So What Do You Think You’re Doing, Sonny?

A tweet from @benjamindyer alerted me to a trial being run in Portsmouth where “behavioural analytics” are being deployed on the city’s CCTV footage in order to “alert a CCTV operator to a potential crime in the making” (Portsmouth gets crime-predicting CCTV).

I have to say this reminded me a little, in equal measures, of Phillip Kerr’s A Philosophical Investigation, and the film Minority Report, both of which explore, in different ways, the idea of “precrime”, or at least, the likelihood of a crime occurring, although I suspect the behavioural video analysis still has some way to go before it is reliable…!

When I chased the “crime predicting CCTV” story a little, it took me to Smart CCTV, the company behind the system being used in Portsmouth.

And seeing those screenshots, I wondered – wouldn’t this make for a brilliant bit of digital storytelling, in which the story is a machine interpretation of life going on, presented via a series of automatically generated, behavioural analysis subtitles, as we follow an unlikely suspect via the CCTV network?

See also: CCTV hacked by video artists, Red Road, Video Number Plate Recognition (VNPR) systems, etc. etc.

PS if you live in Portsmouth, you might as well give up on the idea of privacy. For example, add in a bit of Path Intelligence, “the only automated measurement technology that can continuously monitor the path that your shoppers or passengers take” which is (or at least, was) running in Portsmouth’s Gunwharf Quays shopping area (Shops track customers via mobile phone), and, err, erm… who knows?!

PPS it’s just so easy to feed paranoia, isn’t it? Gullible Twitter users hand over their usernames and passwords – did you get your Twitterank yet?! ;-)

An Ad Hoc Youtube Playlist Player Gadget, Via Google Spreadsheets

A tweet from Keir Clarke from Google Maps Mania last week tipped me off to this post from maps evangelist Pamela Fox – Geocoding with Google Spreadsheets (and Gadgets) – in which she demonstrates how to improve the spreadsheets to maps workflow using a Google spreadsheet gadget.

I’d actually been thinking about using a mapplet in the maps environment, (rather than a gadget in the spreadsheets environment) to do something similar, so it was great to see how someone else had set about tackling the matter :-)

Anyway, a quick look through the spreadsheet gadgets tutorial convinced me it should be easy enough to create a gadget that could act as a video playlist player for a set of Youtube movie URLs listed in a spreadsheet. I already had some gadget code that I guessed may be reusable, and it turned out it was (Google Gadgets – RSS Feed Powered YouTube Playlist Player).

Here’s a demo:

Highlight the list of cells and include the custom gadget URL for the player:

As to where the list of videos came from? I scraped them from a webpage that included lots of embedded videos (i.e. a webpage that was essentially an ad hoc video playlist). A quick peak at the source of a candidate page showed me where I could find the URLs:

If we now load this page in to a Google spreadsheet using the =importXML formula (not the =importHTML formula), we can use an XPATH expression to pull out all the movie URLs from the page.

Here’s the expression you need:

For a couple of examples, see this how to scrape a list of Youtube movies from a webpage using Google spreadsheets and view them in a Google gadget.

Speedmash and Mashalong

Last week I attended the very enjoyable Mashed Library event, which was pulled together by Owen Stephens (review here).

My own contribution was in part a follow on to the APIs session I attended at CETIS08 – a quick demo of how to use Yahoo Pipes and Google spreadsheets as rapid mashing tools. I had intended to script what I was going to do quite carefully, but an extended dinner at Sagar (which I can heartily recommend:-) put paid to that, and the “script” I did put together just got left by the wayside…

However, I’ve started thinking that a proper demo session, lasting one to two hours, with 2-4 hrs playtime to follow, might be a Good Thing to do… (The timings would make for either a half day or full day session, with breaks etc.)

So just to scribble down a few thoughts and neologisms that cropped up last week, here’s what such an event might involve, drawing on cookery programmes to help guide the format:

Owen’s observation that the flavour of the Mashed Library hackathon was heavily influenced by the “presentations” was well made; and maybe why it’s worth trying to build a programme around pushing a certain small set of tools and APIs, effectively offering “micro-training” in them to start with, and then exploring their potential use in the hands-on sessions, makes sense? It might also mean we could get the tools’n’API providers to offer a bit of sponsorship, e.g. in terms of covering the catering costs?

So, whaddya think? Worth a try in the New Year? If you think it might work, prove your commitment by coming up with a T-shirt design for the event, were it to take place ;-)

PS hmm, all these cookery references remind me of the How Do I Cook? custom search engine. Have you tried searching it yet?

PPS I guess I should also point out the JISC Developer Happiness Days event that is booked for early next year. Have you signed up yet?;-)

Steps Towards Making Augmented Reality a Reality?

I’ve been a fan of the potential of augmented reality for some time (see Introducing Augmented Reality – Blending Real and Digital Worlds for some examples why…) but there have so far always been a couple of major stumbling blocks in the way of actually playing with this stuff. One has been the need to download and install the AR application itself; the other has been to get a hard copy, or print out, of the registration images that are used as the base for the digital overlay.

So when I saw this demo of a browser based Flash Augmented Reality application (via TechCrunch), I realised that the application installation barrier could soon be about to crumble… (though there is still potentially a compute power issue – the image registration and tracking is computationally expensive, which means the Flash app is not yet as reliable as a compiled, downloaded application).

The issue of having to print out the registration image still remains, however.

[Cue sideways glance to camera, and TV presenter mode;-)] Or does it?

Because it struck me that I have a portable, programmable image service to hand – my iPod touch. So maybe I could just display the registration image on that, and show it to my laptop…


(A copy of the registration image is at if you want to give it a go. The application code itself can be found at FLARToolkit.)

It also strikes me that maybe training the AR package on an image shown in an actual iPhone would be another way to go – making use of the iPhone/iPod Touch itself to help frame the image? (My iPod touch has a well defined black border around the edge of the screen after all…)

So here then we have another way of using two media in sympathy with each other to enrich an act of communication (cf. Printing Out Online Course Materials With Embedded Movie Links and Dual View Media Channels).

Finally, browsing the comments in the TechCrunch post, I found this link demoing an ARToolkit app for the iPhone:

So it looks like a magic lens app for the iPhone might not be so far away?

And if you or a friend has a second large screen smartphone (or ebook reader) to hand, you can use it as “magic paper” to render any required registration image or set of images, as shown above!;-).

PS see also Wikitude (here), an Android app that will overlay a camera view with information about points of interest.

Are you keeping up with all this? I’m not…

PS see also AR virtual pet game for iPhone.

OU Goes Social with “Platform”

Earlier this week, the OU quietly opened up its new social site – Platform – with a mailing going out today to inform students and alumni about it’s availability…

…and at first sight, it’s looking really good:

As a distance learning institution, our students potentially miss out on the sense of community that you get as a student in a traditional university, although we work hard at engaging students in online forums at a course level and the students assocation (OUSA) try to support general interest groups again with online forums. At a regional and local level, course tutorials offer students a chance to meet face to face, (although there is an increasing number of wholly online courses) and our students also take it on themselves to create their own local groups, Facebook groups, and so on.

So I’m guessing that one of the functions of the Platform site is to help develop the wider community feeling that membership of a university provides, alongside the course cohort communities.

But more than that – the site is open to anyone, whether or not they are a current student or part of the OU alumni. And there’s no hard sell…

So what’s on Platform?

The front page is a general news page, that also currently includes a couple of “interactive” features, specifically a poll and a Youtube video from one of the OU View channels on Youtube (The Open University, OU Life or OU Learn). (I assume that the polls, and maybe the video, will change on a regular basis?)

There’s also what looks like a “learning fact of the day” panel that provides a link to an actual “course sales” page in a reasonably un-intrusive way.

Just in passing, it’s worth comparing this panel with the OU “Learning Fact of the Day” widget, which actually links through to an OpenLearn course from which the fact was pulled, rather than driving the viewer to a page on the course selling catalogue.

Something that is not obviously on the site is a schedule of OU/BBC programmes, or even an OU/BBC iPlayer channel? Maybe that’s because the placement of this site in comparison to the site is not fully clear yet? Certainly I could see Platform cannibalising open2’s traffic if Platform started publicising OU/BBC programmes? But Open2 is looking rather tired… (That said, things are happening on that site. For example, the site is starting to include extra video features around our broadcast TV programmes, as the Barristers wraparound site shows (if you can manage to navigate round it to actually find the content, that is ;-) and commenting around the programme pages is slowly starting to take off (see for example the comments around the James May’s Big Ideas: Man-Machine programme).

But back to the Platform site…

The News tab links to a set of news stories I guess created by OU staff (at the moment?). And I’m guessing there’ll be a mix of text stories as well as audio packages. (Though I do take issue with calling linked to audio a “podcast”, I do have to admit;-)

Two more things to note about that audio link: firstly, it’s a link rather than an embedded player plus a link – clicking the link opened a player in a new window on my browser. That’s a shame… it would have been much neater if there was an embedded player there. Secondly, here’s where it’s pointing to: The OU podcast site (which is: a) still not out of testing/really launched yet, and b) not the OU iTunesU site. (I’m not sure how much the content from those sites will overlap). And from a little tweet I heard a week or two ago, the podcast site actually uses Amazon S3 for storage and delivery…

A few other things to notice about the News pages – ratings, tagging and comments are all available… (I’m not sure what the moderation policy is, w.g. whether or not Platform staffers are actively moderating (= not scalable/sustainable in the long run, if the site takes off?) or using a lazy approach (report this post). Same with the tags – e.g. if people use inappropriate or offensive tags, can these be moderated, deleted?

The Blogs area links to a set of blogs on different topics. At the moment this looks like they’ve commissioned people to write posts for the Platform blogs (Open2 uses a similar sort of approach for their topic blogs), so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Certainly I don’t fully engage with writing posts to the Open2 Science and Technology blog, for a variety of reasons (I don’t like the blog engine they use; posts need to go through an editorial policy that strips out movies and maps in case of rights issues, but lets typos through that I can’t go in and change once the post is published, the traffic is lousy compared to the views I can get posting here on etc etc).

Each blog appears to have it’s own RSS feed, which is good (I haven’t checked which feed type they went for… it would be nice to think it was Atom).

The call to action around the feed – “Get Updates” – is well chosen, I think, and it’s nice that feed autodiscovery is enabled. I have to admit that the feed URL looks a bit odd, though… Hmm… (%2A renders as * if you hover over the URL in the browser status window)

The Campus area looks to be an attempt to bring something of the OU campus alive, with voices and tales from people who work there. (I’m guessing this part of the are will feed from the OUlife Youtube channel and maybe the research channel, when it launches?).

If anywhere, this is the page on the Platform site that looks most like the place that is linking out to other OU web properties on the “main” OU website. In which guess, I guess it’s really an info point? And many respects, the thing that is closest to a traditional university homepage (although, err, Where is the Open University Homepage??).

The Join In area is where forums can be found (also linked to as “Forums” from the front page, I think?

The Timeout area is where the games are… ;-) The OU actually has quite a long history of releasing games (e.g. here’s a round-up I did a couple of years ago: OU Online Games and Interactives), but the explosion in casual game formats and libraries means that they must be far easier (=quicker and cheaper) to make now, as well as being more acceptable, maybe?

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the commenting and “joining in” features require you to login. There are two huge things happening here. Firstly, to login to the site, you don’t need to be a member of the OU (that is, you don’t need to be staff, student, or alumni). Secondly, you can – if you want – login in OpenID:

The OU has actually been running an experimental OU OpenID server for sometime, which allows anyone with OU credentials to use those credentials as an OpenID, but as far as I know, this is one of the first production service running on the domain that lets users in with an OpenID, although take note here – the OpenID doesn’t let you in to any OU authenticated areas: it’s just for Platform. (I’m not sure if Cloudworks or Cohere do OpenID yet?)

Although there’s little customisation you can do as a virtue of registering – the benefits arise from being able to comment, and join in the forums – the site design certainly has the look and feel of a site that might, one day, let you drag and drop panels around, and rearrange the page furniture webtop fashion. (Or maybe we need to clarify the widget strategy first?!)

As yet, there’s no link to the platform site from the Open University homepage, so it’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between the OU homepage and the platform homepage evolves over the coming weeks and months (and also how the relationship between Platform and open2 are managed?).

Seeing how the relationship between Platform and the new generation of departmental websites will evolve over time will also be an interesting one. For example, my own Communication and Systems Department homepage is experimenting with “voices from the department” with a range of blog and audio content, and the team responsible are also looking for ways to make the site a destination site around communication related technologies (hence the “Gadgets” area):

Hmm – maybe I should offer to do a “speedmash” or “half hour hack” area for them?;-)

And finally, for a review of some “older” OU 2.0 services, Brian Kelly did a write up some time ago: The Open University’s Portfolio Of Web 2.0 Services. You can find links to most of them here: /use – From us, to you, and back again.

PS in case you’re wondering, I think I’m correct in saying that the OU Platform site is built on Drupal…

PPS Brilliant job folks – it’ll be interesting to see how people engage with it…

My CETIS 2008 Presentations

I’ve just spent a most enjoyable couple of days at the CETIS 2008 event in Birmingham, where I particpated in a couple of sessions on the future of the VLE, and HE APIs.

Just for the record, here’s the presentation I gave in the VLE session (“Web 2.ools and the VLE“):

(Mark Stiles was kind enough to say how he liked the slides, and in particular the way in which the pictures weren’t about anything at all…;-)

[Transcript of liveblog/tweeting: I was on around 3pm]

And here are the presentations I didn’t give in the APIs session – “APIs Wot I Play Wiv“:

And “What I’d Like From JISC APIs“:

Instead, I ran through the Data Scraping Wikipedia with Google Spreadsheets mashup; somewhere along the way, the idea of a “speed mashup” was introduced… this is maybe something I’ll try out at the Mashed Library event tomorrow….. err, later today… One thing that did come out of the session for me is that maybe there really is an opportunity for some sort of roadshow/masterclass around the very idea of mashups, with some quick and effective mashup demos along the way (which are, apparently, quite “intimidating” compared to what you can and canlt do with educational system APIs…;-)

There’s a few more notes – and some blatant self-promotion – on the CETIS08 APIs session wiki. Note to self: play with the PROD project discovery API.

Open Content Anecdotes

Reading Open Content is So, Like, Yesterday just now, the following bits jumped out at me:

Sometimes– maybe even most of the time– what I find myself needing is something as simple as a reading list, a single activity idea, a unit for enrichment. At those times, that often-disparaged content is pure gold. There’s a place for that lighter, shorter, smaller content… one place among many.

I absolutely agree that content is just one piece of the open education mosaic that is worth a lot less on its own than in concert with practices, context, artifacts of process, and actually– well, you know– teaching. Opening content up isn’t the sexiest activity. And there ain’t nothin’ Edupunk about it. But I would argue that in one way if it’s not the most important, it’s still to be ranked first among equals. Not just for reasons outlined above, but because for the most part educators have to create and re-create anew the learning context in their own environment. Artifacts from the processes of others– the context made visible– are powerful and useful additions that can invigorate one’s own practice, but I still have to create that context for myself, regardless of whether it is shared by others or not. Content, however, can be directly integrated and used as part of that necessary process. When all is said and done, neither content nor “context” stand on their own particularly well.

For a long time now, I’ve been confused about what ‘remixing’ and ‘reusing’ open educational content means in practical terms that will see widespread, hockey stick growth in the use of such material.

So here’s where I’m at… (err, maybe…?!)

Open educational content at the course level: I struggle to see the widespread reuse of courses, as such; that is, one insitution delivering another; if someone from another institution wants to reuse our course materials (pedagogy built in!), we license it to them; for a fee. And maybe we also run the assessment, or validate it. It might be that some institutions direct their students to a pre-existing, open ed course produced by another instituion where the former instituion doesnlt offer the course; maybe several institutions will hook up together around specialist open courses so they can offer them to small numbers of their own students in a larger, distributed cohort, and as such gain some mutual benefit from bringing the cohort up to a size where it works as a community, or where it becomes financially viable to provide an instructor to lead students through the material.

For indidividuals working through a course on their own, it’s worth bearing in mind that most OERs released by “trad” HEIs are not designed as distance education materials, created with the explicit intention that they are studied by an individual at a remote location. The distance educational materials we create at the OU often follow a “tutorial-in-print” model, with built in pacing and “pedagogical scaffolding” in the form of exercises and self-assessment questions. Expecting widespread consumption of complete courses by individuals is, I think, unlikely. As with a distributed HEI cohort model, it may be that gorups of individuals will come together around a complete course, and maybe even collectively recruit a “tutor”, but again, I think this could only ever be a niche play.

The next level of granularity down is what would probably have been termed a “learning object” not very long ago, and is probably called something like an ‘element’ or ‘item’ in a ‘learning design’, but which I shall call instead a teaching or learning anecdote (i.e. a TLA ;-); be it an exercise, a story, an explanation or an activity, it’s a narrative something that you can steal, reuse and repurpose in your own teaching or learning practice. And the open licensing means that you know you can reuse it in a fair way. You provide the context, and possibly some customisation, but the original narrative came from someone else.

And at the bottom is the media asset – an image, video, quote, or interactive that you can use in your own works, again in a fair way, without having to worry about rights clearance. It’s just stuff that you can use. (Hmmm I wonder: if you think about a course as a graph, a TLA is a fragment of that graph (a set of nodes connected by edges), and a node, (and maybe even an edge?) is an asset?)

The finer the granularity, the more likely it is that something can be reused. To reuse a whole course maybe requires that I invest hours of time on that single resource. To reuse a “teaching anecdote”, exercise or activity takes minutes. To drop in a video or an image into my teaching means I can use it for a few a seconds to illustrate a point, and then move on.

As educators, we like to put our own spin on the things we teach; as learners viewed from a constructivist or constructionist stance, we bring our own personal context to what we are learning about. The commitment required to teach, or follow, a whole course is a significant one. The risk associated with investing a large amount of attention in that resource is not trivial. But reusing an image, or quoting someone else’s trick or tip, that’s low risk… If it doesn’t work out, so waht?

For widespread reuse of the smaller open ed fragments, then we need to be able to find them quickly and easily. A major benefit of reuse is that a reused component allows you to costruct your story quicker, because you can find readymade pieces to drop into it. But if the pieces are hard to find, then it bcomes easier to create them yourself. The bargain is soemthing like this:

if (quality of resource x fit with my story/time spent looking for that resource) > (quality of resource x fit with my story/time spent creating that resource), then I’m probably better of creating it myself…

(The “fit with my story” is the extent to which the resource moves my teaching or learning on in the direction I want it to go…)

And this is possible where the ‘we need more‘ OERs comes in; we need to populate something – probably a search engine – with enough content so that when I make my poorly formed query, something reasonable comes back; and even if the results don’t turn up the goods with my first query, the ones that are returned should give me the clues – and the hope – that I will be able to find what I need with a refinement or two of my search query.

I’m not sure if there is a “flickr for diagrams” yet (other than flickr itself, of course), maybe something along the lines of O’Reilly’s image search, but I could see that being a useful tool. Similarly, a deep search tool into the slides on slideshare (or at least the ability to easily pull out single slides from appropriately licensed presentations).

Now it might be that any individual asset is only reused once or twice; and that any individual TLA is only used once or twice; and that any given course is only used once or twice; but there will be more assets than TLAs (becasue resources can be disaggreated from TLAs), and more TLAs than courses (becuase TLAs can be disaggregated from courses), so the “volume reuse” of assets summed over all assets might well generate a hockey stick growth curve?

In terms of attention – who knows? If a course consumes 100x as much attention as a TLA, and a TLA consumes 10x as much attenion as an asset. maybe it will be the course level open content that gets the hiockey stcik in terms of “attention consumption”?

PS being able to unlock things at the “asset” level is one of the reasons why I don’t much like it when materials are released just as PDFs. For example, if a PDF is released as CC non-derivative, can I take a screenshot of a diagram contained within it and just reuse that? Or the working through of a particular mathematical proof?

PS see also “Misconceptions About Reuse”.