35W Bridge Rendering

35W Bridge Rendering


It was just over a year ago when I began this blog and wrote about the collapse of Minneapolis’ I-35W bridge. I focused that post on the city-enabled wireless technology deployed within hours of the collapse, aiding communications to and among first responders (since the cellular networks were overloaded), and proivding an avenue for real-time sharing of information and videos with the rest of the world. Given that I live in the Twin Cities and the focus of this blog – in a round-about way, is about technology – I thought it a fitting post then and again now, to talk about the technology used in the new bridge. 

I haven’t personally traveled on the bridge yet, but have noticed significant relief from the congestion on nearby arteries, used as alternative routes routinely. I think all Twin Citians can claim a little less stress and time to commute cross-town now.

While not every last piece is completed, the builders, Flatiron Constructors Corp., say that substantial work has been done, with only the trimmings remaining. This will be carefully measured as the company’s $234 million contract included a $200,000-a-day incentive for each day the bridge was finished before December 24, 2008.

But back to the technology piece; some boast that the cutting-edge technology will make this new 35W bridge a model for future bridges, as well as a model for bridge inspection and maintenance. Here is an excerpt from a recently published Minnesota Public Radio article by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio, September 16 (includes audio file):

The key to the new design is redundancy, that means it’s designed to transfer load between different parts of the bridge. If one section fails, the others will pick up the slack and prevent a collapse. But it’s the so-called Smart Bridge technology that really sets it apart. The new span is fitted with 323 sensors that will take regular readings on the bridge’s condition. Each one will monitor things like deck movement, stress and temperature. The data will be collected and analyzed by a team from the University of Minnesota. MnDot officials said the information will make bridge inspection and maintenance much easier over the life of the bridge.”

This may help skittish bridge goers feel a bit less apprehensive about traversing the Mississippi River over by the U of M, but I’m wondering where the funds will come from to repair the myriad other bridges in urgent need of repair. All eyes were on this one due to shocking nature of a very large section of a bridge going down in one huge hunk and the devastation it caused (or the potential fear it generated in wondering which bridge is next).

It’s always a catch-up game in the U.S., with domestic issues (let’s count them) being terribly underfunded. I am always hopeful that some day we can jettison our quick-fix mentality for a long term preventive strategy, but that takes a willingness to fund these necessary projects and yes, might just require an increase in taxes or a re-prioritization of our revenues.

Well, until we can stay ahead of the game, it’s back to whack-a-mole.

For additional information on the I-35W bridge collapse and reconstruction, here are some links.


[This is the second installment of a series of posts, which will document my own process in giving my fall course a total makeover. I teach Operations Management, an upper division course in the College of Management. This is my first face-to-face course in several years; I’ve taught exclusively online for the past 5 years. I will attempt to re-engineer my course delivery to make use of learner-centered tools, many considered included in the world of Web 2.0. It will be an interesting experiment, one I hope will benefit my students. If you haven’t read earlier posts on this topic, I’ve provided links at the very end of this post.] 

Here it is the third week of the semester and three class sessions have come and gone and I have much to report already (it’s all good). But yes, I’m counting the weeks (12 left) because I still have much preparation in any given week to help my vision of making each session both relevant and learner-centered, come alive.

Here’s a recap of my vision for change in conducting this course makeover:

  1. Replace my lectures (albeit relatively shorter than average) with super mini lectures (max 20 min) which are energized, interesting multi-media presentations. I talk only to shore up what I consider are the most important themes, concepts, or facts for any given class session. Everything else can be found in the required reading or the myriad materials I have posted to the online course site.
  2. Have the students spend most of their 3 hours and 20 minutes together working on relevant course projects mimicking the way the business environment collaborates on projects. 
  3. Incorporate several free Web 2.0 technologies, increasing the time students are serving as active participants in the construction of their knowledge, rather than being passive recipients of it.

Here’s what I changed:

  1. I redesigned my assessment activities to be team-based, learner centered and more relevant.
  2. I replaced individual assignments with more current, team-based activites/projects.
  3. I eliminated my boring bulleted overhead slides from five years prior. I now use the computer exclusively to present, using Power Points the way they should be used, to accent concepts, to link to interesting external sources, learning objects, or videos, and to embed some humor.
  4. I am limiting my mini lecture presentations to 8 or fewer slides.
  5. I eliminated heavy exams and replaced them with “quiz-lights,” reducing the value of their portion of the total grade to 11% (down from 40%).
  6. I eliminated term papers prepared in pairs, replacing those assessment activities with team-based assignments. The outputs for each assessment will be wiki presentations full of multi-modal artifacts. Artifacts can include (not a comprehensive list) useful Web resources/links, paraphrased content, reflections on a topic, Wikipedia definitions, YouTube videos, their own self-made videos or audio files, images, charts, learning objects, or whatever they find relevant to the assignment.
  7. I had the class moved to a computer lab for the entire semester.
  8. I am mixng up some of the class discussions by using live conferencing software (WebEx) – instead of verbal discussion.
  9. I set up a class wiki, where students will publish the results of their team projects and in-class activities. In this way, the results are available for the entire semester, and anyone in the class can add or modify the content over time, add comments, or interesting links. Plus as students are reporting out during class, they have a visual collaborative software to view and work on.
  10. I am allowing enough time in class to provide instruction and practice on new technolgoies introduced.

Early results:

  1. The energy in the room is high and lasts right up until the last minute of class. Last night they didn’t stop working at 9:20. In the past they couldn’t wait to get out of class. Gone are  the yawns and uninterested faces right around 8:30 PM.  
  2. Almost everyone is contributing actively, engaged with each other and many with me as I walk around the room. No one is hiding in the back of the room, under the radar.
  3. They readily formed teams during the seond week with absolutely no prompting on my part. 
  4. They have willingly embraced the notion of team projects, with team scores, if it means less individual “heavy” homework, such as writing two papers on their own or completing 5-6 indivudual problem-based assignments.
  5. At first some were nervous about learning new technologies, but everyone is on board with what has been introduced to date, with very little assistance required. Class mates are willingly helping each other as needed.

Last night I asked my students to at some point in the semester, weigh in on their experience with this course. They are quite aware of the fact that I am trying something radically different. I won’t really know the results of this course makeover until I: 1)see their grades, 2)have more weeks to observe, and 3) (perhaps most important) ask them! As vulnerable as it feels, I will make sure their comments are included on this blog.

Prior post: Part 1 of this series

If you’re super connected to social networking, use different instant messaging products, have several email accounts, or want to toggle between texting to/from your cell and your computer, the first tool may be for you. It gives you instant access to, and a running stream of your Facebook updates/feeds, blends all of your IM buddies regardless of source, and provides access to your different email accounts, in one neat cockpit.

If you subscribe to several RSS/news feeds, want to read the top sports stories, see the weather, or if you use Mapquest, Wikipedia or visit YouTube frequently, consider personalizing your own Web portal by using the second tool.

Thanks to my colleague and revered tech guru (not his real job), Todd Digby (only coincidental name connection), I configured the following tools just yesterday to streamline many of my Web surfing activities.

  • Digsby: is a proprietary multiprotocol instant messaging application (from Wikipedia). So what does that mean? In about five minutes, you can set up a downloadable piece of software to connect all your instant messaging tools (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, etc) along with your email accounts, and social networks (Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter only). My complaint is that I’d like to see other social networks such as Plaxo and LinkedIn offered as well. Here’s what the cockpit looks like:
























When you scroll over the “F” icon -at the left – for Facebook, it brings up your feed, from which you can access your profile, messages, friends, photos. And it all sits down in your icon tray.





  • iGoogle: It’s a personalized Google page, where you can add web feeds and Google gadgets. Much like NetVibes, PageFlakes, MyYahoo. use it as a portal to most of your most valued sites and feeds, saving gobs of time. For us educators, I think it has critical importance for the future of eLearning systems, in that it teaches us how to set up a carousel-like page, with multiple offerings to the myriad tools students can use to construct knowledge. That is how experimenting faculty (such as M. Wesch) are beginning to set up their classes — where the LMS becomes just one tool, not necessarily the centerpiece, functioning more quietly as an operating system (to collect dropbox items, as an electronic gradebook and to issue quizzes).


These feed-driven portals go far beyond the present LMS capabilities, so if faculty want to use them, they’re on their own presently, to set them up and help their students use them. I predict that iGoogle, NetVibes, and the like will become the templates for the next design iteration of LMSs everywhere. That may not be a bad thing, as LMS companies start redesigning for extensibility. I surely hope the next LMS (if there is to be a single entry point), goes  beyond adding only internal/proprietary tools but instead is redesigned to more closely resemble a customized learning space where each faculty member can add external widgets deemed the best for engaging learners and improving outcomes. 

This is just a prediction – but all instincts say I’m on target. Anyway, here’s what my iGoogle page looks like (click on pic to get a larger view):



I’m an avid follower of Michael Wesch. You may know of him, most notably from his You Tube videos. I’ve been watching quiety for over a year now, and am ready to go full throttle modeling much of my net gen fall course experiment after his “stuff.”

Now we all have access to what he is doing, via his presentation at the University of Manitoba this past June. The university’s Information Services and Technology unit has been kind enough to post it publicly. Do as I will – watch, listen, and learn….at the feet of an incredibly humble master. 🙂

Michael Wesch and the Future of Education
Presentation June 17, 2008
University of Manitoba
66 minutes


[This is a first post of a several-post series, which will document my own process and reflections of teaching a face-to-face course, for the first time in several years. I will be attempting to re-engineer my course delivery to make use of learner-centered tools, many considered included in the world of Web 2.0. It will be an interesting experiment, one I hope will benefit my students.]

I’m an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University where I teach Operations Management part-time. It’s a good way for me to practice implementing new teaching and learning practices and attempt to model walking my talk, of using constructivist learning methods, where the student is actively engaged with his or her own learning. This is a departure from the “transmission model” of teaching, long practiced at many colleges and universities, where the learner is a passive recipient of information (i.e., the lecture).

The Challenge

I’ve been teaching my course (Operations Management) at Metro State for about 9 years, but am facing an interesting dilemma going into fall term in just two weeks’ time. This will be my first face-to-face course in 5 years. While many faculty are daunted by the process of putting their courses online, I’m panick-stricken at the prospects of teaching back in the classroom – in REAL time. I find this quite ironic, and have asked myself why. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. My Pop Culture Examples Have Sadly Aged and I Don’t Know What Funny is to 20+

It goes without saying that as I get older, the students get younger. Teaching online helps to buffer some of the generation gap. (I graduated college in 1973, you do the math.) In teaching face-to-face, I need a ready supply of business examples that relate to my students’ experiences. The last time I faced students eyeball to eyeball, Game Boy and Play Station were the big products on the market. Furthermore when I got to the quality control part of the curriculum, I always referred to the car reservation bit in Seinfeld (anyone can take a reservation, but it’s the holding of the car that’s most important). The last time I did so (before the existence of YouTube), I may as well have been from Mars. I’m afraid my pop culture examples aren’t funny to anyone except my peers. While I don’t believe I have to entertain my students, I do believe in an appropriate amount of interspersed humor during a long night of class. The kids I helped raise are all grown now so I’ve lost access to my personal pop culture observatory.

2.  My Active Learning Methods Need a Makeover

When I first started teaching I used what I thought was an active learning model; small lecture, lots of paired and group activities including case analysis, presentations, debate, etc. Each week I taught the most important nuggets, and each week they worked in groups, talking, then reporting out to the whole class. The short lecture piece is fine, and having them work together is fine; but this “reporting out” thing is just way too passive and old-world . Enter Web 2.0 where students create and publish content – and I have plans to have students use them, right in class.

3. I Have to Get Relevant in My Class Segments

I’m comfortable teaching online, and I’m confident that I’ve done well to engage the learner in the online course. First, I upped the ante by designing a course site and course acitivites that went beyond flat text on a page and beyond what correspondence courses could accomplish. Then I attempted to meet the standards of my own quality rubric for an online course (developed in conjunction with Barbara Keinath). I redesigned my syllabus and course activities to more closely approximate Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good (Teaching) Practice, and to meet various learning styles. And finally I redesigned all of my initial course materials replacing clunky HTML Word docs with more interactive flash elements using lodeStar as my authoring tool. All of my modules had a consistent look, feel, and progression, were ADA-compliant, and contained a variety of interactive exercises.

But this term I’m not teaching an online course. What, oh what do I do with my students for 3-1/2 hours each week for 15 weeks to remain relevant with them? I keep hearing apprehensive faculty refute the notion of pandering to their attention deficit tendencies. I don’t buy this; they have plenty of attention for what they value. To say they have attention deficit to learning the way we prefer to teach is rather ego-centric of us baby boomers, no? I have to get a handle on how their learning minds are wired, and tap into that; that’s the secret of effective teaching these days. Or better said, the secret of effective learning.

It would be very sad if I hadn’t thought this through with only two weeks remaining before the first night of class. Yes, I’ve got plenty of ideas, but this post is long enough.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my personal journey into the world of connecting to the net gen learner.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

I came across this CNBC video today: an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, talking about the recent redesign of Facebook and introduction of Facebook Connect. I started out wanting to post simply about the growth in FB, which now stands at 90  million users, surpassing MySpace for the first time, and up from 24 million users just a year ago.

But after watching the video my curiousity switched rapidly to gathering some intelligence on Zuckerman, like finding out just how young this guy is and what his story is about. So I WP’d him (wikipedia-ed) him to learn that he is 24 years old and was named by Forbes Magazine, “the youngest billionaire on earth and possibly the youngest self-made billionaire ever, with a theoretical net worth of $1.5 billion USD.”

Hard to swallow, in a week when even my most fail-safe investment strategy for the moment (bonds) is tanking profusely and there is nowhere to hide. Well, live and let live, and bless this guy on his journey along with the likes of Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, Brin and Page, and Woods (ok, I’m switching venues just to see if you are paying attention). In the meantime, I’ll keep following social technologies on my public servant salary, driving my modest Chevy, with no chauffeur.


Last October I reported hearing Chris Melissinos from Sun Microsystems predict that in the future we’d all have Avatars which could move from platform to platform. That future may be starting to materialize. If you haven’t heard the latest news, Linden Labs (Second Life creator) and IBM have successfully collaborated on the transportation of avatars between two platforms – the Second Life Preview Grid and an OpenSim virtual world server. This is an industry-first in virtual world interoperability. But how sweeping is this innovation?

Start with the facts: check out the full story, and the video. However, be warned, the narration on the video is amateurishly dramatic.  IBM’s press release.       Video.

Here’s a good article from Business Technology explaining the significance of the avatar swap, “Avatars Teleport Away from Second Life.

Now, for a deeper analysis of, if not critical look at this news, read Craig Roth’s post, “Second Life Avatars Teleport, But the Virtual Moving Truck Stays Behind.” Here’s a quick excerpt: 

It’s worth noting that this (experiment) was from one test grid to another and only involved the avatar, not any items, script, or currency. (Clothes didn’t tag along.) To me, this is a nice stunt.  It gets attention for its sci-fi undertones, but doesn’t address the real barriers to mobility in virtual worlds, nor does it do much to address disgruntled Second Life residents. 
Roth raises the quintessential question about intellecutal property in a virtual world. He asks: “How can intellectual property be protected when it can be infinitely copied and transferred?”

Ok, so the sheer excitement of this recent announcement may have a limited shelf-life, as the pundits get down to nitty-gritty critques of just exactly what was – or wasn’t – accomplished here. Clearly, inter-application transportation of avatars has a ways to go, not just in terms of technical developments (transferring of digital assets) but also in terms of hammering out the myriad intellectual property (IP) and avatar identity security issues. We have been attempting to iron out IP issues with varying degrees of success, in the 2D educational world. I can’t imagine we’ll stop on that front, when we get to a 3D interface.

I don’t doubt for one minute that Chris Melissinos’s predicted future will arrive within a decade. Here’s an excerpt from my October post, commenting on Chris’ predictions:

Sooner or later, we will have access to virtual world (VW) identities where we only have to create one avatar which will be universally recognized after logging in. Applications will have layers of security, just as commercial sites have now via https (or the padlock) so we can choose when to render personal information or more importantly, when and how to share information and products such as course curriculum, that we build inside the VW.