» Archive for the 'E-learning' Category

Plato Turns 50

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 by David Goldes

Imagine a world without the collaborative tools we take for granted today. Decades before the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web, computer pioneers were building Plato, a system that pioneered chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, online forums and message boards, and remote screen sharing. 

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself. -Plato

Plato (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was the world’s first computer-aided teaching system and it was built in 1960 at Computer-based Education Research Lab (CERL) at the University of Illinois and eventually comprised over 1,000 workstations worldwide. It was in existence for forty years and offered coursework ranging from elementary school to university-level.  

Social computing and collaboration began on Plato in 1973. That year, Plato got Plato Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chatrooms), and Term-talk (instant messaging).  

Plato was also a breeding ground for today’s technology innovators. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s chief software architect, worked on the Plato system in the 1970s as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many others including Dave Woolley, who wrote Plato Notes at the age of 17, Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (the e-mail system) in 1974 at the age of 18, and Doug Brown, creator of Talk-o-matic, continued to develop collaborative technologies in their careers.  

Don Bitzer, credited by many as the “father of Plato,” is the co-inventor of the plasma display and has spent his career focusing on collaborative technologies for use in the classroom.  

This week we celebrate Plato’s 50th anniversary. Why a week and not a day? I spoke with Brian Dear, whose book on Plato (The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the Plato System and the Dawn of Cyberculture) will be published later this year,told me “[I]t’s hard to pin down an exact date, due to a) it being open to interpretation as to what qualifies as the first day — when the project got green-lighted? when they started designing it? when a system was actually up and running? when they did the first demo? — and b) there’s little lasting documentary evidence from those earliest weeks.”  

“May 1960 was when Daniel Alpert’s interdisciplinary group that had held meetings for weeks about the feasibility of the lab embarking on an automated teaching project, finally submitted its report to Alpert. He read it, thought about it, and decided to ignore the group’s recommendation to not proceed. Instead he asked if a 26-year-old PhD named Don Bitzer wanted to have a go at it, and Bitzer agreed. Consequently, on June 3, Alpert wrote up his own report to the Dean of the Engineering School, which instead of reiterating his group’s recommendation to not go forward with a computer education project, stated that they were indeed going forward. Bitzer went right to work on it, brought in others to help with the hardware and software, and they had a prototype up and running pretty quickly that summer. The rest is history.”  

 

   

 

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Distractions in the Classroom: One Professor Fights Back

Thursday, March 11th, 2010 by Cody Burke

In a recent video uploaded to YouTube, a college professor produces a styrofoam cooler, a laptop, and a container of liquid nitrogen in front of a lecture hall full of students.

A different kind of upgrade

He proceeds to place the laptop in the cooler, freeze the laptop with the liquid nitrogen and, with dramatic flourish, smash it to bits on the floor, while proclaiming loudly, “Don’t bring laptops and work on them in class!  Have I made my point clear?”

Very clear indeed.

The prevalence of mobile devices such as laptops, netbooks, and smartphones is a uniquely double edged sword for the lecture hall, as well as the corporate boardroom.  On one hand they present educational opportunities through the ability to take notes, do research, and interact with multimedia elements that support a teacher’s lesson plan.  However, they also open a door to nearly limitless distraction.

The education system is struggling with this dynamic as it on one hand increasingly requires students to have laptops, while at the same time, faces a growing number of professors who are banning their use in class.  We wrote about the issues that educators face in regards to technology in our 2008 report, Technologies to Teach the Thumb Generation (http://bsx.stores.yahoo.net/tethge.html) and found that, for the most part, educational institutions were lagging behind both corporate and consumer trends in technology.

What our nitrogen-happy professor was demonstrating was his annoyance with students who use tools that could help their in-class efforts but instead end up negatively impacting their academic performance.  This occurs because it is not simply enough to give a room full of students laptops and expect them to be productive; a deeper understanding of how the technology is being used, and in what situations it may be advantageous to use it, is required.

For instance, taking notes can be accomplished perfectly well by hand, which means a student need not open up a laptop and be tempted by his friends’ Facebook updates.  Polling students or having them conduct research on a topic on the other hand is an appropriate use of the technology.

We are still feeling out the best ways for technology to be applied to classroom settings, and just as in the business world, often the best intentions lead to unintended consequences, such as Information Overload and unnecessary distractions.  Although we do not advocate the destruction of innocent laptops, we do applaud the professor for setting the tone in his lecture hall and recognizing the potential for distraction from technology when used in the wrong context.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Three Visionary Views: Basex Strategic Thinkers Conference, September 2004

Friday, October 1st, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

As frequent attendees of Basex Strategic Thinkers conferences know, one won’t find the VP of marketing from an IT company on the podium presenting his company’s 12-18 month roadmap.  Most speakers are end users, seasoned executives with experience in selecting, deploying, and managing Collaborative Business Environments (CBEs) and they speak about their experience in the trenches.

It is, however, equally important to hear from the companies that supply the tools used to build Collaborative Business Environments.  To round out the program, Basex invites senior executives from vendor companies to participate in the Visionary Vendor panel.  Each of the selected companies thrives on innovation and we ask executives to detail their long-term views on how Collaborative Business Environments will evolve and what the collaborative workplace will be like in a three to five year timeframe.  We also proscribe their presenting a 12-18 month product roadmap or infomercial.

So what did the Visionary Vendors have to say?  Elizabeth Eiss, president and chief operating officer of Xpert Universe, an expertise location company, pointed out that undocumented knowledge will be key to successful Collaborative Business Environments.  Basex’ own research demonstrates that most knowledge (as much as 80%) is stored in people’s heads, and that this resource leaves the building at the end of the day.  Managing it  – and making it accessible throughout the enterprise – will be a key challenge.  Moreover, creating rich tools with a CBE – possibly even replicating a face-to-face meeting virtually – will make all the difference.  When deploying such tools as expertise location, companies, Eiss pointed out, will need to adhere to Basex’ One Environment Rule to provide a rich user experience.

Graham Glynn, founder and CEO of Learning Management Solutions, pointed out that knowledge workers really need a single environment for accessing and organizing information – one that essentially follows them from cradle to grave, making it as simple to go to last week’s presentation file as course material from university a decade earlier.  This type of tool should serve the individual user, first and foremost, he noted, and should cover both personal and professional activities.  The challenge ahead is to connect information from multiple sources into information sets appropriate for projects and special interests.  Who hasn’t wanted to go back five or ten years, to coursework from university or notes from a chance meeting?

Eric Winsborrow, senior vice president, corporate strategy, for Cloudmark, an e-mail security company, stood in at the last moment for Cloudmark CEO Karl Jacob, and pointed out that many companies are still caught in an unsuccessful battle against spam e-mail.  If this scourge is not resolved sooner rather than later, the very effectiveness of the tools we rely upon on a minute-by-minute basis, such as e-mail, will be significantly diminished.  Spam e-mail represents a grave risk for the future of CBEs if not contained.  Attendees might’ve imagined they were suddenly in a university biology class, when Winsborrow turned his attention to the DNA of spam e-mail messages.  E-mail – as well as other documents – has a genetic map and each message a DNA.  Classifying e-mail messages by genetic similarity may provide a new means of identifying spam e-mail more accurately.  Spam e-mail has, in effect, “SpamGenes.”

The outlook for the future of Collaborative Business Environments, according to our speakers, is bright.  CBEs will allow knowledge workers to tap experts and tacit knowledge, and will maintain that knowledge and more from cradle to grave.  The CBE will be spam free, for the most part, as tools which identify spam based on a message’s DNA will get knowledge workers the messages they need and relegate junk mail to the dustbin.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.


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