In the United States, privacy is over…

This post is more in line with my research interests but it deserves the front page.   Watch this story to learn about the end of privacy which began in 1984 (no kidding) with a 9th circuit ruling updated to include  GPS surveillance.  Both privacy and property rights are at issue.  First, the property issue: the case in question involves police entering private property to put a GPS device on a person’s vehicle without a warrant.  Second, the issue of privacy is at stake with GPS tracking absent the justification to obtain  a warrant to conduct surveillance.  The ruling promotes a dual notion of the 4th Amendment right to privacy: the practical result  is that 4th Amendment privacy protections only include persons who can afford to secure their property from public access.

Learn how all transactional activities (e.g., cell calls, text messages, emails, Easy Pass, web activity, etc.) are one subpoena or peak away from the government


Open-source texts for K-12 @ Curriki

Since I’ve previously written about open source publishing and open access for scholarly resources,  I thought it would be interesting to follow a thread discussing open source curricula in the K-12 arena.  In an NYT article Ashlee Vance chronicles the slow adoption of open source resources explaining the trend as multi-faceted, and yet again, held up by the ridiculous preeminence of the California and Texas text approval processes.1 Since those processes are motivated purely by economic and political concerns rather than those having to do with sound pedagogical practices or the highest educational standards,  the California and Texas systems have warped the publishing of educational materials for the worse.  Nevertheless,  publishers and powerful school boards are loathe to cede ground and open source adoption in the U.S.  is moving at a snail’s pace.    The other components working against rapid development and deployment are:

  1. A lack of funding for infrastructure and expertise,
  2. Traditional publishers who have a tight grip on this $8-15 billion/year industry,
  3. Few assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of open source materials

Curriki is a company committed to addressing these concerns and linking the constituencies that have something to offer: open source content developers (e.g., retired teachers who write curricula), teachers willing to try open source materials in their classes to meet state standards for NCLB, and assessment developers who can create metrics and KPIs that will compare the performance of students who have used open source versus proprietary resources to master subject material.

I support the open source movement because it provides  access to materials for students who languish in classrooms that haven’t had the money for texts in the last 10-20 years.  It allows for rapid innovation of materials and an exchange between professionals to create a quality pool of  “best practices”  and  ready resources for teachers struggling to teach ever larger classes to perform on standardized evaluations.  Whether the last goal is desirable, is entirely beside the point insofar as legislation mandates that schools meet standards or else. The reality on the ground is that teachers are compelled to guarantee AYP (adequate yearly progress) and are often saddled with dated, inadequate curricula and resources that haven’t kept up with standards in technology.   Finally, K-12 open source delivers on one of the great promises of the Internet,  to democratize knowledge.

The significance of opening access to quality resources cannot be understated.  States with limited budgets are not  upgrading hardware, software or text resources during this recession.  Open source contributions provide a low-cost alternative with a constantly evolving pipeline of resources that can be accessed by anyone at any time.  Organizing the material is another matter, but the situation also offers  an advantage because instead of mandating lesson plans sequenced to the NCLB standards, teachers can exercise autonomy and tailor lesson plans/presentations to meet the needs of their students.   While  meeting NCLB standards and being creative should not be mutually exclusive, some low performing schools have been forced to adopt straightjacket approaches in order to satisfy policy makers, school boards, etc.  Teachers can often assess the needs of their students in weeks, but the curricula they have access to is  dated, ineffective,  and full of unresponsive presentations via texts that are bloated and wordy.  While some open source materials may share these undesirble attributes, the proliferation of open source resources should also provide lesson plans that are creative and engaging.

Finally, open source materials allow for the possibility of open exchange between educators and the organic establishment of  new materials arising from a best practices, expert rated community.  Materials submitted to Curriki are rated by professionals who teach the subjects in question.  Teachers know what works; those who have extensive experience are often in a good position to evaluate the design of curricula and its possibilities for delivering on the educational objectives identified.  Open source presentations can also be reverse engineered to specify pedagogic methods that either help/hinder student learning with the aim of refining the beneficial techniques.

For all of the above reasons and more,  I say three cheers for open source.

1 For the full NYT article, see Vance, Ashlee. $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math. New York Times, Sunday Edition.  2 August 2010, accessed @ on 8/2/2010.

Microsoft’s Project Natal at E3 – Gestural Computing Again!

Microsoft’s research lab impressed the technorati with its E3 Xbox reveal of Project Natal & Milo. It debuted earlier today and presents so many interesting possibilities for a wide variety of applications that it is hard to know where to begin.

Since education seems a fruitful crossover application, imagine for a moment a perfectly programmed 4th grade math teacher with an AI engine that learns student weaknesses and can teach/tutor individuals privately based on perceived needs resulting from student/teacher interactions. The video makes a point of noting that the human interlocutor experiences immersion and steps into the simulated technological reality via the attached camera. From a phenomenological standpoint, this is a huge extension of the experience Heidegger termed being-in-the-world.

Entertainment Weekly’s John Young makes the following claim: “With inventions such as Natal, we’re quickly approaching a future in which humans can partake in a virtual experience that’s nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.” Though the Milo application is impressive, it cannot actually be confused or equivocated with the real. In brief, it lacks a textural element and the interaction does not seem spontaneous insofar as developers will constrain and control the possible sets of interactions.

Please do not misread my view. Gestural computing is a huge step in making the user experience more natural and less technological. To their credit Microsoft seems to have done a nice job of building in rich immersion for human/computer interaction. Nevertheless, we cannot discuss just any topic with Milo or ask him for random information. The possibilities are scripted in Milo’s database. His parameters are always defined and we cannot share spontaneous information that he does not already “understand” as a result of great AI programming. Milo is a very sweet, technologically impressive programmed boy, not at all easily confused with a real 10 year old.

See this impressive, but limited simulation for yourself: