Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Google makes news visual and pictures contextual

Two interesting releases yesterday from search engine giant Google, both of which may be useful in educational settings.

The first is the Google News Timeline. Essentially, type in a search term, decide how you want to see the content displayed (by decade, year, month or week) and hey presto, a timelines of related news stories appears on screen. This will be of great use to History teachers, but it's application should be widespread across different curricula areas.

The second tool is called Similar Images. It allows users to search for pictures based on analysis of the image itself, rather than the tags associated with them. It's rather a neat demonstration of how we're moving to a visual rather than a text based culture. It works well, and should be useful not just to Art/Design students, but anyone seeking images for presentations and the like. 

Another Google Labs utility that may useful is called Audio Indexing. This piece of software enables users to search within the audio of YouTube videos for specific text references. It then takes the user to that point in the video. It's quite remarkable to see/hear in action, and has all sorts of possible uses in education, not least for those teaching students with visual impairments, for whom YouTube has now become a massive searchable audio library of content.

Pirates made to walk the plank

The Pirate Bay story broke at the end of last week, as I was transporting myself back from my home in France to the UK. This week has been somewhat manic at school, as we get ready to bid farewell to our A level Media students, so forgive the tardiness of this post.

In essence, in case you missed it, the Pirate Bay trial saw one of the largest peer-to-peer file sharing services taken to court and its four founders successfully prosecuted for copyright theft.

Their argument, that they weren't hosting the content, merely providing the infrastructure that allowed thousands of users to make file transfers, was rejected by the judge in Sweden. 

As well as large fines all four have been sentenced to a year in prison. An appeal has been launched.

The bottom line is that it's wrong to take work that someone has spent money and creative capital in producing and distribute it for free. It's morally dubious and legally banned.

I am one who thinks there does need to be a radical overhaul of the system - what about a DRM  program that allows users to send content for which they've paid the full price to a friend, who then has to pay a reduced fee for the hand-me-down content? In effect, this generates secondary and tertiary sales, while ensuring the point of sale price is paid for at least once. The increased use of embedded advertising might be another way to make content free to users, but still profitable for content producers. 

Whatever the future system of paying for creative content turns out to be, as I always say to my students, if you can't afford it then you can't have it. I remember having to save up to buy records and PC games as a kid. This generation seems to think they can have it all and screw the consequences. As many of them are planning to go into various branches of the creative media, I'll be interested to see what their views are once their content's been ripped and the cheques are failing to turn up in the post!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Britain's got issues with the representation of females

Tanya Gold: It wasn't singer Susan Boyle who was ugly on Britain's Got Talent so much as our reaction to her |
Comment is free |
The Guardian

As a follow up to my recent posting about online Britain's Got Talent sensation, Susan Boyle, I'd recommend reading the following Guardian article by Tanya Gold.

In it Gold attacks the negative representation of women in the British media, although I suspect her views are applicable to many other Western media outlets.

It's one the key themes developing in an age of rapid content delivery across numerous platforms on a global scale - how can we ensure that groups and individuals are represented fairly and without malice?

One of the issues that concerns me is the education of parents about controlling web access by their children. While many people may feel that such control is a form of censorship, I'd argue that it's a form of educational protection.

Not infrequently I am shocked by the content students talk about, or try to show me on their iPods or mobile phones. What they find amusing, having been persuaded by unmediated opinion from their peers, is in fact cruel, spiteful and degrading.

If parents and teachers shy away from confronting the darker side of web content, out of embarrassment or concerns for individual liberties, then we should not be surprised to find that subsequent generations, upon whom we will rely in later years, turn out to be far less tolerant and understanding than ourselves.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

iTunes U - free learning from the World

How Apple Makes It Happen

Apple's iTunes is one of the more popular music and video software programs. This has been driven by the remarkable popularity of the iPod range of content players.

What some teachers may not know is that it's also home to iTunes U, a free and growing library of online podcasts, video seminars and other material. Although it's aimed primarily at undergraduate level, nonetheless there's a lot of great material that can be used and adapted for secondary (K12) classes.

Apple has just announced that the UK's Tate gallery, plus France's Chateau de Versailles and Fondation Cartier have made content freely available to download.

One of the great advantages of iTunes U is that content can be taken away by students and viewed on PCs and iPods. Thus, this creates some great opportunities for individual learning assignments, either as homework or as part of a larger project.

iTunes is free to download onto a PC or Mac, and by subscribing to a feed from iTunes U, subscribers receive automatic updates straight into a mailbox within iTunes. 

It's a useful and free learning resource that's certainly worth a look-see.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Britain's got an online hit

The latest surprise from the annual talent show, Britain's Got Talent, is the way 47 year old Susan Boyle has become a global hit, and that's from only her audition!

The Scottish singer's remarkable rendition of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables left the judges and viewers stunned.

What's more interesting is that while the show has been pulling in around 10 million viewers, the YouTube clip of Susan has so far rated more than 5 million hits on its own. 

At the same time, a large survey by The Office for National Statistics found some revealing changes to Briton's viewing habits:

Around half (49%) of all eight to 17-year-olds with internet access have a profile on a social networking site

• Ownership of a home computer has risen from 29% in 1998 to 70% in 2007

• Web use is higher among men than women but, overall, 34% listen to the radio or watch TV on the web and 12% use file-sharing sites

• Less than half (44%) of people in the UK read a national daily newspaper in 2008 compared with 72% in 1978

Evidently there are rapid changes happening and it will be interesting to see how educators keep pace with this societal change, when it comes to incorporating and reflecting these variations into classroom activities.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

French don't fancy punishing file sharers, Fox News does

Two stories have caught my eye.

Firstly, since I'm now working from home in France, I was intrigued to read that the French National Assembly have rejected a proposal, approved by the Senate, to cut off the internet connections of those caught illegal file sharing three times. The proposed legislation would have seen offenders receiving a warning email, then a letter, before losing their access.

The Assembly argued that the proposal might have led to innocent consumers losing their web connections, should a hacker use a legitimate service to download illegally. Thus, an issue about protecting commercial rights has been overcome by concerns for individual liberties. It will be interesting to see how far similar proposals get in other European countries.

Meanwhile, film critic Roger Friedman has been forced to resign from his post as film review for Fox News in the States, after he blogged about using an illegally downloaded version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Friedman claimed it was easier to do so, rather than haul himself out to a preview screening. Unsurprisingly, both the film studio concerned and his employer saw the situation rather differently.

There's no doubt that the cultural shift towards viewing content as always free, that has penetrated deep into the psyche of youth culture, is spreading into other strata of society. However, the notion of shared public access to content, regardless of who made it and for what purpose, is going to remain a thorny issue for some time to come.  The rise of the read/write web means that many of us now produce multimedia content freely for home use. Educating our young about the entitlement of creative professionals to be able to charge for their creations is one of the challenges facing educators involved in delivering Digital Literacy programmes.

If we fail to make it clear that content can't always be free, then the future of creative industries in years to come may be rather bleaker than we would prefer.

Stephen Fry on Twitter

A nice video post from Stephen Fry about why he likes using the micro blogging service Twitter. For those of us involved in education his final comment, about using Twitter as an interactive source of information, is perhaps the most interesting, in terms of using Twitter within a learning context.

Watch the video, provided by the BBC, here.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The read/write web and students' learning

A fantastic short video, that gives a really good overview of how teachers can use free online interactive tools to empower students to work collaboratively.