Monthly Archives: March 2007

Ubiquitous Computing Revisited, Part II


Here is another recent, and interesting article about revisiting Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing,

Rogers, Y. (2006). Moving on from weiser’s vision of calm computing: Engaging ubicomp experiences. In P. Dourish & A. Friday (Eds.), Ubicomp, LNCS 4206 (pp. 404–421). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Rogers describes Weiser’s vision as one focused on “calm computing”, aimed at making our lives more “convenient, comfortable, and informed“, and most ubicomp research being based on this vision. She continues by describing how this vision has led to stagnation in the field of ubicomp research:

But, as advanced and impressive as these endeavors have been they still do not match up to anything like a world of calm computing. There is an enormous gap between the dream of comfortable, informed and effortless living and the accomplishments of UbiComp research. As pointed out by Greenfield [20] “we simply don’t do ‘smart’ very well yet” because it involves solving very hard artificial intelligence problems that in many ways are more challenging than creating an artificial human [26]. A fundamental stumbling block has been harnessing the huge variability in what people do, their motives for doing it, when they do it and how they do it.

The very idea of calm computing has also raised a number of ethical and social concerns. Even if it was possible for Weiser’s dream to be fulfilled would we want to live in such a world? In particular, is it desirable to depend on computers to take on our day-to-day decision-making and planning activities? Will our abilities to learn, remember and think for ourselves suffer if we begin to rely increasingly on the environment to do them for us? Furthermore, how do designers decide which activities should be left for humans to control and which are acceptable and valuable for the environment to take over responsibility for?

Instead, Rogers argues for an alternative:

which focuses on designing UbiComp technologies for engaging user experiences. It argues for a significant shift from proactive computing to proactive people; where UbiComp technologies are designed not to do things for people but to engage them more actively in what they currently do. Rather than calm living it promotes engaged living, where technology is designed to enable people to do what they want, need or never even considered before by acting in and upon the environment.

Sounds a lot like what we’ve been saying in the blogosphere about what needs to be done with education. To put it in Yvonne Rogers’ word: “We should be provoking people in their scientific, learning, analytic, creative, playing and personal activities and pursuit.”


Image credit: “Where Ubicomp Started”, Ilpo’s Sojourn’s photostream:

Ubiquitous Computing Revisited


I ran across an interesting article the other day by Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish, entitled “Yesterday’s tomorrows: Notes on ubiquitous computing’s dominant vision“, published in Personal and Ubiquitous Computing (vol. 11, no. 2, 133-143). The article revisits Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing as he described it in his seminal article in 1991.

In a nutshell, the authors argue that Weiser’s vision is old and American, and that many ubiquitous computing researchers have framed their work around this vision. As a result, ubiquitous computing has become something that is continuously at our fingertips but not quite within reach, absolving researchers and technologists “for responsibilities for the present“. In addition, Bell and Dourish state that a vision of a “seamlessly interconnected world of future” is misleading if not downright dangerous, as they tend to focus on homogeneity as opposed to the “messiness of everyday life” (p. 134).

The authors continue by providing two interesting examples of ubiquitous computing environments: Singapore and Korea, and propose “a ubicomp not of the future but of the present,” with technology as a “site of social and cultural [and educational] production” (p. 141). This version of ubiquitous computing is characterized by power-geometries (the ways in which spatial arrangements, access, and mobility reflect hierarchies of power and control; heterogeneity (as opposed to standardization and consistency in technology, use, and regulation); and management of ubicomp that is messy.

I like this characterization of ubiquitous computing. I agree with Bell and Dourish that notwithstanding the importance of Weiser’s work, his is becoming an outdated vision (and I think if Weiser were still alive today, he would probably agree). Ubiquitous computing is here, and it is here to stay; it is no longer a utopian vision. However, for purposes of teaching and learning, this new definition of ubiquitous computing has some important implications (and this is definitely not a comprehensive list):

  1. the “new” ubiquitous computing is extremely difficult to implement in a formal learning environment. Whereas ubicomp is characterized as heterogenous, messy, and spontaneous, current formal learning environments are homogeneous, clean, planned, and standardized (think standards, high stakes testing, locked down networks, Internet filters, etc.);
  2. learning has to be more self-directed if it is to involved ubiquitous computing technology, as users choose from an amalgam of devices and applications, form ad hoc networks, and repurpose digital tools for their own needs;
  3. teaching and learning have to be more active, open-ended, creative, and flexible to take advantage of the affordances that technology in the “new” ubiquitous computing world has to offer.
  4. digital literacy has to be a key element of education, as technology users have to have a firm grip on not only the tools, but also how to combine them on the fly for purposes of learning, either individually or collaboratively.

As Bell and Dourish write: “The ubicomp world was meant to be clean and orderly; it turns out instead to be a messy one.” Can’t the same be said for education??

Image credit: “My mobile production gear”, jonrawlinson’s photostream:

Information Literacy, Part II


The recent IDC white paper, “The Expanding Digital Universe” provides some interesting numbers on digital information, as well as some prediction through 2010.  A few examples:

  •  In 2006, the amount of digital information created, captured, and replicated was 161 exabytes (or 161 billion gigabytes, which numerically would be 161,000,000,000 GIGAbytes).
  • Between 2006 and 2010, the digital information added annually will increase sixfold from 161 to 988 exabytes.
  • Digital images comprise the largest component of the digital universe, captured by over 1 billion devices.
  • By 2010, 70% of the digital universe will be created by INDIVIDUALS.
  • In 2007, the amount of information created will surpass, for the first time, the amount of storage capacity available.
  • Growth of the digital universe is uneven, with emerging economies slowly catching up to established ones such as Japan, the US, and western Europe.

The Web Worker Daily Blog provides some interesting comments on the IDC’s predictions in a post called “Information and the web worker“, for example that

2007 is the year that our ability to stuff bits into the digital universe will outstrip our ability to store them. By 2010, the total amount of data will overwhelm the total amount of digital storage by a factor of nearly two to one. Whether it’s that e-mail offering to sell you a timeshare condo, the picture of your niece that you sent wirelessly to your mom, or a show that you recorded to watch later, something is going to be lost forever – and looking at the trends, the proportion of things that get lost forever will keep increasing.

More interestingly, however, are the comments on what this all means for knowledge workers,  namely that the work that these people do can to some extent be compared to switchboard operators:

When I look around I see a world where the real value is in connecting people and knowledge. But doing so in utter secrecy doesn’t scale. We don’t do sellside vs buyside. We do active endpoints. We don’t represent one side or the other. We represent the network. We’re switchboard operators for the digital knowledge economy.

That’s what social networkers are and do. We’re connectors.  

As I said, the switchboard operator analogy holds up only so far, and as somebody else already commented on this post:

There’s more to this connecting stuff than just pulling together the bits that anyone _could_ find: it’s being the people who actually _take the time_ to find the connections in amongst the huge stew of everything out there on the Internet.

That’s one of the places the operator analogy falls down. Operators were pretty much passive connectors: a call came in from person A who wants to reach person B, and the operator is the one who knows how to make the connection, but they don’t have anything to do with deciding what connection to make. The valuable operators in this new economy are those who spot the useful connections and initiate them without being prompted.

So where am I going with all of this? I think it should be pretty obvious from the above that just learning how to read, write, and do basic math isn’t going to cut it anymore, yet that’s what we do in education in many cases. Students need to learn how to search for, aggregate, analyze, synthesize, create, and communicate, and they need to be able to do so in an increasingly digital world (hence also the need for more social studies education in such areas as citizenship and global awareness). We can no longer afford to prepare kids with skills for an industrial economy, those days are long gone. The area I live in, Northeast Ohio, is a prime example, as further discussed in this earlier post.

Literacy is extremely important these days, even more so than in the past. However, as the nature of information is constantly changing, so should the ways in which we teach our students to be literate, and that means going way beyond learning how to read, really!

Image Credit: “DSC04332”, Neil Rickard’s photostream:

Learning v. Education?


Here’s what Will Richardson recently posted about the topic of education v. learning, sort of as a follow-up to what Stephen Downes wrote here and Harold Jarche writes about here:

In a nutshell, the posts come down to the issue that “we just stop focusing so much on school and just focus on learning”.

These posts as well as the associated comments are important ones in that this is the direction I think we need to be going in. Just as Judy Breck has said in her 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning, education is a system that is broken to the point where it is not worth it to try to fix it. We need to start looking at alternatives. Schooling/learning/education should not be a place, but a process (to put it in David Thornburg’s words….)

I got to thinking more about this topic after reading and commenting on Wes Fryer’s post An iPhone for every student?!” I commented that (emphasis added):

… Learning with small and wireless mobile devices is the future of learning, but not necessarily in schools. Just like School 2.0 is an oxymoron (as Stephen Downes has argued and I agree with him), learning with mobile devices in a formal educational setting that puts restrictions on space and time is getting to be increasingly difficult, and I know this from experience.

True learning with wireless mobile devices happens when learners have access to the devices anywhere and anytime, and I don’t see this in your post here. I think it’s way beyond time that we start to seriously rethink how we teach and learn in formal educational settings. The educational system as it exists today is NOT preparing kids for their future that lies ahead. I don’t really think it matters how much we infuse technology in current schools. If we don’t fundamentally change education it is not going to matter that much. Besides, we know from research that most learning happens OUTSIDE of formal environments.

While I’m assuming that for most readers I’m preaching to the choir here, it is imperative that we keep these ideas going. Formal education is going to have to change if it wants to remain a player in the field of learning. The world is changing, technology is changing, people are changing, and learning is changing … why isn’t education??

Image Credit: “Abandonded School Building”, Creap’s photostream:

Continuous Partial Attention, or When Can Technology Become Too Much? Part II


Interesting post today on the Web Worker Daily blog, entitled “Open Thread: How Do You Cope with Web-Induced Attention Deficit Disorder?” I can definitely identify with this one, as I spend a substantial part of my work day (and beyond) online. The post provides some tips to deal with this, as reposted from Business Week’s Working Parents blog post about Dr. Edward Hallowell’s book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap – Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD:

1) Set aside time to work before you check your e-mail or snail mail or voice mail, before you allow the world to intrude on your fresh and focused state of mind.

2) Do not allow the world to have access to you 24/7. Turn off your BlackBerry and cell phone. Stretch or have a five-minute conversation. When you sit down again, you’ll be focused.

3) Prioritizing is crucial. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself spread so thin you’ll only be able to see your good friends on the first Tuesday in February.

4) Give yourself permission to end relationships and projects that drain you.

5) Do what you’re good at and delegate the rest. This is important, because when we do what we’re good at, the work can take on the quality of play.

6) Keep in mind that some of our best thoughts come when we’re doing nothing. Downtime is a forgotten art.

Of course I added the Web Worker Daily blog to my feeds, I need more info; and  … in order to fulfill esp. numbers 2 and 6 on the list of suggestions, I’m going camping this weekend 😉

Image credit: “Multitasking”, Tscherno’s photostream:

The Importance of Open Content


This one’s been sitting on my “to write” list for quite some time now, but a visit to the university library yesterday reminded me of it.

The idea of open content online is a simple one.  As Judy Breck has written in 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning, and  in this article:

Open content for learning, which is the substance of the global virtual knowledge ecology, is free, reusable, connectable learning subject content within the open Internet. It is easy to assume open content is applauded because it is altruistic for content creators to let what they produce be used charitably, for free. A much more fundamental advantage is the openness in the sense of being connectible to all other open content. Any content that is closed in the connective sense will atrophy in a withering that will ultimately punish those who sought proprietary profit.

I agree with Judy that access and connectibility are key ingredients. To that I would add (and this is by no means a complete list)

  • creativity: learners creating content; prime examples are Wikipedia, Curriki, and any of the myriad of media sharing sites that are out there;
  • accuracy: if content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be accurate. Wikipedia has been at the center of the accuracy discussion. If you ask me, I’d put more faith in Wikipedia content than the average textbook, because I know online content is up-to-date, multimodal, and checked by many (relatively speaking) for accuracy;
  • quality: see “accuracy”. If content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be good;
  • the power of groups and collaboration: many small ideas lead to big ones; examples of this include Google Image Labeler and Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): , as described in this earlier post.

Obviously, open content does bring with it its own issues that will need to be addressed, such as

  • access: does “open” mean “unfiltered”? 
  • copyright: Creative Commons is a workable solution for this issue. It’s a matter of content creators being willing to use Creative Commons instead of more traditional forms of copyright. A good example is Gilmor’s We the Media
  • authority: or the importance of source. See e.g. this post by David Warlick.

What triggered my memory to write this post was a somewhat forced trip to the university library yesterday. I was working on a paper and a tight deadline when I was looking for some specific information on the history of cell phones and cell phone use. I figured, no problem, hopped on the Internet, searched wikipedia, ran some queries through Google and Google Scholar, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find the info, or if I thought I had, it was inaccessible because it was through a subscription service.

Finally, I turned to our library to look for a book or two on the topic. Usually, this isn’t a problem, as our library has a nice service where you can order the books and library staff will pull the book for you and order it. All I have to do is go pick it up (in past years, they would even deliver to your office). Anyway, because that usually takes a day or two I had no choice but to go get the book myself. According to the database the book was readily available on the shelf.

To make a long story short, I finally found the book on one of the sorting shelves (and out of order) after 30 minutes of searching. The trip to the library took me about an hour, time I could have spent writing if the information I needed had been readily and openly available online.

Of course, in a formal educational environment an occurence like this tends to have larger consequences, as teachers and students don’t have the kind of time that I do to go peruse the library for an extended period of time. Immediate access to digital information online and in the classroom is key to maintain the flow of learning.

Another interesting observation here is my dissatisfaction with the whole affair. A few years ago going out and getting the book wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. However, with the pervasiveness of the Internet and online resources, I think immediacy of access is something that we’ve come to expect; I know I have …

Image credit: “Open”, tribalicious photostream: