The Learning Self

This post is a little off-topic but relates to learning, and more specifically, my own learning online. In a previous lifetime (about 15 years ago now) I was going to school to be an audio engineer – and we learned about electronics as part of the core courses to graduate. It’s been handy to know about circuits and electrical theory, but I haven’t used it in many years so it’s not on top of my mind. I’ve been thinking about building guitar effects pedals, so I’ve been prowling around the web looking for lessons on soldering (my weakness), schematics and whatever else I could find. And I’ve found a lot! Tons of message boards, plenty of PDF schematics, lots of discussion around noise-making, adapting circuits, bent circuits and many beginners tutorials. In fact, had I known back then what I know now, I might not have given it up to do something else.

What this has to do with learning is simple, in my case, I’m motivated to learn and will spend most of my time doing so if given the freedom to do so. Much like learning in informal settings – motivated learners taking on tasks that are directed to solving their problems.

Check Out My New Digital Camera

picture of Mavica digital camera (manufactured circa 2001)

It’s a Sony Mavica. With a whopping 1.3 megapixel camera, 320×240 MPEG video capability, and stores the pictures on a 3.5 floppy. Yes, I’m into the new age now…

Okay, enough sarcasm. This is the first digital camera I worked with, probably as early as 2001 taking faculty photographs for the department website. The camera was good back then, but was ancient within three years. By 2003 my wife had bought a Canon A40, which was a great camera. It makes me wonder what is going to happen with all these manufactured digital goods. I’m keeping this one as a paperweight/discussion point, but that’s not really a good use. I suspect that many of these items will be torn apart, with capacitors and other components de-soldered and reused in other projects by hobbyists and green focused companies.

Flickr Hits 5 Billion

Flickr hitting five billion photos is interesting for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I’m sure not everyone on Flickr has organized their pictures which means a lot of unorganized, untagged photos. Sure you can tag them, but most folks aren’t interested in spending a lot of time telling the computer what’s in the photo, they’re more interested in sharing. I would like my tags to align to sets but hey, I’m a bit obsessive about organizing things.  (I also just realized that they dropped the 3 sets maximum for a standard account)

It also means that digital photography has replaced the shoebox full of  physical photos. Yes, not a new thing, but the volume of photos being taken, captured and uploaded to not only Flickr, but Tumblr, Facebook, Photobucket (despite their pisspoor terms of service and inconsistent management of “violations” which can’t be explained) and elsewhere are at least double that. The search engine that can manage that information across multiple sharing sites and does it intelligently (no, Google isn’t doing that right now) will be a big player.

Another big piece of the puzzle that interests me the most is whether or not people are getting better at taking photos. If one could look at the 3000 photos a minute that are uploaded, I suspect that we’d see that a lot of people have gotten better at taking photographs. Maybe some have taken courses, or actively sought out instruction (online or in person) how to take better pictures, but most have just gotten better because they’ve done it more or received some feedback on a picture that people liked and did more of that (whatever that is). I guess the five trillion words that the five billion photos are worth would make for some decent instruction on how to take a good photo.

Information Verification

Apparently there’s a bit of a kerfuffle over an Egyptian newspaper emphasizing their president over the US president by photoshopping him at the head of the line. That’s not particularly interesting to me, but what is interesting is that a blogger discovered this. This year, I’ve a couple other incidents of mainstream media being caught with their hands in the cookie jar – either not attributing work of a crowdsourced translator or this latest political gaffe. It seems that the public is alive and well, at least when they are pointing out other’s errors.

Thinkering – On Tinkering and Thinking

I was reading this article over on O’Reilly about education and what we teach these days – now I work for a College in Ontario, Mohawk College specifically, and whenever I’ve taught I’ve always focused on the practical. Looking back on my own formal education, I really only remember the things I’ve made, and rarely remember the things I’ve learned. Looking at my informal education – it’s all self-taught, and project based. Need to know how to parse data with regular expressions? Read about it and do it. Try. Experiment. That’s what has been successful for me. The problem is when the tinkering is not well guided – when the experimentation leads to frustration and usually giving up… so whenever these ideas are implemented in a formal setting some thought needs to be given to the whole experience. Experimentation allows the learner to take ownership of the learning, in the form of the tangible product created by the experimentation – the output.

Start of Another Year

No, I’m not 9 months late… although that wouldn’t surprise me after the day I’ve had. Walking around Mohawk College today, and it was nice to see the renovations pull into the home stretch. After the summer we’ve had it’s been a  bit of a head scratcher as to whether they’d get it done in time. Saw a couple of interesting technical things throughout the college – the first thing that struck me was the use of QR codes on t-shirts that the “ask me” folks were wearing. I’ll try to grab a photo tomorrow and see what it links to. I know there was a lot of ideas over the last few months about the use of QR codes to augment reality, it’s nice to see that they’re being used even if only in a limited way. Especially so considering the amount of Asian students who are coming from China and Japan, where QR codes are more prevalent.

Another thing is that after a year of full D2L implementation, we’re getting better quality online courses for review. It’s nice to see that faculty have taken the time to embrace some of these ideas… and it’s even better when they surpass what’s been laid out in front of them.

Checkin’ The E-Mail

As Strongbad from Homestarrunner would say, “e-mail, the e-mail…” and it appears that the e-mail is getting a second set of legs. George Siemens encapsulated the last week or so fairly well, which got me thinking about what makes e-mail so durable. It’s not a particularly friendly social tool – you have to know an address before you can make any sort of connection. It’s not very searchable, as anyone who’s had an e-mail for any amount of time, you probably also have a lot of junk, despite your best attempts to get your inbox to zero, which reminds me, why do we need to get the inbox to zero again? Why is it so bad to have e-mails unread?

I think the real hook for e-mail is that it’s not complicated to use, the entry point for e-mail is really low. The idea around it is familiar, there’s 20 years of history, and people who otherwise don’t get the Internet and computers get e-mail. It’s a perfect storm of a digital analogy that’s gone right. So what can be learned from this?

First of all, don’t try to create an e-mail killer, try to create an enhancement for e-mail. That’s what Google has done with the prioritize feature (they learned that trying to create a killer ahem, of e-mail is not what people want). Sort it differently, view attachments inline, these are sense making tools that help. E-mail is an increasingly private activity, well, as private as plain text is, in a social web. People want a level of privacy in their lives, which e-mail can provide. Any e-mail killer (really, you shouldn’t try to do this, but if you insist…) will have to have some privacy attached if you’re going to get converts.