Outside of taking courses in XML, programming logic, and Python, I am not a programmer. I understand the importance of being able to program. I can get by with HTML and CSS. There are few things more irritating, however, than having ideas that one is not capable of activating in a meaningful way. It’s like having a desire to communicate but lacking the ability to speak. This isn’t a huge liability – as long as you have access to people who can translate your ideas into code. Or apps. Or something digital. You need to be part of a team that covers your weaknesses. I don’t have access to a team like this, so I’ll whine here instead.
Here are a few tools that I would like someone, somewhere to build (startups, research labs, competent coders):
1. Geoloqi for curriculum. I love this idea and I’ve been talking about a similar concept for years. Basically, it combines your location with information layers. For example, if you activate the Wikipedia layer, you’ll receive updates when you are in a vicinity of a site based on a wikipedia article. One of the challenges with traditional classroom learners is the extreme disconnect between courses and concepts. Efforts to connect across subject silos are minimal. However, connections between ideas and concepts amplifies the value of individual elements. If I’m taking a course in political history, receiving in-context links and texts when I’m near an important historical site would be helpful in my learning. Mobile devices are critical in blurring boundaries: virtual/physical worlds, formal/informal learning.
2. Visualization and data collision tools. I need tools to help me make sense of complexity. I want to be able to activate an open data set (UNESCO, OECD, local university) and perform visualizations based on questions that I ask the system – i.e. computation meets visualization, sort of like what would happen if WolframAlpha meets Gapminder. I want to be able to manipulate random data collisions, combining (or, at least, position in relation to each other) stats and open data with qualitative data. One of the reasons many people are not very data-based in their thinking and argumentation is that the tools to interact with data are difficult to use and inaccessible. Want to debate the economic impact of the #occupy movement? Sure, let’s fire up SPSS load some economic data, compare that with sentiment analysis in both traditional and social media, and then output a visualization on our blogs. It’s much easier to say #occupy is Awesome/Sucks.
3. gRSShopper. I’ve known Stephen Downes for over a decade. What he’s doing today will be prominent in edtech in a few years (if his early work with OLE (LMS), blogging, RSS, learning 2.0 are any indication). We’ve used gRRShopper, a tool that he developed, for our open courses over the past few years. It aggregates blogs and feeds the ones with a particular course tag into a daily email. Basically, it weaves together distributed conversations (blogs, twitter, moodle). However, it’s a system built for the mind of Stephen. Which means that it will likely not receive broad adoption unless fairly tech-competent educators deploy it. And that’s the problem: many educators do not have a significant programming/technical background. And many programmers do not have a solid educational or learning sciences disposition. In order for gRSShopper and the Daily (email newsletter used in open online courses) to receive broad adoption, they must become push-button easy so any teacher can start an open course as easily as she can start a blog. edufeedr is another tool that offers similar blog aggregation in courses, but I don’t think it’s tied to an email service like the Daily.