Tag Archive: Google

Tablets have largely eclipsed the netbook market and some (myself included) have argued that this format of device will disrupt education profoundly.  In saying this, I in no way am suggesting that radically new technologies will not emerge.  In fact, they already have – even if they are not commercially available yet.

For example, in 2009, MIT Grad Student Pranav Mistry gave  TED presentation in which he showed his sixth-sense technology with which a special necklace held a camera and a projector to facilitate augmented reality explorations of really neat things.  For example, if you picked up a book and looked at the cover, information about that book, including reviews, would appear projected on the book itself.  His video is a whirlwind tour of amazingly cool stuff that seemed like science fiction at the time – only he made it work in the laboratory in preparation for becoming products.

Fast forward a year or so and the focus shifts to Google.  While the public face of Google Labs has been closed down, Google is continuing to explore cutting edge ideas.  One shot over the bow was a free app called Google Goggles that lets you use your smartphone to do many of the things dome by Panav Mistry’s system.  Take a photo of a book cover, for example, and it not only recognizes the book, but provides links to reviews and even a link to Amazon in case you want to get your own copy.  Stand in front of a landmark building, take a picture, and get links to information about the building.  Take a snapshot of a Sudoku puzzle, and it recognizes it as a puzzle and asks if you would like the solution.

Last year buzz started to build around the idea that the Google Goggles software was going to get its own dedicated hardware – a pair of glasses with a built-in heads-up display.  For example, a recent article in the New York Times blog describes some of the possible features such a device would have.  This would be a truly hand’s free device using head gestures to send commands to the system.  While this format probably tops out on the nerd scale – which is probably why I think it is cool – it may in fact represent the new face of computing.

Only it isn’t new.

In July, 1945, President Roosevelt’s science advisor, Vannevar Bush, wrote an article for the Atlantic in which he described his vision for the future.  One of his ideas was the following:

“Certainly progress in photography is not going to stop. Faster material and lenses, more automatic cameras, finer-grained sensitive compounds to allow an extension of the minicamera idea, are all imminent. Let us project this trend ahead to a logical, if not inevitable, outcome. The camera hound of the future wears on his forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut. It takes pictures 3 millimeters square, later to be projected or enlarged, which after all involves only a factor of 10 beyond present practice. The lens is of universal focus, down to any distance accommodated by the unaided eye, simply because it is of short focal length. There is a built-in photocell on the walnut such as we now have on at least one camera, which automatically adjusts exposure for a wide range of illumination. There is film in the walnut for a hundred exposures, and the spring for operating its shutter and shifting its film is wound once for all when the film clip is inserted. It produces its result in full color. It may well be stereoscopic, and record with two spaced glass eyes, for striking improvements in stereoscopic technique are just around the corner.”

Of course he was thinking in terms of the photography of the time  which was film-based.  He was aware of photocells and even speculated about their use in photographic elements.  Instead of Bush’s “walnut” Google is opting (it seems) to use glasses – something well accepted in our society.

No matter how it all shapes up, it seems the time is ripe for wearable computing.  And it would be foolish to think Google is alone.  Apple’s iPod nano comes with wrist straps, using arms instead of noses as the support for wearable technology.

Of course these technologies are not going to replace computers any more than tablets have – they will be additional tools that open new opportunities for creativity and productivity – and may even have a place in education.

Only time will tell.

Angela Maiers posted a wonderful blog, “In Google We Trust,” in which she cites a recent study from Northwestern University researchers who found that many college students have no idea how to conduct or evaluate good searches on the Internet.  Rather than pay attention to the sources of the information, they tend to rely on simple page ranking, often just accepting the first thing that shows up on the screen.  The full study can be downloaded here.

This is a topic about which I have been speaking since the 1990′s! I put it in the context of 3 skills for functional literacy today.

1. How do you find information?
2. How do you evaluate its relevance?
3. How do you evaluate its accuracy?

Students may have the first skill under control, but need guidance on the others. These are skills that, in the past, were the primary domain of librarians. Now we have become our own librarians, but have skipped developing the rest of the essential skills.

What was interesting to me about the study was that it focused on college students – an age group we think should know better.  But how can we expect them to figure all this out on their own without guidance from us?  Yes, an appreciation of relevance probably grows with age, but accuracy?

Are we teaching students to be conscious users of information, or to just accept what they see in print or on the screen?  In the old days of textbook delivered curriculum we never asked students to question the authorship of their textbooks.  Instead, we just taught from them assuming they were valid.  This helped build the concept that, if something appears in print, it must be true.

Of my many reasons for disliking textbooks, the reinforcement on this assumption is one of my hot spots.  I recall reading an astronomy textbook years ago that said that Jupiter was the only gas giant without rings.  It then went on to explain why Jupiter didn’t have rings.  All very interesting, except that photos of the rings of Jupiter had been sent to Earth by Voyager in 1979, well before the book was published.

I could go on all day citing cases where textbooks should be placed in the fiction section of bookstores.  I won’t even start asking if US History books (most published by British companies like Pearson) may have cleaned up some of the British behaviors during the Revolutionary War.

But back to our point.  The Web is a powerful resource – probably one of the best ever assembled in history.  The truth is there for those who find it, but to find it we need to teach a new set of skills to young people, and failure to do so carries a high penalty.


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