June Newsletter

ARkit: the Brownie Mix for AR Developers

Immersive technologies, in general, have been in “beta” for the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very cool technologies out there that demonstrate endless potential and opportunity but most, if not all, lack practical application for most consumers. This is rapidly changing. Removing barriers for developing immersive content is a big reason behind this change. The best analogy I can come up with to help describe what I mean is from my experience making brownies. I have no idea how to make brownies from scratch, even with a recipe it would likely take me forever and the final product probably wouldn’t taste that great. That said, give me a box of brownie mix, and I’ll make some of the best brownies you’ve ever had in less than 5 minutes. This past month, ARkit (an API) was announced at WWDC (Apple’s developers conference). ARkit is basically like brownie mix for developers to more easily and quickly create AR (augmented reality) content with. In less than 24 hours of being released, developers were posting demonstrations of what they’d already come up with (see below). In ARkit, Apple has made it possible for most developers to create Pokémon or Snapchat filter experiences with ease. In addition to lowering the barrier for development of new AR experiences, Apple’s existing hardware base (100s of millions of iOS devices) increases the likelihood we start seeing a raise in practical consumer AR applications soon. The lead Apple has taken (over other tech giants like Google and Microsoft) with ARkit can’t be overstated. Look at these demos and compare them to anything Microsoft or Google have demoed over the last 2 years and remember these developers have had access to the software for like ~2-3 weeks and the experiences are made with off the shelf, single camera iOS devices… developer brownie mix… Minecraft Space X Rocket Landing in your Backyard Within’s storybook  Measurement app for more demos check out https://twitter.com/madewithARKit Based on what I’ve seen from these demos and read about the API, I’m convinced the software will be there for rich AR experiences but the looming question is whether wearable hardware (i.e. glasses) will become a consumer product (enabling new interaction models and driving down costs of production) or if we’ll only see them in limited (expensive) use cases (i.e. computer labs, etc). Not to throw water on all this hype, I think there is huge potential for AR applications, but I really don’t see a future where everyone wears expensive, battery-powered glasses all day…  

“VR’s power is not in simulating reality but giving new ability to reason, communicate, and reflect” eleVR

I talk a lot of about the technologies behind the emerging immersive tech field but equally important are the creatives and thinkers that develop new paradigms around the technology. In order for a technology to become a part of life, or an industry like education,  hardware/software needs to be developed but people also need to develop uses for the tools. An interesting group of thinkers/technologists I’ve been covering for the last year are eleVR (el-uh-V-R). eleVR “studies and experiments with immersive media, particularly virtual and augmented reality, as a tool to reveal new ways to understand our world and express ourselves within it.” They recently released a 1 year of research review video of their work and I was blown away by the insights they’ve gained and moved by the kind of perspective they bring to immersive technologies.
We don’t think VR’s power is in simulating reality. We’re interested in using it to create wholly new kinds of experiences that give us new abilities of reason, of communication, of self-expression and self-reflection, that last through the rest of our lives. What the headset shows us isn’t reality but the experience is real and it changes how we feel and how we think.
Check out their Annual Review video here.

Conference Takeaway: Restructuring Classes with Learning Science (keynote)

At the recent Emerging Learning Design conference, I attended the keynote presentation by Elliott King, professor of communications and journalism at the University of Maryland-Loyola. He’s also known for his research in best practices of online and hybrid course development and the Internet’s impact on higher education and journalism.

Dr. King provided frank observations of today’s classroom and instructional methods: they aren’t working like they used to.

  • The most depressing moment of the semester for a professor? Grading finals.
  • Why offer 8 AM (or even 7 AM) courses?
  • Night courses don’t work.
  • There’s too much reading assigned (some faculty take pride in assigning massive amounts of reading…why?).
  • Long final exams (research shows they don’t work). Linear structures (no one remembers earlier knowledge).
  • Timed tests (coping with the stress of time)

Why do we continue to teach this way? King notes that tradition (100 years and counting) and the familiarity/comfort of teaching this way are some reasons. It’s fun (sage on the stage). Students have become comfortable as well. King indicates it’s documented that students typically dislike the flipped class method (it’s not comfortable).

How do we break this structure? King provided several proven solutions he has incorporated into his teaching, with promising results. He notes there is a lot of research to back up the idea of using online tools (adaptive technology). He calls it learning in 4D: structure, timing, content and context.

What is the outcome? Tell the students the outcome up front. Pose the “big question”.

Give students the final exam on day 2 of class! King’s final exam is 3 questions (one of which is the big question). When the final is given again, they’ll see how much they’ve learned.

Change the interval: 45 minute classes don’t work (don’t offer early/late classes either). Use short online videos (6-12 minutes each) and don’t try for professional quality. Students can’t pay attention for 45 minutes. There’s a reason sermons are 12 minutes! King’s classes “meet” everyday. It’s a MWF class, but on T/TH the class discusses online. This helps the student think about the class everyday. He has divided the class topics into shorter units. Interleaving (bring back previous concepts/topics in later units, etc.) is also recommended. Iteration is also suggested by King. Keep repeating, scaffolding and building up, perhaps by using a little technology. Wikis can help, although students aren’t huge fans (students would need to read the entire wiki discussion first, then decide where their comment fits; this helps with retention). Lastly, repetition (memorization) is always key. King provides online quizzes based on readings, and students can take them as often as they want in order to get a 100.

One interesting side note: King only allows handwritten note taking in class. He then asks students to type them up after class and post into an online discussion or to him as an assignment. In past, his experience with students typing their notes out in class were vastly inferior to those who wrote by hand.

In summary, King references Socrates, who thought books were the end of education. While that didn’t quite turn out to be the case, some still believe it. The key is to break down “time, space, record” of the traditional educational experience and evolve instruction through restructuring for today’s student.

Conference Takeaway: What is an Instructional Designer?

At the Emerging Learning Design conference I attended last week, one session on “Digital Pedagogies” that attempted to grasp what exactly defines “instructional designer” in this day and age. The room was filled with all sorts, academic/instructional technologists, faculty members, those calling themselves instructional designers, and administrators.

Through discussion, the group came up with quite a bit, and it is more varied than you might think. First and foremost, an instructional designer (ID) is a guide and facilitator/collaborator with faculty. Depending on expertise, this person could also be a course designer, project manager, coach/trainer, researcher, and all-in-all innovator. Other descriptors used included explorers, participants, creators, and community builders (ethics, netiquette). Historically, instructional designers often employed design models and theory in their projects with faculty, often developing new courses, degree programs, or redesigning existing courses. Today’s ID is often titled as an instructional technologist, as instructional designers commonly employ technology in their solutions and designs. The key to being an excellent ID is having enough information from the instructor (subject matter expert) to determine whether technology is beneficial or necessary.

The conference session focused on several case studies, including the design of a course on social entrepreneurship (basic concepts of web identity, pros/cons/best practices for social media and security, etc.) and the fascinating concept of being a templated self (forcing ourselves into online templates like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). The outcome of the case study was one of the importance of communication between instructor and ID, as the work put into the project by the ID was not what the instructor had intended.

In another case study, the interest in implementing “Domains of One’s Own” concept where all students get their own domain name and create their own web identity was the focus (Seton Hall). Our in-state colleagues at Mary Washington pioneered the idea, and it has attracted a lot of attention across the country. Getting buy-in from SGA, faculty/administration, and figuring out curriculum integration in general education was challenging. Time was the primary obstacle (students/faculty needed to learn WordPress, what domain names were and how they are managed, etc.).

One interesting conversation emerged on the topic of “digital fluency” encroaching on “information literacy” that librarians focus on. The discussion seemed to point to the increasing use of technology in librarian’s instruction and programming of information literacy, but most felt that digital fluency that is often a focus of instructional technologists does not encroach on the good work and information provided by librarians. In many cases, it seems a collaboration between librarians and IDs has proven beneficial in ensuring students and faculty develop solid foundations in both info literacy and digital fluency.

Near the end of the session, a question was posed to the group as part of a design thinking activity: should faculty reach out to an ID or should IDs reach out to faculty. While one participant indicated faculty don’t appreciate being chased down, many faculty in the audience voiced up and felt that the ID should kick off the conversation and reach out to faculty. Further, departments need to make the IDs know that they are planning to retool curriculum, or other pedagogical efforts where an ID or instructional technologist would be beneficial.