Posts Tagged 'Massachusetts Institute of Technology'

The MOOC experience: Learning in free online courses

A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offers anyone with the time and and an internet connection to explore a large range of educational topics in depth,  usually for no cost apart from net connection fees.  Available topics range from complex courses on micro-electronics that duplicate face-to-face courses taught at institutions such as MIT, to less formal, peer-driven courses based on a community of enquiry model.

One of the great things about the internet’s expanding web of connections around the world is the increasingly large number of free online education opportunities that come with it. The MIT/Harvard consortium called edX has recently added UC Berkeley to the mix, making it the first consortium to include a public university in offering free not-for-credit courses, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

The MOOC early-adopter institutions include Stanford University in California, offering videos of Masters course lectures in the late 1990s, MIT with OpenCourseware and more recently with MITx, Yale University’s Open Yale courses, and the Open University‘s LearningSpace in the UK.

Peer-driven learning spaces rely on the enthusiasm of learners who are curious enough about a topic to freely offer what they know already or to join a group of learners who may help them to learn further.  A good example is Peer to Peer University (P2PU), which describes its mission as providing a place where: “people work together to learn a particular topic by completing tasks, assessing individual and group work, and providing constructive feedback”.

Acquiring knowledge for its own sake is one thing, but some learners want acknowledgement of the time and effort they put into learning a new skill or discipline, either to reinforce feelings of self-worth or to enhance their future job prospects.  Mozilla Open Badges caters for learners who want visible recognition of the skills they have acquired online or out of school by offering badges that represent attainment in online courses or projects run by affiliated members.

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G-Speak and SixthSense: coming soon to a wall near you

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

When Tom Cruise used a gesture-driven video display to search for future criminals in the film Minority Report he was interacting with a CGI-enhanced setup designed in part by John Underkoffler, a former PhD student of MIT’s Tangible Media Group.  In a fantasy-become-reality scenario, Underkoffler went on to form Oblong Industries, a design group that released a first version of G-Speak, a working version of the gestural interface from the movie, in November 2008.

A portable technology that takes a related role is SixthSense , developed by Pranav Mistry at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group – a wearable computer that projects its display onto any surface and uses hand or finger gestures for interaction. For example, users can take a snapshot of a landscape scene simply by framing the scene with their (colour-coded) fingertips, similar to Tom’s gesture in the image  above. This technology extends the “multi-touch”  concept into a “multi-gesture” mode, allowing users to engage in more complex forms of visual interaction.  Watch a video of  the FIG’s Professor Patti Maes describing the system at a TED talk in February 2009 below.

Critics of gestural interfaces usually point out that existing interface devices such as touchpads, mice and keyboards require less physical effort than gesticulating in space with arms extended, as the G-Speak interface seems to require.  Personally, I think this type of interface has a place in certain disciplines where creative manipulation of virtual or real 3D objects can enhance learning.  Virtually conducting a synthesised orchestra could be one way of exploiting the potential of a gestural interface. Conductors could quickly experiment with the placement of virtual orchestral performers – maybe bring the French Horns in closer and push the Harpist off to the left, etc.

Adding force feedback to the interface opens up further potential for creative interaction or precise procedural activity.  Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System provides surgeons with sufficient tactile feedback to allow precision surgery where the actual procedure is done entirely by a human-guided robot. Virtual musical instruments such as bowed devices can provide musicians with sufficient synthetic feedback to create a virtuoso performance or create entirely new forms of music. Get in touch with your inner interface soon.

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