• 24Aug
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Technology Comments Off on I See You.


    Mashable has been singing the praises of location-based apps spinning their case toward bottom-line hungry small business owners. Benefits like the ability to draw customers to your location and to create incentives that build a loyal following are being highlighted in the discussion as ways of helping entrepreneurs see the potentials of geolocation technology. I apologize if I’m pointing to the obvious, but my question is, ‘Have you lost your minds’?

    Have we suddenly gotten over our hang-up of Big Brother watching us? You’re quite intent on keeping your browsing history private when you don’t want anyone knowing where you’re clicking. The notion of someone tracking your physical location bothers you less than someone knowing where you click? I understand how cell phone companies can justify providing services allowing account holders to ‘see’ where each one of their additional phones are at any given time as a way of enhancing parental controls, but are we sure we want to go down this road?

    Loopt has been around for a while, so the concept of suping up our trendy, high-tech phones with the ability to tell us when we’re a few blocks away from our ex in an effort to avoid acting like a mature adult is no new thing. However, when the location-based technology market starts to bloom in all its invasive glory, one has to wonder where the demand is coming from for these developers to see enough lucrative opportunities to want to get in the game. Have you not reached the point yet where information overload is almost unmanageable and it’s come time to prune your way back to human interaction? Do you really want the general public to know where you are all the time? Evidently you do, because even Facebook is on board.

    Are you happy now? Your dream of being able to notify everyone in your network of where you are has finally come true.  Your ‘network’ – that group of people you haven’t spoken to since you shared glue sticks in grade school but who you’ve perhaps nonetheless poked once or twice, or maybe, if you were feeling particularly generous, you may have even thrown a sheep his or her way.

    You can even tag people who are with you!

    Hold on, let me get this straight. Even when I’m having an actual face-to-face conversation with someone, you want me to pull out my ‘smart’ phone and make sure that my status and location are updated? Why? So as not to inconvenience all of my devoted followers? Come on! Aren’t we making the paparazzi’s lives a little too easy?

    And what about the soon-to-be massive lists of external entities grabbing hold of your information (which may now also include satellite images of your backyard, what time you checked in at your gynecologist’s office and how cruel gravity was to you at your last Weight Watchers weigh-in)?

    For right now, though, only a few apps have been selected to push information back into Places. Initially, Gowalla, Foursquare, Booyah (creators of MyTown and Nightclub City) and Yelp will integrate with Facebook Places. ~Source

    From an educational perspective, there may be some ways to take advantage of this type of technology. For a multi-location based approach to teaching, such as the one adopted by THINK Global School, I suppose it might be interesting for parents, teachers and chaperons to know where students are throughout their years of studying abroad. I guess you could also try to make the case that it would be a good way for students to figure out how to read maps and learn some geography by getting used to seeing where all of their fellow classmates are munching their sandies and learning their Mandarin on any given day. But the question shouldn’t really be, ‘Can we think up a way to use this technology?’, should it?

    Ok, granted when an application of a technology is so novel that it necessitates a change in the way to communication/operate/connect, etc., then perhaps we do have to approach a review of its potential benefits from a slightly crazed ‘inventor’ mind-set in which we think outside of the outer perimeters of the outside of the conventional box.

    I suppose you could always design a business marketing class assignment around geolocation technologies asking students to develop creative ways of generating sales in specific industries by using any one of the smart phone apps out there. Some ideas that come to mind are thinking of how the restaurant industry can benefit, or perhaps the travel sector, and questioning the relationship between location-based technologies and the ever-present community rating models like Yelp and Tripadvisor, and more recently Hunch.com. Then again, that might be construed as condoning this type of technology, and to be honest, it comforts me to convince myself that it’s only a fad.

    I guess if we look at the bright side, at least playing this type of ‘video’ game gets you out of the house.

  • 16Aug
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Education, Technology Comments Off on Opening to Openness

    What does ‘open’ mean in the context of education? Many have shared their opinions on what they think ‘open’ represents, but that’s not really the point, is it? I mean, sharing our views may contribute to the discussion, it may open some eyes and maybe even change a few perspectives, but it hasn’t led us to the answer yet. Does that mean no one really knows the answer? Merrily skipping a little further down this stream of thought, I wonder, if no one really has the answer, there’s no reason for me not to share my point of view too. What’s the worst that could happen – I look silly, unaware, perhaps a touch confused? However I look, everyone else is varying shades of the same color, so here’s me jumping into the debate.

    To this humble student of life, ‘open’ education means accessible education. If it weren’t for openness, I wouldn’t be picking up my masters degree in a few weeks, I wouldn’t be singing the potential benefits of technology to whomever will listen, and I most certainly wouldn’t have had the pleasure of collaborating with brilliant minds from all over the world, all interested in pursuing their passion to explore how technology can impact the way they learn and teach.

    ‘Open’ doesn’t necessarily mean free, but it definitely means affordable – at least to the consumer. Case in point: I am still paying off my undergraduate loans, but I closed the account that funded my masters quite a few months ago. ‘Open’ may not necessarily represent the cheapest option for the institution, but once all that front-end heavy investment has been made, it most certainly has the potential to represent the most efficient, scalable and transferable option. Perhaps if I had waited just a few years, I could have accessed my graduate course materials for free on iTunes U where the OU ranks in the top 5 most downloaded sources in this fruity academic database. That wouldn’t make me eligible to receive my coveted competitive ammunition (a.k.a. my degree certificate), but that doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t be smarter for it.

    To technologists, ‘open’ has a lot to do with trying to figure out how to avoid reinventing the wheel. For legal teams, it’s predominantly about how to navigate the slippery slopes of copyright laws. To academics…well, that one is a bit difficult for me to answer. You see, I’ve spent many years working on the ‘other side’ of the academic profession. I was a part of university administration, which essentially means that I was not ‘one of them’. However, I did have the privilege of working with many of ‘them’ (to at least attempt) to expand their awareness of what educational technology could mean to them and to broaden their understanding of ways in which ed tech could be incorporated into their worlds if they decided to give it a chance. So you see, all I can do is tell you how I perceive the way academics interpret ‘open’.

    There is one school of thought that shuns the concept of digitizing any intellectual materials that it undoubtedly took these brilliant minds centuries to cultivate. These ‘inner two-year-olds’ barely feel comfortable releasing 8th generation photocopies of PowerPoint presentations to their well-paying students (6 per page so as to ensure maximum note-taking real estate). The idea of adapting their materials to fit an electronic learning environment suitable to enrich the lives of an exponentially larger group of eager beavers is simply out of the question. Why? Good question.

    The other school of thought, the one with which I had much more of a pleasure working, accepts the notion that perhaps there may be some benefit to learning new ways of communicating. They concede that there may in fact be some truth that changing the way we communicate might better enable the current generation of teachers to convey information to their audiences in inspirational ways. As you can see, the title of ‘information sharer’ fits this Generation 2.0 of teacher much better than the ‘sages on dusty stages’ that precede them. Think of it like an iPhone versus a telegram – both get a message across, but the quality of the message, the way we go about receiving it and how we choose to interact with it are very different. Students may be sitting in lecture halls, texting and doing their very best to provide evidence of just how many twits there are in the crowd, but in this unfortunately common act of ignorance, they’re also sending a very valuable albeit crudely packaged message to their leaders and guides: we use technology to get our messages across, why aren’t you?

    I realize I’m generalizing, but at this stage of the debate about openness, it’s difficult to deny that we haven’t yet come close to finding a middle ground. But why look at technology through bitter colored glasses smeared with resistance? After all, technology is as much a vehicle of information transfer as paper is. The difference is that whereas paper can be viewed as the byproduct of massacred forests, the Internet (for to use the term technology would be much too gnarly a maze to navigate in the context of this discussion) could just as easily be seen as a voracious devourer of our privacy. The production of paper is contaminating our planet. The Internet is home to evil predators. Producing paper pollutes our water supplies. Surfing the electronic waves of the Internet is dangerous because ‘they’re watching you’.

    Is it at all clear how ridiculous the argument against anything can become whenever we refuse to bend our perceptions just enough to see things a little differently? Paper has also been an invaluable tool facilitating communication through generations. Some of the most important decisions made on the planet have been recorded on paper. Art, history and love have been created on paper. As for the Internet, it has provided access to medical care in some of the most remote places on this planet, given the opportunity for children to learn in areas where traditional schools don’t exist, and facilitated the cultivation of countless communities of like-minded individuals seeking ways to connect and contribute value to society.

    And what about teachers teaching teachers? Isn’t it possible that there are new instructors out there, just entering into the world of knowledge sharing, who would greatly appreciate a benchmark approach to course development? Wouldn’t having access to some of the most renown higher education institutions’ courses (Yale and MIT come to mind) have the potential to add value to the educational offerings provided by any countries at all interested and able to access and make subsequent use of the information, regardless of whether it’s to inject new lifeblood into university, high school or even elementary school curricula?

    All I’m saying is…try being open. The middle ground isn’t that far away.

  • 24May
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Education, Technology Comments Off on The iPhone Moment

    Have you ever been out to dinner with a group of people and experienced the ‘iPhone Moment’? It’s the moment when a question is posed by someone and once the alpha members of the group realize that they’re not able to come to a quick consensus on an answer, everyone automatically pulls out their iPhones and starts dislocating themselves from the physical world in an effort to plug the relevant node into the appropriate information socket in order to suck out the exact notion required to put everyone at ease that the crisis has been averted and the correct factoid has been successfully isolated. And thus, the iPhone saves the day. Everyone is happy. Everyone looks relaxed again. Everyone can unclench and comfortably move on to the next topic of conversation…that is, if you can still call this morphed social phenomenon a conversation.

    I’ve noticed that unless you choose not to pull out your iPhone during the iPhone Moment, you won’t be privy to the cultural nuance taking place. (And yes, in this context, I’m going to make a generalization that you have an iPhone, but if that really offends you, pick your tool of choice and move on with the story). I like to have my phone with me when I go out. It makes me feel safe to know I can make a call if I find myself in an emergency situation. It comforts the admittedly anti-social side of me that sometimes wishes she was invisible so that she could mercifully escape from a social event unnoticed, but since we’re still dealing with the limitations of invisibility technology, having an iPhone is the next best thing – even if it is just to update my status on Facebook (and hope that no one else in the room who happens to be in my network notices). But having observed this scenario numerous times (as depressing as that is), I have noticed that those pulling out their pocket rockets seem to be so intoxicated with the idea of having information instantly accessible at their fingertips that the lack of social awareness manages to escape them. Suddenly it’s ok to ignore their surroundings while silently tapping their screens as they progress on their labyrinthian journey of hyperlinks leading to the golden chalice of knowledge, wisdom and all things technology. But does technology have a place at a dinner party?

    Why am I asking myself this question (particularly since I’m still quite a fan of the iPhone and enjoy the lifestyle improvements its bestowed upon me despite the occasional collision into the over-technified social gathering)? Well, it’s partly because I’m wondering where we’re headed as a civilization if we revert to telephones to communicate with people who are sitting right in front of us. And perhaps it’s also partly because I’m trying to understand the nature in which we acquire or accumulate or access information (depending on your school of thought) in the first place and what we do with it when its served its purpose. And that really begs the question of how we view information in the first place if we simply see it as a piece of disposable data. What happened to enriching our own personal lexicons, taking the time to listen to fascinating stories told by masters of the literary world (both revered and emerging), learning new things about the ecosystem in which we live and then melding all that information into an exchange with other like-minded individuals who are all present and aware and engaged (as well as engaging)? And maybe I’m also asking myself this question because of something I read today.

    Larry Sanger, one of the founders of Wikipedia, wrote a paper published by Educause entitled, ‘Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age‘ in which he stands on quite an intriguing philosophical platform as he examines the impact that the relationship between education and the Internet is having on society and the individual. Does memorization have a place in a world where we can create an iPhone Moment whenever we want? Are we cultivating the next generation of independent and novel thinkers or very expensively trained parrots?

    But he goes much deeper than just an exploration of the residual effects of increasingly easier access to information. He broaches the topic of individual vs. collaborative learning. Is one better than the other? Communities of practice are popping up faster then mushrooms in the dark, damp forests of Northern California. Pedagogies are celebrating the virtues of students learning from one another and teaching each other in group contexts. Everyone is being encouraged to learn in a social context…but when does deep contemplation take place? Where do we find the silence in which information can germinate, intermingle with our existing knowledge structures and eventually contribute to a rich perceptive worth sharing? How do we support the creation of new knowledge (and by new knowledge, I don’t mean opinion on top of commentary and sprinkled with a dash of guesswork)? In a world in which organizations put pressure on their top researchers to find a fast answer to an immediate issue, how do we make the time to think about the long-term solution?

    And then we get to the topic of ‘boring old books’ – are they outdated forms of irrelevant information that are simply doing an injustice to the world population of trees, or is there value in a book? To try to answer that question for myself, I’m going to look back to my recent graduate studies. I studied online, I studied independently, and I was encouraged to study in groups. Out of all the ways that I studied, I didn’t manage to study from books. That is a horrifying realization, albeit a general one (for yes, there were times when I studied from books, but the point is that I was by no means spending my days surrounded by towering shelves of books in one of those….what are they called….museums…..no…..shrines……no…..ah, yes! Libraries!). I remember receiving my very first course package and opening up a box full of books. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to start reading them. I still can’t. They sit largely unopened in the part of my personal library dedicated to all things elearning. I’m sure I’ll get to them one day, after all, free time is an inevitability at some point in one’s life…right!?

    I’m not suggesting that I have the answers, but I do admit to liking the questions, which, if I go by Sanger’s reasoning, means that I’ve at least grasped a bit of knowledge to know some of the questions to ask, and that’s nice to know. Technology is a tool, but we are the instrument. Let’s not forget that.