A range of different insights into the digital world for our learners in schools, colleges, universities and at home - whether they are young or old.

This is our educational consultancy weblog, featuring a range of topics of interest to professional educators. New posts are added from time to time and are assigned to different categories (labels) such as mobiles, technology and protocols as well as educators, lecturers, professors, teachers and leadership.

We hope you find the following posts both informative and thought provoking!

Explore Quantum Computing for Real
Date: 31 December 2017

Over recent years there has rightly been a focus on encouraging children and young people to learn to code. This is beginning to be reflected in schools as the emphasis on coding is growing within curriculum experiences.

Of course the focus on coding is binary systems, which generate the apps running on our current computer and mobile devices. For children and young people this is an attractive option as they can find fun ways to manipulate such devices for a wide variety of activities.

The advent of quantum computing introduces a new dynamic to coding. Imaginative educators can now introduce young people to the fascinating and seminal world of quantum computing. But where to start?

Today you can explore quantum computing a couple of ways using the programming language Python, freely available and used in many schools for coding.

One option is the Quantum Toolkit in Python (QuTiP), with access to a wide range of documentation. Refer to the User Guide for installation on different platforms. and access online tutorials with IPython Notebooks.

Another option is the Quantum Information Software Kit (QISKit), with access to
tutorials, documentation and the IBM Q Experience. The IBM Q Experience: Beginners Guide provides a useful online introduction and overview with examples whereas the IBM Q Experience: Full User Guide is a most comprehensive package for the keen explorer!

Could 2018 be the year when anywhere, anytime learners start exploring quantum computing for real?

Labels: educators professors teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 12:26 PM

Quantum Leap?
Date: 28 December 2017

At some point in the future there will be a transition from the binary computing of today to quantum computing of tomorrow. Knowledge and understanding of machine code based upon binary digits (bits) will no longer suffice with the advent of quantum digits (qubits) in quantum computing.

An awareness of physics, mathematics and programming will become increasingly desirable for tomorrow's learners to really grasp quantum concepts. Qubits can be most confusing. Whilst a binary digit (bit) can store either a 0's or 1's as a one-state value, a quantum digit (qubit) can store a 0, a 1, both 0 and 1, or an infinite number of values in between. Moreover a qubit can store multiple values at the same time!

To make this happen in a quantum computer, more than likely qubits will be stored by atoms, ions or even smaller items such as electrons and photons. As a result, a quantum computer would be a very different design.

Given the nature of qubits, a quantum computer would store multiple numbers at once and process them simultaneously. Whereas binary computers work sequentially, a quantum computer can work in parallel by doing multiple tasks at the same time. In theory this could mean that quantum computing would be millions of times faster.

The big question is when will quantum computing move from theory into practice? Whilst there have been small steps made there is still a way to go yet before quantum computing becomes commonplace. Developments from D-Wave Systems and IBM Q provide valuable insights.

Educators ought to be considering ways to raise awareness of young people about quantum computing and its applications to solving problems in our world. After all, this is what anytime, anywhere learning is all about.

Labels: educators professors teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 18:14 PM

Machine Learning in Action
Date: 17 December 2017

There's nothing better than a story about discovering a new planet in space. In a new example of using machine learning, a new planet has been located around the Kepler-90 sun-like star in the Draco constellation, 2545 light-years from Earth.

Using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, computers where trained to search for planets located within the four-year mass of data on light readings. Some 35,000 possible signals are contained in this dataset. Differences in light were minute and had been missed in scanning with the human eye.

The approach was based on a technique know as a neural network and is a tool that can be applied to other research data. The machine learning model used 15,000 items of previously vetted signal data.

Kepler-90i, as the newly discovered planet is called, now stands out as a good example of machine learning in action. More will follow for sure.

Anytime, anywhere learning is now a reality for space exploration!

Labels: educators professors teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 18:10 PM

Machine Learning - A Powerful Technology
Date: 19 July 2017

More and more machine learning algorithms are now becoming the norm as digital processing of devices becomes ever more powerful.

Machine learning has been around for some time as a branch of computer science. In 1959, Arthur Samuel defined machine learning as giving "computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed".

Over time, different models have been developed. For users of many handheld digital devices, machine learning is increasingly pervasive and integral to functionality in software applications. For example, it increasingly features in image processing and computer vision uses such as as face recognition, landmark identification, motion detection and object tracking. Deeper understanding of text is another area of use with app features such as language identification and natural language processing.

Of course there are numerous examples where machine learning forms an increasing part of everyday life: online recommendations from websites such as Amazon and Netflix, credit scoring, tumour and drug discovery, DNA sequencing and decisions on whether email is spam or not. The self-driving car is also a good example of machine learning in practice.

However, machine learning algorithms are not yet infallible. Infallibility is an important aspect to bear in mind as machine learning of itself is not perfect; that is, not 100% accurate. For example, while predictive text works well the user still has to check the suggestions as many of us have found to our cost!!!

Many international companies and governments are investing heavily in promoting machine learning and analysis of so called big data. For young people this is another area to be cognisant of in our increasingly complex, digital world.

Labels: educators professors teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 14:10 PM

Fake news - the educational challenge
Date: 20 November 2016

Social media has brought unprecedented opportunities to publish online for both individuals and organisations alike.

However, 2016 will go down as the year where "fake news" became a big issue in a post-truth world. Facebook in particular has become a focus of concern for media watchers, though it is not alone. There seems to be an alarming growth in the proportions of children, young people and adults who appear to believe that anything published online must be genuine and truthful. Often snappy headlines and simple statements are all that is needed for a "news item" to go viral.

All news stories contain some form of editorial bias. Trusted sources for news items exist but both children and young people have to be constantly alert and guard against the dangers of misinformation or propaganda in our digital age. More than ever they need to develop evaluative skills and ask themselves whether a news story is really genuine, balanced and from an authoritative source.

For educationalists the challenge is how to encourage children and young people to subject online news items to proper scrutiny, not simply accept that because it's published online it must be a truism.

Labels: educators professors teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 16:00 PM

The Internet of Things
Date: 08 June 2015

This is one of the latest buzz terms!

As new technological innovation marches forward the prospect of meaningful use of the Internet to control items becomes ever closer. Already you can remotely view content from video cameras and audio transmitters and control things like the heating. However, there is much, much more coming on stream in the next 12 months or so with everyday devices, such as a fridge(!), include Wi-Fi to hook up to your Internet router and then capable of being accessed from anywhere, anytime.

Therein lies the the issue. Connectivity is all well and good as long as it is secure. Thus, "the Internet of Things" comes with the clear need for strong passwords and encryption techniques to ensure that only authorised access is possible to devices.

A number of cases have already been reported where unauthorised access can be made to such devices because the manufacturers of technology, such as video cameras, have not made their systems secure. It is simply not acceptable that devices are released for purchase with issues such as passwords remaining from testing or to provide "backdoor" entry.

As ever, it is crucial that educators ensure that children and young people are aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of "the Internet of Things" as we enter a brave new technological world.

Labels: educators teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 11:00 AM

What are Patent Trolls?
Date: 15 April 2015

Technology is renowned for challenging the status quo. There have been a series of high profile court cases focusing on the alleged use of patents in software or hardware products by so called "patent trolls". So what are they exactly?

In essence, patent trolls are what is referred to as non-practising entities - organisations who own tech-related licences without actually producing the products themselves. Of course inventions should be covered by a patent and subsequent royalties paid to the inventor. The patenting of innovations is now becoming a prominent feature of technology development.

The big challenge in court cases is determining whether an innovation can have been truly patentable where it has not been used in a software or hardware product as other innovators have been developing ideas along similar lines. There are cases where the award of such patents have been disputed and the scope of a patent modified accordingly. Case law will eventually establish the ground rules for patent awards and use of licenses over time.

With the increasing emphasis on encouraging children and young children to innovate through writing their own code, educators and parents will have to flag up the possibility that somebody else may have already patented a software process used. In due course, patent licenses have the potential to stymy creativity or levy huge fines for a successful product or enterprise.

Does this now mean every tech-related idea or process has to be patented?

Labels: educators teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 08:00 AM

Lessons in Digital Privacy
Date: 10 May 2014

Our last post discussed the privacy issues that emerged during 2013. Just when you might of thought things were getting better, 2014 is turning out to be nightmare!

There has already been privacy issues highlighted about problems in communication protocols via mobile (iOS on iPhone was notable) but the latest Heartbleed issue has been shocking. Who would have thought that some of the basic systems to secure the integrity of digital communication could contain flaws that would make it easier to eavesdrop on communications with internet servers?

The mixed responses from some of the big names such as Google to the Heartbleed issue has illustrated the problem that company PR processes have when always trying to present a positive picture. The Heartbleed issue was bad enough but then compounded by the lack of clear information for users of companies whose server systems had been vulnerable.

Now it is even more important that educators ensure that children and young people have the requisite knowledge about how to protect themselves online. Even when your mobile or desktop is fully up-to-date with the latest software, it is so important to be careful. It is too late once your digital identity has been compromised.

Educators and parents have a responsibility to ensure anytime, anywhere learners are alert to the potential of security risks and actual breaches.

Labels: educators teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 09:46 AM

Guard Your Privacy
Date: 22 December 2013

The calendar year 2013 will be remembered for the high profile of cases resulting in privacy concerns for individuals using the Internet and telecommunications to share and exchange data. This highlights why it is so important to educate young people about the nature of privacy in today's digital world.

For too long, the ease of use and potential of Internet based systems has far outweighed the disadvantages. Fortunately, 2013 has also been the year when user privacy has started to be taken more seriously by vendors of operating systems and developed of software, Apps for mobile devices, social media and websites. As a result, steps can be taken to privacy settings and ensure that some shared and exchanged data does remain more private.

While the alleged antics of the NSA in the US and GCHQ in the UK grab the headlines and illustrate how some private data can be obtained, young people are often unaware of basic steps they can take. Simple things such as ensuring passwords are strong and secure and their personal data is entered via secure websites (check the web address starts with htpps:// or the padlock is displayed). This is most important on shared computers or when accessing "free WIFI" with mobile devices.

The Consequences of sharing personal data should also be carefully considered. Some young people are becoming increasingly aware that their digital footprints locked in to social media such as Facebook and Twitter but there are other actions that should be common practice. In particular, it is essential to counter the "ease of use" argument where operating systems, software and Apps offer to remember passwords and personal details for future reference.

The key question for all educators is: Do your anytime, anywhere learners approach their privacy online with a critical eye?

Labels: educators professors teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 12:35 PM

Social media - a force for good or ill?
Date: 11 August 2013

Recent news in the UK about life threats, abuse and bullying comments on various social media has highlighted difficulties where new technologies are misused as a communication platform.

Over a short period of time the growth of social media has been dramatic and is a worldwide phenomenon. Older children, young people and adults have been quick to exploit the potential to share new, information and events with others. However, there are pitfalls - those who exploit the social media forums in a perverse and often blatant fashion seem to have scant regard for the impact on others. Although the legal framework covers online and off line comments, this appears to be overlooked as a result of ignorance about legal consequences or simply that the platform cannot cope with such situations.

The indirect nature of online text-based communication through social media can remove and disregard the thoughts, feelings and vulnerability of others. The international reach of social media exacerbates the issues and differences in cultural values.

This poses a challenge for education. While it is important to encourage children and young people to exploit social media technologies for good, they also need to gain a fuller awareness of their rights and responsibilities as well as those of others within our society. Sadly there will always be those who are tempted to exploit new technologies for all the wrong reasons. Education has to play its role in raising awareness of effective risk assessment strategies.

How do we ensure social media becomes a mature, safe platform and a force for good not ill?

Labels: teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 15:06 PM

Effective Mobile Communication
Date: 02 January 2012

In educational circles, smart-phones and web-enabled mobiles are either viewed as an opportunity or a threat. Which ever side of the argument you take, the reality is that more and more children and young people have access to and use these devices on a regular basis.

There are good examples of effective practice in schools where the opportunity to enhance learning by utilising mobiles. Take, for example, an English lesson with Y10 students who had pre-recorded accounts about themselves on their mobiles and used these as a basis for summarising key points from the narrative.

Increasingly, schools are beginning to make use of text messaging to alert parents to absences and other events in schools. The biggest challenge facing schools is the extent to which they embrace not only web-enabled mobile access via their websites but also the ways in which social websites such as Facebook and Twitter are used to create an online presence of the school as an organisation.

Tweets via Twitter, for example, can alert a wide audience to key events in school and reach out not only to pupils, students and parents but also to the wider community. Of course, posts on Twitter and Facebook require a concise writing style to convey clear messages with brevity. Usefully, posts can include links to further articles, documents or information on websites.

That neatly brings us back to where we started. Are school websites geared to detect mobile access and present a mobile website alternative?

Labels: educators professors mobiles teachers technology

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 14:00 PM

Mobile Inter-Connectivity
Date: 06 December 2011

Over the last decade most schools have created a presence on the Internet via their own website. Increasingly, such websites act as a portal for primary pupils and secondary students to access learning resources and "learning platforms".

Not so long ago, schools were often advised to survey those on roll to ascertain the extent to which students have ready access to the Internet from home. However, with the rapid take off of smart-phones and web-enabled mobiles, such surveys are now much too narrow in scope and need to be updated.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children and young people with either a smart-phone or web-enabled mobile means school websites ought to cater for such users. Loading a standard website on a small screen is often slow and reading content is not easy. For digital natives this is certainly a big turn-off!

The likes of the BBC, Google, Facebook, Twitter and other organisations have led the way - incorporating auto-detection of mobiles to present and communicate key information on a format suitable for a small screen. Adapting school websites in this way would not only make the content more accessible anytime and anywhere but could also play key role in reaching out to parents and the community.

Within the UK, it is really disappointing that almost all local, national government and educational organisations such as Ofsted also implement a traditional website paradigm.

The time has come for government, educational organisations and schools to broaden their website strategy and embrace the reality of a world in which web-enabled mobiles are the norm for parents and children alike.

Labels: educators professors mobiles teachers technology

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 16:00 PM

Date: 28 September 2011

One of the buzz terms circulating in 2011 is gamification - use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. In the world of enterprise, some companies are beginning to integrate gamification into their websites as well as other online and software products to provide a different experience for users.

Education has used similar techniques in the past to engage and motivate children and young people in their learning. This came to the fore in the 1908s with software designed to support teaching and learning became available on computers, notably the BBC Model B. Subsequently some products moved across to a few gaming platforms.

In his online article Engage Audiences with Gamification, Kevin Miller presents an interesting argument for embracing gamification techniques in the design of products for education, to stimulate and motivate learners.

Similarly, Andrew Proto in his writing about the Gamified Classroom sets out a series of points about the positive impact gamification can provide.

The education sector is often slow to take on board such developments. In part, this reflects the limited financial returns on investment for the education market without products adopting an edutainment format rather than an educational one.

Whilst gamification is not without its critics, it is something that educationalists need to consider in both pedagogical and resource terms if we are to promote effective anytime, anywhere learning in practice.

Labels: educators professors teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 11:09 AM

Education versus Edutainment
Date: 20 November 2010

More and more creative apps are coming to the market place. How are educationally based apps actually used?

A recent trawl of iPad apps for early learning for young children revealed some interesting insights - not only about the apps but also the way in which these are used with children.

The tried and trusted "flash card" has been in existence for many years and a key resource in supporting the development of early reading. Some apps provide a wide variety of topic areas and options to create voice-overs and incorporate user images, providing creative solutions to producing a wealth of stimulus and learning material from the child's own realm of experience as well as the wider world.

However, the most interesting aspect often lies in the content of customer reviews. Apart from obvious issues of language localisation (many apps are often US-centric), some comments expose a misunderstanding about the nature of flash cards and the important pedagogy associated with using such a resource. In some cases it would appear that such apps are used as a form of self-help toy rather than an educational resource to use and share with a child!

Maybe the spectre of "education" versus "edutainment" may be emerging in the way apps are used with children in the home and elsewhere. Pedagogy app anyone?

Labels: educators mobiles teachers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 11:18 AM

Apps are the future
Date: 23 August 2010

Over the past few years, access to a greater range of packages has been created on mobile phones. As ever with new technologies, these bring both advantages and disadvantages!

One of the most significant developments has been the introduction of software applications or Apps as they have become known. Many provide useful additionality to the array of functions on mobile devices, extending the range and variety of uses. The development of Apps has accelerated from fairly basic software products into quite sophisticated and useful programs. Apps have proved very popular, not least is the opportunity to tailor the range of functions and information sources readily available on the mobile.

Tablet based hardware, such as the iPad, significantly increases the educational potential of Apps with the much larger screen and depending on the device's orientation landscape or portrait formats. This software format offers designers and publishers more scope to integrate interactivity and visual impact through animation, audio and video than, say, e-books. Gradually, developers are beginning to produce educational Apps. However, the key test for good quality interactive Apps is the extent to which these interactive elements are appropriately deployed to capture interest, stimulate curiosity and generate genuine learning experiences for children and young people.

Some of the most interesting educational Apps so far appear to be designed for younger children. Leaving aside the ubiquitous array of generic applications (word processing, spreadsheets and presentation and creative art software), educational products designed specifically for young people appear rather thin on the ground at present.

For educators, it would seem that the development of Apps holds out the future for exploiting learning experiences using mobile devices, particularly the up and coming breed of tablet devices. As ever, the market for Apps is expanding quickly and this is yet another area to keep an eye on with the view of extending opportunities for anywhere, anytime learners.

Labels: educators professors mobiles teachers lecturers

Posted by Dave Jobbings at 13:42 PM

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