The Horizon Report: A NERCOMP SIG Event

by Gail Matthews-DeNatale, Simmons College

This NERCOMP SIG event took place on May 2, 2006 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

What is The Horizon Report?The day-to-day challenge of teaching and learning with technology is overwhelming–it can be challenging to look toward the horizon, envision possibilities and plan for the future. For those of us in need of renewal and inspiration there is The Horizon Report, a publication developed by the New Media Consortium in collaboration with the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI). The purpose of the report, published on an annual basis since 2004, is to “identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning or creative expression within higher education.”

Each year the Horizon Project’s Advisory Board considers dozens of emerging technologies, winnowing the list down to six areas considered most likely to be significant within higher education in the next one to five years. In addition to identifying specific “technologies to watch,” the Board also notes key trends and critical challenges affecting teaching, learning and creativity.

The following technologies are featured in the featured in the 2006 report:

  • Social Computing
  • Personal Broadcasting
  • The Phones in Their Pockets
  • Educational Gaming
  • Augmented Reality and Enhanced Visualization
  • Context-Aware Environments and Devices

On May 2, 2006, Horizon Project Advisory Board members Phil Long, Cyprien Lomas and Bryan Alexander convened a NERCOMP SIG during which they discussed four of of these technologies: Social Computing, Personal Broadcasting, The Phones in Their Pockets and Educational Gaming.

NOTE: The SIG event included hands-on demonstrations and exercises with RSS, social tagging and collaborative authoring with wikis. However, this write-up focuses on themes that emerged during presentations, questions posed by SIG participants and examples of emerging technologies at use in higher education. In keeping with the emerging nature of the technologies discussed, the SIG presentations were adapted on-the-fly to address participant questions and therefore sessions merged into a fluid day-long experience. Likewise, the summary that follows is presented as a retrospective, not as a write-up of discrete presentations.

Event Blog How Does One Keep Abreast of Emerging Technologies?Emerging technologies are exciting and invigorating, but difficult to identify and assess because they are, by definition, emerging. Phil Long began by posing the following question: How do you track and find promising new developments in technology? Strategies suggested by the group included the following:

  • Talk with kids
  • Participate in listserv discussions (especially those popular with 18-26 year-olds)
  • Follow up on requests from users for oddball things
  • Read widely (for example, Business Week article on Second Life, Newsweek article on Web 2.0 and a recent Web 2.0 review in The Economist)
  • Subscribe to RSS feeds (for example, Bryan mentioned Educause blogs, and blogs produced by library specialists)
  • Seek out others outside your field (for example, Cyprien keeps in touch with academic colleagues who are cell biologists)
  • Look outside the U.S. (for example, LAMS and CAUDIT in Australia)

In addition to the challenge of identifying promising technologies, there is also the problem of language. One of the goals for the Horizon Report SIG is to develop a common vocabulary. Emerging technologies often have a short half life, but issues and challenges persist. What you learn about innovation in one sector may be equally relevant in another. A shared vocabulary helps us articulate common themes across technologies, academic fields, etc.

The definition of what constitutes “emerging” varies depending on the interests and prior experience of the people with whom you are speaking. In addition, it can be difficult to understand a person’s level of involvement. For example, when asked, “Are you doing podcasting?” what does an affirmative response mean? Does it mean you listen to podcasts, support people who are producing podcasts or podcast your own material?

In preparation for the NERCOMP SIG, the workshop facilitators administered a pre-conference survey to registrants, to assess participant involvement and interest in emerging technologies.

Highlights of Survey Results:

  • 54% have started using IM/Chat.
  • 100% self-identify as email power-users.
  • 87% said they would be bringing a laptop with them to the session.
  • 73.9% do not have a blog.
  • Most take wireless for granted and RSS is almost like electricity (everybody needs it, but nobody wants to talk about how it works).
  • Respondents had less familiarity/experience with tagging, social bookmarking, flickr, videoblogging, MMOG.
  • Things the group said were of most interest to them included social computing, collaboration.
  • Things that were less interesting to the group included geo-tagging and mobility.

Phil is surprised that there is not more interest in geo-tagging. He provided the following interesting examples of geo-tagging in use: “My Space”-type content can be paired with geo-tags and cell phones (to alert you when buddies are nearby); “crush lists” can be combined with geo-tagging to track the location of people on your list; finally, in higher education, Stanford University students can get more information about campus buildings from their cellphones.

Question: How accurate is the geolocation? Could you track two trees 10 ft apart?

Answer: No, not with cellphone technology–that is only accurate within a few blocks. However, Ispots (a tool in use at MIT) can track a person’s IP address and is accurate to within feet.

The group was asked what items they wish would be added to the survey. Responses included:

  • ePortfolios
  • Text messaging
  • Real time tools (e.g., video conferencing, video chat, etc.)
  • Real time data gathering (e.g., survey monkey)
  • Virtualization (embedded storage) that is device-agnostic
  • VOIP connected to podcasting (e.g., Skypecasting)

What Key Trends Are Identified In The 2006 Horizon Report?Phil Long discussed the following key trends identified in the 2006 report:

  • Dynamic creation and social tools and processes are becoming more widespread and accepted.
  • Mobile and personal technology is increasingly being viewed as a delivery platform for services of all kinds.
  • Consumers are increasingly expecting individualized services, tools and experiences, and open access to media, knowledge, information and learning.
  • Collaboration is increasingly seen as critical across the range of educational activities, including intra- and inter-institutional activities of any size or scope.

What Challenges Are Presented By Emerging Technologies?

  • Peer review and other academic processes, such as promotion and tenure reviews, increasingly do not reflect the ways in which scholarship actually is conducted. Academic rewards are increasingly decoupled from, and out of step with, the practice of scholarship. As faculty scholarship extends into the digital realm, roles and systems for rewards will need to be renegotiated.
  • Information literacy should not be considered to be a given, even among “Net-Gen” students. Tool awareness does not necessarily translate into using the tools in a thoughtful way.
  • Intellectual property concerns and the management of digital rights and assets continue to loom as largely unaddressed issues.
  • The typical approach of experimentally deploying new technologies on campuses does not include processes to quickly scale them up to broad usage when they work; in fact, this approach often creates its own obstacles to full deployment.
  • The phenomenon of technological “churn” is bringing new kinds of support challenges. For example, this SIG would morph into a completely different workshop three months from now due to rapid changes in technology.

21st Century Literacies for Emerging Technologies: With emerging technologies come new forms of literacy. On the one hand, emerging technologies make it easier to create and disseminate sophisticated multimedia offerings. However, authors need to understand that emerging technologies constitute new genres of communication. It is important to know the strengths, limitations and conventions of the medium through which you are communicating.

For example, it’s not particularly helpful for a professor to videotape a lecture and post it, unedited and without chapter markers, online. That is pouring proverbial old wine into new skins. Instead, 21stcentury literacies challenge us to reconceptualize the products of faculty and student work. A literate person’s “publication” takes advantage of the capabilities (and transcends the limitations) of the digital medium in which it is authored.

Students are surrounded by an array of user-friendly authoring tools that extend traditional notions of “authorship” to include processes typically associated with orchestration or even remixing. Spaces for learning and authorship include images, words, motion and sound. How does one communicate effectively with this rich set of representational tools? The nonlinear nature of emerging media makes it imperative for students to understand things like user interface and organization of data. For more information, see the New Media Consortium’s New Media Literacy & Learning Initiative.

What’s the Purpose of The Horizon Report? How Can I Use It On My Campus?
According to Phil Long, The Horizon Report is designed for use by boards, advisory groups, in strategic planning committees, etc. If you get it into the hands of key people on campus, it can be used as a mechanism to move certain technologies from pilot to accepted campus use. Given the rapid rate of change in emerging technologies, the goal of The Horizon Report is to help staff, faculty and administrators in higher education make informed decisions.

Examples: Social ComputingAccording to Phil, blogging can be difficult to get excited about–it’s like getting excited about word processing. But blogging is simple to do and it is public in a way that word processing is not. And because blogs are simple, they can be used in innovative ways to get students to think differently about their work.

Blogs are an increasingly-mainstream offering at institutions of higher education. Examples include the MIT project “blogging and metacognition.” Incoming students are asked to blog about courses in which they are successfull, as well as those in which they are having trouble, and then to look for patterns and consider the differences. This helps them to identify and address recurring first-year problems, such as not devoting enough time to preparation. This process also encourages first-year students to take responsibility for improving their learning.

It is interesting to note the impact of blogging on the way that people write. Because blogs involve numerous posts, authors need to get to the point as soon as possible if they want to retain their reader’s attention. In addition, good blog entry titles include terms relevant to search engines. The first paragraph often reads like an abstract, as opposed to a thesis that unfolds gradually.

Web 2.0, library 2.0 terms have stuck. The concept of “micro content” is one example–pieces of content being moved around, smaller pieces, more distributed, more dynamic, drawn from a range of other places.

Audience Question: Why is blogging catching on now? And why is this so hot when we have had threaded discussions for years?

Answer: Blogging isn’t in the same category as a bulletin boards. Bulletin boards are for group discussion, blogs are personal. So, from the perspective of an educator, blogs are better for fostering metacognition than bulletin boards because they encourage the student to exercise a personal voice. One other difference is that every post in a blog has a unique state URL–so it can be accessible and cross-linked in ways that are not possible with a bulletin board.

Audience Question: Who reads all these first-year students’ blogs?

Answer: The other students. Additional possibilities include assistant instructors and graduate students.

Audience Question: And what are they expected to do with them?

Answer: Students were asked to read others’ blogs and make some connection or observation between their peers’ posts and their own writings. Then they were asked to return to their own blogs and write about what it takes to succeed as a college student.

Audience Question: Did it work?

Answer: Faculty are very happy with the increase in public writing that is happening on campus. The challenge is in the assignment set-up, the instructional design. And students often lose awareness of the fact that this is public writing and that it will persist.

Audience Question: Why not use a course management system for this kind of assignment?

Answer: Most course management systems (for example, Blackboard) teach students totally different habits of information. Course content is set up in separate silos so that it’s difficult to make connections across the curriculum. It’s a question of what pedagogical approach you want to embrace.

With social software, both faculty and students are now posting course materials and coursework all over the Web. This raises interesting issues–for example, how much of the course materials and student work is on a platform over which the institution has no control?  In addition, there is the issue of students’ intellectual property–if they aren’t made cognizant of the public nature of these tools, students can be giving away their work without knowing it. At what point does this become such an issue that you think you need for it to be hosted on campus? These questions need to be addressed.

Finally, there is the challenge of assessing the features, capabilities and quality of these emerging tools. Edutools compares course management systems and ePortfolios, but there is no analogous forum for evaluating and comparing emerging technologies. However, Wikipedia can be a useful place to search for this type of information.

Audience Question: What costs are associated with implementing these technologies?

Answer: Costs are somewhat tricky to assess. For example, consider the cost of RSS. It feels like it’s costless because it’s a standard–you can set up an RSS feed on your site for free. In theory, it could lead to real additional costs if you have a popular RSS feed.

On the other hand, in assessing costs, you need to consider whether you plan to be a consumer of the technology or whether you plan to use these technologies to create and disseminate content. The associated costs depend on the use scenario–passive or active use.

Benefits are, of course, the other side of the cost/benefit equation. In the book How People Learn, effective learning is described as having three characteristics:

  • Ownership (Student Created)
  • Social (Learner Choices)
  • Active (Mobile)

Podcasting used in conjunction with blogs, for example, achieves all three of these criteria. So in this respect benefits may well outweigh the costs.

Links To Check OutTechnorati
http://memeorandum.comBaghdad Burning


Pepys Diary
(compare blogs with the daily posts of this 17th century diarist)

Crooked Timber
(aggregator of faculty blogs)

Dr. B’s Blog
(example of blog that integrates teaching and research)

Other Ideas for Using Social Software in Higher Education: Technorati allows users to search a database of blogs. Results are arranged chronologically. This is called “searching the live Web” because items that are returned in search results may have been posted only minutes ago. Some argue that Google is the “historical” Web because new pages need to be up for a certain amount of time before they show up in this search engine’s results.

Consider this learning scenario: Students use Technorati to search the term “Iraq,” seeking out different perspectives on the topic. Or perhaps they use, a tool that aggregates news stories, pairing the stories with blog discussions. Another possibility would be to compare Baghdad Burning, a blog posted by an woman in Iraq, with “official” Iraqi news publications. These classroom ideas could be used for an investigation of reader response, for a discussion of situational ethics, etc.

About Social Bookmarking: When you bookmark a website in your browser, that information is bound to particular software on a particular machine. But “social bookmarking” externalizes bookmarks onto the Web so that your list can be shared, annotated and “tagged” (to make large collections of bookmarks searchable). One example is This online software adds a “post to delicious” button to your browser.

A note about tagging: From the perspective of many librarians and scholars of information science, controlled language is central to the categorization of information. But social tagging involves a democratic process for categorization–a process of sifting–through which the most-often-used terms float to the top.

These populist schemas for categorization are described as “Folksonomies” (a term reportedly coined by Thomas Vander Wal). In social bookmarking, tags can be displayed in a “cloud”–words presented in a cluster, with the size and boldness of a tag indicating its frequency of use. Tag clouds can be viewed from a number of perspectives–your perspective, all users’ perspectives, etc. In this way, tagging produces a community-based, non-constrained vocabulary (a folksonomy).

How can this be useful from a teaching perspective? For example, students can develop their own lists (and include a class tag number), describing WHY the items they are tagging are interesting to them. Then the tag cloud can be used to present students with the aggregate “class perspective” on the topic. Social bookmarking also provides a means for tracking how a reference became popular–providing a social index of others who thought it was important (and with that index comes opportunities for collaboration).

If you follow a group or an individual’s tag cloud, you can learn a great deal about patterns of perception. For example, one art museum asked visitors to tag its paintings. The PennTags Project at the University of Pennsylvania invites library visitors to tag books, then compare the resulting tag cloud with the official categories for library classification.

Note that there is a page for the Horizon Report.

Social bookmarking is not limited to text. Flickr is a service that allows users to upload, tag and share photos. A number of uses relevant to higher education come to mind. For example, Cyprien uses flickr to have people document their learning spaces. After uploading photos of campus learning spaces, users can tag them and note what features make these spaces conducive to learning.

You can also add a note to a portion of the image to annotate it. In one example displayed during the workshop, a set of X-rays was annotated to illustrate the visual process of diagnostics. This type of social bookmarking is useful for any discipline in which the subject matter is visual–for example, annotating botanical images.

Participant Question: How do you know if the images and the annotations are credible?

Answer: Content on the Web–or anywhere else, for that matter–isn’t always credible. Instead of only presenting credible sources to our students, it’s important to equip them with the ability to discern the credibility of a source. For example, you could examine the profile of the person who made the post, then look for other evidence that this person has relevant expertise, knowledge or experience.

Assessing validity is one of the most important skills to teach students–they need to learn what they can rely on. Most of these sites provide you with a learning opportunity to help students determine what is valid, what constitutes authority. We need to help students cultivate a healthy skepticism.

Examples: Personal BroadcastingPersonal broadcasting presents many advantages. Content can be broken down into smaller, more digestible parts. These media can be downloaded onto mobile devices, allowing listeners and viewers to “time shift” (watch/listen to the media at a time that is convenient to the user, or perhaps review the file multiple times).

Digital Storytelling: The concept of “digital storytelling” grew out of experimental theater. The idea is to involve ordinary people in the making of videos. For more information, see the Center for Digital Storytelling’s website, which includes a downloadable workshop manual.

The digital storytelling movement is predominantly personal–people develop their own stories. Digital stories have become increasingly popular as bandwidth has increased.

At Middlebury the process was adapted for non-personal educational uses. Digital Storytelling is one of the most popular workshops on campus. For more information, see Barbara Ganley’s work on “Digital Storytelling in Higher Education” and an accompanying digital story (in Quicktime format).

Other Examples of Personal Broadcasting in Higher Education: Personal broadcasting makes it possible to distribute alternate (other-than-official) perspectives of a given topic. For example, in the ArtMobs project, museum goers generate their own podcast tours of exhibits.

Ohio University uses video blogs (vlogs) to distribute Ask the Techies episodes, “a weekly video podcast explaining the latest in cool technology.”

The world of everything on video is a pretty diverse world; it is rich, but overwhelming, because it is more difficult to search video than it is to search text. But when digital video is disseminated in the context of vlogs and other forms of social software, it is becoming possible to rate, tag, sift and subscribe–making the process of finding gold nuggets easier.

Intellectual Property in an Era of Personal Broadcasting: If you examine popular sites like YouTube and Google Video, you will realize that personal productions often involve rampant copyright violation. This opens a whole can of worms for copyright infringement, especially regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

The Creative Commons is a group formed to try get around constraints of copyright, to enable legal sharing and reuse. Your work is, by default, copyrighted whether you want it to be or not–others can be sued on your behalf. So The Creative Commons is a means for helping authors to assign broader rights than those that are the default. It’s a simple syntax you can use to indicate your choice: to allow commercial uses of your work, allow modifications of your work, etc. You enter information about the jurisdiction (countries of use), format of work, etc., then the site generates a “license” code that you can embed on a page or within a work to indicate the rights that you want to claim.

Phil Long encourages participants to use the Creative Commons, and to encourage others to use it. It is important to be explicit and to take responsibility for communicating to people what your wishes are. It’s also important for faculty to include a discussion about copyright and to encourage students to be proactive about registering their work through the Creative Commons.

Participant Question: What about collaborative work?

Answer: They don’t know if The Creative Commons provides a mechanism for that yet. However, classes that involve collaborative work should include negotiation about how that work will be shared with others outside the class. It’s an opportunity for students to debate the issues from an author’s perspective, working together to clarify expectations and ground rules.

The Impact of New Media on Content: Cyprien offered a few caveats to those who want to experiment with podcasting. Podcasts have a reputation of being easy to produce. While this can be true, it’s also important to know that you can’t simply record a lecture, place it online and expect the result to be successful.

Just as blogs are influencing conventions of writing (including keywords in titles, placing critical aspects of the argument up front), podcasting and other forms of personal broadcasting are influencing conventions of online broadcasts.

As opposed to beginning a piece with a long preamble, successful podcasts tend to begin with information designed to bring the listener/viewer on board quickly. “Enhanced podcasts” divide long pieces up into chapters to that listeners can skip directly to a specific place within the podcast. Sections can be tagged with visuals–representative icons–in the same way that DVD chapters are represented on a DVD menu.

Finally, as faculty and students listen to recordings of their voices, they may be critical of themselves. It can take time to become relaxed and develop confidence in one’s broadcast voice. In addition, people may want to edit their recordings, to delete false starts and other things that they feel are undesirable. But editing audio and video takes time–it also requires additional software, such as Garage Band.

Examples: Phones in their PocketsConsider the following scenario: While studying abroad, a student takes pictures with her cell phone. Because of the cell phone’s satellite triangulation, it is possible to geocode the image, noting the latitude and longitude in which the image was created. In addition, the student can use the cell phone to record audio, noting thoughts and impressions. Using an online tool like Stanford’s BuddyBuzz, articles and other content are automatically delivered to her phone. In addition, she can share and receive notes from her peers, even those who are also studying abroad that semester.

Mobile technology is changing the way that media are produced. For example, some items such as bullet holes on shoot-em-up television shows are being made larger so that they will be visible when the show is viewed on an iPod. Likewise, we in higher education would be wise to consider the methods that we use to produce media, ensuring that educational media will make the transition into mobile technology without having to be re-produced.

As an example of “phones in their pockets,” students can download lessons to learn Chinese via cellphone. Many initiatives like this involve creative commons licensing and distribution. For example, Connexions is a site developed by faculty at Rice University, designed to facilitate the sharing of course modules and other scholarly works. Likewise, iCampus is an MIT-sponsored project that disseminates resources and tools.

Participant Question: What about the cost of cell phones?

Answer: First, ask yourself why is it worth it to you to pump money into your cell phone. It provides us with a means for being connected at a time when people are increasingly geographically dispersed.

The United States is behind on innovative use of cell phones, in part because our pricing structure differs from those of other countries. Text messaging is expensive in the U.S., whereas conversational minutes are relatively inexpensive. Outside the U.S., the opposite is true.

Examples: Educational GamingA recent publication of the Harvard Business School, Got Game, argues that gaming is the one experience that today’s students have in common. Gaming is changing how students behave and how they respond to the world around them (including formal learning situations).

Games represent an opportunity to gain experiential understanding of a given topic or idea. They are particularly good for addressing a range of learning styles that are often overlooked in higher education: spatial, social, kinesic, etc. For example, “The Sims” allows users to create simulated people and communities, playing out social interactions that would not be feasible (or perhaps even desirable) face-to-face. By recording a Sims Game, users can create a video of their creation and broadcast it to others.

Other examples include:

  • The Croquet Project, an open source tool designed to support development of 3D multi-user online applications;
  • The Topiary Project, developed at Berkeley, allows users to model the location of people, places and things.

Games can also extend the player’s experience beyond national boundaries. In online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, literally millions of players are enrolled and participating at the same time. This fall NASA is releasing an online game in which players will experience remote access to Mars. A section of NASA’s website is already devoted to space science games. Likewise, the America’s Army (AA), developed with tax dollars and distributed for free by the U.S. government as a public relations tool, is an online multiplayer game that allows participants to “experience” the Iraqi war firsthand. AA also serves as a recruiting tool, linking to official military sites. This highlights the importance of equipping students with the ability to take a critical and reflective stance on the things that they are learning (both overt and subliminal) in online games.

AfterwordAt one point during the day, it was noted that “this SIG would morph into a completely different workshop three months from now due to rapid changes in technology.” There is a certain irony to the fact that this report is reaching readers more than five months after the event. In intervening months, YouTube was acquired by Google, the MacArthur Foundation pledged $50 million to “build the emerging field of digital media and learning,” and Blackboard’s worrisome course management patents have come to light. Perhaps it’s time for another Horizon SIG event?

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.