Virtual meetings are real-time interactions that take place over the Internet using integrated audio and video, chat tools, and application sharing. They offer a way to engage students in fully interactive, online learning experiences such as lectures, discussions, and tutoring. Many virtual meeting applications integrate with course management systems, providing students and faculty with a unified learning system including access to online meetings.
Telepresence refers to the application of complex video technologies to give geographically separated participants a sense of being together in the same location. These systems use high-definition cameras feeding to life-size, HD displays with high-fidelity acoustics that, in many cases, localize sound to image, simulating the effect of each voice coming from the video display for each participant. In sophisticated telepresence rooms, the furniture and displays are arranged in ways that further enhance the simulation—participants sit at a conference table and see high-resolution video of participants in remote locations at similar tables, allowing participants to imagine sharing a single table. Costs can be an obstacle, but as these systems become more affordable, they have the potential to open new kinds of shared instruction and provide a legitimate alternative to in-person meetings.
Google Wave is a web-based application that represents a rethinking of electronic communication. Users create online spaces called “waves,” which include multiple discrete messages and components that constitute a running, conversational document. Users access waves through the web, resulting in a model of communication in which rather than sending separate copies of multiple messages to different people, the content resides in a single space. Wave offers a compelling platform for personal learning environments because it provides a single location for collecting information from diverse sources while accommodating a variety of formats, and it makes interactive coursework a possibility for nontechnical students. Wave challenges us to reevaluate how communication is done, stored, and shared between two or more people.
Data visualization is the use of tools to represent data in the form of charts, maps, tag clouds, animations, or any graphical means that make content easier to understand. Graphic representations of data are popular because they open up the way we think about data, reveal hidden patterns, and highlight connections among elements. Because current web applications allow anyone with access to data to enter information and easily create a virtualization of it, students, informal learners, and the purely curious can now easily create visualizations that might reveal trends that were not obvious from the numbers alone. For scholars, particularly those whose conclusions depend on interpretation of complex statistics, data visualization offers the promise of easier communication and a wider audience for their findings.
Grid computing uses middleware to coordinate disparate IT resources across a network, allowing them to function as a virtual whole. The goal of a computing grid, like that of the electrical grid, is to provide users with access to the resources they need, when they need them. Grids address two distinct but related needs: providing remote access to IT assets, and aggregating processing power.
Remote instrumentation involves remote, network-based control of scientific instruments. The expense and complexity of specialized instruments limits some institutions’ access to them, and logistical issues may prevent institutions that have such instruments from fully utilizing them. Remote instrumentation addresses these access and efficiency issues to improve educational quality and student opportunities.
Multi-touch interfaces are input devices that recognize two or more simultaneous touches, allowing one or more users to interact with computer applications through various gestures created by fingers on a surface. Some devices also recognize differences in pressure and temperature. Multi-touch technology introduces users to swipes, pinches, rotations, and other actions that allow for richer, more immediate interaction with digital content. Multi-touch devices and supporting applications offer diverse ways of visualizing information to improve understanding, and they facilitate new ways to foster collaborative creation, permitting several users to work simultaneously on a single screen.
Haptics technologies provide force feedback to users about the physical properties and movements of virtual objects represented by a computer. Human-computer interaction is largely visual — words, data, or images on a screen. Input devices such as the keyboard or the mouse translate human movements into actions on the screen but provide no feedback to the user about those actions. Haptics incorporates both touch (tactile) and motion (kinesthetic) elements. For applications that simulate real physical properties — such as weight, momentum, friction, texture, or resistance — haptics communicates those properties through interfaces that let users “feel” what is happening on the screen.
Cyberinfrastructure is not a new technology, per se, or merely a better, faster Internet. While cyberinfrastructure brings together high-performance computing, remote sensors, large data sets, middleware, and sophisticated applications (modeling, simulation, visualization), it also involves people as participants in the generation of knowledge, giving them the opportunity to share expertise, tools, and facilities. Cyberinfrastructure merges technology, data, and human resources into a seamless whole.
VoiceThread is a media aggregator that allows people to post media artifacts—which might be a document, a slide presentation, a video, or a collection of photos—for community feedback.