Tag Archives: technology

Wear Your IWB to Work

cyborgs

A wearable computer won’t make you a cyborg, but it will get you one step closer.  A new project out of Carnegie Melon University allows you to turn any surface into a touchscreen, including your body.  Read the article or watch the video below.

Essentially, the system combines a Microsoft Kinect and a pocket-sized projector for a relatively smooth multi-touch, multi-surface user experience.  The downside?  This is what you have to wear:

wearable computer

Is it worth it?  Probably not.  Yet.  Good luck wearing one of these through an airport without attracting attention.  It probably wouldn’t even be easy to have a natural interaction with another human being without them being slightly distracted.

For those attracted to having your playlist projected on your forearm (instead of on the screen you’re holding in the hand at the end of said forearm) I’d advise you to wait a few years for Moore’s Law to shrink this down to something that will fit into the brim of a baseball cap, which, come to think of it, might be even creepier.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

ELTU Unconference

breakout area 2 for ELTU

We’re about a week and a half away from the fourth annual Exploring Learning Technologies Unconference (ELTU4).  This year, we’ve moved the event to the start of the academic year because the spring was becoming crowded with other conferences and events.  So, on Friday, October 14, we meet again from 9am to 1:30pm to unconference.

What is an unconference?  There are lots of different variations, from Open Space to various camps (FooCamp, Barcamp, Mashup Camp, etc. — see Wikipedia for more.)  Our variant resembles a traditional conference in may ways — there are meeting areas for different breakout sessions that begin every hour —  but the biggest difference is that none of the content is set in advance of the meeting.

We spend the first half hour with introductions and generating session topics.  From there, the group negotiates which topics go in which time slots and we begin.  Being a technology-themed unconference, we use some technology to facilitate this process: we project the session grid on screens around the room so everyone can see and participate in the process.  We also set up a wiki in advance with one page that lists the schedule and links to one page per session so someone in each session can take notes.  (Visit http://go.osu.edu/eltu to see the wikis from the last three unconferences.)

Once organized, the unconference runs a lot like a regular conference, though participants are encouraged to move between sessions as a way of cross-pollinating the various discussions.  In fact, we have traditionally hosted the unconference in one big open space or computer lab in order to facilitate this movement.

The beauty of the process is that, if everything works as intended, the discussions are all appealing to those in attendance because they were generated only by those in attendance (instead of presenters who submitted an abstract months in advance and then failed to attend the conference.)

The effect is intentionally a bit like the hallway conversations you have at a traditional conference — when you actually get to talk to someone with similar interests to you instead of just watching a speaker read their PowerPoint slides.  By attracting interesting people from across campus and throughout Ohio, the discussion at the unconference is always a good one.

I’d recommend the format to any organization interested in hosting a stimulating conversation.  I’d also welcome you to our next unconference on Friday, October 14 from 9am to 1:30pm.  Details are available at http://go.osu.edu/eltu and registration is available (and free!) at http://eltu4.crowdvine.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Projects

The First 150

New header image drawn with Processing.

I recently published by 150th blog post and WordPress dutifully informed me immediately after I pushed the button.  I thought it would also be a good time to take a look back at vast history (over two years!) of ESL Technology.com.

Top Posts:

Outside of “homepage” and “about me”, the most popular posts of all time are (page views in parentheses):

Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii) (1866) This post summarized a lot of answers to questions I had when I first started working with the Wii-based interactive whiteboard and for a while was among the top links in Google searches for “Wii” and “interactive whiteboard” (IWB).  There has been lots of development in the DIY IWB in the last couple of years, but this post still has lots of good information.  The DIY / edupunk spirit is a common thread throughout this blog.

How do I know my IR LED works? (982) Again, a great insight for DIY IWB users.  The gist: Most cellphone cameras can view infrared.  Intrigued?  Read the post.

Hacking Kinect (756) This is obviously a much more recent post, as Micorsoft’s Kinect came along after the Wii.  As soon as it got cracked open, thanks to a bounty put on someone opening it up, YouTube got flooded with videos of people doing interesting things with it.  People are still interested judging by how often this post is viewed.

Mashable Interactive Whiteboard Activites (743) This post documented a treasure trove of activities for IWBs that are mashable, adaptable, and tweakable if you don’t mind pulling back the curtain and taking a look some basic HTML.  It’s always fun to have to learn and do a little problem solving before being rewarded with your own custom-made classroom-ready tech.

Other highlights:

These next four posts aren’t in the most-viewed, but maybe they should be.

Teaching with Google Images – This was a simple post about how Google Images can be used as a quick reference with English Language Learners (ELLs).  This generated more feedback than most posts, so it must have struck a chord.  I was glad to both highlight a specific technology / website and also give teachers a quick and simple tip they could use in the classroom.

Google Translate – Google does amazing things.  If translation improves as quickly as most other technologies, the profession of language teaching, and the motivation of our students, will look radically different in 20, or even 10 years.  Will students still want to learn another language when their Android phone can translate interactions in 50 languages on-the-fly?  I think so, but not for the reasons they do now.

Computer Games in ESL – Video and computer games have advanced so dramatically in the past decade, they have really become interactive texts.  They have taken their alongside television, music, books, and movies in popular entertainment.  In fact, my local newspaper reviews as many new video games as new movies.  Can we continue to ignore the influence of these games on our students?  I think not.

Are you ready for some football? – As I mentioned above, I am really interested in simulations, games and gaming, but this simulation (of a game) is decidedly analog.  In fact, I designed it for use with one six-sided die.  I’ve used it with several groups of students and it quickly gives them a good understanding of the strategy involved in American football.  Try it for yourself.

Finally

I’m changing up the look a bit.  I created the sketch at the top of this post in Processing, an easy to pick up, hard to put down programming language I’m currently learning.  I tweaked it a bit in Photoshop before making it the header for my image.  It was time for a change and time to make something myself.  Maybe I’ll change it again after another 150 posts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

History For All

roman colliseum

How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC.  Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular.  But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history.  Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history.  And, the whole series is available on YouTube.

In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development.  He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season.  The contrast is striking.  One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles).  Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.

The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long.  The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it.  I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.

The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization.  This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved.  The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.

Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames.  And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind.  Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.

The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim.  This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust.  This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.

In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here.  It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery.  There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class.  And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor.  Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology.  And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes.  The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

21st Century Newspapers

rolled up newspapers

A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper.  We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages.  We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed.  Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé.  Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page.  (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in).  And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.

It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche.  The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper.  Today.  Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper.  RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.).  As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.

The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website.  For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable.  Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode.  I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me.  How flattering!  Of course, I had to take a look.

Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper?  It might.  If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location.  Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well.  (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.)  The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves.  You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.

To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website.  (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.)  You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible.  A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers.  Take a look.  You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Interactive Videos

mocap character

When I hear the phrase interactive videos, I think of people covered in florescent mocap pingpong balls or choppy, Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories like Dragon’s Lair.  And there are those.  But, it seems that some creative tinkerers have pushed the envelope with some of YouTube’s interactive features and come up with some interesting results.

How can they be used with ESL and EFL students?  Well, in addition to viewing and interacting with the videos and then discussing or reporting on the experience, students could be challenged to determine how the videos were made.  For the more ambitious, students could make their own videos using the same techniques.  Some of them, like the Oscars find the difference photo challenge would be relatively easy to remake.

For more interactive videos that will get your students talking, watch 15 Awesome YouTube Tricks.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Kinect-Based IWB

infrared points of light projected from a Kinect

Ever since a $3000 bounty was placed on cracking open Microsoft’s fab new gaming hardware, the motion-sensing Kinect for Xbox, hackers and tinkerers have been putting the open-source drivers to lots of interesting uses on platforms that Microsoft never envisioned.  I’ve written about interesting Kinect hacks before (and before that,) and I’ve written about my experience with the Wii-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard (IWB,) but I haven’t seen a fully-developed Kinect-based Interactive Whiteboard.

Perhaps an Interactive Whiteboard is too narrow a description.  Many of the pieces are in place (see below) to interface with a computer using Kinect.  So, as with the Wii-based IWB, any application you can use on your computer can be controlled by this hardware.  If you connect your computer to a projector, you essentially have an Interactive Whiteboard.

Is the Kinect-based experience different from a Wii-based IWB or a Smartboard?  Almost certainly.  There would be no need to touch the screen at all, but rather to gesture in front of the Kinect to interact with the projection on the screen.  Would this be an improvement?  I’m not sure.  A touch-based IWB is more analogous to traditional whiteboard that uses markers and an eraser.  So, the touchless experience would be quite different.  I need to try it myself to really wrap my head around the opportunities that this motion-sensing interface offers.

I’m not sure if anyone here at Ohio State is working with Kinect as an interface for non-Xbox applications.  But I do know that the Digital Union has a Kinect which could probably be used to see if and how things work.  If anyone else is interested in trying to pull this together, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Multitouch with Kinect

Kinect on a Mac

Multitouch Kinect

Kinect Fingertip Detection

Kinect + PC + Mario = Fun

3 Comments

Filed under Projects