Thursday, December 3, 2015

Visions of a technology-enhanced future

Chinese technology giant Baidu, Samsung, and Microsoft produced interesting conceptual videos of what the near future might look like.

Shih-Ting Hung | Baidu : Beyond Technology from Shih-Ting Hung on Vimeo.

Samsung predicts this kind of future:

The tech companies’ visions share a lot in common, including:
  • Augmented reality as a part of everyday life
  • Big touchscreen surfaces everywhere
  • Real-time speech and text translation
  • Tablets
  • Remote health monitoring, especially of the elderly
Additionally, it is interesting that some other predictions were not included in the videos, such as self-driving cars, drones, VR headsets (such as Microsoft's HoloLens).
You might also be interested in Corning's video of near-future technology and Microsoft's vision of the future (2011).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A short history of Santa Claus - from saint to secular

Santa Claus (Coca Cola version)
Santa Claus is a complex social-cultural phenomenon that developed over centuries.

  • Historically, Santa Claus is based on Bishop Nicholas of Myra who lived from 280-343 a.D. in Greece. He was made a Saint in 900 a.D. His Saints Day is December 6, which is the traditional 'Santa Claus' day in many European countries. St. Nicholas gave money and gifts to children but he did not like to be seen when he gave away presents. Therefore, he left his presents during the night. This turned into the modern day practice of telling children that Santa Claus will not arrive unless the children go to sleep early.
  • Leaving food: The catholic saint was merged with non-christian figures, such as Father Christmas and the Norse god Odin. During Yule time, Odin would visit every house on his horse Sleipnir. Children  would place their boots near the chimney (or outside of the door) with food for Sleipnir. During the night, Odin would enter the house through the chimney and reward them for their kindness with food, candy or gifts. The tradition still continues in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The food for Sleipnir became milk and cookies for Santa; the boots become stockings hung on the chimney. Other norse influences are the Yule log and the mistletoe (Read more about the mistletoe tradition here). 
  • Influences: The modern Santa Claus was most strongly defined by Dutch and American influences. In the Netherlands, the figure is called 'Sinterklaas'. Dutch settlers brought the 'Sinterklaas' tradition to the US where the name changed into 'Santa Claus'. After arriving in the US, several poems, songs, and stories extended and changed the figure of Santa Claus. Instead of a horse, he now used reindeer. His workshop was placed at the North Pole, he was given an army of elves, and a wife (Mrs Claus was added by a 1956 popular song by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus", and the 1963 children's book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley). 
  • Animals: In Europe, Santa Claus uses either horse, a donkey, or reindeer. In the US, his animals changed, most importantly due to the 1823 story "A Vist From St. Nicholas", better known today as "The Night Before Christmas". In this poem eight reindeer were introduced as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which were later changed to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen). The ninth, and most famous reindeer, was not added until 1939 by a poem about Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer by Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company; followed by the popular 1949 song by Johnny Marks about "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
  • Helpers: The European 'Sinterklaas' or 'Samichlaus' has often a helper called 'Black Peter/ Père Fouettard'. While Santa is the friendly gift-giver, Black Peter's job is to punish children who did not behave well. Similar to Black Peter, several European Alpine regions know a devil-like creature called Krampus who punishes naughty children. In Germany, Santa is linked to angel-like baby Jesus ('Christ Child') who brings gifts. The German word 'Kristkind' became Santa Claus' name 'Kris Kringle'. In the US tradition, Santa has a workshop full of elves who make all the gifts. However, in several Scandiavian countries, Santa is an elf himself (called Nisse or Tomte).
  • Outfit: In many European countries, Santa Claus wears a Bishop's attire. In the US, his religious looks were changed to a more secular apparel (a fur-lined red suit and a soft hat). Santa's outfit became standardized through the 1920s and firmly established through the work of Coca-Cola Company commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom who developed advertising images using Santa Claus in 1930.
Santa Claus can therefore be considered a product of cultural globalization and a merger of many traditions.

The Origin and Evolution of Santa Claus
by herrimanjoe. From Visually.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Augmented reality for vocational education and practice

Google announced that one area of application for Glass will be vocational education/practice (NY Times article). Google Glass could be used to access information in the field (hands-free, voice controlled), for example checklists or patient information, and streamline communication. Such applications could be useful for on-the-job training by showing handbook information and tutorial videos as needed.
The company Wearable Intelligence developed two Glass applications, one for healthcare and one for pipeline maintenance.

Here is the pipeline maintenance video:
Another company, Daqri, is proposing a helmet with integrated augmented realty functionality - particularly for industrial workplaces.

Monday, October 26, 2015

EPCOT: The smart city of the future that (sadly) remained a vision

E.P.C.O.T aerial view
[Image Source]
In 1965, Walt Disney had a vision: To build the city of the future that would highlight the best of city planning and serve as a living laboratory for U.S. technology companies. Disney called this utopian city E.P.C.O.T. - the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. [More information here].

This video explains Disney's vision for E.P.C.O.T. in his own words.:

Unfortunately, Disney didn't live to see E.P.C.O.T. becoming realty. After his death, his visionary plans were changed drastically. Today, E.P.C.O.T. can be seen in two forms:

1) As a themepark: The Epcot park (as part of Disneyworld in Florida) is a combination of science and technology-themed rides and a permanent world fair. This park is called Epcot (without the meaning of the acronym) and opened in 1982. Rather then a living city where innovations are being tested in real-life, Epcot features rides showcasing technology and science.

2) In the 1990s, Disney's plans to create the 'perfect' town took on another form. The sub-urban part of E.P.C.O.T. became a city in itself - called 'Celebration' (Florida). Designed by the Disney corporation, Celebration is a master-plan city in an early 20th-century architectural style. Today, Celebration has a population of around 7'500. Instead of the futuristic urban vision of E.P.C.O.T, Celebration aims to be the 'ideal' middle and upper-class sub-urban town. However, this utopia is strictly regulated (similar to the artificially-created experience in a Disney themepark).

E.P.C.O.T could be considered a precursor to the current trend of 'smart cities'. Smart cities incorporate networked technology in all aspects of live in an attempt to make cities more efficient, cleaner, and safer. An example of a smart city is Songdo City in South Korea, the self-proclaimed 'most modern city in the world'. By 2020, more than 250'000 people are expected to live in Songdo Eco-City.
Songodo City
[Image source:]
Another example of a smart city is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates). The first phase of the city is expected to be completed in 2015. Final completion is scheduled to occur between 2020 and 2025. About 50'000 people are expected to live in the planned city. Masdar City has a strong focus on solar energy and other renewable energy sources.
Masdar City
[Image source:]

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

Overview of theories of learning/ theories of education

Philosophy, education research, psychology, and neuroscience offer many different theories to describe 'learning'. In general, learning theories can be categorized into six major groups:
Six major perspectives of learning
Each category includes different frameworks and educational concepts. Here is a small selection:
Expanded view of the six perspectives of learning [Click to enlarge]
The two diagrams above are a small part of a much larger diagram. To capture some of the complex relations between different theories of education and philosophical views, I created a dynamic knowledge visualization of main education theories and concepts using the dynamic mindmap tool TheBrain (one of my favorite tools). My mindmap includes major theories of education and education research methods.

This mindmap is ongoing work in progress. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome.

To navigate the dynamic mindmap below, just click on a term and it will move to the center - showing related concepts. You can also search for terms in the textbox at the bottom.

See this mindmap on the website (where you can find other interesting mindmaps).

Another attempt to present an overview of theories of education was created by the HoTEL project (Holistic Approach to technology-enhanced learning) [Visit their website to download an interactive version of their diagram).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tools to visualize connections between academic publications

Academic researchers publish a lot of papers. One estimate puts the count at 1.8 million articles published each year, in about 28,000 journals (in 2012). The challenge is to make sense of all these publications.

With the raise of visualization tools, one would expect that there are some great tools out there that provide researchers with easy to use visualizations of how papers and authors are connected.

I distinguish between three different types of visualization tools: Impact factor, co-authors, and citations. Unfortunately, there currently seems to be no tool available that combines all three.

1. Tools to visualize the impact factor of a journal (impact factor diagrams)
Eigenfactor [free] offers dynamic graphs of the impact factor of journal by field. One can choose the field of interest, e.g. chemistry, education, or physics. The dynamic graph shows the journals with the highest impact factors on a timeline from 1997 to the present (slider below the graph). Eigenfactor is an academic research project co-founded by Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom and sponsored by the Bergstrom Lab in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington.
Eigenfactor 'motion graphs' show the impact factor of journals (on a timeline)
2. Tools to visualize the relations between co-authors (co-author mapping)
Do you want to see which researchers published together as co-authors? The 'Visual Explorer' of Microsoft Academic Search [free] focuses on the relations between people. After selecting a certain author, one can choose 'co-author path' in the left hand menu. The dynamically generated diagram show the co-authors of this researcher ('co-author graph'), how this researcher is connected to another researcher ('co-author path' - similar to the Six degrees of Kevin Bacon index), and who cited this researcher ('citation graph').
The 'Visual Explorer' by Microsoft Academic search shows relations between co-authors
3. Tools that visualize the citations between papers (citation mapping)
Do you want to know which papers cited a certain publication (forward mapping)? Do you want to see which papers were cited by a publication? Papercube [free] provides a visual navigation of academic citation networks. The data is a static snapshot of the CiteSeer digital library from 2004. The tools only serves to demonstrate the features but is unfortunately no longer updated.
Papercube shows academic citation networks (based on 2004 data)
Another tool to visualize citation networks is the Web of Science citation graph [paid through libraries]. This tool generates a dynamic graph of citations (forward and backwards). One can click on a specific publication to see details and to re-center the diagram.
Web of Science citation graph
The VOSviewer (which stands for 'visualizing scientific landscapes) is a free stand-alone tool developed by Leiden University. The VOSviewer tool can be used for constructing and visualizing bibliometric networks. These networks may for instance include journals, researchers, or individual publications, and they can be constructed based on co-citation, bibliographic coupling, or co-authorship relations. Reference lists can be imported from Web of Science, Scopus, and PubMed.

SciMAT (developed by the University of Granada, Spain) is an open source (GPLv3) software tool developed to perform a science mapping analysis under a longitudinal framework. SciMAT allows  to conduct co-word, author co-citation, journal co-citation, author co-citation, bibliographic coupling, journal bibliographic coupling and author bibliographic coupling.
A list of other software for mapping scientific publications:

Given the advances in data analytics, it is surprising (and disappointing) that there are no better designed tools for academics to explore and discover connections between publications.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A history of knowledge visualization

Data visualization researcher Manuel Lima presents an overview of the history of visualizing data, information, and knowledge.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Positive and negative aspects of using tablets in education

Tablets in education
This Worldbank blog article lists tablet-based education initiatives from across the world - some positive and some negative. The article discusses the effects of tablets on education.

Current research studies are quite fragmented and it is difficult to conclude if tablets are beneficial for education.

As with any kind of technology for education, the critical issue lies with the implementation. Buying the devices is one thing, but what do you do with them? What kind of support and training do schools, teachers, and students need and receive? Is the support short-term (e.g. a few hours of introduction) or is it long-term? Does the pedagogical approaches align with the technology, and vice-versa?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why does a bicycle stay upright?

This informative video by MinutePhysics explains the physics behind a bicycle rolling down a hill.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How to improve undergraduate science education (Nature News & Comment)

This Nature article outlines some of the challenges university teachers encounter when moving from lecturing to active (e.g. problem-based) learning. Creating and teaching active learning units is much more demanding than lecturing. Teachers need more support (technical and pedagogical) during the entire process (design, implementation, evaluation, re-design).

Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right : Nature News & Comment

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New article published: The ‘Erfahrraum’: a pedagogical model for designing educational technologies in dual vocational systems

The Erfahrraum model
My co-authors (Alberto A.P. Cattaneo, Jessica Dehler Zufferey, Jean-Luc Gurtner, Mireille Bétrancourt & Pierre Dillenbourg) and I are happy to announce the publication of our paper "The ‘Erfahrraum’: a pedagogical model for designing educational technologies in dual vocational systems".

Vocational education taking place in the dual contexts of workplace and school often lacks integration of concrete experiences with theoretical knowledge. The interplay between workplace and school contexts and their often antagonistic priorities call for a specific model that transforms these divergences into learning opportunities and connects different forms of knowledge into an integrated body of knowledge that contributes to developing vocational competence. This paper presents a multidimensional pedagogical model, called the ‘Erfahrraum’, for the design and implementation of educational technologies as a way to foster this integration in initial dual vocational education and training (VET). The ‘Erfahrraum’ model informs the design of shared spaces for capturing and reflecting on experiences made in different contexts in which VET takes place. The model particularly emphasises the importance of shared reflection processes to turn concrete experiences into relevant integrated knowledge. Examples of implementations in different professions using a range of different technologies illustrate the power of the ‘Erfahrraum’ model.

You can find the article here: Erfahrraum paper

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

Microsoft Hololens for professional training

NASA will send two Microsoft virtual reality headsets 'Hololens' to the International Space Station.

The devices will be used in two ways. First, it will show a crew member's view back to experts on the ground, who will be able to coach them through operations such as repairs, and "draw" on top of the astronaut's view to help them.

Secondly, augmented reality software will put holographic pictures on top of an astronaut's field of vision, which Nasa says will speed up training.

Video: Nasa equips astronauts with Microsoft's virtual reality headset - Telegraph

This projects is similar to work by the company 'Wearable Intelligence' which proposed using augmented reality through Google Glass to support professional training. See post here.

Documentaries about education reform

Edutopia features a list of recent documentaries about education reform (focus on the US).

See the list here.

The difference between fruits and vegetables

This video explains why bananas are berries but strawberries are not.

Major misconceptions about evolution


Monday, February 23, 2015

A list of predatory journals academics should avoid

Academic librarian Jeffrey Beall curates a helpful list of questionable (predatory 'standalone') journals. Academics should avoid publishing in these journals: LIST OF STANDALONE JOURNALS | Scholarly Open Access

The criteria for determining predatory journals are here.

Google tool for educators

Google offers some great free tools for educators: Google for Education: Google in your classroom

Google tools can be used to create and share documents, work on project, find and manage resources, etc.

Additionally, Google launched its 'Science Fair', in partnership with National Geographic, LEGO Education, Scientific American, and Virgin Galactic. They are asking students around the world one question: What will you try? Google science fair

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Preserving the world's seeds - The Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Entrance to the Seed Vault

It sounds like an installation from an apocalyptic science fiction movie. In Spitsbergen (Norway) is an underground vault that stores samples of important plant seeds. The location was chosen because it lacked tectonic activity and had permafrost, which aids preservation. Its being 130 metres above sea level will keep the site dry even if the ice caps melt.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) officially opened on 26 February 2008. As of March 2013, the number of distinct samples has increased to 770,000 (out of approximately 1.5 million distinct seed samples of agricultural crops which are thought to exist).

Svalbard Global Seed Vault - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Designing the future: The Venus Project

The Venus Project, initiated by designer Jacque Fresco, offers a technology-centric approach to designing the future of humanity. It is an example of Technological Utopianism.

The Venus Project captivates with futuristic looking architecture and technology but it is not without criticism: The Venus Project Debunked or this video:

The Venus/Zeitgeist Project goes beyond architecture and technology and envisions a world without government, private ownership, or money where everybody lives in futuristic houses and all the work is done by robots. It is interesting that the project wants to 'design' the future but without having anybody in charge.

Friday, January 9, 2015

What was missing from your science education?

Science Laboratory
[Image source:]

My short essay for the NextGen contest got published in 'Science'. The question was: What was missing from your science education? See the article here.

STEM Education Apps You Need in 2015

This blog post lists 25 STEM Education Apps You Need in 2015.  Some of them are free while others need to be bought.

I found the DAQRI anatomy 4D app particularly interesting: One can print out the markers and can then see an augmented human body. You can highlight different organs. See more here: