Dear Father Christmas…..

As always I’ve been a good girl and decided that a seasonal approach to my final blog entry of the year would be appropriate.  Below is a (short) list of some technology that I’d like to find wrapped up for me on Christmas day:

  • Sony PRS-600
    This is the latest version of the Sony e-reader, we’ve been using the Sony PRS-505 as part of our DUCKLING project (http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/projects/duckling), but this latest version features a touch screen which I think will make it more intuitive and easier to use based on how I’ve seen people try to initially use the PRS-505.  The Kindle is reported to be the ‘most wished for’ Christmas present (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/dec/02/technology-gadgets-for-christmas), we might be seeing students coming back with e-readers after the holidays ready for University produced e-books?
  • Universal Solar Phone Charger
    I’m forever running out of battery on my phone and on my iPod, very annoying when you’re expecting a phone call, listening to music on a long car journey, or tweeting during a conference.  This handy little gadget will enable me (hopefully) to keep my technology charged, or at least until I can get back home.  With our culture seemingly becoming more dependent on technology this means we never have to face the panic of being without.
  • Microsoft Surface
    Because a girl can dream that she can afford these things! Microsoft Surface lets you touch the surface of a screen which is on a horizontal surface to move files, edit video, even ripple water!  If you can afford it, this could revolutionise the way you interact and collaborate in education and business.  
  • High Definition Eyes
    This might not be on my Christmas list quite yet (I still have 20-20 vision), but I’ve included it to show the advances in technology and that advances will always be made.  This news story is about an ‘artificial lens’ made from light sensitive silicone which can be fine tuned to each individuals prescription.  Reading a brief history of cataract surgery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cataract_surgery#History) people have always been curious and felt the need to advance, and it makes me wonder what will be next? 
  • Etre Touchy Gloves
    Why are these on the list?  Basically because they’re fun! These are gloves with the tip of the thumb and index finger missing to enable you to keep your hands warm in winter while still being able to press the buttons on your mp3 player, phone or whatever device you are using.

Hopefully you’ve seen something that you like and can see how some of these gifts would be used for education, I’ve given a brief reason how and why I think they can be used.  I used the Guardians Christmas Gift Guide for inspiration: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2009/nov/27/christmas-gift-guide-gadgets?picture=356240049 and I hope that you all get everything you want for Christmas (if you’ve been good that is)!

One last thing to add to the list that will improve your New Year: Registration to our Learning Futures Festival Online – registration closes the 23rd December.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

A New E-Book Reader from Asus to Join the Market

I’ve been doing my best to stay updated with some of the developments related to e-book readers. The BDRA blog is certainly a useful resource for this and recent entries by Emma, Terese and Ming have all been very helpful in this respect.

An article in the Times Online (from the 6th September) recently caught my attention. It focused on a new e-book reader from a company called Asus which, apparently, should be available by Christmas this year. According to this article, the Asus ‘Eee reader’ claims to be ‘cleverer’ and ‘more versatile’ than existing readers on the market. So what is it about this e-book reader that makes it different?

There are several features of this product that make me believe it may change the e-book reader market. The first, is that the Eee reader will have two screens, with a hinged spine  to make it open out like a printed book. It will also have touch-screen capabilities, enabling readers to turn the pages by moving them from one screen to the next. The pages will be shown in colour and one side of the screen may be used to browse web pages, or could act as a ‘virtual keyboard.’

These features, plus further discussion around the possibility of webcams, speakers and microphones for Skype, meant that I began to think that Asus may be justified in thinking this product will ‘shake up’ the existing market of e-book readers. They are well qualified to do so, as Asus created the Eee PC which helped to start the current Netbook craze.

On top of these innovations, Asus is aiming to make it the cheapest digital reader on the market, making it even more accessible to the general public and meaning that the use of e-book readers as a whole will grow. Asus hope to produce two versions: a budget version and a premium version, with the budget version costing somewhere in the region of £100.

At the time of writing this blog, the final details of the device are yet to be confirmed. However, with the speed at which these things develop I would not be surprised if, by Christmas, there are more features added to the list above. I will certainly be watching with interest to see how this develops!

Dr Kelly Barklamb

Small Scale Experimental Machine

Almost three years to the day I took up a short-term contract with the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester. I left a full-time, well paid job, moved my family from Sheffield to Leicester to take up the challenge of implementing what was then just the concept of the Media Zoo. What sold this position to me was not only the opportunity of working in a high class research-led institution; but more importantly for me was the idea of exploring the Exotics House and the future adoption of educational technologies for teaching and learning.

In my tenure as the Keeper of the Media Zoo I have been fortunate to be part of the explosion of podcasts in education, the use of hand-held mobile devices and more recently the immersion opportunities provided by Second Life. I have worked with some amazing people and organisations during this time which would take me too long to mention! I said recently at a conference in Poland that in the last three years I have learnt more than at any other point of my life – and I meant it! But where did this idea of technology futurism begin – well that is a debate for another day but maybe it started with the Baby?

60 years to the day the Small Scale Experimental Machine, or “Baby”, was the first computer to contain memory which could store a program. The room-sized computer’s ability to carry out different tasks, without having to be rebuilt, has led some to describe it as the “first modern PC”. Using just 128 bytes of memory, it successfully ran its first set of instructions to determine the highest factor of a number on 21 June 1948.

“We were extremely excited,” Geoff Tootill, one of the builders of Baby told BBC News. “We congratulated each other and then went and had lunch in the canteen.” I like their style!

It may be time for me to move onto pastures new, but I’m certain the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, the Media Zoo and the University of Leicester will continue to undertake cutting-edge, innovate research for the good of education. I’m just pleased to have played a small part in the process of innovating education through research.

Thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of working with and I look forward to seeing you all on the circuit soon when I start my new job with Pebble Learning.

Matthew

“Give up texting for Lent”

recent BBC News item reported that, the archbishop of the Italian city of Modena wants young Catholics to give up text messaging, social networking websites and computer games for Lent. Monsignor Benito Cocchi is reported to have said that foregoing the activity would help young people “cleanse themselves from the virtual world and get back in touch with themselves”. Other Italian bishops are reported to have given their backing to the appeal. If one discounts the religious context within which the above remarks were made, one cannot ignore the profound implications for learning with technology amongst student with some religious persuasion.

  • Is there such a thing as technological addiction e.g. iphone-itous? (apologies Matt Wheeler)
  • To what extent do individual or collective beliefs, be they religious or secular, shape use or non-use of technological tools either for socialising and/or for learning?

Recently, a participant in a project I was involved with insisted that learning without technology is much better because it frees the mind to focus on the learning. For this individual, technologically mediated learning is “disruptive” to her learning lifestyle. Sadly, she may not be alone in holding such view; the notion that technology is disruptive to daily lives has been the subject of much academic writing.  (See for example Conole et al., (2008) on “disruptive technologies” in Computers and Education vol 50/2).

The call for “virtual cleansing” from mobile technological use raises a challenge for shaping the attitudes and beliefs of members of our society who may still trapped in the Dickensian age.

The role of “Learning Technology Evangelist” as coined by our Media Zoo Keeper remains a realistic option for changing such attitudes.

Sahm Nikoi (18 March 2008).

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