Friday, January 27, 2006

Will Smartboards Live Up To Their Full Potential

Here at the University, we belong to a technology buying consortium to enable us to purchase products based on an overall economy of scale. In the consortium's newsletter this month was an article about the integration of Smartboards in various educational settings. I was surprised to read that the devices are so popular in the Overland Park, Kansas school district that Bob Moore, executive director of IT for the district says they are adopting a policy of installing nothing but Smartboards, like those produced by Smart Technologies, in any new schools slated for construction.

Five years ago when I attended one of the last Comdexes I evaluated and was impressed by a Smartboard adapter device called Mimio. It had the capability to convert any exisiting Whiteboard into a Smartboard for around $500. I thought it would be a good addition to the Dean's conference room equipment since the dean was always scribbling on large paper pads then tearing them off, folding them up, then stashing them in various corners of his office. With the Mimio device, he could use the special pens to write on one of our existing whiteboards then capture his notes to a file on the connected laptop computer. The file could then be retrieved for future viewing, sent by e-mail to interested people, or included in other presentations at a later date. I excitedly brought one back to the office. I found the setup to be relatively easy and the product performed as promised. However, because the product required connection each time it was used (a relatively easy task as well), I found that, despite my efforts at familiarizing the dean's executive staff with the device and configuring the presentation laptop with the drivers so it would be automatically detected when it was connected, no one seemed to remember to (or to want to) check out the equipment and connect it if no technology assistant was available. So, a powerful piece of equipment has sat virtually unused for the last five years.

A few months ago, one of our professors with grant money decided to purchase a regular portable Smartboard to provide it to faculty wanting to integrate technology into their classes. I commented at the time that I hoped he was planning some type of introductory training for faculty wishing to use the device since I had my doubts of their willingness to use it after my experience. Unfortunately, it appears that it, too, is collecting dust. Yesterday, I spoke with the director of the Center for Educational Technology for the university and asked if he had any inquiries about Smartboard use. He said he didn't but didn't know we had one available for demo purposes either. He said he would like to demonstrate the product at a Teaching Effectiveness program later this year. I told him I was sure it would be okay to borrow ours since it wasn't getting much (and when I checked the reservation log - any) use.

It really is an excellent technology but I'm afraid it will take replacement of the blackboards before the faculty will invest their time in learning to use the new device.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Missed It in the Theater Today? See It on DVD Tonight

I see the independent film channel is leading the charge for offering films on demand the same day they are released in theaters. It makes perfect sense with art films and foreign films since they are screened in so few theaters anyway. The simultaneous release should boost early revenues and provide a stronger funding stream for new works in production.

I was particularly excited to note the mention of foreign films. The US does not have a monopoly on cinematic creativity and its time the large mainstream US market had access to the works of non-US filmmakers. I know I have totally enjoyed such works as "Hero" - a visual feast as well as riveting drama. I think Hollywood totally underestimates the willingness of US audiences to accept subtitles if the drama is engrossing.

"Hollywood will inch further toward making movies simultaneously available in theaters, on DVD and on home television screens at the Sundance Film Festival this week, as IFC Entertainment unveils a plan to release 24 films in theaters and on cable at the same time this year.

Beginning in March, the initiative, which the company is calling First Take, will place films in independent theaters while also making them available over a new video-on-demand service that will be carried by all the major cable companies, said Jonathan Sehring, IFC Entertainment's president. The company, which includes a film production and distribution arm, is expected to make the announcement at a news conference on Monday.

"So much great film has fallen by the wayside," Mr. Sehring said. "The studios are collapsing the window between the theatrical release and the DVD. We're taking that one step further."

The company named six films it had scheduled for simultaneous release, including "CSA: The Confederate States of America," a dark, faux documentary that envisions the United States if the South had won the Civil War; "I Am a Sex Addict," a semiautobiographical comedy about a young man who becomes addicted to prostitutes; and "American Gun," a series of stories about the proliferation of weapons across the country, starring Donald Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.

The main idea, Mr. Sehring said, was to respond to the pent-up demand for art house-style films that are usually shown only in a few theaters in major cities, and even then only for a week or two.

"Foreign films are not being released," he said, "aside from Sony Classics. And low-budget American films - they're nonexistent. It's left to the really small companies, and they can't afford to take on a lot of films and get them played outside of New York and L.A."

The rise of specialty divisions at major studios like Fox Searchlight and Focus Features has reduced the opportunities for art-house films, he said, because they now specialize in medium-budget, serious films for adults, once the purview of their parent studios.

The IFC service will ramp up to making 10 to 15 films available a month, including some from other distributors, at a cost of $6.95 a month for subscribers or $5.95 per film."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Serious Games

Serious Games: Yesterday, I attended a meeting of our Faculty Instructional Technology Training committee and in the course of our discussion about potential in-class laptop activities, we began discussion the potential for games to provide a dynamic learning environment. One of my fellow committee members mentioned the Serious Games Initiative.

I have been a proponent of the use of games and simulations for learning envirnoments for a number of years but somehow missed any references to this new special interest group. So I looked them up on the web after I returned to my office and was quite pleased to review a list of their showcase projects. Under their link labeled Games for Change, I found The United Nations World Food Program’s (WFP) FoodForce Game.

I also read the absolutely inspiring keynote address delivered by Adam Singer, Group Chief Executive, The MCPS-PRS Alliance at the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival in August 2005. Some particularly striking points:

"The games industry is facing an opportunity to be more than entertainment, and more than education. It has the opportunity to be a medium.

Games are currently not a medium.

A medium makes you laugh, cry, aroused, gives knowledge, induces epiphany, and creates excitement. When you can do all of these you are a medium.

Film can do this, television can do this, radio can do this, print can do this, and even comics, graphic novels and Manga can do this, but can games?

I see no reason why games shouldn’t be a major medium: that can convey all moods and emotions, and why games should not be the equal of movies, not just in terms of image quality, or box office takings but in terms of art and emotional catharsis...

Education has traditionally been about preparing you to win at the game Who Wants To Be A Millionaire by stuffing your head with just-in-case-you-need-it knowledge, for that left of field question: In 2015 would Chris Tarrant get any viewers if every contestant had access to Google and the net?

In a network world the traditional education of just-in-case-you-need-it knowledge, combined with the necessary tribal information (i.e. knowing the date of the Battle of Hastings) no longer makes sense.

All video games teach, as a metaphorical and collateral act, how to gain knowledge in an electronic world.

This is why Educational games are gaining momentum. can be the equivalent of Documentaries on television. You can have games doing current affairs, you can have a game showing what it is like to be an oppressed minority, or how Enron-like corporations can stray into corruption, you can have games that deal with difficult issues like AIDs, or where you learn compassion by suffering loss.

There is no subject a book cannot tackle, and all novels are simulations and, likewise, there is no subject too big for games, there are only gamers not big enough for the subject.

There is no reason why we cannot have the equivalent of public service gaming. As the gaming generation goes forward does the license fee just fund TV programmes or does it fund interactive information?

Ofcom is talking about a new service, the Public Service Publisher, and if it gets through Government, it has a faint chance of being in action by 2010. Surely by then we don’t need more TV programmes, we will need pubic service games."

"The Serious Games Initiative is focused on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of its overall charter is to help forge productive links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Fiddling with Tiddly Wikis

While reading my Hot Potatoes interactive online development discussion group today, I noticed a reference to a new blog technology called a Tiddly Wiki.
"A TiddlyWiki is like a blog because it's divided up into neat little chunks, but it encourages you to read it by hyperlinking rather than sequentially: if you like, a non-linear blog analogue that binds the individual microcontent items into a cohesive whole." - Jeremy Ruston

That's the developer's official line! Jeremy points out that it is easier for people to remember things better if the information is presented in little bites. That is why advertisers use sound "bites" instead of a long narrative when they want you to remember their products.

I think the TiddlyWiki concept would be even more valuable if it is used by educators to create adaptive learning materials for classes composed of students with a broad range of learning experiences. With its internal hyperlinks, a Tiddly Wiki provides an environment that allows knowledgable students to forge ahead while allowing students who require more background material to drill down to obtain a comprehensive overview of key concepts.

The "tiddler", as the microcontent object is called, could be as simple as a word definition or as complex as a multilayered secondary article complete with inline images and animation.
Another unique aspect to a Tiddly Wiki is that it is a simple javascript-enhanced HTML file that provides the entire functionality for creation, dating, tagging, threading, and customizing the journal. It does not require a separate blog application server or central administration to function. You simply go to the main Tiddly Wiki site and click on the download link and select Save Target As and point to your hardrive folder and give it a name. Then, you can open your local file, click on the options link and enter your preferred posting name and you are ready to create your first tiddler.
An internally-linked "tiddler" is created by using the WikiWord format of two words run together with the first letters of each word capitalized or by enclosing a word you wish to link with two square brackets [[link this]]. When you save your first post you can then click on the link and you will be presented with an entry that says the linked tiddler does not exist and give you a chance to edit it to add the related content.
If you wish to embed HTML within a tiddler you enclose the HTML code with the tags [html] [/html].
If you wish to embed a linked URL you enclose the URL with double brackets and precede the URL with the word you wish to use for the link separated from the URL with a pipe. Example: [[Technology Times and Trials|]]
If you wish to embed an image you can use the syntax [img[title|ImageURL.jpg]]
Example: [img[Mary|]]
The new features also list the ability to embed Outlook or Gmail items but I haven't tried to do that yet. Tiddly Wiki is designed to accept plugins so there appears to be a wealth of other features you can add as well.
The Main Tiddly Wikis site:
My first Tiddly Wiki: