Posts Tagged 'Educational Technology'

Kaizen: Room for Improvement in Ed Tech Delivery?

Kaizen Kanji Characters


The Japanese word kaizen generally translates into English as “improvement”.  When used in the context of technology or management practice it usually means the process of continuous improvement to a product or process, and has been applied to manufacturing industries,  health-care, banking and government departments, with varying success.  Wikipedia’s entry on kaizen mentions that it was “first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country”, the best-known being W. Edwards Deming who introduced quality assurance methods to several Japanese industries.

Toyota probably qualifies as the company with the greatest success record in the introduction of kaizen approaches to car manufacture, as evidenced by its current dominance of the world car market. The company developed a management philosophy known as Lean management which turns some traditional management processes on their heads. Toyota’s Lean approach to car production lines can be summarized as: “getting the right things to the right place at the right time in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow, while minimizing waste and being flexible and able to change. (Wikipedia)”.

So how does the above relate to the development and use of educational technologies? I think some of the processes in play when building this year’s (Toyota) Lexus sedan can be mapped onto the way tools that can assist the process of learning and teaching are developed. Both initially identify a need or market, produce a design, prototype it and test it with a sampling of end users. Both rely on feedback to provide a basis for improvement, echoing a simple learning process we can all recognize.  Once an educational technology is implemented, helpdesk operations represent the feedback loop that can potentially allow for continuous improvement to the technology itself, or the way people are using it.

The Lean management approach has also been used in the health-care industry to improve the efficiency of health services delivery.  Mark Graban’s Lean Blog define the Lean concept from a health delivery point of view, and discusses how this management style is being implemented in a number of different health-related settings.

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Hardcopy Video is (almost) Here

cbs-video-print_IVeIn a recent radio article for the BBC’s weekly Digital Planet program, reporter John Stewart discusses a new spin on blending media.  In this case, Entertainment Weekly’s hard-copy magazine has included an insert that plays a full-motion video ad (Pepsi – what else?)  and CBS trailers with sound in a 320×240 pixel LCD-based window, visible inside the ‘max’ text in the image above.

As always, the technology is being driven by the needs of advertisers to stand out in a crowded marketplace.  In an introductory aside, presenter Gareth Mitchell mentions that Americans are exposed to around 3000 advertising messages per day.  Early-adopters of innovative display systems are usually the ad guys so there are no real surprises there.  I can certainly see some educational possibilities in this technology though, such as photo montages of topical news items, procedural sequences for, say, simple cuisine, or dynamic maps of geographic spaces, just for starters.  I included the word ‘almost’ in this article’s title because the cost per insert is still far too high to make this anything more than a gimmicky loss-leader for the time being.

BBC Reporter Rajesh Mirchandani also compiled a BBC One Minute News video clip on this topic on September 17th.

(image sourced from here.)

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Prediction Markets and Educational Gaming

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

A prediction market is a speculative market “created for the purpose of making predictions”, according to Wikipedia. OK, that definition doesn’t exactly spell out the concept very well, so here’s my understanding of this term: a prediction market provides its users with a means of betting or speculating on the outcome of predictions regarding future events, such as who will win a presidential election or exactly when humans will first set foot on Mars. It’s a bit like opening up the future to the “wisdom of crowds” (see James Surowiecki’s book on this topic), allowing a large group of people to collectively speculate on the likely outcome of a future event, even “intangibles” such as the popularity of a novel or film yet to be released. The act of speculation can add a monetary value to the event, allowing it to be further traded, just like any other commodity.

In a learning and teaching context, prediction markets have been used to speculate on the uptake of communication technologies in tertiary institutions. Bryan Alexander, a contributor to the Educause Review recently wrote an article about research into predictive markets in Higher education. As research director for the US National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE), Bryan reported on a web-based gaming approach that explored “propositions” on future events beginning in 2008. One example proposition asked about smartphone platforms and their presence on campuses. Gamers were asked to predict

“Which smartphone or smartphone platform will be the most popular for campus-supported teaching and learning projects by May 2009: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre?”.

NITLE is a non-profit community-based initiative located at Southwestern University in Austin, Texas that is dedicated to helping “educational organizations use technology effectively to strengthen undergraduate education”. According to its homepage NITLE allows participants to “use a market system to learn about emergent practices for higher education”. All participants are initially given $5000 virtual dollars to use for buying shares in one part of a proposition, or to start a market of their own. In the example quoted above, for example, the iPhone attracted a share price of $50.95 (which equates to a probability of 50.95% that it would be the market leader) by the time the proposition closed in May, 2009.

While this level of educational gaming using share-trading seems a natural for any US-based institution, the list of participating institutions and universities is impressive, including Yale, Vassar, Georgetown University, Chicago University and Brandeis.

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OK, so WordPress now has Blavatars (blog avatars). That word is about as appealing as incentivation, or those Hollywood couple composites thought up by scandal rags, like Brangelina or (even worse) Bennifer. Given that blog itself is already a contraction can I claim Blavatads (blog avatar dummy-spits) as a genre represented by this very post? Hmmm? I didn’t think so…

SDXC: More storage than you can poke a stick at

SDXC Card An earlier post of mine discussed the introduction of USB 3.0 as a means of transferring large amounts of data very quickly but made only a brief mention of where the large amounts might be stored. The capacity for large solid-state storage just increased dramatically with the SD Association’s recent CES show release of a new SD card format: the SDXC standard. The XC part means “eXtended Capacity” and in the case of this type of device we’re talking about a maximum of 2 terabytes of memory storage and maximum read/write speeds of around 300 megabits per second, (the first releases will move data at around 104Mb/sec). The devices will use NAND Flash memory and are due to be released sometime in the first quarter of 2009. Panasonic’s first SDXC release will have a 64 GB capacity in the form of a SDXC Memory Card.

An early-adopter audience for this card would have to be photographers who will soon have the capacity to store 4000 RAW images or 17,000 high-res images, all on a single, standard-sized SD card. Other devices that already support the SD standard include mobile phones, camcorders and PCs, so expect to see a change in the services offered through this hardware in the very near future.

(image sourced from here)

Usability in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

As modes of learning move towards increasingly online interactions the viability of the interface has become critical to the success (or otherwise) of how we acquire knowledge in the twenty-first century.

In this “Medieval Helpdesk” video clip, broadcast on Norway’s NSK in 2001, a monk gets help on “How to Use a Book”, perhaps the first complex user interface that learners had to grapple with.

David Kieras

David Kieras

Professor David Kieras is a researcher in the University of Michigan’s Electrical Engineeringand Computer Science Department.  His research field is applied and theoretical cognitive psychology, with a specific focus on usability in human computer interaction (HCI). In this video lecture, given at CHI’08 in Firenze, Italy (April 7-10 2008), he discusses current cognitive approaches to evaluation of interfaces, icons, affordances, display design and HCI modeling in general.

In the section of the lecture that discusses input basics and aimed movements, Professor Kieras make the interesting observation that zeroing in on small targets (e.g. on a monitor screen with a mouse) requires micro-movements that conform to Fitts’ Law, a model of human movement developed by Paul Fitts in 1954.  The law predicts that smaller targets require more micro-movements than larger ones – which is what you would guess intuitively to be the case – and also helps to explain why different types of input devices such as mice, keyboards, joysticks and trackballs each have advantages depending on the task being performed.  Keyboards, for example, are still the fastest devices for inputting linear data, and the QWERTY keyboard layout takes advantage of the fact that alternating-hand input is faster than using a single hand most of the time in an  alphabetic layout – due to the way the information is processed at the cognitive level.

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