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Where did the computer go? - Dragan Espenschieds Romantic Look on Computer

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In his newly launched webzine Contemporary Home Computing, my good friend Dragan Espenschied discusses in a two part essay Where did the Computer go? It's a rather romantic look back on the age of classic home computing.

Perhaps the combination of romantic and home computing might sound a little odd at first, so I should clarify how I use the term "romantic" here. Romantic dinner by candle light? Not at all. I refer here to the epoch of Romanticism in the 18th century.

Romantic Home Computing - Based upon "Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer" by C. D. FriedrichNow, this might seem even more odd, because they did not have computers at that time (hadn't they?) I am quite sure, that Caspar David Friedrich did use a paint brush and not a Wacom graphic tablet to paint his paintings, and Novalis surely did not blog his Blüthenstaub fragments . So I  am  alluding here to the inherent principles of Romanticism that I also recognize in the first part of Dragan's essay. The one principle of Romanticism that is recognizable here, is the tendency towards a dichotomic view of the world. In Romanticism, there was the grey and boring world of reality and Spießbürger on the one side, and on the other there was the colourful and phantastic world of the arts.

A similar view appears in Where did the Computer go? Here, we have obviously wrong view on computers which is not technical and which tries to "write with light",  as Peter Glaser is quoted. To achieve this, the computer as it had been in the 1980's home computing days, has to disappear. Something, Dragan argues, that started with the Apple Lisa which combined as many periphery parts into the main computer chasis.

On the other hand, Dragan argues, that home computers and cable anarchy necessarily have to go hand in hand. He gives two impressive image examples that certainly make a point here.

But this leads us to the second similarity to Romanticism. Romantic poets and playwrights were looking back towards a Golden Age that - again - set in comparison to their own dull present era. The Golden Age the Romanticists dreamed of was the Middle Ages, or to be more precise, their elevated and romanticised version of the Middle Ages.

Has there been such a Golden Era of home computing? One might debate it had been the times of 8 and 16 bit home computers, when programmers knew every register of their machine by heart, when single hackers like Jeff Minter programmed games on his own without a hollywood scale budget and production team, or Pradip Fatepuriya was the obviously sole programmer of Atari Works. These were the days of Kabelfreax.

Yet, the first part of the essay seems scratch a little bit on the surface and concentrate too much on the outside and visible part of the problem. But there should be a second part of the essay, and there is at least one reader out there who is eager to get the full story. :-)


Prof YoungWan Kims Keynote at Rajabhat Suan Dusit

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Prof. YoungWan Kim from South Corea's Pusan National University, and also Chair of the APEC Future Education Consortium presented in his keynote for the E-Learning e-Learning Strategies : Edutainment Conference at the Rajabhat Suan Dusit University, Thailand on 12th of March 2077 a bold vision of an Edutainment Park for the APEC region with a stress on value-based education. As Prof. Kim has put it with his own words into the abstract for his keynote:

As to the unexpected future society and rapid changes of technologies, world famous scholars and experts have deliberated ideal model of future society and suggested a way to overcome the challenges of future society. APEC Future Education Consortium is the for developing a community model of future education, embodying a 'Total-supporting System,' and advancing research activities to meet the challenges of the IT-based future society with emphasizing value oriented society and considering the harmony between technologies and human being through implementing the EduPark.

In his Introduction, Prof. Kim noted that future predictions in the past did not come true, be it the totally computerized classroom without a teacher (as seen in the 1960's), or be it Alvin Toffler's 1989 prediction that degrees become obsolete before the year 2000. Although a precise prediction is not possible (upon which I strongly agree),  Prof. Kim shared the oppinion, that "the role and function of education will be getting more important in the future", and that "the educational method will be changed into a new way (in particular, centered on high-tech)", which means that the underlying curricula, educational philosophy, and so on have to change, too. In addition to this, Prof. Kim also stresses the importance of values in future education.

Following this, Prof. Kim defines 6 Challenges and Tasks for school education for future education.

  1. Future education should consider multiple paradigms and methodologies instead of being based upon only one. In this task, Prof. Kim criticises the concentration on a western view point on educatio, and the general under-valuation of a specific eastern point of view. Also, apart from technological and economical aspects, other aspects should be taken in acount, too, e.g. psychological, social, economical aspects, so that in the end there is a balance between economic development and enhancement of social welfare.
  2. The second task that Prof. Kim pointed out, is the question of living in harmony with one's community. Here, he discusses how to lead a "Healthy Life" which does not only rely on external factors that focus on the body, and that will leads to being stressed to acquire the latest trends of "Being Well". One way to lead a "Healthy Life", as Prof. Kim suggests, is voluntary work, like for organications like Greenpeace, Lions Club, or Rotary Club.
  3. The third task is to combine web-based e-learning with face-to-face learning into a blended learning model.
  4. The fourth task is to build nature-friendly schools, or to bring schools into a nature environment. For this task, Prof. Kim mainly refered to his project of the above-mentioned Edutainment Park (or EduPark). This park should be planned and established on an international scale to make intercultural learning better accessible. On Prof. Kim's website, there seems to be more information on EduPark - if you can read Korean.
  5. The fifth task, Prof. Kim argues, is the return of schools to a more human- and value-center education. "This is because the more complex and fast pace the society becomes, the more important becomes the virtues of moral and ethical decisions in designing one's life based on one's individual character."
  6. The last task is to invoke a spirit of sharing among future educators. Prof. Kim alludes here to Open Source projects like Linux, which he sees as a model for educators to share their learning materials as the Open Source programmers do. However, this spirit of sharing should not stop at the level of the individual but also include the level of public education institutions. As an example, he quote South Corea's Edunet. (UNESCO gives a brief overview about Edunet.)

These tasks are seen to be combined in APEC Edutainment Park by Prof. Kim. His definiton of Edupark:

  • international learners and teachers exchange
  • nature-friendly learning and experiences
  • schools are linked to schools in other cities
  • high tech meets nature
  • combination of domestic and international learning in virtual and natural environments
  • leads to reflection on experiences through learning, playing and adventure.

EduPark could be, in Prof. Kim's opinion, a turning point towards a value-centered society and education.

My thought about Prof. Kim's keynote

In general, Prof. Kim's asien point of view (as a Korean) was clearly visible in his demand for a value-centered and holistic approach towards EduPark. Although I admire the boldness of his plan, some aspects of it seem to be a little sketchy, as it appeared in the keynote.

The thing I still the most unclear about are the values. As I have lived in Thailand for some years now, I came to the conclusion that the word value alone is a meaningless word, because values are culture-specific, perhaps even specific for each individual. What I, as a German, mean when I use the word value, does not have to have the same meaning for a Thai or a Korean. So, if you talk about values, you have to be more specific (in my point of view) if you want to understood by somebody else. Regarding the examples that Prof. Kim gave, I can conclude what he supposedly means, but it's a little bit close to arbitrariness.


Suan Dusit Conference - The Keynote Speakers

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The Activity A - meaning the Academic part - of the E-Learning Conference at the Rajabhat Suan Dusit University is now over. Sadly, I cannot participate in Activity B due to work. But anyhow, the last two days were a phantasticly organized conference with interesting presentations which gave me a lot of new ideas and impressions. In the coming days, I will sort them out and share here on my website.

Today, just two pictures from the two keynote speakers.

Prof. YoungHwan Kim

Prof. YoungHwan Kim from Korea's Pusan National University presented a bold vision on a Amusement Park which focuses on Education.

Prof. Peter Woods

Prof. Peter Woods from Malaysia's Multimedia University was talking about the (from his point of view) obsession of E-Learning creators with fun.

I will cover these two keynotes later on in more detail.


Suan Dusit Conference

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I will attend the International E-Learning Conference "e-Learning Strategies: Edutainment" organized by the Rajabhat Suan Dusit University, Bangkok, Thailand. My paper about E-Learning 1.0 and E-Learning 2.0 was accepted, and so I'm gonna present it tomorrow, 14.30.



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Lorenz Matzat gibt in seinem Telepolis-Beitrag Der MIT-Professor und der digitale Graben einen kritischen  Überblick über das One Laptop Per Child Projekt (OLPC), das in diesen Tagen mit der Auslieferung der ersten 3.000 Geräte im Rahmen einer Testphase beginnen soll. Das Projekt wurde von Nicholas Negroponte, dem ehemaligen Leiter des Media Labs am Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ins Leben gerufen. Ziel dieses Projekts soll es sein, Entwicklungsländern preisgünstige Laptops auf Linux-Basis zur Weitergabe an Schulkinder für den Einsatz zum Lernen zur Verfügung zu stellen.

Matzat zitiert (ungenannte) Kritiker, die den hierarchischen Ansatz des Projekts bemängeln:

Ein stark hierarchischer Ansatz - top-down -, der mit einer weitflächigen massiven Ausbringung von Technik einen Entwicklungsschritt erzwingen will.

Entwicklungsarbeit finde heute auf Graswurzelebene statt und vor dem Start des Projektes würden dessen möglichen sozialen, kulturellen, wirtschaftlichen, ökologischen und politischen Auswirkungen in Erwägung gezogen, um letztlich mit dem Projekt zu helfen und nicht ungewollt zu schaden. Das OLPC-Projekt hingegen habe solche Vorstudien nicht durchgeführt. Matzat zitiert aus Negropontes Rede vom RedHat Summit im Sommer 2006:

Die Weltbank fragt uns: 'Habt ihr Studien gemacht?' Nun ja, haben wir nicht. Aber wir haben keine Zeit für Pilotstudien. Diese Tage sind vorbei. Das ist ein Slam-dunk, solange wir es machen, machen, machen.

Matzat zitiert auch eine Kritik der NGO Fair am OLPC-Projekt,  worin die für Entwicklungsländer zu hohen Kosten genannt werden.

Ein weiterer Kritikpunkt sind die Herstellungsbedingungen. Zur Senkung der Produktionskosten lasse das OLPC-Projekt die Geräte von der chinesischen Firma Quanta fertigen - zu Arbeitsbedingen, die unter den westliegen Standards lägen:

Nach [extern] Aussagen unabhängiger Gewerkschaften in Hongkong, sind die Arbeitsbedingungen in den High-Tech-Fabriken Chinas schlecht, die Bezahlung liegt am unteren gesetzlichen Limit. Aufgrund ihrer Geschicklichkeit würden meist junge Frauen in der Technik-Branche beschäftigt, die oft nach nur wenigen Jahren gesundheitlich verschlissen wären. Zwar bescheinigt die kürzlich erschienene Studie [extern] Soziale Auswirkungen der Produktion von Notebooks des Öko-Instituts aus Freiburg, dass Quanta sich an die gesetzlichen Vorgaben hält. Doch schließt das eine permanente Überschreitung der Arbeitszeit durch Überstunden nicht aus - bis zu 60 Wochenstunden Arbeit sind üblich.

Als Informationsquelle empfiehlt Matzat am Ende die Website olpcnews.com.


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