Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tag, you're it

This week I was investigating QR Codes and Microsoft Tags when I came across this article from EDUCAUSE . As a quick background, QR Codes and Tags are types of matrix or 2 dimensional barcodes that contain information that a reader on a smartphone (using the built in camera) can use to route users to a website, add contact information to an address book or make a phone call.

For instance, the image you see here is a Microsoft Tag with the web address of the Advisory Bored blog embedded. If you had a smartphone with the free tag reader you could point your smartphone camera at the image and it would launch the browser and navigate to the Advisory Bored blog. Now imagine if the image were on a business card, placed in a newspaper ad or printed on the side of a bus. (I was researching the idea of printing a Tag on those big white land use signs that go up whenever there is a new building development or a zoning code change.)

It was not, however, the use of QR Codes in particular that most interested me in the EDUCAUSE article; it was the cross-discipline student project highlighted on the first page.  The project has at least four major aspects.  First, there is the biology, compiling the information about the plants.  Second, the team members had to deal with technological issues like information access and user education/training. Third, there was the information management challenge to make sure the content presentation was sensitive to different technologies (phones vs PCs).  Finally, there was a myriad of logistical issues from coordinating with the docents to printing the QR Codes to staffing the guest booth.

More and more, work is characterized by this type of team project in which different people from different areas of the organization (and across organizations) must collaborate to accomplish a goal.  It is my sense, however, that educational assessment, particularly in secondary schools, is still focused on individual performance.  On more than one occasion I have heard from teachers that group projects present significant challenges for student assessment.  That's unfortunate, because those are precisely the skills the workforce of today and tomorrow need.  

An example that's a little closer to home is the Western Washington University V45 project team for the Progressive X Prize competition, a $10 million dollar challenge to build production-capable cars getting 100 MPGe.  Look down that participant list.  You've got business students, materials sciences students and vehicle design students all working toward that prize.  (The V45 was eventually eliminated, but did an outstanding job getting to the finals.)

So what's the take-away?  I'll toss out four, just to get us started:

  1. project management and collaboration skills are essential and should be fostered even at the high school level
  2. projects that cross areas of study and extend out beyond the campus are far more interesting and potentially more educational
  3. teachers will need to develop curriculum that is team-based and be prepared to address all the issues that teams present (such as the ability for teams to "fire" members who aren't participating)
  4. advisory boards need to be clear and indicate if they think a program should emphasize "team project work" or "individual project work"