Saturday, May 16, 2009

tt4t_086 The power of now and a WOW!!!

It’s Saturday, May 16th, 2009 and welcome to episode 86 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. It is the week after final exams here at Eastern Illinois University but things have not slowed down a bit at the ITC. I was intending to get this podcast out earlier this week but we have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work to be done. End of the semester duties including final grading as well as preparations for the beginning of the new summer semester have kept us all very busy this week.

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Throw in some recent new technology purchases, end of year budget balancing, and the verification of inventories and we have more than enough work to keep us very busy over the entire summer. We have a lot of exciting things happening this summer at the ITC and I will share what we are doing as we rollout several new projects so stay tuned to TechTalk4Teachers for more.

Semester schedules are now compressed and one semester flows to the next with little or no down time between. Learning is often enabled by new technologies that now make possible what was previously viewed as impossible just a few short years ago.

I would like to share with you one experience this week that serves as an example of how access to ubiquitous technologies present serendipitous learning opportunities. We teachers call this, the teachable moment, aka just-in-time learning. This week I received a Twitter message from @spacevidcast that they were streaming a live video feed of the lift-off of Space Shuttle Atlantis. This website is also offering real-time tweets throughout this mission to repair the Hubble Space telescope in the coming days. A couple links are available in the show notes to the spacevidcast website.

When you visit the spacevidcast live site you will see a video window of a live stream if they happen to be broadcasting at that moment. During the live video stream of the Atlantis launch this site had a chat window to the right-hand side that provided a live stream of Twitter postings as they happened. Marrying the live video stream with the live text-based Twitter stream earlier this week provided a viewing experience that was enhanced by the combination of the two. At its height during launch time I saw well over 5000 people viewing the launch of Atlantis and I saw many of my friends on Twitter posting messages regarding the launch. If you addressed your Twitter message to @spacevidcast you were able to see your message next to the live video stream.

I recognized many of the Twitter names making postings to @spacevidcast and many were K12 teachers sharing this event with their class. I always feel a sense of pride in being an American every time I watch a NASA launch. Being able to experience this live with a class and all at the click of a mouse is truly amazing! Because this is a video stream you will need to have adequate broadband bandwidth in order to have an acceptable viewing experience. Students are often motivated to learn about current events and new technologies are offering real-time learning opportunities that provide a teachable moment to learn relevant content in a real-world and real-time context. Students are motivated by this relevancy and teachers can harness the power of now learning at the click of a mouse.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a pick that I believe has the potential to go down in history as a mile marker in the 21st Century regarding the way humans interact with a search engine. I am not easily impressed but if this technology pick of the week can live up to some of the demos I have watched then this could be a game changer in the area of search engines. The name of my pick this week is the WolframAlpha Computational Search Engine and a link is available in the show notes.


I also have a link to a MUST SEE video about what this new type of search engine is capable of so be sure to check it out. You must watch this video as contextual search may just change the way we use search engines in the future.

Introducing WolframAlpha Screencast (MUST SEE)

Last night WolframAlpha went live for the first time to the masses and I had the opportunity to watch the live webcast of this event as it was happening. The WolframAlpha website launch got off to a rocky start as the site was up and down all night as they were doing load balancing and testing. Time will tell if WolframAlpha changes the way we use the Internet but it is a most impressive technology. Click on the link in the show notes to watch a “must see” demo and by the time you are listening to this podcast WolframAlpha will be live for the world to use.

From what I have seen of WolframAlpha, Google, the 900 pound gorilla in the search business definitely has something to worry about. Many think Google is invincible but WolframAlpha uses contextual search to provide search results back that are relevant to the term(s) that you are searching for. For example if you type in gdp of France you get back information related to the Gross Domestic Product for France complete with graphs and summary tables. Type in a mathematical formula and you get the solution, type in a stock symbol and you get the latest stock price, type in the name of a city and you get back a map with the location and statistics about the city, type in a question and WolframAlpha trys its best to provide you with a contextual answer.

Google’s search algorithm is much different and uses a combination of page rank, number of hits (popularity), and their own secret formula to return search results.

WolframAlpha has a chance to de-throne Google in the search area if their technology can scale to the heavy usage that will undoubtably follow if their product is successful. At the risk of hyping this too much I really did not think I would ever say that Google might be at risk of losing its dominate market lead of 70 to 80 percent of the search business but the new WolframAlpha search engine may just be that powerful.

WolframAlpha is still very early and in the testing phase. See the show notes for an interesting message I received from the site that said, “I am sorry Dave, I am afraid I cannot do that. WolframAlpha has currently exceeded its current maximum test load.” That of course is a reference to Space Odyssey 2001 and the HAL computer that took over the spaceship.

As I was testing WolframAlpha this morning I was still getting error messages most of the time but when the search engine did return a result it was most impressive. Time will tell if WolframAlpha can overcome the challenges it now faces as it scales this technology to be available to the masses. Give WolframAlpha a try and I bet you will also say WOW!

That wraps it up for episode 86 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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