FOLDIT – online game solving real molecular puzzles

September 28, 2011

Above is a link to an article about an online collaborative game that is
“designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.”

Sounds like a great learning tool. But there’s more.

“…players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases.”

And more about games and learning (from the same twitter source @IanYorston)–what-it-is-why-it-works-and-where-its-going.html


Wikipedia/Academia via the Washington Post

May 30, 2011

Link to my post in the RRU blog:
Is Wikipedia right for Academia?

What is the value of openness?

May 7, 2011

Openness. When I think of this topic I often think of Clay Shirky. His writing on communication and technology is clear and inspirational. He talks about cognitive surplus, which basically means using our free time for productive collaboration and sharing the results. Sharing the results WIDELY.

The very title of his latest book explains this beautifully.

“Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age”

Perhaps what intrigues me the most about this idea is that through the collaboration allowed by social media, we might just be returning to values that are inherently human, but have been sidelined for a while due to industrialization.

A review of the book (via Amazon) says:
“Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus-rather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior-actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up through the early twentieth century.”

I think of the industrial or factory model of education as an example of where our society got ‘off track’ in the early twentieth century. My wish to transcend this is what got me into educational technology in the first place, about twenty-five years ago. I believed that the closed, compartmentalized view of education does not reflect how humans have learned — learned what they needed, learned when they needed to, through interaction, for centuries. Open learning can bring us back to that.

Shirky says (comparing the post-industrialized/pre-social media era to the present day):

“We have lived in this world where little things are done for love and big things for money. Now we have Wikipedia. Suddenly big things can be done for love.”

Here is a short (2.5 minutes) video that explores my personal response to the idea of cognitive surplus (created as a response to the theme of an upcoming conference).

Veletsianos Conclusion: “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education”

January 17, 2011

This post is about the Conclusion in the Veletsianos (ed.) book.

The first thing George Veletsianos talks about in his conclusion to “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education” is that the authors did not focus on technology for its own sake but instead focused on “educational research and practice based on the notion that powerful learning experiences are social, immersive, engaging, and participatory… and lend themselves well to being enhanced through emerging technologies.” (p. 318)

A second topic addressed involves the open access nature of the book and the willingness of authors to be part of this process. Related to this (and just published yesterday) is an interesting blog post from Paul Stacey in response to the 2011 change to Canadian licensing agreements. His posting is titled Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER.

Stacey’s post speaks for itself and includes links to some important background.

Finally, Veletsianos describes areas of interest worthy of research attention and it’s interesting to consider how in this fast-moving environment, some things already appear to be shifting. veletsianos talks about a multidisciplinary approach and speaks of the rise of participatory web and its relationship to emerging technologies and pedagogies. Perhaps we haven’t quite seen an ‘educational’ parallel to WikiLeaks — but participatory information and transparency seems to be in the air and is almost certainly having an impact on learning and research as well as compelling us to think differently about information and knowledge (See Clay Shirky’s blog post on this topic)

I would say that crowdsourcing and data visualization, things that I see as being made possible because of the participatory web, are also becoming increasingly important and will contribute to what and how we know (and learn) in very profound ways.

It took me longer than I expected to write about each chapter in this book and it has been a truly rewarding experience. I’m very happy to have been a part of it and I look forward to continuing to share the message.

And finally — thanks again to George for his work in pulling it all together!

This is from the “Elizabeth Tweets” series of chapter-by-chapter blog posts related to the new book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).

Thank You Clay Shirky’s Mom

July 6, 2010

There is a great interview in the Guardian (which by the way, you can read for free online…)

Some interesting highlights (apart from the fact that Shirky is convinced that the paywall for online news is going to fail) include the fact that he didn’t have a computer till age 28 and when he got one it was his mother who taught him about the internet. He’s 46 now so doing the math suggests that lesson was somewhere around 1992 (Thank YOU, Clay’s Mom  – you done real good!)

As always, Shirky is both optimistic and realistic about technology and all the things people do with it. What’s particularly refreshing about this article is that the interviewer, Decca Aitkenhead, has captured his viewpoints in a light, skeptical-but-willing-to-reconsider, style of writing.

Here’s a quote directly from Shirky, “if the new technology creates a new behaviour, it’s because it was allowing motivations that were previously locked out. These tools we now have allow for new behaviours – but they don’t cause them.”

And here’s one from Aitkenhead, “Had I never been online before, and had just read his book, I’d probably be so inspired by his account of the creative and collaborative instincts of the online community, I’d be rushing to log on. But if I started out on, say, the Guardian’s Comment is free site, the sheer nastiness of many of the commenters would floor me like a train. If the web has unlocked all this human potential for generosity and sharing, how come the people using it are so horrible to each other?”

Shirky’s answer to the question of human ‘horribleness’, in my opinion (and I know there are zillions who would agree with me), hits just the right note of compassion for the way people are and always have been (mean when anonymous), and the way that technology reveals this. And he suggests that we have a challenge that might lead to the implementation of social norms to allow our considerate sides to shine through.

Ruth Reynard article: Facilitation to Constructive Partnerships

May 3, 2010

For the next month or so, I’m taking the role of ‘blog steward’ to a group of learners at Royal Roads University (RRU) in a course called ISWO (Instructional Skills Workshop Online) so my postings here for the next while may tend to relate to issues that come up in that environment.

RRU is relatively young and has always had a learning model emphasizing team-based online learning. So it’s no surprise that enhancing the skills for developing a supportive and connected online learning community is an important learning outcome for ISWO.

I’m very aware of how the online community has blossomed over the past few years with web 2.0 and I thought I’d share a recent article that explores this.

Ruth Reynard’s view at

includes the following statement.

“The challenge this time is that facilitation is not enough–the challenge for the future of instruction is that we stand side-by-side with our students and all contribute equally and actively to a learning community. The learning community is also redefined as not confined to one class but open to anyone who connects.”

So — Open it is! And here I am, partnering with the designated instructors and learners in ISWO and inviting them (and others) to ponder over the ways that such partnerships might enhance learning.

Thoughts on Tim O’Reilly’s Open University Video

March 25, 2010

First of all, I really like Tim O’Reilly’s women-in-tech post from yesterday…


Back in January, using the iPhone development model as an analogy, O’Reilly considers what things would be like if universities let developers (in this case, the professors) “innovate and distribute content to users (students) in new and efficient ways?”

He says that Open Standards have been the driver of all tech innovation. Content was put out first and then (e.g. Google) strategies for dealing with it were developed. And it has be a profound change — an example being how “search” has triumphed over the model of cataloguing.

Can universities really “let go” of control in this way? I suspect that if they don’t, they’ll become pretty much irrelevant.

O’Reilly says that the mission must change. It won’t be about delivering courses to enrolled students. Rating is key.

My interpretation is that this means reaching out to everyone and providing credit for learning that takes place no matter where.

DGREE—Tim O’Reilly from DGREE on Vimeo.