Saturday, October 18, 2008

Edupunk -- Subversive eLearning

Edupunk: What a perfect term for what we intend.
A new word, coined by Jim Groom in May of this year in his blog

Web 2.0 offers us an opportunity to view the educational landscape from the chaotic perspective. Educational technologies that incorporate and embrace the complexity and chaoticism of the web, the structural ambiguity of collective intelligence.

There is a very articulate article on mapping new technologies onto existing pedagogical theories
in the Ariadne Journal, titled New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies by GrĂ¡inne Conole, and it has some interesting insights on how the new web technologies map onto behaviorism, constructivism and situated learning, but I think it misses the point somehow.

Punk was a musical rebellion against the arisen norm. The arisen norm of even the rebellious 60's had become complacent in the sedentary seventies. Punk addressed this with anger, and a complete disrespect for the mores of the day.

Cyberpunk arose as a rebellion and a repudiation of the technologist's dream...a recognition that these wonderful technologies that had grown up and created a type of priesthood could be subverted by individuals working in garages and the back alleys of grubby neighborhoods.

Steampunk came not long after, less in anger than in celebration. Victorian technology was, perhaps, the last technology that an individual could create in his own workshop which might change the world. That is until the nineties when cyberpunk technology once again handed that power to individuals.

All these punk movements share the defining element of punk...a Do It Yourself attitude, a rejection of formalizations and an embracing of chaos to live on the edge, balanced between anarchy and structure.

Edupunk embraces this same spirit. it embraces a DIY method of learning, a collective intelligence and interactivity with a community of learners. It seeks to provide an engaging model for students to create their own curricula, their own learning path, and ultimately their own content.

This is what we are trying to encourage in elearning in our lab at DERI. We are trying to find the way to enable learners to interact with each other, to connect with experts who can pass on the 'real' information as opposed to the 'correct' information.

Ultimately this punk'd approach to learning, the notion that learners will educate themselves and develop their own content, their own paths, their own mappings and roadmaps is very threatening to more established and formalized (formulaic) learning scenarios.

Edupunk may be a misunderstood term and may not fully emerge as a valid term. But it captures the flavor of what learning is undergoing in the way of change and evolution. Web 2.0 technologies and our own semantic technologies make possible the punk process, the DIY nature, the disrespectful disregard for practice within the learning milieu.

Edupunk: it's what learning's all about ... Now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

eLearning Strength here in Ireland

I was having a conversation with our University President, Jim Browne, the other day and he made the comment that he was surprised to learn how significant elearning is to the Irish economy.

It's true. elearning is one of those industries that sit quietly, growing over many years, then suddenly awakens as it crosss that knee in the curve of interest and value. elearning is rapidly becoming not only a major industry here in ireland, but also a major interest and infrastructure in other industries. check out

Many of the consumers of irish elearning expertise are US companies, which provides a very healty multiplier for the market strength. and, as the world becomes more and more global, the expansion of elearning companies in ireland to the entire globe is virtually assured.

As elearning comes to be understood as a wide ranging activity, the scope of which is truly global when the web is utilized, it will rise in importance. Much of our own work here in the elearning cluster has been focused on the use of informal knowledge acquisition and gathering via web-based social networkign tools.

We begin to understand elearning as any form of research, info gathering, querying, and knowledge acquisition facilitaed through digital media including the web, hypertext, video, audio, data visualizations, normal text, electronic paper, mobile devices, and virtual realities.

Our own Siobhan Dervan has just completed her masters project which involved creating a virtual version of a real live place for children to learn about plants and animals, particularly gaden denizens. her Brigit's Virtual Garden is constructed (executed, instantiated, pick the word) in second life.

Linden Labs, the creators and operators of Second Life have identified learning as one of the prime business models in virtual worlds. They have a page about it and their business model at

The inworld economy of Second Life is 330 Milion US dollars. I've been exploring and playing around with Second Life myself lately and it seems that when a bunch of people come together they will do three things

And the first thing they buy and sell is the fornication

I don't see this as a problem. It is human nature and Second Life gives us strong insights into how people build their world when given ultimate freedom to do so.

Second Life is not all about Buying, sellign an Sex, however. Shortly after people form a community, they start building and creating pother things. and they start talking, and talking, and talking. They converse on all topics. In second life, though, that chat can be augmetned with visual, 3d examples.

So chem labs, physics labs, history projects, literature, and all other areas of normal human life are represented, explored, and learned about.

Second Life is going to evolve and expand. They do have problems, but it will probably become one of the most widely used venues for education in the near future. Learning is easier in Second Life for many things. simulations, feedback, analysis, exploration and other facets of learnign can be pursued and made available in ways that traditional learnign can't. we have yet to see seriously radical educational experiments in SL, but they will emerge. And I expect SL to drive the demand for more bandwidth, more processing power and more computing cpaabilities. I was experimenting with the difference between laptops running the SL viewer and a high end graphics machine doing so. It is as one might expect, phenomenal.

which means a grwoing nterest in using SL for anything, education, shopping, simulation, training, sex, communication, or anything else will drive a demand for more, cheaper, graphics power with better bandwidth, particularly to the home and on mobile devices. Demand drives innovation and innovation provides new products and services. voila!

So elearning is vitally important to Ireland's economy and in deed to the economy and probably the future of many companies and other endeavours. Watch this virtual space.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Darklight Festival Panel - Future of the Web

Had a very nice time Friday at the Darklight film festival in Dublin. I was invited to sit on a panel discussing the future of the web, web 3.0, and whatever that means.

Axel Polleres, a colleague from here at DERI, came with me and sat on the panel as well. We had quite a lively discussion, including a digression with Chris Howard of IBM on virtual reality, the emerging 3D Internet, and my own notion that virtual reality and true reality will begin to merge in both perception and importance for our children or grand children.

The audience seemed to mostly be creatives who were either filmmakers, film aficionados, or film students. things began to get a bit lively when I mentioned that I thought one of the effects of ubiquitous, pervasive and highly realistic virtual worlds would be that gender would become fluid; people would choose their genders on both sides of the virtual divide based on whim and how they wanted to be perceived.

After our discussion, which ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to, I was interviewed by ( ). Don't know when it will appear on the web site but it should be soon. The interviewer had to do some editing because it took him four tries to get his intro recorded cleanly.

I think the one thing that came clear in the discussion is that the technology is not all that important. there is a certain inevitability about improved graphics, deeper immersion, easier access, and everywhere connectivity. The true challenge is in assessing the impact of such social connectivity on our culture and ultimately on our species. The changes that this level of real immersion into virtual realities can bring about are dramatic.

All in all a nice day

Monday, May 19, 2008

Viral Culture - Mono- and Multi-

The subject of American culture came up the other day. Actually, one of my staff here in Ireland made a bit of a joke about it:
Question: What's the difference between America and Yogurt?
Answer: After 400 years Yogurt would develop a culture!

It's actually quite a cute joke and I laughed hardest...but then I came back with, "If we have no culture in America, why are folks on this side of the Atlantic so keen on importing it?"

He had to concede that there was truth in the implication.

First, let me be clear: No offense was intended or taken by either party to this little dialog. We joke about our respective cultures around here a lot.

But I started thinking about it. We Americans actually take a lot of ribbing for our so-called lack of culture...from the French, the Germans, the Belgians, the English, the Irish, and it seems, everyone else in the world. We are constantly told that America has no culture. I've heard this off and on for 30 years of traveling the globe. I've never given it much thought beyond the "oh yeah, then why do you keep importing our fast food" stage.

And then I think I came to a sudden realization the other day:

The reason America seems to have no culture to other parts of the world is that we don't have A culture...rather, our name is Legion, for we are many (please feel free to insert snide biblical comment here).

When we look abroad, Americans see Irish culture, English culture, French culture, Japanese culture...all nicely monolithic. In fact, one can describe it as seeing a monoculture (to borrow a term from agribusiness)

But when you look at the US, you see eastern culture, midwest culture, california culture, southern culture, Mexican-American culture, African-American culture, Japanese-American culture, Chinese-American culture, Italian-American culture, German-American culture and Irish American culture. To name just a few ... go to Minnesota and discover Scandinavian-American culture...drill down a bit and discover Norwegian-American culture versus Swedish-American culture.

These are more than just politically correct ethnic labels. They attempt, perhaps clumsily, to capture the amazing and improbable fusion of a distinctly US culture (with its fascination for mobility and fast food, casualness and aggressiveness) and the culture of peoples who came into the US bringing and preserving aspects of their original culture. The result is a strange metamorphosis that is understandably difficult for outside observers to grasp.

Tex-Mex food is NOT, repeat NOT, Mexican food. Tex-Mex culture is NOT Mexican culture. it is a synthesis of two tastes, flavor sets, attitudes and points of view to create a third point of view that is new and different.

It is culture imported, sampled, modified, re-contextualized, and shot back at you. And consequently, there is so much of it, in myriad combinations, that it can be hard to see and recognize.

Our US culture is so Multi- that recognition of it is an NP-hard problem, perhaps. And when we look at other nations and cultures, we see an interesting, entertaining, but ultimately mono- culture. This is not necessarily a fair assessment, but, seen through American eyes, each country seems very ethnocentric in style and language and music and art and thought.

As compared to the diversity of culture I have to consume and respond to in a city such as San Jose, CA where there literally is no ethnic majority, walking down the street in Galway is a purely Irish experience, not a japanese-indonesian- mexican-californian-american one.

Galway prides itself on being culturally diverse as evidenced at a major parade this year and that is true. And it is very accepting and inclusive of other cultures, but the volume is so much greater in the US that it is suddenly understandable to me why non-Americans look across our land and fail to see an identifiable American culture. Is it Disneyland? Or Chicago? Las Cruces or Las Vegas? Salem, MA or Salem, OR?

All I can say to my friends on this side of the Atlantic is that you must look for an American Culture in the bizareness of our being. we ARE Tex-Mex and Philly Cheese Steak, Grunge and C&W, McDonald's and The Four Seasons, KFC and Sardi's.

We are the Kennedy Center and the Caesar's Palace, Falling Water by Frank Loyd Wright and Dancing Frogs in Carl's Corners.

So when you say America has no culture, what you mean is that it has no single culture. What it has, my friend, after 400 years, is myriad cultures, blended, stirred, sliced, diced, confused, and convoluted. Actually, it's a bit like that Yogurt would be; chaotic and VERY messy.

But a hell of a lot of people around the world seem to want a piece of it...and we happily export it. So feel free to take it up, import it, sample it, modify it, re-contextualize it, then shoot it back at us...and we will build a neighborhood around it.

ain't it cool?


Monday, April 07, 2008

Transparency and Fair Rights

Long time between posts...sorry. I am doing fine and feeling great for those who recall I had a stem cell transplant last year. Things are progressing nicely on all fronts right now, work is good and picking up and my energy levels are high so I am finally catching up on some writing.

The subject of ISPs selling my internet traffic along with all those companies that track it via cookies, etc came up today. I have some thoughts on this below.

Sounds to me as if two things need to happen

1) laws imposed to protect users by returning ownership to their information to them. Information about where they go and what they do should be held in trust by the ISP's and other entities

2) fair rights management should be put in place to digitally encode the fair rights policy each user establishes for their information use. This is the goal of the work Slawek has been doing here in eLearning. Not just digital rights around an object like a picture, but rather fair rights of any node on a network, including the person represented in a FOAF network.

Of course absolutely nothing will prevent governments from intercepting and spying on private communications when they deem it necessary or justifiable (in the broadest terms). The use of ultra-secure encryption by private citizens would, I am certain, be considered probable cause for a warrant compelling the user to unlock the encryption, so even that route is not going to be secure.

The best defense is probabilistic obscurity...the notion that there is so much traffic that no government can or will seek to intercept everything and as long as you are not engaged in illicit activities at the national security level, you will probably be ignored even if they do happen to intercept your communications. As an example, the TSA do not publish lists of what they find in travelers' luggage no matter how embarrassing or lucrative that might be. And agencies DO typically react when it is revealed their employees have done so, such as in the case of the contractor's looking at candidates passport info in the US.

For normal traffic, citizens demanding better protection of their data from ISPs and corporations will remain the only viable there has to be speaking up and out.

David Brin wrote that the only secure policy is one of total transparency..If I can learn as much about a national leader as he or she can learn about me they will show a natural reticence to pry into my life.