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Knowledge grazing must change way we educate

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The information revolution has shifted learning away from ordered hierarchies toward a much messier and self-directed learning paradigm. But has this disrupted education yet? ANGELA SCHAERER, Teacher Engagement Lead for Microsoft SA takes a look.

Look at the world we live in – the ways in which we access information has changed beyond all measure. If I think back to those awful events of September 11, 2001, we watched the unfolding drama on news channels, morbidly glued to our TV sets as the tragic events of that awful day unfolded across our screens. Fast forward a few short years to 2009 and we watched Captain Sullenberger land his Boeing 737 on the Hudson River on our screens, but the size had dramatically decreased.

These events were brought to the world first, not by 24-hour news channels, but by Twitter and YouTube, and we watched the first reports not on our TV screens but on our smart mobile devices. Of course the TV stations quickly caught up, but the story broke across social media first. And that’s the way it is now. We are used to hearing or reading about the big news stories of the day on Twitter rather than the morning papers or the TV. All the media businesses, be they television or newspaper have Twitter accounts. The Chinese government first learned about the 2008 Szechuan earthquake from Twitter rather than its own news agency. And remember the 2012 Arab spring when revolution raced across a continent broke via images from mobile phones and live conversations on social media?

‘Digital information can be altered, mashed, changed or trashed in minutes’

Our world is evolving. New ideas spread the whole way around the world in less than 24 hours. That’s the power of the YouTube video clip! It’s even quicker on Twitter.

Social media is global and ubiquitous. And today, in the middle of the second decade of this 21st century information age, we are now all reporters, sharing, creating, changing and critiquing the news as it happens.

This is evolution, but not as we’ve previously understood the word. Now the term is used to describe changes that occur much more rapidly than Darwin could ever have dreamed about. Digital information can be altered, mashed, changed or even trashed in minutes, in ways previously impossible. Digital textbooks will rarely be out of date in the way their printed versions are. And it seems our brains might be changing as well. Brain plasticity is a well-documented phenomenon.

Some people have written about the possible change in the way our brains have been made to work differently over the past few years, as information arrives at our consciousness via short, sharp simultaneous bursts. And media changes have come hand in hand with the ways in which we consume them. The biggest box-office successes nowadays all rely on the “flash, bang, wallop” effect. It seems we need instant gratification and fast-paced action full of dazzling special effects and noise which appear to trump the great narratives and plot lines of the past. Neural pathways do change. But is this change not to be embraced? After all, it’s how the brains of most of our learners work. In fact, their brains probably know no other way of working. The world has changed, and there is no going back.

‘It’s not what you know but what you do with what you know’

All educators need to do is set the parameters, then work individually with students, helping, providing advice, and yes, even teaching them that it’s not just OK to recycle and mash up knowledge. The real goal is to reboot it, make it work, and truly own it. By this I mean evaluating what is discovered and commenting on how relevant it might be to the project, benchmarking it against the set parameters.

The days of old-style factual regurgitation are long gone, left behind by the post-industrial information age. We should be in the business of helping learners to become consummate knowledge rebooters and problem-seekers. It’s not what you know, but how you use it and how you figure it can address global challenges. Bloom’s hierarchical, level-upon-level paradigm of learning is well and truly disrupted by this knowledge-grazing paradigm.

Educational institutions and governments all around the world are latching on to this knowledge grazing and are making their learning resources freely available online at an incredibly rapid rate. Some of these courses, known as Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs, attract thousands of eager learners to each course, and many thousands more graze on these fantastic learning artefacts, using, recycling, mashing and rebooting them.

And so this self-directed learning leads to increased confidence to mess about with what we discover. John Seely-Brown calls it “Tinkering”. He believes that this tinkering brings thought and action together in a very magical way. It’s what we do when things won’t work and we get over the fear of getting it wrong. If we get in there and tinker – to try and sort it out – we generally manage to get things going. And yes, this is how our kids play computer games: where failure is just one step on the way to really powerful learning.

This “getting things going” strikes right to the heart of what learning really means. We learn when we engage with whatever we discover. It’s our level of engagement which leads to depth of retention and, therefore, true learning. The world-wide education establishment is waking up to this new paradigm. It can’t come a moment too soon.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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