Ultra-networked Semantic Services: Are you ready?

Thanks so much for stopping by to check out TechPudding lately! If you just happened to be bored enough to keep track of my blogging, you’ll know that I wrote almost every day from February to April and then virtually disappeared from the blogosphere until now. This is because the end of the year brought some exciting and time consuming changes. I found out that I will be joining a team in the fall that is responsible for planning and implementing technology integration and use throughout a school board of over 200 schools. I am extra excited because I get to share ideas and learn with and from some very insightful brains. So needless to say, the last two months of the year were very busy as I wrapped up my technology lead role in my school. When I finally had the chance to catch my breath, I took full advantage of it and have enjoyed a summer of laid back relaxation.

So now it’s time to wake up my circuits and get back into the swing of things. Here it goes!

I found this video titled, The Future Internet: Service Web 3.0 by semantictechnology, that not only talks about the increasingly interconnectedness of Web 3.0, but also what it could mean for our future.

The number of users and the amount of content being produced online is growing exponentially. Furthermore, each user has an increasing number of access points to the Internet including multiple computers, mobile phones, tablets, and more. Not only are we increasingly connected as both producers and consumers of content in the digital universe, but the devices that we use to connect to the Internet are also connected to each other.

web connection imageNetworked, hyper-personalized digital services will use the information from every action, location, and interaction that we make in increasingly subtle ways. These services will continuously learn about our patterns of behaviour, wants, needs, and actions, and make recommendations to us based on our behaviours. The future economy will be sustained through the connections that personalized smart systems have with each and every user.

This is where semantic technologies come in to make sense of the many ways in which we communicate digitally. Semantic technologies will de-code user-created content and actions and help other pieces of technology to use it in the creation of personalized recommendations. The everyday objects that we interact with will make up the “Internet of things,” where each object will play a part in monitoring what we do, where we go, and what we buy. Unified, networked services and processes on the Internet will help businesses reach consumers, markets, investors, and other businesses more efficiently and seamlessly.

The video predicts that the Internet will be pervasive in our lives, and offers that we will have to develop boundaries and limits to protect our personal information. This raises serious questions that already exist about personal privacy, as well as how much we should rely on such services in case they fail. I am also concerned about the hyper-personalization of services, information, and applications. I feel as though this will contribute even more to the isolation of people from each other when they become attached to only a handful of “realms” online, if you can call them that. However, the Internet of things may also help to organize like-minded individuals to connect and pursue positive endeavours.

I believe that educators will need to understand the nature of the connection between users and the technologies that we use. We will have to learn to think about the consequences and connections that are translated through our devices and everyday objects every time we interact with them. Our digital footprints will not only leave information about our preferences, actions, and wants, but will also influence future recommendations and in effect, our future decisions, are made. Communication, collaboration, and creation will be the most valued skills because it is the integration of information from multiple sources that will influence our decisions. We should be teaching our students to use the semantic web to combine multiple pieces of information in order to make well thought out decisions because if we don’t, someone or something else may do it for them…

What are your thoughts on this vision of Web 3.0? Please share!

Image: Design by connection, by Dave Gray. 2011. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Three Approaches to Web 2.0 (and Web 3.0) including a Marshall McLuhan Moment

Lately I have been thinking about what the term Web 2.0 really means. According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 “allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumers) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them” (para. 1). The description of users as passive consumers refers to Web 1.0, the era when most people did not create content online; they simply used the Internet to research information so it travelled only one-way, from the computer to the person.

The following YouTube video posted by jleister titled, 3 Phases of Educational Technology, does an excellent job of explaining the progression of student and teacher technology use from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 by breaking it down into three parts. jleister emphasizes that all three phases are equally important in the learning process, and that during a single lesson, all three may be present.

Briefly:

  • Phase I – teachers use technology as one-way mediums for disseminating information, such as showing video clips or PowerPoint presentations to a passive student audience. The visuals help students to understand concepts more clearly. This use of technology maintains the teacher’s role as the disseminator of knowledge and controller of the structure and organization of the classroom.
  • Phase II – students begin to interact with the technology to acquire content knowledge instead of full reliance on textbooks or teacher lectures. They conduct online research, read, or view media that they search for themselves. However, the structure of the lessons may still mimic phase I.
  • Phase III – students become producers of media. They create images, presentations, audio, and/or texts, and what’s more–they share their creations with others and interactively review others’ work. jleister argues that we need to focus on modern skills of communication, collaboration, and creation during this phase and think of students as producers of information, not just consumers of it. I feel that this is the essence of Web 2.0.

Next, I found an excellent animated video titled, Evolution Web 1.0, to Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 by davidEPN. It highlights how Web 2.0 is moving into Web 3.0. Web 3.0 is:

  • The development of an intelligent, omnipresent web that is an extension or continuation of what we presently understand the web to be
  • Involved in a continuous learning process that anticipates users’ preferences, such as the recommendations that Amazon provides as you shop
  • Increasingly interconnected appliances including cars and phones that communicate with each other, becoming more and more present but less visible. They learn about our lives and make individualized recommendations in increasingly automatic ways
  • Web 3.0 opens the door to machines converting data into useful, meaningful information, otherwise known as the semantic web

Finally, I will refer to the thoughts of someone who was way ahead of his time. Marshall McLuhan, considered by many to be the father of media theory (and a great Canadian thinker, I might add!), contributed to our understanding of technology’s influence on us before we even knew it was happening in the 1960’s and ’70’s. In the following clip, marshall mcluhan on the media posted by matsutakneatche, McLuhan explains:

  • All media is an extension of human faculties: the wheel is an extension of the foot, the book is an extension of the eye, clothing is an extension of the skin, and electric circuitry is an extension of the nervous system
  • The extension of any one sense displaces the other senses and alters the way we think of ourselves and the world
  • The literate (book) world emphasized the visual, and made us detached and isolated from the other people since reading is a relatively private activity. McLuhan calls it “not involved”
  • The electric revolution and the information age is where “involvement is total”
  • The information explosion becomes the culture
  • Artists are the only ones who live in the present on the edge of change while most people live in the age just behind them because it is safer

Takeaways:

I am completely intrigued by each one of these videos and thinkers, but even more interested in what happens when we take them together in the context of Web 2.0, 3.0, and beyond. My thoughts are:

  • Perhaps after the information explosion (that McLuhan identified), the semantic web will begin to limit our access to information by bombarding us with only the ‘recommendations’ that have come about from the complex programming that goes into semantic systems. There will be a semantic culture if you will, that will develop from the interpretation of billions of tiny bits of information that users input into the web connecting everything, without even knowing it. And this semantic culture will not only be invisible, but will continue to evolve until what began as ‘recommendations’ will become automatic ‘decisions’ that are made for us.
  • After jleister’s phase III, we must consider students themselves to be learners as well as teachers in a never-ending learning cycle of researching, learning, synthesizing, creating, and reviewing. McLuhan’s term, “total involvement,” defines the role of schools as helping students develop their skills and understanding of this cycle. Furthermore, we will have to re-think what we refer to as curriculum, since the value that we place on particular ideas or knowledge isn’t half as important as how we interact with it. This draws upon McLuhan’s famous idea that “the medium is the message“. Instead of focusing on curriculum, we will have to focus on the learning cycle.
  • What does it mean to live in the present as opposed to the age that has just passed? I believe that technology has become a medium that extends our thinking and the way in which we connect ideas, learn, and think. Our concepts of time and collaboration have also changed through the immediacy of information and access, the range of people that we can collaborate with, and the permanent nature of what we share online. Perhaps living in the present means accepting that we will be forever less private and more connected with people, things, and places, even when we think that we aren’t.
  • Will there still be phase I and II learning in this world? Of course! If I know nothing about a particular topic and ask someone about it or look up an article online, then I am engaging in the first two phases. However, I believe that our notion of ‘baseline understanding’ of any given topic will change completely. After all, with so many more sources of information, the lines between opinion, educated opinion, and fact will become increasingly blurred. Baseline knowledge may decrease in importance while sound arguments based on a wide range of sources will become more important. Thus, phase III will become much more prevalent and may put ‘untouched’ baseline knowledge to the test.

I will definitely delve into the thoughts of McLuhan and the road to Web 3.0 in future posts. This topic is incredibly intriguing to me! What are your thoughts on our journey into the future? What about living in the past or present? And what of technology as extensions of ourselves? Please share!

(Image: Brains, by neil conway. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons Generic License.)

Usability and Visual Design: 3 Tools that Have it All


(Check the actual thing out at http://www.wix.com/techpudding/techpudding)

Greetings! Today I’d like to showcase two free web 2.0 tools that are both easy to use and look incredibly professional. They are both great tools to create widgets for websites, wikis, or blogs. Unlike many free web 2.0 tools available, their designers thought hard about creating clean and simple user interfaces, easy-to-follow instructions, and they also understand the concepts of visual composition and multimedia design.

When compared to tools like Prezi (a flowing online presentation maker) or Capzles (a visual timeline maker), where the user interface is relatively intuitive but the finished product is not quite fully professional unless you take extra time and effort, the following tools have an easy-to-use interface and highly professional outcomes that do not require extra effort by the user.

Because they are so professional looking, I would not only use these tools for their intended purposes, but also examine the elements of effective visual, usability, and multimedia design with students. We know how important usability and design are with the many advanced tools and technologies available to everyone. Trying multiple tools and comparing their usability is also a rich learning experience for students to understand what it takes to create useful and effective web tools. The only issue I have with these tools is the inability to embed them into WordPress.com, but they can all be embedded in other blog services and social networking sites.

1. Wix http://www.wix.com/

Wix not only allows you to create flash-based websites, but widgets as well. The owl on the scrunched-up paper at the top of this post was created using the incredibly easy to use widget maker feature. The owl actually blinks! You can add from Wix’s extensive library of music, animated images, and videos, or incorporate your own into the design. I used a ready-made template and simply changed the image to the owl and played with the font and text a bit. I even embedded a link in the text for my own blog. The entire process took me no longer than 5 minutes.

2. Popplet http://popplet.com/

With a name like this, you’d never know what this site can do. What it does very well, is help you to create mind maps that are incredibly stylish and easy to use. My example above is simple, but you can see how the visual design comes together to create something that is visually effective. You can use Popplet to create attractive posters and presentations as well. Check the site out to see some excellent examples!

3. SpicyNodes http://www.spicynodes.org/index.html

With a name like this, I’m sure you are interested. This site helps you to create flowing, interactive mind maps that have animated, interactive features like my trial above. They are incredibly professional looking and easy to use. With a number of styles to choose from and the ability to play with the font and add images, this is a slick way to create organized visuals of information and ideas.

If you have suggestions for other tools with superior ease of use and extremely professional design, please share them! And if you have successful stories of how you have used such tools, share them too!