Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Reverse Geocache box has been opened

Every great story deserves an equally great ending. In that vein, I was thrilled to read that Mikal Hart’s wedding present to his college friend has finally been opened. The story lasted a year, and involved the first instance I have encountered of reverse geocaching. Put simply, Mikal turned the notion of geocaching — in which you go to a certain position on Earth to find a prize — on its head. He gave his friends the prize first, but in the form of a box that could only be opened in one particular place on Earth.

Mikal Hart's reverse geocache box I especially love the mystery of the box’s presentation. Upon powering on, and after finding a signal, the box’s LCD readout displays:

This is attempt 2 of 50. Distance 391km *Access Denied* Powering off…

Turns out that the box led the owners to a secluded island off Bretagne, where they visited just a couple weeks ago. It opened easily as soon as they stepped foot on the island. Little did they know that practically the whole Internet, including folks at the World MakerFaire, had been following the story for over a year.

You can read the conclusion of the saga at Mikhal’s blog. But go first to his opening post to learn more about how he designed and implemented this great idea. Be sure to scroll down and learn about the nicely created electronic back door he put in place that saved him only hours before presenting his gift.

So how could this be used for education? Geocaching is a useful and fun idea that already has many proponents. Getting students to explore the natural world is equally fascinating with a device like this. A set of nesting boxes that make up a scavenger hunt? Boxes that only open when certain probes measure certain levels at a specific location range? Go ahead and add your ideas in the comments.

How to talk down climate change skeptics without lifting a finger

I love this.

Nigel Leck, a software programmer, got bored with constantly responding to climate change skeptics on Twitter. So he built a chat agent to do it for him. The agent scans every five minutes for set phrases connected with tropes about why climate change isn’t caused by man. Then it automatically chats from a honed database to refute the arguments, complete with references to peer-reviewed literature.

My favorite, though, is the included reference to the related story on Hacker News:

…it’s Clippy for the internet. I see you’re trying to deny global warming. Would you like to: 1. research the available facts and science? 2. Have an authority figure you trust tell you, you’re wrong? 3. Meet other like-minded singles?

How much you don’t know about your students – today’s free-agent learner

At the NSDL Annual Meeting last week, we got to see the usual great lineup of opening and closing speakers. One of the regulars by now at this meeting is Julie Evans, from Project Tomorrow. They do the great annual Speak Up surveys of schools that really tell us how students and teachers are using the Internet and what emerging technologies.

One of the major take-aways from the talk (though there were many) was her profile of the new learner that they’re seeing emerge. They call this student the “free-agent learner,” and see a number of characteristics in these students, including:

  • Self-directed learning
  • Untethered to traditional education
  • Expert at personal data aggregation
  • Understand the power of connections
  • Create new communities
  • Not tethered to physical networks
  • Are spurred by experiential learning
  • Are content developers, rather than just consumers
  • Find the process of learning as important as the knowledge gained
  • Do these describe anyone you know? The average person that Project Tomorrow is identifying as a free-agent learner is a middle school student, but they may exist in your workplace, among your teaching staff, or even in your house. There is plenty more to say about the fascinating findings from this annual survey, so future posts may dive into some of the implications of this trend for digital learning. Do you notice any of these trends? What do you think they mean for our design or use of emerging technologies for education? Let us know in the comments.

    Learn design from the masters in 75 minutes

    I just saw Objectified this weekend, and highly recommend it. It’s a great hour and 20 minutes with some of the best design minds on the planet, including superstars like Dieter Rams from Braun and Jonathan Ive from everything Apple. It’s wonderfully put together as the second part of a design trilogy from Gary Hustwit (the first was the also-excellent Helvetica).

    Objectified image Hearing Jonathan Ive describe the importance of Apple’s single-piece aluminum cutting process really made it hit home why they made such a big deal of it a couple years back. Seeing him describe how they get two keyboard frames from the inside of each 27″ iMac display cutout was pretty surprising as well. This is a part of design that I don’t think about much – the raw materials and how much they affect the process.

    The part I identified with more was hearing one of the co-founders of IDEO describe how he created the first laptop. Great thinking went into all the design elements of the hardware, including a scoop that automatically ejected a pencil or any other object that fell into the hinge area accidentally – a wonderful detail. But hearing him describe how when he first started the thing up, the whole set of hardware fell away, and he realized that the real design would be in the software was fascinating. He invented interaction design at that point, he said. I found the parallels between his description of that moment and Jonathan Ive’s description of the iPhone very interesting. Ive may as well have been describing the iPad when he discussed how the minimalism of the design essentially causes the design to fall away entirely. It’s a fascinating world to live in when one realizes that the machine can be practically anything, and even the hardware designers are working with all their might to create a blank canvas. The possibilities of using a blank canvas for education are both imposing and unendingly thrilling.

    Opening our House

    It’s been a few days since our great soiree last week. We had a great time seeing everyone and much fun showing off all the projects we’re working on every day. We started by throwing open the doors for some great conversation with excellent people, and had plenty of great open exchange about projects and ideas. Since sharing these concepts is one of the best ways to inspire new innovation, this is among the best ways for us to bring new thinking into our work.

    Concord staff and visitors discuss the Engineering Energy Efficiency project

    One of the highlights was our interior redesign – the graphics from Brandon Bird Design really give our place a new feel, including a timeline that shows the legacy of the Concord Consortium and its staff over the past three decades.

    Concord staff and visitors eat and discuss at the 2010 Open House

    Concord Consortium timeline and hallway

    After the sharing, we convened for a great panel about the future of digital curriculum. Thanks to all our panelists: Joanna Lu, Greg Gunn, Deb Socia and Neeru Khosla for a great conversation and plenty of food for thought.

    A panel on the future of digital curriculum

    Thanks to everyone who came! Stay tuned to our site for more information and a video of the panel itself.