Monday, October 16, 2006

Like Technology From An Advanced Alien Culture...

Gmail for ASUThe past week was an exciting one for the UTO, as ASU and Google announced at EDUCAUSE the first large scale deployment of Google Apps for Education to the ASU student community. As the chronicle of higher ed put it:

Arizona State University is the first to try Google Apps for Education, and it joined up in a dramatic fashion...

The announcement was the culmination of amazing work by a Kari Barlow led team that included James Palazzolo, Ron Page, Nate Wilken, Jason Pratt, Noel Lindner, Jeff Nickoloff, Anish Adalja, Xavier Valencia, and Joe McDonald. In just under two weeks, ASU and Google managed to:

  • Integrate ASU’s single sign-on, allowing students to use their existing ASURite UserID to login to Gmail for ASU

  • Modify the EMMA client to allow student users to convert to Gmail for ASU with a single click.

  • Create a staggering 65,000 new Gmail for ASU accounts

  • Create clear messaging to communicate the news to the ASU community and to the world

On the day of the announcement, students were converting to Gmail for ASU at the rate of 300 an hour.

At the announcement at EDUCAUSE, I told the group that this was a story of speed. In addition to providing an exciting new service for students, ASU’s UTO was using the Google alliance as a way to demonstrate the agility of the New American University. The feat that Google and ASU achieved in the past fortnight displayed a nimbleness that rivals the best of what Silicon Valley can do. Building a reputation for agility is critical to the success of our technology alliance strategy, and we made a big stride this week.

But perhaps more importantly, by partnering with Google, ASU was able to dramatically accelerate its technology development curve, an acceleration that will be core to achieving the New American University Vision.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Grand Theft Auto

I had a crazy idea the other day about how a new approach to drug development for the third world might help accelerate the contribution of technology to education. But it needs a little setup first...

In the mid-nineties, the company I worked for, EAI Interactive, created a series of interactive CD-ROMs for McGraw-Hill called "The Dynamic Human". As McGraw-Hill Higher Ed describes it, Dynamic Human was an interactive tool to help:

"students visualize relationships between human structure and function. The Dynamic Human includes 3D rotatable models, histology review, animations and quizzes to help reinforce anatomical concepts that are often difficult to understand."

It was a nice enough series for its day, though two things held it back from being all that it might have been. First, the technology limitations in the 90's were pretty severe. Video content and 3D visualization was still pretty exotic, and the technology of the day put severe restrictions on resolutions, sizes, speeds, and complexity of models.

These limitations have been mostly overcome in the ensuing decade. By the end of the next decade, they will be all but forgotten, a curiousity of an emerging technology, like the grainy, jerky, silent films that marked the early days of the movies.

But the second thing that hampered Dynamic Human's development remains with us, and shows no signs of disappearing. DH was by far and away the most expensive CD-ROM that EAI made for McGraw, but for all that its budget was about $150,000. Mike Sellberg, who helped oversee the development of DH, tells me he thinks EAI actually spent closer to $500,000 on development. As Mike, now executive vice president and chief technology officer at iMed Studios put it, "Oh yeah, we took a bath on that one."

At the same time, EAI could easily get more than a million dollars to make games like Barbie Magic Hairstyler or A Bug's Life. And those budgets are child's play compared to the $10-$30 million dollar development budgets for major hits like Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft.

The market rewards for entertainment content are simply much greater than for educational content, and the result is that there is a lot more enganging content being created for the purposes of entertainment than is being made for education.

Which is fine if you're a game junkie or a stockholder in Electronic Arts, but it's more than a little disturbing if you're a parent or teacher trying to encourage kids to spend more time doing their history homework and less time learning how to be a video assassin.

Content creation for this emerging media is an expensive, time-intensive process, and it is likely to remain so even as the delivery technology exponentially increases in capability and decreases in cost. While the market can help companies raise the tens of millions needed to fund the creation of rich, deeply immersive environments to teach kids how to be theives and pimps, there's just no way for a for-profit company to raise a similar budget to help create content of a similarly immersive quality to teach World History, Biology or Chemistry.

Which is where drugs come in...