Learn Literature, New Media, Creative Programming



I look forward to this course on Coursera focused on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings Online, exploring what happens to stories and films when they become online games. Jay Clayton of the Vanderbilt University will teach about narrative theory, media studies and video games (history and theory). Also included are some ‘landmarks of romance literature’.

The course starts on July 14 and runs till September 1.

Another course on Coursera which may interest those interested in video games is Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps. Teachers are Mick Grierson, Marco Gillies and Matthew Yee-King of the University of London. It seems to be a more technical course for those wanting to do creative work in video games, art installations or interactive music. The programming language used is Processing: an open source programming language and integrated development environment (IDE) built for the electronic arts, new media art, and visual design communities with the purpose of teaching the fundamentals of computer programming in a visual context, and to serve as the foundation for electronic sketchbooks. The project was initiated in 2001 by Casey Reas and Benjamin Fry, both formerly of the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab (Wikipedia).

You don’t have to be a programmer to start this course. The course started already, so hurry up!

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Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

Quite some excitement among virtual worlds fans: Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, confirmed that they work on a new virtual world. They won’t let themselves be restrained by concerns about backward compatibility with the eleven year old Second Life as they want a fundamentally better virtual world and not just incremental improvements. CEO Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab said that the ‘old’ Second Life will continue and new developers are being recruited for the new project. In the meantime, the founder of the Lab, Philip Rosedale, is working on yet another new virtual world, called High Fidelity.

More can be found on New World Notes and on Living in a Modemworld.

I cannot help being excited about these new developments, yet I don’t think we’ll see a spectacular growth in virtual worlds usage. My impression is that Linden Lab tries to benefit from the excitement around Oculus Rift, telling the world that the biggest open-ended and user generated virtual world is Second Life. However, people outside the fan base of Second Life are sceptical (as reading the discussions on Reddit makes abundantly clear).

My guess is that the niche of users of Second Life and OpenSim (the open-source version of Second Life) will be dispersed over three worlds now: the old and the new Second Life and Rosedale’s new project, but that the whole open-ended user-generated virtual worlds scene will remain a niche-thing. Will it change in a few years time when motion trackers, body sensors and 3D-cameras will become more mainstream? Maybe, but it won’t be next year.

Second Life fans often say that the lack of traction of virtual worlds is because of the learning curve and the difficulties in using mouse and keyboard to navigate those worlds. I think the real difficulty is the identity-play: the fact that people represent themselves by avatars which may be very different from the physical person using those avatars. For some this opens a world of creativity and exploration, for many others it’s just a bit creepy, especially in ‘serious’ (for instance work-related) contexts.

The other issue with these worlds is that they tend to be very time-consuming. Social networks and mobile communications help people to navigate from the physical to the digital world in fast bursts of time – checking updates, having a facetime of Google Hangout videotalk etc – but without spending hours immersed in a virtual environment.

Both these behavioral phenomena – preference for short time span interventions and for seeing ‘the real other’ – make widespread usage of open ended virtual worlds a tough sell.

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Inventing a New University

One of the courses I really enjoyed these last few months was History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, by professor Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) on the Coursera platform. The final assignment was the invention of a new institution of higher education. This was my answer, and yes, I did mention virtual environments… I called the thing Peeragogy University, named after a project facilitated by Howard Rheingold, peeragogy.org.

…………

It’s a pleasure and an honor to present our Peeragogy University. We firmly believe that we live in an epoch of exponential change. The old industrial ways of thinking do no longer apply for learning and teaching (see our Duke U course). We want to help our students to become Change Masters, or rather, we want them to help each other (peer-to-peer) to become Change Masters. 

What is our Mission Statement? There are three crucial skills we want our graduates to acquire:
1) The deep understanding of the fact that this education is not about them. It’s about what they can do for humanity.
2) The deep understanding and the skill of connecting to others in order to realize our dreams. During the program students will discover how connected the big issues of our time are, and how necessary it is to break out of academic silos to work together, to celebrate diversity in our teams. “Diversity” also means that we involve people from outside the institution and from outside academia. We use the wisdom and creativity of artists to facilitate this (see Duke U course).
3) The deep understanding and the skill of learning how to learn and adapt to emerging technologies in the broadest sense of the word ‘technologies’. So the crucial skill and value here is the eagerness to learn, and to learn how to learn throughout their lives (content vs. learning, Duke U course). 

What is the structure of our institution? 
Every student gets a preliminary course during about ten weeks. Leading experts will present major breakthroughs in information technologies, biotech, management (including new ways to launch a project or a business), healthcare, robotics, nanotechnology, energy systems and the makers industries (3D printing, DIY drones etc). These are the competence clusters which form the basic structure of Peeragogy University. 

The students will actually experiment (learning by  making, see Duke U course) with bio-hacking, programming, robotics, genetic engineering, management principles… These weeks will be inspired by what the Singularity University is already doing in California. What we add: we’ll help the students to explicitly build a personal learning environment, making use of their social connections online and/or on campus and of the affordances of the internet (blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, forums, crap detection and information dashboards). See also the Digital Literacies as discussed in the Duke U course. 

After these ten weeks students will have to decide what their Major Project will be for the next years (we have a 4 year program in place). This project must make a difference for humanity (see Mission statement). Maybe something which can affect the lives of millions of people? Typically,this project will make it necessary to acquire an advanced knowledge and skill-level in several subjects. 

However, not everybody who has some healthcare project as his Major Project will need to become a surgeon. Maybe it’s more interesting to become a robotics-specialist in order to contribute to a breakthrough (think exoskeletons for paraplegics). Becoming a robotics specialist probably implies great skill in programming and algorithms. Someone else in the team will become an expert in capital markets in order to find ways to get financing and to develop a financial plan. A third person can contribute because of special knowledge regarding patient psychology and sociology (see Mission Statement aboutconnecting). For each special skill the faculty experts will not teach as Sages on a Stage, but as facilitators of project based peer-to-peer learning. 

As these students try to change the world, they will have to reflect on what they’re doing (Mission statement: meta-learning). They will discuss on an academic level, using the resources of philosophy, logical thinking and using art as a way to mobilize more people for their projects and diversify their teams. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Who are the teachers? All students are also teachers. They work in project teams, and we’ll also organize contacts between the teams. We do havefaculty: there are recognized experts in their fields, from academia but also from outside academia. They will be facilitators of the learning. 
Who are the students? We do not require specific diplomas. We do run an Introductory MOOC (3 months), and achievements during that MOOC will be an important element for admission on the online or physical campus for the full four year program. 

Where do we meet? Our Campus is situated in Portland, Oregon, right next to some famous beer micro-breweries. However, we run an international Introductory MOOC (three months) and a Companion MOOC which runs on a permanent basis. We make heavily use of virtual environments to create an interesting online alternative for the physical campus. 

Who pays and how much? 
Peeragogy University found some generous sponsors, but nevertheless we have to ask a fee for the physical campus experience: $80,000 for one year, housing, tuition and food included. There is a considerable discount for tuition-only students. 
The Companion MOOC-version is free, except for those students who want a formal assessment of their work ($5,000 on a yearly basis). The Introductory MOOC is free, except for those who want an assessment in order to gain access to the 4 year program ($100). 
Students who have financial difficulties can apply for special sponsoring. Students will learn during the Introductory MOOC how to finance their studies (alternative financing techniques). 

Peeragogy University organizes short term programs for companies and government institutions, These programs help financing the Peeragogy University. 

Assessments and Certificates: the assessments are based on the performance during the year – compare it to assessments for company and government workers. Important elements are creativity, how people collaborate, how they learn, how impressive their skills are. We have a completion diploma, but more important even are the Peeragogy Badges (see Duke U course) which reflect the skills of the student. Important to realize: the Major Projects can become companies or institutions outside of Peeragogy University. Students learn to inform venture capitalists, government and social profit players about their Major Projects…

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A future for virtual worlds after all

The virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift makes virtual worlds folks dream of a bright future. The Rift exists now as a developer version, but a consumer product could be available in 2015. Second Life is anticipating on this rather thrilling development by releasing a Rift-compatible viewer:



Read more about it on the New World Notes.

Maria Korolov on Hypergrid Business refers to an article in Wired about the inside story of Oculus Rift with the quote ‘I think I’ve seen five or six computer demos in my life that made me think the world was about to change. Apple II, Netscape, Google, iPhone … then Oculus. It was that kind of amazing.’ (Brian Cho, a young partner at Andreessen Horowitz).

Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Second Life, is working on his very own virtual reality which is compatible with Oculus Rift: High Fidelity. At the recent Silicon Valley Virtual Reality conference (videos on HyperGrid Business) Rosedale said something very important about the inspiration for this project, as reported by Wagner James Au:

I remember reading Snow Crash feverishly and how it helped me to understand Second Life. I just bought Ready Player One and I can imagine how it inspires the next generation of virtual worlds: haptic feedback, the possibility to reflect the facial expressions via the avatar, chatrooms which are separate virtual spaces rather than text-based instant messaging boxes etc.

I’m not much of a coding or a hardware person – I prefer old-fashioned reading, and somehow reading Ready Player One and thinking about what’s going on in the virtual reality industry makes me believe there’s an almost unimaginable future waiting for us.

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Imagine 3D-sensors…

… in your phone, and what you could do with it as a developer… Imagine the games, the education projects, consumer and business projects…. These are exciting times, as Google says about its Project Tango. Google has built a prototype Android smartphone that can learn and map the world around it – what would you do with it?


Seth Rosenblatt on CNET has pretty interesting background information. Movidius’ Remi El-Ouazzane explains in an interview how his chip firm is more than just another partner in Google’s mobile 3D-mapping project — it’s at the center of a revolution in how computers process visuals. The chips can be used far beyond smartphones and tablets: think wearables, robots, autonomous cars, drones…

Google itself mentions various possible applications: interior design, helping the visually impaired, but also immersive gaming – mixed reality style.

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History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education

I’m participating in the course History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, the proceedings take place on the Coursera platform and the Professor is Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University). It’s not yet another course for professional teachers only:

This course is designed for anyone concerned with the best ways of learning and thriving in the world we live in now.  It’s for students, teachers, professors, researchers, administrators, policy makers, business leaders, job counselors and recruiters, parents, and lifelong learners around the globe.

The course is massive, online, open and free, it contains videos, quizzes and assignments, yet it is different from many other Coursera, Udemy or edX-courses: Professor Davidson tries to transform her class into a community and the learning which so often is that of a ‘Doc on a Laptop’ into peer-to-peer learning. In this way her project is very related to the Peeragogy Handbook.

I’d love to be part of a reading and discussion group about the course, we could do that in Second Life, Google Plus or another platform… If you’re interested, let me know, I think it’s not too late to sign up for the course.

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A new year, a new edition of the Peeragogy Handbook!

Good news to start the new year: the revised, second edition of the Peeragogy Handbook (“Version 2″) is available now. The Handbook is the world’s first book to present Peeragogy, a synthesis of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work. Itself the result of the techniques it presents, this version features a new Foreword from the internet pioneer and collaboration thinker, Stanford University educator, and founding editor of the Handbook, Howard Rheingold. What is it really about? I’ll let Howard explain it:



The Peeragogy Handbook project started in January 2012. Howard describes in his Foreword the process:

In the Peeragogy project, we started with a wiki and then we decided that we needed to have a mechanism for people who were self-electing to write articles on the wiki to say, OK, this is ready for editing, and then for an editor to come in and say, this is ready for WordPress, and then for someone to say, this has been moved to WordPress. We used a forum to hash out these issues and met often via Elluminate, which enabled us to all use audio and video, to share screens, to text-chat, and to simultaneously draw on a whiteboard. We tried Piratepad for a while. Eventually we settled on WordPress as our publication platform and moved our most of our discussions to Google+. It was a messy process, learning to work together while deciding what, exactly it was we were doing and how we were going to go about it. In the end we ended up evolving methods and settled on tools that worked pretty well.

It’s a remarkable project, involving volunteers from various continents. They’re working on the third edition now, and if you feel you could help, have a close look on the project and join us. I participated myself for the first edition, unfortunately I lacked time and energy to contribute to this second edition, but I hope I’ll be able to join in again (maybe for a translation in Dutch). Participating in such a project is in itself a very valuable lesson in peeragogy.

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The Open Newsroom: the crucial difference between tools and method

Newsroom in Berdsk.

Newsroom in Berdsk, workshop co-facilitator Charles Maynes is on the left.

Should a newsroom be totally open? As in ‘tell everyone in real-time what you’re discussing and doing’? I don’t think so. Investigative reporting for instance needs discretion, and sources do not always want to be in the open. However, there are also less convincing reasons for keeping the doors – physically and virtually – closed, such as ‘we can’t let the competition know what we’re planning’. In general, I believe newsrooms should be far more open than they are now.

Why? Because right now, people don’t trust journalists. Whether it’s in Russia or in the United States, media are regarded with suspicion. What are the hidden agendas? How independent are newsrooms? Telling the world ‘outside’ about news projects, from the very beginning (even right from the brainstorming phase) can improve the reputation of news services.

It’s not just a reputation issue. A lot of innovation in countless industries is taking place at the intersection of the digital and the physical world. It’s in that ‘mixed reality’ that journalists can experiment with crowdsourcing, data-gathering, networking with external coders etc. Having a more open newsroom facilitates all that.

The New Journalist’s Full Circle presentation I included in a previous blogpost points out in some detail which tools to use and which methodology to follow in order to benefit from an Open Newsroom approach.

The Eurasia Foundation gave me the opportunity to discuss these ideas with journalists in Russia. I worked with a local newspaper in Siberia, Kurer-Sreda, which reports diligently about local news in Berdsk.

The journalists had a very natural reaction when I presented the Full Circle tools: they pick and choose. They won’t use that particular social bookmark tool, but they will consider using some visualization tool or maybe some chat and video-streaming tools. I get the same reaction in my own newsroom and during other workshops.

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

It’s totally okay to pick and choose, and in the Russian case there is an additional element: it simply isn’t true that English is universally spoken. Non-Russian interfaces can be a considerable hurdle. Furthermore, Facebook and Google are global companies, but in huge countries such as Russia there are strong local competitors: VKontakte is an alternative for Facebook and Yandex beats Google in Russia. Which is an additional complication if you want to introduce people to stuff such as Google Hangout On Air.

Demonstrating Google Hangout

Here I’m demonstrating Google Hangout on Air, but Google is not universal.

However, the specific tools are not crucial. What is most important is the philosophy. There are many tools out there for organizing public collaborative mind maps, social media radars, forums, blogs and online discussions. What is most needed is the change of mentality, away from private note-taking and brainstorming behind closed doors. Newsrooms should embrace the sharing of ideas and resources. Journalists can try this out for specific projects but my real hope is that they will embrace it for the daily newsroom activities, by default livestreaming their deliberations and information gathering and only closing the doors in order to protect sources and delicate aspects of investigative work.

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The Singularity was in Budapest, Hungary

I attended the Singularity University Summit in Budapest, Hungary. It was like two days of total immersion in discussions about the concept of exponential growth, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, bio-hacking, medical breakthroughs and organisational change. I tried to bring some elements together in a wiki mindmap, people have added links and stuff:


Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

I also talked to CEO Rob Nail of the Singularity University:



How to replicate online the hands on experience of the SU and the intense social experience? Well, maybe by using a virtual environment? It seems the SU is exploring that possibility, but it’s too soon to tell. Which reminds me that Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, is one of those who inspires the SU people (just to be clear: he was not at the Summit). He’s working on a high fidelity virtual world, in which avatars would reflect the expressions of their real life typists:



Wouldn’t it be nice to replicate the Singularity University campus experience in a high fidelity virtual environment? It would be a welcome variation on Massive Open Online Course environments of Coursera, Udacity or edX…

More videos and links can be found in my coverage for my newspaper De Tijd (in Dutch).

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Social media are (also) learning networks

Social media can be learning networks. Self-evident? Maybe so, but these last few months I gave a few presentations for young, somewhat less young and more senior people – all of them well-educated – and they seemed to be surprised about stuff such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the fact that we can consider Wikipedia, Linux or Arduino as learning networks, the Maker Movement and related topics.
Mentioning Facebook often results in discussions about privacy and the NSA (older folks), about looking for alternatives such as Twitter (younger people), but Facebook as part of a personal learning environment is new for many people ‘out there’.

Of course, the only solution is to talk even more about it. Especially because the ‘digital world’ is merging rapidly with what we used to consider as a purely ‘physical’ world – sensors, social media, data, mobile internet, location aware devices, it all permeates that so-called ‘physical world’, turning it effectively into a mixed reality.

Once people start to realize the opportunities and dangers they start asking ‘how do I start learning about this’, on a rather practical level. I’ll limit myself to three books:

Net Smart by Howard Rheingold in order to learn to use social media intelligently, mindfully and humanely.
Peeragogy.org, a handbook for all those wanting to engage themselves into peer2peer learning (a collective work in which I participated).
The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel about mobile, social media, data, sensors and location services.

In case you wonder what I talked about during the presentation:


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