2017 week 7 in review


I was in Houston for the EDUCAUSE ELI annual meeting1. It was my first time ever attending ELI (or any EDUCAUSE event in person). It’s a really good community, with a nice mix of teaching-types and tech-types.

I presented a poster about our model for communities of practice at the Taylor Institute – I was given a 45 minute poster session, but talked for an hour and a half straight, as people stayed after the session to ask questions. We’re on the right track. Also, lots of similar initiatives happening, with many offering more mature and robust programs (such as the folks at Penn State, the University of Arizona, among others).


Working on a theme study for my HRI course. I’ve never written one, so it’s been an exploration. Next, prepping a presentation to the research lab.

Also, working with The Boy™ to get a Rapiro robot set up to use as part of a research project. We’ve almost got it running, and then I can try some code to see how it can move, and how the camera could be used.



Spending a few days in the Convention District of downtown Houston was… interesting. Next to the hotel was Discovery Park, which had an amazing family vibe even late at night. Lots of people just hanging out in the park. Very cool. Also, public art installations, and a skating rink (which was closed, probably because it was like +20˚C). The Tuesday conference keynote was briefly interrupted by 500 cell phones simultaneously blasting out emergency SMS warning, as 6 tornadoes worked through the Houston area. Crazy. Missed.

  1. I always feel like I’m shouting when I type that out []

2017 week 6 in review


The team met with Nancy to talk about what we do, and how that supports the scholarship of teaching and learning mandate of the TI. It turned into a really deep discussion, with lots of good questions.

And, we had a mini retreat with the Learning and Instructional Design group and Learning Technologies Group, to work though how we collaborate and communicate, and to start working on our shared roadmap for the year. Again, lots of deep discussion and great questions. Best. Team(s). Ever.

I’m heading to Houston for the EDUCAUSE ELI Annual Meeting thing next week. I’ll be presenting a poster about communities of practice at the Taylor Institute. I’m looking forward to seeing what ELI is like – it’s my first time attending – but definitely not looking forward to the current cross-border experience.


Yet another deep discussion with my co-supervisor, winding up with the realization that I’ve been holding myself back in both my student and professional roles – trying to compartmentalize the roles to avoid things crossing over. Which is crazy, because that’s the whole point of the thing. So, I’m working on not holding myself back, and on owning my roles. It looks like I’m essentially developing a new field of study. That’s kind of awesome.



Lots of snow early in the week. Combined with “lift with your back, not your legs” and I wound up with Old Man Norman Syndrome™ for the rest of the week. Pulled a muscle in my back pretty severely Monday morning before work. And stayed hunched over and in pain for the rest of the week. Awesome. But it’s melting now. The snow, not the back.


2017 week 5 in review


Met with a bunch of folks in IT to start planning how we will turn UCalgaryBlogs into an Official Service™, with all that entails. It’s going to take some time, but it’s a good move. Everyone is on board, so now we just need to figure out what that looks like.

Back in HQ, we had a really good team discussion, trying to start figuring out how to shift from emergency/reaction mode to more R&D projects. It’s going to take some time, but we’ve basically been told we need to be the learning technologies innovation hub for the university, and that’s going to be a pretty major shift.


Doris Kosminsky gave a presentation to the iLab, about her work on visualizing complex energy datasets in Brazil.



I moved my web stuff back onto Canadian soil. It hurt, leaving Reclaim Hosting. A lot. Tim and Jim (and the rest of the crew) are awesome. Best web hosting, and best support community, I’ve ever been a part of. But it’s a US company (hosted through another US company’s infrastructure), which means I can’t leave my stuff there.

Friday was a PD day at The Boy™’s school, so I took a personal day and we headed out to Sunshine. His first time snowboarding on a Big Mountain. My third. We took it easy and had a blast.

Sunshine - Wawa Tin Can Alley wide open

on academic travel

The muslim ban executive order was a wakeup call. It’s now a different world, and we need to take the time to think through what the implications are.

Personally, I’d probably be largely unaffected. I’m a middle-aged white male with no visible signs of dissent. Well. I have a beard. But I could probably continue travelling to the US without much trouble.

But. I work with people who would be directly challenged by this. And there are students in the computer science lab I’m part of who would be forbidden from entering the US. Which is ridiculous. But it’s a serious problem – academia is strongly based on the conference model – travel to a place, present your research and make connections with other people doing similar research. It’s how things are done.

And now we’re faced with the new reality that the US is openly hostile to a significant proportion of the academic community. Either they wouldn’t be able to participate in a conference in the US, or they’d be unable to return to their families in the US if they participated in a conference elsewhere. That is insane. Absolutely insane.

But – this may be the time to rethink what participation in international conferences means. The whole carbon-spewing travel thing didn’t do it, but maybe the fear of Trump will. How can we change what it means to participate? How can these conferences be recast as blended and inclusive, allowing people to join from wherever they are safely able to do so?

The technology is basically there. We could Skype or Connect or Hangout. Or use telepresence robots. Or do a conference as a playlist of videos with supporting online community. Trump may be the kick in the pants we need to finally and meaningfully rethink what academic conferences should be, rather than saying they need to be bursts of face-to-face international travel with cosmetic lip service of online sessions thrown in. What if online participation was the primary means of being involved with an academic conference?

I’m going to be travelling to Houston for EDUCAUSE ELI in a couple of weeks. It’s too late to cancel. But I have a feeling it will be the last time I’ll plan to cross the border to the US for some time. I’m already trying to focus more on local communities – this is a good reminder to also focus on inclusive online ones as well.

Repatriating my websites

I’ve been thinking about doing this since the last US election. And now, with the words and actions of the Trump administration, I’m just not comfortable leaving my web presence on US servers.

The decision to move my stuff back onto Canadian servers was easy – just a simple exercise in logic. The hard part is leaving what has been the best web hosting company – the best online community supporter – I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a member of. ReclaimHosting (nee Hippie Hosting Co-op) is the best web hosting provider I’ve ever come into contact with. Great company. Even better people. A pleasure to work with on any level.

And, they’ve been working on plans to set up non-US servers. Which is interesting, but it doesn’t solve the problem – any US company is beholden to respond to the whims of the current administration’s policies, no matter where their servers are physically located. So, the only way to mitigate that risk is to move my content and data onto servers in Canada, managed by a Canadian company. I really, REALLY wish I didn’t have to do that.

My stuff is now running out of CanadianWebHosting.com‘s Vancouver datacentre – where I used to run my stuff back in 2008, after leaving DreamHost, and before Hippie Hosting was a thing.

Over the next few days, I’ll be finalizing the move, adding the various databases and subdomains I use daily. The server was under somewhat heavy load as I rsynced my stuff over. It’s showing signs of behaving better, but may need some tweaking to get things running smoothly. I’m not sure if I’ll have to switch plans yet – the shared hosting should do the trick, if it lives up to the marketing info. If not, I may need to move to a higher tier plan.

So. An easy decision that sucked to have to make, thanks to insanity south of the border.

2017 week 4 in review


UCalgaryBlogs was knocked offline for almost 24 hours because IT’s new security stuff suspected it was compromised – it saw me uploading a .zip file via the admin interface, while the server was also under the constant vulnerability probing by Russian script kiddies. It did the math and freaked out. Hilarity ensued. Sigh. Nothing was compromised, and the server was behaving normally.

We hired a second Learning Technologies Coach within the Taylor Institute – the coaches work as informal consultants for instructors, to help brainstorm and plan integration of technologies (from stuff-on-wheels up to wireless collaboration). I am humbled by the strength of applicants we get – our students are absolutely amazing, with such depth of experience already. I was such a slacker as an undergrad.


Kevin Ta gave a presentation on his work on prototyping wearable technologies – lots of interesting ideas there for rapid prototyping and iteration of ideas before getting to the more difficult stages.



Ski day – took a day off and headed out to Sunshine Village again. Must do that more often.

2017 week 3 in review


I did the second orientation to ePortfolios for our new UNIV201 Global Challenges course. First-year students, making connections in an interdisciplinary context. They’ve been asked to document their learning, and to showcase their projects for each other, and our ePortfolio platform is pretty much perfect for that. I was surprised, again, that none of the students had edited a web page outside of Facebook. A handful had heard of wordpress, but nobody had every used it. So many things I have taken for granted, absorbed by the modern social web. This is going to take a long time to repair. We’ve lost a lot as a society when our brightest minds have no personal knowledge of publishing and sharing knowledge beyond Facebook posts.


I’ve started a theme study, getting my head around telerobotics, telepresence, and humanoid androids in an education context. It’s easy to dismiss robots as “HAHA KILL ALL HUMANS” or “REPLACE ALL HUMANS” but there is more to it than that, and I think I have a role to play in figuring out what an embodied presence of a humanoid robot may mean in a social collaborative experience.

Anyway. The robot I signed out was dead on arrival. Working on a backup plan.



I was blocked on Twitter by a Member of Parliament because I politely asked her for a comment in response to her heckling of a member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta at a Student Leaders event on campus. I was polite and respectful, and was genuinely wanting to learn her side of it, rather than just assuming the online buzz was accurate. Her response was to block me. That’s data. Classy.

Reclaim Hosting moved my stuff from the soon-to-be decommissioned Ramones server to the shiny new OutOfStep server. The process was absolutely painless and automatic. All I had to do was change my CPanel/SSH login. Easy. Thanks! The new server appears to have some minor CPU issues, but that will get worked out.

2017 week 2 in review


The first week of the W2017 semester went off without any major crises. MUCH smoother than the F2016 semester start (which is fair, since that was the first full-scale semester we’ve hosted in the TI). I’m constantly amazed at the diversity of courses (and instructors and students) who are working in the TI – every course is different, from almost every faculty on campus. Every class session is different – with instructors and students moving furniture into different layouts regularly, and using the tech in new ways.

This first week of the semester was still pretty hectic, but is starting to calm down already.


Jennifer Payne gave a pre-defence talk about tangible artifacts for visualizing data – exploring how making or interacting with physical representations may be different than just barfing out a pivot chart in Excel. Interesting stuff.

I had my first class for the human-robot-interaction course. Looks like I’ll be working on some insanely interesting and challenging stuff this semester. Love it!



We had an absolutely perfect day at Nakiska – great snow, nice and cold, sunny. I worked on a few things, and felt much stronger and fluid as a result. Still not fast (at. all.) but moving better.

Sunshine Village upgraded one of their webcams to a new HD camera, and the feed is amazing. I decided to try making a timelapse. It plays perfectly on my computer, but YouTube appears to have done something funky to it. This was the fourth time trying to upload it, and each time something different went janky. Anyways. I’ve lived next to the Rockies my entire life, and have never stopped being in utter awe of them.

  1. note: the author names are taken directly from the RSS feeds. In a few cases, I hand-repair them because “Anonymous” and “admin” are not useful author names. Fix your feeds, people. []

2017 week 1 in review


The first week back after Christmas break – simultaneously slow and quiet, and intensely busy and productive.

TI Learning Spaces

We’re working on improving the tech in the active learning studios in the TI – the biggest visible change is the addition of power bars (3 AC plugs and 3 USB plugs) on each station, so students don’t have to engage in creative engineering to access the plugs in the floor boxes.

more power!

We streamlined the application form for instructors who want to teach university courses in the Taylor Institute, which should help with the next round of applications for Spring and Summer 2017. The process opens on Monday, and runs until Feb. 17, with announcements made about 2 weeks after that.

Team members have met with all of the instructors who will be teaching in the TI this semester, and have consulted with how to adapt the spaces and technologies as appropriate. Lots of interesting courses taking place in the building this semester, from an incredibly diverse range of faculties and departments!

And with that, I think we’re ready for the start of the W2017 semester on Monday. Go team!


The Taylor Institute’s 2017 Conference on Post-secondary Learning and Teaching is shaping up nicely. The call for proposals is open now. You should come.


I was… encouraged… to create a Twitter account again, because I was missed online. I never stopped being online. If anything, I was more active and productive online. But, twitter is still a thing, and there’s no sign of things changing soon despite actively trying to explore and shift things away from multi-billion-dollar corporate silos.

I also got tired of tilting at windmills. So. I created another account. My previous 2 accounts were parked by Twitter – the first (@dnorman) was snagged by someone else, the second (@dlnorman) flagged as “suspended” – so I had to create a new one. I’m now @realdlnorman. I’m not sure what I’ll be tweeting about. Likely, the usual nonsense.1


I’ve been thinking quite a bit about 2 things lately – dimensionality and intermittent reinforcement.


I finally got my copy of Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening back, and dove in. It’s an amazing dissertation on dimensionality in communication – a PhD dissertation in comic form, exploring the nature of visual vs. textual communication, the nature of self and identity, and of knowledge and learning.

Nick draws on E.A. Abbott’s Flatland, a mental exercise from the perspectives of beings living in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions. If text and audio are one-dimensional (there is forward/backward, before/after), images are 2 dimensional (with the possible addition of a time dimension) with concepts laid out in spatial relations with each other. It’s striking that almost all of academic discourse is one-dimensional – completely textual, with supplementary images, but essentially serially presented. Nick’s dissertation-in-comic-form shows the difference between text (which is natively one-dimensional, but can be presented as interpreted in 2 dimensions) and graphic communication (which is natively two-dimensional). What other forms of natively-two-dimensional publishing would be effective? What would natively-three-dimensional academic discourse look like?

2 quotes, ironically recast as 1-dimensional serialized text rather than 2-dimensional comic form…

“This requires a perceptual shift – a way of thinking – in which a rigid enclosed mind-set is reconceived as an interconnected, inclusive network. Distinct viewpoints still remain, now no longer isolated – viewed as integral to the whole – each informing the other in iterative fashion. In this new integrated landscape lies the potential for a more comprehensive understanding.” P. 31.

“Perception is not dispensable. It’s not mere decoration or afterthought, but integral to thought, a fundamental partner in making meaning. In reuniting thinking and seeing, we expand our thinking and concept of what thinking is.” P. 81.

Intermittent reinforcement

I saw this article by magician/tech ethicist Tristan Harris via Stephen Downes, and it nicely pulls together several aspects of online culture that make it so 1) addictive 2) superficial 3) ossified. Fear of Missing Out. Reload syndrome. Twitter, email, feeds. It’s the techno-magicians who design these online casinos who then want to “fix education” by turning their billion-dollar-gazes at universities and schools. Xenu help us all when they finally get their chance.



Too cold to ski. But the sun is up when I get home from work now, so that’s nice.

  1. Also likely, not campus IT stuff, even if it directly overlaps with my day job and PhD work. Open communication with a muzzle is fun. []

UCalgary conference on post-secondary learning and teaching

Our annual conference is coming up quickly – the call for proposals is open now (closing Feb 3, 2017 – less than a month away!). This is one of the things I’m most proud about. This conference has grown from a small, mostly-internal thing, to an incredible and deep conference with an amazing community vibe. It’s now drawing participants and presenters from across Canada, and has a surprising number of international participants as well. This has become my one must-go-to event each year (which is handy, considering I work in the building and help to organize and run it) – and I would easily rank it as one of the top conference experiences I’ve ever had.

I’m looking forward to this year’s conference – May 2-3 2017 at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. The theme is “Conversations that matter”, and we’re planning some really interesting things to happen throughout the conference.

Day 1 will begin with a welcome from Dru Marshall, and then an opening plenary that will include Dawn Johnston, Leslie Reid, and Jennifer Lock (all absolute rock star Associate Deans Teaching and Learning), followed by a day of awesome sessions and a digital poster session – last year’s poster session was the most active and engaged I’ve ever seen at a conference.

Day 2 starts with a keynote by Katarina Mårtensson, from Lund University, Sweden. Katarina’s work has formed a strong part of the community model we’ve designed the Taylor Institute around, and it will be great to have her on campus. Then, more awesome sessions for the rest of the day.

You should come!