Global connectedness


Information technology has traditionally been associated with computers and networks, as a result of the original emergence of the power of computing.  But in a wider sense technologies are about information and information networks, as technologies of information have always included all the tools and machines which have been used to create, store and disseminate information throughout the ages.

Paul Gilster (1997) , in his book Digital Literacy, which was a terrifically exciting publication at the time of release,  identified how all information is digital, and that digital environments bring with them interactivity and connectedness.  Now we know that the capacity of digital technologies to influence and facilitate global connectedness is growing exponentially, and is summed up well by Moore’s Law, which states that the number of components which can be placed inexpensively into the integrated circuits which are the basis of all modern digital devices roughly doubles every two years.  This means that processing speed, storage capacity, and other metrics of computer power also increase at the same rate.

Ideas are central to our need to connect and communicate – and technology has become a pivotal process or tool in that social and intellectual process of connectedness. What is so astonishing is the ready acceptance of technologies which, in the overall  history of human communication is a very short period of time.  One of my favourite books, Turing’s Cathedral: the Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson (2012) provides the history and the story around Alan Turing’s Universal Machine, a theoretical construct invented in 1936 that was to become among the first computers to make full sense of a high-speed random-access storage matrix, that would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Our global connected world would never be the same again.

Many of us hardly go a single day without googling an idea, thought, interest, or question. We may use another search engine, but the fact that the word googling has entered the vernacular, and that we do all google is a dead give-away that something big has happened in our global connections.

The potential of our information and knowledge web is built on an intricate history of science, mathematics and the genius of a handful of men and women, and a bigger  pool of  quite brilliant people. What is staggering is the way data  and data connection has now become a major focus for global knowledge and scholarly, personal or cultural connections. It is impossible to have one without the other, and it is becoming less and less obvious which side of the data/knowledge equation is driving the other!

Remember Tim Berners-Lee vision for the Internet?

If you’ve ever listened to him speak  you will have heard him mention Linked Data, and may well be wondering what Linked Data has to do with it all.  Data, information, information technology  and knowledge are intertwined in our digital world of global connectedness underpinning the shifts that are taking place in learning and education.

But we can celebrate the open communication that the web has come to make possible, and the capacity to share and build knowledge.  A recent report published by Incapsula, a company that helps websites manage their traffic and security, examined the activity across several thousand of its sites and found that humans make up less than 40 percent of all activity in 2013. But even though the bots are more active than ever before, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Machines are doing the building  of what we think of as the  internet for us almost more rapidly than humans so the next step will be to understand what this ‘building’ means, and how networked communication, information and access is not only about people and information, but also about things. We use the internet to seek, organise, share, and communicate.

So for now, we need to build our understanding of global connectedness and leverage opportunities for learning in our  interactive, digital, search-enabled world.

Dyson, G. (2012). Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. Random House Digital, Inc.Gilster, P., & Glister, P. (1997). Digital literacy. Wiley Computer Pub.

Image:cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by LEOL30

Semantics: a keystone of learning on the web

Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web is the development of the web as data are given meaning (semantics) which enable computers to look up and eventually “reason” in response to user searches. It’s early days yet, but because of that, it’s particularly interesting to delve into these changes to see how the Semantic Web might  affect education.

The Semantic Web holds three key features that are of interest to me.  The first is the capacity for effective information storage and retrieval. The second is the capacity for computers to augment the learning and information retrieval and processing power of human beings. The third is the resulting capacity to ‘mix and match’ that will extend and expand knowledge and communications capabilities of humans in multiple formats.

The Semantic Web is a vision of information  that is immediately  understandable by computers, so computers can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, combining, and acting upon information on the web. As the Semantic Web becomes more of a realization, new technologies will also continue to enhance the learning process making flexibility and adaptability a keystone of learning. The unlimited mashup of dynamic information, all portable and tailored to your preferences will be the vehicle for learning in the future.

Linked Data is powering the web but mostly outside of libraries, so libraries and those that deal with information (educators) need to catch up.

Technology is evolving extremely quickly, and consumers are driving delivery methods – “get it to me on my device”. Live Serials explains:

The information industry is all about helping people to find things and linking students to the resources that they need. We need to rethink how we do this, bringing the information directly to the user, in the format that they want. There should be no need to bounce the user via resolvers and multiple URLs to a site that eventually proclaims “Here it is!”. It should just be delivered.

Education needs to link students to resources and search is only one way of doing this, but an essential way nevertheless.

When a 16-year-old student writes about a new Semantic Search Engine and provides an extensive review of it – at a time when most teachers are even oblivious of the sort of choices that are ‘out there’, I begin to worry for teachers and be excited for our students.

Take the time to read Xavier’s review of  Kngine at Kngine: The Smartest Search Engine Ever? which he says

aspires to be the next leader of the Semantic Web or commonly known as Web 3.0.  The Washington-based revolutionary Semantic search engine functions similarly to Wolfram Alpha, but much better (based on my personal opinion).

Cool review, cool search engine!




From Tim Berners-Lee to … Muriel?

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee wrote his original proposal for a better kind of linked information system. He was doing consulting for CERN in Switzerland, and found that its communication infrastructure was leading to information loss. So he proposed a solution using something called Hypertext. This led to the Hypertext Markup Language, or, as it’s more commonly known now, HTML. That in turn, led to the World Wide Web.

Were you around to see all these changes?  I certainly was, and I definitely remember the trouble I had teaching teachers the concept of the WWW, what it might do for learning, and how to go about using it.  Navigation nightmare – that’s what it was!  But now we all use the Net for stuff – and mostly we incorporate it into our learning experiences for our students, albeit badly at times.  But the argument is won and we have moved onto the whole new media thing – and the relevance of connectedness.

So what’s next?

In the TED Talk below Tim Berners-Lee provides insight into developments that will power the semantic web, and the basis for it’s development which is rooted in linked data.  Way back in 2006 Tim was already writing about ‘linked data‘ which no doubt explains the advances made in subsequent years in semantic web research.  As he explained then

The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data.  With linked data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data.

Now we understand the potential of the semantic web differently and the implications are profound. You must read The Future of Federated Search: Muriel doesn’t search, but DFAST does, by Lee LeBlanc. This will give you a ‘picture’ of what might be – in a way that we can understand. I would never have understood what Tim was trying to explain in his original proposal for the web.  But now I understand virtual environments and crave interoperability and interactivity 24/7!  I won’t be contributing to the evolution any time soon, like the folks over at LinkedOpenCommunity at W3C SWEO Community, but I sure am grateful for their efforts!

A couple of snippets here, then watch the video :-)

Our information seeking behaviors will come to be shaped by the information we seek. Devices and the access channels we seek information through will further define our search behaviors. The computer is only one of these devices; interaction search technologies another.

In 1995, a user expended time searching; in 2035, a user spends precious time thinking -differently. The days of sitting in front of a dumb search box are over. Users no longer pound the keys in frustration getting zero results or billions or results. How will this happen?