Finding Digital Tools for Education.

As a teacher of computer it’s kind of expected that I’ll know about most of the digital tools out there, which is like expecting a history teacher to know the deatils of all of history. Where the reality is most know knowing the techniques without the details of the individual tool.

Finding the right tool for the task at hand has been an uphill challenge with literally thousands of different pieces of software or web services to choose from. Many of those solutions have hidden catches or create other problems that are not obvious from the outset.

Also having move school over the last few year, I’ve discovered that each workplace has it’s own common choice of software solution. Jane Hart maintains a list of the top 100 digital tools. The Best of Breed 2016, is excelent list of software that meets a particular need. Although be aware that with the speed of change on the Internet it will never be a complete list.

Now the trick is to reduce the list to a minimum set of posible choices, that will do what is needed. So I ask a series of questions to narrow my choices;

  1. Purpose. Know what you want to do. By setting out and planning your software goals, it’s easier to meet them. Do I have something that will do the job already? For example; for most of the image cropping I do Paint loads quickly and can finish the job, while Photoshop is like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
  2. Availablity. Does the school already prefer certain software, or require the use of particular systems? For example, if the school supports Microsoft’s Office365, of Google’s Docs/Drive/etc, then it may be best to start there. Something that limits your choices can be make it easier. Personally, I have a preference for open source software. mainly because the underlying code is checked others, and not locked away in-house and it’s less likely to disappear if the company goes under.
  3. Support. Who is available to assist you if you need help? Most good software will have a wiki or some form of online documentation. The ‘For dummies’ series of books can be very useful to get started with somethign new. If another teacher is already using something within the school, then it can be an easy source of professional development and experienced support. Also consider if the digital tool is Cross-platform, in that it will run on different operating systems, because in the BYOD school environments you should only need to learn the software once regardless of which operating system it is run one (ie Windows, Mac or Linux), and that will make life easier for you. This is where online websites work well, as they run in any web broswer, but if the network is goes down or is slow, then the service becomes less usable.
  4. Cost. Not just in terms of money from the school budget, but in in terms of time & nuisance. For example, with a lot of web services using the SAAS (Software As A Service) model there maybe a monthly or yearly subscription cost to cover the development of the software. Another model is the freemium, where the basic service is free and the useful version costs. Also watch out for ‘free’ software that incorporates advertising.
  5. Trust & Longevity. If you are planning on using a piece of software or an online service to achieve your educational goals, then is the company who’s technology you are using to be trusted, or likely to be around in the long term? For example, Geocities was once a huge hub of Internet culture with websites that are now considered horrific. Since it’s heyday it has faded into nothing. Myspace was another large Internet company offering online space and it has also become a backwater.

So when searching for the best digital tool for your educational purposes and considering its suitability for your purpose look at it’s Availablity, Support, Cost, Trust & Longevity.

What is Crowdfunding, and how do you make it work?

When something like Potato salad (See Kickstarter) can make over $55,000 on its $10 goal. It reads like a joke and probably started that way. So I can see why this TechCrunch Handbook on the new era of crowd funding talks about how it defies logic, and in a sense it does, because you are talking about the democratization of ideas and funding these to get started. It appeals to people to have a hand in backing an idea to positively change the world.

So according to TechCrunch what are the ingredients for a successful campaign?

  1. Telling a great story to get your idea across.
  2. Partner with people who can help tell your story, like Video Producers, PR and marking people to improve the reach of your story.
  3. Funding the ad with a real budget, to improve the reach and maximize success.
  4. Having a digital storefront. So that once the campaign has finished, customers can keep coming back.
  5. Gamification of they campaign. To have stretch goals (or levels) that can be unlocked, or to allow customisation of the backer level.

So from the above you can tell that Crowdfunding is expanding from a grassroots movement to include small business to secure funding for a great idea or product, or a testing ground for corporations to trial new product ideas.

 

 

 

 

NICTA’s Industry-research collaborations

NICTA’s Perfect Match event spotlighted Research Excellence in ICT, and the research sector-Industry partnerships that have formed. The four industry-research collaborations highlighted current research in the use of big data, the importance of good communication skills in collaborating, and the board interesting and unique solutions that can come from these partnerships.

Talk #1

Ben Spincer (Director of Technology Strategy and Innovation, Telstra) and Professor Chris Leckie (Deputy Lab Director, NICTA Victoria and Professor, Department of Computing & Information Systems, The University of Melbourne). Talked generally about their partnership and the important elements they discovered in the process.

The different in time-frames for reporting where a business will need regular timely reports each week to know the current state of the business. Research needs a longer time frame, so that the time can be spend on the exploration of problem, the design of possible solutions, the development of prototypes (either software or hardware), and the evaluation of the solutions. All of which is the Problem Solving Methodology applied to the real world.

To build a good working relationship both organisations need Open Communications, Similar Interests and objectives. Even from a common ground the message is not always communicated clearly. So a process to back & forth emerges where each side articulates what the project is about. However, people can’t always describe what they want, but can describe what they don’t., until after a number of cycles they agree on the true objective (ie what they really want)

With Big Data there is the challenge of privacy vs the possibility of what you can do with it. The randomisation of personal data

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Product Development from an IT failures perspective

Talk #2

Ruby O’Rourke (CEO, HubCare) and Colin Griffith (Strategic Adviser, Broadband and the Digital Economy, NICTA) Are developing a game changer, in terms of integrating multiple government services (Health, Welfare, Community support, Social Services) to allow the connecting of government with it’s citizens and vice-versa.

They did raise some point that I’ve mentioned above, and here are some of the other points;

  • The maintaining of privacy for all citizens while continuing to provide needed services.
  • The use of specialist teams across multiple locations.
  • Applying research opportunities to the front line of society.

Talk #3

Brian Sloan (ANZLIC Secretariat, Spatial Policy Brand, Department of Communications) and Peter Leihn (Director, Security and Environment, NICTA). They outlined an open source software project that collects the Victorian government open data and displays it on a ‘spinning globe’. From the stand point of there is an economic benefit from open data, but they needed to build a vision of it. Similar projects have been build in collaboration with Google for three other states (QLD, WA, & NSW), but the open source solution was cheaper and free from potential problems with Google.

Government wanted a 12 month feasibility study for of giving the go ahead, but they avoided that by working with NICTA and completed a working prototype for proof of concept with 3 months. The next objective is to incorporate the other states and all three tiers of government, then to move onto data analytics.

Check out National Map Project, which takes data from data.vic.gov.au

Tallk #4

Larissa Andriske (Occupational Therapist, Barwon Health) and Associate Professor Pubudu Pathirana (Deakin University) the final talk was about 5 projects design to assist rerehabilitation and self management with technology. these included virtual, remote physiotherapy and a project that concentrates on motion system analysis that analyses gait (walking).

Here the challenge was to make the designers and developers of the technology understand the needs of the therapists and the patents. So the therapies became a technical problems for the researchers.

Questions & Answers

Concerning Time-frames on projects. Agile Software Development is being applied to research to make it more responsive. Universities tend to have long lead times for their projects.

About Geospacial Data in time. There is or will be a slider for historical datasets as part of the process to enable predictive analytics (ie future projections). They used a super computer that processed data on tapes that would normal take 8 years in 2 – 3 days. (wow!)

NICTA have note been involved in any partnerships with the Manufacturing sector, but they did mention META, the Manufacturing Excellence Taskforce of Australia.

Concerning Start-ups and new companies. how do they connect with researchers. NICTA has done a little thinking in this direction, and they have few rules to allow adaptability. There is also the state startup scheme, however, a search of Business Victoria and Grants Victoria provided no extra information. Although Grant Finder (Business.gov.au), AustralianGovernmentGrants.org, and this article from 2012, 10 top government grants for start-ups may provide some useful information or promising leads.

Overall

What is true for business is also true for student collaborations. So for ICT education it means that;

  • Collaboration is built on effective communication skills. The client’s true desires or objective are not always present in the design brief or case study. This helps in building a clear vision
  • Both sides of the partnership need to be aware of the needs and requirements of the other. For example reporting time frames.
  • Unexpected result can emerge from partnerships. So it’s not worth starting to a predefined plan in hand.
  • The applications of Big Data are wide and varied, but concerns such as privacy must be addressed.
  • These examples provide insight into business collabroation and can be used for student case studies

The year of security flaws

It really is the year for big bugs in code!

First there was the heart-bleed exploit in the OpenSSL code, which allows the mining of sensitive data from the memory of remote servers. It is most commonly used in eCommerce circles to ensure encrypted (ie safe) transmission of financial records between computers, like when you buy something.  It has been around for at least 2 years before being discovered. It also now seams to have it’s own website, heartbleed.com

Then there was the shellshock flaw in the BASH shell, which allows the execution of arbitrary code, and had been around since 1989. It was discovered on the 12th of September, with fixes been released by Apple on the 29th of September, and Florian’s patch been confoirmed by Zalewski on the 1st of October.

And now there is bug in PowerPoint (See TechCrunch’s blog), which allows full control of the Windows machine by a PowerPoint document when opened!

Do you trust the source?

As part of year 7 ICT (a junior ICT class), we are exploring if we can trust the source of the information. So I presented a PowerPoint that DHMO produced, talking about the dangers of the substance and provided a link to dhmo.org website for the students to read. By treating the website and it’s ideas as real my goal was to fool the students and to then reveal the lie for a classroom discussion.

Following the reveal, I prompted the classroom discussion with some questions, making it a little like a detective story;

  • Can you tell who is the author of the website? (Authority)
  • Does what they are talking about make sense, or is there something else going on? (Accuracy)
  • Has the website being kept up to date? (Currency)
  • what sort of language are they using? (Objectivity)
  • Are the links on the website consistent with its intent? (Coverage)

The aim here is to start students critically think and evaluate about the websites they look at. Check out, Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools and Evaluation of Web documents, both from Cornell University’s Library.

Other peoples resources;

Cool projects with the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has bee around for awhile as a kit which places computing in the palm of your hand, and reportedly Raspberry Pi Microcomputer Still Selling Like Hot Cakes. It gives you a low cost computer which can be loaded with a number of basic OS (See their downloads). This machine can be modified with a growing range of projects, and there are a good collection of teaching resources to go with it. There are two new crowd funded projects that will be worth following, Pi-Top and Durio Sound. Both of these show health development in the micro computing area.

Pi-Top is a Laptop developed from the Raspberry Pi, and although it’s not one of the $100 laptops or part of the one laptop per child thing that was happening a few years back. It is something you can construct yourself and will help develop you understanding of computer hardware.
The second project is Durio Sound, another Raspberry Pi that adds a 24-bit 192kHz ultimate sound quality with the lowest possible distortion to your Raspberry Pi.

Also see;

Creating Interactive Stories

Interactive Stories in their simplest form are Text Adventures, but how can you easily enable students to create these adventures for themselves?

Creating interactive stories from J Le Rossignol

A simple sample task for use in the classroom, with the handouts for Keynote or PowerPoint.

Choose your own adventure story (Task) from J Le Rossignol

Retro-gaming strikes back!

It’s interesting to see graphically simple challenging games like Flappy Bird, Geometry Dash, and Phases. All of which have game play that challenges the player, and it is a point of renown for those that achieve the highest scores.
This trend seamed to start with Flappy Bird, which has a simple touch control that controls the bouncing motion of the bird. The challenge for the player is in timing the motion to find the games through the pillars. The graphics hearken back to Mario, so much so that comments about a law suit appeared on the Internet. The game topped the Apple iStore, spawned many clones, and the creator pulled it down for a little while.
Piano Keys has simple black and white squares that the players much touch in rapid succession and keep up with the cascade of tiles that flow down the screen. The challenge lies in the number of piano tile that you can touch within a time limit, the speed the tiles move, or the how long you can last.
Geometry Dash is another game that exemplifies simple game play with stylised graphics. The player needs to move a cube through a series of side scrolling platform environments (levels) with various spikes, walls, and pits by jumping the cube over or under these. Alternative parts of each level have the cube transform into a spaceship that flies through a similar level. The spaceship naturally falls, and touches cause it to fly up at a sharp angle.
Phases has simple graphics, with the player controlling the left and right movement of a ball and it bounces through an dangerous spiky environment.

All these games share similar traits from the arcade games of the ’80s, in that they have simple stylised graphics that just get the idea across, and the focus on challenging game play with the aim of making the game superior.

Head in the Clouds

Cloud Services are a big thing with major companies, like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and now Oracle in a price war over cloud computing. Although this does mean a reduction for users of these services. Like many people I use cloud services like Dropbox, copy.com, and Google Drive.

So one of the things I’ve wanted to do is setup a cloud based file sharing for my personal projects to gain control of the storage and for the experience. Students asked me about best way to share their files. I found ownCloud  a open source project to enable cloud based file sharing.

Overall it’s easy to install, and to use. However, you do need to have SSL certificate (used with https) to avoid creating security problems. I’ve found references to scaling problems around the use of SQLite (which is part of the default install), but this can be fixed by moving to MySQL.