about the combinations of all these technological breakthroughs.

I wrote a column about these issues today for my newspaper, titled KillBots (in Dutch). For similar thoughts expressed in a more poetic fashion, read Jason Dorrier at SingularityHub.

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Oculus needs smaller avatars in Second Life

This is the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life is testing for Oculus Rift. They scaled part of the environment to fit the Oculus Rift immersive environment. It also implies one should downsize one’s avatar (avatars are typically unrealistically big in Second Life) – but one can use the Oculus Rift headset everywhere in this virtual world, even though it is not really optimized for it. What I noticed here was that some objects did not render in my Oculus (some furniture such as a couch in an otherwise interesting Berlin 1920 house).

picture of the test area of the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life

This is the notecard about this place:

Welcome to the Oculus Rift and Real Scale Test area.

In this little corner of Second Life you can explore a street, a bar and a house that have all been build to a real world scale.
A lot of places in Second Life have been build to different ideas of scale, often just guesses or estimations based on how large some of the avatars are.
By using a realistic scale, things feel more natural.
We use the scale of the “prim”, the building blocks of Second Life, translating real world scale straight into Second Life Centimeters.

When using the Oculus Rift, realism and realistic scale becomes very important.
You will be seeing Second Life trough the eyes of your avatar, while normally you would see the virtual world trough a camera view high above the head of your avatar.
This makes visiting a lot of places in SL a strange experience as doors and ceilings appear to be made for giants.

This Test area allows you to see what the use of realistic scale looks and feels like without having to change your avatar or your avatar’s clothes so you can visit the actual 1920s Berlin sim.
If you would like to visit an entire city build to this scale and with immersion as one of its main goals, please change into some of the (free) 1920s clothes and get on the train behind the little station.

If you want to return to this place at a later time, you can use this slurl or this landmark;
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/1920s%20Berlin/243/207/753

I’d appreciate it if you wrote down your experiences and shared them with me, perhaps for my blog.
And if you’re interested in discussing the potential of using the Oculus Rift in Second Life, join us on facebook;
https://www.facebook.com/oculuslife


With regards,

Jo Yardley
The 1920s Berlin Project

It sure is a place to keep an eye on…

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Peter Diamandis: you will (also) be a virtual world citizen

The Belgian newspaper De Tijd has a great interview (Dutch language) with Singularity University co-founder, author, entrepreneur and futurist Peter Diamandis. When asked about the short-term evolution, Diamandis referred to virtual worlds. He expects interesting stuff to happen there as those worlds become more “real”. People will go there for work and entertainment. Citizenship will no longer be reduced to one single state. One will be a resident of a nation-state but at the same time resident of a virtual world. Kids experiment now already with such a double role in their game worlds. People will also experiment with new forms of government in virtual worlds. Diamandis mentioned Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life: he considers him to be a pioneer. Diamandis predicts people will ask their governments in the physical world tough questions as they pay taxes but increasingly will take care of their own transport, health care and education.

My own opinion: I think nation-states and companies could also use virtual environments in other ways, for instance to facilitate “virtual immigration”. I remember that back in the hype-period of Second Life we had feverish discussions about immersing non-US residents in American virtual environments where they could work and contribute to the US economy and culture without actually entering the “physical” United States, thus avoiding political discussions about immigration levels.

 

 

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Oculus Rift and Leap Motion are made for each other

My next investment will be a Leap Motion. Have a look at this, and notice how the Leap Motion makes building in an Oculus Rift enabled environment possible. However, don’t forget that Oculus and Leap Motion are still rather early phase – it all seems very slick in this video, but I had not yet the possibility to test World of Comenius myself as it’s not yet released (and I still have to buy and integrate the Leap Motion). It seems self-evident that this kind of technology will be used for the next Second Life platform and the High Fidelity project.

You can follow World of Comenius on Facebook.

Read also this post on Road to VR about the Comenius project at a school in the Czech Republic.
Another must-read post is the interview with CEO Ebbe Altberg on VentureBeat about the next generation platform for Second Life. Altberg mentions Leap Motion and Sixense as tracking tools.
For anwell-researched report on the secretive Magic Leap project, have a look at Gizmodo.

It’s obvious that the whole Virtual Reality / Virtual Worlds / Alternate Reality / Augmented Reality industry is about to make a real big leap… I’ll try to cover the developments on this blog, with a focus on education and learning.

You can find more on my fledgling Netvibes page about virtual reality.

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#SUsummit Amsterdam showcases the augmentation of everything

Virtual worlds are often weird environments. The innovators in that industry have a broad view on our future. Conferences and community conventions offer fascinating insights and discussions. I remember how futurist and technologist Ray Kurzweil gave a (virtual) presentation during the Second Life Community Convention 2009 in San Francisco. Afterwards I rushed to the Green Apple bookstore to buy his book The Singularity is Near (2005). Wikipedia explains:

Kurzweil describes his law of accelerating returns which predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology,robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans’ ability to comprehend it. Irreversibly transformed, people will augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil predicts machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards, Kurzweil says, intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.

Fast forward to December 2012, when Kurzweil was hired by Google “to bring natural language understanding to Google”. He was involved in various education and learning projects, one of the most interesting is the Singularity University (SU) which he co-founded with Peter Diamandis (2008).

The headquarters of the SU are at Moffett Federal Airfield (NASA Research Park), California, but in Europe we can attend two-day Summit conferences. Last year I attended the Singularity University conference in Budapest, Hungary and I (together with other participants) built a mind map about the state of the future at that time, topics of that mind map include ambient intelligence (sensors, ubiquitous computing, networks), robots, energy, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, synthetic biology, health and medical services, organizational change. In short, it’s about how the augmentation of the human intellect materializes itself and disrupts about everything.

This year my newspaper colleague Peter De Groote went to the Amsterdam Summit. He reported in De Tijd that the fully self-driving car will be available in ten years time, that robots are still toddlers but are growing up fast (and they can read your emotions), that artificial intelligence evolves from disappointing to disruptive, that we no longer should limit ourselves to wearables but that implantables are next in line to augment us:


Virtual Worlds

So… nothing about virtual reality and virtual worlds in this disruption overview? Yes there was. First let’s take a step back: in September Jason Dorrier posted on SingularityHub about Virtual Reality – will it become the next great media platform? He showed this inspiring video:

The idea is that technologies such as Oculus Rift and the new generation of virtual worlds (think High Fidelity) will make it possible to visit the worlds in the other person’s head. We make our dreams accessible, quite literally. Which brings us to brain-to-brain communication and yes, this is a Singularity topic. One example being discussed: University of Washington researchers can transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

Rob Nail talked during the conference about exciting applications like allowing a surgeon to operate from 10,000 km distance, to a pilot assisting a non-pilot to land an aircraft. Or how we network and augment our brains very literally…

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Discover Isovista, a place for 3D art and education

This video illustrates two things: first the interesting stuff the Isovista people are doing and second how difficult it is to translate the Oculus-experience into a 2D-video.

What is obvious is how one can immerse oneself into a virtual art exhibition and use clever tricks to navigate around (follow a green path) or to show various art works one after another (walk through ‘boxes’ to trigger the appearance of new art).

The environment is also rather original as they experiment with for instance floorless spaces rather than trying to imitate physical world buildings.

Isovista.org is a group of 3D-design people who build and show art accessible using an Oculus Rift but you can also visit the gallery in your browser (powered by Jibe and using the game creation system Unity 3D) and eventually meet other people there.

Bringing together Jibe and Oculus in one project seems interesting. For now you walk or drift alone in the Oculus-experience while the Jibe-environment of this project feels like a primitive version of Second Life or OpenSim – but sophisticated enough to meet others and to text chat and speak. So wouldn’t it be nice to have collaborative and social futures inside an Oculus Rift environment?

After Facebook acquired Oculus Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that this technology would enable students and teachers all over the world to share a classroom. These days one can use the Oculus in collaborative spaces such as Second Life, but the interface is not yet adapted for an easy and natural user experience – we’ll have to wait for the new Second Life to get that, I guess.

The site has a very interesting page about literature and theory.

These are Isovista’s goals:
– Provide opportunities to show virtual work and help students, recent graduates and young professionals develop their design skills in virtual media.
– Create new innovative 3D virtual works in Data Visualization, Interaction Design, Education, Music and Social Interfaces through a blending of HCI/Usability and Digital Fine Art.
– Record the rich history of virtual design, connecting the broad academic disciplines that have explored the domain of 3D virtual space and design.
– Connect educators, professionals, and students to support innovation, create opportunities, share examples, and break the new conceptual ground.

Isovista wants to become a 501(c)(3) charity and create a library and marketplace for 3D work and educational content. “Becoming a self-sustaining non-profit that supports independent innovators, students, and the community as a whole is our overarching goal.”

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Oculus Rift in Second Life: nice to have but not enough for a breakthrough

oculus

So I bought an Oculus Rift virtual headset and ventured into Second Life using the special viewer. This was rather frustrating using a MacBook Air 1.7 Ghz, Intel HD Graphics 5000, but things went a lot better with a MacBook Pro 2.5 Ghz and an Intel Iris Pro for graphics.

I got no motion sickness as the environments were rather slow – a tranquil Japanese sim, an Italian one, a stunningly beautiful beach scenery with a few avatars. It was captivating to be immersed  this way, looking down into a fascinating tropical sea, up to birds in the sky and high rocks. Or flying and looking deep down. On the other hand the interface is still difficult to use as you cannot see the keyboard, the first person view is imperfect as one looks down without seeing legs and feet. Small imperfections in the scenery or the scale of the objects seem to become more important as it stops the “suspension of disbelief“.

I guess it will get better, especially as there is a new Second Life in the making. Yet  I wonder whether a virtual headset version, even perfectly implemented, will attract that many more users. The immersion into another body and into artificial paradises appeal to a niche. We live in times of short attention spans and people love to integrate the digital closely into the ‘real’ physical environment, so mobile augmentation possibly has a future on a mass market, but this is not what this Second Life virtual experience is about. My guess is that virtual headsets will make user-generated virtual worlds even more appealing for the existing fan base, but they won’t convince the mainstream to embrace these environments – unless new applications and use cases are discovered.

Update:  I also noticed how important audio is in such a highly immersive environment. The Oculus makes you notice so much more of the virtual environment. It’s as if when you use one of your senses more, you also need using at least one other sense more intensely.

 

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Let’s curate and preserve our digital/virtual heritage

Today I made a presentation about my MOOC-experiences for a Blended Learning Symposium. Turned out I only had ten minutes, this text is the elaborate version. Blended Learning is about learning in the physical, digital and social space. My question: what about the virtual? A university can think it is out of reach for competition by monsters such as MIT or Stanford because of the importance of face-to-face contact, especially for undergraduates. What if in five years time we have a super high quality immersive experience, sharing highly sophisticated virtual spaces (think Oculus Rift and a Second Life 3.0). At least we should keep such possibility in mind on a conceptual level: the virtual is a kind of deconstruction of “the physical” and “the digital”.

Also, I think these developments deserve a thorough historical analysis (not by me, but I really hope a real expert would write the history of MUDs and MOOs, MMORPGs, VW…). Virtual entities are vulnerable. They can disappear suddenly or on quick notice. I think we should curate and preserve these cultural artefacts as good as we can. If such projects exist already, please let me know!

Anyway, here is the text of the presentation (it repeats parts of what I posted previously but I just publish it anyway for the record and consistency and to keep a record):

I was fascinated early on (meaning the nineties and the first years of this century) by bulletin Board Systems (BBS), the early consumer networks such as Compuserve and by MUDs and MOOs – Multi-User Dungeons were text-based virtual environments where people could socialize and roleplay. The author Julian Dibbell had a huge success with his work on a very specific case: a rape in cyberspace, about sexual harassment in LambdaMOO (1993, 1998). However, these environments were also used for educational purposes.

The reason I was fascinated was because these environments imply the death of distance. They allow us to go beyond the borders of the nation-state. Finally, they were very cheap or even free.

This strange new world of global networks became even more fascinating as the graphical capabilities of the web increased. While the text-based adventures made a select bunch of geeks very happy, a new kind of online games would captivate millions of people. World Of Warcraft (2004, Blizzard Entertainment)  became a huge success as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game or MMORPG.

The next step for me was Second Life (2003, Linden Lab). This virtual world was a real hype in 2006-2008. Schools, colleges, governments, spooks, media organizations moved into this huge user-generated virtual world.

I discovered authors such as Howard Rheingold, the man who learned the world the words “virtual community”.

One of the major attractions for me in Second Life (during my more intensive stay there in 2007-2009) was the Metanomics show about all things virtual economies, media and culture. The host was Professor Robert Bloomfield (Cornell University). Among the guests were many scholars involved in virtual worlds studies. There was a live in-world audience and people could also watch via video. One could consider the show as an interactive radio-show, but with the extra bonus of sharing the same virtual place. This enabled informal discussions before and after the sessions.

In 2008 educators in Second Life told me about something new: a Massive Open Online Course. For virtual world people it was obvious that MOOC was somehow related to the Massive Multiplayer Online Games, so of course we were very interested.

My first MOOC, and I guess it was also the very first time a MOOC was facilitated, was CCK08 with the education researchers Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Back then we lived in full euphoria about the power of virtual communities and I participated with a group of Second Life residents. It was a bewildering experience and when it was all over, I had far more questions than answers. These days I must admit it was of the most enriching experiences of my life as a learner.

Downes makes a distinction between community-based connectivist (cMOOCs) courses and the so-called Stanford branch (xMOOCs, companies offering massive online courses such as Udacity, Coursera en edX).

While communities are about sharing, co-creating, mash-ups and remixing, institutions are about consuming. “Open” does not just mean put if for free on the internet. cMOOCs are about harmony through diversity, about unstated and multiple learning objectives versus concrete and stated objectives – or this is as least what Stephen Downes says. Anyway, it was also my experience: there was no pressure to conform to some stated objectives. Maybe this was different for a group of people who participated in the context of their academic career (there was a special track for them, if I remember correctly).

The learning in a cMOOC is also a distributed process. People share status updates and blog posts or make videos and other digital materials about the course. I used my blog MixedRealities and a meeting venue on Second Life, but of course the participants used a wild variety of other platforms. The cMOOC organizers typically try to harvest all these materials through aggregation engines and by letting the learners use tags. A list of relevant blog posts is published on a daily or even more frequent basis.

CCK08 had the benefit of a daily blog post on the official site, in which the facilitators tried to make sense of the proceedings. I remember many participants considered that post being very useful.
The learning on xMOOCs tends to be exclusively on one platform, or at least most activity is located on that platform. However, various courses on xMOOC-platforms such as Coursera try to incite learners to use other platforms as well. The clear-cut opposition made by Downes is in reality less obvious.

The cMOOC learning is also totally learner-centered. Learners are told to do as much or as little as they want, or to tweak, change or combine learning materials in order to make it fit their individual objectives. There is a very strong recommendation to connect to other people inside and outside the course.

This leads often to an avalanche of learning materials as the course can easily split up in a number of groups each organizing their own version of some of the main topics, or even adding new main topics. For instance, the group active in Second Life  was very interested in the educational use of virtual environments.

This information overload and the fact that not everybody is familiar with the specificities of the main digital platforms makes it necessary to teach and learn about digital literacies: blogging, the various social networks, social media dashboards and filters, organizing feeds, detecting bogus information… In my experience this learning process was already well-established for many ‘residents’ of virtual worlds. Those residents tend to be very active on forums, social networks, blogging and video platforms.

All of which means that cMOOCs are strongly embedded in web culture, and this is often explicitly part of the course content.  The recent web-based cMOOC ConnectedCourses (2014,  25 instructors) for instance starts out with a mini-course about blogging and linking up blogs.

Later on during the course, these are some of the questions asked:

How do we maintain trust and a sense of security in open networks? How do we build our networks? What is social capital? How do we enable at-large learners to engage in our courses? Where should we teach our classes?

And also:

What is this thing called the World Wide Web? What are the values and ambitions that gave rise to its design? If “the medium is the message,” what is the message of the web? What are some threshold concepts that help us to understand what is meant by “the web”? How is it reframing learning and education? What do we stand to lose or gain in pursuing the possibilities opened up by the web?

Open source practices and culture – as observed in open source programming and knowledge production (Wikipedia) are clearly very important here.

Another example of this is the course e-learning and digital cultures… (2014) on Coursera. Even though Coursera is often considered a typical xMOOC platform, this course is facilitated by a group of instructors of the University of Edinburgh and requires the learners to use blogs and a number of other digital platforms and techniques. The learners explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for the ways in which we conduct education online. The course is not about how to ‘do’ e-learning; rather, it is an invitation to view online educational practices through a particular lens – that of popular and digital culture.

My sympathy for cMOOC-styled courses does not prevent me from participating in more classical courses – meaning more top-down and often taught by one professor. I enjoyed courses about gamification, Buddhism and modern psychology, computer sciences and Google and the Media. However, the connectivist background helps me to organize this learning in a more relaxed way, taking into account primarily my own objectives.

Or for instance, one can take an xMOOC course and adapt it. We participated with a group of newsroom colleagues of De Tijd in a course on the Canvas-platform about Data Journalism. We simply organized weekly lunchtime sessions to discuss the course and we published the proceedings on an internal wiki.

There are two less-massive experiences I’d like to mention which seem interesting in the context of blended learning.

The first experience was online learning in a small group and in a closed environment. 

One of the communities facilitated by Howard Rheingold is the Rheingold U learning community. The courses in which I participated – sometimes several times – included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I particularly liked how we collaboratively made mindmaps and how a group of people, dispersed over several continents, created thought-provoking maps in minutes.

The second non-massive learning was entirely project based. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer). We started from scratch, discussed without a clear leader what and how we should write about how to engage in peer-to-peer learning projects. This involved once again intensive use of social media such as wikis, blogs and video platforms.

So, what did I finally learn? What impact had all this on my life? 

What I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.

I also learned what the value could be of social networks and virtual communities, how to find sources and friends online and how to collaborate. These skills and knowledge are becoming more common these days, which is a good thing, but because of my immersion in online learning I was ahead of the curve. It helped me to contribute to the innovation of our newspaper. Even though I’m far from being a digital native, I feel I can communicate fairly easy with those who are and even help them to sharpen their digital literacies. Needless to say, online learning goes beyond advantages on a professional level – it made my life far richer.

It is our responsibility to enhance online learning, for make it better, to reach far more people in our own country and worldwide. It’s not only a responsibility of the universities, also media and the people formerly known as the audience – all of us – have to contribute. It’s the only way for people to flourish in an increasingly complex and interdependent world, and the only way to find solutions for the problems of that world.

 

 

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What I learned after all those online courses

Listening to Stephen Downes discussing Massive Open Online Courses (see previous post) I felt the need to make an overview of the online courses I participated in during these last few years. Downes inspires me a lot and I fundamentally agree with the discintions he makes between connectivist MOOCs which are more community-driven and so-called xMOOCs which are more institutional.

However, this won’t stop me from participating in all kinds of online learning, whether the teaching is in a top-down institutional style or rather in a more freewheeling learner-centered style.

Here is am incomplete list of what I tried out since 2008:
– CCK08 as mentioned in the previous post. This first experience in 2008 was the most impressive one and determined my attitude toward online learning.  The course was very learner-centered but also overwhelming and completely different from traditional education.
These days I’m attending on an irregular basis ConnectedCourses which is another connectivist course.
– Awakening the Digital Imagination (2011): A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech. This was a great experience, I participated as a member of a small cohort in Second Life. We used the MIT textbook The New Media Reader and read texts such as the famous “As We May Think“ by Vannevar Bush. This course was not massive but very open with a small group of highly motivated and kind people. Just learning to know these folks in itself was very enriching.

– Coursera-courses: Professor Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University recently taught History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, while being very critical about xMOOC-like features such as multiple choice questions. She also incited the students to reflect in a free way and to share their insights also outside the boundaries of the Coursera universe. I paid for a certificate. It was a way to motivate myself to complete the course – and yes I finished the course. You can read my final assignment here on MixedRealities.

Other more ‘typical’, institutional courses at Coursera I completed were Gamification by Professor Kevin Werbach of Wharton, University of Pennsylvania and a Computer Science 101 course by Professor Nick Parlante of Stanford. Stuff I looked into seriously were Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright of Princeton University and Understanding Media by Understanding Google by Professor Owen R. Youngman of Northwestern University.

On the Canvas Network I tried another approach. Various experts taught in a more classical xMOOC style about Doing Journalism with Data, but I gathered a small group of fellow journalists to have weekly discussions about the course (at my newspaper, during lunch hour). I blended online learning with meetings in the physical space (I don’t see much difference).  I guess I invested more time and effort in the course than I would have done without the meetings, but I can’t say I really completed it.

–  Introduction to computer science and programming: this is an MIT open courseware which I started in 2011 but I never got very far. Why did I fail? Maybe because I was trying to do it alone, or because I was trying out too many courses at once. The abundance of free courses of high quality makes me feel like a child in a candy store, and I underestimate systematically the real cost of these courses, which is time.

– Howard Rheingold courses: Howard is the guy who invented the notion “virtual community”, a writer about digital culture and digital literacies, an artist, a community builder and a teacher. I learned about him in Second Life – I guess it must have been in 2008 – and I participated in various courses of his Rheingold U community. The courses included Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, Think-Know Tools and Introduction to Mind Amplifiers. In these courses we used asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

The courses were neither free nor massive: about thirty people worked together and had intense interactions, culminating in a last session which was self-organized by the co-learners. I finished almost all those courses (I even took several courses more than once). The Rheingold-courses are very interesting: they are community-driven and try to emancipate the learners while at the same time Howard is being much more than ‘just a facilitator’.

– Project based learning: contributing to an actual digital artefact is a great way to learn. In yet another group facilitated and inspired by Howard Rheingold, I contributed to an online Peeragogy Handbook (Peeragogy as in how to learn peer-to-peer).

– Miscellaneous online courses: I’ve quite a history of learning how to code online. I tried Codecademy dabbling in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and PHP. I like Codecademy, but it’s very different from the other courses I mentioned here – what seems to lack is a real sense of connection to other participants (even though there are learner forums which are very active). Treehouse is another great, video-based and interactive place to learn coding, but again not much of a community.

The more expensive and intense option was the O’Reilly School of Technology where you get feedback by a tutor (again not really community driven). Even though I’ve a good insight now in the very basics of web design, I cannot consider myself as being a web designer or developer. In order to achieve that, I would have to actively build something of my own – and I lack time and motivation to do so.

So, what did I learn?

I’m 55 now and I’ve a more than fulltime job. I also was deeply influenced by the connectivist MOOC in 2008. So what I learned was to put myself in the center as a learner and to have my own objectives, while reaching out to others who I assume have different objectives and perspectives.

Mostly my objective was to learn new concepts and ways of thinking in order to look at the world in a different way. For instance, I learned that computers and networks can amplify our brains. I discovered that people can learn a lot outside of the traditional institutions: fan communities learning Japanese in order to immerse themselves in the world of manga culture, people who learn scripting and 3D-building as ‘residents’ of virtual worlds, or youngsters learning everything about video as part of some YouTube subculture.

Often these informal ‘educations’ are far more efficient than the programs prepared and implemented by professional educators. It reminds me of Ivan Illich and his book Deschooling Society, but then again I must admit I went to college myself were I graduated in applied economics and philosophy. I still feel very grateful for that ‘institutional’ education.

 

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MOOCs explained (by Stephen Downes)

Stephen Downes, the Canadian MOOC-pioneer (Massive Open Online Courses), delivered a talk in Armenia and as usual he generously shares the recording and the slides.

My own MOOC-experiences started in 2008 with CCK08, facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Back then we lived in full euphoria about the power of virtual communities and I participated with a group of Second Life residents. It was a bewildering experience and when it was all over, I had far more questions than answers. These days I must admit it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life as a learner.

In the slides you’ll see how Downes makes the distinction between community-based – “connectivist” or “cMOOCs”  such as CCK08ds106 and ConnectedCourses on the one hand and more institutionally based MOOCs (xMOOCs) on the other such as the Stanford branch, with companies offering open learning such as Udacity, Coursera en edX. This for the scene in Canada and the US, nowadays there are a number of emerging platforms in other countries as well.

Downes says that communities are about sharing while institutions are about consuming. “Open” does not just mean “put it for free on the internet”. cMOOCs are about harmony through diversity, about unstated and multiple learning objectives versus concrete and stated objectives.

Audio on the Stephen Downes’ site. I also recommend his OLDaily-newsletter.

For my own experiences and opinion about online learning: I’ll come to that in a next post.

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