My Big Fat Idea: educational designs for mobile learners

Posted by matthew on Nov 18, 2014 in education, technology

My big fat idea is this.  I think we need to be able to design learning experiences for students in a way that is informed by their real, everyday experience. Check out my talk for the Big Fat Ideas series here.


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Handbook of Design in Educational Technology

Posted by matthew on Jul 17, 2013 in education, learning spaces, technology

At long last, the release of The Handbook of Design in Educational Technology, Chapter 2 of which is by Mike Keppell and me about the evaluation of learning spaces.  I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book myself! Here’s the blurb:

The Handbook of Design in Educational Technology provides up-to-date, comprehensive summaries and syntheses of recent research pertinent to the design of information and communication technologies to support learning. Readers can turn to this handbook for expert advice about each stage in the process of designing systems for use in educational settings; from theoretical foundations to the challenges of implementation, the process of evaluating the impact of the design and the manner in which it might be further developed and disseminated.

The volume is organized into the following four sections: Theory, Design, Implementation, and Evaluation.


10 Great Books on Technology

Posted by matthew on Jul 15, 2013 in technology

Cross posted from Science Book a Day.

‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ by Michel Foucault (1975)
This might sound a strange place to start, but stay with me.  I read this as an undergraduate and plainly remember wondering what all the fuss was about at the time.  I now look back on Foucault’s writings as a turning point in my understanding of key concepts to do with the power of technology — illustrated with cogent ideas such as the panopticon, which seems more and more relevant today. Everyone should be forced to read this. That’s a joke. However, I will be watching to check that you do.

‘Learning Spaces’ by Maggi Savin-Baden (2008)
This is a brilliant book which introduced some exciting ideas for me on the ways in which different forms of learning spaces enable ways of thinking, and drew a connection from learning space design to concepts in material semiotics and the study of socio-technical networks. Your mileage may vary, of course!

‘The Nature of Technology’ by Arthur W. Brian (2009)
This excellent work taught me that technologies are ‘self-creating’, consisting of ‘assemblies and sub-assemblies’, meaning that new technologies almost always arise as new combinations of old technologies.  This is a great way to understand the evolution of technologies, and how for example jet aeroplanes came into existence, and helped me understand why Apple so infuriated and confused some people when it came out with the iPad at the end of a decade of tablet device failures and it turned into a raging success.

‘Alone Together’ by Sherry Turkle (2010)
Turkle presents a near future when robots become true companions, challenging us to consider a spectrum of possibilities from love to Frankenstein’s monster. In discussing her favourite topic (and mine) of identity, she even refers to one of the most enduring sci fi classic films, Bladerunner.

‘Digital Difference’ edited by Ray Land and Sian Bayne (2011)
This edited volume presents a lovely combination of chapters presenting a critical view of the idea that there is a ‘net generation’ at odds with other generations, and explores the multitude of ways that technologies transform and destabilise relations and authorities, among many other things.

‘The Whale and the Reactor’ by Langdon Winner (1986)
An absolute classic introduction to the philosophy of technology that introduced me to the notion that technologies are political whether we recognise it or not.

‘Diaspora’ by Greg Egan (1997)
Well written, engaging ‘hard’ sci fi is rare and it is even more rare to find novels as challenging and engaging as this one. This story of a distant future in which being posthuman becomes a necessity is mindbending as well as inspiring, with three alternatives explored: genetic, virtual and robotic. Best treated as a highly speculative extended thought experiment, for the most chilling effect I dare you to get the iBook and get Siri to read the first few pages aloud.

‘e-Shock 2020′ by Michael de Kare-Silver (2011)
Unflinchingly utopic and deterministic though this fairly slim book may be, it’s irresistable in its accessible presentation of interesting ideas such as the transition from ‘point and click’ all the way through to ‘think talk move’ by 2020.

‘Laboratory Life: the Social Construction of Scientific Facts’ by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1979)
Another book ahead of its time that forever changed the way I thought about science and technology.  What do scientists do in laboratories, and why is theory so privileged over practice in science? Just how do facts become facts?  What happens if we go back to a time when established facts were controversies?  This beautifully written book helped me see how social studies of science and technology can provide answers to questions like these and set me on the path to using actor-network theory.

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K Dick (1968)
Alright, it’s a novella, but can anything really come close to this?  If you still haven’t read this book, which was adapted for the movie Bladerunner, shame on you.  Worth coming back to time and time again, it’s worth remembering that this dystopic vision of future human/non-human existence dates before the first moon landing. Genius.


Couch to 5K Songs

Posted by matthew on Feb 20, 2010 in health, music, technology

On Australia Day I started the Couch to 5K running program, and I’m now up to week 4. For a while I was using a purpose built C25K app on my iPhone, but I’ve now switched to Runkeeper Pro, which is really excellent. It creates a GPS map of your run and automagically posts it online for you, but the feature I like most is that you can quickly and easily set up your run in intervals. It’s simple to set it up to coach you through an interval program, while playing your own track list in the background. It’s magic. So I have been trying to find the perfect song list to motivate me while I’m out there. Here’s the best set I’ve come up with so far:
1 A-team Intro / The A-Team / The A-Team
2 Nicotine & Gravy / Beck / Midnite Vultures
3 Gloria / Them / The Best of Van Morrison [Mercury]
4 Buddy Holly / Weezer / Weezer
5 Tainted Love / Soft Cell / The Very Best of Soft Cell
6 Lust for Life / Iggy Pop / Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop
7 Wild America / Iggy Pop / Nude & Rude: The Best of Iggy Pop
8 One After 909 / The Beatles / Let It Be
9 Back In The U.S.S.R. / The Beatles / Love
10 I’m Waiting For The Man / The Velvet Underground / The Velvet Underground & Nico


Mapping Graduate Capabilities – GradMapper

Posted by matthew on Sep 18, 2009 in education, technology

About GradMapper
Since downloading revMedia a couple of weeks ago (see previous post), my little project has turned into something that I hope will be quite useful. I’ve written an application (in the end using Revolution Studio) that creates heat maps! It’s called GradMapper, and this is what it looks like:


The project I’m working on is about curriculum mapping. The problem is to get a picture of where students are exposed to various generic skills (or ‘graduate capabilities’) like writing, speaking, critical thinking, team work, and so on across a program of study. A heat map allows information in a couple of different categories to be combined in one two dimensional map, through the use of colour/shade as well as size. The columns are subjects, the size of the bubbles represents how much something is taught, and the intensity of the colour represents how confident we are with the evidence. I took a look at what kind of software was out there to create this kind of a diagram, and realised it was reasonably easy to create something with off the shelf packages like Excel, but it was difficult to really customise the look of the graphs or create a workflow to suit the task.

Data Entry

I realised that I really wanted to be able to create a simple table of data, look at the map, and save it online, without dealing with uploading/downloading every time. I wanted to be able to click a menu and compare two graphs from two different programs, overlay them if necessary, and share the data with someone somewhere else. After mucking around with Revolution for a while I realised it was going to be easier to write my own application, and that other people might want to use it as well. What’s more, it would be much easier to share the methodology we developed for our project if there was a tool like this to support it. The Data Entry screen above is where the tables are entered. Clicking on the list of Maps on the right selects a map. The application uses MySQL to store the map data, and draws the maps as you go. It’s working really well now, and I’m adding new features daily. The next version will have the ability to overlay multiple maps for comparisons. And yes, it will be available for Mac and Windows — I will probably also post an online test version here using the revWeb plugin when it becomes a bit more stable. If you’re interested in being a beta tester, please let me know.


HyperCard lives

Posted by matthew on Aug 28, 2009 in education, technology

Not everyone will remember HyperCard, but those out there who do certainly remember it fondly. In many ways, HyperCard is the reason I first became interested in educational technology, and it is certainly the reason that I was able to get into programming.  People who know me now as a bit of a technophile are always surprised when I tell them that my first experience with computers at school left me cold.  I took very little notice and couldn’t see any point at all in writing a 20 line basic program that could write my name.

When my mum brought home a MacPlus in 1987 I remember becoming captivated by the paper white screen, the Finder icons and MacPaint, but when HyperCard came along later that year I was quickly obsessed by the idea that I could create my own applications.  I am pretty sure I was more interested in messing around with HyperCard than my final year of school, but my gap year turned out to be an opportunity to start working on it more seriously.  To cut a long story short, basically my entire career can be traced back to the opportunities provided by HyperCard to quickly and easily test out new ideas and then make something useful from them.

So when HyperCard was left to wither in the 90s and finally dropped by Apple in 2004 I was naturally very disappointed. HyperCard is not supported by MacOSX. I’ve used most of the commercial products that have tried to keep the dream alive, including in particular SuperCard and Revolution, but there has always been a reason not to invest the time and effort required to use them.

However, the time may well have arrived for the return of HyperCard in the form of a new web-only development tool by the people who make Revolution.  It’s called revMedia, and the best part is that it’s absolutely free. As their press release says:

“revMedia is a fully featured authoring tool that includes an integrated development environment (IDE) for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.”

I downloaded the alpha without high expectations. I thought this was going to be a very cut down tool with the ability to move a few things around on a screen and basically create Flash style animations.  I’m not sure I would be willing to install a new plugin (and require others to do the same) if that’s all I was getting.  However, this is the real deal. It feels very much like a version of HyperCard that has been updated with all the things you’d like to be able to do now.  Reading stuff in from the web, vector graphics, OS widgets for Mac and Windows, quicktime, and other media formats, etc.  The best part is that language and is just as useful, easy to read and dependable as the old HyperTalk.  I started writing a curriculum mapping tool immediately, and didn’t stop until I had to go to bed at 3am.  I really hope this product is as exciting for new users as it is for old school HyperCard fans like me.


Augmented Reality apps on the iPhone

Posted by matthew on Jul 25, 2009 in science, technology

Apple’s inclusion of a magnometer (digital compass) inside the new iPhone 3G S could be more significant than some people think. This new app demonstrates why. Pretty soon we are going to see apps that make use of this feature to provide information about our environment embedded in the live image from the phone’s camera. So directions to the nearest train station might be even harder to mess up!


Initial thoughts on iPhone 3G

Posted by matthew on Jun 10, 2008 in education, technology

Today Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPhone during his keynote at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.  Overall I was very happy with the news,  particularly with the confirmation that Australia is one of the 22 countries it will be released to on July 11.  The announcement about on board GPS is the most important to me.  I can’t wait for geotagging, and getting directions on the road.  Tom Tom manufacturers must be very worried right now.  The third party application demos were extremely cool, and a distribution model that takes higher education settings into account is a very welcome. I’m also personally very happy that they will be improving VPN and Exchange capabilities with the new firmware, because that’s going to make a significant difference to me at my workplace.

There were a few disappointments for me however.  The fact that there is still no 32Gb version was a surprise.  I realise that it’s because of the importance they are putting on affordability, but 16Gb is not really a lot when you start using video, photos and music on a regular basis.  The iPhone isn’t just another smart phone, it’s a new category of device.  I’m also disappointed there’s no news on pricing in Australia, but I remain hopeful that it will be in line with the US. The most troubling thing is that there has been no announcement from Apple Australia about purchasing the iPhone outright, which makes me think that the phones will be tied to contracts as they have been elsewhere to date.  But again, I’ll wait and see.  There was also one other thing I expected to see in the iPhone 2.0 firmware that wasn’t mentioned:  support for Macromedia Flash.  This seems overdue.


The Shutdown Method

Posted by matthew on Jan 22, 2008 in education, research, technology

The Shutdown Method is the second of four qualitative methods we’ve been using as part of the Learning Landscape Project, and one we found very useful.  A similar approach known as the Cold Turkey Method was used at RMIT University in Australia as part of a Media and Communications course. The idea and the name were also partly inspired by the annual International Shutdown Day, a social experiment in which people from around the world are requested to go without their computer for a day. In each case, the purpose of forgoing technology is to bring the everyday experience of technologies into sharp relief. This paper might be useful if you are interested in trying something similar: The Shutdown Method: A Resource Kit.


ascilite Research Grant

Posted by matthew on Dec 3, 2007 in education, melbourne, technology

It’s official now, so I guess I can announce it here.  I’m really happy to have been awarded a small ascilite research grant for a proposed project on ‘ICTs in the daily lives of Australian university students’, which follows up on the work Mike Arnold and I started here at Cambridge.  It’s a fun project, involving giving students cameras and diaries, and asking them to record their daily lives by answering a few questions 10 times in a day. Best of all it gives me something to plan for when I get back to Melbourne.  It’s 9 weeks today until we leave…