The Center For Teaching (CFT) at Vanderbilt University: The Future of Teaching


University educators are reevaluating how higher education can be influential on three fronts: how can university teaching keep up with the pace of new technology, how can students maintain creativity in their pursuits under great economic pressure, and how can teachers incite a sense of social responsibility on the part of their students?

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TEDx Nashvile: A Sense of Wonder


On Saturday, April 9, 2011 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center,  TEDxNashville hosted its second annual event titled "Wonder".

Distinguished leaders in technology, entertainment, design, science, art, education, government, public policy, healthcare and other areas will share their remarkable thoughts and ideas focused on creating positive changes in our society.

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Remember your friend's dad with the way over-the-top organized garage with every tool imaginable? (If that was your dad, I'm sorry.) Well, I bet he didn't have plasma cutter or 3-D printer, and if he did, you didn't have the security clearance to touch it!

TechShop is that cyber-cool chop shop. Plus, if you are a member, you can touch all the tools, and, for example, make your own BattleBot. They have wicked classes like "How To Cut Shapes Out of Metal with the Plasma Cutter" and "How To Use a Laser to Cut and Etch Food".

TechShop was founded in 2006 by Jim Newton, a lifetime maker, veteran BattleBots builder and former MythBuster. The original TechShop is located in Menlo Park, California, on the San Francisco peninsula 25 miles south of San Francisco, with nine other locations across the US.

[ Thanks to M. Frisse. ]

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TechShop is a fully-equipped open-access workshop and creative environment that lets you drop in any time and work on your own projects at your own pace. It is like a health club with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment...or a Kinko's for geeks.
Anyone can come in and build and make all kinds of things themselves using the TechShop tools, machines and equipment, and draw on the TechShop instructors and experts to help them with their projects.

TechShop is designed for everyone, regardless of their skill level. TechShop is perfect for inventors, "makers", hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don't have the tools, space or skills.

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NPR: High-Tech Pen Makes Note-Taking Easier

I have just tested the LiveScribe SmartPen and might be in love.

This pen is a digital audio recorder and camera built into a large ballpoint pen. It timestamps every note I take using the special spiral-bound notebook with almost imperceptible dot-matrixed paper.

After I finish taking notes, i click the pen on the part of the image or text and the audio recorder plays back whatever was being recorded at that time.

Now, if they can just come out with a 4' x 8' whiteboard version with multiple colors and a portable Aeron chair with lumbar support, I'd be set!

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Morning Edition, April 21, 2008 · A California company has invented a new pen. It features a camera mounted on the nib and a microphone that records audio, along with a docking cradle that allows uploads to a computer. But some note-takers still prefer quiet, old-fashioned pens and paper.

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The Wisdom of Designing Cradle to Cradle

Gavin Blake in Australia, suggests viewing this video from TED 2005. William McDough quotes Kevin Kelly, "There is no end game, there is only The Infinite Game."

Architect and designer William McDonough asks what our buildings and products would look like if designers took into account "All children, all species, for all time." A tireless proponent of absolute sustainability (with a deadpan sense of humor), he explains his philosophy of "cradle to cradle" design, which bridge the needs of ecology and economics. He also shares some of his most inspiring work, including the world's largest green roof (at the Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan), and the entire sustainable cities he's designing in China.

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Clothes That Look Hip and Track Your Vital Signs, Too
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De Rossi, who has worked on robotic skin and motion-capture tech for Darpa and the US National Institutes of Health, began exploring the idea of fabric as a data-collection medium 12 years ago. Most of his designs employ thin, pliable strands of conductive steel spun with cotton or polyester fibers into yarn. The Wealthy suit has nine electrodes and conductive leads woven in, yet the fabric looks and feels completely normal.

The challenge in incorporating sensors into clothing — even skin-tight unitards — is that the fabric shifts when the body moves, resulting in sloppy, irregular signals. To deal with this, De Rossi's team developed software algorithms to clean up the data, along with code to reconstruct the wearer's movements. These programs are the real genius behind the company's work.

"Even when you are sick, if you have something that doesn't look nice, you don't want to put it on."

Getting the Whole Spimey Backstory

As sensor technology becomes cheaper to deploy, and the metadata embedded therein and broadcast therefrom becomes richer and more detailed, we approach a time in which every tennis shoe and ham sandwich has its own backstory.

We can know whether the pig in the sandwich had a happy life, or, more important, if it was exposed to harmful bacteria or unethical farming practices.

In his book Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling makes much of the emerging product form tagged with his self-created neologism... spime.

These are "material instantiations of an immaterial system, digitally manufactured things from virtual plans." In layman's terms, these are objects that can be manufactured, tracked, interacted with and recycled through digital systems embedded in the object and the environment. Now, knowing a product's backstory is emerging as a core principle of commerce.

[Listen to Sterling's discription of spime here. Or watch the oddly unnerving interview segment, SpimeTime on]
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Principle 1: The Backstory

As the public gains interest and personal investment in living more sustainably, knowing the backstory becomes increasingly important. Whether it's food, lifestyle products, building materials -- most everything in the designed or built environment -- a big part of making good choices involves knowing where things come from, what's inside them, and how they got to point of use. If we know the backstory as consumers, we can make good choices; and if businesses and designers know they'll have to tell the story of their product, they make sure it's a story someone would want to hear.

The Future Perfect Sense

My New Year's resolution is this: To be more observant.

Recently, my family downshifted from living in a city neighborhood behind two national sports team stadiums (oh, the fireworks--they never ceased!) to living in a little house on a 23-acre farm in rural Tennessee.

Now, I find myself walking and listening again in a way that had been degraded by the rhythm of taxi-airport-work-airport-taxi-home. This morning as I walked along a muddy gravel road, instead of the dull thuds of a souped up Lincoln Navigator thumping Hip Hop beats, I heard what turned out to be two teenage boys galloping up the ridge on horseback.

Jan Chip is an extreme observer. As Principal Researcher in the Mobile HCI Group at Nokia Research, Jan divides his time between running user studies and developing new applications, services and products. As he writes, "If I do my job right, you'll be using the product 3 to 15 years from now."
In the majority of culture that his team studied, three objects were considered essential across all participants, cultures and genders were keys, money and mobile phone.

(Read Jan's essay Why We Carry Mobile Phones).
But his job (and personal obsession) is observing The Now through the eyes of an ethnologist. Whether beer bottles discarded at Tibetan holy sites, playfully designed rat traps in Asian airports, or the menu of a Chinese "greasy spoon" (rats again!), or international rubbish collection norms, Jan's eye catches the easy-to-miss details and strings them into deep cultural patterns.

His blog, Future Perfect, is inspired by the traveling research required by his day job, but Jan admits, "The material that you see on this site is what I do in my spare time - the stuff that inspires or challenges me, helps me understand how the future might turn out."