Are they an Open Edtechpreneurship opportunity up for grabs? Updated on July 22nd, 2019

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They are engaging. They bring new layers of subject matter relevance. And if they want to reach their mainstream, they better provide Open Source creation alternatives. So why does the critical mass of LMS users remains so elusive towards them? Technological and talent barriers are usual suspects. Proprietary tech adds even more roadblocks to a successful appropriation of their potential. Could too little (or too much) marketing, lack of understanding about the purpose and the user, or just sheer lack of imagination the actual culprits?

In order to solve this mystery, we decided to explore the current state of interactive technologies available, with a soft spot for FOSS; and try to hint at their LMS adoption outlook. Some are newer than others, but all could use a warmer user base. And we know LMS could really use them too.

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H5P, to rule them all?

In fairness, we must acknowledge a couple of caveats, and make our best to prevent some likely misunderstandings. There have been recent successful interactivity technologies who enjoy a thriving community. Specifically, the open source standard H5P is altering the learning landscape as we speak. H5P is not perfect, and it might owe some of its success to luck. But there is no denying many critical elements were essential for H5P to enjoy the place it does today. Elements the new formats listed in this article would do well to have:

  • Their development was a long-term project. H5P was in a long-time incubation thanks to support by the Norwegian government, and it was expected to take several years.
  • Top talent attached. The agency in charge of its initial development was full with established talent in development and design. Craft and genuine interest has all kinds of effects across the board, performance and user experience
  • A clear vision. It allows for the technology to be aware of new developments and innovations, while remaining safe from fads and popular moods.
  • Verifiable benefits. With a modest communication budgets, their best advocates are none others than those for whom it solved a clear and actual problem.
  • It is Open Source. Last, but not least, and perhaps not the main factor but certainly a catalyzer for many if not all the previous ones.
Shot at #MootFR19

These also does not preclude the fact that H5P could be seen as not just one format, but a versatile Open Source authoring platform. Not necessarily a criticism: Another caveat we need to emphasize is that not every new form of interaction is always better than the good old ones. What is the use of a massive investment in gear and graphic environments for concepts that can be taught much more effectively through basic diagrams? Storytelling is similarly laden by “solutionism,” but the truth is that if the narrative isn’t compelling enough, more and newer tech will only make that more evident.

Ultimately, many would want to envision H5P not as another format, but as the encompassing platform for diverse interactivity types. Which in many respects it is already the case.

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Maps

When you think about it, there are few frameworks as comprehensive, reach and compelling as Geography. Natural and human history, geology, demographics, urbanism, architecture, social and political science. They all become easier to understand with a map nearby. And today, maps could very well be the most effective educational tool for some of our time’s most impending crisis, from climate change and biosphere protection, to urban management, traffic and pollution.

Over the years, Google has cemented a duplicitous reputation as educators’ best friend and most vexing foe. A generous volume of tools, initiative, and recurrent efforts to “solve” or “fix” education is then met by setbacks and plugs pulled. But there could be an exception in Google Maps, one of its less frustrating services and the result of a fascinating history.

Maps have been more or less present in many of Google’s educational initiatives over the years. It is not likely to expect that Google would ever produce LMS plugins, as they even stopped support for its own web browser; added to the possibility that they would still have LMS conquest aspirations via Google Classroom.

For the time being, the Google Maps API does provide a way to integrate this feature-rich tool. A “Google Earth Outreach” site provides an impressive showcase of what users can do, with plenty of ideas for educators:

  • Narrated tours (Check out a gallery)
  • Storytelling maps
  • Custom maps
  • Visualizing datasets over maps
  • Mapmaking automation with spreadsheets and KMZ files

An Open Edtechpreneur could leverage Google’s API for plugin or custom LMS development; alternatively, it could work on providing a similar level of functionality from fully open and free services, such as OpenStreetMap.

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AMP Stories

Love them or hate them, these video or heavily animated shorts invented by Snapchat and dominated by Instagram are popping across all your favorite apps sooner rather than later. For many it’s the next shape of online advertising. Could they be the next shape of learning?

In any case, they are a new opportunity to engage with learners in what many already find an attractive, or at least familiar format. There are several proprietary authoring tools available, but the standard is open source and HTML compatible. There should be no problem with embedding an AMP Story in your LMS.

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3D Content

Powerful computers, including that one in your pocket, are getting better at processing more resource-intensive graphics. At the same time, use cases for 3D content continue to evolve from a niche hobby to mainstream. Thanks, Pokémon Go to the classroom!

The fever may be over, but the technology, which happens to be FOSS, stayed. The gap, as digital artist and Creative Developer Arturo Paracuellos argues, is in bridging the skills and languages between programmers and, in our case, educators and instructional designers.

While games and virtual worlds are some obvious applications, more industry-related implementations are also growing in popularity. Industrial design and engineering teachers would do well getting acquainted with Sketchfab, which has been available in Moodle for ages.

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Structured Data

We see them most commonly on the “rich previews” or embeds that social media and some CMS provide when you paste a link to share or publish. Some standard protocols make it easier for content to comply and websites to generate the preview; Facebook’s Open Graph protocol is the most popular.

Moodle and other LMS already offer some level of functionality, which can be expanded with the use of filters.

But this is only one example. More data formats could make it easier for learners to interact with content from different sources. Unfortunately, this is not a feature an LMS could easily incorporate if the rest of the web does not conform to at least one structured data standard.

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WebXR: A specification for Open Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR\VR) experienced from web browsers

Brandon Jones would like you to think of WebXR as the first step in the unstoppable introduction of Mixed Reality into our online lives.

See

Representatives from companies and organizations member of W3C, web standards organization, finished in May the first working draft for the “WebXR Device API.” Once the standard is ready —a “Release Candidate” version will not be ready before December, 2019—, “XR” (Mixed Reality) experiences will be available in any conformant browser and device. Among other things, WebXR will:

  • Give user control on the tracking capabilities of the apps and experiences
  • Provide experiences and tools independent from anyone vendor, including FOSS alternatives. It will account for a wide range of user cases, varying on resource availability and “exoticism”
  • Be generally more functional and intuitive for developers and designers
  • Being web-based makes it easier for LMS and other systems to host, manage and introduce XR into modules and lessons
  • Be compatible with existing web development tools, IDEs, consoles, debuggers and so on
  • Be compatible with existing and popular analytics and tracking tools, including xAPI
  • Allow to add other web APIs into the mix
  • Be compatible with WebGL, currently the most popular web graphics standard
  • Of course, apps can take advantage of WebXR to introduce Mixed Reality elements into their feature set, as this “AR in Search” Android illustrates:

To be sure, the absence of specification has not prevented XR to be readily available. Chrome and Mozilla already provide some support, but a creator today must comply with different sets of rules.

One of the interesting things on the Open Source side is that at the forefront of the debate is Mozilla. The company behind the FOSS web browser Firefox has been bullish on XR through web browsers, specifically WebVR. A web-based specification has the potential to separate the experience from a specific hardware and software vendor, which has been the case so far. It also strengthens the position of free tools and frameworks.

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