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Addressing the Digital Divide

August 16, 2010

As Dr. Soloway (2009) indicated, the arrival of the future appears hinged on cost and support. In the case of the cell phone, since the cost of the device and access to the internet is low, the future is “accessible” to anyone who has a phone with the assumption that a hand-held device would be the technology that makes the connection to the future viable. In other words, we need to make sure this cost-factor and accessibility-factor are economically consistent to the entire world.

The difference between “cost” and “value” is key element in our current world of educational technology. Not everything that is costly has value; not everything that has value is costly. While the cost of a cell phone is negligible in terms of its cost to a citizen of the Western world, one cannot say the same thing in most other regions of the world. For example, it is common to have cell phone users in certain Asian countries depend on local technicians to repair and re-repair their cell phones over multiple generations of the device. This means that newer technology will be inaccessible to most people in socio-economic structures where cost and value are mutually exclusive.

With an estimated 800,000 Chinese handsets flooding into India every month—in 2008 figure was even higher, about 1.5 million—the government is restricting the number of cell phones in use fearing that terrorists could use untraceable phones (see Dean Nelson’s report).  This restriction will further widen the digital-divide because a governmental restriction will be the result of imposed higher costs. While Dr. Soloway makes the broad assumption that cost and access is relatively equal across genders, cultures, and socio-economic structures, the reality of the situation is that technology accessibility may have to be subsidized by governments for equal access to all citizens.

To make technology valuable to people across cultures, genders, and socio-economic structures, I think we would need to act on the following:

  1. We must know what specific technology works for individuals with well-defined needs. For example, someone with a disability needs to advocate his or her own needs. That individual needs to clearly communicate what is the need and what technology would fill that need. Additionally, by working with the student, developers can minimize access barriers (see Bergstahler’s report)
  2. We need to insist on universal design by including a wide range of anticipated characteristics of users and accessibility features into the design of an innovation.
  3. By providing rich technology experiences for all students, teachers can diminish the digital divide (see Swain and Pearson’s report)
  4. Pursue and encourage the 50×15 initiative. Advanced Micro Devices support to empower 50% of the world’s population by the year 2015. As Hector Ruiz noted, “Technology is only as powerful as it is accessible. Broader access brings education, information, and a sense of community that can help combat AIDS, malnutrition, ignorance and neglect. The power of a connected and enlightened world community is just beginning (ICT, 2010).”

It is my conviction that by engaging consistently and persistently in these and other activities, as an educational technology leader I can enhance the value of technology to people across cultures, genders, and socio-economic structures.


ICT, (2010). The Digital Divide, ICT and the 50×15 Initiative. Retrieved

Burgstahler, S. (n.d.). Bridging the digital divide in post-secondary education:

Technology access for youth with disabilities. Retrieved from

Soloway, E. (2009). The digital divide: Leveling the playing field. Retrieved from

Swain, C. & Pearson, T. (2001). Learning and leading with technology. 28(8), 10-13, 59.


Technology Obsolescence and Emergence

August 16, 2010

Mobile Computing

August 16, 2010

In this video, I present an overview of Mobile Computing, tracing its development and highlighting its characteristics using the concept of miniaturization as it applies to computing technology. I provide facts about this innovation in terms of the product conception, development, commercialization, process of diffusion, attributes of innovations that apply to it, the rate of its adoption in relation to the adopter categories, the roles of change agents, its application to organizations, and the related consequences. I close with a challenge to the Board of Directors of my educational institution to adopt the innovation and follow my plan for the enhancement of educational outcomes and to meet our expanding curricular needs.

Increasing Returns and Red Queens

August 12, 2010

I borrowed the movie, A Scanner Darkly, from the local public library. The Nicholson Memorial Library in South Garland is well-maintained facility with an extensive collection of DVDs, music CDs, and various categories of books. Its collection is suitable for a community college. I have made extensive use of this library over several years. The librarians are knowledgeable and always ready to help the library patrons. Since I am not a movie watcher and do not habitually watch the latest movies on the big screen or on my computer, I am unfamiliar with Netflix and other video-on-demand services.

Arthur (1996) defines increasing returns as “the tendency for that which is ahead to get further ahead, for that which loses advantage to lose further advantage” (p. 100). Thornburg (2008c) describes increasing returns as two innovations that hit the market at about the same time but by chance, one technology stays locked in and drives the other to extinction. The typical example is the fight between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Red Queens are not as common as a force as others. As Thornburg explains, it is the existence of a huge competition between two technologies, in the process of which, they leave behind all other competitors; currently, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox are in a similar battle to determine which browser reigns supreme.

In view of these definitions and explanations, DVDs and video-on-demand are examples of increasing returns at different stages of the competition. First, DVDs appeared long before video-on demand; the two did not begin competing for the same market at about the same time. The competition between the two began much later. While DVDs have a well-established production cycle in terms of the timing of movie releases and the worldwide consumer market, video-on-demand began when broadband connections to the internet began to increase and the cost of large capacity magnetic storage medium began to decrease. With the latter in place, Netflix and other video-on-demand vendors could purchase movies at competitive prices from movie publishers and, for a mutually agreeable fee, charge the customers for streaming video content to the PC, Wii, PS3, XBOX 360, internet connected Blu-Ray players and HD TVs, mobile devices (iPad), and TiVo. Furthermore, Netflix mails DVDs to it customers per their choice with no late-fee charges. These features among others cost the customer less than $9.00 per month. At this stage when both DVDs and video-demand offer various advantages to customer, they begin to compete uniquely under the force of increasing returns. Since Netflix offers it customers DVDs, the competition is between the methods of delivering content.

Video on demand (VOD) services began in the mid-nineties in Europe and began to grow rapidly with every increase in internet bandwidth. Currently in the US, EchoStar/Dish Network and DirecTV offer VOD services to subscribers who own personal video recorders (PVR). A customer can play, pause, and seek at their convenience any program that he or she downloaded. DVDs appeared on the market in 1995 as a joint venture between Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Time Warner. The Digital Entertainment Group indicated that in 2006 DVD sales was $16.6 billion and DVD rental was $7.5 billion. Considering the timeframe of their introduction into the market, VOD and DVDs appear to serve a wide variety of customers. Those customers who do not have broadband or satellite connectivity, Blu Ray DVDs will continue to be in the “Enhance” quadrant of McLuhan’s tetrad; the enhancement is over VHS tapes and standard DVDs. For those who do not own a Blu Ray player, standard DVDs are positioned in the “Enhance” quadrant as well. VOD services are definitely in the “Enhance” quadrant because they are improving the customer’s rate of access to content while providing multiple devices on which to download streaming video. Considering their existence for over fifteen years, DVDs may become obsolete once every home has at least a broadband connection.


Arthur, W. B. (1996). Increasing returns and the new world of business. Harvard Business Review, 74(4), 100−109.

Thornburg, D. (2008c). Red Queens, butterflies, and strange attractors: Imperfect lenses into emergent technologies. Lake Barrington, IL: Thornburg Center for Space Exploration.

Thornburg, D. D. (2009a). Increasing returns. [Vodcast]. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Thornburg, D. D. (2009b). Red queens. [Vodcast]. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Second Life

July 29, 2010

Second Life as a Disruptive Technology

In this imaginative and creative environment, visiting Second Life is akin to stepping into a Dali or Magritte painting in 3D. Second Life is disruptive in the sense that you do not know what or who you will meet considering the fully textured high-resolution avatars that are customizable to the nth degree with numerous sliders to change every pixel of the avatar’s shape, size, color, and identity. As Christensen illustrated the arrival of microcomputers as disruptive to the mini-computers that were the main products manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). In real life, when we introduce ourselves to another human in a social gathering, we may smile and shake one’s hand in a Western culture. In Second Life, the unexpected is, as some “Lifers” (the preferred nickname of Second Life citizens) like to call it, fun!

Second Lifer’s experience with banking was a disastrous meltdown. David Talbot reported Linden Lab’s decision to close virtual banks since participants’ steep losses in real money, in some cases, exceeded $700, 000. In real life, citizens have recourse in that the Federal Government insures most individual accounts up to $250,000. The disruptive nature of Second Life has a negative side in that it has changed participants play games, conduct business, engage in learning, involve themselves in social endeavors, modify cultural norms, initiate mutually acceptable social etiquette, and negotiate numerous other scenarios all of which are non-negotiable in the real world. Second Life, as a disruptive technology, has forced established educational and commercial institutions to change how they operated (See Keith Nuthall’s analysis). Its concepts are unfamiliar and dissimilar to traditional educational paradigms. However, using it one can create student-centered teaching strategies, role-playing, simulations, discussions, and authentic learning experiences.

Technology that Second Life Displaced

Second Life is a virtual world environment with heightened experiences that mirror real-world ones. Nintendo, GameBoy, Play Station 2, Wii, and the Xbox 360 provide remarkable virtual experiences. It appears that Second Life could displace all of these virtual reality platforms, educational, training classrooms, office meeting, work collaboration areas, a streaming server, and even Skype (disruptive telephony; see also Virtual World News) with comparable, and in some cases, superior audio and visual 3D experiences. Additionally, metaverse is emerging through the increased use of these virtual world technologies (OpenSim, Open Croquet, Activeworlds, Open Source Metaverse, and Open Wonderland) as platforms for users to create, develop, and interact expanding the realm of human cooperation and creativity.

Second Life’s Extended Life

Rosedale described how consistent feedback from users helps to improve various aspects of Second Life. His futuristic mindset and drive to push this technology forward causes one to speculate that he may obsolete his own creation and replace it with another generation of Second Life. While Second Life has its unique advantages, the technological limitations, human interests, diversity of values, multifarious cultural vicissitudes, and changing social norms, are substantial challenges that are harder to predict than to overcome. Consequently, its life expectancy would depend on these factors and the ingenuity of developers to change with the times or until they are unable to rise above the level of their incompetence (the Peter Principle).

Second Life’s Social Benefits

Second Life provides selected social benefits in the fields of education and sociology. Using virtual gaming concepts, individuals can use online lessons to learn English and Spanish. The benefits of education include the existence of numerous learning institutions, it provides an engaging learning environment (rather than reading about the Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel, why not walk through it), collaborate with other learning organizations, reach more students, and learn “green.” The virtual world is emerging as the next generation for instructional delivery as illustrated by this video of Ohio University’s Second Life campus (see Patricia Deubel’s article). Online social interaction enhances the real-life social skills where people communicate through their avatars using chat-like features, meet at dance clubs, join special interest groups, and conduct rewarding business ventures. The Federal Government has begun focusing on how the FDA-regulated products should use social media and Second Life for health-related communications thus providing unique benefits for the public.

While the positive aspects of Second Life are distinct, its negative experiences are significant as well. The playing of massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) affects the attitudes, feelings, and experiences of online players. Hussain and Griffiths (2009) in their qualitative analysis studied 71 online gamers from 11 different countries and found that the online gaming affects day-to-day lives, promotes gaming addiction, presents negative psychosocial behavior, players redefine the value of time and mood states, and provides temporary relief from real-world negative feelings. Additionally, motivations for online users to engage in a virtual world experience are as unique as they are varied. Yee (2006) noted that users who experienced isolation in the real world sought immersive and interactive engagement in the virtual world. Rosedale’s youthful reasons to do things that he always wanted to but could not in the real world appears to be true for most Second Life gamers. Yee observed that demographic variables of age, gender, and usage patterns reflected the modified real world users’ values that aligned with the answer to Rosedale’s “what if I could” question.


Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M. D. (2009, December). The attitudes, feelings, and experiences of online gamers: A qualitative analysis. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(6), 747-743. Doi: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0059. International Gaming Research Unit. Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. Retrieved from  

Yee, N. (2006, December). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9(6), 772-775. Doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.772. International Gaming Research Unit. Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. Retrieved from

Helpful Supplemental Resources

Annotated Bibliography of Second Life Educational Online Resources at

Breaking the Stereotype: The Case of Online Gaming at

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking at

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research at  

The Daedalus Gateway – Survey of 35,000 MMORPG players over the past five years at

The International Journal of Computer Game Research at

Rhymes of History

July 14, 2010

Rhymes of history are indicative of those technologies that are fresh emergences resulting from the impact felt many years before from another technology (Thornburg, 2009a). I see audiovisual communication devices as clear examples of the innovations as rhymes of history.

We are all familiar with the telephone as much as we are with the television set. The images of individuals and groups—regardless of culture and social status—can identify these two technological devices. A few years after the patent for the telephone in the United States, pioneers in the field of communication described a concept of a combined videophone/widescreen television called a telephonoscope (image on the left). Engineers saw the merging of audio and video into one single unit. A few of them conceptualized audio as the driving force for visual communications while others considered video as the predominant medium that needed associated audio. What intrigued early developers was audio and video communication each of which a pair of individuals could manipulate.

In keeping with Kelly’s concepts of embodiment, restructuring, and codependency, the videophone became the buzzword in terms of audiovisual communication that was private, secure, and simple to use. The picturephone became the world’s first commercial videophone produced in volume and described by a detailed article in Bell Lab’s Record of 1969.

Today the widest deployment of videophones is by mobile devices. Today’s IP-based desktop communication devices (Nortel’s model 1535 – image on the right), handheld mobile phones (Sony’s vodaphone), and Skype are examples of rhymes of history. Concepts visualized decades back are emerging afresh in devices that are aesthetically inviting and technologically appealing.


Thornburg, D. (2009a). Evolutionary Technologies. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from

Tetrad for E-Books

July 1, 2010

Michael Hart of the Gutenberg Project was the first to envision the e-book and produce it at no cost to the user. Currently, Project Gutenberg offers over 32,000 free e-books for the PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, Android, and other portable devices.

The graph on the left shows the rapid increase of e-book publications between the years 2002 and 2008. This period corresponds with the increase in the number of e-readers, which is a reflection of a technology that has emerged.

E-books enhances the reading experience of user because of the reader’s lightweight, large memory capacity, readability in low light or in the dark, text-to-speech software support, its low cost when compared to printed equivalents, and its environmental friendliness.

E-books obsoletes the printed text medium as it replaces large numbers of digital equivalents of printed books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other material with a handheld device. The device is small enough to fit in a woman’s purse or placed in a three-ring binder. Shown on the right is Sony’s e-reader.

E-books retrieve the early version of the notebook where students used chalk on a writing slate. It brings backs the experience of students of the 1800s when slate was cheaper than paper. The introduction of the e-book and an associated e-reader retrieved the memories and efficiencies of the past in a way that is new, freeing, and invigorating. On a recent visit to a South Asian country, I was not surprised to find writing slates in active use. One student proudly displayed two writing slates, one for English and the other for Math both had finely printed text that was no larger than 14 points. Such a memory recall is only meaningful to the generation who would appreciate the chalk and writing slate of yesteryear.

E-books reverse into a web of hyperlinked material. Publishers may provide future e-readers with the titles, authors, and summaries of every possible genre known. The purchase of an e-book will provide countless links to supplemental material for immediate purchase or with access to other networked readers who could share the text for a specific period. A whole class of students could purchase all the required textbooks and have them reside on multiple readers networked for mutual access for the duration of a specific course.

If Pablo Picasso’s saying, “everything you can imagine is real” is verifiably true, then nothing hinders one from imagining the establishment of a society that thrives on people’s mutual interconnectedness and with technology since the reality of today’s tomorrow is only exceeded by the virtual reality of tomorrow’s today.