Predicting the Future is Still Difficult

Next week I will be presenting on “Online Learning Innovation: Community, Openness, and Turning Things Inside Out” at the 2012 NUTN conference with my colleague Sarrah Saraj. We will also be talking about the next 30 years of education at a panel discussion earlier in the conference. So here is what I have been thinking about the future.

A new web series on YouTube called H+ is set in a future timeline where transhumanism has gone very wrong (thank you to Katrina for getting me hooked on another show). They show some futuristic ideas on the show – computers on thin sheets of plastic, then embedded in our heads, etc. One line got me thinking:

“Didn’t you ever hack an iPhone when you were a kid?”

“Before my time pops”

Yep – someday the shiny new iPhone that will be introduced today will be an ancient museum relic that old fogeys reminisce about.

But, of course, I will still want one :)

In 1991, I was a recent high school graduate who took out a loan to “catch up” on technology. For around $2000, I bought a 13″ TV, an IBM PS/1, a phone for my room, and a subscription to this new thing called Prodigy.

If you think about it, the smart phone (iPhone or iPaf or Android or whatever for that matter) pretty much does everything those things did. They don’t really do anything new, they just combined several devices and did things we had already been doing… only better.

In fact, most people will tell you that the Internet is still just doing what the printed press did with information, the telephone did with communication, the radio did with broadcasting, and the movie did with entertainment… just in a vastly improved manner.

So “looking at the future” really needs to mean focusing in on concepts and not devices. And we will pretty much find out that these concepts will be very familiar. Our devices for utilizing these concepts will change and improve – and there is nothing wrong with liking these devices or exploring their usage.

But we need to quit spending time and money investigating the devices themselves and focus more on how we can best use them to improve how we accomplish the concepts of teaching and learning. How the iPhone 5 will change education is irrelevant. How the functions of smartphones will help us improve how we teach students or accomplish sound theoretical frameworks is a better question.

How many hundreds of times more do we need to read an article that ends with “It wasn’t the _____ itself, but how it was used that made the difference.”

The Future is not HTML5 vs. Flash, it is HTML5 AND Flash

I really don’t understand why Apple seems to hate Flash so much. Maybe Jobs is just tired of picking on Microsoft for now and decided to get a different target?  “Hello, I’m HTML5.” “And I’m Adobe Flash.”  Just doesn’t have the same comedy potential…

If you are in education, you could care less how your streaming video gets to you… as long as it just works when you  press play.  The big problem for education with this battle is that video is just a small portion of what Flash can do.  Most educators have found some educational game or utility (such as Aviary) that uses Flash extensively.  HTML5 is no where near able to replicate any of that. If Flash goes away, so does a huge chunk of good stuff on the web. Not good for education.

According to some… it doesn’t really ever have to be this way. As Remy Sharp points out in HTML5 vs. Flash:

“I personally don’t think HTML will replace Flash. I think HTML5 and the Open Web will replace Flash where Flash has been used as a stopgap…. The native video element will (eventually) allow us to drop using Flash for video. Flash has done an awesome job of pulling the braces up on browsers for the last decade, and we’ve needed it, but Flash is so much more than just video or font rendering…. I still think we’re a long way off HTML being able to able to natively replace applications such as Aviary and games like Bow Street Runner.”

I get that Flash is a bit resource intensive and needs to evolve with the times.  I get that smart phones need to conserve as much energy as possible, but Flash needs as much as possible. But you can still run the current version of Flash on a 10 year-old PC with no problems.

I think Apple is just embarrassed to admit that there are still things that their mobile devices can’t do that ancient PCs can.

In theory, I like the idea of everything happening natively in code.  You won’t have to worry about which students won’t be able to do what with your course activities.

But I also like the idea of being able to get rich, robust, interactive Flash-based games and applications on mobile devices.  Since Flash can be used at times to bring the gap between browser content and desktop hardware (such as cameras and microphones), just think what it would be like to bridge the gap between website and smartphone features (such as cameras and microphones).  Augmented reality could take on a whole new dimension if you could have a Flash based interface embedded in a website that can access your device’s camera. Security issues would have to be dealt with – but think of the possibilities.  Students could lead themselves on a tour of an art exhibit, with Flash-designed question popping up on the screen as the walk up to a painting.  They could answer the question, or leave a comment, or anything right on the camera capture, because they are connected to a website that could store their answer. The website could also store their whole trip in many different ways (geotags, camera captures, videos, etc).

I think I might have stumbled on the answer to my original question.  With Flash on an iPhone, any website could create an app-like program that would never have to go through Apple’s approval process. That might make the whole App Store pointless.  App makers could just embed their app on a website… and even charge for using it.

The possibility exists for an App that resides on a web page, accessing the page content and database, while at the same time able to access all of the functions of a smart phone.  This is what Flash gives us. This is why we need Flash. And this is probably why Apple hates Flash.

iPhones and Augmented Reality (and Some Crazy Futurist Dreaming)

This video is pretty cool – it shows how the new iPhone is already making augmented reality a true reality.  It also got me thinking about what this could mean for the future of personal computing.  More about that after the video:

What would happen if iPhones could combine with Sixth Sense and video glasses?  Maybe the smart-phone would become something you just wear… maybe like one of those headphones that wrap around the back or of your head, but thicker and wider around the back (of course, with a smaller microphone and headphone buds instead of those earmuff looking things in the picture I linked to).  I say bigger in the back because this is where the phone, hard drive, GPS, compass, tilt senor, wi-fi, battery, etc are.  Maybe even some small solar panels to keep power levels up.  Then, you buy a pair of sunglasses in whatever style you like, plug those into your smart-phone, and the lenses become heads-up displays for augmented reality.  You would see maps like in the video above, but for anything you want – directions, site-seeing, etc.  That is pretty cool… but there could be even more.

People have been talking about getting video calling on smart-phones for a while now.  But that is obviously limited.  I’ve always wondered if the “G” in 3G stood for “Good-night-i-wish-this-would-hurry-up-and-load.” What if we take the technology that creates realistic 3-D avatars based on photos.  You create an avatar for yourself.  When you call someone, instead of using video to slow your smart-phone down to 0.5G – you send your avatar.  Tilt sensors and maybe even tiny cameras built into the lenses would send info to the avatar, making it mimic your moves.  Each person in the conversation would see a realistic CG avatar in front of them talking to them.  No more “freaky eyes staring off in some random direction when you are trying to have a conversation” like in video conferencing.

Those embedded cameras could also follow your hands and give you a cool “Minority Report”-ish interface with your apps that only you can see.  Or use voice recognition to use apps.  Need to send an email?  Speak it out, or have a virtual keyboard float in front of you for more privacy.

What if this could also become your interface for your computer at home?  The possibilities are endless:  Better control in Second Life.  Self-guided field trips for school.  Truly secure test-taking in distance learning.  Work or learn anywhere you go. Clueless people may never get lost again!

Someone get me 10 million dollars and development team!

Mobile Phones and the Death of the Personal Computer?

Everyone probably thought it when they first saw an iPhone: “will this eventually end the need for a desktop personal computer?”  From recent stories in the New York times and other places, it seems like PC makers are not just wondering about that – they are sure it will happen.

The main reasoning is that mobile devices can now handle at least 90% of of the things that most people do on PCs anyways.    Which is true… but there are still many times that I put aside doing something or looking at a site when I am on the go, because I want to see it on a full sized screen.

What is probably more likely to happen is that computers processors will move to mobile devices, while the computer screen merges with the television screen.  While you are at home, or at the office, you plug your mobile device into a docking station on a TV screen and pull out a keyboard and mouse. The docking station will have a faster processor (or a processor booster) to handle memory intense games, graphic design programs, and other programs that will probably always be a little too much for mobile devices.  Of maybe even we will see the screen actually be a holographic touch screen device of some kind.

At least, I hope this is the direction mobile computing takes in the future.  As I have said before, this could take the anytime, anywhere nature of online learning to a whole different level.  Instead of syncing multiple devices, you just have one with different interface options.  Campus computer centers, office buildings, community centers, and anywhere else you would go work on a computer could just set-up several docking stations, and users bring in their preferred work environment with them.  That would include settings, bookmarks, even wallpapers.

Of course, to make this happen, we would need to see an increase of faster mobile Internet access speeds.  3-G would have to eventually become the “dial-up” of mobile broadband access.  Online file back-up would become a must.  Wireless elecgricty would need to become a reality.  But most of all, we would need an industry standard for docking features (hardware and software), so that any mobile device can plug into any docking station and run natively inside of it.  Seeing how…errr…. nicely Mac and Windows work together as it is, I would hate to be a non-iPhone user searching for a Windows-based docking station to connect to Second Life to teach a class remotely while at a conference.

If You Still Can’t See The Educational Potential For iPhones…

..maybe you need to get a little more creative.  Like these people:

Those are real apps that those students are playing – they really do turn your iPhone into a woodwind instrument called the Ocarina.

The interesting thing is that there is also and iPhone app that turns the iPhone into a guitar.  Guess the guitar dude is a PC…

Another interesting feature of this particular Ocarina app is that it is globally connected – click a few buttons and you can listen to different people around the world playing their app – live.  The iPhone is just crazy cool that way….

[for more information on this particular app, see the recent David Pogue NY Times post on it.]

iPhone 3G: My First Impressions

Yes – I am as surprised as you that I waited this long to get an iPhone. You can revoke my geek cred if you like – but I had bills to pay. However, the old cell was dying, I really wanted to upgrade to some kind of smart phone, and the iPhone ended up being the cheapest true smart phone out there now (I’ve been on AT&T for years with no problems). So I took the plunge.

And spent most of the weekend playing with the crazy thing! Many of the features of the iPhone are well know. I would have to agree with many that the killer app on the iPhone is the App Store. That is what I spent most of my time playing with.

Much has been said about the apps that add games or to-do lists to your phone or what ever. Those are nice. But what was cool for me were the apps created to interface with websites like FaceBook and Ebay. Which may seem weird to some since there is a web browser on there. But think about the size of the screen on the iPhone. Sure, you can zoom in, but surfing sites like Facebook and Ebay are still a pain. No problem – just download the free app for your favorite site (if they have one), and then log in. You get a one touch login for site, and most of the information from the site is re-formated to fit on your iPhone screen. I was checking eBay auctions, writing on friends walls, and Twittering away all while walking around the house.

Even cooler is how the applications can interact with weach other. I could take a pic with the camera and upload it to faceBook or Flickr or even set it as my AIM avatar. The GPS locator is also a plus, especially when used in conjunction with free Yellow Pages app. In a new neighborhood and hungry for Chinese food? Look up what is near you, pick a highly rated one, and get turn by turn directions to get there. Nice. Unfortunately, there is no free app for Wikipedia, RSS feeds, or Flickr (yet), but the ones that are available are pretty cheap. Twitter was just a ‘meh’ aplication to me until I started being able to send updates from anywhere (I’ve always been too cheap to buy texting plans… pay to send little burst of data through a phone? What a rip-off!). Most apps are still new, and so they don’t have everything, but they are getting there.

The ability to realize “anytime, anywhere” education is greatly expanded by the apps, especially since others are rushing to copy the iPhone. Think about it – have your students do a scavenger hunt. Or maybe have them create a mobile blog (WordPress app is free and nice)? How about intergrate their everyday life in to their learning activities? “As you travel around town today, look for examples of ______ art influence, or _____ policy on city planning, and take a pic and send it to me with 500 words on why it is_____”.

I wish that LMS companies would spend more time creating apps for mobile phones rather than FaceBook apps that don’t seem to be popular or well accepted. Something like this would fit well in to my evolving view fo LMS programs, something I need to blog on soon the in the future.

Podcast: iPhones in Education

Our first podcast is ready for your listening pleasure! You can click on the Podcast tab on the front page, or listen to it below:

EduGeekJournal Podcast ep001

A friend and co-worker of the EduGeeks, Qin, was recently lucky enough to get an iPhone. So we just had to check it out. After enjoying a rousing lunch at Sawadikas (our favorite Thai place in Richardson TX), We pondered the educational impact of the iPhone on education. Erin, Katrina, and Matt decided to go and record our first podcast. Our thoughts ranged from cel phones in education, to the iPhone itself, to the future of hand held computers. See if you can count how many times Matt says “uhhh…”

EduGeek Journal on an iPhone on the iPhone at Sawadkas.
It was too dark for the iPhone to show up.

The First EduGeek Gathering

Beautiful things can happen when people actually start to use social networking tools. For example the first annual (or monthly, or bi-monthly, or whatever it becomes) EduGeek Gathering. It all started with this comment on Katrina’s Jaiku:

“I just touched an iPhone!”

The jealously that poured forth from those of us that haven’t seen one turned into an educational focus group to examine the educational uses of the iPhone. And to eat some good Thai food. All through social networking tools. The whole gang will be there.

Anyway, in preparation for tomorrow’s Gathering of the minds, I decided to unleash the new EGJ theme. And – there are new features! See the tabs up top for what is coming. Who knows – maybe something from The Gathering will make it in there…

Also – guests can now comment! it’s so much cooler to create an account and post that way. But if you really don’t want an account – you can still add comments. I’ll be posting on other features in the future.

Elliot Masie on iPhones and Learning

Education futurist Elliot Masie examines the role of iPhone-like media devices might play in mobile learning. (Thanks Patti!)