Archive for October, 2011

Born digital citizens still must learn citizenship

October 31, 2011


Duke University professor and HASTAC co-founder Cathy Davidson, whose work I’ve followed since attending a panel she chaired in 2010, posted a spot-on response to last month’s widely circulated New York Times “Grading the Digital School” piece on the struggle to quantify technology’s educational value, namely through standardized tests.

Davidson, whose new book “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn” includes a chapter on the origin of standardized testing, argues that industrial age yardsticks can’t reliably measure digital age progress, and that, whatever the yardsticks say, technology is not just another subject, but a prerequisite for all others.

She also makes a broader, and, I’d offer, more pressing point, on what we’re not measuring: How society tends to take for granted that youth are tech experts. 

Because they can use technology easily, doesn’t mean they understand it.  And that’s a problem. The whole point of living in a “Broadcast Yourself” era is any one of those blogs or Facebook quips can go out into the world instantly. We are not responsible as educators unless we are teaching not just with technology but through it, about it, because of it. We need to make kids understand its power, its potential, its dangers, its use. That isn’t just an investment worth making but one that it would be irresponsible to avoid.

Yes, we adults can learn a lot from youth, and not just technically. But, from grade school to college, confusing familiarity for mastery is dangerous. Kids these days will always better know the tools. But we have lived and need to teach them the techniques.

Read Cathy’s full essay on her HASTAC blog.

Creative Commons image by Flickr user gretchichi


Baltimore’s burgeoning mobile app economy

October 25, 2011

Out of basements and grandparents’ guest rooms, during meetups at the city’s tech incubator and across distributed workforces who bond over barbecues, Baltimore’s slice of what’s expected to soon be a $25 billion industry is filling in.

Through the eyes of three entrepenuers, my paper’s technology reporter, Gus Sentementes, told the beginning of this developing story Sunday, comparing it to the e-commerce explosion of the 90s.

Right now, when most people hear the word “app,” they think native app. As a proponent of Web apps, I was pleased to see Gus give them a mention and so succinctly explain the difference between the two kinds. 

 Read his article on your mobile device or on your PC.


What’s Baltimore building?

The developers Gus profiled, who for the most part are doing work for clients such as Johns Hopkins University, the National Archives and Long & Foster rather than marketing directly to consumers, favor iPhone and iPad native apps. So, unfortunately, this Droid boy can’t play with a lot of their creations.

Nonetheless, I was curious about just what’s being built here in Baltimore. Here are some featured apps by the companies mentioned in Gus’s story and others with Baltimore ties. If you have the right device, give ’em a spin and share your take in the comments on how the developers are representing Charm City.

Mindgrub: Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus

iPhone | Free

Campus guide gives walking directions, guided tours, tells what’s nearby and tracks construction and renovations.

Shawn’s Bits: PosePad

iPad | $4.99

Photoshoot organizer lets photographers save example poses, append notes and hand-drawn lighting diagrams and order and classify it all to complement their workflow.

Campfire Apps: Henry’s Spooky Headlamp

iPhone and iPad | Free

Seek and find game for preschoolers. Players tap and hold to move light beam and hunt for spooky objects.

Accella*: Today’s Document

iPhone, iPad and Android | Free

Showcases a daily National Archives document tied to that day in history. Users can jump forward or back a day, choose an arbitrary day, or, like a pre-Web (in some cases, pre-electricity) StumbleUpon, ask for a random one. Documents’ backstories and favoriting ability also included.

* Distributed workforce, based in Baltimore, is principally in the Mid-Alantic

Parking Panda+

Web app | Free (developer gets 20% of each sale)

Matches owners of unused parking spaces with drivers and processes transactions between parties. Owners indicate when the spot is available, upload photos and details, name their price and let the app handle the rest. Drivers can enter their destination and search ahead of time or browse spots closest to their current location.

+ Launched in Baltimore, now based in New York

Dilly Dally Apps: Happy Hour Baltimore

iPhone | Free

Locate bars and restaurants offering specials, events like trivia or amentities like outdoor seating. Receive “dispatches” straight from proprietors. Call a cab.

Baltimore 311^

iPhone, Android and Web app

Tell the city government about safety and quality-of-life issues like felled trees, misleading signs and grafitti and track when yours or others’ requests are acted upon. Data is additionally posted to an automated Twitter feed. Built on Open 311 standard.

^ Developed by New Hampshire-based Connected Bits

MGH: Ocean City, MD – Official App

iPhone and Android | Free

Guide to the beach resort town developed for Ocean City, MD Department of Tourism. Helps users hunt for real-time deals, accommodations, dining, activities, events and services and keep an eye on Twitter updates and weather reports.

Latman Interactive: Qach!

iPhone and Android | Free

Game: Save the ducks by catching and juggling falling eggs until they hatch.

Global Apptitude: Ravens iPad playbook

iPad | Proprietary

The Ravens are one of two NFL teams to replace binders with computer tablets. The app lets players check playbooks, watch film and review motivational messages. To keep game plans from leaking to rivals, data are set to self-destruct shortly after each contest.

Creative Commons image by Flickr user llimllib

Privacy gripes lie with law, social norms, not tech, Jeff Jarvis tells Big Head Baltimore

October 19, 2011

Online sharing isn’t changing human nature, it’s merely enabling it.

In a livecast chat about his new book on the virtues of digital publics, journalist Jeff Jarvis paraphrased Mark Zuckerberg to frame a fundamental point: It’s not the technology, stupid.

When privacy watchdogs say technology goes too far, the City University of New York professor told participants in the Greater Baltimore Technology Council‘s first monthly Big Head Baltimore talk, the real problem is that our legal system or social norms have come up short.



Take the digitization of health records. In “Public Parts,” Jarvis, who has blogged — in intimate detail — his battle with prostate cancer, envisions a health care system where every page of everyone’s record is publicly shared.

The knowledge that could be gleaned from such a large, accessible dataset would save billions of dollars and potentially millions of lives. Who wouldn’t want that? (The principle is being applied on a much smaller scale and involving information about pharmaceuticals instead of people in effort to improve drug manufacturing.)

But fears about how insurers, employers and peers might treat us if they knew our full medical past and prognosis quickly flip the equation. Who would want that? 

Legitimate concerns, Jarvis says, but don’t make technology the scapegoat. If someone denies you coverage or fires you because of something they saw in your file, the problem is that the law let them. If you’re ostracized because of your condition, the problem is the stigma society attaches to illness — something, incidentally, that sharing can help overcome.

Jarvis — who qualified that he does not expect open health care records or many of the other ideas presented in his book, such as The Radically Public Company (Chapter 10), to become reality —  is the first to admit that he approaches technological change from a utopian point of view. If we’re to realize the full benefits of interactive tools, he argues, we must first conceive them.

It’s difficult to disagree. If nothing else, like perfect competition in economics, perfect sharing, even if it never naturally occurs, is still instructive to study.

As tweets streamed by on audience members’ iPhones and on a screen off-camera in Jarvis’ office, the author offered a favorite rejoinder: There’s no such thing as over-sharing, just over-listening. Don’t like it? The unfriend or unfollow button is just a click away.

It is your choice. Your choice to share. Your choice to listen. Isn’t it? Well, to take the dystopian point of view, increasingly not.

Whether it’s peer pressure all but forcing us to share, an algorithm telling us what to listen to (Jarvis addressed this) or an unseen network of interconnected devices doing both, we’re losing some of our curational agency. Take that away, and is what we hear as meaningful? Is what we say even properly called sharing?