Review of “Emerging Trends for Teaching and Learning” A NERCOMP event (10/27/05)

by Gail Matthews-DeNatale, Simmons College

Emerging Trends for Teaching and Learning: A Retrospective

by Gail Matthews-DeNatale, Academic Technology, Simmons College

In the field of educational technology, there have always been “emerging trends.” But as I listened to presenters at the “Emerging Trends for Teaching and Learning” gathering last October, I came away with the perception that, at this juncture, the range of possibilities on the horizon is particularly rich. There was a heightened sense of excitement, creativity, and possibility in the room that I continued to feel for days after the event.

Given the range of presentations and the many examples that were provided, it is difficult to write a summary that does the day justice. Instead of a blow-by-blow recap of each session, I’ve decided to highlight some of the main ideas discussed and provide a list of links to technologies that were referenced during each presentation.

Session I: Introduction and Overview (Bryan Alexander) Session I LinksSession Links

– General Sources
Bryan’s Website

– Storytelling
Center for Digital Storytelling

– IP/Sharing (New Approaches)
Creative Commons
Academic Commons

– Gaming and Alternate Reality
Halo2, Machinima, Bad Wolf
BA’s commentary

– Social Bookmarking
Flickr,, Furl
BA’s commentary

– Web 2.0
Flock, BA’s commentary

– Other Sites Mentioned
NASA Worldwind
(Scholar, Map, Desktop, etc.)

HighlightsDuring his 30-minute introduction, Brian touched on a range of themes, including: vernacular storytelling, strategies for sharing and aggregating content, and the social dimension of emerging technology.

Vernacular Storytelling: As multimedia tools become more affordable and user-friendly, students from all disciplines can become producers as well as consumers of new media. In addition to written papers, students now have a range of options for communicating what they have learned. Digital storytelling also helps students make connections between school-based learning and other experiences outside the classroom. This narrative trend is exemplified by the work of two entities: the Center for Digital Storytelling and StoryCorps.

Sharing and Aggregating Content: As digital video becomes easier to produce, it is important for schools to help students and faculty understand the ethical implications of intellectual property and copyright that are associated with their digital creations. As more people use the web as a space for multimedia publication, many are deciding that they want to share their work in a format that can be used by others. As a result, new resources are becoming available that are specifically designed to broker the sharing of intellectual and creative products, such as the Creative Commons and the Academic Commons.

The Social Dimension of Emerging Technology: As individuals produce and accumulate links to reams of digital resources, there is increasing need for better ways to organize, search, connect, share, and aggregate information meaningfully. While customization is not necessarily a new idea, the newest crop of tools adds a social dimension to the process of adapting technology to suit personal preferences. “Social bookmarking,” a relatively new term, now has 49 entries in Wikipedia. Many are also exploring the role that social networking can play in filtering and sorting information as well as developing communities of learners. Tools that exemplify this trend include: the photograph browser Flickr; Del.ici.ous, a social bookmarking tool that allows users to add meta data to links and cross link with other like-minded bookmarkers; and Flock, a resource that allows “micro content” to be drawn from a range of sources into one browser.


Session II: Videogames and Learning (Joel Forman) Session II LinksSession Links

– General Sources
Educause: Games & Gaming

-Game Links
World of Warcraft (WOW)
Pocket Kingdom
  Neverwinter Nights
Open croquet project

HighlightsWhen Joel Forman looks at online gaming spaces such as MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), he sees spaces in which players are learning all the time. As he reviews recent developments in the field, three themes emerge: distributed group intelligence, blurred boundaries between the virtual and the physical worlds of gamers, and emerging tension between corporate and gamer perspectives on the game worlds that are being created.

Games as Intelligent Swarms: Similar to the intelligent, decentralized swarming of migrating birds, MMOG’s foster the development of group intelligence, an extended cognitive system that can be likened to a global brain. For example, consider WOW, which has more than 1 million subscribers, or Eve, a gaming world that is home to 60,000 people. Up to17,000 players have interacted within Eve simultaneously. The average player of Pocket Kingdom, a game played through mobile phones, spends 7.3 hours per month with the game. These hours are, in effect, leisure time spent learning things like collaboration, strategic thinking, planning, problem-solving, etc.

Blurring the Boundaries: As games become increasingly realistic, illusion and reality are become indistinguishable. For example, Havok allows players to construct spaces that adhere to the real world’s properties of physics.

Some online games are even developing their own economies, in which players make a “real” living creating virtual assets and selling them to other players. For example, one site ( is dedicated to the development and sale of virtual real estate. Another gamer draws on her advanced programming capabilities to make virtual Samuri swords that can be sold to other players. Down the road, will there also be real world consequences for people who are caught “stealing” or “defacing” online assets? At least one instance in Japan resulted in the vandal being held legally accountable.

Who Owns the Game?: Corporations that have gotten into the business of online gaming have sometimes found themselves at odds with the players they originally wished to court. Multiplayer online games involve players in the co-creation of increasingly rich and complex worlds. Given the considerable investment that players make in developing these spaces, it is not surprising that they feel a genuine sense of ownership. What is the relationship between virtual property rights and real property rights? The license agreements for some online games state that property created during the game belongs to the corporation that created the game. Those who have tried to enforce these agreements have experienced revolt.

Final Questions: Online games hold promise as tools for learning because they engage players in a deep and active participation. Some of the most intriguing questions are still open for consideration. How can these gaming worlds be adapted for learning purposes? What can we learn from online games about factors that contribute to learner engagement? As early text-based games give way to virtual worlds that are image-based and visually rich, how will this affect the preferences and learning styles of students who are gamers? Finally, are we willing to allocate sufficient funding for research and development so that in the future we can offer our students “Massively Multiplayer Online Learning Environments”?


Session III: Mobile Learning (Bryan Alexander) Session III LinksSession Links

– Examples
Mobile Bristol
Trans-Siberian Radio
(see also the report)
Art Mobs
Uncle Roy All Around You
34 North 118 West

– For Further Reading
Smart Mobs

HighlightsCulture and Pedagogy: When it comes to mobile technology, the United States is arguably out of step with the rest of the world, and this discrepancy has an adverse affect on our use of mobile technology for teaching and learning.

As a semantic case-in-point, Alexander noted that we (the U.S.) are the only ones who use the term “cell phone” instead of “mobile phone.” If you want to study the innovative things that are going on with mobile technology, you inevitably have to look outside the United States. For example, Britain has poetry contests in SMS (Short Message Service, a technology that allows text messages up to 160 characters in length to be sent over the phone).

Mobile devices appear to be pulling us in opposite directions: cell phones expand our abilities to connect, while iPods are used to renegotiate privacy in public spaces. Another complicating factor is that, at least in the U.S., cultural norms for mobile devices are still a work in progress, as witnessed by “dear cell phone user” cards that can be distributed to nearby people who are talking on their phones too loudly. In Japan, people use SMS to communicate during mass transit and in other settings where a verbal conversation would be annoying to those nearby.

Some of conventions for the use of mobile technology will turn out to be passing fads, such as “flash mobs” (using text messages to coordinate the behavior of groups). This induced human swarming was seemingly ubiquitous, then suddenly faded once the novelty wore off. Other uses will become integrated into our everyday lives, but it may be too early to tell which uses will persist.

Surveillance and Memory: The size and portability of mobile technology raises concerns as well as possibilities. Because cell phones now come with built-in cameras, we are becoming a culture of surveillance. To protect patron privacy, phones are often banned at gyms and pools. Yet these same phones make it possible for everyone to be a documentarian. On a moment’s notice, the average person can create a visual, aural, or written record of a child’s first steps, a front row concert view, the Pope’s funeral, a subway disaster, suspected police brutality, or even an ill-fated September 11 flight.

Microcontent: Small devices challenge us to package content in smaller and shorter segments. This trend has been dubbed “microcontent.” For example, NYC2123 is a graphic novel produced with mobile devices in mind. These creations may be grassroots, intended to oppose, or provide alternatives to, the messages of mass media. For example, Art Mobs asks the question, “Should museums and galleries have exclusive control over making audio tours of their exhibits?” Their most recent project involves creating alternative audio tours for the Museum of Modern Art, tours that counter those produced by the museum. These ideas could adapted for pedagogical purposes: increasing students’ critical engagement, fostering media literacy, enhancing dialogue/participation, etc.

Combining Technologies: Increasingly, mobile devices are used in conjunction with other technologies (for example, web + mobile, portable gaming devices + mobile). For example, in the game “Uncle Roy All Around You” online players search for Uncle Roy alongside on-the-street players with mobile devices. This “augmented reality” makes it possible to add digital data to physical places. In the same way that information is “tagged”within web pages, physical places can be tagged and correlated with online content.

Mobile technology has great potential for use in research, ethnography, and field-based learning experiences such as semesters abroad. It can also increase student and faculty opportunities for connectedness. For example, it could be used to broadcast an invitation for others on campus to join an a pickup game of volleyball. Yet very real challenges need to be addressed for this technology to achieve its full potential in educational settings, including: technical support, market instability, device content limitations (small screen size), digital divide and accessibility issues, privacy and intellectual property concerns, and faculty resistance.

Session IV: iPods and Podcasting (Bryan Alexander, Alex Chapin, Shel Sax) Session IV LinksSession Links

Alex Chapin’s iPod blog
Podcast of Chapin’s SIG talk
Berkeley Groks Science Radio
The Internet Archive
Podcasting Demo Server
(includes tutorials)
IT Conversations (podcasts
on Information Technology)

HighlightsEase of Use: A variety of resources are now available that make it relatively easy to set up podcasts and RSS feeds. For example, Feedburner walks you though the process, as does the Podcasting Demo Server.

Aggregating Content: In addition to tools like iTunes, sites like Odeo provide directories of podcasts. Odeo Studio also can be used to produce recordings over the web — the studio serves as a browser plugin.

Finding What You Need, Knowing Where You’ve Been: One of the challenges of audio is accessing the exact segment that you want to listen to. For this reason, digital audio has enlivened metadata. Metadata, when used in conjunction with other technologies such as XML, provides a level of granularity that makes it possible for listeners to jump to a specific portion of a podcast. It also makes it possible to browse and search the increasingly large collections of audio available on the web.

With iPods/iTunes you can also keep track of your listening history — you can know when you last accessed a file, where you left off, and you can even rate a file. These capabilities will make it possible for students to create “smart” audio study lists, rate files by difficulty and sort to perform a self-assessment, etc.

Middlebury’s iPod Case Study: Shel Sax described a recent iPod initiative at Middlebury as a “strategic failure.” The project was intended to demonstrate innovative use of iPods for language learning. Over the summer of 2005, iPods loaded with language lab files were made available to students. iPods were distributed from the library circulation desk and could be checked out just like a book. They anticipated that students would use the iPods in many creative ways. In fact, iPod use was minimal (approximately 1.5 hour per week per student) and focused more on convenience than on innovation (the iPods were used primarily as a “glorified discman”). Fortunately, assessment was a built-in component of the project, so they have a good idea of factors that affected the project’s outcome. The following issues were identified as problems they plan to address in future projects:

  • Content Ownership: It was unclear if the rights they had to language lab content extended to the use of these files for mobile devices.
  • Technical Problems: They encountered problems with physical handling, iPods freezing up, and with peripherals such as microphones.
  • Insufficient Time for Testing: This project was an unanticipated opportunity, a windfall, and the short development timeline did not allow for adequate testing and technical problem-solving.
  • Insufficient Training and Documentation: Again, the short timeline did not allow for the development of documentation that would have helped users solve routine problems. In addition, language students enrolled in the summer intensive program take a pledge to only communicate in the language they are studying — and it was difficult to fit in sufficient training before the pledge took effect.
  • Ease of Access: Students had to go to the library to check out the iPods — as Shel noted, “don’t underestimate the factor of convenience.”

Overall, many of the problems could be directly attributed to the locus of energy for the project. As Shel said, “it was a technology-driven project.” For the fall, they changed their approach. The offered 1-3 training sessions for students taking courses that involve iPods. They also solicited proposals from faculty, focusing their work with faculty who wanted to use the iPods and who had innovative ideas for how this technology could be used in their classes. This second round of projects is much more innovative and pedagogically substantive:

  • Biology: developing a podcast web site of bird songs
  • Museum Studies: developing a podcast audio tour
  • Teacher Education: developing audio portfolios

Session V: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control — Social Software in the Academy (Brian Lamb) Session V LinksSession Links

Brian’s Presentation Link
Brian’s Blog, Abject Learning
Clay Shirky’s Writings About   the Internet
Weblogs @ UBC
Denise’s Blog
Peru 2006
Michelle Chua
UBC’s Blogfolio Guide
Edublogs (provides free blogs
for education professionals)
NetNewsWire (RSS Reader)

HighlightsBrian had enough content for as many as four presentations in mind, so he began his session with a “group hum” exercise to assess our areas of interest. He introduced several ideas for directions he could take the talk, then asked for us to hum after each idea if we were interested in that particular direction. We “decided” to have him provide an overview of Social Software.

Social Software Defined: According to Lamb, social software is:

  • free (or cheap)
  • easy to use (a form of mass amateurization)
  • serves the needs of small groups and individuals, but also allows for new forms of interaction and aggregated presentation that can be remarkably rich (small pieces, loosely joined)
  • being introduced into educational practice and is gaining popularity rapidly (to varying degrees)

In the words of Clay Shirky, social software is “stuff that gets spammed.” Merriam-Webster, which named “weblog” its 2004 Word of the Year, defines a blog as

A website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer

Lamb’s original charge at UBC was to advocate the development and use of learning objects (LOs). He quickly realized that LOs are a “dog that doesn’t hunt” — because LOs comprise a “singular world,” the adoption rate is minimal.

In contrast, Lamb set up a blog for the University and, within a relatively short time, UBC was hosting 700 weblogs for 1500 people. For example, Denise Hubert uses her blog to coordinate the work of writing TAs, post assignments, and provide writing tips. Political Science faculty member Maxwell Cameron developed a class blog to document and discuss the 2006 Peruvian election. Michelle Chua used MovableType for ePortfolio development (blogfolio), then aggregated RSS feeds from individual students to create a network of blogfolios on one site. However, Lamb stressed that you can expect administrative and technical friction when you consider offering weblogs, because they are perceived as increasing risk and decreasing control.

Despite resounding popularity and success, some concerns were voiced — but the benefits outweighed the risks and each concern had a work-around. For example, some were anxious about “forcing” students to write publicly, but it was pointed out that student can assume a pseudonym. Others were worried about spamming, but that problem can be addressed by setting comments to “moderated.” While it’s understandable that administrators would be anxious about inappropriate posts, Lamb noted that, with over 4,500 pages of writing in UBC’s weblogs, they haven’t been made aware of a single objectionable post.

For those who are worried about information overload, the solution may be to change how you think about online learning. Instead of viewing blogs and other forms of online learning as “texts” (collections of objects), think of them as flow (something that you follow and/or dip into). Social software is changing how we write and read — it’s a new kind of narrative, a living text, that’s developing over the web. For more information about digital writing, see UBC’s Textologies site.

Lamb provides the following parting words of advice: invest in an RSS reader or aggregator such as NetNewsWire (for Macs), Bloglines, or AggRSSive. There is a high signal to noise ratio in blogs, yet with NetNewsWire he is able to scan 200 sites a day to glean the half dozen nuggets of useful information.

Session VI: Scientific Visualization Software (Dave Guertin) Session VI LinksSession Links

Science Visualization Lab
Sample Visualizations
3ds Max

Why use visualizations?

  • To help students form questions in their minds, to encourage them to create their own questions (as opposed to knowing the answers to questions they never asked).
  • To help students make connections.

Many difficult subjects don’t lend themselves to traditional representation. In addition, many disciplines are comprised of levels of understanding. For example, in chemistry there is the observable level (which can be attained during a reaction in a lab experiment), the molecular level (which can be attained through a visualization), and the symbolic level (which can be attained through the formulation of an equation). Examples of visualizations include: illustrations, models, video, 2D animations (Flash, Java), and 3D animations (Maya, Lightwave, 3ds Max).

At Middlebury, over the past four summers they have taught students how to use visualization software, then paired them with faculty members to develop visualizations for specific courses. Students in this program usually are fine arts, math, or computer science majors. Animations are developed over the summer, with faculty and students working in close collaboration. Students work long hours (often well into the night) solving challenging representational problems. To date, seven students have developed about two dozen 30-60 second animations for faculty in five departments. As opposed to stand-alone learning objects, these animations are learning assets designed for use in conjunction with teacher explanations.

Cost / Value: The program is not inexpensive. Each student requires a high-end work station ($3,000-$6,000), software (Lightwave = $125/seat, Maya = $375/seat), and their hourly wages total $1,000-$2,000 per animation. Students usually need about a month of time using the software before they are prepared to create a high-quality animation. However, despite the costs, informal program assessment indicates that faculty are happy, the animations are useful, and students have benefited from the experience.

About the Event, Sponsor, and the Presenters”Emerging Trends for Teaching and Learning” was day-long SIG event sponsored by NERCOMP, the Northeast Regional Computing Program. The SIG took place in Bolton, Massachusetts on October 27th. Presenters included:

  • Bryan Alexander (SIG Organizer)
    Director for Research, National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE)
  • Shel Sax
    Director, Educational Technology Services, Middlebury College (SIG Organizer)
  • Alex Chapin
    Educational Technologist, Middlebury College
  • Joel Forman
    Associate Professor, English Department, George Mason University
  • Dave Guertin
    Educational Technology Specialist, Middlebury College
  • Brian Lamb
    Learning Objects Coordinator, University of British Columbia

For Further Reading About Emerging Technologies in Higher EducationEducause

In particular, the Learning Technologies Initiative page, the Emerging Practices and Learning Technologies page, the 7 Things You Should Know About page, and “Tomorrowland: When New Technologies Get Newer,” an article in the November/December 2006 edition of the Educause Review.

New Media Consortium

Emerging Technologies Initiative, including the 2006 annual Horizon Report.