Education experts say the future of learning will be determined by students

3 05 2010

WWW 2010 - "The Future of Learning is the Web." From left to right: Negar Mottahedeh, Mark Anthony Neal, Tony O'Driscoll, Cathy Davidson. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker.

Though they discussed a wide array of topics, the Future of Learning Panel centered its conversation on one theme articulated by session Chair Cathy Davidson: “How do we make the most of traditional institutions and unite worlds that are not always part of our institutions as traditionally conceived?”

The panel consisted of five professors from Duke University:

  • Cathy Davidson, co-founder of HASTAC – the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory
  • Laurent Dubois, a historian of French colonialism and the Caribbean
  • Negar Mottahedeh, a highly respected academic author who staged the first-ever Twitter Film Festival
  • Mark Anthony Neal, the author of four books, a frequent commentator for National Public Radio and contributor to several on-line media outlets
  • Tony O’Driscoll, author of “Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration,” with Karl M. Kapp.

In addition to discussing the future, the panelists talked about some of their individual experiments with  technology in the classroom. Mottahedeh spoke about her experiment with the Twitter Film Festival in her introduction to film studies class. Students posted video clips to a class blog and Tweeted about them with links to analysis. The effort attracted more than 300 followers from all walks of life.

Dubois is currently working on a project called the Haiti Lab that will link Haitian students with faculty through the Internet to continue education while the country is still in a state of disrepair.

WWW 2010 - "The Future of Learning is the Web." From left to right: Laurent Dubois, Negar Mottahedeh, Mark Anthony Neal. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker.

“There’s a need for the university to be a space of rapid reaction,” he said. “Haiti needs an immediate plan and action.”

Davidson drew national press attention by writing a blog post titled “How to Crowdsource Grading,” which encouraged educators to use peer learning to evaluate students’ work and make it public. Now that the end of the semester is approaching, Davidson said her class did surprisingly well, producing a high caliber of work and motivated by the fact that it will be published.

O’Driscoll is teaching a class in which students put all deliverables into the creative commons and evaluate one another’s work. He said students held one another accountable for the material they produced, even asking to use his criteria to assign grades.

Neal has used his classes to take students’ knowledge into the Durham community through live webcasts, one of which drew 10,000 viewers. He also posts prompts to his exam questions publicly to employ generative learning.

Much of the panel’s spirited discussion was generated from audience questions, addressing issues like the use of Twitter during class, the ways technology affects student attention, and computer games as motivational learning.

“To allow students to be on their blackberries and computers is giving up a lot of power associated with being in ivory tower,” Anthony said.

WWW 2010 - "The Future of Learning is the Web." Cathy Davidson. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

Though some argue that electrons distract students rather than enhance their experiences in the classroom, Davidson pointed out that just because students stare at their instructors does not mean that they are paying attention.

Some of the panelists felt that the use of social media during class could actually enhance the student experience. O’Driscoll said he uses a class hash tag to monitor student interest and questions, as a replacement for the “note card technique” of collecting questions. There are even filter applications available to help determine the most relevant questions.

“Teaching does not exist in a pristine way,” Davidson said, noting that learning will continue to change as technology advances.

O’Driscoll said he hopes that more educators will follow the example of a game-based school called Quest to Learn that uses the “magic circle” method to enthrall students. He said teachers need to find “the magic between solid instructional design and the magic circle, and ground it deeply in good, solid pedagogy.”

Mottahedeh ended the discussion by noting that it isn’t the technology that will determine the future but the students.

“Students are the difference in the world, and we’ll figure out together how they will make that difference,” she said.

– By Rachel Cieri

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Coleman of SAS leads FutureWeb panel on Internet’s impact on public health

1 05 2010
Charles Coleman SAS

Charles Coleman, managing director and senior strategist of the SAS Institute’s Education and Medical/Healthcare practice, talks about predictive applications being developed to leverage information to serve public health goals. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

Charles Coleman, managing director and senior strategist of the SAS Institute’s Education and Medical/Healthcare practice,  led a panel discussion on the future of public health and the Web during Friday afternoon’s FutureWeb session. Panelists included Jeff Heard, a senior researcher at Renaissance Computing Institute and Deborah Tate and Kurt Ribisl, both of the UNC Health Behavior and Health Education Department.

Coleman noted that “Public health is in the process of catching up with other industries.” He introduced a panel of experts who are working to find ways to help better leverage new technology tools to make a significant difference in the future of public health.

Coleman talked about a new program that just came into existence the past couple of months titled “NC Be Prepared.” “It is a theory and a vision for proactive surveillance [of public health] that has three key elements in it,” he said. “First, ‘early cuing,’ which means, ‘ah, I’m starting to see something evolve, second, pattern recognition, meaning ‘I’ve seen this before, it looks like this,’ and third, situational awareness, which is kind of a government term for ‘what is the situation? – I need to be briefed, I need to act, I need to know what to do next.'”

He said “Tomorrow” is a part of this NC Be Prepared vision. It is the predictive and preventative aspect to this program, asking “what could happen?” “what is about to happen?” and “what can I do to prevent what’s about to happen?”

He said this is all an interesting intersection of advance analytics and biosurveillance using some high-end algorithms that allow you to do predictive indicator analysis and some surveillance on the preventative side.

“The idea,” he said, “is to identify a problem earlier, whether it’s an outbreak or a disease, whether it’s sarin gas when it’s terrorism, whether it’s West Nile disease or its H1N1, etc. The whole idea is to get to the point so I can see what is developing and I can act on it.”

He added that tremendous amounts of research are being driven by technology today. “A lot of the health surveillance since 9/11 is being powered by Internet, World Wide Web-based applications, not only at the federal level, but at the state and local level.”

Jeff Heard

Jeff Heard discusses his research into public health and the use of the Web in public service at the FutureWeb conference in Raleigh, N.C., in April 2010. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

A farmers’ market may not be an entity many think of as having a vast amount of research potential. But Jeff Heard of RENCI, the Renaissance Computing Institute, said tracking census data will bring more opportunities for nutrition from farmers’ markets to lower-income families. He works to link local, sustainable food systems to public health.

Heard asks: “How does eating local impact obesity, the environment and the economy?’

“The aim of our company is to engineer tools around the new, massive amounts of data coming in on the Internet and computing the power of that data… and to embrace the fact that not everyone’s a computer expert,” Heard said.

The overarching goal of his project is to increase the availability of local food to local markets, in a way that gives more people access to the resources.“To increase the variability of local food markets so we can increase access,” he said. “We embrace the fact that not everyone is not a computer expert …and we try to build tools that people in the research community can use.”

One of those tools is a geo-location application that uses open source to acquire data from the US census about farmers’ markets, the Farmers’ Market Geolocator Tool, which “takes a lot of open source tools that are already out there and puts them together in a very unique way,” Heard said.

While such a tool won’t replace the knowledge that the people involved in local farmer co-ops have or tell  exactly where a market might best be built, it does indicate various strengths and weaknesses of a particular area. “No geolocator tool is going to replace the local knowledge that a farmer’s co-op has about their market,” he said, “but the goal is to show the strengths and weaknesses of local sites, based on key economic indicators.”

RENCI uses Huff’s Probability Model to compute with other markets and uncover source population and income. “We make the tool widely available by making it web-based,” Heard said.

Deborah Tate FutureWeb Health Future

Deborah Tate of UNC's School of Public Health discusses "Internet intervention" - the use of online tools to help people get healthy and stay healthy - at the FutureWeb conference at WWW2010 in Raleigh. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

Deborah Tate of the UNC School of Public Health is using the Web to advance her work with health behavior. She has been researching obesity and how individuals can manage weight via the Web. She began her work in 1992 when she created a Web engine to look at the walking behavior of people.

“Internet intervention,” as she calls it, allows for a combination of technology with a support system. “Many of the leading causes of death are preventable, such as smoking and obesity,” she said. “The problem is many people don’t know how to implement changes and maintain motivation.”

Tate and her colleagues have developed technological tools to change these detrimental behaviors.

In the case of obesity, on which much of her research focuses, Tate realized the health industry must go beyond traditional means of support in order to reach out to such a large population. The Internet offers an approach with a wide reach and the capability of bringing people together. For instance, the Internet allows those suffering from obesity to access “transforming treatments.”

deborah tate FutureWeb future health

Tate says that Internet-based information is vital, but people still need face-to-face human networks to help them overcome health problems. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

The methods are evolving over time to include new interactive components, enhanced by technology.

“IHC’s (interdisciplinary health communications) are usually Web-based,” she said. “They are found to have significant positive effects on knowledge, contributing to social support and (favorable) clinical and behavioral outcomes.”

Tate has studied whether or not Web-based interventions are favored over non-Web-based interventions. What she found was that people seem to prefer managing obesity through Web programs, including online diaries, video education sessions and online weight monitoring.

“We’re getting more evidence that these kinds of approaches work,” she said.

Tate stressed though that the online tools are not enough; personal support is still crucial to help individuals with medical obstacles.

“We can’t just link them to cool apps and expect those apps to change their behavior,” Tate said. “They need support along the way. How you use the Internet to change behavior matters.”

Kurt Ribisl

Kurt Ribisl discusses the dark side of online health - concerns over access to drugs and underage purchases of items such as cigarettes at the FutureWeb conference at WWW2010. Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. Creative Commons rights

Following Tate, Kurt Ribisl discussed the dangers and harsh realities of various shady online vendors. He discussed, for instance, how minors have access to ordering products such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, guns and even prescription medications such as oxycontin on the Web.

“Some are totally illegal…Some are totally tangible,” Ribisl said. “I’ve looked at the regulation of these issues online, and you have a disconnected process between ordering and receiving (products), unlike in the real world. We need to really think about what’s actually being sold and promoted on the Internet,” Ribisl said.

He stressed that one of the biggest obstacles is that it is difficult to find out who is behind this content because of the plethora of domain names.

Ribisl conducted a study of the ways in which teenagers buy cigarettes online. The only proof of age required by all of the online vendors he studied was a check-box “verifying” that the person making the request was at least 18 years old. “It was a very flimsy type of age-verification process,” Ribisl said.

He found 76 of 83 purchase attempts were successful, a rate of 92 percent of underage teens who were able to order cigarettes.

In 2005, a landmark agreement was passed ceasing payment processes for Internet cigarette vendors online. The same year, UPS, DHL and Fedex ceased shipment of cigarettes. In 2008, 34 states passed laws regulating Internet cigarette vendors. But illegal underage transactions are still often taking place and people of all ages are often acquiring drugs they should not be using because online vendors are making them easily available.

Ribisl said there are three ways that policy makers have attempted to address the problem, none of which have been completely successful: individual states have sued vendors; state revenue departments have pursued smokers; and some states have tried to cut vendors off from certain business partners.

“There is still some evidence that certain types of policies may eventually have some type of impact on the issue,” Ribisl said.

– By Ashley Dischinger, Laura Smith and Janna Anderson

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EPIC’s Rotenberg talks ‘privacy paradox,’ legislative challenges with Rainie

1 05 2010

Lee Rainie, director of Pew Internet, led a final session at FutureWeb in which he discussed privacy issues with Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.)

WWW 2010 - "Special Session: Marc Rotenberg & Lee Rainie." From left to right: Marc Rotenberg, Lee Rainie. (Photo: Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker. )

Rotenberg is arguably the best-known privacy advocate in the world, and he and his team work to bring to light the emerging civil liberties issues tied to the many uses of technology.

“Mark is my number one teacher on these issues,” Rainie said in his introduction. “He has schooled us (at Pew) both directly and indirectly, and his work has stood up remarkably and robustly as this environment has changed.”

Rotenberg addressed the privacy paradox, where on one level Americans tend to place value in the ability to control identity, but at the same time they don’t always stay true to this principle.

“The challenge is that people are constantly being coerced to give up data and to make information available because of some opportunity that is presented to them,” he said, in an indirect but obvious reference to online social networks like Facebook and online search companies such as Google.

He noted the historical similarities between the early years of the automobile and the early years of the Internet. Drivers in the early 1900s were in the similar situation of using a new product, despite the lack of safety features. Because it offers advantages, despite the threats to their well-being the consumer decides to use the product. As the product evolves, the challenge then becomes how to enhance it’s benefits to consumers while reducing the necessary risks.

“The key insight is that at the end of the day, it isn’t the driver going to auto safety school making the experience safer,” he said. “It is not possible to effectively place this burden on the driver. It has to be the responsibility of the manufacturer. I think that’s the big shift we’re going to see on the Internet privacy front.”

Rotenberg then spoke to the political atmosphere of the issue, saying it’s becoming more common to see people speaking up. He finds it encouraging that young people are participating in the conversation, citing the example of the Facebook group created to protest the largest social network’s new terms of service.

The launch of Google Buzz created similar activity involving privacy issues. After the introduction, Gmail users resisted the violation of privacy rights and there was an enormous pushback on Google.

“The next step in the maturing of the privacy debate is making the connections between recognition and… real action by Congress,” Rotenberg told Rainie. He is a strong advocate of specific privacy legislation and says new laws are necessary in this new environment.

Rotenberg added that it is not right for our representatives in Congress to trade off too much of people’s personal privacy in exchange for national security and government access.

“If you really lose privacy, it will be very hard to recapture,” he said.

Rotenberg said ideas about privacy in the Internet context tend to be universal around the world, and it is interesting how much agreement there is on basic principles. People tend to reflect similar values due to a common understanding of the issue.

A topic that many people are now concerned with is privacy in a mobile environment. Good privacy laws will focus on the collection and use of personal data from mobile devices, he said.

“People should be able to make decisions about what to post online,” Rotenberg said. “That’s what freedom’s about, and that’s a good thing. But when companies start to take that data (and analyze and distribute it)… I’m really uncomfortable with that.”

– By Ashley Dischinger

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FutureWeb 2010 conference boasts top names and interactive event

22 01 2010

The Raleigh Convention Center will be the hub of technology buzz at the end of April as the FutureWeb conference, co-located with the international WWW2010 conference, hosts top Internet experts and entrepreneurs. FutureWeb, April 28-30, is being led by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.

FutureWeb is bringing “smart people together to discuss future possibilities in order to be able to work toward the best future possible,” according to conference organizer Janna Anderson, director of Imagining the Internet.

The event will host Internet experts including Vint Cerf, danah boyd, Marc Rotenberg, Lee Rainie, Doc Searls, Chris DiBona, Michael Tiemann and Bob Young, among others who will lead discussions on the future of privacy, core values, web analytics and the media, to name a few.

Anderson said keynote speakers were chosen for their record of innovations their record of innovations with regards to the Internet: “Vint with his work with Google, his invention of the Internet protocol, Bob with his amazing innovation with Red Hat, and now with Lulu, which is a fantastic new publishing paradigm, and danah with her research into social networks and how they are changing our lives profoundly.”

Attendees will do more than just see these keynoters, however. They will interact with them. Anderson is expecting that participants in the conference will actively think ahead about the future of the Web even before the conference begins, arriving ready to participate in focused and valuable discussions of the trends that are likely to effect the social, political and economic future.

“It is going to be a highly participatory conference, that’s what collective intelligence is all about,” she said. “We are going to have a lot of smart people in the room, not just the people in the front of the room, but also involving the audience as much as possible; I don’t even want to call them ‘the audience,’ because everyone there will be equal as far as what they have to share and give,” she said.

The conference is targeted at business leaders, technology experts, marketers and students alike, and the conference’s low cost, with access for many set at less than $100, makes it a valuable event whether participants come for all three days or just one, Anderson added.

“This conference is for everyone, literally everyone can come, and that’s what we want to see,” she said. “We hope to have a very diverse group of participants who are interested in a lot of things,” Anderson said, adding that the FutureWeb conference, “cuts across all disciplines, it cuts across all interests, and it’s all about us as people moving forward with this amazing communications tool – where we’re going with it, what we’re doing and the positive and negative aspects that we can see in years ahead and how we are going to deal with those.”

Play the videos to hear what Janna Anderson has to say about FutureWeb and why the Raleigh Convention Center was selected for the event.

– By Kirsten Bennett