Sunday, April 22, 2007

Learning & Teaching—and the Library

Here's something that is a short, fun, watch but deserves a longer, contemplative, consideration.

It's a roller coaster ride done in a classic Atari program. Go try it, noting the long, long rise at the end where you get to look down on the roller coaster below you.

Go on, this is fun and the rest won't make sense unless you've actually tried it: YouTube - Real Estate Roller Coaster


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OK, now the not-so-fun part. That is a video that maps the cost-adjusted price of housing stock since 1890. (Here's what that looks like in a NYTimes graph--you'll recognize the "ride.") Before you cry "boring--the worst of social studies" let me hasten to say that while I do not find the content boring (after all I was a social studies teacher in another life--and own my home) that is not why I've posted this for your lazy Sunday consideration.

I'm more interested in the context of this blog in the very interesting fact that you can learn something from this video that you can't learn in more standard ways. We learn most usefully from "experience." Educators mean something pretty specific when they use that term and it doesn't preclude learning that takes place in schools. It includes things like this video which give you the experience of change over time. This is pretty different from the all -at-once time-abstracted image you get from the graph.

Long story short: this is a fine learning/teaching tool.

What makes that interesting here is that it was made by a "regular person" using the cheapest of hardware and software to help folks understand something which is otherwise difficult to put across about a very special interest of his or her own. That sort of individually localized "production" of sophisticated material is new...and very encouraging.

If we want more of this sort of thing we should do a couple of things: 1) Supply big, cheap, upload bandwidth--so that people can do video uploads or serve a few videos effectively from their own server. 2) Provide access to sophisticated and flexible software...this video required mating graphs with a 3D game program.

We'll soon enough have #1 covered in Lafayette, and with the amazing bandwidth that will make available, at least on the local intranet, we'll have the potential to use increasing sophisticated programs located on the net that will help with #2. If we choose, we can buy access to amazingly sophisticated programs and offer fast access to them through a local "library" organization. The library here has some technically sophisticated folks; librarians caught on to the value of communications technology early. I see no reason that the Lafayette Public Library couldn't offer such a "loan" program and occasional classes on the software. (They already offer more basic computer/net classes.)

It is worth really thinking about how we can set the stage for our community to have access to the creative tools they might need to create really interesting products.

An on-net software library might be an way to exploit the utility of our fast intranet and the power of the pooled resource of the community library for everyone's benefit.

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