Posted by: crudbasher | April 21, 2015

The Next Star Wars Game Would Be An Amazing Teaching Tool

I used to teach about Video Games. I also like Star Wars (the original trilogy thank you). One of the big challenges facing every teacher is how to interest kids in learning things they don’t want to learn. I have suggested that using advanced simulation techniques can help interest them in learning a lot more than a textbook or video would do.

Behold! Star Wars Battlefront

Just wow! This game is not being released till the end of the year but dang is that amazing looking! So imagine you can take that same quality and use it to craft learning experiences. Imagine sailing a Spanish Galleon, or searching the Amazon Rain Forest for a particular type of insect! Or, imagine playing a Star Wars game where you have to search for something or do some sort of learning puzzle. For example, maybe you have to solve a physics puzzle to repair your ship?

We are on the cusp of this becoming practical. The biggest obstacle right now is actually the cost of development, which is substantial. I think we will have more luck if we can develop games like this using an interface similar to Minecraft. I’ve seen little kids make elaborate Minecraft levels with no programming experience at all.

When you couple graphics like this with Virtual Reality, the implications for education will be profound.

I can’t wait. :)

Posted by: crudbasher | April 17, 2015

How Not To Teach 4 Billion People

Yesterday I talked about how the “developing” world is getting modern communications technology via cell phones. Today I want to tie together two very different stories.

First, a nice piece by Peter Diamandis (he’s the guy who came up with the X-Prizes for various things). H/T Singularityhub

The most dramatic (positive) change in our global economy is about to occur between 2016 and 2020.

Three to five billion new consumers, who have never purchased anything, never uploaded anything, and never invented and sold anything, are about to come online and provide a mega-surge to the global economy.

While most of these individuals are in Africa, India, China, and the developing world, and their income is low, when aggregated, this represents tens of trillions of new dollars flowing into the global economy…and no one is talking about it.

He sees this as happening by 2020. That’s only 5 years! Is it possible to connect 4 billion people in that time? Yes. Yes it is. The rest of the article talks about 4 major efforts to make this happen.

Like every other article like this it talks about how these new people will spend money and consume media. It does not talk about how these people will learn. That’s what I want to talk about. How do you do it? Well, let’s start with how not to do it which leads us to story #2.

I have written before about the LA schools initiative to give iPads to every student. Here’s the results. H/T LATimes

The $1.3-billion iPad effort was a signature program under then-Supt. John Deasy. But it faltered almost immediately during the fall 2013 rollout of the devices. Questions later arose about whether Apple and Pearson enjoyed an advantage in the bidding process; an FBI criminal investigation is ongoing.


“Only two schools of 69 in the Instructional Technology Initiative … use Pearson regularly,” according to an internal March report from project director Bernadette Lucas. “Any given class typically experiences one problem or more daily. Teachers report that the students enjoy the interactive content — when it’s available. When it’s not, teachers and students try to roll with the interruptions to teaching and learning as best they can.”

The remaining schools, she said, with more than 35,000 students, “have given up on attempting regular use of the app.”
Other problems emerged as well, according to that report. District specialists said the materials are not readily adaptable for students who are not proficient in English. And there are no online tests to help guide instruction; the only available assessments are on paper. Nor has Pearson provided data or tools that permit an analysis of how often the curriculum is used or how well it functions.

It failed because clearly not enough money was dedicated to support, the software wasn’t ready and there was no buy in from teachers. I have said this many times: buying iPads for all the students is easy. You just write a check. The problem is, an iPad is a device that is geared to the individual. This doesn’t fit in a system that does not recognize the individual in favor of standardization. In the end, like most government actions, the people involved got rich and the project failed.

So can you apply this to the “developing” world? Well, the cost clearly would be prohibitive right off the bat.

The top down factory model of schooling won’t work for the rest of the world. Because it is too expensive, they will get a chance to experience and develop a disaggregated, roll your own, BYOD model of education. Maybe, like land lines, Africa is going to skip mass public schooling too? I can only hope so.

See more: Searching for a New Model For Learning – Part 4

Posted by: crudbasher | April 16, 2015

Cell Phone Use Skyrockets In Africa

Cell phones and smart phones are rapidly transforming the societies in Africa. Many of these are skipping right past the land line phase and heading straight into the mobile era.

H/T Pewglobal

Cell phones are pervasive in the region. In 2002, roughly one-in-ten owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana. Since then, cell phone ownership has grown exponentially. Today, cell phones are as common in South Africa and Nigeria as they are in the United States. Smartphones (those that can access the internet and applications) are less widely used, though significant minorities own these devices in several nations, including 34% of South Africans.

Wow. So what are they using these phones for?

Among cell phone owners in Africa, the most popular activity is sending text messages. Overall, a median of 80% of mobile phone owners across the seven sub-Saharan countries surveyed say they do this with their phones. This includes 95% in South Africa and 92% in Tanzania. In all the countries, at least half of cell phone owners say they send text messages with their devices.

The second most popular activity is taking pictures or videos.

Sounds like how we use the phones in the “developed” world right? Do you know what I see here? A vast amount of people who want to learn. We can’t afford to spend the same amount per pupil that the US does so it will drive innovation to create content cheaply. Therefore, I think we will see more automated schooling for Africa. Combine this with real time language translation and you can start educating the rest of the world.

If nobody in the western world does it, somebody in Africa will. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 10, 2015

Instructions On How To Climb Stairs

A friend of mind posted this link on Facebook the other day.

Instructions on how to climb a staircase

It is hosted on a site called Instructables, which near as I can tell is a site that hosts small instructions like this. It is obviously done tongue in cheek, but it does tell us something about education.

  1. The article is illustrated with pictures and diagrams.
  2. The article obviously took some time to write.
  3. As of this blog post it has been viewed by 23,205 people.

The most remarkable thing about this is the cost to distribute educational content these days is zero and the cost to make it is very nearly zero too. All it cost was time to make it. This thing is a joke and yet it has been seen by over 23,000 people!!

There are videos like this all over Youtube. Here’s one with the same theme. It even has titles and music!

These are spoof videos yes but my point is, if we have gotten to the point where learning can be a spoof, then truly educational content is everywhere and can be done by anyone. You shouldn’t have to pay $71,000 per year for it.

This is the nature of disruptive technology.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 8, 2015

An Amazing Video Of Video Game Graphics

When I look ahead at new ways to learn, I keep coming back to experiential learning. You can read about something as much as you want but nothing can replace actually doing it right? I therefore see two main avenues to do this in a learning setting. First is telepresence. This is using robotic systems like drones to experience something remotely. This technology is exploding right now as we have all seen. The other technology is virtual simulations. The government has been using simulations for decades but the tech is now cheap enough that we can all experience it in a video game. The next generation of video games are becoming very accurate so that means that learning simulations will be right behind them.

Here’s a video of an upcoming racing game called Project CARS, split screened with footage from the actual race car.

That is really amazing! Imagine then being able to work on the cars, design them and build them. What sorts of lessons about mechanical and electrical engineering would you learn?


Posted by: crudbasher | April 4, 2015

Great Article About Implications Of Self Driving Cars

I’ve been looking at self driving cars because it is I think a near term example of a massively disruptive innovation. Within a few decades I think our world will look very different with this one invention. Here’s a list of what I have written so far.

I came across this really good article from investigating the actual implications of self driving cars.


Today’s cars all look pretty similar: most have seating for four or five passengers, a trunk, an engine powerful enough for freeway driving, and a big enough fuel tank for hundreds of miles of driving. Yet for many people, the primary use of their car is for single-person commuting for no more than 10 or 20 miles.

Self-driving cars will allow greater specialization, and therefore greater efficiency. If you’re commuting by yourself, you might be able to hail a 1- or 2-seat vehicle that costs less and gets better mileage. If your trip doesn’t require freeway driving, you might get an super-efficient electric car that doesn’t go faster than 30 miles per hour. When you do need to transport more people or stuff, you’ll be able to get a gasoline-powered minivan or pickup truck at a higher price.

The biggest change, though, may be the rise of vehicles designed for zero people. For example, right now if you order a pizza, it’s usually delivered by a human driver in a full-sized car — that’s thousands of pounds of steel and glass to deliver a pizza that weighs a few pounds. But once you eliminate the need for a human driver, there’s no reason for delivery vehicles to be so big, heavy, and expensive.

That’s just a taste. It’s really good and worth a read. In order to see what is coming in this new century, it is important to understand that everything is up for grabs now. Articles like this can help train your brain to think outside the box.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 2, 2015

Virtually Explore An Asteroid

This is very very cool.

Nasa recently put a space probe into orbit around Vesta, an asteroid beyond Mars. They now have released a fantastic website and app which allows you to fly over the data collected, including images. In addition you can download height maps and if you have a 3d printer you can print out replicas of the terrain.

This is completely fantastic and is definitely something that school children should explore. Heck, I’m going to explore it too! :)

Simulation is going to be more and more relevant to education as we move further into the 21st century.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 1, 2015

Some Thoughts About Cheating At College

Consider this: H/T Mercurynews

[Stanford] University Provost John Etchemendy on Tuesday sent a letter to faculty and teaching staff that pointed to “an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” reported to the school’s Office of Community Standards at the end of the quarter.
Among “a smattering of concerns from a number of winter courses,” he said, one faculty member reported allegations that may involve as many as 20 percent of the students enrolled in one of Stanford’s large introductory courses.


“In violating academic integrity,” Etchemendy wrote, “they are cheating themselves of the very core of our mission — the process of learning and discovery — as well as risking severe consequences.”

Of course cheating in school isn’t new so is this news? I think it is for a few reasons. First, it appears to be widespread and second, it is much easier to do with technology. Most importantly though is why are students doing this?

  1. It’s easy. Students are used to sharing things with each other and technology make it easier than ever.
  2. We live in a society of abundance. Students are awash in information, most of it for free. They are used to looking up information when they don’t know it and then forgetting it as soon as they are done. School is different because we ask them to remember things.
  3. They realize that information has no implicit value if everyone has it.
  4. Many of them might be unprepared for the level of work required and in desperation take the easy way past. With the amount of money they have paid, failure is not an option.

All those contribute to cheating but the most important reason can be found in Mr. Etchemendy’s comment. “In violating academic integrity,” Etchemendy wrote, “they are cheating themselves of the very core of our mission — the process of learning and discovery

That is how Provosts talk eh? Well I have news for him, these students don’t think like that. They look at college as a means to an end at best, and an obstacle at worst. They have never been taught to appreciate knowledge for its own sake because it has never been sold that way. We try to cram all sorts of subjects into a student in K-12, the vast majority of which they have no interest in, nor desire to learn. They do it because they have to and only put in enough effort to pass the class. This kills the natural desire to learn and turns it into a chore. It is no surprise to me then that when students finally leave home and go to college, they just want to get past it so they can get a job. Oh sure, they enjoy the social parts of it I suppose but I don’t think they view education the same way as our esteemed Provost.

It is this disconnect coupled with ever increasing costs that are going to make more and more young people skip college and find their own learning. They key to connecting with students again is to teach them what they want to know, when they want to know it. And do it cheaply with very low risk.

Obviously one cannot generalize all students this way, I am speculating instead about the ones who cheat. Those seem to be growing in number so it’s something to be concerned about.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 30, 2015

Huggables: Another Step Towards Smart Toys

As a Father of a 2 year old boy I have been watching with great interest how he learns. While my wife and I have been trying to teach him as much as we can, I realize that most of what he learns he picks up himself. He has so much to learn so how could it be any other way? He really enjoys using smart phones and playing games. We limit that to just 20 min a day but I can see how much he likes doing it and he has taken to it very quickly.

Projecting into the future, I can see how this sort of technology will make its way into toys. We already have learning toys such as Leap Frog type toys but they are very single function devices. A smart phone is a multi purpose device which is getting more useful each year. If you couple smart phone technology with robotics you can come up with a smart toy which can always be with a child as a companion. This toy can also teach the child new things in an adaptable fashion.

Recently I wrote about a prototype smart toy on Kickstarter. I mentioned that I was expecting them to also be robotic. Well, that is becoming more realistic too.

Here’s a new prototype of a robotic bear for use in children’s hospitals. H/T Wired

Under a pilot study, happening at Boston Children’s Hospital, sick tykes interact with Huggable in their rooms. They shake his paw, tell him jokes (he claims to not know any), and play I Spy with him. Watching this video, you marvel not so much at the little guy’s movements, though they’re adorable, but at his smarts. He refers to others in the room by name, and makes clever guesses when Aurora, the patient, tells him she spies something blue (hint, it’s not him). Turns out, his behaviors and conversation are controlled by a so-called Wizard-of-Oz operator on a nearby laptop. You can read more about the study design here.

Now that is very cool. Notice though that it isn’t fully autonomous; it is still controlled by an operator. Now if we can just combine the Kickstarter smart toy with the Huggable body. :)

Here’s a video of it in action.

One of the arguments I always hear about when I speculate how teachers will be replaced by computers is that computers aren’t empathetic. That might be true but can it fake being empathetic? Maybe children won’t know the difference. We will see but I think this technology will be in homes within the next few years.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 25, 2015

A Higher Ed Look At Futurist Predictions

I am probably a sort of futurist in that I like to predict the future. Actually, most people are futurists. The difference is I tend to go a lot farther than most people in forecasting disruptive change. There are a lot of stories published every day so it can be hard to determine what to believe. I mean, if they are all true we should have teleporters and robots by now right? :)

So here is how to look at these stories.

Some stories are about some researchers looking for funding. They take a technology with potential and spin it into a story that will change the world. However, these sorts of things can take quite a while to be productive if the technology is even practical. They just want funding for their next round of research.

Next, you have new tech companies making new products. These have a more likely near term impact but I have noticed that it’s the companies you don’t hear about that change the world. For example, Twitter. Nobody expected Twitter to change the way we communicate like it has.

When you read a story, you have to look at it in a certain way. Here’s an example. H/T

Robots and computer programs could almost wipeout human workers in jobs from cooks to truck drivers, a visiting researcher has warned.

Driverless cars and even burger-flipping robots are among the technological advancements gunning for low-skilled jobs across dozens of industries.

University of Oxford Associate Professor in machine learning Michael Osborne has examined the characteristics of 702 occupations in the US, predicting 47 per cent will be overtaken by computers in the next decade or two.

I am very suspicious of studies. I think they can be manipulated to produce any sort of result the sponsor wants. Even so, let’s consider the idea being presented. Can robots replace humans in jobs? Well, automation and machines have done that for hundreds of years so yes it can happen. Why is this news? Well, the time frame and the scale of the change is what is new. Like so many technological advances, they are happening very quickly. In this case, the number of people displaced would be very significant and would happen faster than any time in history.

So there are 3 possibilities in any story like this.

1. It’s completely not going to happen. In this case that means that the progress of history will completely stop at this point of rapid technological evolution. That seems unlikely.

2. It will partially happen. Perhaps the change will be more gradual than we think and not as complete as the article suggests? Certainly governments will try to pass laws outlawing these technologies if it starts to hurt their voters right?

3. It will happen completely. Massive disruptive change just throws everything we know out the window. Millions of people will lose their jobs in a short period of time.

Finally then let’s look at how this will affect education. Case 1 won’t change anything. Life goes on as normal and people keep their jobs. Case 2 means a lot of people out of work in need of retraining. It is possible that will create a surge of people into the university system, which is not really capable of rapidly scaling up (buildings take time to build). This means that many of them will go online to get whatever kind of training they can get. This means many more online education players, which will drive the cost down.

Case 3 is the most scary. You have enormous swaths of the economy just blown away. Whole occupations just disappear. Governments can’t keep up with the changes happening. Some people will benefit tremendously but most won’t. The people out of work might just stay that way. After the crash of 2008, we have seen a decline of the labor force participation rate. This might continue. What you will have then is a need to retraining more people at once than at any time in history. Universities are not setup to do this so this would transform the system. As I have said many times, the school system we have is a reflection of the society it serves. At least it is a reflection of society in the early to mid 20th century. A massive disruption like we are speculating about will force it to adapt to the 21st century (or be replaced).

I go down this train of thought for every story I see. Not all of them are forecasting such radical changes of course, but some are. So here’s the punch line.

It is certain that not all these stories are true. But is it likely that none of them are? Therefore what percentage of this has to happen to transform society, and thus higher education?

This is the nature of the Stormfront of change that is coming.

Sleep well tonight. :)

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