My take on “IBM and Desire2Learn Take On Education Data Challenge”

It’s all over Twitter today:

This is an interesting step in data management and analysis and predictive analytics in education. I think what this brings to the front is that analytics is very much a business application, and that applying it to learning changes the education game, considerably. I’m not saying that it’s all bad. In fact, I think there can be a lot of good in it. With any discourse around this, I feel compelled to throw in a couple “let’s be cautious” and “consider the implications” type comments. I’m excited by predictive analytics. They’re neat, and I love all the pretty graphs. Should IBM and D2L be making conclusions and interventions based on the mass of data available? What are the implications and potential pitfalls of having edu-business-borgs making conclusions and giving advice? Consider what can’t and shouldn’t be counted. Let’s be sure to question the robots when they make decisions based on logic like this:

Gladys, Take a memo, and please clean up my dirty mouth

shorthand class


“Writing obscures language; it is not a guise for language but a disguise.”
– (Saussure, Course in General Linguistics)

In September, I started to experiment with voice recognition software. The results were interesting, humourous, and inaccurate. I wrote a post about it on the blog I set up for my graduate research. At the time, I was experimenting to see what it means to capture the analytics of performance (or here, speech) to be replicated later. This experiment resonated with some of the work I’ve done in the past couple years with accessibility, speech recognition and voice commands.

Then this happened:
apple dictation

Apple’s new iPad (generation 3), has a Dictation option. The features page, suggests that:

Write an email. Send a text. Search the web. Or create a note. And do it all with only your voice. Instead of typing, tap the microphone icon on the keyboard. Then say what you want to say while your iPad listens. When you’re done, tap anywhere on the screen and, just like that, your spoken words become written words. Dictation also works with third-party apps, so you can do things like update your Facebook status or share a thought on your Twitter feed.

Interesting stuff. Now, before you jump on board, read this post and consider what information you might be sending and storing on Apple’s servers.

I’ve been experimenting with this dictation feature for the past couple weeks. On Monday, I lost a fight with the dandelions in my backyard. As a result, I’ve thrown my back out and I have difficulty sitting for an extended period of time. So, I’ve been using the dictation feature to answer emails, send out tweets, and I’m using it right now to compose this post. It seems to work pretty well.

I was showing it off to my kids this morning as replying to an email from a friend of mine. I asked my five years old son if he wanted to try it out. So, I suggested he say, “Looking forward to seeing you.” Somehow things got a bit garbled…and the result?

“Fucking sea plank.”

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it resulted in me having to change my shirt when coffee came out my nose.

4squarEd: Foursquare for Teaching and Learning?

I was interested to see that foursquare was has partnered with 20 US Universities to launch Foursquare For Universities. From Foursquare’s site:

Foursquare for universities helps students, alumni, and staff connect with each other, find new and interesting things to do, and earn rewards for exploring their campus and nearby areas. We combine a communication platform and a campus guidebook to create a fun experience for our users; students earn points, win ‘Mayorships’ and unlock badges for checking in to places and trying out new activities on campus.

Some big names in higher-ed have already climbed on board (Harvard, Stanford, Syracuse…). Others are sure to follow. This partnership makes good sense. An institution can create a page on the service, broadcast information, make recommendations, etc. Students can share tips on campus services and events. On-campus hospitality and entertainment venues can promote themselves.

But, what I’m interested in here goes beyond the gimmicky location-aware check-in and broadcasting what a user is eating for lunch. Higher-ed institutions need to think about how they can build upon the social-grid that service like foursquare are helping to foster to build a learning-grid where students and instructors can share in an easy, social, “knowledge-aware” way. It should be fun too.

Here’s my pitch: “Foursquare for Teaching and Learning” (or maybe you prefer “Foursquare for Education”) YES! 4squarEd. Here’s the script to the not-yet-created-and-maybe-never-will-be promo video:

Wish you were more aware of all the incredible learning experiences around you? With 4squarEd, you can unlock your learning and find happiness. You will need 4squarEd, a mobile device, and a passion for education.

Step 1: Download the 4squarEd application to your mobile device, and instantly connect with your library account, your institutional LMS, your ePortfolio, your social networks, registrarial services and more! Connect with your classmates and other learners within and outside of your institution to see what they’re learning. Build your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Step 2: Tell your friends what you’re studying, what you’re learning and what you want to learn by checking in to one of the learning activities you’re institution’s 4squarEd lists, based on your current courses. Leave tips and resources for other learners. If the learning activity isn’t listed, you can add it to 4squarEd.

Step 3: Check out tips from your friends in your PLN and others outside it. Find recommendations for resources and suggestions for other activities.

Step 4: The more you use 4squarEd the more you’ll get out of it. Capture your activities, unlock learning objectives and earn points towards competencies based on what you’re learning. Check out stats at 4squarEd!

Step 5: Check-in frequently to become a mentor for a learning activity or competency.

Step 6: Use 4squarEd wherever you go: in museums, on your co-op placement, with your extra-curricular club or while you’re volunteering. You never know when you’ll come upon a little piece of learning!

What do you think?

Malcolm, I think we need to start seeing other people


I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. True to form for my relationship with Gladwell’s books, the first 40 pages draw me in, but by the time I hit page 70 or so, my interest wanes. As my former classmate, Arthur Loik says,

I think his problem is he builds and tells every story the same way, so even while each individual chapter deals with different people and different circumstances, it still sounds like he’s repeating himself. He’s a master at arguing something into the ground and still sounding unconvincing (or unimpressive, perhaps).

Malcolm, I’ve tried. I’ve read the first pages of The Tipping Point, Blink, and now Outliers. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we need to move on. I do remember this time we spent together fondly:

It was short and sweet fling, to the point. Thanks for that. Bye for now.

So now, folks, I need a new book to dig my self into. One of my resolutions for 2010 is to “read more books”. Maybe you can help me out with your suggestions. Here’s what I’ve read and enjoyed lately:

The Medici Effect (Frans Johanssen)
Small is the New Big (Seth Godin)
The Ingenuity Gap (Thomas Homer-Dixon)
Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky)

…non-fiction…environmental focus…education…technology…that type of thing.

So, what do you think I should read next?

Software that knows you & the future of ePortfolio tools

Trudging up the hill this morning, with Spark 98 in my ears, listening to Nora interview Yorick Wilks about the Companions Project (Yorick, by the way, has one of the best names I’ve heard lately).

COMPANIONS aims to change the way we think about the relationships of people to computers and the Internet by developing a virtual conversational ‘Companion’.

This will be an agent or ‘presence’ that stays with the user for long periods of time, developing a relationship and ‘knowing’ its owners preferences and wishes. It will communicate with the user primarily by using and understanding speech.

We’ve seen the kernels of these connections in tools like Apple’s iPhoto faces and Google’s Similar Images. There are similar tools, but these jump to mind.

This got me to thinking about the future of ePortfolios, and other tools built on the foundation of collecting student work that to exhibit learning and achievement over time. I think some of the ideas behind the Companions Project could effectively be built into eP tools. Here’s the kind of thing I’m envisioning:

The learner is presented with a simple question: What are you learning?. The learner responds with a topic of research, theoretical examination, fact-based inquiry, or whatever’s relevant to their current situation. The student-to-“eP agent” conversation continues:

agent: What resources have you been looking at?
learner: Book X, public lecture Y,
agent: Tell me more about, what did you take away from it?

agent: I see in your repository that 20 months ago, you uploaded a file called “ABC*5555_Final”. We’ve scanned that article, and notice that “Author B” is included in your bibliography. “Author B” is one of the contributors to How has your thinking changed from when you uploaded this article? Would you like to read more about Author B’s work?

agent: We’ve scanned your digital images (with your permission, of course), and noticed some potentially relevant pictures of your trip to “Mount Wonderful”. Would you like to look at those now, talk about them on them, and include these images and reflections in your ePortfolio?

The learner could grant permissions to the eP companion to scan their emails, documents, web history, and data related to their academic activity (transcripts, past grades, library record, etc). The engine behind it would make inferences and connections between these digital artifacts, and then prompt then be prompted to comment and reflect on them. The natural extension from this would be for the companion to branch out to other learners’ eP repositories and make connections and suggestions between them.

Eventually, the eP agent could ask, “Would you like me to create a draft presentation based on your collected artifacts and reflections on this topic?” or “You’ve clearly demonstrated activity and growth in the subject area of Woodland Ecology, and I notice you’re in your fourth year of studies. Would you like me to assemble a presentation for future employers?”

Sign me up for the beta.

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Making Conferences Suck Less

As commented to Spark: Aspirational technology, the future of search, and dinner with a stranger.

I go to a fair number of educational/technology conferences, including an upcoming one where you’re the keynote. I do presentations, and occasionally sit on planning committees.

I recently did an ignite-style presentation at Educause09 in Denver, CO. titled “Making Conferences Suck Less”.


Conference feedback and comments seem to have similar themes: “There were too many sessions to choose from”, “The description was misleading”, “I knew more than the presenter did”… I think that social/recommendation search can play a role here. I’m imagining that when someone registers for a conference, they start to build a profile using web-based tools to capture what they do, where they work, the tools they use, challenges they have and things they’d like to share with others. It’s a living, breathing profile that is added to before and during the conference. Maybe it can harvest information from other digital profiles (linkedin, facebook, slideshare, twitter…)

The profiles created are all thrown together into a database where connections are made and groups start to be formed. Participants with similar interests are grouped together, people with things to share are linked up with people who want to learn from them. What results is a highly customized schedule for the conference, where the participants have the chance to share and to learn, make connections, and walk away fulfilled. Think “people who selected this break-out session also selected x” or “we see from your linkedin profile that you’re interested in accessibility standards, meet with this group for lunchtime conversation” or “based on your evaluation of this morning’s keynote, we suggest you attend this panel discussion”.

The schedule is made by the interests of the people attending & instead of you selecting the sessions, the sessions select you!

If done correctly, the conference becomes part of the conversation, and if the “profile” piece can be maintained, then the opportunities for networking beyond the conference event are potentially awesome. I imagine alerts saying “Hello @kylemackie, we see that you’re attending in May 2010, and that you’re interested in social networking, educational technology, and other things geeky, would you like to import a feed from your calendar to arrange for a time to meet with @somebody from someplace who is doing something similar?”

“Yes, wonderful social search engine, I would”

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What? No recommendations? Now what?!

I just posted a comment to the Spark blog on a recent interview with Caterina Fake on Hunchand theFuture of Search.

Here’s what I said:

One of my fears of recommendation engines is the end of finding search gems I wasn’t looking for. These engines are typically built on the idea of that people who did X, bought Y and therefore “think like you”, so you might be interested in what they are interested in. This is effective in building community and connections with like-minded people, however, some of our true discoveries and learning come from being connected to people with different views and different interests. I’m not sure how/if these connections can be made by recommendation engines. I’ll throw this out to developers to consider.