Saturday, October 25, 2014

Huddle Lamp makes sharing information between multiple mobile devices easy

Researchers at MIT developed software that can quickly connect multiple mobile devices and connect them as one giant touchscreen, no matter how they are arranged on a desk.
The setup needs a 'huddle lamp' - a camera mounted above the mobile devices to track the position and orientation of each one. This allows to share documents between devices by swiping or showing fragments of a larger image in each device.
The software and schematics behind the project are being distributed as a free open-source resource.
More information here: A Hacked Lamp Turns Multiple Mobile Devices Into a Single Giant Display

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Characteristics of a competent human being

What are the characteristics of a competent human being, a real man/woman?

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Or in other words:
“If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!” 

― Rudyard KiplingIf: A Father's Advice to His Son

Friday, October 17, 2014

Comparing two forms of concept map critique activities

Knowledge Integration Map (KIM)
Source: Wikipedia
Concept maps can be versatile tools for learning and assessment. However, evaluating concept maps can be challenging. What are effective ways to analyze concept maps?

I presented a paper at the 6th international conference on concept mapping in Santos, Brazil in October 2014 (See conference program with links to papers here). The paper introduces a new form of concept map, called Knowledge Integration Map (KIM). Different from Novakian concept maps, KIMs divide the drawing area into discipline-specific sections (see example above). Placing concept in these designated areas elicits how learners categorize these concepts and it highlights cross-links between sections. Cross-links can be seen as particularly interesting as they link concepts in different categories. 

The empirical study presented in the paper compares two forms of KIM activities implemented in biology classrooms. Concept  map  activities  often  lack  a  subsequent  revision  step  that  facilitates  knowledge  integration.  This  study compares two kinds of concept map critique activities embedded in an evolution unit: Student dyads in one group compared their concept maps against an expert map while dyads in the other group conducted a peer-review. Analysis of the concept maps suggests that both treatment groups significantly improved their understanding of evolution. However, the two groups developed different criteria: The expert-map group focused mostly on concept-focused criteria like concept classification while the peer-review group used more link-focused criteria like link labels and missing connections. This paper suggests that both critique activities can be beneficial to making more coherent connections across different topics in biology. 

The paper is available here (as PDF)The title of the paper is 'Comparing two forms of concept map critique activities to support knowledge integration in biology education'.

Making Sense of Concept Maps

Overview of concept mapping analysis methods
(by Beat A. Schwendimann)

Concept maps can be versatile tools for learning and assessment. However, evaluating concept maps can be challenging. What are effective ways to analyze concept maps?

I presented a paper at the 6th international conference on concept mapping in Santos, Brazil in October 2014 (See program with links to papers here). The paper provides an overview of evaluation/ analysis methods for concept maps and identifies powerful indicators that can track changes in students' understanding. The paper is available here (as a PDF). The title of the paper is 'Multi-level analysis strategy to make sense of concept maps' (also see concept map above).

An extended version of the paper has been published as a book chapter: Schwendimann, B. A. (2014). Making sense of knowledge integration maps. In D. Ifenthaler & R. Hanewald (Eds.), Digital knowledge maps in education: Technology enhanced support for teachers and learners. New York: Springer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Create 3D sculptures using Oculus Rift

VRClay allows to create 3D sculptures in a virtual reality environment using Oculus Rift or Razer Hydra. More information about it here.

Affordable computer kit Kano to teach coding

London-based startup Kano offers a $150-priced computer and coding kit "Kano" that can be used to teach children about computers and coding. The modular "Kano" kit consists of several plug-in components that can be attached to create a fully functional PC. The plug-in components of the Kano computer include a compact 'Raspberry Pi' computer board, an orange Bluetooth keyboard with trackpad, 8 GB memory card, and a speaker. See Kano's website here.

"Kano" uses a custom programming approach, called "Kano Blocks" which is a version of the Linux operating system. Kano Blocks can output real code in Javascript and Python.

Identifying fake physics in videos to teach physics

Popular videos often seemingly impossible jumps, throws, or dunks. Many of these videos have been manipulated.

Physics professor Rhett Allain wrote an interesting post about how you can spot if a video has been manipulated by analysing the physics. Allain's post could by used by physics teachers to teach about physics as well as a resource in a course about video editing. See Allain's post here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

eReader usage leads to less recall than paper books

eBook reading
As study conducted at Stavanger University (Norway) reported that "readers using a Kindle were significantly worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story.

In the study, 50 readers were given the same short story. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half as paperback. Afterwards, participants were tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.

The researchers found that "The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, for example, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order."

As an explanation, the authors refer to the tactile properties of paperbacks. "When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you're reading."

The authors suggest that publishers should make evidence-based decisions about what kind of content is best presented in what kind of format.

More details on the study here:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great movies for science geeks and science teachers

Mad Scientist
Many movies portrait scientists (see a list here), but only few try to give realistic depiction of science and scientists (sometimes in a historical context). Scientists are often either portrayed as mad loners (see image above) or a wizard-technicians (e.g. forensic scientists or computer hackers in almost every crime TV show).

Here is a short list of movies that do a better job at representing science (and show the scientist as a positive hero):

Name of the movie
Longitude (2000)
Technology: A clockmaker needs to collect convincing evidence to support the reliability of his method to measure the position of ships out in the ocean.
Astronomy. An astronomer strives to collect convincing evidence that the royal calendar is inaccurate.
Scientists run experiments to explore an alien virus.
Architecture. The challenges of building a Japanese castle.
Agora (2009)
Astronomy. Conflict between religion and science.

What is vocational education? What are current challenges of VET in Switzerland?

Vocational Education in different contexts
Vocational education (also called  career and technical education (CTE), technical and vocational education and training (TVET), or vocational education and training (VET)), can be described as education that prepares people for a specific trade, craft, or career.

Traditionally, vocational education refers to classic trades such as carpenter, mason, plumber, electrician, blacksmith, etc. However, the lines can get blurred when one includes programs such as engineering, accountancy, nursing, medicine, architecture, pharmacy, and law.

At the upper-secondary level in Switzerland, over 60-70% of young people enter a VET program while 30-40% go to university (OECD report). Given the above definition of VET, many university students could also be considered part of VET (such as engineers, medical doctors, architects, lawyers, psychologists, teachers, etc.).

Following this line of thought, education could (roughly) be divided into two strands:
  • Occupation-specific education: Education programs that prepare students for a specific profession (which often includes practical experiences through internships and apprenticeships).
  • General education: Education programs that teach knowledge and skills independent of specific careers, particularly the liberal arts (for example literature, languages, art history, music history, philosophy, history).
Graduates from occupation-specific programs find it often easier to find a job after their program as they have a clear(er) career path, practical experience on the job, and relevant skills. However, university education is still perceived as more desirable. In 2014, over 13,000 Swiss VET apprenticeship positions could not be filled (Newspaper article July 16 2014). In the UK, studio schools try to combine schools with VET. In the US, forming a vocational education system could improve the overall education system (see article here).

Like Germany and Austria, Switzerland has a long history for vocational education going back to apprenticeship programs in the middle ages. Today, Switzerland builds on the 'dual system' approach for VET. Students learn practical skills and procedural knowledge at the workplace (under the supervision of a vocational trainer) 3-4 days/week) and theoretical (declarative) knowledge in vocational school (under the supervision of vocational teachers) (1-2 days/week). Additionally, students also attend yearly inter-company courses (organized by their professional unions) in industry training centers to complement their skill sets (under the supervision of vocational instructors). Some professions, particularly commercial employees, attend vocational school full time. Swiss VET program can take between two and four years and lead to a Federal VET Diploma (full 3- or 4-year program) or a Federal VET Certificate (less demanding 2-year VET program). Graduates from a university of applied sciences receive a 'professional bachelor' or a 'professional master' (Newspaper article June 18 2014). Currently, PhDs can only be granted by the regular universities.

Switzerland draws a distinction between vocational education and training (VET) programs (which take place at the upper-secondary level) and professional education and training (PET) programs (which take place at tertiary level). Beyond PET, universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) offer vocational education at higher tertiary levels. Pathways enable people to shift from one part of the education system to another. The line between PET and university education (particularly of the occupation-specific programs) becomes increasingly blurred.

A big difference between the two strands is the cost factor. While the state heavily subsidizes university education (students only pay about $700/ semester), higher degrees in professional education need to paid fully by the student (often around $3000-4000/ semester). A professional diploma can cost as much as $30,000 to 40,000.

The question for a society (and economy) is to find the right balance between the two education strands. A society that focuses solely on occupation-specific education might have a highly skilled workforce but lack people who see pattern across narrow contexts, think critically about bigger issues, and find innovative out-of-the-box problem solving approaches.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Gender stereotypes and the lack of women in STEM careers

Role models and encouragement can make a big difference when it comes to education program and career choices. Currently, less than 25% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in the US are held by women.

Recent research (*) suggests that boys and girls have similar psychological traits and cognitive abilities, thus gender is not the determining factor for careers in STEM.

One contributor could be repeated (but often concealed) encouragements that reinforce gender stereotypes (see video below). Women need more role models, opportunities to experience, and encouragement towards careers in STEM.

(*) Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2006). Gender similarities in mathematics and science. Science, 314(5799), 599-600

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spatial storytelling using tablets and Oculus rift

Interactive spatial storytelling with iDNA app
[Picture by Apelab]
Swiss startup company Apelab focuses on innovative ways of using digital media for storytelling. One particularly interesting project is iDNA.

Using an tablet or Oculus Rift, the user sees an interactive animation movie. The user can explore 360 degrees of each scene by moving the device around. Depending on which element in the scene the user focuses on, the story seamlessly takes a different path. The viewer gets the illusion of being right in the middle of each scene.

The paper book might be on the decline, but storytelling will find interesting new ways.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kidzania - a vocation education theme park

KidZania firemen roleplay
[Picture source:]

KidZania model city
[Picture source:]

KidZania is a Mexican owned company who runs a series of vocation-based theme parks around the world.

Each KidZania location features an indoor scaled-down (2/3 of full size) model city in which children can experience different professions through role-play (following the instructions of animators). Around 60 different establishments (including a hospital, fire station, beauty salon, bank, radio station, supermarket, television station, pizzeria, and theater) offer nearly 100 different role-playing activities.

To simulate the real world, KizdZania teaches capitalist-consumerist values of earning and spending money. The role-play gets rewarded with KidZania's own currency, kidZos, which can be spent within KidZania for goods and services provided by other children working in that profession.

Each Kidzania role-play activity is heavily and directly sponsored by multi-national or local brands (what they call "integrated marketing partnership"). For example, aviation professions are sponsored by American Airlines, bank professions are sponsored by HSBC, hospitality professions are sponsored by Coca Cola, Domino's pizza, Nestle, Kellogg's and Danone, Engineering professions are sponsored by Mitsubishi Motors and Honda, and so on.

Currently, the Kidzania franchise has locations in Mexico City, Monterrey (Mexico), Tokyo, Jakarta, Osaka, Lisbon, Dubai, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Santiago, Bangkok, Kuwait, Mumbai, Cairo, and Istanbul (with several new locations in planning).

Read another blog entry on KidZania here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is the difference between a toy, a game, a puzzle, and a sport?

The distinction between toys, puzzles, games, and sports is often not clear - but they differ from each other in certain key features.

The main difference between toys, games and puzzles is the amount of constraint and authorship the player has over the experience. The more authorship the player has over a puzzle, the more it becomes like a toy. The more the player is the actor following the strict guides of the toy, the more the toy becomes like a puzzle. (In my view, it is unfortunate that Lego moved from offering toys (by providing generic bricks that you could turn into anything you could imagine) to selling puzzles (pre-made movie merchandise kits that come with a construction manual). 
Changing the role of the player changes the experience: When you add a goal to toys it will become a game. For instance, when you say "create the highest tower using these Lego bricks", it becomes a game. When you say, "build an exact duplicate of this tower using these Lego bricks it becomes a puzzle".

Game designer Tj'ièn elaborates:
  • With puzzles, there is usually only one answer, one solution. The player’s role is confined to finding the answer to the puzzle. Like a riddle, the puzzle challenges the player to find the answer. The player is limited. Examples, jigsaw, Sudoku, Rubik's cube, Tower of Hanoi.
  • With toys on the other hand the player is completely free in the way it handles them. There are no hard rules that tell the player what to do or how to do it. The player creates its own experience.
  • Games fit snugly in the middle between toys and puzzles. They allow for more freedom then puzzles and are more confined then toys. In a way, games are puzzle-toys.
  • Definition: There are many definitions for 'game', for example 'A competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules'; 'A period of competition or challenge' (
Illustration by Tj'ièn 
  • Creative expression is art if made for its own beauty, and entertainment if made for money.
  • A piece of entertainment is a plaything if it is interactive. Movies and books are cited as examples of non-interactive entertainment.
  • If no goals are associated with a plaything, it is a toy. (Crawford notes that by his definition, (a) a toy can become a game element if the player makes up rules, and (b) The Sims and SimCity are toys, not games, or alternatively, simulations (read about the difference between simulations and models here) or toys (no given goals.) If it has goals, a plaything is a challenge.
  • If a challenge has no "active agent against whom you compete," it is a puzzle; if there is one, it is a conflict. (Crawford admits that this is a subjective test. Video games with noticeably algorithmic artificial intelligence can be played as puzzles; these include the patterns used to evade ghosts in Pac-Man.)
  • Finally, if the player can only outperform the opponent, but not attack them to interfere with their performance, the conflict is a competition. (Competitions include racing and figure skating.) However, if attacks are allowed, then the conflict qualifies as a game.
Definition of game (by Chris Crawford)
Different types of games (by skill): Physical, mental, or luck
Also confusingly, it is called the Olympic 'Games' instead of Olympic 'Sports'. In this case, the 'Games' is the overall event that consists of competitions in specific sports.
In computer games, a 'sports game' is a video game that simulates the practice of traditional sports.
Interestingly, the games 'chess' and 'bridge' are recognized as 'sports' (or sometimes called a 'mind sport') by the Olympic Games Committee. However, an UK court decided that Bridge is actually a game and not a sport (Is chess a sport or a game? Is bridge a game or a sport?) (following the distinction of game and sport above). Chess is competitive but does not require physical skills, so it is a game.
Another distinction between toy, game, and puzzle by computer game designer Chris Crawford (Source):

Crawford's definition can be summarized of games as an interactive, goal-oriented activities, with active agents to play against, in which players (including active agents) can interfere with each other.

To extend on the above distinctions, different types of games can be distinguished:
What is the difference between a game and a sport? Again, this is another difficult distinction because of overlapping definitions and multiple meanings (Source).

Sports can be defined as a specific form of physical skill game (requiring physical skills and governed by a set of rules) that usually includes physical exertion (and the possibility of injury) and competition in front of spectators ( (which distinguishes them from other skill games such as dart or lawn bowling).

A bit confusingly, you can play a game of sports, but you can't sport a game; You can play a game of basketball and you can pursue basketball as a sport; Football is a sport, and when you watch it (a particular match), it's a game of football.
In this context, the word 'game' can have several meanings. For example:
-Game as a reference to a specific type of game, e.g. the game of chess (chess in general)
-Game as a reference to a specific match, e.g. a game of chess between friends

AddendumStamp collecting or knitting do not fall into any category described above and are considered 'hobbies'. There is no physical exertion, no game aspect, it can be done 'at your leisure'.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How climate change should be presented in the media

TV-host John Oliver and Bill Nye, the science guy, gave a interesting demontstration of how climate change should be presented in the media.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Google announces "Google Classroom"

Google Classroom
Google announced a new, free tool for education, aptly named "Google Classroom". This new tool  (expected in September 2014) will combine existing apps for education into one platform. "Google Classroom" weaves together Google Docs, Drive, Plus, and Gmail. The platform promises to make communication between teachers and students easier by handling digital documents in one shared place (sounds like the infamous "paperless office").

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some of the most beautiful libraries in the world

In the age of digital information and eBook readers, one could question the usefulness of storing paper books. However, libraries can be beautiful inspiring places. Libraries often form the shared space for scholarly communities. Today, libraries redefined themselves as learning spaces instead of book storage halls.

See a gallery of beautiful libraries here:

Science Fiction books that predicted inventions

This infograph illustrates how science fiction predicted innovations in science, medicine, and technology.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Farewell to the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) project

XO-1 laptop
(Source: OLPC news)
The OLPC website officially reports that "OLPC is dead" and so is the development  of the XO-1 laptops. Sections of the OLPC project seem to be still operational but the full effort has subsided.

The idealistic project who aimed to close/narrow the digital divide by giving every child a specially designed laptop did unfortunately not succeed to reach its ambitious goals.

The rugged, low-power XO-1 laptop (also known as the $100 Laptop, the Children's Machine, and the 2B1) is an inexpensive sub-notebook computer that offered many interesting design features:

  • To improve internet connection in areas with limited access, the XO-1 used a WiFi mesh networking protocol to allow many machines to share Internet access as long as at least one of them can see and connect to a router or other access point.
  • Operation system: Slimmed-down version of Fedora Linux and a GUI named Sugar 
  •  Video camera, a microphone, and a hybrid stylus/touch pad. 
  • Power: The XO-1 was designed to use minimal amounts of power. In addition to a standard plug-in power supply, human power and solar power sources are available, allowing operation far from a commercial power grid.
  • Dual screen mode: Reflective (backlight off) monochrome mode for low-power use in sunlight (ebook mode) and backlit color mode.
  • Water-resistant membrane keyboard, designed for the small hands of children.
Farewell, OLPC and XO-1. We need more idealistic projects like this.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Inaccuracies in scientific illustrations

Michael Stevens provides a brief overview of some inaccuracies found in common science illustrations (including several historic ones).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Seamless document exchange between devices with Infinite Surface

Infinite Surface setup

Startup company Infinite Surface offers promising software that allows seamless exchange between multiple devices (smartphones, tablets, PCs, multi-touch tables).

The exchange can be bi-directional (by swiping a document off the edge of the screen it will be moved over to a specified device). Alternatively, the devices can be in synchronization mode (screen mirroring with authoring rights for all devices). The software is web-based and runs on a wide range of devices. The multi-touch table acts as the central hub for all the devices.

A promising concept that hopefully will become available soon.

What's new about MOOCs? Insights from the eMOOC conference 2014

The MOOC 2014 conference took place at EPFL in Lausanne Switzerland in February 2014. The catchphrase of the conference was "All you need to know about MOOCs".

In the introduction, conference chair Pierre Dillenbourg asked the participants not ask "what can MOOCs do" but rather "what should MOOCs do".

Some interesting observations from the conference:

MOOCs for corporate and vocational training:

  • Currently, MOOCs are mostly developed for higher education and further education. However, the corporate and vocational training market is much larger than higher education. Several initiatives are developing MOOCs for corporate (COOCs) and vocational training (VOOC), e.g. customer training. Open question: Can MOOCs be used to teach physical skills, eg vocational skill, sport? If companies do their own testing and training, what are universities still needed for?

MOOC users:

  • Mostly Western countries and mostly people who already have a higher degree (master or higher): MOOC as a form of further education (but not initial education). Should MOOCs in developing countries be seen as a form of cultural colonialism or a democratization of education? How can MOOCs advance new forms of pedagogy instead of being glorified video lectures?

Novelty of MOOCs

  • Open question: Are xMOOCs actually different from existing eLearning platforms (besides the larger user numbers)? [Siemen's and Downes' cMOOCs differentiated themselves through their connectivist pedagogy, but what about xMOOCs?]. Suggestion: Go beyond the university-semester model -> Trend towards shorter courses (as people don't have much time).
  • The conference presentations offered a plethora of new terms: SOOCs and BOOCs (Small and Big open online courses (Is a MOOC with fewer participants still a MOOC?), COOCs (MOOCs for corporate training), VOOCs (MOOCs for vocational training), pMOOCs (project-based MOOCS), DOCC (Distance open collaborative course), etc.


  • How can success be measured in MOOCs? An example from Proversity (UK): To prepare job applicants with job specific skills, applicants take a MOOC and then go through an assessment in which they have to apply that knowledge in job-specific scenarios. If they did well, they will go through an online job interview process. Peer review vs peer assessment

Certification/ Accreditation:

  • New forms of awards are needed. Gamification of education: badges. Currently, no university or employer accepts MOOC credits, but some allow complementing with on-campus courses to get credit. Some (few) employers recognize MOOC certificates on CVs. Trend towards certification of MOOCs by professional organizations (rather than universities).
Dropout rate
  • xMOOC companies (like EdX and Coursera) offer "premium track" models in which participants pay a fee in advance to get access to the final exam and get a certificate. Users in the premium track have a completion rate of up to 70% (which is much higher than regular MOOC participation). The increase could be explained by economic motivation to get your moneys worth and a selection effect as only motivated participants are willing to pay in the first place.
I created a brief overview of MOOCs in the dynamic mindmap below [Click on a term to read the attached notes in the window below].