Banned in the classroom, Part 2


Courtesy of Pixabay

It drives me nuts to be presenting material to a class, especially a lab class and notice a student texting. Admittedly, I don’t know who or what they’re texting but it’s a distraction for me and the student from the task at hand. Some would say that phones, and increasingly smartphones, should be banned from use in class.  I’m not one of them. I’d rather teach how to use them effectively for managing their lives and for learning.

For those faculty who understand the workings of their phones, they can teach students proper cell phone etiquette rather than banning their use in class. Faculty need to take a few minutes at the start of the semester to address the issue of distraction in the classroom, don’t just assume the students understand its consequences. Likewise, we should bust the myth of multitasking, especially when trying to learn. Deep learning requires focus, especially if you’re not recording classroom presentations.

Some students, especially nontraditionally, need to stay in contact with their families. Smartphones, like the iPhone have the ability to set notifications. Notifications can be turned off for particular times for all but important people, such as family members. Encourage them to create a list critical VIP list that allows notifications to be sent through the notifications restrictions. In class have them set to vibrate and turn them screen down.

Banning smartphones is not in the best interest of students.   Plus-sized smartphones are increasingly being adopted and make useful mobile learning platforms. Rather than banning smartphones, encourage their proper use in the 21st-century classroom.

Geography in the Age of Context

person looking at phone

Image courtesy of Pixabay

It’s undeniable that digital technology, especially networked mobile technology, has changed the way we go about our daily lives. The way we conduct ourselves and react to situations depends on context. Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, action, even thought, and how it affects our reactions to or interactions with them.  Robert Scoble and Shel Israel describe five forces shaping the way we live, learn, and work in The Age of Context: mobile, social media, data, sensors, and location (1). Scoble and Israel point out that “mobile apps are the secret sauce of the age of context; mobile mapping is the most strategic of all categories”. The authors quote Caterina Fake, then CEO of Findery as saying, “Without location, there is no context.” If geography studies where things are located, why they are located where they are, and how people interact with their environment, it places the discipline at the heart of the age of context. Location, or where things are, drives many of the decisions we make. Phil Gersmehl in Teaching Geography (2) introduces the concept of “where-knowledge”. He places emphasis on being able to make decisions by knowing where we are relative to the things important to us. This may be as mundane as where the nearest lavatory is, to which route we should take to avoid undesirable parts of a city. “Where-knowledge” underlies the age of context.

A 2015 Pew survey reported nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information. In the age of context, our devices, mainly smartphones, know where we are and thus the spatial context from which we make decisions.  For example, the iPhone in my pocket knows my location, time of day, and from this suggests where I can find a meal and the type of cuisine, If I walk into an Apple store, beacons alert me to products I’m interested in.   My Waze app helps re-route around potential road hazards using embedded sensors and crowdsourced data. Health sensors of a variety of types are being added to current and future wearable devices that track heart rate, glucose levels, tremors, and perspiration chemistry. I fully expect that sometime in the near future my Apple watch will signal when a health-related issue appears, alert my doctor, and provide directions to the nearest healthcare center or direct a first responder to me.

Because location is an important driver of the age of context, geographers are in a unique position to engage the public and promote spatial thinking. Geographers will collaborate and find employment opportunities with the tech and business community through application development and data visualization. An excellent example is location analytics.  Location analytics is “focused on thematic mapping and spatial analysis for the world of business analytics.” (4). The use of tracking beacons above is an example of mobile location analytics (MLA). MLA is a type of customer intelligence (CI) that tracks users with the aid of sensors in internet-connected devices as they move through a store (5).  Retailers can optimize floor plans, advertisement placement, and checkout lane staffing by tracking the movement of people and their devices through a store. The hospitality and tourism industry is being transformed in the age of context. (6) Concierges will no longer circle places to visit or restaurants to eat at on a paper map. A hotel app will download to the patron’s phone and be customized to their experience. Likewise, the plethora of paper brochures can be dispensed at tourist center will be replaced with apps. Beacons will be distributed throughout a city, enabling a richer self-guided exploration of historical sites and interesting facts about at the region. Drink and dinner specials will be pushed to patrons when returning to the hotel from a day of sightseeing. When returning to their room, their door will sense their presence and offer to unlock it for them.

The age of context is upon us and geography plays an important role. In this post, I’ve focused on sensors and beacons. An exciting “new” technology, augmented reality will play an increasing role in the age of context to enhance spatial thinking. Nor have I touched on the role of geography education in the age of context. These will be the focus of future blog posts.  In the age of context, the public be more aware of their locational context and employ digital tools to develop the “where-knowledge” for making informed decisions. People, notably geographers, with mobile location analytics and app development skills, will be needed to address these issues. It’s a good time to be a geographer.

References for this post
  1.  Scoble, Robert; Israel, Shel (2013).
    Age of Context: Mobile,Sensors, Data, and the Future of Privacy .Creative Space
  2. Gersmehl, P. 2005. Teaching Geography. New York: The Guilford Press.
  3. Smith, Aron (2015) U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015. Last visited 3/19/2016
  4. Location Analytics: The Next Big Step in Business Analysis. ArcNews Fall 2012 Last visited  3/19/2016
  5.  Mobile location analytics (MLA) . Last visited 3/19/2016
  6. Gregory, Jennifer Goforth  “Hospitality Trends: Beacon Technology and Augmented Reality”. Insights. Samsung Analytics. Last visited  3/19/2016

The augmented reality revolution begins with Meta 2 

Galileo_Product_Image_White_02_2400_nolegalMeta unveiled their new augmented reality headset today. The revolution in how manufacturing, media, medicine, education, 3D modeling is underway. The Meta 1 has been in the hands of developers for about a year and a half. During this time, Meta has been collecting feedback in preparation for the release of  Meta 2. Bolstered by a recent round of funding and widespread industry support, Meta 2 has hit the market. In the Meta 2 announcement video, Meron Gribetz states that holograms are no longer confined to the pages of science fiction, you can see them, you can touch them, you can even collaborate with them.” Meta 2 is “an extension of the mind”, using neuroscience-driven interface design “to generate much more intuitive interfaces”. You interact with holograms just like you would with the real thing.

CEO Meron Gribetz gave the audience at TED2016 a preview of the headset.  This amazing new headset lets you organize things spatially in the real world. For example, using the headset there is no need for a computer monitor, you can interact with your email or listen to streaming music, all the while creating a holographic 3D model of your latest project. You can even have a holographic phone conversation with friends and colleagues. Gribetz calls the Meta 2 a “zero learning curve computer” where “you are the operating system”. Watch the TED Talk below.

The Meta 2 sports a high-resolution 2560 x 1440 dpi display with a 90-degree field of view. The headset is designed for durability, weight, and balance so developers of all sorts can wear it for extended periods of time. Head and hand tracking, and positional tracking among other features is provided with the Meta 2 development kit available for preorder today at $949

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.


Photos courtesy of Meta and TED

A look into the future with Robert Scoble and Meta glasses

Meta 1 glasses

Meta 1 Image courtesy of Meta

This afternoon (Feb 26, 2016) the iPhone in my pocket buzzed, it was a Facebook notification from Robert Scoble.  Robert is a futurist giving us a peek into the technology that’s around the corner and how our lives will be affected by it. He and Shel Israel wrote Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy and are working on “Beyond Moble“.  Scoble is an enthusiastic promoter of virtual and augmented reality, believing these technologies are poised to change the way we work, live, and play.  Robert was notifying his Facebook followers of an exclusive live interview with the team at Meta.

Meta is responsible for the Meta Glasses. Born on Kickstarter, they’ve become one of the most exciting developments in augmented reality. Their Meta 1 glasses were snapped up by developers and prosumers. Now they have nearly 1000 enterprise customers. But Meta didn’t stop there, they had bigger plans. A recent infusion of capital gave them the needed income to take their vision to the next level, Meta Glasses 2.  If you believe their marketing, like so many in this youtube video, the revolution will begin on Tuesday.

Scoble has posted his video on Facebook for all to watch, and I highly recommend it. It was the first live video interview shot at Meta. We get a close-up look at the offices and personnel behind Meta glasses. It’s refreshing to have  a CEO like Meron Gribetz who wants to share as much as he can about the development of their product. We get a unique look into the design, use philosophy, and vision behind their product. When asked about the specs, which he couldn’t reveal, Gribetz described their approach to designing Meta glasses in this way:
“The question becomes not the hardware spec, what’s the field of view, that’s not the question. The question is much more profound and important. When I buy a phone these days, I don’t buy it for the hardware specs anymore, I’m buying it for the operating system, because of the user experience, the usability. So the question is, what’s the operating system that’s the most intuitive, natural, easy to use that feels like an extension of our bodies and our minds”.
This is the way augmented reality should be approached, not as an overlay but as an extension of our bodies. As Gribetz out it, they are building “the iOS of the mind”.  He recently presented at TED, referring to the creation of a “natural machine.”
“The time has come for devices that keep us in the moment rather than obscuring it. Natural machines, built around the senses we already have, using neuroscience. “
Augmented reality glasses will significantly change the way we go about our daily lives. Companies like Meta care about “undoing the complexity” of computing.  Gribetz pledged that in a year, all their external monitors would be gone.  Engineers showed how they worked on virtual monitors to read email, code for the glasses and listen to music. Being a geography educator, I’m excited about the possibility of augmented reality for classroom and field applications. Augmented reality could spur a renewed interest in spatial thinking and geography literacy. As the glasses evolve, the hardware will become “invisible” to us and what we see will be as natural as the real world around us. Meta glasses 2 availability will be announced March 2nd.  There’s no need to write more, watch it for yourself.

An early augmented reality reference.

While scrolling through my Twitter feed, I ran into aTheMasterKey short history of augmented reality. The first entry was a reference the L.Frank Baum novel The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale (1901). You probably recognize the author name from his more famous book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is one from series of Oz books. In the Master Key, he refers to the “Character Marker” that he describes as:
“… pair of spectacles. While you wear them every one you meet will be marked upon the forehead with a letter indicating his or her character. The good will bear the letter ‘G’, the evil the letter ‘E’. The wise will be marked with a ‘W’ and the foolish with an ‘F’. The kind will show a ‘K’ upon their foreheads and the cruel a letter ‘C’. Thus you may determine by a single look the true natures of all those you encounter.”
Could this be the earliest reference to augmented reality?

Location-Based Augmented Reality for Geography Education

This post is from a 2014 presentation I made at the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education. It was a status report of sorts that described location-based augmented reality and a prototype app  I was collaborating on with students from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. The description of the technology relates to its status as of early 2014, advances have certainly been made since then.

Due to personal and profession obligations, I had to set the project aside but hope to return to it in the future. To be fair, several of the issues raised in the closing comments have been dealt with. I’ve finally gotten around to posting the presentation here with the hopes of generating some interest in the application of augmented reality in geography education. I welcome potential collaborators in bringing the app to the public.
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What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated media or data onto the real world using a camera and display device. What was once the found in the domain of science fiction writers and movies now made accessible to anyone with a smartphone.  Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality allows the user to interact with a real environment that has been enhanced or augmented with digital objects. Augmented reality has been around for nearly twenty-five years. Today, augmented reality is proliferating as smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology such as Google Glass permeate our culture. There are two primary types of AR implementations: marker-based and markerless.

 NCGE 2014-Final.003
Marker-based Augmented Reality
Marker-based implementation utilizes some type of image such as a QR/2D code to produce a result when it is sensed typically by a camera and processed by a computer to display a 3-D image. A model of the earth is shown here. Rotating the paper code will rotate the model.
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Location-based Augmented Reality
 Markerless AR, otherwise known as location-based or position-based augmented reality uses a device’s GPS and compass to locate the user and their orientation to overlay information relevant to their position. Some applications use image recognition in which the camera input is compared against a library of images to find a match. Others can detect and interpret gestures and postures as commands to perform certain functions. You may have a position-based AR app on your smartphone. There are several popular stargazing apps like “Star Walk”  on the left that displays the names of constellations, satellites, planets, etc. based on your location, orientation, and time of day. Or Yelp’s “Monocle” that overlays POIs for restaurants, entertainment, etc. with reviews based on your location.
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Relevance to Geography Education
In 2011, the New Media consortium who produces the Horizon Reports, identified augmented reality as a “game changing” technology for education. Being able to overlay data onto the real world, augmented reality promotes highly visual and interactive forms of learning. As Sinton e. al. 2014 states in The Peoples Guide to Spatial Thinking, “People have more opportunities than ever before to use “location” as a criterion for making decisions and learning, and that may contribute to greater spatial awareness.” Mobile augmented reality provides educators and curriculum designers with an opportunity to think more deeply about the learner’s context and situation. Augmenting experiences when students are away from their desks, and outside of their classrooms in real-world environments is a key feature of mobile augmented reality. AR offers an innovative environment  for creating a “situated learning” experience. Here, a student engaged in the ECOMobile project that has been prompted via a site trigger and given instructions for taking a sample using a dissolved oxygen probe.
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Applications in Geography Education: Dynamic textbook content
From the examples presented I think we can see how augmented reality can enhance geography education. Textbook publishers over the last few years have been implementing augmented reality in textbooks to enrich content and make them more interactive. 3-D representations of buildings that can be viewed from a variety of perspectives is a common application. Adding user interaction enhances engagement in the learning activity. Here a submarine can be controlled by on-screen buttons that can move it up or down through a column of water. To my knowledge, such implementation has yet to be found in physical geography textbooks.
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Applications in Geography Education: Laboratory experiments
Augmented reality has made its way into the classroom lab. A very creative application of augmented reality to visualize stream processes has been created by faculty at the University of California – Davis. Their augmented reality sandbox uses a Microsoft Kinetic camera, data projector and powerful simulation and visualization software. Users create topographic models by shaping real sand, which is then augmented in real time to display topographic contours and simulated water. The system teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts such as how to read a topographic map, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, etc.
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Applications in Geography Education: Field study
 My interest is in location-based augmented reality.  I’m interested in ways to augment field experiences with information related to the context and situation the student is in. Here we see the “Peaks” application. As the user scans the terrain the names of nearby peaks and distance to them is overlaid.
slide 8.002
Using the “Sun Seeker” app to determine sun angle, azimuth, path length, etc. for your location with the ability to compare with others. Such apps are valuable for teaching earth-sun relations and solar energy use.
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Schmeeckle Reserve Field Trip Application
Inspired by these projects and technologies I decided to create a field trip application to explain the biogeography of our local nature reserve. I had two purposes in mind. First was to create an application that students could use for a self-guided field trip. I require a self-guided field trip in a geography of Wisconsin course and an optional field trip in an introductory earth science course. A self-guided field trip gives students more flexibility in when they participate. In the past, a written guide was used. I wished to have a more media and information rich experience for learning about the ecosystems found in the reserve. I also desired to create a means that other field trips could be developed for the application beyond my course. Finally, the app could be used by the reserve for outreach and public education.
 NCGE 2014-Final.010
Schmeeckle Reserve
Schmeeckle Reserve is a 280-acre conservancy located on the north side of the UW-SP campus. Granite bedrock of the  Wolf River Batholith lies close to the surface creating a thin layer of soil. Much of the conservancy is wetland. In the 1950s much land that would become the conservancy was devoted to  agriculture. The unproductive farmland was abandoned and through the years was donated to the University. A major effort of the conservancy is the restoration of ecosystems endemic to central Wisconsin. Visitors can walk five miles of trails and boardwalks through pine and sedge meadows, restored prairies, oak savanna, and cattail marshes. The reserve is a living laboratory for biogeographic and ecological study.
NCGE 2014-Final.011
Application Development
Application development was a collaborative effort between faculty and students from the Geography & Geology Department and Computing and New Media Technologies. The application was a capstone project for students in WDMD while students in Geography/Geology obtained independent study credit. Student teams were given specific features for the application but broad latitude over the user interface design.  The completed app is to include a free roam mode, a quest mode, route tracking, and a virtual notebook.
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Free-Roam Mode
The free roam mode is used when there is no particular destination in mind. Scanning the terrain with the camera brings up POI tags of the ecosystems and distance to them. Tapping one of the tags brings up a short description. A slider, not shown here, has been added to set a distance filter for the number of POIs displayed on-screen.
NCGE 2014-Final.013
Quest Mode
The quest mode is a game where POIs are randomly assigned and the user employees the directional capabilities of their device to navigate to the site. The device’s GPS tracks user movements to show their position relative to a POI indicated on a map with a flag. Upon reaching the point of interest, the flag turns from purple to green. The user lifts the  device taps the camera to view site specific information and slide show of images. Here, a short video clip of the reserve manager is shown describing the site. Quests are logged as finished when the user has reached a site. In future revisions, rectified seasonal photos is planned. The ability to record vegetation photos and notes into a field notebook are planned for the next revision.
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Custom Trip Creation
During one of our brainstorming sessions, I mentioned that the app could be used for a variety of audiences. The students came up the idea of map packs. That is, an educator could create a specialized tour of their own to deploy in the app for any location, not just the reserve. The creation of customized trips is enabled through a web form that writes to an xml file. Site title, category, description, image, and lat/long coordinates can be entered. The app logs into the server hosting the form and downloads the xml file onto the device. The images are pulled in from a source URL.
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Project Status
Midway through the project, various institutional roadblocks were thrown in front of us. Though WDMD project had served off-campus clients in the past, a UWSP application like this had not been done before. There were no guidelines for app development and distribution and thus the app sits in limbo awaiting policy development. Though students were quite capable at building the application, UWSP had no course in iOS or Android development while the app was being created. This forced students to basically learn on their own with guidance from WDMD faculty. It took several weeks for students to come up to speed with the skills needed. Obviously, changes in operating system functionality will require updates to the app as time goes by. Because UWSP has been slow at mobile app development, there is an unwillingness to provide long-term maintenance for the application. Similarly, UWSP IT has been unwilling to provide server resources for custom app development and thus off-campus service are currently being used.
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Future Plans
Given the general lack of support at this point in time, my future plans are to move additional development off-campus. My desire is to keep it open and free. I’m making this presentation, in part, to make you aware of the potential of continuing to develop the app and widely distribute it. I like to seek either professional organizations such as NCGE or a commercial partner for long-term maintenance support.
It is more likely that I’ll move the project to a new platform. The quest mode currently used dovetails well with the current interest in gamification in education. To move past the institutional roadblocks I have encountered, the app will be ported to the ARIS platform. The ARIS project was developed at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. ARIS provides an online app creator easing the pain of coding an app. Media and spatial data already collected will be ported over to other AR development platform. The app is freely available and a number of games are shared online. The nice feature of ARIS is its ability to incorporate objects that can be picked up by students and saved to a notebook. In the case of my app, students will use the device camera to collect pictures of plant structures, leaves, that represent the vegetation of each ecosystem and also make note of field conditions. Data can be tapped from the reserve remote climatological station. So, the ARIS platform fulfills the need for this project by passing many of the roadblocks I’ve encountered.

Banned in the classroom

Woman-typing-on-laptopThe issue of banning technology in the classroom comes to the forefront once again as Clay Shirky tells of his experience in a recent Washington Post piece ( It appears Professor Shirky has banned technology unless required for use in his university courses largely due to the distraction factor. The mounting evidence that we are not equipped for multitasking has also pushed him towards this decision. I agree with his decision, to a point. I agree technology is presenting a distraction factor like never before in my classroom. I don’t ban technology in the same way as Professor Shirky. But I do feel compelled at times to tell students to close shut off their cellphones while I’m instructing. Why? It’s not because I’m trying to motivate them to stay focused on what I’m saying for more effective learning. Nor is it because it shows a lack of respect for my work in the classroom. Its because it distresses me to have to repeat myself to students who ask me questions later because they were’t paying attention in the first place. It is a workload issue for me. I hate wasting my time on students who aren’t paying attention due to their use of personal technology.

Some would argue that it’s part of our duty to help students learn to stay engaged in the classroom. Frankly, that’s something they should have learned in high school or earlier. At least in the United States it’s required for children to attend school so it’s incumbent upon K-12 teachers to do what they can to teach students study and classroom skills. Admittedly, this is a difficult job at best. Attending university is a choice, and thus it’t not my responsibility to “teach classroom engagement”. You are engaged or not. If you’re not, suffer the consequences, especially if I call on you and you look foolish by not knowing what’s happening during class.

A year is not enough

The collapse of the 2U initiative is a case study in the ongoing battle over the widespread adoption of online education in higher education. The utter failure of faculty to see beyond their own parochial interests and entrenched academic culture stifles innovation in the education sector. The issues raised have been raised ad nauseum for the last several years. Faculty need to face reality and accept change due to the economic realities of delivering higher education.

Undergraduate Students & Technology

Drawn from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research, this infographic produced by presents some fascinating insights into today’s undergraduates. As a heavy user of Twitter, I find the 18% increase in use of interest. Educators should take note of the 26% increase in social studying sites and 7% drop in the use of Facebook. I have never felt the need for using Facebook in my courses. I like to keep some social spaces separate from school and work.

Undergraduate Students & Technology
Please Include Attribution to With This Graphic

You Need Evernote Web Clipper

Evernote is my go to note and web clipping application. If you’re an Evernote user but not using the web clipper you really should be. For the most part I use Safari on my Macs for web browsing. Evernote’s web clipper for Safari is fantastic for saving resources. What is particularly remarkable is its ability to suggest the notebook and tags I would apply to a clipping. This has become particularly useful to me as a textbook author and one who does a lot of sharing on Twitter and Flipboard. It’s part of my morning routine to browse through my RSS feeds to add articles to my Flipboard magazines (The Digital Professor & The Physical Environment Today) and share a few of these on two of my twitter accounts (@professorritter & @tpenews). As I come across articles or resources pertinent to my writing I clip them into Evernote.

I’ve been a long time user (#19,697 of over 65,000,000 as of June 2013), so I have a lot of clipped resources. Organizing so many notes clipped from the web was a pain if I didn’t immediately tag and put them in the appropriate notebook. However, the current version of the Safari Web clipper more often than not can anticipate what notebook I’ll place a clipped resource and add tags for me. For example, this morning I ran across an article titled “Climate change causes high, but predictable, extinction risks”. Evernote suggested it go in my “Geoscience Resources” notebook using the tags “TPE: Resources” (a tag I use for potential textbook resources) and “TPE: Biogeography” (the tag for the biogeography chapter) when I clipped it. This is exactly where I would have placed the article and the tags I would have manually entered. Thanks to Evernote’s web clipper I didn’t have to because it had learned from past use how to handle the topic. Simply brilliant.

Evernote’s web clipper is a wonderful productivity enhancement. I don’t know the technology behind it but it works very well for me. If you haven’t used the Web Clipper you should give it a try. Check it out here