The Newest Tech Buzz: 3-D Printing

I know that we have been interested in 3-D Printing at EGJ for a while now, but it finally seems that this newer area of technology is finally catching on and becoming a new buzz word.  At least, the New York Times thinks it is.

Reading about 3-D printing reminds me of other technology breakthroughs and where I first used them – things like Laser Jet printers, flat-bed scanners, copy machines, etc.  Usually, these technologies were too large and expensive to be practical for home use (just like 3-D printers are now). It was usually up to my high school or college to get one and then put it in a central location in a library or computer lab.  So you have to wonder – how long before we see these popping up in campus around the world?

Better yet – how long until we see papers and PowerPoint projects replaced with 3-D print assignments on a regular basis?  Think that this kind of assignment will only be for art or computer science majors?  At one time, printing out a paper was only seen as something you did in computer classes – typewriters were seen as “proper” for all other fields.

The more I think about things like this, the more I realize that so many parts of education have changed radically over the past few decades.  There is still much more that needs to change, but those that think education has been stale and unchanging for decades obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Will We Go To The Matrix, Or Will The Matrix Come To Us?

Two new patent applications by Apple reveal the possibility that future iPhones will actually record “video or photos and use the information to render an object or location in 3D.” In other words, three-dimensional recording of places and objects. Once you can start recording places and objects on an Internet-enabled device, there will be virtually no barriers between the physical and virtual.  These recordings could be mashed together with digital information, and then ported out to any device – from the iPhone itself to a heads-up display on a car windshield or even to a special pair of virtual reality glasses.  Imagine what could happen if cars start coming equipped with this recording method?  Or think about what student reports on field trips would be like if they had this on an Internet-enabled device?

The possibilities are endless.  Neil Hughes of AppleInsider had this thought: “If enabled on millions of devices, this sort of 3D mapping could be uploaded over the Internet and then shared with other users, allowing a sort of “hive mind” functionality in generating comprehensive and up-to-date real-world renderings.”

So, will we go to the matrix, or will the matrix come to us?

Predicting the Future is a Risky Business

Part of my day job involves following trends and predicting what might happen in the future of online education.  Pretty risky business – I remember ten years ago when one article predicted that all colleges would one day have at least one class delivered online through AOL.  A-O-Who? Do they still exist?

But despite the potential for immense embarrassment, I still find looking to possible futures fascinating (can you guess what my favorite genre of entertainment is?).  I enjoy it so much that I wrote an article on what education could look like in 10 years, based on predictions of where technology is heading. The article is called “When the Future Finally Arrives: Web 2.0 Becomes Web 3.0” and it will be a chapter in a book called Web 2.0-based E-learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching

The great news is that chapter will be published next month. The bad news is that it took two years to get published, so a lot of what I say about Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 sounds pretty dated.  This situation in itself exposes the weakness of publishing in traditional media. All of your cool, hip terms will become over-used cliches before your article gets printed.

I wish that I could just post the whole article here – I just proof-read it and I got pretty excited thinking about what the future could be like.  Some of the topics covered are:

  • Affordable media centers that have wide-screen, high definition, holographic, three-dimensional, multi-touch screen monitors, with cameras that can follow your movement to manipulate the display (like Minority Report) or respond to voice commands
  • Classes that easily transfer back and forth from synchronous to asynchronous.
  • Integrated systems – virtual worlds integrated with the web and each other, smart-phones integrated with desktops, etc.
  • Greater use of tags to organize information with more accuracy.
  • Better interaction between students and between the student and instructors.
  • And finally, of course, really cool technology like three dimensional printers and scanners.

Much of what I wrote on is technology-focused.  I realize that good pedagogy needs to come first in all educational situations… but if you think enough when you read it, you will see how I snuck a bunch of good pedagogy in there. If you do get to read it, I would recommend just skipping down to the section called “An Example of Online Learning 10 Years in the Future.” The rest of the stuff before that was just my attempt to sound scholarly and all that :)

That is to say – if you get to read it.  This is the other problem with traditional media: this booked is pretty darn expensive.  And I had to sign all my rights away to get it published, so I can put it on my blogs.  I can always let people that live near me read the “draft” version that I printed up for proof-reading.

Did We All Miss The Arrival of Web 3.0?

When I first started following the concept of Web 3.0, every article about the semantic web, or the merging of the current web with virtual worlds, or cloud computing mentioned that we were a few years away from those technologies “arriving.”  Well, it’s been a few years and we are still being told “a few more years.”  Web 3.0 is part of the way here, but mostly still down the road.

But what if Web 3.0 is already here?  Web 2.0 was just a cutesy term used to refer to a new way that users interacted with web sites.  It was nothing really new in all actuality – it was just that our expectations as web surfers changed.  And maybe another shift has occurred, and we are already in Web 3.0 and haven’t noticed it.

Or maybe someone else has noticed it, and I just haven’t read their work.  Ever since Wikipedia unwisely decided to delete the Web3.0 page off of their site for stupid reasons, I haven’t found a better place to find a good over view of all the thinking on Web 3.0.

But let’s step back a second and look at the history of how the web developed from an end-user perspective:

In the beginning, there was nothingness in the digital universe.  Petty humans had to go get information, instead of having it delivered to them.  The Great Webmaster in the Sky said “let there be great silos of information that send all forms of information to people!” and it was so.  “These silos will be guarded by my prophets, the web designers. The designers will let people in to the silos, but not let these people change anything unless they join My secret html society.”  And there was much rejoicing – because let’s face it, who wanted to bother with html?

Before long, the prophets of the Great Webmaster were overwhelmed  by the demand for more and more silos.  The Great Webmaster saw that this was not good.  “I will make it so that everyone can create their own silo if they choose – or they can go in and add to the silos of others.  I shall create embed codes and RSS feeds and give all silos even greater powers to communicate.  I will call this glorious new vision ‘Web 2.0.'” And it was so.  And there was much rejoicing.

Then the Great Webmaster noticed that the silos were still silos.  People could communicate and add to each others silos, but they still mostly kept inside their own silo. The Great Webmaster decided that it was not good for all people to still be holed up in personal silos.  “Let there be large, open areas for people to socialize and interact without walls.  Let there be SuperPokes and Mafia wars.  In some areas, let the communication be limited to 140 characters, so the more verbose of my prophets will not continue to bore the rest of the world to sleep.” And it was so.  “I will not give this one a name, so that the fuddy-duddies that freaked out over ‘Web2.0′ won’t get their knickers in a wad and maybe we can all move forward.” And there was much rejoicing.

All kidding aside, I think that the differences between FaceBook and MySpace, or even between Twitter and Blogs may be signaling another shift in web expectations.  Let me explain.  MySpace is social, but it still does so from one silo to another – the focus is really on “your” MySpace page.   Sure, when you sign in, you see a control panel that gives you some interaction with friends, but the main focus was on setting up your area.  FaceBook is different – it turned that concept inside out.  When you sign in, the control panel is all you really care about.  Sure, people can see a wall and all that – but the focus is on the interactions.  Most people get by fine without ever even thinking about what their public page looks like.

With blogs, the focus is also on the blog itself.  Sure, you can go and comment on other blogs, but the focus is still on building your own personal silo of information.  You can go visit other silos, but you still get the sense of leaving your silo to go there.  Twitter also tears down those walls – all of your friends’ updates are sent to you, either online or on your mobile or where ever. In reality, most Web 2.0 sites are about direct communication (like Skype), or setting up your own personal mini-silo and then communicating between them.

So, where Web 1.0 was about building silos of information controlled by a select few, Web 2.0 was about giving people the ability to build their own silos and let friends or customers contribute to the content in those silos.  Maybe Web 3.0 is really about tearing down the silos and building communities?  Maybe we need that before we are really, truly ready for virtual worlds and cloud computing?

If Web 1.0 was the “read-only” web, and Web 2.0 was the “read-write” web – maybe Web 3.0 is really about the “socialize” web.  In many ways, one could argue that what I am saying about the “socialize” web is really just the full realization of Web 2.0.  Of course, that is what they also said about Web 2.0 (“it is really just the full realization of the Web itself”).

But, maybe this could also explain why sites like FaceBook and Twitter are taking off in popularity, and other sites like Ning and Yammer (that do the same basic things) are still not catching on as well.  Maybe it is just market saturation, or maybe there really is a shift away from Web 2.0 that we haven’t noticed yet.  Or maybe someone else has and I am just blabbering about something someone else already came up with.

Or maybe I have a short attention span and have grown bored of Web 2.0.  It had it’s five minutes – on to the next version!

Web 3.0 Watch: Searching the Deep Web

The push for the semantic web continues: The New York Times has an interesting article on how search engines are trying to learn how to peer in to the endless abyss that is the deep web (“Exploring a ‘Deep Web’ That Google Can’t Grasp“).  You thought Google gave you a million results now?  It can’t even peer into the millions of databases out there that contain the real information that drives the web.  Some day, if some of these people have their say, it will.

Don’t freak out and run for the hills now – just because they want to search more sites, this doesn’t mean your searches will become even more confusing.  They are actually looking on logic for where they search.  So, searching for an art-related term will just search art-related databases and return relevant results.

Google isn’t the only one that is looking in to this – companies like Kosmix and Deep Peep are both looking for ways to not only search the deep web, but to return meaningful results.  Am I the only one that finds the name ‘Deep Peep’ creepy?  Hope your filters aren’t blocking this post because if the creepiness factor.  Both sites take an interesting angle on the deep web.  I would keep them handy for class research projects if I were you.

The NY Times article mentions Google’s Deep Web search strategy, but I can’t find anything official on it when I search for it using Google itself.  Guess it is too deep even for it’s own search engine to find anything on it yet…

Web 3.0 Watch: Google Earth

Someday, hopefully soon, I will publish a chapter in a book about Web 2.0 and education on the future of the Internet.  My article passed about three rounds of review, but I haven’t heard from them in a while.  I hope the chapter gets publish before all of the predictions in there come true.  At the current rate that technology is accelerating… I’m not sure.

There are tons of predictions out there, but I chose to highlight a few that seem to be gaining traction.  One of those predictions was the ability to visit an online virtual recreation of our planet that includes historical views of certain areas.  Google Earth 5.0 seems to be bringing this prediction to reality.

The historical view of Rome in Google Earth has been blogged about here and elsewhere.  Google Earth 5.0 adds an interesting feature that acts as a time line slider – allowing users to view changes over time.  This is probably based on historical satellite imagery, but someday I am sure the virtual Rome idea will catch on and some of these flat images will go 3-D.

Of course, I have to mention that the newest version also adds ocean floors to virtual Earth.  So now Google does actually own the whole planet – at least virtually.  Physical domination is probably the next step with the (sure to be) eminent launch of Google World Government.  Keep an eye on

I think many of us in the education world were hoping that Google Lively would one day integrate with Google Earth, so that you could actually use Google Earth like a virtual world.  Maybe there is still hope for that.  Google also killed their Dodgeball project only to turn around and announce the launch of Google Latitude… which does about the exact same thing.  Maybe… just maybe.. we can hope for the same resurrection of Lively inside of Google Earth.

Web 3.0 Watch: Online Personal Assistants

Many people talk about the semantic web, where websites will begin to basically think smarter and give you better service and search results because they can understand the difference between, say, an edible nut and a crazy nut.

The nut example is commonly used to describe the semantic web, but is there more to that?  An article in the New York Times seems to think so, and also seems to think that we may be close to having these services.  Take this example in the article titled “A Software Secretary That Takes Charge” by John Markoff:

Imagine you are on a business trip and your computer discovers that your flight will be late. It automatically reschedules your dinner in New York, informs your three guests of the change and tells you they’ve been notified.

Basically, a website that can recognize “late = bad” and that “bad = do something.”  So, imagine if Learning Management Systems could do this?  A week before a paper is due, it notices that not even a rough draft has been submitted, so a notice goes out to the student about the deadline, or even starts a private discussion thread between the instructor and learner so they can dialogue about the paper, checks the registrar’s database to see if the student might have dropped the class, etc.  That is a pretty simple example, but there could be more to it than that.

Personal research assistants would be nice, of course – especially ones that can recognize specific articles and blog posts that match your paper’s topic.  What if you were working on paper in Google Docs or Zoho Writer and every day that you signed in you got a list of links to articles, news stories, blog posts, Flickr images, YouTube videos, etc that matched what you were writing about.  And not just billions of Google search-like links to anything that contains the same keywords your paper does, but a short list of specific resources that you could actually use?

As long as they don’t come up with a site that actually writes original papers for you, this could be great.

Web3.0 Watch Part 2: Google Chrome

Google always seems to grab the headlines. There are others working on Web 3.0 stuff, but few seem to grab attention like Google does. Now Google has gone in to the browser market with a product called Chrome.

Yeah – it’s a pretty lame name. Not sure what they were thinking there. But what does this have to do with Web 3.0 you might ask? There are some interesting features under the hood of this new browser that seem to be opening doors for Web 3.0 to become a reality. The first thing I noticed when trying out Chrome was how much they have tried to make the browser disappear from your screen. While I love many Firefox plug-ins, sometimes they start taking up too much screen space. If cloud computing becomes a reality, the browser will need to disappear as much as possible so people won’t get confused about which button/link to click.

Another way that Chrome is bridging the gap to Web 3.0 is by the creation of Application shortcuts. You can create a link to Gmail, Google Docs, or any other web-based application right on your desktop, start menu, or quick launch bar. While we all know that we could have done that for years now – I am betting few did because of the time involved. Chrome simplifies that process and makes your favorite Web 2.0 tools seem more like a real desktop tool. Well, at least when there is an Internet connection, that is.

There are also some major improvements behind the scenes and under the hood, all designed to make browsing faster, more stable, and more optimized for use with AJAX-powered Web 2.0/3.0 sites. There is a really long (almost never-ending) comic story online about all of the technical changes they made. Interesting, even if a little long. Google Chrome is a good start – but will this go somewhere or join Lively in the creepy “Google Graveyard of Abandoned Ideas”? Only time will tell.

(Lively is not even compatible with Chrome – kind of telling don’t ya think?)

Web3.0 Watch Part 1: Google Lively

Yes, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 are both hype buzzwords to some extent. They do get over-used by some. But so do “brand new”, “limited time”, and other terms like that. We don’t discount the validity of the meanings of those terms just because they might be hype or buzz. The same should be true of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. They are legitimate concepts with validity (and actual definitions, despite what some say).

So, as new Web 3.0 stuff comes out, I want to take a minute and take a look at them and how they might effect education. Google has created a new virtual world service called Lively. The good: it embeds in websites. Yes – in websites. You do have to download and install a program for it to work, but after that – it’s all web based. It’s simpler than Second Life. Fewer options and easier to learn controls. You can embed YouTube videos and Picassa photos in to 3-D objects. You get a free room (which can be private). There is already a FaceBook app. In fact, there is a lot of free stuff.

The bad: not much. If you are a control freak, there is not near as much customization possible as Second Life… but more is coming. It is still a little clunky when compared to Second Life. It only works on Windows XP and IE or Firefox (for now). Chatting is only text based. Most of these are good trades for education, where simplicity can actually be a plus in emerging technologies.

The immediate use for education is obvious – embed a private room in your LMS or blog for class chat. You can even embed photos or YouTube videos for discussion. You can also let other users of your room edit objects in your room – which could greatly help you share projects.

Here is a room I created (hint: download Lively first, then create an account, THEN enter the room):

Open-Source Hardware For Education

Yes – the title is correct. I meant to say hardware, not software. I read a really great article on TechLearning about a new 3-D printer with educational potential. One of the features of this printer, called a fabber, is that is is built in a clear case as an open source tool. According to the article, this “means you have access to their design specifications and can modify them and develop your own improvements.”

You can read the article here: 3-D Printing a Goo Goo

The printer itself is fascinating – priced and sized to be used in homes and schools, it also uses a wide range of substances from clay to goo to chocolate to cheese to create 3-D objects. So it is also safe.

In the article, Hod Lipson (one of the gurus behind fabber) pointed out the reasoning behind making this printer open-source. He speaks of how we are becoming detached from technology, possibly to the point of not understanding it. All because we can’t crack open the case and mess with a tool without messing it up.

Could we ever hope to see this approach take root and grow in other technology markets? Sure, there are other open-source tools out there, but they are pretty few and far between. Just like open-source software, open-source hardware will not be for everyone. But for those that could benefit from it (see article above for examples), we need to see more products like the fabber.