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I blogged about Thomas Suarez back in November 2011 – Take the plunge and learn from our students! There’s heaps to be gained!! – not long after he presented a very impressive TEDx Talk in which he mounted a rather convincing case that students had much to teach educators.

So when I was doing a bit of reading about about the application and development of 3D printers recently, I was impressed to learn that Thomas Suarez has shifted his focus from the development of apps, which was his passion back in 2011, to that of 3D printers.  Never shy to take on a challenge, an article in Inhabitat – A 15-Year-Old is Developing a 3D Printer That’s 10 Times Faster Than Anything on the Market! (July 2014) – details how Suarez is now aiming to develop a 3D printer which is 10 times faster than current 3D printers!

A pretty impressive promo can be seen on Soarez’ company website CarrotCorp where details about the ORB 3D Printer are shared.  If you’re impatient to see more details which will no doubt be revealed in the crowdfunding video soon to be released, have a look at this short promo which was launched last July:

Although I cannot comment on the veracity of these claims or the details mentioned by Soarez in his search to revolutionize this technology, I’m very impressed by the many groundbreaking applications of 3D printers.

Reading about the good that comes of this technology is nothing short of inspirational!

Enabling The Future is a global network of passionate volunteers using 3D printing to help others.  The help given is very tangible: volunteers worldwide who have 3D printers volunteer their time to use their machines to help print and assemble free 3D printed prosthetic devices for those in need.  Begun in 2013, this community consisted of about 300 people who owned 3D printers or who had design skills to share.  A year and a half later, this community has grown to over 1000 recipients and 3000 registered volunteers who span the world.  It is inspring to read on their webpage that:

We have over 30 middle and high schools who are currently printing hands for recipients and groups of students and scout troops who are spending their weekends building hands for children they will never meet.”

It’s impossible to see this video and not be moved to action:

Encouraging students in Australian schools to participate in this initiative would be awesome!

Picking up a Dorling Kindersley (DK) book is a bit like going down memory lane for me!

The look and feel of DK books reminds me of my earliest teaching days when I would grasp at anything that would bring language alive for the Deaf students with whom I was working.  The incredibly elegant illustrations and the detailed visual explanations of how things work and the beautifully illustrated intricate fold out pages on many of the DK books would engage and inspire learning in a magical and easy way.

So when a friend (thanks Mif!) shared a link to a beta version of the

DK findout!

website,, I felt like I’d found a friend and couldn’t wait to get reacquainted!

While DK tells parents having a look around that they are “building a safe place online to see, learn, and explore almost everything.” DK outlines its aims for educators as follows:

We’re creating the ultimate teaching tool for you and your students. DK Findout! will feature:

  • Easy-to-access, authoritative DK content
  • Subject-based, curriculum-linked articles to support classroom learning and teaching
  • Up-to-date resources and ideas for projects and homework

Check it out ….. it looks awesome!

Ever had that feeling that you’re being watched or that someone is listening into your conversations?

The reality is that you are being watched or at least your online behaviour is being monitored and recorded!  Almost everything we do online is being tracked whether we are aware of it or not.  And I must admit it’s kind of spooky!

Just the other day, I received an email – yes on Gmail – from a friend who sent me to a link about a cool travel itinerary.  Fiddling on my iPhone while waiting to meet a friend at a cafe, I opened the link but had no time to read further.  Forgetting about this incident, much later that day, I opened Facebook on my laptop.  For an instant I was blown away to see Facebook suggesting I ‘like’ the very company for which my friend had emailed me a link – a company I had never previously heard of!

How these connections are established remain a mystery to most of us.  It’s impossible to not think though that this is a total breach of privacy.  Then again … well … how many of us have read the fine print of those ‘agreement policies’ that pop up during the installation process.   How many of us check all the security settings, let alone fully understand them.

So when I read about the controversy sparked by Samsung later in the week, I must admit I wasn’t all that surprised:

Samsung has caused controversy with the revelation its voice-recognition system enables internet TVs to collect sounds and send them to a third party, including any sensitive information you might happen to talk about in front of the box.”  (The Age: Tim Biggs, February 10, 2015)

Work colleagues were mortified at the thought that what they said in their lounge rooms in front of the TV could be ‘listened to’.  What most of us don’t realize though is that many of the devices we use on a daily basis increasingly require us to submit data to enable the device to work.  Listing some of these frightening realities, Biggs outlined how smartphones, video game consoles, coffee machines and air-conditioners, to name but a few of the devices we have around us in our homes and in our daily lives, were regularly and constantly collecting data about us, our habits and our preferences.  Stop for a moment and have a read – it’s quite enlightening!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard friends steadfastly refusing to create Gmail or Google accounts or shy away from Facebook and other ‘out to get you’ social media platforms or refuse to enter any form of identifying details that could lead to being tracked or monitored.

Listening to the impassioned and powerful voice of Andrew Keen in a Big Think video: Google Should Charge for Its Services left me with much food for thought.

Safer Internet Day 2015

It’s timely that Safer Internet Day on February 10th occurs at the start of the school year as it gives us a chance to pause and consider how we can incorporate ‘stay safe online’ messages into our lessons and programs.

While there are many different, easily accessible programs and ideas out there, many of which I’ve blogged about previously, there are also many simple and easy to implement ideas such as those I read about in an article in INCITE, the journal of the Australian Library and Information Association.  “Helping your community stay smart online” published in May 2014 (INCITE, Volume 35, Issue 5 pages 12-13) mentions many tips which would be great to share with our students.

Don’t assume that students are aware of some of the most obvious dangers associated with computers in a public space.  Inform library patrons that internet browsers store information about passwords used and pages visited.  Create safer internet access by turning off the users’ option ‘save username and password.’  Encourage students to:

  • delete their browsing history before logging out of a public computer
  • avoid entering personal information or completing financial transactions online
  • log off, even if they are leaving the computer for just a short time
  • lock their devices with passwords
  • use strong passwords which are not easily identifiable
  • not store passwords on their devices
  • change passwords often to avoid hacking
  • download apps only from reputable publishers
  • take care allowing apps to use personal information including location
  • avoid using public Wi-Fi for online banking or shopping

Safer Internet Day is about making our world a safer place.  Get involved by creating an awareness.

Let’s create a better internet together!

SID2 15

It’s back to school at this end of the world, so it’s a good time to be thinking about what it is we are trying to achieve in our school libraries or perhaps query whether in fact we have been achieving that which we really want to achieve!

For those of us on the ‘teaching’ side of the education fence, we grew up with hard copy reference materials which, in their day, were invaluable.

For some teachers, the shift to a digital world is difficult.  The constant need to adapt and change how we do what we’ve always done can be challenging, frustrating and daunting.   But to retain our relevancy, change is essential. While keeping an open mind, being ready to take a risk and experimenting to develop new teaching routines can be time consuming, ultimately it is very rewarding.  Accepting that we are able to learn from those we teach, creates a very different education model which can be challenging to both teachers and students.

It is a reality that our students will be returning to our schools from a holiday filled with constant texting and connectivity in an online environment in which social media predominates.  The ire directed at this constant pass time of our young can be heard loud and clear.  I find myself question though …..

Is social media really all that bad?
Sometimes it is the jolt received by the thinking and writing of others which leads us onto new paths of awareness.  A recent read of an article by Daniel Maxwell published in Asian Correspondent: Gen Y, social media & critical thinking: Developing skills schools neglect reinforced thoughts I’ve previously expressed on this blog:
Today’s high school students, Generation Y, are the first generation to grow up in a world where smartphones and the internet are as commonplace as colour TVs and refrigerators. They inhabit a world very different to the one that previous generations grew up in. Furthermore, the skills young people need to navigate and succeed in this environment have also changed. The development of higher level thinking skills is becoming increasingly essential for 21st century learners.”
Voicing concern that schools of the 21st Century may not be meeting the needs of today’s students, Maxwell highlights a glaring reality that for the most part is being quietly ignored in our schools: students are independently engaging outside the classroom in complex skills which utilize higher level thinking skills.  Using social media, predominantly on their smartphones, our students are
  • rapidly processing and responding to instant messages
  • quickly and creatively recording, editing and publishing photos, videos, blogs, songs and artwork
  • questioning and challenging social issues, sharing opinions, rallying support and mobilizing demonstrators in ways that were unfathomable prior to the digital age

Perhaps, as Maxwell suggests, it’s time to stop worrying about the amount of time our students spend using their smartphones and to instead look at what it is they are doing with their smartphones.   Learning from and with our students will be far more productive than forcing them to conform with an educational model which has long been outdated.  Changing how we do what we’ve always done is not easy.  Considering how others are tackling the evolution of teaching and learning can be inspiring.

A good starting point could be a read of The 21st century classroom – where the 3 R’s meet the 4 C’s! in which lots of practical ideas are suggested.

If you haven’t yet seen The Imitation Game, a movie about Alan Turing and his efforts to break the Enigma Code during WWII, be sure to add it to your ‘must see ‘ list.  It’s a great movie, which is bound to take out some well deserved awards.

Like all films though, it has its critics.  Poetic license, they say, overtakes historical fact.  Important details are omitted.

Nevertheless, I came away from the movie feeling enlightened and informed.  The movie is multilayered.   Many issues are touched upon in a complex telling of the life of a profound individual who gave our world a great deal.  I found myself reaching out, wanting to learn more about Alan Turing, and was pleased to be able to listen to a Phillip Adams podcast in which he interviewed Professor Jack Copeland, an expert on the life and work of Alan Turning.   Aired on ABC radio just a week before the film’s release in Australia, the podcast is well worth the listen.

The selection of the movie’s title – The Imitation Game – is also quite interesting, as it is based on a conundrum Turing toyed with throughout his life.

It wasn’t until the ‘after movie discussion’ that I became aware CAPTCHA is a development based on Turing’s genius.  CAPTCHA – an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” is regularly used by numerous websites to determine if the user is a person or a machine.  When purchasing tickets online or submitting a comment for publication on a blog for example, a requirement to decipher those often illegible squiggly letters is in fact a process forcing us to complete the “Turning Test” to determine if indeed we really are a human!

CAPTCHA

Just recently, over one of those lingering coffees which I so enjoy indulging in with my husband,  the conversation turned to how dramatically our pursuit of knowledge has been impacted by smartphones.   Who could have anticipated that it would be common practice to pick up our smartphones mid-sentence to verify facts, to search for facts or, as so often happens with us, to determine which of us won the ‘bet’ on who was correct on a statement just made!  From there, our discussion drifted to the likelihood that one day in the not-too-distant future the entire web could be made available to all of us in any language of choice.   We toyed with the notion that this could appear as one of the many options listed at the top of a Google search.

And then, I happened upon an old TEDx video in which I found myself engrossed listening to an explanation of how CAPTCHA was developed by Luis von Ahn and his team.   How amazing it was to discover that each time we use CAPTCHA we join millions of others in helping to digitize books – a momentous task!  Recorded in 2011, this video became even more informative to me as I listened to von Ahn talk about the development of Duolingo, a program which is now up and running and is one I blogged about just a few months ago: Duolingo: A model for free online education.

Watch this video and be as entranced as I was by the incredible thinking behind CAPTCHA, how humans have been unwittingly harnessed to assist technological development and how this in turn has fed into the development of Duolingo.

I’m in awe sometimes when my reading and learning seems to go full circle, occurring at a time and in a way which I most often never anticipate!

Ah ….. the joy of lifelong learning!!

End of year reflections

It’s the end of the school year at this end of the world, so it’s kind of natural for me to be reflecting on times been and times to come.

Watching this recently released video of Steve Wozniak talking about his role in the revolutionary change brought about by the development of the Apple computer is both beautifully filmed and fascinatingly informative.

Who could have dreamt of the developments that followed that momentous design?  The pace of change is indeed very fast.  How many of us could have predicted that today we would be debating the merits or otherwise of computers being able to think and act on their own?

When I read a report last week in which the pre-eminent scientist Steven Hawking warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race, I found myself sitting up and listening.  The article from BBC News: Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind is well worth a read.  If you know little about AI, this report includes a brief, easy to understand, introduction to AI by Prof Murray Shanahan.

Stephen Hawking is not alone in voicing his concerns about AI.  Elon Musk, chief executive of rocket-maker Space X, also fears that AI is our biggest existential threat.

The question of whether or not we should be worried about the development of Artificial Intelligence is heavily debated, but this recent CNN broadcast (December 2, 2014) in which James Barrat, author of “Our Final Invention”  discusses the issue, left me somewhat disconcerted.

AI - James Barrat on CNN

Contemporary discourse, which recognizes the incredible speed of technological changes, indicates that it’s not possible for educators to plan detailed educational programs beyond five years.  With an eye on where we are headed in the future, discussion, debate, exploration and questioning are behind most everything we put in place in our schools.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve learned and explored much.  Lots of opportunities, for which I am very grateful, have been thrown my way allowing me to grow, learn and explore more than I ever thought I could.  While I look forward to the end of year break over summer, I know that in between reading and relaxing, I will also explore interests which I regularly add to my never ending ‘to do’ list.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts in future posts after the break.

 

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