I stumbled across a project called Vue recently through a friend’s Twitter feed and am intrigued by it. According to its website:

“The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The VUE project is focused on creating flexible tools for managing and integrating digital resources in support of teaching, learning and research. VUE provides a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.”

Some examples of how this could work can be found in the images. Basically it gives you a slate on which to pull in material from a variety of sources and make logical links between everything. It is the equivalent of an academic Visio diagram maker. That part is not, in and of itself, that revolutionary. In fact, it is still limited to 2D when actual conceptual understanding of relationships between entities, in my opinion, takes place only in 3D, with depth and layers. This does not take away from its usefulness as a presentation tool for teachers though.

The real advantage here is the fact that you can incorporate content from multiple locations, not just locally on your computer. You can pull PubMed, JSTOR, Flickr and other data seamlessly into the presentation. This aggregation into a single learning platform is a huge step in the right direction. Collaborative learning and teaching spaces, places where content of any type can be synthesized into greater discovery, is the future. In the online learning community, this is the true race, the only race in my opinion that matters. Vue is getting there, if only incrementally.

Think of some use cases for those skeptical teachers out there shaking your head.

1. History- teach complicated individual relationships with European monarchies at periods in history against a backdrop of a European map with the pictures of the heads of state and their complicated family relationships (thinking of the Hapsburgs here, House of Windsor, etc.) layered over top of the map. Think the series of alliances that precipitated World War I.

2. Language- background is a photo of a public gathering, perhaps Central Park or some such urban setting. People doing things, saying things. Teachers can show the image without connections and dialogue, descriptions of things in the photograph and have the students simulate what they think people are saying, people are doing. Then teachers reveals proper dialogue, connections, descriptions. I am looking at you, you ragamuffin ESL crowd (I say with much love).

3. Science- presenting chemical reactions, the operations of a car engine, space travel. All can be explained visually, logically and contextually with Vue.

If you are hungry for some more examples on how to use this in the classroom, check out the supporting Vue blog.

Now, the next step is to allow for derivative works, knowledge actually generated from the use of all these materials in collaborative spaces to produce new understanding, innovation. Just wait for it. Several projects in the works as we speak!

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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