Saturday, July 23, 2016

Will Pokemon Go and other AI/VR/AI apps kill the iFad (sorry iPad)?

iPad and tablet sales have been falling sharply. In 2013 Apple’s head honcho, Tim Cook, predicted that the iPad would overtake PC sales by 2015. He was way off, as sales have fallen every quarter for two whole years, down 10% last year, across all tablets.
I was never enamoured by tablets and wrote extensively on how their massive procurement was a disaster in secondary schools, FE and HE. I doubted their ability to enhance learning and skills, especially as students moved on to long-form writing, coding, graphics and so on. The procurement processes were pathetic but the pedagogic arguments were worse, if they ever existed in the first place. In many cases, I suspect, they inhibited learning.
Another factor was the market, where smartphones simply adjusted screen size and extra functionality to trounce tablets. Phablets are now the norm as screen sizes grew, then shrank, but eventually settled on an optimally large-but-not-too-large format. They cluster around a size that was just big enough to watch videos and read long-form text, while still being pocketable. Even Apple increased the size of iPhones, as they saw the threat. Inevitably, the smartphone won on power, size, convenience, functionality and price.
Tablets aren’t killing laptops but smartphones are killing tablets
I first started to note this when my wife and sons simply switched over to their larger phones or used laptops, while the iPad lay idle and unloved in the corner. I don’t see that reversing. Can’t say I’m sorry. The iPad was always a consumer not a producer device. It’s still odd to see people peck away like chickens in meetings on iPads. If you want to write – get a laptop. And before you say ‘attachable keyboard', simply turning a tablet into a laptop, makes it precisely that – a laptop. iPads also suffer from functionality limitations – not being able to run apps simultaneously. Nexus 7 tablet anyone? Nope. Google killed it. In that sense, it was always something stuck between a proper computer and a truly mobile device – neither a fast, sleek fish nor fully mature fowl. Large-screen phones from the top and fast, productive, long-life battery laptops from the bottom crushed it. Laptops and smartphones have the legs, while tablets, increasingly, look like a passing iFad.
Another set of nails being hammered into the tablet coffin is AR/VR and AI. Don’t see many folk poking around the streets playing Pokemon Go with tablets. We have entered a new era, where mobility really does matter. Computing is being taken into the real world. As the many layers of AR meld with RR (Real Reality), Pokemon Go being the fist mass application, AR is here with a global bang.
VR on mobiles through Google Cardboard has also caught the imagination. It is this that will drive the VR market, with instantly downloadable experiences. Once cameras on smartphones have 3D capture, it will fly. Smartphones democratized comms and knowledge, VR democratizes experiences.

Beneath all this is the massive, invisible hand of AI. Apple’s souped up voice and messenger plans along with thousands of other AI inspired applications are already making smartphones super-smart, with better personal security, better interfaces, better functionality and better apps. The awkwardness of the smartphone interface has given was to smartphones being really ‘smart’. The tablet era is over.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Love this VR of a classroom lesson - 7 uses that really takes you there

I received a fascinating link via Twitter from Chris Edwards, a Deputy Head in Surrey, who was interested in views on his experiment with a 360 camera and VR. In the 360 degree video, Mike Kent, a Geography teacher, delivers a great lesson and you can look round the entire room as students and teacher move around, get things done, interact with the teacher and go through a Q&A session. It is fascinating. They’re using this approach for lesson observations allowing the teacher, or their colleagues, to watch it back in full Virtual Reality. This gives the teacher a view of themselves, from the student’s point of view, as well as observe ‘everything’ that happens in the classroom. It made me think of different possibilities…..
1. Exemplar lessons
Good lessons by great teachers must surely be worth viewing by novice teachers. The rich set of processes, actions, behaviours, body language and interactions that go into a great lesson are complex, wonderfully captured in this example and could be done on any subject. A bank of such lessons would be far more useful than dry lesson plans.
2. Teacher training in school
Feedback is vital for novice teachers and this, used sensitively, is ideal for feedback from senior colleagues. As Chris says, “great to have if difficult feedback is required to be given to the teacher. Can watch it through the VR goggles and get student experience. Every nuance can be observed, replayed and used as a platform to see ourselves as others see us. Research shows that this ‘deliberate practice’ is exactly what leads to accelerated learning and improved performance.
3. Behaviour training
A bank of these, with exemplary action by experienced teachers, would be a godsend in teacher training. The immersion of VR really does make you feel as though you are actually there in the classroom – an important factor in this type of training – context and realism. I think this form of complete immersion would be wonderful for the young, fearful teacher, before entering the fray. I’d be interested in Tom Bennet’s view on this.
4. Students
I could also see this being used, sensitively, for feedback with students who have problems in classrooms, even in the presence of their parents. To be honest, I’d also love to see them used by students in revision. Some years ago, I met a teacher in Italy, Armando Pisani. He’s a high school teacher who teaches 14-18 year olds in maths and physics and is unique in that he records all of his lessons on video for later use by students. To learn efficiently and deeply, students need to be able to “review, not miss things through inattention, being distracted, illness, student absence, teacher absence or language difficulties – some students have other languages as their mother tongue”. The lack of “supply teacher availability is also a problem”. Recorded lessons give the students the ability to “catch-up and cover work not covered in a teacher’s absence”. For full analysis see here.
5. Parents
Armando Pisani achieved significant improvements in results but interestingly, he sees parents as a key driver in the use of his recorded lessons. Parents “like to see what students do during lessons” and some parents “loved the subjects when they were at school”. “I had assumed parents like it (recorded lessons) less than students but the opposite is true”. He thinks this is because parents they tend to think of it as “learning, students as  a task or work”. His view was that these recorded lessons increased parent involvement and through this, attainment.

6. Class layout
There are many ways to lay out a classroom. This technique could be used to explore the advantages and disadvantages of different layouts. You will see how it affects teaching, and be able to see student behavior as they navigate the classroom. Walls, lighting, whiteboard use – all sorts of ‘in the classroom’ things could be discussed, agreed and implemented.
7. Research
As the camera covers every angle within the classroom, it gathers a rich data set on what the teacher and all students are doing in a lesson. Break this down, correlate teacher and student interactions – lots of things can be observed with ‘real’ data. One has to take into account the ‘presence’ of the camera, but I’m sure that if it were there for some time, this could be largely discounted. This is surely a rich way to capture research data.

The classroom should not be a black box into which teachers retreat but an open space where teachers feel they can improve. Confidentiality is an issue but, when permissions are granted, it seems like a sensible and sustainable innovation. If I were a senior leader in a school, I’d buy tone of these now.  This tool is powerful, easy to use and cheap. 
Chris used a Bubl Camera, which cost around £600, plus a standard memory card. It is kept with IT services and can be booked out when he’s not using it. He’s also hoping to do a virtual tour of the school and next summer will be using it for visualisation periods; filming footage of within the exam hall and getting students to listen to revision footage whilst being "in the exam hall"!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

10 ways Pokemon Go portends AR in learning

Who saw that coming? Like many hugely successful, mass-consumer, tech things, it had surprise on its side. Above all it created ‘buzz’ – it’s the thing that everyone and the entire media, traditional and social, are talking about. Imagine the power of that buzz if we could harness it in learning. Maybe we can.
The genius of Pokemon Go, the Geo Catching app, is its use of AR (Augmented Reality), which has, within a few weeks, become a global reality. The melding of the real and non-real, through addictive gaming, has done what a million ‘research’ projects failed to do – capture the imagination. And this is just the start. AR through smartphones makes the real word come alive with augmented possibilities, wait until this is available through your glasses or straight to your retina. This may revolutionise consumer computing.
AR and learning
At the risk of being accused of being a bandwagon jumper, I have been writing about the impending AR/VR revolution for years, so cut me some slack on this. Quite simply, this opens up immense possibilities and opportunities for learning. If we could take some of that AR ‘magic dust’ and sprinkle it on learning, we may, at last, lift and augment tasks that were traditionally passive, static and 2D into activities that are active, dynamic and 3D. The real world, in which we live, learn and participate is, after all, active, dynamic and 3D. You can literally superimpose anything on anything, anywhere at anytime for anyone. It is personalised learning in the extreme, with a huge does of curiosity, motivation and addiction thrown in.
Blended realities and learning
But it is more than a game – it’s a beautiful blend of different realities. Without getting into the several thousand-year-old philosophical problem of appearance and reality, this really (sic) does take AR from a tiny tech tributary into the mainstream. Its cleverness is in its layers of reality; consciousness (in itself a complete re-presentation of reality), maps (an idealised mapped representation of reality), the camera view (a photographic representation of reality), Pokemon and all the other imagery (superimposed upon the other realities), all eventually framed within your conscious view of these realities. In addition, it uses the internet (itself a created reality) and GPS (a created dynamic co-ordination path within both the virtual and real). One could add a social reality. Confused – don’t worry, your mind simply brings them altogether into one conscious, blended reality.
Learning applications
Rather than look at isolated examples of AR in learning, let’s identify some species of learning that can be enhanced or augmented by AR.
1. Explanations
When we move beyond facts into explanations, causes, rules, processes and so on, text and even 2D images often fall short. Explanations, in varying degrees of depth, in physics, chemistry, biology, hydraulics, pneumatics, maths etc, can all be brought to life through the superimposition of explanatory diagrams, arrows, flows and explanations that are beyond text. This ‘contextual’ learning not only makes understanding easier and quicker, it is also likely to result in increased retention and recall. That’s what Pokemon Go and Augmented Reality have to teach us about learning.
Take physics. Explaining Newton’s Laws and many other concepts in physics is not easy, as they take place in 3D and on a scale that is often impractical even in a lab. Allowing one to experience the laws of physics in the real world through the superimposition of augmented explanations certainly enhances and accelerates learning. Show the forces at work in a real situation when a bicycle is moving, aeroplane flying and so on. Augment the image of a real tree with augmented transpiration and photosynthesis. The fact that PokeStops are placed (by algorithms) at significant places, especially local landmarks, means that many report uncovering local knowledge and finding places and stories they never knew existed.
2. Problem solving
Pokemon Go, as you play it, becomes quite a complex realtime strategy game, where you learn the rules and have to problem solve in terms of decisions you have to make as a trainer. It’s a problem solving app.
So, the idea that learners have to explore real environments to find out things they need to know, and apply that knowledge in those environments, is now possible. Education in a museum, art gallery, ecological location, virtual excursion, virtual experience, seems now very real and possible. The layers of meaning we can apply, conditionally upon any real-world object or place, in realtime, opens up all sorts of possibilities. One can solve maths, scientific, language, historical, architectural and natural environment problems with this approach. Learning a new language by getting out and doing things in the real world, gives immersion, context and retention value. What teacher couldn’t imagine a problem-based AR app for their subject?
3. Learn by doing
Pokemon Go taps into an instinctive, hunter instinct. Call it curiosity, whatever it is, it gets you out and about. You not only have to catch the damn things, you also have to hatch eggs. This works, not by motion sensing but GPS, so you can’t fool it easily. You have to be on the move – and not in a car or bus, as it knows you’re moving too fast.
We largely learn by doing but are largely taught while doing little or nothing. To learn by doing is to move beyond our overly ‘talk-and-text’ or ‘chalk and talk’ education and training. This return to more appropriate forms of learning for things that we actually learn by doing, now in the real world, will be a welcome brake on the absurdity of the lecture, flipchart, page-turning e-learning and classroom, as the delivery channel for almost all learning. To actually DO experiments in science, practical tasks and learn skills, could revolutionise vocational learning, giving it a cool kudos on par with its academic partner. Google has already opened up its Virtual Field Trips to teachers but AR may prove more powerful at a local level or when on a school trip.
4. Social learning
The social dimension in learning can be enhanced, not by the predictably dull sitting at a round table with some mints in a bowl, but by actively learning in groups. Augmented Reality, in Pokemon Go, has seen groups (Pokemobs) of all shapes and sizes out in the real world, search and complete tasks. There is even the suggestion that it has helped with social anxiety and depression. This app brings people out of their homes and out of themselves. It requires active, social behaviour and there are tales galore of it bringing people together, friendships and other social benefits. It’s not just a few nerdy types wandering about, it’s families and herds of folk on the move, talking, comparing, helping each other. If this can be harnessed for learning, let’s do it. Group tasks, even crowd-sourced tasks, are all possible. Interestingly, Pokemon Go has had all of its massive success without being able to trade or battle with friends, except when battling for a Gym. Although, one would expect that this will be possible in time.
5. Tutor-led
It won’t be long before tutors appear, to help you with your AR learning tasks. So, on your AR learning journey you may have, either a real or created tutor (AI-driven bot or avatar). That adaptivity may even be hidden from view, a sort of invisible helping hand. Adaptive learning in an AR learning environment makes sense, as one wants to make the learning more efficient, tailored to each and every learner. It means educating everyone uniquely with technology-enhanced teaching. You augment reality with either a real or virtual teacher, who acts like a teacherly satnav (in US, GPS).
6. Habitual learning
William James and others set great store by habits in learning. Mobile behaviour is highly habitual. Imagine learning driven by powerful habit, addiction if you will. Imagine language learning where you combine the gamification, real world interaction and personalised delivery that an AR driven Duolingo could provide, all into one package. Imagine how superior that would be to classroom learning, that great catastrophe in learning, years of language learning in classrooms with a failure rate that makes MOOCs look positively utopian on completion rates.
7. Deliberate practice
We know that learning is enhanced, or forgetting slowed, by deliberate practice, over time. AR gives us the opportunity to practice, again and again, wherever we are. Spaced, timed practice may be possible with time-windowed practice routines. Repeating, with the intent to improve, may be offered at specific contexts to further enhance retention. Repeating a skill in different contexts, may also enhance that skill, and retention. Navigating streets as a way to learn geometry and then trigonometry, even more advanced maths, may prove motivating and efficient.
8. Simulations
Who would deny that we now live with unpredictable public acts of violence and terror? Critical services training for the police, fire and ambulance services could be fully simulated in real environments using AR to create realistic augmentation of bombs, fires, damage and casualties. With control layers, it can be used to test and train simultaneously, learning lessons about optimal tactics. AR’s realtime component is fascinating, similar to the excitement created by Real Time Strategy (RTS) games. It drives participation. You don’t want to lose out. Things may appear in a certain timeframe. Open World games like GTS may also spawn some exciting AR spin-offs.
9. Assessment
Pokemon Go is a complex set of tasks. You have to understand the rules of the game, play it well and navigate a created world within the real world. In gaming lingo, you are in an open simulation. Imagine being able to test learners (uniquely identified) in tasks in real time, to test actual performance in a chosen environment. I can imagine a Pokemon Go-like induction or on-boarding programme, where the task is to get round the company or workplace, learning as you go, being tested as you go, doing actual things, virtually, in the real world or both. Your assessment is not separate from performance, it is simply completion of the tactical and strategic tasks.
10. M-learning
One last thing. Remember the phrase ‘m-learning’? The next big thing – that never actually happened. All of that money spent on ‘responsive’ e-learning but few ever really take a course on their smartphone. Now there’s a reason to use your phone. It’s a powerful, personal and portable device that goes with you, in your own time, on your own personal learning journey. It is AR that may open the floodgates to new and fascinating forms of m-learning, that transcend the flat, page-turning e-learning content that is so often thought to be the solution.

Nothing lasts forever and Pokemon Go, like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, will have a lifespan and will start to fade – the only question is how quickly. Nevertheless, it is the deeper implications of AR in terms of adoption, mainstreaming and behaviours, that we want to watch. They signal a future where AR and VR are not just games and gadgets but new media in themselves. AR and VR are two new mediums, not toys or gadgets. Online learning brought us the democratisation of knowledge, AR brings us the democratisation of virtual learning in the real world and VR the democratisation of experience.