Archive for August, 2015

Weekend funny – selfie fails

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

selfie fail

(you know this isn’t going to end well)

Robot tutor – not as cool as it sounds (but it’s free)

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Actually only Wired magazine called it a robot.  It’s actually’s adaptive learning platform.

Basically,  students enter some info about learning preferences and the system hunts though it’s collection of resources for something that matches it.  If the student gets a question wrong the system finds a simpler resource.

It’s not that ground breaking, but what it does have is a large collection to resources that anyone can add to, and it’s now free (it was previously available via publishers like Pearson). figures out what each student knows and how each student learns best, to pinpoint the type of content, level of difficulty, and which media format each student needs. Its technology can take any free open content, algorithmically calibrate it, and bundle it into a uniquely personalized lesson for each student at any moment.

Anyone who wants to learn or teach a subject can use helps teachers, tutors and parents provide more personalized lessons. Students at any level can reach their academic goals at their own pace, and get extra help or more advanced lessons.

Upmarket Hangouts get supersized at Harvard

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Harvard Business School‘s HBX digital learning initiative today launched a virtual classroom designed to reproduce the intimacy and synchronous interaction of the case method in a digital environment.

Built to mimic the amphitheater-style seating of an HBS classroom, the HBX Live Studio features a high-resolution video wall that can display up to 60 participants. Additional students can audit sessions via an observer model. An array of stationary and roaming cameras capture the action, allowing viewers to see both the professor and fellow students.

hbx live 2

hbx live

My first impression is this looks very cool.  A slick digital performance space that allows student interaction.

My second thought is where did they get the cash to build it and fund the ongoing running costs (3 people in the booth?!?).  There is no way this is feasible unless you have insane levels of external funding (like maybe Harvard)

My third thought is what is it actually achieving?  Isn’t it just a big shiny Hangout?   It seems to be designed to replicate an environment that is familiar to the academic.  The students are still just looking at a (very well filmed) person on a computer monitor.

My fourth is it’s still dependent on the one thing we are short of which is good facilitator/presenters.  Actually if we want to do this  via a screen we probably need people with TV/drama training.

In a select entry MBA like Darden you could probably pull this off, but I suspect in an undergrad setting you’d have half the students on the video wall, reading Facebook and checking to see if the person on the third screen over is on Tinder.

Still, I like the idea.

I could be a good option if you are running a TV production company and looking for a side business in Distance Ed.  Maybe it’s something to think about if you are rebuilding your Performing Arts/Journalism facilities.

Thinking about it, I reckon I could probably pull of something similar for about $6K upfront (not including the laptop).  And there’d be no ongoing costs

  • Streaming hdmi video camera
  • Lapel mic or shot gun mic
  • Streaming Box (Magewell USB3 to HMDI converter)
  • Data projector to project the Hangout student view
  • Swyvl tracking camera stand.
  • Cheap set of studio lights from ebay

I’ve got some gear on order and I might have a go at doing this later in the year.  I’ll post it on YouTube when it’s done.

Some tips for buying a teaching video camera

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

The first thing to say is dollar for dollar, any current camera is better than the 5 year old one you may be using now.   I’m not going to provide an exhaustive list of features, just a few things that could trip up.

Panasonic HC-X920 3D Ready HD 3MOS Digital Camcorder with Wi-fi (black)

My basic premise is you want a camera that the average academic can use to record an event in a lecture theatre.   Best quality for the minimum effort.

  • Records in MP4 format – Staff should be able to put a compressed file straight into Moodle or YouTube with out doing any conversion.  Most cameras do this, but not all, and some of their formats don’t work well in some programs e.g. Camtasia is finicky about audio codecs (AC3) and Windows Movie Maker can’t handle the High Definition format MTS used in most major brands.
  • Fold out view finder that turns 180 degrees so people ca see themselves – this is pretty much standard now but check for it anyway
  • Has a physical remote control – This removes the need to clip the start and finish of your recording.  Staff can sit down, get their hair right, and take a deep breath before pushing the record button.  It turns out this is probably the main thing that will limit your options.    Many cameras now use OS and Android apps, which is fine if you are lending out a smart phone with each camera, and providing instructions on how to sync up the devices.

And don’t forget a tripod.  You don’t need a top of the range item, but don’t go too cheap.  Aluminum tripods are fairly rugged and cheap.  Personally I prefer having a mid level spreader for more stability.  Make sure the head doesn’t make any noise when you move it around.

If you have you own tips, let me know.

Audio is also important but I’ll deal with that later.

Weekend funny – Back school sales that were hopefully mislabeled.

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

See the rest on

Peer review of online news articles

Friday, August 21st, 2015

This group climate ( ) focuses on climate change articles but any group could do something similar, using the same platform *

“With so much information available online, trying to figure out which information is credible — and what is not — is a real challenge. When so much of what we read falls outside of our own expertise, how can we know which headlines and news articles are consistent with science?”

“Using the Hypothesis annotation platform, our community of scientists go through a variety of online media articles and provide ‘feedback’ on the scientific accuracy of the information presented. Readers can view these annotations directly alongside the original texts and see exactly where the article’s information is consistent — or inconsistent — with scientific thinking and state-of-the-art knowledge in the field.”

While I support the intent and effort, I’m a bit unsure of the  effectiveness of Climatefeedback approach.  It is useful for people looking for accurate science based information, but if you already lean in the other direction you are unlikely to use it.  Pseudo-science groups with opposing views could set up their own service, entrenching an alternative view.  Then again, that could be useful to teachers teaching critical thinking in schools.  You could have an article and two or three different “authoritative” commentaries.

They certainly picked apart an article by our current government’s climate darling.


The platform is worth exploring.  It might be a way for university academics to raise their profiles by providing timely critiques of current events.

* is  “building an open platform for discussion on the web. It leverages annotation to enable sentence-level critique or note-taking on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and more. Everything we build is guided by our principles. In particular that it be free, open, non-profit, neutral and lasting to name a few.”

Ghost tour of Second Life campuses

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

I like the idea of Second Life but for me, it is still a solution looking for a problem.  Some people in Design in the VET sector did some interesting things with virtual display spaces, but largely it was just universities recreating slightly lame versions of their existing campuses.

Patrick Hogan on had a hunt around of some of the remaining SL campuses and found decade old, abandoned relics.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 1.53.18 PM

I found this via Stephen Downes OLD daily

We had a crack at it at Monash, but despite some interesting research results, enthusiasm had largely petered out by 2009.  An exciting project called Pharmatopia was originally on SL but switched Unity

The new idea for Second Life is to pair it VR headsets like Oculus Rift to create a more immersive environment.

Linden Lab is prepping Project Sansar, a VR world.

The project is progressing.  Here is a press release from 2 days ago (20/8/2015)

This could be quite exciting but like the original Second Life, I’m not sure it will make studying Accounting any more interesting.  I think if you could create photo-realistic spaces for virtual open days , Second Life could be useful, but on a day to day basis it’s a lot of work for virtual meeting and presentation spaces.

Weekend funny – Media and toy makers are getting dinosaurs wrong

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Don’t mess with the dinosaur geeks.

(First National Pictures)
The Lost World (1925), First National Pictures

While the rest of us are going “oooh that’s so cool,” they are sitting in a barely controlled rage.

What’s Wrong With the Flying Pterosaurs in Jurassic World

“In conclusion, I think that the flying animals in Jurassic World are not real and instead the producers used some type of computer generated graphics to depict the motion of the pterosaurs.”

A Dinosaur Expert Critiques Dinosaur Toys

A cheaper way to get an interactive smartboard

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Rather than spend thousands on a smartboard you will soon be able to do much the same thing on a much cheaper, large screen TV for about $200USD or $99 if you want to be part of the Indiegogo fundraiser.


“The Touchjet WAVE allows you to control your television with your finger, a stylus or your smartphone, while also letting you download a host of apps directly to your TV.

“The device works much like those novelty laser keyboards in that it pretty simply puts a laser overlay on your TV that matches your touch input to the onscreen experience.”

Windows 10 info

Monday, August 10th, 2015

There are a few conspiracy theories and a bit of confusion about MS giving away free Win 10 upgrades.


  • it is free,
  • it works well,
  • it is a vehicle for MS to sell you stuff (although how intrusive this is remains to be seen).
  • it does have some dodgy privacy settings, but you can turn them off.

It looks like MS is shifting it’s revenue model.  It apparently makes very little on upgrades  so it is giving away a system that will make it easier for you to buy related MS services and apps

It looks like a good system, but the upgrade process has been problematic for some people.

Here is a collection of reviews (very positive)

There are some dodgy default privacy setting, but you can configure them

Should you upgrade?  PC Advsor says ‘yes’.

The OS is clean, familiar, and easy to understand, plus it has a wealth of new, helpful features that you’ll actually want to use. The fact that it’s free for the majority of existing Windows users, and can be rolled back quickly to the previous version if you don’t like it, really makes it very, very easy to recommend.

Personally, I’d wait until the next update in October.  The truism when dealing with MS is “never get version 1”.