While technology is often about manipulating physical matter to achieve some kind of efficiency or product, it is also very much about perspective and thinking about doing old things in new ways. And so, it hasn’t surprised me that my own thinking of technology has been heavily influenced by watching how my 10- and 6-year old boys interact with computers, mobile devices, and new media. Perhaps the most relevant part of this discussion stems from one important observation–the issue of technology adoption is largely moot for the young in many contexts.

Past habits, preconceptions, and preferences rarely factor in for kids as they pick up a new technology and I am often left wondering whether or not the lessons I learned as a linguist (in my past academic life) about how kids acquire language resembles their uptake of technology. Some of the more well-known linguists, like Pinker or Chomsky, have referred to this as the “language instinct” and I must admit I see a very similar latent competency in my own children. This kind of in-born fluency with technology acquisition is also discussed in one of my favorite TED talks by Sugata Mitra. The “Hole in the Wall” talk asserts that very poor children in the slums of India are predisposed to acquire technology skills when Internet-ready computers mysteriously show up embedded in neighborhood walls. It’s a fascinating study and Sugata is relying heavily on the belief that kids are hard-wired to learn technology. A little closer to home…here are some observations about how my own kids’ interface with technology has informed some of my thinking in this area.

1. Adoption of new technology is primarily schema changing for adults and schema acquisition for youth.

This has various implications and I’m leaning hard on a specific model of learning theory. I’ve seen the same issue in play when learning and teaching foreign language as an adult. Adults are oftentimes scaffolding new information around already acquired schema whereas children (with their reduced experience and improved mental “plasticity”) are establishing new neuronal connections with little “extra” mental processing, hence, children tend to learn language more with greater potential to reach native speaker pronunciation.

Example: My children see very little difference between an Apple, Windows and iOS mobile platform. They have not established opinions and been exposed to marketing, peer value statements and prolonged exposure to earlier iterations. They therefore move quickly and seamlessly between devices. Locating user preferences, cameras, games, video editing—no problem for them and no real preference (if you ask them) about which platform is better. It just is.

2. Children “get” technology as soon as they find a relevant purpose.

On some level, this holds true for adults as well, but we’re often forced to prioritize our technology usage and can quickly relegate new technologies to the recycling bin.

Example: When augmented reality (AR) came out, I found it interesting, but could not find any practical uses in my own life. The same might be true (so far) of RFID and most iPhone apps. My youngest quickly found that the lego.com website allows him to print different Lego vehicle pages with AR markers placed in the middle. He now holds up the AR printouts in front of the computer so that he can see the 3-D AR lego ship appear on the monitor. He was also pointed to the iPhone game for the site, which encouraged him to use my phone to scan the box of a certain Lego box to receive more points. Admittedly, there is some unneeded advertising here, but he was more than excited to join me on my recent trip to the store where he opened the app, accessed my mobile device camera, scanned the box, and jumped right back into the game. To some degree, I’ve already ruled out AR, RFID, and some of the scanning technologies. He has no such opinion and will most likely continue using it, even if he has months of non-usage in between. It felt a little bit like a glimpse of the future for me.

3. The curiosity children exhibit towards technology is often unusually strong.

Example: Chase bank recently announced that their iPhone app allows customers to take a photo of their check and make this deposit remotely—no ATM needed. While other smaller banks have moved in this direction, Chase is the first mainstream bank to do this. When I shared this with my wife, she immediately wanted to know about the security issues and constraints. She was not very excited. I know that if my children get a hold of this, they will move quickly to use the technology without a single neuron slowing down the adoption process. Sounds like the perfect experiment!

While these are obviously anecdotal stories couched in my own set of quasi-scientific opinions, each example reminds me that technology just “is” for children. As adults, we obviously have a responsibility to bring discretion to the larger issue of how and when technology is used, but I think that we are well served by acknowledging that we have an awful lot to learn from our kids in this domain and we are surely looking at the future as we watch children use technology to seamlessly connect the private, public, consumer, and personal domains of our cultural terrain.

Filed Under (e-learning, Science publishing, Uncategorized, Writing for the web) by Chris LaBelle on 30-09-2010

The Fate of the Book
The Chronicle Review, October 1, 2010
Essays by William Germano, Jeffrey R. Di Leo, and Diane Wachtell

In the most recent issue of the Chronicle Review, several authors ask: Is the printed book dead? Three cogent essays survey the vast landscape that is publishing and weigh in on the current health and future possibilities of how we will distill our ideas and craft narrative using the ever-evolving suite of authoring and distribution tools.

Some quotes from these essays:

The overarching goals of publishing have been “universal access to knowledge and building knowledge as a self-correcting, collective exercise.”

“The real reason that academe has been slow to embrace digitization—is cultural, not material: an attitude rooted in the belief that the printed book is intrinsic to scholarship.”

“The story of electronic literature and scholarship has yet to be written in full, but before long the growth in digital scholarship will put an end to the myth of the book in higher education.”

Today, there is a symbiotic relationship between the book and the digital publication: “The way the electronic triumvirate engages with the publishing industry is by selling old-media products via new media.” Hence, discussions about revenue structures abound.

Is the printed book truly on its way out—residual collateral of cost efficiencies and technological advancement? Has the tipping point already occurred or, as one author suggests, will new publication approaches evolve to a point where the book will be relegated to furniture? What discipline or disciplines will champion the story of digital scholarship? What are your thoughts?

In our first video blog, EP Blogger Jeff Hino offers some tips for creating ear-friendly podcasts.

Several months back, I posted a comparison of the iPad, iPod and Kindle from the perspective of e-reader functionality. Now, I’d like to provide some input about the iPad relative to what I  see as its true product category: the family room web device. Alas, I’ve already revealed the true nature of my feelings for this iconic tool now that I’ve assigned it to a floor plan and more specifically to a room where one generally relaxes and interacts with content in a more passive manner. Associating the iPad with content consumption as opposed to production is probably not a stretch as I’m guessing that even the most enthusiastic iPad user would concede the device falls short in terms of input. So, I’m hard pressed to imagine the iPad finding its way into the home office when it is obviously so comfortable in the family room.

If nothing else, the iPad has generated some interesting discussions around the state of mobile computing. Case in point: I’ve had discussions about the iPad with my barber, my children, colleagues, Luddites and complete strangers. My barber and several strangers have sworn to me in hushed tone that the iPad has ushered in a new wave of accessibility for elderly readers who use the pincher functionality to increase font size on the fly and relieve strained eyes that have suffered under “pinch-less” monitors for years. Forget increasing font size or display size, from their standpoint, “pinch-to-expand” is the new killer feature that will revolutionize modern mobile computing.

All of the OSU college students I’ve spoken to about the iPad believe the device is “OK,” but not worthy of the cost since most of them already have a mobile phone with Internet access. Hence, the reoccurring statement from many of the student types, “It’s basically a large iPhone.” Steve Job’s recent comment that the iPhone came out of development efforts on the iPad reinforces the connection between the two and form factor similarity.  While the lineage of the iPad is established, its utility to the average user is still less clear in my mind.

My own view after seeing it for the first time in March was that it was the ultimate family room device—a tablet device that was more robust than a mobile phone and less obtrusive than a laptop, which could fulfill the typical family room computing tasks: web surfing, email, very light word processing and gaming. To test my hypothesis and provide more substance to my barber banter, I brought an iPad home last week and let my wife and two boys (10 and 5) try it out. The iPad was placed into “circulation” alongside of our laptop and my iPhone—the results?

My wife found the iPad virtual keyboard a challenge. Many of the educational games my boys play are Flash powered. With no Flash support on the iPad, their interest in the device dropped significantly. The virtual keyboard was also not extremely intuitive for them. These two constraints pushed them back to the laptop until we were able to load some iPad apps. Cogs HD, ACrawler, TM Zero were well designed, but the selection for iPad-formatted content is still somewhat limited and one would be hard pressed to describe the iPad as a true gaming device, especially for a younger audience.

Overall, my impression of the iPad changed after this testing period. It was obvious to me that my wife and children prefer using a laptop when at home or tethered to a wireless network. I also found the virtual keyboard a bit tedious and for some reason (even with two right thumbs), felt the iPhone keypad was more intuitive. On the positive side, I found the iPad’s speed impressive. Like the iPhone, the ergonomics in general are sublime and set the bar for other mobile devices. Magazines like Wired are seeing their iPad subscription base close in on their print-based numbers and this might be an indicator of a new growing demographic of well-heeled magazine mavens who will provide needed consumer viability around attempts to coalesce marketing, content and high-end digital manipulatives around a magazine’s brand and readership interests. In short, the iPad may become one of the crucial pieces needed to change one segment of the online reading experience. However, it’s premature to assume examples like Wired suggest a more broad scale adoption of more augmented reality or digitally enhanced subscription-based magazines is feasible or achievable in the near future. A recent post by Advertising Age unpacks some of the magazine specific enhancements found in these examples and the Atlantic also published a telling article entitled “Is the iPad Saving Magazines Yet?

I’m certain that these examples showcase the potential of online magazines and demonstrate some of the pieces we’ll see in the years to come: more integrated video, 3-D models, the inclusion of social media, content formatted more specifically for mobile or tablet devices. In the meantime, our family is perfectly content passing the laptop around the family room and pulling the iPhone out of dad’s pocket when needed.

A recent reference in the New York Times indicates the U.S. Army is close to declaring war on PowerPoint. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” For many, PowerPoint has become “a way of knowing.” But is knowledge always best represented by a linear sequence of bullets? Are there alternatives?
No PowerPoint
The concept of a nonlinear presentation tool has been has been around for a while. Rather than lead your audience in a step-like manner, why not give them more control over the sequence of your presentation? If the group is interested in one or two aspects of your presentation, why should you lead them through four or five others? A nonlinear approach gives you the potential to respond to audience needs by altering your presentation to match those needs. With a nonlinear approach, you can assess audience clues, cues, and questions to move the presentation into more fertile and relevant topics.

I attended a very effective presentation on nonlinear storytelling that took it a step further and used audience response system clickers to query the audience on which path they wanted to take through the presentation.

How do you create a nonlinear presentation? In earlier blogs we have discussed Pachyderm, a nonlinear multimedia authoring tool. This open source web-based application allows a non-programmer to create media-rich flash presentations that incorporate text, graphics, videos, audio, and external links using a simple template-driven approach. Pachyderm is first and foremost a tool for creating interactive presentations for individual viewing on a browser, but if carefully designed, it could be a means to create nonlinear presentations for smaller groups. The newly released version 2.1.1 offers a toggle to increase font size for accessibility issues and could offer a solution for more intimate small group presentations.

Buzz has been growing about Prezi, a cloud-based nonlinear presentation design tool that offers a striking new paradigm for creating and delivering presentations. Rather than a linear sequence, Prezi acts more like a Google map of your information, letting you fly over an information landscape at will, zooming in to objects of interest—text, images, videos, links, etc—to pick up additional details. Prezi offers free access to public and educator versions, with 100MB of storage space. Additional features available are for an annual fee.

Prezi Map

A Prezi map.

In my first attempt at using Prezi, I found that I had merely taken a linear presentation and forced it into a nonlinear template. The result was disappointing. The power of Prezi’s nonlinear delivery was lost: zooming into information became just another transition effect linking my fixed linear slides. I realize now that using a tool like Prezi–like Pachyderm–requires rethinking how you plan and organize your thoughts. For example, rather than an outline, create a concept map. Use that to create a map that you can fly over, zooming in to key concepts and media at will, and in any sequence.

Here’s a showcase of Prezi examples. One that grabbed me is “The Future of Video” created by Jody Radzik from the Institute for the Future.

Note that Microsoft has just completed a beta test for an add-on for PowerPoint called pptPlex that provides similar nonlinear capacity (PC only).

Planning a nonlinear presentation using these tools or others will challenge you to rethink how you organize your information, and to just “let go” and give the audience more control over your presentation.

I am not dismissing traditional linear presentations with PowerPoint, Keynote, or other tools; I am challenging myself and others to consider an alternative when the topic lends itself to a new, fresh approach. If you give it a try, let us know how it works for you.

Filed Under (e-learning, New Media, Video) by Jeff Hino on 09-02-2010

When Mike Derocher, the Experience Design Manager for HP in Corvallis, Oregon invited us to see a demonstration of their Halo telepresence system, I wondered how this might be relevant to our work in financially strapped higher education. But the demonstration convinced me that the technology of telepresence is on a vector to a whole new landscape of possibilities for collaboration and learning; and despite it’s current high price tag, it’s sending us an echo from the future.

halo multipoint_sm
I’m sitting in front of the three large HD video flat screens and seeing my colleague Chris LaBelle broadcast through HP’s Halo telepresence system. My first impression is a slight feeling of disequilibrium mixed with mild shock at the realism of the experience. The Halo system—and others like it—are taking the debate of “no significant difference” of online experiences to an entirely new level. The system goes to great lengths to recreate the physical, verbal, nonverbal immediacy of a face-to-face encounter, despite what could be thousands of miles separation between participants.

For years, those who design distance education facilities have struggled to create truly interactive environments, where the technology would become transparent to both near and far audiences. But the limitations of jerky, low resolution video, poor audio, and awkward room design made this extremely difficult to achieve. But through a combination of HD technology, interface design, and careful attention to room geometry, these telepresence systems are on the verge of erasing the physical and psychological distance between participants in online collaboration and learning.

These kinds of solutions could take the discussion and inquiry into the variables of presence and immediacy in online learning and collaboration to a whole new level. And as designers of online educational experiences, we need to be aware of the possibilities.

Listen to our podcast about telepresence.


In private industry, successful use of new media technology is evaluated by the subsequent effect on revenue, with recognition, pay increases, and promotion the payoff. In contrast, Higher Education is slow—some say glacially slow– to adopt new media, and is ill equipped to reward individuals when they do incorporate new technologies in their research, education, and outreach strategies. Let’s take a quick look behind the glacier.
In higher education, peer-review is the Holy Grail for gaining acceptance and receiving credit for scholarly work. This means that creative work is scrutinized by other experts in the field in an impartial manner for accuracy and quality of thought. This process is considered an essential part of academic life; with the traditional peer-reviewed print journal article the final result.

Ironically, many University faculty—especially those with Extension responsibilities–are under increasing pressure to move away from focusing solely on print publications, and begin to use all available media sources, and incorporate a variety of educational strategies in their education and outreach efforts. In a presentation to a group of educators at a recent Extension national conference, Robert Hughes, Jr., Professor in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana outlined this radical shift in educational focus, including “from one-to-many” strategies of short messages broadcasted through Web sites, email newsletters, tweets, videos, and “many-to-many” strategies, including blogs, wikis, and social media.

However, few if any of these strategies are represented in the peer review process, or in the evaluation of scholarly activity, otherwise known in the academic world as promotion and tenure (P&T). P&T drives innovation in the system, and Hughes challenged the audience with a proposal for developing guidelines to include new media technologies in that process. Otherwise we continue to be faced with a dilemma:

  • How can the development of new media be encouraged if those products don’t even appear on the radar screen for evaluation of scholarly success?
  • How can the wheels of peer-review navigate down new media roads if those who do the peer review are not familiar with this new terrain?
  • How do promotion and tenure committees apply metrics that don’t exist in typical faculty P&T guidelines?

In a preview of its 2010 Horizon Report, the New Media Consortium observed:

“New scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching continue to emerge but appropriate metrics for evaluating them increasingly lag behind or fail to appear. Citation-based metrics are no longer indicative of the relative importance of a given piece of scholarly work; new forms of peer review and approval, such as reader ratings, inclusion in and mention by influential blogs, tagging, incoming links, and retweeting, are arising from the natural actions of the glob community of educators. These forms of approval are not yet recognized as significant.”

Here at Oregon State University, we have been struggling with this issue of how to support and implement the scholarly acceptance of new media in a process traditionally dominated by print journal publications. To that end we have identified the need for two levels of peer-review: a review by the content experts (where the buck stopped before), and a simultaneous review by media/instructional design specialists, who can judge the choice of media and its design, and recognize the look and feel of a successful learning product. We have identified several pilot new media projects to shepherd through what we hope will become a model for scholarly peer review.

We’ll be entering new territory and will face numerous challenges, including–as Professor Hughes pointed out–documenting impact, identifying metrics, and translating new media citations to a format that is compatible with traditional P&T citations.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to get buy-in on a new model from administrators, and particularly those who hold the cards in the P&T process. We have to look at an evolution—or perhaps a revolution—in evaluation to endorse new media as scholarly activity, and really begin to meet the rapidly changing needs of our clients.

You can view an Adobe Connect archive of Dr. Hughes presentation here.

A few weeks ago I boarded a flight to St. Louis for a conference and met a young man who made me realize how connected we’ve become with mobile technology, across not only distance, but across cultural and social divides.

On a typical connecting flight, the person in the seat next to me will be from thousands of miles away from my home , and sometimes light years away in their social, cultural and world view. Not surprisingly, this disparity can lead to just the briefest of conversations followed by hours of reading, listening to MP3 players, or watching in-flight movies.



My flight with Marc (not his real name) could have been that way. Our lives were vastly different: me–a white 50-something assistant professor from a small college town in Oregon, and Marc– a black 20-something car dealer from inner city New York.

But within moments of putting on our seat belts, we both had our mobile devices out, making our last-minute online connections before the plane’s door was closed. I had my new iPhone and Marc had his iPod Touch. There was an immediate connection as we nodded at each others technology, and the conversation began that would last for the entire three-hour flight.
Marc offered me half of his sandwich (I had foolishly neglected to get something before the flight) and we began comparing notes on our favorite apps. I described my latest hobby using Geocaching, with the iPhone’s built in GPS capabilities. Marc countered with Trapster, an app to alert you to the location of speed traps.
I shared a picture of my ride—a two-seater—with photo altered with ColorSplash. Marc countered with a photo of his motorcycle. I tapped up Cartoon-Wars, and Marc pulled up Wooden Labyrinth.

Eventually our conversation began to enter more serious territory–learning from mobile technology. I showed him how I could view science lectures on my iPhone from MIT for free on YouTube. We ruminated how open education is truly arriving, and learning about any topic (including the Theory of Relativity—another common interest) can be fully realized for free, on-line and while in motion.

We parted ways, with me promising to listen to his favorite music, rapper Juelz Santana, and Marc promising to look into the TED talks online. It was a wake-up call for me about how mobile technology can help break down so many walls, whether economic, cultural, or just the barriers set up by seat dividers.

I’ve been waiting patiently, but couldn’t take it any longer as I’ve watched more and more friends whip out their iPhone 3G to get a GPS fix on our location or perform some other mundane task sliced, diced and served on the micro-mobile-super computer that is the iPhone 3G. I know, I’m late to the party, but from the perspective of a technophile, I have to admit I’ve felt very much like Batman’s understudy in these situations. Ultimately, I just couldn’t wait for Veriiphone5zon and Apple to make nice.  I honestly don’t know where to start and I’m not accustomed to blushing, so I’ll simply share where I see potential as it relates to learning apps on the iPhone in general.  But first things first: I’m now convinced that any dialog about the iPhone should begin with a mandatory effort to share one’s favorite iPhone apps.  In that vein, the list below highlights my top 10 learning or educational apps for the iPhone, and attempts to point out where innovation and learning potential inherent to each app might paint a picture of potential future approaches in the world of online learning experiences.

Chris’ Top 10 Eductional Apps for the iPhone

1. Touch Physics by Games 4 Touch

A glimpse of the future now: seamless, motivational learning that is fun, kinesthetic and fully accessible. Learn about friction, gravity, mass, angles and other principles of physics via a clever game that allows you to exercise agency on both the physical and mental level–suitable for just about any age over 4 years old. I’m completely intrigued by the category of “Doodle games” (games where you draw objects on the touch screen that instantiate themselves in the game). These games open up a world of possibilities for any subject and seem like the perfect convergence of device, content and user motivation.  I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Geared by Bryan Mitchel–an extremely elegant interface that allows the user to manipulate spinning gears around variables of distance, proximity and speed.

2. Kindle for the iPhonekindle1
Of course you lose some ergonomics when compressing the Kindle into the iPhone shell, but the distribution system for e-books (especially those in the public domain) is wonderful. This app has a clever interface, lots of free books and access to the Amazon catalog via a “get book” button.

3. Abc Pocket Phonics

It’s not so much that my five year old adores this application (he does), but it’s what this type of application represents. For language acquisition, the approach is a highly compelling supplement and the touch screen features allow users to trace letters while listening to the sound or word.
Need to learn Chinese characters? Try eStroke Chinese Characters

4. iSeismometer


This application brought back memories of the first time I realized that the Wii controllers house an acceleramator and a gyrometer to measure motion and tilt. This application allows the iPhone to react to various types of external motion. This app provides a very innovative way to learn about how motion is translated into a digital representation.  You can submit your data directly to a website that associates your location with your seismograph data.  Can you think of some learning contexts for this technology?

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Social media networking from Twitter and Facebook, to whatever the next hot idea that evolves has one rule for success. “Know Your Audience!” is rule number one in the world of interactive communication. The real issue is less what we know about our audiences , than why we need to know.

Our university and all of the land-grant and non-land-grant peers around the country and the world are grappling with a significant issue in the new media world. We have a lot of content, which we want to push out to our target learners. Following rule number one, we know what they need. I mean really, we’re the “experts,” right? It’s our job to know who they are and what they need.

Our problem is we’re heavy on content and light on engagement. Or so says, ADVERGIRL in her latest blog post.

She lists the top four universities for actual engagement using social media networks. I’ll save you the suspense, Oregon State University is not one of them. But I think the ideas these institutions are pursing offer interesting possibilities for Outreach and Engagement at OSU.

When we consider social networks as tools for our enterprise, too often we miss the point and obsess on the “social” aspect, as if they are something that can’t be used “professionally.” However, if you focus on the “network” part of the concept it is easy to see how and where our audiences can begin to gain value engaging with us. If our goal is reciprocal, i.e. learning from the interaction as much as telling someone what we think they need to know, then the possibilities for real communication seem to surface.

The question is do we have the understanding and interest to develop online social networks that can take advantage of what we know from 100 years of face-to-face education and training? As Clive Thompson points our in his Wired magazine blog, this will not come from managers and CEOs.  Effective use of social networking will come from those who best understand their audiences and peers. It will come from those folks anywhere in an organization that are already adept at networking and understand the fundamental value of being connected.

A social network is basically the foundation for an effective team. Teams of people who know each other from some level of face-to-face interaction can be more effective in the short run than virtual teams thrown together with a goal but no previous interaction. Pure logic, it seems.

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