» Archive for the 'Education' 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.

The Googlification of Search

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Google’s clean home page, combined with the simple search box, has made it easy to look up something online.  Indeed, using Google may just be too easy.

Google uses keyword search.  The concept sounds simple.  Type a few words into a search box and out come the answers.  Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple and it doesn’t really work that way.

Search is a 50-50 proposition.  Perhaps 50% of the time, you will get what appear to be meaningful results from such a search.  The other 50% of the time, you will get rubbish. If you’re lucky that is.

Why does this only work sometimes?  This is because there are two types of searchers, or more accurately, two types of searches.  One is keyword search, the second is category, or taxonomy, search.

It is possible to get incredibly precise search results with keyword search.  Indeed, there is no question that keyword search is a powerful search function.  Being able to enter any word, term, or phrase allows for great precision in some situations – and can result in an inability to find useful information in many others.

However, the use of a taxonomy, or categories, in search, allows the knowledge worker to follow a path that will both provide guidance and limit the number of extraneous search results returned.  Using a taxonomy can improve search recall and precision due to the following factors:

1.)    In keyword search, users simply do not construct their search terms to garner the best results.
2.)    Users also do not use enough keywords to narrow down the search.
3.)    Google’s search results reflect Google’s view of the importance of a Web page as determined by the company’s PageRank technology, which looks at the number of high-quality Web sites that link to a particular page.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that the first pages in the search results have the best content but only that they are the most popular.
4.)    Web site owners can manipulate Google and other search engine results through search engine optimization (SEO).  There is an entire industry built around this service and the use of SEO can dramatically impact the positioning of a Web site on the results page.

Unfortunately, in part thanks to Google’s ubiquity as well as its perceived ease of use, the concept of search to most people seems to equal keyword search.  As more and more Web sites and publications (the New York Times being one prominent example) move to a Google search platform, the ability to find relevant information may be compromised.

In the case of the New York Times, much of the functionality previously available disappeared when the Times deployed Google Custom Search.  Only those visitors who know to click on “advanced search” can specify a date range and whether they want to search by relevancy, newest first, or oldest first, although even the “advanced” search experience is still lacking compared to the Times’ earlier system.  Thanks to the Googlification of search, however, most visitors only access the search box, and their ability to find the answers they are seeking is hobbled by the system’s limitations.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Teaching The Thumb Generation May Mean Throwing Out The Chalk

Thursday, January 1st, 2009 by Cody Burke

The adoption of technologies in the educational arena has perennially lagged behind both the business and consumer markets.  There is a reverence for old knowledge in academia and a respect for tradition; literary classics are held up as ideals and the philosophers of ancient Greece still impact our sense of humanity and our role in the world.  It is natural that a system that values established and verified knowledge would be reluctant to embrace new tools and technologies, particularly those that challenge the way that knowledge itself is defined, created, and used.

In contrast, to remain competitive the business world has embraced technological advances in knowledge management, networking, and IT.  Ever since the introduction of VCN ExecuVision in 1983, slide presentation tools have been standard issue; we at Basex have had interactive whiteboards since the mid 1990s, while the classroom standard is still a basic black- or whiteboard and an overhead projector.

In recent years there have been significant improvements in offerings geared specifically for this educational market.  As students live an increasingly interactive digital life through social networking Web sites, mobile phones, IM, and chat, it isn’t only necessary to use these channels for educational purposes, but they present tremendous opportunities for interactive and collaborative learning.

Providing these technologies to students may soon be moot.  Students now come equipped with their own screens.  Be it an iPod, a smartphone, or a laptop, chances are that a student has some sort of LCD device on his person upon entering a classroom.  Students and businesses have something in common, they both know that embracing new technologies is in their interests, it now falls to the educational community to follow suit.

In the coming weeks we will be looking into the challenges and opportunities presented by these issues.  In the meantime, tell us what you think by e-mailing your thoughts and comments to thumbgen@basex.com.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Keeping Pace With Gen Y: Technology gap between Generation Y and enterprise threatens productivity

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Cody Burke

As a new crop of knowledge workers prepare to graduate from colleges and universities and begin to enter the workforce, it is worth reflecting on how the workplace is prepared for their arrival.  The fact of the matter is that most companies are ill-prepared for this group of Generation Y, or Thumb Generation, workers.  As a group, they have a unique familiarity with technology that vastly exceeds that of previous generations, and the expectations they have for their future work environments are shaped by the omnipresence of interactive and collaborative technologies in their lives.

What does this mean for the educators who teach these students, and what are the implications for the enterprise that wants to recruit and retain these knowledge workers?  As the next generation of knowledge workers enters the workforce, it is necessary to consider the following:

- Members of Generation Y, the “Thumb Generation,” have grown up in a vastly more connected and technologically sophisticated world.

- Educators are realizing two things, first they must prepare students to be competitive in a technologically advanced workplace, and second that students themselves have fundamentally changed and require updated tools and methods to reflect technological advances.

- The concurrent management of large and complex social networks and simultaneous participation in work or the classroom has become the norm for this group.

- Next generation learning spaces are changing the way that space and technology interact to meet the needs of students and pedagogy.

- Lecture capture systems are changing the way students learn and retain information.

- With technology rendering tools obsolete far faster than in the past, it is necessary to rethink how students are being prepared for the workforce and how the work environment is set to welcome them.

- These “digital natives” want immediate gratification and are already growing impatient with “tired old enterprise apps” that are the lifeblood of many corporations.

The disconnect between the personal adoption of technology by students means that the traditional “push” model of teaching may no longer be suitable in an environment where students regularly experience a more interactive learning experience outside the classroom.  For companies, understanding how to manage future knowledge workers will be of paramount importance for recruitment and retention.  This means that business as usual is not good enough for the newest crop of knowledge workers – companies need to rethink the needs and expectations of this group and take steps to appeal to a generation of knowledge workers used to faster and more streamlined tools.

Find out what you can do now to prepare – have a look at our new report, Technologies to Teach the Thumb Generation.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.