Friday, November 14, 2003

Penn State Formerly Announces Music Subscription Service

em>I see Penn State has formally announced the music subscription service that President Spanier mentioned in his Educause panel discussion on peer-to-peer file sharing and antipiracy efforts.

"Pennsylvania State University has agreed to cover the cost of providing its students with a legal method to download music from a catalog of half a million songs, in a departure from punitive efforts to curtail music swapping on college campuses."

"The deal between Penn State and the newly revised Napster online service is expected to serve as a model for other universities. It comes as the music industry applies pressure on students and colleges in its antipiracy campaign."

"The service will allow students to listen to an unlimited number of songs as often as they want. They will be able to download the music to use on three personal computers as long as students are at Penn State. If they want to keep the songs permanently or burn them to a CD, though, they will have to pay 99 cents each."

"Dr. Spanier said the university will pay for the Napster service out of the $160 information technology fee students pay each year. The cost to the university is "substantially less" than the $9.95 fee that individual subscribers pay for the Napster service, he said, though he declined to disclose the precise terms."

Thursday, November 13, 2003

EyeToy Utilizes Playstation2 USB video capabilities

"RICHARD MARKS, a 34-year-old astronautical and aeronautical engineer, has been spending a lot of time lately pretending to be Harry Potter. His wand is made from parts of a hotel clothes hanger and has a brightly colored ball on one end. But when he waves it, Dr. Marks says, it begins to glow and emit a distinctive hum in a TV monitor across the room."

"By moving the wand in a circle, he can produce a trail that turns into a ring of fire on the screen. By flicking the wand toward the TV, he can make a fireball sizzle across the monitor. Other geometric shapes conjure tornadoes or make the player invisible. "I actually had my son draw up a list of spells he thought would be good," Dr. Marks said."

"Don't put in an emergency call to the Ministry of Magic just yet. Dr. Marks, a special-projects manager for research and development at Sony Computer Entertainment America, is only recounting his exploits with EyeToy, a miniature camera he invented that attaches to the PlayStation 2 and translates body movements into a video game."

I noticed ads for this little device in our local technology store newspaper inserts. Until I read this article, however, I couldn't quite understand all of its potential.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Disneyland lacks interactivity

Yesterday, I revisited Disneyland after 37 years. Not surprisingly, it seemed rather dated to me although the children under about 10 seemed to be enjoying themselves. I think the problem with many of the offerings that were not just outright motion rides that always appear to appeal to younger age groups, was that they are just too passive now that we are growing increasingly accustomed to an interactive environment. I was particularly disappointed in the "new" Indiana Jones ride. As you lurched along in a track-controlled vehicle, little scenes would appear along with way with an animatronic Indiana Jones warning you about your precarious position. I think a telling indicator about the lack of impact of the experience was the absence of anyone saying "let's do that again" as I walked through the exit tunnel.

Now, what I think would have been a superior experience would have been a walking/running journey in which each participant is given a bullwhip, a sack of sand, and a fedora and you are told you have ten minutes to complete your mission. As you proceed cautiously through the cave, creatures, activated by a disturbed laser beam, scurry across in front of you and Disney would use the same air puff technololgy as they use in "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" to make it feel like they are scurring across your feet and ankles, You are confronted by what appears to be a bottomless pit with a vine hanging over it that you must grasp and swing across, As you round a corner and see a fork in the trail, a laser beam activated rack with a simulated body pierced by stakes swings down in front of you blocking your path down one fork of the trail. You enter a chamber where snakes appear to block your path. You must snap them with the bullwhip to get them out of your way. You make it to the map room where you must pick up the crystal-embedded staff and try to position it into the map so a beam of light will activate to provide a clue to a successful mission. You finally arrive in the cave with the golden statue on the weight-sensitive altar and you must try to judge how much sand to leave in the pouch and carefully remove the statue and replace it simulataneously with the sand pouch. Temple walls appear to start to fall and you turn and run for the exit. Laser activated darts fly across in front of you as you dash down the corridor which has been reconfigured with a movable partition to shunt you off into a different tunnel. As you run you see a big boulder rolling towards you and you look desperately for the simulated cobweb-occluded escape slide that deposits you amid tropical plants and native warriors pointing a spear at you. The warriors separate and the Last Templar steps forward offering you a selection of cups on a tray in exchange for the statue (if you still have it). He tells you to "Choose but choose wisely". At the bottom of one of the cups is the offer of a free copy of a picture of you somewhere during your experience. Movable partitions could be used to create a variety of pathways to increase the replayability of the attraction.

I revisited Pirates of the Carribean and the Jungle Cruise. I've done "Star Tours" in Orlando so I didn't bother to take the opportunity to hurt my back any more than it already is. I think of the "ride" experiences, I enjoyed the Davy Crockett canoes the best. It was a beautiful day and it was relaxing just to paddle around the waterway. I smiled to myself as I watched a little boy of about three (the same age as one of my grandsons) swish his paddle through the water with such a serious face. I'm sure he was convinced he was doing his part as a real frontiersman.

I also particularly enjoyed the Abe Lincoln presentation. The dimensional sound experience was nicely done and I thought it was interesting to hear the sounds of the Civil War and its participants from the viewpoint of a soldier.

One of the most disappointing "reunions" was my tour through the Haunted Mansion. It had been redecorated with cartoon images from Tim Burrton's "A Nightmare Before Christmas". I didn't think the film was worth seeing when it was released and it definitely detracted from the Haunted Mansion experience.

The Parade of Stars at the end of the day was enjoyable. I got quite a kick out of some of the park guests who had been commandeered to participate in the parade. There were big husky guys dressed in tootoos trying their best to piroette when instructed to do so by the Disney "choreographer". Of course the Disney heroines were beautiful (Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, etc.) and Tarzan was quite a hunk! Later I saw a little girl whose parents had bought her what I thought was a Cinderella costume (actually it was an Ariel costume I learned later) and she was just walking along waving gracefully to the other visitors that passed by as if she was Cinderella herself.

Thursday night, Educause sponsors treated everyone to a Party In The Park over at Disney's California Great Adventure park. Although I enjoyed the "Soaring Over California" Omnimax-type experience, the rest of the park was little more than a 50s-type carnival with the old manual games of throwing balls and typical rollercoaster, Octopus, and ferris wheel-type rides. I'm glad it was provided at no charge because I definitely would not have paid $47 to spend the day there. In fact, the few hours we were there was more than ample for me.

Interactive Powerpoint the basis for new classroom interactivity

Interactive response tools appear to be coming on strong. I saw two products designed around Interactive Powerpoint. Although both offered keypad devices, they also had virtual keypad clients for handheld devices. They had similar functionality but one stored response data in Excel while the other used an SQL database for a foundation. Also, the Excel-based model used a device client while the SQL product was browser-based. My primary concern with both products was the residence of the resulting data on the instructor laptop. I would have much preferred a client/server environment for the instructor as laptop loaners are particularly vulnerable to damage and theft.

Both products were in the $5,000 per instructor workstation with 50 student clients price range. Since Silicon Chalk offered response tracking as part of an integrated environment with a host of other features for only a $3 - $8 per seat price, I think I would prefer to explore it in preference to these products although I received a working demo of the Excel product that I can evaluate more fully.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Silicon Chalk Provides Powerful Feature Set with a Great Price

Another powerful tool with a lot of potential that I encountered is a new product from the original founder of WebCT called Silicon Chalk. ( Silicon Chalk uses IP broadcast within a subnet (or multicast across subnets) to record and broadcast a class presentation between computers equipped with the Silicon Chalk Client. For example, an instructor presenting with Powerpoint and a microphone would have his/her screen presentation automatically recorded with voice over, timecoded and distributed to the workstations of each student. As the students listen to the lecture, they can type notes, send instant messages, and browse referenced websites. These activities of the student are also recorded and timecoded in synch with the instructor broadcast. The student's lecture file can then be used for review and even later notes can be added to particular portions of the lecture. This feature is especially important for students who missed the lecture.

The product can search sections of the presentation by text strings either within the instructor's powerpoint presentation or the students notes. The vendor explained that if, every time the instructor said something like "Now this is important. It will be included on the midterm", the student typed "midterm" in their note section. They could then easily retrieve any portion of the lecture in which "midterm" was mentioned. The product also includes a student polling function with the instructor having the control of display of the results. Best of all, this powerful product is very inexpensive. A pilot client is only $3 and even after the pilot period, the clients would cost in the neighborhood of only $8 based on the number of clients requested.

Electronic Curriculum Vitae Product Promising

In the exhibit hall, I have discovered several products with the potential to address some of the problems we have experienced in the college. I reviewed an electronic curriculum vitae product developed by Academic Management Systems ( that had some nice features. It was similar in design to the online vitae program I initiated several years ago but they had taken the product several steps beyond capturing and categorizing vitae components. The product enabled faculty members to set up customized CV "views" to be used for different purposes and check or uncheck individual items so they could be excluded from a particular view if desired. It also used a date-based criterion so items could be included based on a particular time frame and had summary reporting capability displaying a breakdown of how much faculty effort was being expended in activity categories like instruction, research, outreach, etc. - extremely helpful for preparing such reports as the NCATE survey each year. It had a tiered access and security system based on organizational levels such as administration, department, user, and delegates.

They also had a product for online course assessment. I've been out of that loop for a while but I think CRIs are still being done with the old bubble sheets. It is essentially an online survey tool with a robust analysis and reporting module supported by a security system to filter views based on user status (student, instructor, administrator, etc.) I pointed out to the developer that the biggest challenge with online surveys is integrating the system with some student activity to ensure completion. I suggested to him that if the survey were treated like a final course assignment, completion of it could be managed by Blackboard if the product could send a completion confirmation to Blackboard. He said he was meeting with the Blackboard folks later in the day and would discuss my suggestion with them.

Smart Music Interesting Product

I also attended a session on Ubiquitous Mobile Computing. I expected this presentation to be focussed on the new Wireless opportunities but instead it was a case study of a college that had installed a robust network then purchased laptop loaners for everyone on the campus including their students with the expectation that technology would be incorporated into every aspect of their educational experiences. They then presented examples of technology integration into a variety of disciplines. One of their students demonstrated a product called Smart Music that is used to provide accompaniment to vocal music students practicing for performance. When she first described the product, I thought to myself "What's the big deal - it's just karioke." But she explained how the product can be set to follow the singer instead of vice versa. She demonstrated this feature by singing a passage from the opera "Carmen". She sang several lines then paused in mid-stanza and the computer stopped at the same time. Then the computer displayed a "D" to let her know the next note. She sang several other notes but the music did not resume until she hit a properly pitched "D". Very impressive! I also appreciated her obvious enthusiasm for her learning experiences.

Educause's Virtual Communities of Practice

I attended a session on Virtual Communities of Practice but was a bit disappointed that the presenters appeared have little experience in actually maintaining a thriving online community. They mentioned a number of problems about the effort of facilitation and distribution of information that I think could be handled by a web log and RSS and even mentioned they were aware of blogs and RSS but when I questioned them further, they apparently had not even attempted to set up a group blog or encourage their members to blog about their professional experiences.

I suggested to them that they study the aspects of successful Yahoo groups but I could tell by their reaction that they considered that environment hardly worthy of academic consideration. Too bad. Our Imperial Rome discussion group has flourished, beginning with only a dozen members. It now has over 500 members and lively daily discussions that focus on topics quite in depth. I pointed out to the presenters that they need to try to leverage the gifts of their members. On our Imperial Rome discussion group, members that travel to historical sites upload their images, other members record their favorite ancient recipes, we have databases of Roman biographies, battles, and films, and I maintain an RSS-fed online news magazine about Roman archaeology, Academic presentations on the Roman Empire, and books, games, and multimedia with ancient themes. I also maintain a searchable database of images of the ancient world to be used for educational presentations.

Peer-to-Peer discussion with Entertainment Execs Interesting

Yesterday's general session on the problem of peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted materials was quite interesting. I especially enjoyed the "showmanship" of Jack Valenti. Even the attorney from the RIAA was articulate and came across as not at all threatening. I also found the president of Penn State quite intriguing.

Penn State is launching a project whereby the university has entered a partnership with RIAA to subscribe to an extensive database of music tracks to provide quality "legal" online music to their students as part of their university experience. Their motivation for this has apparently been threats from Congress under pressure from the powerful entertainment industry to pass legislation that would make the defacto ISP legally liable for the copyright violations of their constituent base. I thought it would only be a matter of time before this type of rumbling would surface because traditionally, claimants in court go after the target with the deepest pockets and a university would obviously have more financial base than the typical college student.

RIAA has apparently been pleased by the success of Apple's I-music initiative and applauds this effort as a viable business model that could be emulated by others. RIAA also appears to be taking a cue from the MPAA and is considering offering content-rich CDs or DVDs that would include value-added features like artist bios, music videos, etc. that would not typically be available from a pirate download site.

In presubmitted questions from the audience the issue was raised repeatedly of outdated business models and the industry being willing to eliminate middle men in their business that are essentially "dinosaurs" in the new online environment and reexamine pricing to be more reflective of the lower costs of this delivery mode. It reminds me a lot of the ebook market. Many publishers have been willing to jump on the ebook bandwagon but tried to price ebooks as high as a regular hardbound book even though the printing, inventory, and warehousing expenses had all been eliminated. That ridiculous pricing strategy coupled with a lack of a quality device to simulate the reading experience of a book with the features of digital manipulation has stifled the market thus far.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

MIT Open Courseware, Copyright, Assessment topics discussed

The presentations are a little light duty on the technology side but I manage to pick up tidbits here and there. Yesterday I went to a session on MIT's open courseware initiative that was very interesting. I was particularly pleased to note that the MIT faculty were actually very supportive. They said they have received more attention for their work and their research from not only other universities around the world but even from their own colleagues in other disciplines. MIT arranges a license with the faculty members so they actually retain all copyrights with permission for MIT to provide the materials on the OCW site. The website clearly states the licensing provisions which prohibits the use of the materials for commercial purposes. Someone asked if MIT thought providing these materials would adversely impact enrollment but MIT's director said they don't think so but they are keeping an eye on it. I think it would boost their enrollment. Webstats on the OCW site shows that the site is generating over 9 million pageviews a month. That's nothing to sneeze at!

I went to a copyright session but the actual legalities were not explored in depth. I was surprised to learn that there are lawsuits in the courts that are trying to stop anti-spam and pop-up blocking products because they interfere with the content delivery intended by the content provider. (I hope the courts don't fall for that one)I guess there is also a lawsuit trying to gain a ruling on "deep linking" - linking directly to information on a website without forcing the viewer to navigate the site as intended by the conent provider. (that's another bummer) Apparently the internet's version of telemarketers are as persistent as those in the direct mail industry!

I attended a session on assessment strategies for online courses. The presenters definition of assessment was strategies to gain insight into the learning levels of the students. I think many of the attendees were expecting something else but I found the presenters rubric of dividing students into various levels of content and technology skill levels with the strategies to deal with each group interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Integrated cell phones to dominate the handheld future?

Yesterday I attended the preconference seminar "Catch the Handheld Wave". The presenter focussed on introducing a typical handheld (Palm in her case) to education faculty as a first step in promoting the use of handhelds into the classroom. The College of Education at the University of Central Oklahoma obtained a grant from Palm and have developed a well accepted and well supported program for faculty using handheld devices. The integration program included formal training for both users and support personnel, an equipment loan program with accessories including camera, GPS, and scientific probes, and a stipend program to compensate faculty for producing learning modules for the devices. U of Central OK also requires teacher candidates to become proficient in the use of handheld devices and requires a handheld component in their graduation portfolio.

Classroom projects that have been the most successful included using handhelds for graphic calculators in science and math curriculums, using handhelds as portable databases to aid school administrators in monitoring student behavior, and collecting information from student users to facilitate classroom management. The presenter's environment is limited since it is not yet wireless so infrared is used for data transfer between devices. However, the uses her faculty and students make of handhelds would be even more viable in a wireless environment.

The presenter provided us with a wealth of resources for obtaining software and developed learning modules for handheld devices that I plan to explore more fully when I return.

Several international attendees pointed out that the really ubiquitous handheld technology out there are cell phones. They wished to explore information delivery to internet-integrated cell phones. I pointed out that format independent delivery mediums like RSS could be used with the smaller cell displays but I don't have a device to test my suggestion.

Methusaleh Mouse Prize established to stimulate immortality research

I found this article particularly interesting although I must admit to being a skeptic. At the recent Pop!Tech conference in Portland, Aubrey de Grey expressed his conviction that the 4,000- or 5,000-year life is right around the corner. Mr. de Grey was not selling an afterlife or a metaphor. He is a geneticist at the University of Cambridge, in England, and his prophecy was straightforward if hard to believe: Getting old and dying are engineering problems. Aging can be reversed and death defeated. People already alive will live a thousand years or longer.

He was at pains to argue that what he calls "negligible senescence," and what the average person would call living forever, is inevitable. His proposed war on aging, he said, is intended to make it happen sooner and make it happen right. He subscribes, it seems, to the philosophy articulated by Woody Allen: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Educause 2003: A bit of a rocky start

The trip down to Anaheim for the Educause conference went reasonably well but when I arrived I discovered the Hyatt had "exaggerated" about in-room internet connections. All they have in the rooms is a phone line! :-( However, this morning at breakfast I learned from some other guests that there are high speed jacks available in the lounge for $9.95 a day. There is also Wifi but everyone attempting to use it said it was very flaky so I opted for a sure thing!

I thought I was going to have to find another hotel if I could since I didn't want to be out of communication for a week.

Today I have a meeting with Dell and Tipping Point Security Systems at 11 a.m. and then this afternoon I am attending a preconference seminar "Catching the Handheld Wave". I sent the presenter a batch of questions about using handhelds in interactive lecture formats so we'll see if they have any new ideas about that.