Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

iPad as disruptive innovation in education

iPad in classroom

A recent meeting with a friend who is interested in technology in education, a NYTimes article More schools embracing iPad as a learning tool and recent flood of attention on the growing tablet PC market got me thinking about the potential of tablet PC’s (Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab etc) as a disruptive innovation for education.

Here’s are 5 attributes of tablet PC’s that I think may help to tip the current education system.

1. Data driven. For the first time in education history we have the opportunity to monitor students progress in minute detail through tablet PC’s. A good example of this is the TeacherMate learning systems which has already been relatively successful.

Teachers can see which students are falling behind and where they need help. It also shows areas where students excel. This opens the potential that given this data, education can be personalized to some degree to fit the needs of each individual student. If advances in biotech allows us to dream a future of personalized drug treatments, why can’t we dream an age of personalized education? There could be a core curriculum that every student must fulfill, however with data on each student, they could also have a tailored curriculum that meets their aptitude, interests and areas where they excel.

2. Open ended. Many mention the benefits of tablet PC as a replacement for heavy and expensive textbooks in the classroom. Yes, that’s an obvious solution, but I think they are missing the point.

I don’t like the notion of technology being relegated to eBooks in schools simply because this makes them just digitized versions of a the traditional closed knowledge system: books. There is nothing wrong with books. Books have worked fine for hundreds of years and I am sure they will continue to serve us for the foreseeable future. But there is something not quite 21st Century about text-“books”. Especially the kind that is government vetted, approved and issued, as we have in Korea.

Tablet PC’s are open-ended meaning apps can be developed that not only teach the core concepts but can be open to tap the infinite and dynamic knowledge that is embodied in the Web. This is one of the founding principles of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child initiative). If OLPC’s are doing this already in developing countries where they are deployed, why not in our classrooms?

3. Networked. Kids learn from each other. As Mitra Sugata mentions in his inspiring TED Talk: The child-driven education, kids are consistently teaching each other. If you look at how a teenager does her homework, you’ll see that she is consistently messaging her peers for information. In this always-online, socially networked world, knowledge-making and learning has become inherently collaborative.

A networked device allows for communication, collaboration and peer learning. Learning to collaborate is key to surviving in this ever increasingly networked society. As Steven Johnson points out in his book, Where good ideas come from (also see: TEDtalk, animation), innovations come less from lone geniuses in our midst but as a result of collaborations that build on the knowledge and ideas within fluid networks.

4. Portable. There are no cables attached to an iPad, and the battery lasts a whole day. This is more significant that it sound. This means kids can use them for a whole school day. This means they can work by themselves, in a classroom setting, in the library or huddled around a desk with their peers in a group project. It goes with them wherever they go. We still have “computer labs” in schools, where kids come to interact at fixed times in their curriculum. Being portable means they have a personal assistant with them at all times, with the all above mentioned attributes that this entails.

5. Interactive. The new tablet PC are inherently interactive because they are touch enabled. Being able to touch something is a giant leap from the moderated experience of typing a command, or click a mouse on a screen. Touching something evokes an emotional response, which allows for a far more satisfying user experience as anyone who has seen kids interact with an iPad would attest.

Tablet PC’s force developers of educational application to rethink the whole user experience (I would hope). It brings a whole new dimension of interactivity to applications that go far beyond the point-and-click variety. A storybook for example cannot be just a “flip the page” experience. Characters and objects need to be responsive. You may even be able to rearrange the story and it’s outcome by directly interacting with the story.

Touch-enabled interaction really opens up a whole new area that had been explored only in limited ways on a desktop computer environment. You can now have the constructivist learning environment that Lego afford. We have yet to see these types of applications come into full blossom, but I am sure it’s only around the corner.

Maybe I’ve painted an overly rosy picture of technology. Every technology has its perils. I can tell you that my 4 year-old is already addicted to my (now his) iPad. Technology makes things worse a lot of times, but that should not take away for the opportunities it does afford us. We have to be mindful and vigilant about its pitfalls, and make sure kids are interacting with technology within a guided, safe environment. No conscientious parent would let their kids wander by themselves in the streets, which is tantamount to what we are doing if we allow kids to access the open web, by themselves with no control or moderation.

As with many things, it is hard to innovate from within. Just ask Michelle Rhee. However, there are rare opportunities that we can leverage to make change happen. I certainly wish that this time technology, in the form of tablet PC, in the right hands and minds, is the push we need to upgrade our antiquated education systems.

Photo credit: macattck (flickr)

Innovative Web Technologies: P2P Philanthropy

Here’s a re-posting of an article originally posted April 11, 2007, on the Forum One UX&D blog for the benefit of my Korean readers.

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During the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise 2007 conference I went to a session with Charles Best of Donors Choose, which is a site that allows individual donors to fund small projects proposed by public school teachers. Lately I have been coming across a quite few of these, where a site links private donations with those who need financial support. I had lacked a term to call these types of sites, but of course the smart people I met at NTEN already had a term for these. Some of the terms that were discussed were eBay philanthropies, philanthropic marketplace… but my favorite was one that David Weinberger blogged following his plenary at NTEN: P2P philanthropy where P2P can mean peer to peer or better yet person to person (whether or not he coined it I don’t know).

Here’s a round up of some Person to Person Philanthropies I have come across lately:

  • DonorsChoose: As mentioned above.
  • DonorsCamp: Attesting to the fact that good social entrepreneurial ideas are contagious and subject to replication, CJ Foundation (CJ is one of many Samsung affiliates) in Korea lifted (interestingly, with willing consultation from DonorsChoose) the DonorsChoose model and transplanted it in Korea. The twist is that DonorsCamp actually matches one-for-one every donation that comes through the site.
  • Kiva links facilitates micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, “empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.” The payback rate to date on the loans are apparently 100% according to their FAQs.
  • GlobalGiving: According to their site: “GlobalGiving connects you with grassroots charity projects around the world. We ensure that 85-90% of your donation gets to local project leaders within 60 days. It’s a direct connection.”
  • Modest Needs: I heard Charles from DonorsChoose mention this site at the NTEN conference. According to the site, “Modest Needs is a registered charity that works to stop the cycle of poverty before it starts for low-income workers struggling to afford emergency expenses like those we’ve all encountered before: the unexpected auto repair, the unanticipated trip to the doctor, the unusually large winter heating bill.”
  • Where there are philanthropic and non-profit needs, there will also be for-profit needs. is where you can submit a business proposal and have you loan funded in whole or in part by many private lenders, which end up being a lower interest rate and/or larger amount than you would typically get from a bank.
  • Cytogether: Cyworld is a wildly successful social networking site in Korea. It has a philanthropic counterpart where you can donate Cyworld’s currency, “acorns”, to your favorite philanthropic organization. The site is a little more than a P2P philanthropy in that it also is a community and links volunteer needs and opportunties. From what I can tell, most of the prominent non-profits operating in Korea seem to have a profile page on the site.

Interestingly (or maybe obviously) DonorsChoose, Global Giving, Modest Needs and all have investments from eBay founder Pierre Omidya‘s foundation – Omidya Network. Their portfolio page is a very interesting list, more like a who’s who in web/technology innovation, which include many organization I have a personal interest in – Ashoka, KaBOOM! and Linden Labs (aka makers of Second Life).

Geospatial Info + 3D Space + Web 2.0 + Mobile = ?

Geoblogging: The Gombe Chimpanzee Blog

Geoblogging: The Gombe Chimpanzee Blog

We all remember ooh’ed and aah’ed at Google Earth when it was first available in 2005. For the first time history, services such as Google Earth offer us a readily available, zoomable, navigable visualization of our physical world, the detail of which are ever increasing with new technologies being developed as showcased by Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Photosynth projects.

But it’s not just a static representation of information, as maps have classically been. The convergence of the internet, mobile technology and geospatial representation of our physical world, presents an interesting intersection of technologies.

The internet contains an ever-expanding universe of knowledge and information, and with web 2.0 technologies, users are even more empowered to directly participate in that growth, and to share, aggregate, and find creative ways to seeks value in this information.

When information available on the web is combined with geospatial data what emerges is Geoweb. Geoweb presents yet another layer that information can be mapped or grounded to. It gives people an opportunity of assigning information, be it historical, commercial, social or existential to a given location.

Mobile technology has the two-fold function of being able to retrieve that information in real time at the location to which the information was associated to, as well as being able to record yet more information through text, photographic or motion input about the location.

The pressing issue now is not the availability of information but how to filter it to be meaningful?

Map have always been a filtered reprentation of selective information. A road map only maps roads for the purpose of guiding a user from point A to point B. So the challenge facing Geoweb is no longer one of technology, but one of selectivity and value. What does information presented in this way allow us to do?

It allows us to associate information on a scale and perspective that we were unable to do before. Classical maps show border, terrain, economic, or conflict information. Now we can map, aggregate, slice-and-dice all the atomized miscellaneous pieces of information geospatially. It allows us to associate information that was not possible or hard to do before. Oh joy.

We already see some examples of innovative use:

  • CARMA (Carbon Emissions Monitoring for Action): this s a project by Center for Global Development I was involved in at my old firm, Forum One Communications. It maps publicly available CO2 emission data of power plants and other polluting agents on to Google Maps, and encourages users to submit more data about polluter in their neighborhood.
  • Geoblogging: Jane Goodall Institute created the first geoblog: The Gombe Chimpanzee blog. It follows the activities and blog posts by Emily Wroblewski, a field researcher who is studying the Gombe Chimpanzees to coordinates on Google Earth.
  • Search for archeological sites: Scott Madry, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been pinpointing possible archaeological sites in France with the popular desktop program Google Earth.
  • Cannonball Run: Alex Roy, set a new record for driving across the American continent of under 32 hours, in the fall of 2006. He planned and practiced his run using Google Earth.
  • Metaverse Roadmap also shows us exciting possibilities of how 3D representation and the web may converge.

Other as yet unrealized examples are:

  • An amazing project Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, We Feel Fine aggregates and visualizes th state of people’s emotions around the world. We may be able to map geospatially, in real time, the emotions around how a community reacts to tragedy or jubilation.
  • We could map the impossible path that Ernest Shackleton took to save the lives of the ill-fated crew of the Endurance in 1900. (UPDATE: It has already been done)
  • We can map the path of my UPS package as it travels from Amazon’s warehouse in Kentucky to my doorstep in real time, so we are not held hostage to the UPS man’s schedule.

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Umberto Eco has a nice essay in How to Travel with a Salmon named “On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1.” He quotes from Jorge Luis Borges who is in turn quoting Suarex Miranda:

…In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda

What we see Google Earth and Virtual Earth is the creation of such a map, mapping reality on to a mirrored world. We may actually be seeing something even more profound. A map that contains more information than even the 1-to-1 map.

[Update] Worldprocessor is a pre-Google Earth visualization of data on a globe. Very interesting nonetheless.

Helio’s Blue Ocean

Helio Ocean

Helio’s Ocean handset

I spent last week in Los Angeles on a project with Helio. Helio is an MVNO, which is a fancy way of saying they are a mobile phone operator that leases their network, in their case, from Sprint. They were started in early 2005 as a joint venture between Earthlink and SKTelecom, the largest mobile phone operator in Korea, offering service in the US in May 2006. They have exclusive phones, of which the Ocean is their current flagship. You can read more about the Ocean’s development in May 2007 issue of MIT’s Tech Review (requires free registration).

I’ve had a chance to test out their Ocean handset and I must say I am impressed:


  • Full QWERTY Keyboard: writing an email is actually a pleasant experience considering it’s a phone
  • Messaging and Email Integration: I was using AIM and Gmail, and every time I got a message or email the phone alerts me and it’s one click to view and start my reply.
  • GPS Navigation: Helio was apparently the first to offer Google Maps with GPS.


  • It’s a little bulky.
  • No full HTML browsing: iPhone has set the bar pretty high.
  • Some of its most useful services are hidden under menus or need to be downloaded.
Helio Ocean

Despite its shortcomings, the Ocean has been getting some incredible free press and marketing from the tech community doing side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone. The fact that it is compared at all is impressive.

This started me thinking, in the light of the Ocean and iPhone and a landslide of new cell phones out there, what do consumers now expect from a cell phone? My personal wishlist would look something like this:

  • Full HTML browsing (more for info than interaction)
  • Large screen (I am still on the fence about touch screens)
  • QWERTY keypad (now that I’ve experienced Ocean’s keypad, I can’t go back)
  • Kickass Contacts list (in the end the phone is all about staying in touch)
  • Long battery life (don’t we all need it?)
  • Wi-Fi (for faster, cheaper data downloads and free calls)

In a conversation with a friend who lives in LA and used to work for McKinsey, this last point – free calling through wi-fi, we realized is a disruptive innovation. It is something that could revolutionize the whole mobile phone business. It is only a matter of time that wi-fi (or some better data communications infrastructure) will be widely available. Cities are considering providing free wi-fi to their inhabitants. Google has big plans. If this is so, then services like Skype will make the business model of charging for call service obsolete.

Westwood Blvd looking towards Helio House

In this scenario, it is operators like Helio who have not sunk billions in the network infrastructure that have most to gain. If they can offer a phone that seamlessly switches between wi-fi and the cell network, then the traditional revenue structure of mobile phone operators who charge for the use of their pipes, in the form of usage minutes, data transfer and service fees will have to be rethought. It’s like Apple’s iTunes and the music industry. Once the transfer of music shifted from physical media to digital, the music industry that had the traditional models of charging for the sales of CD could not move fast enough to change and had to relinquish control over distribution to operations like Apple’s iTunes. The shift is only a matter of time – but it seems like the established mobile operators are trying get as much mileage as possible and no-one wants to be the first to rock the revenue boat. I think Helio should do it. They have nothing to lose and in the best position to find what the new revenue model should be.

Fox Plaze (AKA Nakatomi Tower from Die Hard I)

I wish I could have spent more time checking out LA, but I just had to settle for a trip to In-n-Out Burger, and a hotel next to the Fox Plaza (AKA Nakatomi Tower), the site of the first Die Hard movie.

Open-Sourcing Design Ideas

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the podcast of TED‘s inspirational presentations on iTunes. I’ve long lamented the fact that their podcasts were video podcasts that you can’t use on a 2nd gen iPod nano. I’ve been lusting for a new video playing iPod nano. But I just discovered the other day that they have an audio only version. I can’t believe I overlooked that. Duh.

My commute is just over an hour each way so that gives me time to fit about 3 of the 15-20 minute presentations. I just listened to the presentation given by Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity at the 2006 TED Conference.

What is amazing is not so much the projects he showed (which are brilliant in and of themselves) but the framework and the community for collaboration that Sinclair has set up: Open-sourcing design is such a great idea. It allows designers to come up with local solutions with local materials and the ideas to be shared, collaborated and applied globally. He talks about using the Creative Common‘s Developing Nations License for design, so that designers’ right are protected in developed countries while their ideas can be used freely in developing countries. See for yourself below or on TED’s website.