Pivotal Tracker for Agile Project Management and Collaboration

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Thu, 08/02/2012 - 10:02am.
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A friend of mine who works as a software engineer at Education Development Center called my attention to a project management software called Pivotal Tracker which is said to be especially good for Agile Software Development. Initially Pivotal Tracker seemed a bit confusing to me. But after I explored it for half an hour and watched an introduction video (see below), I feel it can be a good tool for us to improve project management and collaboration, especially for some of our projects that don't have specific deadlines and requirements.

Pivotal Tracker won the Jolt Product Excellence Award in 2008 (source).


Jailbreaking the Degree - by David Blake

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Mon, 07/09/2012 - 9:37am.
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I encountered this wonderful article called Jailbreaking the Degree by David Blake. Reflecting on my own past as a student and the brief experience in teaching, I cannot agree more with the article.

The article used an analogy between taking courses and downloading digital songs in iTune. Whereas purchases on digital albums have increased smoothly to 104,800,000, purchases on digital singles have rocketed to 1,306,200,000 since 2004. The author argues education should go under the similar pattern so that universities will offer degrees as collection of the best courses taught in the world instead of a prepackaged box of both wholesome and junk foods.

I think this is a thoughtful idea and something the mSchool project can take into account. How to make higher education more transparent? How to prevent those poorly performed teachers from staying in front of the blackboard? How to better allocate teacher resources? How to allow students to take courses that they are really interested in yet still having those courses that they may not fall in love with but will prove to be helpful in the future? How the students can take the knowledge and skills with them to their careers? How the students can constantly improve themselves as a lifelong endeavor? These answers are the real education I am imagining for tomorrow.


Vialogues Got Award!

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Sun, 06/24/2012 - 12:31pm.
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Although Pranav had spread the secret over a month ago that Vialogues would be one of the Best Websites for Teaching and Learning 2012 elected by American Association of School Librarians, a division of American Library Association, the award list was not announced until yesterday in their annual conference in Anaheim, CA. Here is the link to ALA's Top 25 Sites for Teaching and Learning 2012.

I am not familiar with the other brand names this year except Wiggio. But from last year there are a couple I heard about and used, such as Khan Academy, CK-12 Flexbooks, and Microsoft Tag.


Issues of using HTML5 videos in Vialogues

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:08am.
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I encountered a great report, The State of HTML5 Video, which investigates the readiness of the market to adopt HTML5 videos. The report was written by LongTail Video, the creator of the JWPlayer (a Flash video player widely adopted worldwide).

A couple of colleagues had asked me why we still use Flash as the primary player in Vialogues. You will be able find out a large part of the answer from the LongTail Video report mentioned above.

But the above report doesn't cover one practical and serious concern that most video sharing and distribution websites have: the intellectual property (IP) of videos.

You may have noticed after a brief existence of the HTML5 video player on the native Youtube site (they even once made HTML5 the primary player), all HTML5 videos had been disabled a few months ago. I believe the reason for Youtube to shutdonw HTML5 is it's too easy to download videos in HTML5. In HTML5, you can simply right click the video and choose "Save Video As". It's how HTML5 is made.


How Many Minutes of Videos on Vialogues?

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Fri, 06/15/2012 - 2:37pm.
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On Amazon: 17155.4 min.
On Youtube: 13090.2 min.
Total: 30245.6 min.

Thanks Pranav for showing me the mysql call syntax!



Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Sat, 06/02/2012 - 12:05am.
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Back in the days when Research Broker was beta testing within the EdLab, I suggested to implement a bidding system similar to Rend A Coder (now named VWorker) where companies can post data analysis jobs and qualified researchers can bid for the job with their desired amount of reward. Today a friend of mine showed me a company called InnoCentive which does similar things in the business sector.

InnoCentive is an "open innovation" company that takes research and development problems in a broad range of domains such as engineering, computer science, math, chemistry, life sciences, physical sciences and business and frames them as "challenge problems" for anyone to solve them. It gives cash awards for the best solutions to solvers who meet the challenge criteria.
-- From Wikipedia

I think InnoCentive is something the RB project manager can look into. Does their business model encourage more qualified problem solvers to join the InnoCentive "solvers" network? Does their business model make it easier for the companies to find solutions? Is their business model inspiring in the context of EdLab's mission?


Evaluating VideoJS 3 For Use In Vialogues :: Part 2

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Thu, 02/16/2012 - 3:16pm.
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This is the second part of the evaluation on VideoJS 3 that we will potentially upgrade to in the video player for Vialogues. See my previous post on the background information on the video player technology used in Vialogues.

My plan has two steps. Firstly I will implement a minimal setup for both VideoJS 2.0.2 (the version used in the current Vialogues player) and 3.1.0 (the latest VideoJS release), and compare their performance and cross-platform compatibility for HTML5 video playback (Flash video is not supported in v.2 so we cannot compare). Secondly I will implement a minimal setup for VideoJS 3.0 and Flowplayer 3.2.6, and compare their performance and cross-platform compatibility for Flash video playback. The results from the first step will tell us if it is worth considering upgrading to VideoJS 3, while the second step will tell us if we want to replace Flowplayer with the integrated Flash component in VideoJS 3.


Robot Reference Librarian at Tsinghua University, China

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 12:37pm.
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I finally found an English blog of the robot reference librarian called Xiao Tu implemented at the Tsinghua University, China. Here's the link.

Xiao Tu is a web chatting bot designed to help library users who need information but not totally sure what they are looking for. Xiao Tu was implemented with artificial intelligence technologies to mimic human capability in conducting conversations. In a large way it's an intelligent tutor for library information retrieval. Below is a screenshot from the above blog of the English translation of a conversation with Xiaotu.

The blog doesn't cover an interesting episode that happened a week ago. Xiaotu was taken down from the web because it had been mis-taught by bad people.


Leadership and Team Simulation: Everest V2

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Wed, 02/08/2012 - 6:33pm.
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I was browsing the Harvard Business Publishing for Educators and came across this award-winning simulation called Everest V2. This simulation places students in a dramatic scenario of expedition to Mount Everest and train them about group dynamics and leadership.

I haven't played the sim but learned about it in general by watching this video. In the sim, 5 students will work together to conquer Mount Everest in 6 simulated days in 1.5 actual hours. Each teammate is assigned a different role such as the captain, physician, marathon, and so on. And some roles have special responsibilities. For example, the physician needs to decide when and what medical supplies to be distributed to the teammates. On each day every teammate will make individual and collaborative decisions in order to complete the mission of the day. Decisions include, for example, how many oxygen canisters to carry for oneself, and what to do in case of heavy rain. In order to make collaborative decision, teammates can talk face-to-face if they sit together, or through instant messaging in the sim.


Research Digest: Understanding Complex Datasets: Data Mining With Matrix Decompositions

Submitted by Zhou Zhou on Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:44pm.
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Skillicorn, D. (2007). Understanding complex Datasets: Data Mining with Matrix Decompositions. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC

Description: This book provides a solid, in-depth review of various data mining techniques involving matrix decomposition, and how these techniques can be used to analyze complex datasets. It does not dig too deep in terms of the mathematics, but explains exceptionally well the general concepts, the procedures, the application with scalable examples, and the implication of the results. It covers the most commonly used and well established techniques including general matrix decomposition, Singular Value Decomposition (SVD), Semi-discrete Decomposition (SDD), using SVD and SDD together, Graph Analysis, Independent Component Analysis (ICA), Non-Negative Matrix Factorization (NNMF), and so on. I haven't looked into every chapter but found the discussions of SVD, SDD, and their combinations extremely useful for the project I'm working on. It even comes with Matlab code examples which I haven't had a chance to test them out.

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