Thursday, December 19, 2013

PCAST report and recommendations on MOOCS

Last year, PCAST, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, turned their attention to smart radio technology and spectrum sharing and their work yielded an executive order on the sharing of federal spectrum.

Now they have issued a short report with recomendations on MOOCs.

The report states that they are interested in MOOCs because:

MOOCs offer something different from radio, video, and even Internet courses of the past. Improvements in bandwidth and software innovations have enabled enormous improvement in the speed and quality of communication among large numbers of students and between students and teachers.
They continue with a concise, documented survey of MOOC developments (in the US), and discussion of the possible benefits from MOOCs and the criticisms that have been leveled against them.

They conclude with three recommendations:
  • Let market forces decide which innovations in online teaching and learning are best.
  • Encourage accrediting bodies to be flexible in response to educational innovation.
  • Support research and the sharing of results on effective teaching and learning.
Their faith that the market will do the right thing got my attention -- is there no proactive role for the government in this? Would we have the Internet today if it were not for the government's role in developing the ARPANet and seeding connectivity with NSFNet?

I'd also be a bit worried that flexibility in accrediting might mean lower standards, but, in this case, I think market forces -- the job market -- will trump credit. College students will pay for training that leads to jobs.

Update 12/20/2013

PCAT has published a MOOC Hierarchy:


Update 12/20/2013

PCAT has published an infographic Harnessing Technology for Higher Education.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A Hole in Space -- envisioning and demonstrating video chat in 1980

Product development often begins with a speculative vision like Vannevar Bush imagining a global network of scientific workstations (see this presentation) or the work of artists and storytellers.

But, most visions are no more than that -- visions. The critical next step is building an engineering prototype demonstrating the vision -- "demo or die." Think of Daimler's early autos, the Wright Brothers' Flyer, or Doug Engelbart and Ivan Sutherland's work in our field.

Artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz combined vision and prototype when they created a "Hole in Space" by linking bigger-than-life displays in New York and LA with a NASA satellite feed. It was the mother of all video chats -- they showed that size and bandwidth matter in communicating presence and emotion.

Galloway and Rabinowitz documented the installation in a video. Below you will find links to both the full video and selected excerpts. If you like the excerpts, you will love the full video -- it is full of emotion and humor.

More information on:
Excerpt video (4m 49s):

Full video (29m 44s):

Monday, December 02, 2013

Amazon photos -- yesterday, today and tomorrow

These photos are from coverage of Amazon by NPR and Sixty Minutes. They illustrate Amazon's policy of investing only in things that enhance the customer experience and create loyalty, the improved density and efficiency of their warehouse/fulfillment centers and experiments with 30-minute delivery of orders by autonomous drones.

1999 warehouse and fulfillment center

2013 warehouse and fulfillment center

Robots scurrying around with picked items

Amazon corporate office, 1999

Jeff Bezos' makeshift desk, 1999

Bezos' hopes for 30-minute delivery via drone in 4-5 years

A delivery drone prototype

Eight electric motors

Taking off from a fulfillment center

Autonomous flight

Landing, dropping package and leaving for home

The spotlight on Jeff Bezos and Amazon

I surveyed my freshmen students this term, asking if they knew who Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were.

They all knew who Gates and Jobs were, but had never heard of any of the others.

It seems that some tech entrepreneurs are public figures and others are not and it looks like Jeff Bezos has decided to go public.

A book on Amazon was recently published and Terry Gross interviewed the author, Jeff Stone, on Fresh Air. The interview covers Bezos' intention to make Amazon an "everything store" from the very start, his foregoing of quick profit to build customer loyalty and long-run profit, working conditions in Amazon warehouses, Bezos' management style and his purchase of The Washington Post.

Last night, Sixty Minutes also did a segment on Bezos and Amazon. You get to know Bezos and get a good look at the operation of the fullfilment centers they are building all around the country. The highlight is video of a research prototype -- autonomous drones delivering packages to homes. Bezos warned that this was early research, but expects that his drones will by flying in four or five years.

Links to some Sixty Minute videos on Amazon (with commercials):

If you only watch one video, make it this one from 1999 when Amazon was just a book and music store:

Update 12/2/2013

I've selected 11 still images from these videos, creating. They illustrate Amazon's policy of investing only in things that enhance the customer experience and create loyalty, the improved density and efficiency of their warehouse/fulfillment centers and experiments with 30-minute delivery of orders by autonomous drones.

Update 8/31/2014

Google has had a delivery drone project for two years according to the Atlantic Monthly. Drones from either company will face many non-technical challenges.