British Library Sound Map – Sheffield

The British Library has a project just started where the general public can record short soundscapes to be kept and archived for posterity. The pilot phase is happening right in the gorgeous city of Sheffield.

There was an article about it on BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight yesterday (listen via iPlayer from 39min42sec to 44mins) plus an article in the Sheffield Telegraph.

I spent my lunchtime recording some soundscapes in town, geo tagging and uploading them. By the time I got back to my desk they had already made it onto the British Library Sound Map.

Here’s my tweet about it. Follow the #uksm on Twitter.

Application of this concept has some great potential for education. It also shows what a multi-tool the smart phone has become.

So if you want to be a little part of history, get recording sounds to Audioboo. More details are on my previous blog post about Audioboo.

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Multiphysics simulation – Physics engine

I’ve seen a fair bit of discussion relating to the Lagoa Technology Inc.’s video since it was posted three days ago, mostly relating to how we are going to see advances in gaming technology as a result. But it occurs to me that the potential of such a high definition physics engine for teaching principles of Physics or modelling in a Physics, Material Sciences or Engineering research environment is substantial.

You can see the action of granular material, deformation of structures, elasticity, and more. Anyway, take a look at the video:

The programmer, Thiago Costa, is obviously very talented. He also created this smoke simulation.

Socialwok via Google Apps

I’m currently looking into the Apps available from the Marketplace for a Google Apps for Education installation. One area of particular interest is social collaboration. If, for example, you are running a dedicated social collaboration enterprise solution that is good but expensive, is there a viable cheaper alternative through Google Apps?

Well, I think there is a serious contender and it’s called Socialwok.

Some people call Socialwok – Facebook for business on Google Apps

If you think about it, Google Apps is a loose collection of Apps. Socialwok does an amazing job of tying this collection together and enables you to see all the activity across the Apps, be that Calendar, Google Docs, Activities, etc. Content can be kept private to a company/university/school, with restricted access to specific groups via the ‘feeds’ arrangement within Socialwok. However, it’s also possible to publish to Socialwok while simultaneously publishing out to Google Buzz, Twitter, and Facebook; a time saver and potentially great publicity mechanism. Also external collaborators can be granted access to a specific Socialwok feed, something that I know is required.

The personnel at Socialwok are technically very impressive and rather astute business-wise, which is always a plus point when considering longevity in today’s world of technological winners and those that fall along the wayside. I think this video by Robert Scobles (Scobleizer) from Google I/O 2010 Conference in which he asks Is Socialwok the best of the collaborative enterprise social services? demonstrates both these aspects.

Another innovation with Socialwok is the integration with Seesmic to create a desktop facility (read the Seesmic blog post) to monitor and contribute to your ‘corporate business activities’, or ‘course studies’ in an educational setting, alongside maintaining your PLN of contacts via Twitter and Facebook. This is bringing Google Apps to the Desktop in a full featured client, with real-time social search and relevance ranking functionality. This integration is a point of pure business genius, and is highly significant, which I have to applaud.

My interest is in educational uses. When it comes to appealing to students and encouraging them to work with social collaboration media, the fact that the environment has a ‘look & feel’ of something they are already used to has distinct advantages.

Of course you might need to hammer home the differences in the philosophy underlying each. Something I wrote previously on the subject:

[Facebook/MySpace/etc] is out there, it’s open, just do what you do in there. The [university/college/school] collaboration environment is something different; it’s not trying to be [Facebook/MySpace/etc], and it’s certainly not trying to compete with [Facebook/MySpace/etc]. Our collaboration environment is more akin to a professional environment you might see within companies when you’ve graduated [uni/college/school], or a social network relating to a particular area of professional interest (an international science social network for example).

The [uni/college/school] has provided our environment as a secure place, where you can work through your ideas, collaborate with others, develop an understanding of how to participate in a professional manner, with the assurance that your work is secure and that your ideas remain just that belonging to you and the [uni/college/school]. The loss of your Intellectual Property is a consideration if you use openly available tools and environments hosted elsewhere. Put more simply, if you put your work or your ideas somewhere on the web, you might just have given those ideas away (the chances are you won’t have checked the small print).

By developing the additional skills that using such a tool can enable, you can demonstrate to future employers your ability to work professionally within a collaborative environment.

There are probably particular benefits to using the environment for researchers, with respect to Intellectual Property and the ability to work and share with external colleagues, partners and collaborators from anywhere in the world.

I’m rather interested by Socialwok and I need to investigate more fully its potential for educational use with colleagues.

Data Visualization

For a long time I’ve been interested in infographics. More recently I’m finding myself increasingly interested in data visualization. I don’t currently have the time to study any programming necessary for manipulating data, so I turned my attention to something I do know about – identifying and using freely available online services. So for the last couple of days I’ve been looking at what’s available, and here are some of my findings.

I’ll start with Tableau Public. On the site there’s free software to download, and the video provides an excellent introduction to the capabilities of the software and service. It’s simply a case of importing your data set and using the intuitive and straightforward operations of the software to quickly create visual representations of the data for easy interpretation. But that’s not all. You can now upload the graph, or map, or dashboard to the web onto the Tableau Software server. From there you can access it and embed it into a blog or elsewhere. But the information is served live, so it’s interactive, therefore the readers and other users of the information can manipulate the representation to narrow an area of the data, to target specific information of interest; heck, they can even embed it into their own blog and distribute the information more widely. The fact that the Wall Street Journal and UNESCO have used it to illustrate points from raw data has to speak volumes. I’ll certainly be using it in earnest from now on.

Another service to consider is Widgenie. This is a completely online service that allows you to create five types of graphical output. There is a very useful realtime representation of the graph alongside the creation ‘wizard’. Once you’ve finished creating your ‘widget’ you can then link to the graph for example to give co-workers access, you can publish to your iGoogle desktop, or you can embed it using the supplied code into a blog or webpage. There are some useful instructional video screencasts to help you get started.

Finally, if you are wanting to study some existing data sets, relating to the UK ecomomy for example, I’d suggest having a look at Timetric. Here you can view graphs, and manipulate the data, adding in additional elements from a series to compare the data graphically. Here’s the Retail Price Index, UK: average prices of the basket of goods used as an example.

Quizlet ™ Flashcard based memory testing

Quizlet™ is a rather good flashcard based learning tools.

Screenshot of Quizlet flashcard

You can create your own set of flashcards or use the large library created by others and made public.

The flashcards allow you to learn subject terms in a number of ways, and test yourself or your students also in a number of ways, including quiz questions and a couple of game based tests.

Quizlet screenshot of study and game options

I personally particularly enjoyed the scatter game, where you have to drag terms onto their definitions, or vice versa, against the clock. You can then repeat the game and try to beat your best time.

Screenshot of Quizlet Scatter game

This demo screencast explains Quizlet™ nicely.

Existing flashcards you can use to learn with are categorized into:

  • Arts & Literature
    • Literature
    • Authors
    • Books
    • Music
    • Visual Arts
    • Performing Arts
    • Others
  • Languages & Vocabulary
    • Parts of Speech
    • English and European Languages
    • Asian & Pacific Languages
    • Chinese Languages
    • Japanese Languages
    • Indian Languages
    • Middle Eastern Languages
    • Slavic Languages
    • Others
  • Maths & Science
    • Chemistry
    • Earth Sciences
    • Engineering
    • Health Sciences
    • Life Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
  • History & Geography
    • Anthropology
    • Civics
    • History
    • Religion
    • Countries
    • Regions
    • Cities
  • Standardized Tests
  • Professional & Careers
    • Business & Financial
    • Computers & Engineering
    • Healthcare & Medicine
    • Law
    • Others

Link to the best, don’t recreate the same old stuff

I followed a link on a tweet today to Jeff Jarvis’ blog post and I’m so glad I did.

Sometimes you come across some work that strikes a chord with your own work or beliefs. This was one of those moments. In his TEDxNYED video Jeff talks about using the best resources that are available and simply linking to them, instead of reproducing them. It does mean reassessing what education is, what format it takes, after all if you can access some of the best lectures in the world online, for free, (as I wrote about here and here) what is the value of sitting through someone else delivering the same topic without any interaction?

I remember something I wrote in the Social Media Co-Lab forums:

Posted on: Fri, 11/14/2008 – 07:29 Following on from Free

I think we should be tapping into what others are providing without having to repackage the material into the ‘corporate identity’ of an institution. Doing so simple seems a waste of time and effort, and doesn’t necessarily reward (not financially speaking; more citing and recognition) the original author. If we are working towards a vast educational community approach to resources, I feel we should be finding (and passing on) the best examples of material already produced, and not necessarily recreating them.

For example, I was recently passed a link to a site where someone was creating screencasts of how to use various software. The individual had won an award for this site. Fair enough, what he’s created is a good resource now, all very uniform. But it doesn’t really align with my own philosophy. Why not just create a wiki linking to the best you can find of other people’s screencasts of how to use software? It may look more different and dirty but I’d say possibly it gets learners thinking about a few things: they see that not everything useful has to come from a recognised, uniform resource; they as learners can go out and find material and they need to evaluate its credibility; they themselves can produce material to share; they can be part of the bigger community (for example, by editing the wiki linking to all these resources).

Which received a response from Will Richardson (yes that Will Richardson):

Posted on: Fri, 11/14/2008 – 12:49 Rolling Your Own as Opposed to Rolling Others

(Or something like that…)

Just picking up on what Mark said above in terms of choosing between making yet another how to screencast or collecting the best of what’s out there and spending time reading and thinking rather than creating, I agree. I like the effects he cites in terms of

“they see that not everything useful has to come from a recognised, uniform resource; they as learners can go out and find material and they need to evaluate its credibility; they themselves can produce material to share; they can be part of the bigger community (for example, by editing the wiki linking to all these resources).”

Not that it totally relates here, but a while back on my blog I posted about the need to take photos of beautiful places we visit when we can gets tons of photos of those places already on Flickr with a CC license that would let us remix and reuse them. Now I know that I want pictures of my kids while they are actually snorkling in the Barrier Reef, etc. but I wonder sometimes why some have so much trouble with using what is already out there instead of re-creating it in yet another way.

It’s Friday, and I’m tired, so I hope that made some sense. Yes, we want our students to be creators and connectors, but we also don’t want them reinventing the wheel either.

Well, here’s Jeff’s video for you to watch yourself (watchout for the language).

Social Media Co-Lab was created by Howard Rheingold