Virtual Reality: the next platform approacheth!

Virtual Reality has been heralded as being the next platform. The next major shift in digital technologies and how we interact with them. I’ve been keeping an eye out for the next ‘big thing’ for a while, we moved into Web 2.0 pretty seamlessly, and I was left wondering what would be next? We have had a few really fun next digital devices emerge, such as Smart Watches and curved TV screens, but still I thought, what is next? I must admit the whole curved TV screen didn’t grab me,but now I get it – for VR its going to be a pretty useful screen! Virtual Reality (VR) is going to be the next big shift in how we interact with digital technologies and tools – don’t think VR is Second Life or a similar such experience – it is much more than that. In the short term it is going to transform how we play platform games; Playstation, Xbox and the like already have some VR games, but this is going to expand enormously. The Headsets we currently use will keep improving, get smaller, less tricky to use until we see the new editions of platform games games coming with VR headsets. The move towards VR games means that there will be more intuitive programming that responds to what we do, how we move or the decisions we make via the headsets. Pretty realistic, already the graphics are at a stage that I know I want to step into and experience, so with the headsets we can achieve that.VR2

VR3Beyond gaming, VR will transform other parts of our lives. At the moment I am working on a VR world for pre-service teachers, a place for them to practice their skills, acquire ones that are tricky to really experience (such as talking to parents) and generally experience the same types of learning and teaching they do whilst on placements in schools. We have a set of Oculus Rift headsets we are using, but I am itching to try Google Cardboard. At present Google Cardboard relies on your smartphone to turn the headset into a VR world, this is pretty limited by the number of VR apps on the marketplace – it will change, so for a reasonable $40 you could have a headset that when combined with your phone becomes a VR world.

So its pretty clear we are on the way – Facebook announced its purchase of Oculus Rift and their intent to invest heavily in this area and they are not alone. We have all been thinking online learning has been a huge change in how we teach and learn, imagine the impact VR will have in this space? Out sense of place is going to become a thing of the past, we will no longer be tethered to a spot but instead we will enter another space altogether. I’m wondering what this will do to our mobile devices – our smartphones, tablets, iPads, watches – how will these adopt to VR? Curved TVs were ahead of their field, being very suited to VR.

VRdeskI’m excited by the next desks and platforms that are being developed that will carry us and host us in the VR space – perhaps classrooms of the future will be comprised of a network of individuals widely dispersed yet situated in one of these devices linked together in a VR space?

Open Courseware

moocIts probably not news to anyone, considering I have run a couple of MOOCs but I think the future of learning will be Open Course ware-based. Pretty frightening prediction to make considering that I am teaching and working in Higher Education, many people working in this context view Open Course ware as a straight up challenge to everything we do. But my point is that it doesn’t have to be. I work in a pretty progressive university, we have been in the MOOC space for a few years now, have signed up to edX and we have some great projects at the university-level exploring how we can change and keep current in such a climate. I like that we are thinking of how we can harness these innovations rather than compete with them, because I think that would be a mistake. edx2I attended the STARS 2015 conference in Melbourne this year and I listened to a keynote that really made me think. At the Australian National University they have a program called the Bachelor of Philosophy and its utterly innovative, students don’t follow program pathways, they choose anything and everything to study in their degree – it might be literature and engineering subjects, it might be any combination that they view as having meaning for them. This was a truly personalized degree. It struck a chord, as who are we to determine or decide for people which subjects and in which order they should be studied in -we need to throw away such linear pathways. Did the world stop turning when this was handed over to the students to decide? No. For professionally accredited programs there is often little choice, but perhaps we should move into the American system of broad undergraduate degrees and professional qualifications acquired via graduate programs? Might be an answer to all of the varied criticisms being meted out on the current generation. Just a thought.

OCWSo how does this fit in with open course-ware? Well put that flexibility and choice into the online space – what if we were to study degrees that were a mixed and varied combination of offerings from many different sources of higher learning providers? For example, I could complete a degree online by mainly completing subjects from the ‘home’ institution I enrolled in, but within that degree I could do units from Oxford University, Harvard or other such bastions of learning. Pretty exciting idea, and what if I did all of this via open course-ware? These top-level institutions are already dominating this space and leading the way, they have had the confidence to join this movement, so the rest of us should get a wriggle on and dive in. If I were selecting a university to put on my TISC form I would want a really exciting combination of offerings, I would want the big names, the flexibility of doing it online and I would want a combination of subjects that makes me unique and employable. Pretty persuasive vision isn’t it?

Digital Portfolios

digp1So I’ve recently been looking around again for a digital portfolio tool that I can use with my students and I am sadly unimpressed with how little this tool has changed or improved in the last few years. The idea of a digital portfolio is exciting, this living thing that we add to continually over the course of our professional lives. Imagine having such an archive? When I think back over my teaching career I really wish I had a record of it, something tangible and rich and full of those amazing lessons I remember teaching (plus the not so amazing ones), I could be reflecting and learning from my own experiences. There wouldn’t be many people who wouldn’t agree on the idea of a digital portfolio or even its value, but the tools have let us down. They initially were privately owned sites which hard strange file formats that could only be read within the site itself (silly), or could be exported as a PDF turning it into a 1-dimensional portfolio (pointless) or could only be used by digitally fluent wunderkids, i.e. export as an HTML rich file (nope, again, why bother??). So the portfolios themselves were not really growing this business or encouraging uptake. Adding to this mess was a commercial or professional world that wasn’t really ready for them. If you sent a letter with an URL in it, people were ready to type that into a browse or click on it to open it. They wanted a hard copy, something attached to the letter itself. So why take the risk? I remember friends bringing CD-ROM’s  and quite frankly they didn’t get responses.

digp2Now though the Blog, Website or URL is more common, and prospective employers are clicking on the link. Our digitalness is slowly changing how we present ourselves to potential employers or the wider professional world. Yet, here is the nub of the matter, the portfolios themselves, the commercially made tools out there have not improved. I am seeing more exciting things being created in Blogs and Websites which means digital portfolios are being skipped over all together. I guess its ironic that I am writing about this on my Bog, because what is if not a way for me to push out my professional identity or thoughts to the wider profession? Perhaps this blog could be viewed as my digital portfolio? An interesting idea indeed.

App Games…….why are we so fickle?

unnamedAt the moment I am seriously addicted to Trivia Crack but really I’m coming to my end of the addiction. I’ve been playing it for about 5 weeks and I’m starting to reach the point where I think “blah blah”. This got me thinking, over the last couple of years I have become a really shallow gamer – I wasn’t always like this, I was a huge fan of getting deep inside a particular game, really loved the layers of complexities and storylines that emerged. But I did that kind of gaming on my laptop – it required that kind of device to operate, but as I’ve become more reliant upon my iPhone, the types of games I now play are a bit more shallow and my love for them is transient at best. As with most of the digitally-connected world I’ve worked my way through the usual suspects; beginning with Words with Friends (didn’t everyone start with this?), Candy Crush, Cookie Jam, Bubble Witch, Candy Crush Soda and now Trivia Crack. candy crush sagaWriting that list (and sadly these are only the ones I will own up to playing on my blog, there are others…..) started me wondering – why am I so fickle? Why do I lose interest so quickly?  Is it because they are essentially the same kind of game and I get bored? I’m not sure and I think game makers are starting to ponder this too. the company behind Candy Crush Saga posted an 11% fall in profits last week, significantly they predict the same kind of drop in the next financial quarter too – clearly the tide is turning and they have stated that it was their failure to understand the changing nature of the market and not coming out with enough new games, that resulted in this drop. This got me thinking are companies having to pour out and produce new games constantly in a bid to capture market share? Is a single, good game not enough? Makes you think about the market and as consumers the demands we make. We seem to need constant new stimulation, we want the latest, the coolest, the most fun game we can find – high pressure indeed. So here is the question, has the digital world made us more shallow? I am beginning to think yes.

Dark Web, Deep Web, Deepnet, the Invisible web……..what is it hiding?

icebergdeepwebIt seems like we are caught up in a wave of ‘deep web’ hysteria. There is a default position that if something is hidden, it has to be hiding something bad or evil. A natural conclusion I guess, but one fanned by media hysteria. I Googled ‘deep web’ recently and there were all sorts of stories about people who had purchased drugs on the deep web, people who had accessed hardcore porn etc – all the negative, illegal activities that you could possibly imagine are apparently all located on the deep web. Really?? My response was to investigate further, as we all know, something that is hidden or cannot be seen or judged, can easily have mud thrown at it – it cannot be disproved, or defended because it cannot be seen. So in a spirit of “what is this really all about” I decided to go have a look.

So what is the deep web? Put simply it is a group of websites that hide their IP addresses, thereby remaining hidden. They hide their identity by using a Tor encryption. tor

Tor encryption is a nifty little tool – apart from being a deep web browser, it lets you hide your identity or spoof your location. When you watch blockbuster movies or TV shows with ‘hackers’ bouncing identities all over the web or hiding their IP or identities, they would be using a Tor encryption program – make sense? The focus on deep web and its spike in media commentary has arisen out of a growing awareness of agencies monitoring our online activities and the realization that everything you do on the Internet can be tracked, observed and monitored. This has resulted in more users moving offline into the deep web. There are a few steps to accessing the deep web; you need to download Tor and configure your browsers to use it, then you type in the web address you wish to access and you are taken there – pretty simple, but the hardest part of all of this is knowing these addresses. I’ve found a few different sites that list some of these so you need to look around or talk to people to find out what is popular or interesting. An interesting fact, all of the sites in deep web have .onion as their domain. So if you find addresses with .onion in their URL, you know you are looking at a deep web address.

There is a huge amount of illegal, disturbing stuff in the deep web. But its not all that’s in there- I am guessing (and hoping) that these are being monitored by government agencies. How they are doing that I wouldn’t know, but I hope they are. All of these negative sites make me nervous about even being in there, I actually don’t see the point of taking the risk and being in deep web.

The idea of the deep web is what I find most interesting, its almost an evolutionary step in the internet and how we use it – we are certainly living in an internet-based world, the sheer volume of users and the development of programs to search and find illegal activities has driven some of these underground into the deep web, but the emergence of the deep web is also a reaction to all of this scrutiny and monitoring. A catch 22 I guess? I think it will be only a matter of time, if it hasn’t already happened, that the monitoring of illegal activities in deep web and the tracking down of individuals who participate in them will happen. Rightly so.

Snap to it! When assessment goes viral…….

Right, for the last two weeks I’ve become really interested in Snapchat. I have to admit I struggled with it, the whole issue of impermanency really bothered me. I couldn’t take an image and send on to others, once I’d snapped it and sent it “poof” if was gone. It took me ages to get used to that, I’d take a picture of video and then fail to add text, so my friends were getting these random, disconnected images all of the time – once I worked out how to add text – I was off and flying. Its a great tool for fun chats or lazy ones……sort of like the Tumblr of instant messaging. snapchat2I decided to go have a look online for some info on this app – I was staggered to learn that on average 700million snaps were being sent per day. Huge numbers of messages that once sent were being deleted. I’m going to accept the whole “deleted off the server” thing as being true, but part of me thinks nothing is ever deleted on the internet so where are all these possibly being stored and for what purpose. I tend to slip into conspiracy theories pretty easily…….anyway I read a few interviews with Evan Spiegel one of the founders of Snapchat and its CEO, an interesting guy who essentially developed the app with Bobbie Murphy and Reggie Brown, all Standford University students, as a project for one of their design classes. Interesting – one of the most popular apps started out as a university assessment. Maybe we should do that in our program? Set a “design an app” task for students – design an app that could be used in teaching or learning? Pretty challenging, and considering Reggie Brown was brought in to work with them since he is an expert coder, well……it kind of puts this type of assessment task out of the realm of the normal type of skills needed. Got me thinking though, assessment needs to be real and for us in pre-service teacher program, that means it needs to be teachable content or teaching related. I think I try to keep that as a core skill in the assessment tasks I set, but I wonder if I manage to do that all of the time? Authentic assessment has been a buzz word for the last few years, some people were concerned that if we focused on authenticity, then the emphasis shifts to processes and skills, not content knowledge or theoretical knowledge. I disagree, I think if we carefully plan an assessment task we can hit all of these aspects equally. Assessment needs to be meaningful, real and achieve a balance between content/theory and processes/skills. Snapchat is the perfect example of this, there is a strong design focus sitting behind the fun and usability – it is a communication tool, that is private and linked to friends (as opposed to public messages) and is enabled to use video or images. The disposability of the messages is smart, your device will not be consumed with copies of your messages sitting there taking up space, and since its images or video, this could be potentially a huge memory-eater. So I will perservere, keep on perfecting my Snapchat-skills. I always admire ideas that take off, so you never know……an app assessment task might appear one day in my units!

To Apple Watch or not to Apple Watch – that is the question! Wearable technologies have been disappointing up to now.

OK I realise this is my second post on wearable technologies but I’m starting to rethink my love of these devices. I’m focusing on health devices here, and I have been a huge supporter of them as they make me a much more health-concious person. My constant checking either on the device itself or via an app the number of steps I’ve done; the calories burnt; the accumulated number of kilometres per week is making me compete with myself – and this is impacting positively on my health. But they just don’t work like they should and this is a problem. My Fitbit – stopped charging or more precisely, the little ‘prongs’ in the charging dock bent and hence I couldn’t charge it. This was only 7months into our relationship. Disappointment number 1. Don’t suggest calling or trying to contact Fitbit, did that, got ignored, did it again, was ignored again. Nuff said, the device is now gathering dust on my bookshelf. Shame, as I really liked it. Moved on to a Polar Loop, OK this made sense as I have a Polar watch and heart strap – so everything will sync right? Nope. Turn again, no matter what I do, they don’t. Disappointment number 2. So I’ve given up and treat them all as separate devices. Don’t get me started on the battery charge, I usually only get 3 days before the ‘Battery Low’ message appears, not the 7 days it is supposed to last. My dream of have a fully synchronised health device system is once again in tatters. I gave my partner a Garmin Vivofit for Christmas, thinking he could possibly achieve the level of synchronisity that I can only dream of – our issue here? The dratted thing won’t sync with the software program, it is always 7-10days ‘behind’. Disappointment number 3. I’ve also tried apps on my smartphone, with some success, but then you have to carry your phone with you whilst you exercise, not ideal.

apple-watch-0So in this general fug of disappointment I’m looking at the Apple watch with both excitement and a growing sense that it probably won’t measure up to what I imagine it could do. The idea of replacing all my other devices, and even my smartphone, for one wearable device – SUPER appealing. But I will wait, I will sit back and watch and see. The reviews have been quite mixed, largely the criticism seem to be around the interface and the fact that it is confusing. Maybe its because it is different to other Apple devices and we have been trained to use them one way and now we have to change? Not sure, but as with all new Apple products the reviews are often mixed, yet the market remains strong. They look great, they look really nice and I imagine they are going to be as fashionable as the old Swatch watch when it first came out – you never had just one, you always had multiples and each year there were new ‘must have’ designs. So am I going to stop pursuing wearable technologies, no, as an idea I really like them but I don think they need to slow down on the production of new models and fix some of these issues. Don’t loose users through bad experiences its really hard to get market share back.

Dodgy downloading……apparently we are experts!

As I was driving to work today I heard a rather interesting statistic – Australia is one of the top countries for dodgy downloading on the internet. I’m not surprised, because if I mention Torrents or downloading, most people I know have either tried it, do it or know about it.torrent   That is pretty impressive. I had thought with new programs such as iPlayer or iTunes, the need for these kinds of behaviors might have dwindled. Apple TV made a huge impact on me, I loved it as I didn’t need to sign up to Foxtel or some other cable provider and I could pay for shows I wanted to watch, nothing else. YouTube fills the gaps for me, if I cannot find it on Apple TV, then watch it there. So the need for dodgy downloads was starting to diminish…..or so I thought. Apparently we are still hard at it here in Australia, lagging behind countries like China, Japan and Korea. So what triggered all of this? netflixThe launch of Netflix on 24th March. Netflix is a much whispered about, much anticipated online “cable tv” offering and I think its largely due to the fact that its web-based (so everyone can access it, not just those who subscribe, get a cable box, pay for installation etc) and because of the success of some of its shows (House of Cards? Orange is the new Black?). This got me thinking, is the internet slowly replacing one-by-one each of the different technologies in our lives? Are we going to be totally web-based in the near future? Will television and cable disappear?netflix2 All of this is exciting on one hand, as our mobile devices are internet ready, so there is no limit to what we do, where we do it or when. But imagine if the internet went down………imagine a world with no alternative. I know that when I have left my phone at home, or if the battery goes flat (horror of horrors) I barely cope, but its usually only for a short period of time. Imagine an extended period of no internet……..worrying. So are we overly reliant on it? Yes. Should we be wary of committing 100% of our lives to it? Yes.

Digital Organisers…..does Trello make you a better person?

I’m a list maker. I love compiling new to do lists, organizing my diary and there is nothing compared to the feeling of crossing something off my list. I even get a little glow from flicking back through my pages in my diary and see all the work, meetings or things I have done. Quite sad really I know. But what all of these lists and diary-keeping isn’t really doing is getting me to do all those things on my list, I’ll get through a fair bit of them, but I generally fail to achieve list nirvana and cross everything off. Recently I’ve gone to the next level and embraced digital organizers. I’ve played around with Microsoft Project in the past but found it to be too big, too detailed and just too much to use easily. Also, at home my computers are all Macbooks so that meant no MS Project. I looked around for something I could use on all of my devices and settled on trello2Trello – its capacity for you to build lots of project boards is great, its free (very important) and I can use it on my laptops, work computers, ipad and even my phone. So over the last few weeks I’ve been busily building my lists, getting organized and generally playing around in Trello. So, here is the big question – has it made me more organized? Well, I wonder. The constant consulting of my boards and lists is keeping everything in my mind, and I think this has made me get through it all. Its something I keep looking at, annotating and therefore maintaining a focus on the things I wanted to get done. I think this is the secret of digital organizers, they keep you focused on the things you would like to get done, give you opportunities to make annotations or re-configure your lists if you cannot do something by the time you set, or if you encounter a hurdle or something you need to adjust. They give you a sense of being in control of the crazy mayhem that at times, is your life. When it all gets too overwhelming, you breathe, you make a new board on Trello and the visage of control is achieved. In essence, I think these types of tools make you a better person. I’m certainly feeling that way. Of course there is a catch to all of this organization – you have to log on – yotrello1u have to actually consult your Trello. The alarms, reminders or other notifications you set up wont work unless you log in. So if you want to avoid facing the list of tasks NOT done, then you don’t log on. Easy. Default back to being a messy, disorganized version of yourself. What we need is an automatic log in when you turn on your device…..that way you cannot hide or avoid your Trello……..