Networked Mobilities and Learning


The Emerging Autonomous Transportation Model

The promise of autonomous vehicles portends new levels of freedom and efficiency. The driverless journey affords interactions and productive activities precluded until now by dint of our required attention to driving. Predicts Dan Neil of The Wall Street Journal,

“Autonomy will make it possible for unmanned automobiles to be summoned, via app, to your location. And not just any passing tramp steamer, but exactly the vehicle you need for the occasion, cleaned and fueled, for as little or as long as you need. … When you’re done—poof!—it will go away.”

This suggests less cars on the road as car ownership becomes unnecessary, while more efficient transportation as service proliferates. An entire infrastructure will happen, as evidenced today by the Tesla efficiency model of solar-to-battery as energy source, which might eventually and entirely replace today’s gas stations.

Safe and efficient flight options will change radically as demonstrated by the soon-to-be-fully-autonomous passenger drones showcased at CES 2016 including the German Volocopter and the Chinese Ehang 184 . Flying efficiently anticipates the same Tesla solar-charged battery replacement model. Autonomous drones will also be demonstrated to be safe and efficient, and with the same Uber-style-on-demand transportation-as-service and software model.  Car makers such as Ford Motor and Honda agree that we are in a new era of mobility as reported by Wired.

These radical changes, above all, suggest an opportunity to vastly improve our various daily travels that bring us safely and efficiently (fast and reliable travel) to places and people for our professional and social engagements. Everywhere we go will soon be joined by a corresponding preparation effort that anticipates the destination’s human, place-based, and contextualized interactions.

We might for example call upon a private office room for our autonomous and shared van-like vehicle equipped with electrical power, WiFi, a common lounge cafe, and restroom. Or we might join a team of engineers going to a field-based project to review all technical schematics and representations in a boardroom-style set up. Alternatively, we might also call upon a smaller vehicle that let’s us simply rest and look out the window. Whatever vehicle type and services we request, the journey and destination become joined and complementary rather than fundamentally separate phenomena as they are today.

The Rise of Blended Learning

In higher education, the flipped classroom concept is a simplistic way to suggest that students can prepare outside of class with organized online lectures and readings for a more interactive, socially connected, in-class experience — moving away from the traditional in-class lecture. Experiential learning takes it further, and connects learners with actual experiences in time and space — most often occurring naturally outside of the classroom. Researchers Alice and David Kolb describe experiential learning this way:

“Experiential learning theory offers a dynamic theory based on a learning cycle driven by the resolution of … action/reflection and experience/abstraction. These two dimensions define a holistic learning space wherein learning transactions take place between individuals and the environment. … The process of learning from experience is ubiquitous, present in human activity everywhere all the time.”

While research is still mixed on the efficacy of “experiential learning,” it is also true that there is little agreement on what we mean by experiential learning. Do learners receive guidance? How much are they exposed to expert insights and factual knowledge? How much do they learn in terms of abstract knowledge and frameworks? What is the level of facilitation and support?

Let us then assume that learners received at least as much support for experiential learning opportunities as in-class learners who check on Blackboard, Canvas, Saba or other learning management system for the syllabus and course logistics, assignments, and possibly readings and video lectures. This reality of a blended learning environment is common, and typically 80% of face-to-face courses are blended and likely this is a core reason for the high level of interest in flipped classroom research. It is also likely that research will fully validate the strength of experiential learning as a successful learning model once the facilitation and support levels are comparable across teaching strategies and pedagogies.

As an indicator, a 2009 engineering research study found that situated learning, a form of experiential learning that incorporates ‘flipped classroom’ principles, was verifiably successful in both increasing student motivation and improving learning achievements. This should make sense to anyone who has learned to ride a bike, cook a meal, fix a car, or even build an IKEA bookshelf: it is a lot more powerful to construct or actually physically do something and to remember more details and principles over time, than to read about it exclusively in a recipe, owner’s manual, book, or video instructions.

New Mobilities for a New Learning Paradigm

As autonomous transport becomes a reality, and our journey becomes integrated with activities that are inextricably linked to time-sensitive location technologies, we have myriad new opportunities to reinvent education to conform to our natural lives. Lifelong learning might mean recombining with teams focused on contextualized problems, challenges, and projects. To a great extent, industry is already forming teams and providing blended learning environments that satisfy compliance requirements for managers and employees, while incorporating the learning design into the work.

Educational institutions that recognize the power of blended learning and flipped classroom strategies that work for the learners and instructors in the context of the course, program and institutional learning goals, will fair much better in our just-in-time efficient human interaction future. Such institutions are focused on both efficiency and efficacy, and are measuring outcomes based on existing instructional and academic standards that are supported with a sustainable resource model.

As we anticipate our new mobilities future, we are well served in education to consider our services and how these can be measured. Knowing what works in today’s static, place-based campus model that is supported by networked web and mobile technologies such as the learning management system, will go a long ways toward transitioning to a more dynamic model that threads in time-sensitive, location-based interactions with ‘flipped classroom’ content and static knowledge.

Predictably we will see situated and experiential learning as a sustainable and effective educational model that is supported by mobile and networked technologies that in turn reinforce the mind and body in the context of effective learning — as easy and as real and as measurable as riding a bike!

Unrequited Learning and Higher Education’s Failure to Address the Instructional Technology Industry

The EdTech industry grew to over $2 billion in 2014 and 2015 appears to be another high-growth year for online and digital learning technologies and service providers. The recent $1.5 billion valued buyout by LinkedIn of, an online software training and education site, underscores the growth in this industry.

Higher education institutions, businesses, and a host of tertiary support organizations and communities of practice have been engaging this space and market for nearly two decades. Starting with the emergence of the ‘multimedia Internet’ or ‘World Wide Web’ which today serves as the backbone to our EdTech reality, the market is booming: from online learning delivery including MOOCs and learning management systems such as Blackboard and Canvas, to the array of mobile apps for learning, to the many related training and development services that support institutional EdTech.

graphicMeanwhile, American higher education continues to tout its ‘academic freedom’ foundation upon which tenure, research, and the entire institution rests so as to help assure a knowledge role that is unbiased by industry, the market, and political influences from national and state governments. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Instead we see higher education participating and even competing with the industry in ways that are completely dysfunctional and that compromise its core mission: education, research, community, career preparedness, and civic participation.

Amongst the most glaring pieces of evidence that demonstrates higher education’s failure to remain unbiased in the context of our digital reality and its influences: there is a large and growing set of data that screens are significantly harmful to our health, and that our learners could benefit significantly from more active learning — “active” as in mind AND body which science tells us repeatedly are interconnected and interdependent. To be sure, overall results do indicate that instructional technology positively impacts learning.

Perhaps we can be more forgiving of higher education institutions given that most of the research regarding the detrimental effects of screen-based technologies and lack of exercise and healthy diets is generated by these institutions.

But what of EDUCAUSE, the New Media Consortium, the Online Learning Consortium (aka Sloan-C), AERA, AECT, the MacArthur Foundation, Digital Media and Learning, and other organizations committed to improving teaching and learning, and that promote research relating to instruction and the role of instructional and online technologies? Not a single one of these organizations formally recognizes the research and confirmed data that substantiates the detrimental effects of our screen-based realities coupled with our sedentary lifestyle — much of which relates to our lack of non-car mobilities.

Careful examinations of the Horizon Report for Higher Education and the Horizon Report for K-12  over the years — both are collaborative annual publications by the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and the New Media Consortium — reveals that none of these annual reports have ever addressed the dire effects of instructional technologies on health, learning, and what can be done to remedy this reality with solutions. Such solutions could involve a more active curriculum that leverages exciting location-based, mobile technologies to document phenomena in ways that support experiential learning across a wide swath of disciplines.

So how can this be? When I discussed this topic — including a formal presentation — with Dr. Laurence Johnson in September 2014, CEO of  the New Media Consortium (NMC), his response was “I don’t know why.” I suspect that is so because there is nothing to be gained by this message in the context of the EdTech industry, and it is in turn the instructional tech/EdTech industry that supports the NMC. Similarly, when one examines the EDUCAUSE organization and its leadership, we note that the leadership consists of those like Diane Oblinger (CEO and President of EDUCAUSE since 2005) who came from Microsoft, IBM and other related industry organizations. Similarly, the Executive Board consists of university IT leaders — CIOs and such — who have consistently failed to address this reality or even the basics of successful IT leadership.

For example, Vice Chair Susan Metros was removed recently from USC’s central IT leadership because of her failure to produce results for the University of Southern California. Instead, as with many in IT leadership positions, she was appointed by long-time personal friend CIO Illee Rhimes in 2007 and later to her current positions at USC’s Marshall School and the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business. Such is the nature of higher education IT leadership: APPOINT those who will support the glaring conflicts of interest between instructional technology and institutional issues toward maintaining a local IT empire and conflict-of-interest vendor relationships.

It is time for a change — and students, trustees, administrators, and parents should demand accountability, strength, and honor when it comes to this obvious gap in higher education and those responsible for engaging teaching with technology.

Los Angeles County Bicycle Summit 2011

Program and Presentations Here!

The ‘first annual’ LA Bicycle Summit as it was sometimes referred to at the LA County Bicycle Summit held on Friday, September 30, 2011 in Long Beach, CA was an exhilarating event from start to finish – that is, if one had the opportunity to be there all day. Disclosure: the author was only able to attend until lunchtime due to existing commitments.

Opening the day were folks like Jennifer Klausner of the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC, Executive Director); Bob Foster (Mayor, LBC); Suzanne Bogert (RENEW LA County, Director); and Andy Clarke (League of American Bicyclists, President). Notable was the sense of optimism and exuberance – and not of the irrational variety opined by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan during the heyday of the 00’s and the stock and housing market’s wild upward swings. Rather, of the grounded variety of exuberance that recognizes that the data is in: whether in economics, health and health care, fuel and urban transport efficiency and infrastructure cost savings, or the safety associated with bicycling; bicycling is a sustainable and meaningful constituent part of the transportation infrastructure, especially in a place such as Los Angeles with flat terrain and excellent year-around weather.

One of the big announcements before the official program started inside of the LBC Convention Center: Andy Clarke announced that in September 2012 LBC would be hosting the annual Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 event on September 12-13, 2012 (Mark Plotz, bike-walk). This is an important opportunity for Southern California and dovetails with much of the current momentum.

Once inside, the opening panel featured the inspiring speakers Andy Clarke (President) of the League of American Bicyclists, James F. Sallis, director of the San Diego State University’s Active Living Research Program, and Dr. Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor of LBC.

Andy Clarke discussed the trends that seem to suggest a significant increase in obesity in the US that matches the Dutch experience: increased car use is directly proportional to increased obesity and diabetes, and inversely proportional to cycling. What is more, 40% of trips are two miles or less, suggesting that 40% of car trips could be reduced or eliminated entirely by using the bicycle. Dr. Sallis took this health-related focus further by reiterating the studies by John Pucher of Rutgers University who concludes that most people enjoy bicycling IF they are not scared of traffic. He also spoke of New York City’s 262% cycling increase over the past decade, and the research by Anne C. Lusk who studied bicyclists by connecting a GPS device to their commutes. Her research helped identify the need for segregated bicycle lanes based on female rider preferences to be completely separated or segregated from car traffic.

Finally, in the first session, Dr. Suja Lowenthal, vice mayor of LBC gave an excellent presentation on what all LBC has done to get to where they are – mentioning the mayor and folks like Charlie Gandy who was in the next panel session. Lowenthal, a USC graduate, discussed the need for an authentic engagement of bicycling and the importance of making it accesible to all cyclists, including ones who sought shorter trips and who sometimes might wish to wear business attire or other fashions – not only the spandex gear preferred by many long-distance, speed cyclists. She likened cycling to the book The Earth Knows My Name by Patricia Kleindienst (2007) which focuses on the history of gardening and the role of ethnic groups; botany, and the idea that the earth knows you in a profound sense.

Lowenthal connected this to her homeland India, as well as the use of bicycling, adding a global dimension to what clearly is a global phenomena with LA as its champion and manifesting in the Summit’s apparent magic, a desirable harbinger of the local-global connection that is bicycling and transportation. Lowenthal therefore asks the question: “Who’s streets are these?” and answers that the bicycle is the great equalizer and a metaphor for our changing urbanscape. The author notes that this does appear to be the case in much of LA as youth embraces a DIY (do-it-yourself) culture around the identity and pride-of-ownership of the bicycle – a tool that moves you with honor and dignity. So yes – an equalizer.

The next session was equally exciting and was moderated by Jean Armbruster, director of the Los Angeles PLACE Program. Jean Armbruster began with some inspiring words and data that point to the economics of the bicycle’s important impact and laid out some of the basic data that demonstrates the connection between health, health costs, and exercise such as through bicycling, notably the studies by Finkelstein 2007 that obesity represents 10% of medical spending. Following was Charlie Gandy of LBC who gave a no-nonsense ribald discussion of why and how LBC made happen their successful conversion to bicycling in such a short time frame; and Daryl Grigsby (Public Works Director) of the City of Pomona who actually rode from Pomona on the bicycle path connecting the two locations discussed his first 19 months from Seattle, WA as Pomona’s more or less bicycle transportation catalyst with some great examples of what it takes – community engagement, rides, buy in, promotion, walking the talk – etc. Finally, Laura Friedman of the City of Glendale gave an inspiring, down-to-earth, very humorous presentation about how her city is changing as a result of concerns regarding the safety or lack of safety associated with cars and the impact on pedestrians. Combined, these speakers hit all of the major points when it comes to bicycling – from what the data tells us to how to feasibly integrate bicycling into the public agenda and dialog. They made it look a lot easier than probably really is.

Throughout the day there were heros of the new cycling revolution everywhere: Dan Dabek director of C.I.C.L.E.; representatives from CicLAvia (Joe Linton, Jonathan Parfrey, Bobby Gadda); Lynn Goldsmith of LA Metro; Jessica Meaney of Safe Routes to School National Partnership; and Lucy Dyke of Santa Monica to name but a few. Indeed, the program will hopefully be available soon and will be posted here.

One of the more compelling sessions that the author was unable to attend was titled “Using Collision Data; New Mapping Tools for Supporting Infrastructure Investments” led by Swati Pande and John Bigham of UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. SafeTREC and Transportation Injury Mapping System (TIMS) appear to be excellent research resources and the author is examining these more closely in the context of efforts at the Annenberg Innovation Lab to create storytelling, geolocative, and data collection systems relating to bicycling as a form of transport and as a communication medium.

The event – although only attended in the morning – was a monumental historic experience that represents the culmination of many years in the making. It does appear that a major shift is happening in Los Angeles that may change everything. If Portland and Minneapolis can do it – why can’t LA? There is no reason why it can’t – that’s the answer.

An example of the heroes of LA who are transforming the urbanscape – Charlie Gandy of Long Beach discussing ‘charismatic communities’ at TEDx – soon to be featured on TED:

Los Angeles as Harbinger

It is barely October 2011, and the time frame Aug-Sept 2011 has swept Los Angeles with seismic shifts in the critical mass and dare one say “convergence” of interests surrounding alternative transportation – especially bicycling. From the GOOD LA opening art exhibit on “moving beyond cars in LA” to the continued improvements on bike paths such as the 7th Street dedicated bicycle lane and the Exposition Line bike lane, to the ThinkBike LA event to the apogee of the first LA Bike Summit held appropriately in Long Beach, CA or LBC.

It is also during this time frame that the author has been able to connect with critical persons at USC – a pivotal institution located in South LA and that is connecting to downtown via the newly completed, soon-to-be-operational Exposition Line (light rail) and the so-called “Figueroa Corridor” that connects to the Staples-Nokia Centers (South Park). Academically there is also a sea change at USC led largely by such faculty as François Bar of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Deike Peters of the School of Public Policy and Planning (SPPD) who will be teaching a bicycle planning course in the Spring 2012 semester and who is changing the orientation of the METRANS Transportation Center with new energy and initiatives relating to bicycling. As part of François Bar’s “Mobile Communication: Learning by Hacking” course, some brilliant students and I are experimenting with an SMS-based story-telling mobile platform, enabling regular cell phone users to upload images and simple text stories including location maps via their non-smartphone, plain-old-cellphone.

There is a fundamental change in Los Angeles that reverberates throughout the many communities and bicycling cultures that permeate the land. It is at the city where Mayor Villaraigosa and key persons at City Hall are transforming the urbanscape with new measures such as SB 190 the “three-feet to pass” bike law and the strictest anti-bicyclist harassment liability law in the country passed in July, sponsored by Bill Rosendahl of the LA City Council , to the efforts by those like Jaime de la Vega who leads the LA Transportation Department and who supported and joined the ThinkBike LA events.

For this writer, the changes parallel the changes in the USC-to-the-Pacific-Ocean corridor via Exposition-Jefferson-Ballone-Creek. Since 2004 I rode from Santa Monica to USC with the apprehension that all riders had at that time – and probably still do as newbies to such a commute. I would ride the path along the ocean from Santa Monica, south to Marin del Rey, and then up the Ballone Creek to Jefferson and La Cienega. With ‘laser eyes’ I would be constantly scanning for any moving objects – cars especially – that were not supposed to be moving, and trying to anticipate a door opening. Since around March 2011 – oddly the same time that I moved to within walking distance of my employer USC – there is now a bicycle lane connecting Exposition Blvd to Jefferson and then on to the bike path along Ballone Creek to the ocean. Over eight years of intense morning rides at approximately one hour and ten minutes – often wondering if it was worth it. Now a kind path that I ride almost daily to places like Baldwin Hills or the ocean. A gentle reminder of what once was a rather intense challenge, to what is now a wonderful, dare I say even family-oriented pathway. It will be especially interesting once the parallel Exposition Line (light rail line) is operational – scheduled for early 2012.

The culmination of these past months and a microcosm for what is to come with bicycling across the world, is the Bicycle Summit held in Long Beach, CA (LBC) on September 30, 2011. The Summit was truly a Summit and covered the major issues surrounding bicycling: safety, infrastructure, health, economics, style and fashion, community, politics, planning, data and metrics, and so much more. It was an incredible day that folks like Jean Armbruster (Director, PLACE Program) called an “historic day” and that we were actually acting as a county – because we all had a compelling need to address the role of the bicycle.

Revolution Round Up

Having returned from a fabulous summer 2011 in Vienna and Upper Austria, with excursions to London and Prague, it is clear that the bicycle revolution is a global phenomena that has all of the hallmarks of a sustainable paradigm shift. Unlike 16 years ago when I last was in Europe and as someone who practically grew up in Austria, it is clear that there is an exponential growth in bicycling happening there. Whether in urban areas like London or Vienna, or in rural areas where families enjoy bicycling as an integral part of their vacation and free time, Europe’s broader embrace of cycling is a harbinger.

And across the globe, in Shanghai, the fixie bicycle culture is booming as the Peoples Bike (PB) makes its mark and the first fixie magazine for China 48X15 was released on August 19, 2011 by PB’s Tyler Bowa straight out of the alleys and bikeways and streets of Shanghai. Meanwhile Hong Kong continues to forge ahead with alley cat races sweeping cities worldwide. This gritty messenger, urban culture emerging across the globe – from New York, to LA to Tokyo, Shanghai, Berlin, London and lots more places is an unstoppable juggernaut of human spirit combined with practical technology that transcends our current comprehension of what is really possible.

It is no wonder then that Twitter is alive with chatter about cycling for fun (#bike, #cycling), and as a serious form of transportation (#transport). And it is no wonder that LinkedIn is seeing a renaissance in cycling-related discussion groups including Bike Commuters and Bicycle to Work!. One of the gems to come out of Twitter- James D. Schwartz writing for The Urban Country suggests that “motorists are socialists” given our generally-accepted definitions of socialism.

As an economic phenomena, the author makes the point, automobile drivers enjoy massive state subsidies for roads, health care, fuel, and pollution (lack of proper expensing). This has resulted in many problems, including a lack of innovation for alternative transport modes – something we will be discussing more on this site. The economic problem of the automobile and the negative impact on innovation is one that we should seek to define as a hacker-style opportunity, one that upends current, distorted transportation subsidies and cost allocations in favor of a variable cost model – or pay as you go. Scientific measures relating to this question will favor variable cost models if we are committed to measures of efficiency and market-based outcomes.

A gem to emerge from the LinkedIn discussions was the issue of bicycle “safety” and the use of helmets – and how complex and meaningful this question really is. This TED video suggested by Patrick Walker features Mikael Colville-Andersen and provides a strong set of bicycle safety related ideas based on facts for us all to ponder when it comes to this question of bicycle helmets.

Next post we will turn attention to my home base of Los Angeles to learn about this spoke in the revolutionary wheel that is rolling across the world. No stopping it – and that’s a sure thing!

It all comes down to the word “go”

Move yourself. Move others. Move across time and space. Überfahr investigates the people, technologies, innovations, laws, trends, solutions and systems that help move our urban centers to a post-automobile reality.

The bicycle and cycling culture are the current ingredients that flavor Überfahr. This will change as innovation catches up to the massive and massively subsidized automobile industry and all of its impact. From the violence that permeates our streets and daily lives, to the choking fumes and poisonous gases that envelop our planet; the automobile is a deadly and expensive form of transportation that corrodes our daily life with crushing cash layouts, noise, congestion, and general violence.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” – albert einstein

From our primordial selves and our competitive advantage as diurnal long-distance runners able to hunt and avoid being hunted by nocturnal predators, to our ability to harness local energy from our existing very local source – our bodies; we are whole. Brain and body.

As is our brain to our tools, so might be our body to our energy sources and resources. And so might the body and the brain continue to intertwine in perpetual motion. But not as factory workers in some interior caverns of degradation or as office slugs, no less interior or bodily degrading. Rather, as upright, moving, environmentally connected natural and proud human selves.

There is a fundamental shift before us. We seem mostly unaware that America’s earliest paved roads, shortly after the Civil War, were created for bicycle transportation and that this pre-dated the automobile. Even as late as 1997, the bicycle moved more people and things on this planet earth than any other transportation type. This timeline also parallels the rise of the bicycle in the 1850s-1890s and the rise of the automobile, not much later, in the 1900s.

These are all clues to where we will be going, without a doubt. We will soon see incredible technological innovations of human-powered and human-assisted transport technologies that are more convenient much more economical and practical. This will then demand a recalibration of our current, near 100% allocation of roads and highways to motorized vehicles, in contrast to non-motorized/human-powered/assisted transport units.

Early data on the scant research being done on the role of the bicycle indicates that when bicycles are a critical part of the transportation infrastructure, positive phenomena results: more jobs are created than building highways or roads; accident rates drop amongst all transportation and moving types – automobile accidents, bike accidents, pedestrian accidents, related; and there is reason to believe that people who enjoy daily bicycle exercise are healthier than people who do not exercise.

The video below is part of the story. We intend to follow this entire story – for the ride.

“The bicycle is such a success because it makes people’s lives easier.

The Bicycle City. Trailer from Greg Sucharew on Vimeo.