Wednesday, 11 March 2009

From David Hockney to Photosynth: applications that build on social media content

During the latest mobile learning conferences, I was frequently surprised by the surplus of mobile learning possibilities. One of which is that the user would use her/his mobile phone, not just to capture the environment (whether it is audio, video, picture), but also to add to the reality s/he is experiencing.

So forget the virtual reality goggles that can be so heavy your head tilts if you were them, mobile learning is getting us all into a new realm of reality. In the coming weeks I will be posting some of these reality enhancing mobile solutions. Before going into mobile, I feel it is good to first see at what has been build two years ago and started some mobile researchers thinking.

Before diving completely in mixed reality, I feel that a first glance into adapted reality building could get you in the right mood. If you have not heard of it yet, I think you will like this application: photosynth of Microsoft. It is an application that builds on the result of social media applications that all of us help build together. This is an application that falls back on mobile devices or mobile learning in which the mobiles are used to capture pictures and add it to the group repository. The collected pictures of a certain topic are used by the software to get a more in-depth feel of that topic or material.

The below application is actually what I was dreaming about when I was a child. As a child I was overwhelmed by the photo collages David Hockney made. It just felt right when I watched those pictures. They mixed proximity with art. He combined detail with vast spaces in such a way the viewer could not help but get emotionally involved in the photo collage. And so I almost fell off my chair when I found Photosynth which is a free software that actually makes it possible to put a 3D feel into your flickr pictures or any type of pictures.

Photosynth is a software developed by Microsoft in collaboration with the University of Washington. It is a free software and it installs quite easily.

I first learned about it by a TED movie featuring Blaise Aguera y Arcas:

The photosynth promotion speaks of: "Imagine being able to share the places and things you love using the cinematic quality of a movie, the control of a video game, and the mind-blowing detail of the real world. With nothing more than a bunch of photos, Photosynth creates an amazing new experience." So I downloaded it, tried it and it rocks!

A quick demo on how to photosynth you can find here. You install the software (they do ask for your live messenger ID), take pictures of your interest in as many angles as possible (avoid reflective surfaces) and load them up to the software.

How does it relate to education? It brings (nearly) any environment closer to home, it opens up group work possibilities (each group gets a room in a museum to photosynth).... oooooh, I like it a lot! I should try to combine text with pictures, so to enable learners to find both visual and textual content. I like it though, if as a teacher you think through it you can liven up your classes easily.

Just to give you an idea, below you can find my first endeavor. I just took 46 pictures of a water fountain at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium (ITM) and loaded them to synth. Underneath you can see the result. I definitely need to fine tune my photosynthesizing, but it gives an idea of how quickly you can start it (you must have the software installed first to be able to watch the complete synth in motion).

If you have used great synths in your learning environment, let me know.