NLII Highlights: The Coolest Stuff

Last night I got back from the NLII Annual Meeting in New Orleans. It was my first time visiting that city, and I think I’d like to go back when I’m not 6 months pregnant. Between having to limit my fish intake and not being able to enjoy a Hurricane, I feel like I didn’t really get a “true” New Orleans experience. Luckily, neither the ability to eat seafood or partake in intoxicating drinks were a requirement for enjoying the proceedings of the conference.

Generally, the sessions I attended were very good and certainly thought-provoking, but I wanted to share two things I saw in particular.

On Sunday, I was able to attend a workshop on Croquet (, described by its creators as “a combination of open source computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users.” Frankly, this doesn’t really begin to describe the experience of seeing Croquet in action–I don’t know that any description could. The presenters took us into a virtual, 3D world that can be used for teaching and learning that I could only have dreamed of before. It was beyond cool. At one point, when one of the presenters drew a strawberry using a built in image editor and then transformed it into a three-dimensional object that could be manipulated in the Croquet environment, I wouldn’t have been surprised if an actual strawberry had popped out of the screen.

There is a download of an early version available on the Croquet Web site. I plan on installing it at the first opportunity and will post about any wonderous experiences I have. It is entirely possible that I will simply slip into the Croquet world and never be heard from again! (On a side note, the project loosely uses an Alice in Wonderland metaphor to describe itself and its components. But I kept thinking about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe throughout the presentation–and the idea which intrigued me as a child that there are whole worlds hidden around us into which we can dissapear and, perhaps, never emerge from.)

The other truly amazing think I saw was at the capstone presentation on the 2005 NLII Horizon Report. During this whirlwind hour, a slew of speakers shared their visions about short- and long-term emerging technologies that we can all expect to be hearing more about (these technologies were all identified during the year-long process of researching and writing the Horizon Report which is available at

The presenter on Context-Aware Computing/Augmented Reality showed us something called Magic Paper, being developed at the MIT Media Lab (The presenter was from the Lab, but I can’t find his name right now. . .). I’m not even sure how to describe this technology, so take a look at the video. I recommend watching the entire video; the last simluation (which is what was presented during the sesion) is, I think, the most impressive. This video was so cool, that I actually started to applaud. To my embarrassment, I was the only one in the hall who had this reaction. Not, I’m sure, because other’s weren’t as impressed–they were probably just better able to contain their enthusiasm.