Did you hear the one about the man, the animation and the step ladder?

As my colleague Christina Smart has already reported, the opening keynote of this years ALT-C by Hans Rosling was a great start to the conference. I have to say that this was the first time I have seen a step ladder, and a c.3foot long wooden pointer being used to enhance an animation. They were used with considerable aplomb!

The animations Hans showed were well executed and great examples of learning objects. However it was the expert and intimate knowledge of the content, which allowed the audience to be taken to another level of understanding through the added human interaction. If anyone is still worried about simulations taking over the world or replacing teachers, I would recommend viewing this presentation online.

Hans outlined a key challenge that faces everyone involved in education – misconceptions. Hans illustrated how using technology can help to overcome myths and preconceptions of subject areas by showing data in alternative ways which allow meaningful data comparison that (crucially) can be easily understood. Of course creating great user interfaces is never easy, and converting numerical data into a meaningful graphical representation takes time, but the end results are worth it.

Hans pointed out we need to find more “ways to bring data back into the world”. He used the analogy of sheet music to data collections – most of us need hear the music on an instrument before we can fully “understand” it. There are huge data collections out there (many of them publicly funded) and it should be available in a unified format so that it can be used to help educate us all. To this end we also need to help governments/data collections centres overcome their tendency toward DbHd (database hugging disorder) and “free the data”. Of course, we also need people like Hans to help make sense of the statistics:-) The gapminder website is where Hans is trying to do just that, bridge the gap between statistics and their audience.

Although a great advocate for making content freely available Hans did point out that you need to own your content before you can give it away freely. His own experience of the benefits of doing just that have far outweighed the time and effort taken to create the animations. And who can argue with someone who is the top hit when you put into google probably the three of the most popular search terms (sex, money, health).