Gamelog: Hexaflip

I’ve been playing some casual games as part of the Apple Arcade trial subscription, and have really been enjoying Hexaflip by Rogue Games. One part Q-Bert, one part Marble Madness, one part platform runner.

It’s a deceptively simple game – there are only two “controls” – tap left and tap right. No forward or backward. No jump. Just left and right, always moving forward. Some of the tiles can change your direction, so you have to plan accordingly. It gets complicated quickly.

It does have some in-game currency, which I usually find intolerable. It’s only used to optional restart a level from a save point, but it’s still annoying. Collecting coins and skins is just tacky.

Reclaiming Educational Technology Part 2: Fostering a culture of innovation

This one’s a gem. Well, they all are, but this interview is especially relevant for me because at the time of the interview UMW’s DTLT had just moved into their shiny new digs – and the Taylor Institute at UCalgary was still under construction. There were a LOT of parallels between DTLT and what was becoming the TI at UCalgary. The tension between “Innovation” and “Enterprise” colours all of our work, and it was great to hear from these amazing people about their work and experiences in the field.

Reclaiming Edtech Part 2:  Fostering a culture of innovation, featuring commentary from:

Reclaiming Educational Technology Part 1: The Business and Politics of Edtech

It’s time to re-reboot the podcast, starting by resurrecting the audio from the Reclaiming Educational Technology interviews that were recorded during a hackathon event hosted at the University of Mary Washington after Open Education 2014.

I keep coming back to these episodes, even 5 years later, as they are full of amazing insights by incredibly passionate and interesting people. I’ll be posting the audio from all 4 episodes shortly…

This episode features:

Interviews were conducted by D’Arcy Norman and David Kernohan.

Video and audio were recorded by Andy Rush.

Amateur editing by D’Arcy Norman.

progress on the digital-whiteboard-text-markup thing

After quickly (and I mean QUICKLY – it took less than half an hour’s worth of fiddling around with code while sitting on the couch watching garbage TV) building a way for people to markup chunks of text using the TIDraw.net -powered digital whiteboards, I wanted to test it in action. It’s one thing to try it on my laptop or iPad, but digital ink is a different experience on a 50″ display. The classrooms have been so busy this semester, I didn’t get a chance to try it until this morning.

The good news: It works really, really well.

Marking up some of Bill’s stuff, on love and loss and beginnings and ends…

The drawing tools work perfectly. But as I was testing this, I realized – using the pen tool to write (as one does with a whiteboard) kind of sucks. It’s laggy, which makes it hard to write legibly. You have to write really slowly and carefully, and even then the smoothing kind of messes things up.

I had a theory that the lag was part of the system design of the collaboration carts – the display is hooked up via USB to a USB-ethernet converter, then pushed over the network to the server room where it’s converted from ethernet back to USB and then into the appliance PC to do stuff, then out via HDMI and converted to ethernet to be pushed back downstairs where it’s converted from ethernet back to HDMI to be displayed. Whew. Lots of points where things could be slowing down.

Rough sketch of the hardware that runs the Collaboration Carts™

I timed it, using the super-high-tech method of “point my fancy phone’s slow motion video camera at the screen to record 240fps of me drawing, and count the number of frames between a touch and when the ink shows up.” On the 50″ displays, it’s 33 frames. Which converts to 138ms lag between input and draw. Research suggests ~40ms would be optimal, so we’re looking at over a 3x factor. Not ideal.

So I wanted to test a “best case” scenario – running TIDraw on my iPad Pro, using the Pencil for input. This is supposed to be essentially “best in class” input, so I wanted to time how long it takes to respond to input there as well. It was 28-31 frames. 112-129ms. So, close enough to the larger 50″ display lag that it suggests the lag may not be in the hardware design after all. TIDraw could just be laggy enough that it becomes uncomfortable on larger displays (the lag wasn’t really noticeable on the iPad – it felt instantaneous – but on the larger display, you write larger, with broader strokes, moving the pen more quickly. So a 138ms lag means the ink could be several cm behind the pen, which causes all kinds of dissonance.

Next up – I’ll be tearing TIDraw apart a bit, to see if I can remove the smoothing. I think that’s what’s causing some delay there – it buffers points until it has enough to smooth, then starts drawing. Works great on smaller screens, but on larger screens… yikes. We saw a similar lag with Limnu, and I’d just chalked that up to the hardware design. Looks like there may be a flaw with the way these tools do smoothing?

Text annotation via digital whiteboards

We hosted a “TI Instructors Gathering” this morning, where we invite folks who are teaching in the Taylor Institute to come together to share their experiences and we can learn from them about how they use the spaces and technologies. This gathering was predominantly Languages profs – french/spanish/russian/french – and we got to talking about how they’d like to be able to have their students break into groups and use the “Collaboration Carts” to mark up passages of text. That’s not a thing that’s readily done – there are web-based text annotation tools, but not ones that are based on ink. Having students sketch on text is a useful activity, pedagogically, and so I got to thinking…

And a couple of hours of work later, I’ve gotten that feature working in TIDraw.net (which is what powers the digital whiteboards in the Taylor Institute).

Digital whiteboard markup of a bit of Shakespeare…

TIDraw works with images, so text needs to be converted before loading it for markup. There’s a utility for that (in the “Texts” button in the top menubar), and converted texts are available in a Gallery – using the same code as the Save and Template features.

This could be useful for visually marking up short passages – it won’t handle pagination, so longer passages won’t work. But – it’d be handy for marking up stanzas or short passages.

I’ll also work on a feature that will let people upload images – imagine being able to use the whiteboard tools to markup a painting, or an electron microscope image, or an x-ray image, etc…

Design thinking, with giant lobsters

Robert Kelly has been hosting his Design Thinking course in the TI for the past several years.

I was away over the summer, so missed the latest instance of the course. Giant lobsters! Thankfully, they documented the course and published a video of the shenanigans.

Giant lobsters invade the TI. And other interesting things.

It’s a bit of a challenge when the course is going on, because it’s so profoundly unconventional. Classroom? Classrooms? Nah. Buildings! But – it’s been amazing to see what the participants do, how they work together, and what they build.

Must-play examples of great video game design?

The plan for my PhD is taking a bit of a different tack, to take advantage of an incredible opportunity that will remain cryptically-alluded-to for now. I need to go deep on video game design, and I’ll be approaching things from a teachy-learny perspective so ideally I need to spend some quality time with key video games that are exemplars of experiential learning. I’m thinking it doesn’t need to be full-on Oregon Trail you-have-died-of-dysentery, but should include games that pioneered approaches to teach in some way. Things like the deceleration curve path in Forza Motorsport 5 et al. that guides you through difficult turns on a track, or the time-rewind-retry thing in Braid that lets you iterate on a plan until you solve it, or the try-stuff-until-you-figure-it-out exploration of Portal.

So. What are the must-play video games in various genres/platforms/eras?

Snapshots from the poison room

I took photos throughout my chemo/immunotherapy treatment, to document my reactions and the view from the poison room. Photos generates a decent slideshow (complete with Generic Copyright-takedown-avoiding Sountrack #1)1

18 infusions. 6 rounds. 5 months. 2 many selfies. 1 emergency hospital stay. It worked.
  1. I spent a few weeks back in 1997 building a similar video with photos from our wedding, in Macromedia Director and then output to VHS to play at the reception in town. I tapped a button on my phone and this chemo slideshow video spit out in seconds. Crazy. []

I also need more blogs

Ben Werdmüller wrote a post this morning on the value of blogs and regular longer-form writing. I 1000% agree with him.

You should start a blog, if you don’t have one already. There’s nothing better for organizing your thoughts and socializing ideas. You don’t have to labor for days over a post; blogs are often better when they’re off the cuff. Writing in an interface away from the hustle of social media often allows you to express yourself more calmly (I certainly find this to be the case). And I would love to read your thoughts.

Ben Werdmüller

He also writes about the value of RSS (and feed readers)

The only trouble is, there isn’t enough. Whereas Twitter and Facebook are unstoppable firehoses that constantly have new content, I can get through my feeds for the day in twenty minutes in the morning.

Yup. I also use (and love) Newsblur (my Blurblog of shared posts is also available).1 My morning routine is typically reading my feed subscriptions over breakfast.

RSS didn’t die, we just gave up on it because the unstoppable firehoses took over our attention. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been using RSS since day 1 of RSS, and don’t foresee that changing any time soon.

I plan to blog more often. I’d fallen out of the habit, for a bunch of reasons. But, I can fall back into the habit again, too…

  1. I use the web interface and iOS app – I’d used Reeder as well, but the first-party interface works really well, so I didn’t see the need to continue with a third-party app []

Apocalypse Chic

Charlie Tyson, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Anyone can weaponize melancholy; but distinguished older professors who have lived through the declining prestige of the humanities and of humanistic forms of knowledge — who have seen their own power and possibilities diminish within their lifetime — may be especially vulnerable.

Fashionable fatalism is often practiced by academia’s putative leftists, whose projects of resistance have left them world-weary. But it should be clear already that this argumentative style is not just complacent but cynically conservative. By pronouncing the uselessness of action, it bows to the status quo.

Source: Apocalypse Chic – The Chronicle of Higher Education

He’s writing about fatalism with regards to climate change (nihilistic shrugging because we’re already screwed so why bother), but it strikes me that I also see this happening with edtech. There are examples of people kicking ass and pushing hard for weirdness and DIY and experimental approaches to trying new (or repurposing existing) bits of learning technologies1. And there are the majority that just shrug and go along with the Enterprise Platforms™ because why bother pushing and fighting and trying…

If we aren’t willing to push for openness and DIY and colouring outside the lines – or deciding not to colour at all because we’d like to explore clay modeling for a bit – we’re just shutting down and accepting the status quo. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of why most of us got into higher education in the first place…

  1. see https://opened.ca and https://ds106.us and https://indieweb.org and https://reclaimhosting.com and and and… []

Lockdown – privacy app for iOS

I was sure I saw a link to this from Daringfireball, but can’t seem to find it again. Anyway. I’ve been running Lockdown on my phone for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been working great. It’s an app that integrates with the VPN feature in iOS, so all network requests get pushed through the app for filtering. It doesn’t actually do a VPN, but uses that as a hook to block domains that are requested in any app. There are app-specific tools like Firefox Focus, or Safari-tools like Better Blocker. But Lockdown should work in for any app because it runs at the VPN network level (so it could do things like blocking embedded marketing trackers that report when you’ve viewed an email in Mail, etc…).

It’s open source and free (for now?), but I haven’t gone through the code on GitHub (or, for that matter, have any way to verify that the code on GitHub is the code that’s compiled into the app). For all I know, it could be doing some nefarious stuff with my network requests. There’s no way to really tell. But it claims to work, and it blocks all kinds of privacy-invading adware, and other network-ne’er-do-wellers.

Lockdown’s privacy policy looks pretty clear, and states that nothing leaves the phone and all filtering happens locally. I’d feel a bit more comfortable if there was a third-party audit of the app, to know if it’s doing what it claims to be doing (and only what it claims to be doing). Handing an app VPN-level access to my phone is a rather big act of faith…

That’s all there is. Turn it on. Let it run. Assume it’s not being evil…

Pick the stuff you want to block and/or add your own filters…

It tracks the stuff it claims to have blocked. This is what came up after loading a few websites in Safari.

I’ll try running it for awhile longer – it seems to do a great job in stamping out the domains that are associated with internet crapware and privacy invasion. It feels a bit like the shared killfile in William Gibson’s Idoru

moving my digital notestuff to Notes

I’ve been using digital notebooks for many, many years. Everything was in Evernote, until it wasn’t. Then I used Noteshelf for the great ink. Then I used OneNote for the organization and even better ink. All along, I’ve kept a series of paper notebooks, which I’ve found myself using more often in the last couple of years1. And, our campus IT had been making somewhat-arbitrary changes to configuration involving OneDrive (and therefore OneNote) that made me uncomfortable continuing to keep The Sum of My Digital Notes™ in one basket that was configured by people with a track record of changing things without consultation2. I’ve moved my OneNote notebooks to my personal account, and am starting fresh in Notes. I’ve been using Notes (mostly on my phone) for trivial notes-in-passing for years, but the app has been improved a lot in the last year or so, with many more improvements about to drop.

I’ve organized my notes into folders and subfolders (using numbers to force sort order in some cases because it uses alpha sort with no manual override). So far, I’ve been able to get it set up the way I think I’ll use it, and have been using it a bunch for health stuff this summer. I’ll know more about how it works in heavy usage when I’m back in the office in a couple of weeks.

The simplicity of Notes was originally something that made me use it for the trivial notes-in-passing stuff (names and numbers to remember, places to try, quick notes to remember during conversations), but I’m finding the lack of overhead is liberating. No Ribbon™ to deal with. No editing modes. Just type (or write).

Yes, Apple could do something stupid, but that hasn’t happened yet, and the iCloud sync feature has been absolutely 100% rock solid, which is more than I can say for any other sync platform I use…

Anyway. It was time to declare bankruptcy on my previous digital notebooks, start fresh, simplify and streamline.

  1. I prefer using paper notebooks during meetings so I don’t have a screen up between myself and whoever I’m working with, and there are no notifications or apps or distractions in a paper notebook []
  2. I’d moved my digital notes into OneDrive to try to be a good steward of my notes – they are FOIP-able in a campus-managed platform, and backed up in a way that campus could access them if needed, but those aren’t worth the risk of losing the notes entirely due to something outside of my control []

An update from chemo-land

The one where our protagonist realizes he hasn’t published a blog post since November of last year and becomes paralyzed by the realization that he has nothing of note to write about, aside from a health update. Which is a great problem to have, given the circumstances.

So. I’ve been on medical leave from work for 4 months now, as I undergo treatment for lymphoma. I’ve finished round 4 and am gearing up for round 5 next week – then only one more round after that before recovering a bit and returning to work in mid-august.

The treatment is working. It started working almost immediately, and things have kept improving each round. My lab results are kind of amazing – the good numbers (hemoglobin) are up over 30%, and the bad numbers (a few flavours of proteins that are cranked out by the cancer cells) are way, WAY down. Neither sets are back in the normal range yet, but at least I can see normal from here.

It’s a happy plateau of hemoglobiny goodness.

My medical team is fantastic – I have a great hematologist, and the nursing staff at the cancer centre are all amazing. I’m extremely squeamish with needles, so having people who are incredibly good at inserting an IV has been a relief. Also, I’m grateful for our healthcare system in general – the most expensive part of my entire treatment has been paying for parking at the hospital. Despite the fact that the drugs I get will add up to more than I paid for my house, I’ll never see a bill for any of it. That takes so much stress off of everyone.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to take the medical leave – and am thankful that I’ve been able to focus on recovering from treatment rather than trying to amp up the energy to head back to work right away. I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into things, but realize that I wouldn’t have been exactly “productive” or “helpful” if I’d have tried to power through.

My treatment is a “well tolerated” protocol – I get one old-school chemo drug that was discovered in East Germany before the wall came down (this one basically messes up any cells that are actively dividing, but thankfully – THANKFULLY – hasn’t caused me to lose any of my glorious hair. That would have been awful!). The other drug is a newer immunotherapy thing that tells my immune system to kill any cells with a certain protein marker on them. Thankfully, my cancer cells all come from one line of B-lymphocytes that dutifully present this marker on their cell membranes, so it makes it easy to identify and destroy them. Stupid cancer cells. The chemo drug makes me feel kind of gross and very weak and shaky for a couple of weeks, giving me a couple of weeks to build back up before getting it again for the next round.

I’ve been feeling stronger each round, too. I think that’s a great sign that it’s working. I managed to get out on my bike last week, and have been doing yoga regularly. I even hit the gym with J. and it was great.

Anyway. 2 rounds go to, then I get to ring the bell. Then, recover a bit more, head back to work, and come back to the cancer centre every 3 months for the next 2 years to get maintenance infusions of the immunotherapy cocktail. The kind of cancer I have will be with me for the rest of my life. It doesn’t go into “remission”, it just gets knocked down enough to not be as much of an issue for awhile. Then we get to try the next thing. This’ll probably buy me 5-10 years before I need to try treatment again. But, treatment works.

Defining Learning Innovation | Technology and Learning

Several interesting points by Joshua Kim, on the nature of innovation in higher ed.

A focus on institutional learning innovation may involve the decision that all new classroom spaces and renovations will result in active learning spaces, with flat floors and moveable furniture. Or it may revolve around an initiative to embed academic librarians with professors throughout the course development, teaching, and redesign process.

One example comes from the world of online learning. On its own, an online learning program is not all that innovative.  What is innovative is when the school tries to figure out how to bring the lessons, methods, techniques, and resources from online courses to residential courses.MOOCs are not innovative. What would be innovative is to leverage what is learned from MOOCs to improve traditional online and residential courses.

Getting resources for pilot projects is usually much easier than transitioning the new practices to the normal operations of the school. Learning innovations that do not change how the institution works are ultimately useless. Learning innovation initiatives must be aligned with the strategic goals of the institution.

Source: Defining Learning Innovation | Technology and Learning

I’ve seen similar things with pilots – short-term funding to explore an idea that doesn’t get translated into something ongoing and sustainably funded, so it disappears after the pilot. Innovation has to be sustainable to make a real difference. It’s also incredibly important to avoid getting distracted by The Latest Shiny™ – learn from it, but the innovation is in how we translate what we learn into the institution, rather than just duct-taping on something new.

articles in the Journal of Learning Spaces 7(1)

4 interesting articles in the most recent issue, in no particular order:

McDavid, L., Carleton Parker, L., Burgess, W., Robertshaw, B., & Doan, T. (2018). The Combined Effect of Learning Space and Faculty Self-Efficacy to use Student-Centered Practices on Teaching Experiences and Student Engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from http://libjournal.uncg.edu/jls/article/view/1597

Instructors who teach well in one kind of learning space don’t magically translate that ability into teaching well in another kind of learning space. They need support/PD/consultation when moving, say, from a lecture hall to a flexible learning space (or vice versa?).

Zimmermann, P., Stallings, L., Pierce, R., & Largent, D. (2018). Classroom Interaction Redefined: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Moving Beyond Traditional Classroom Spaces to Promote Student Engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from http://libjournal.uncg.edu/jls/article/view/1601

Classroom design affects student learning. Some problematic vendor-specific language in the article, but the survey and discussion are interesting.

“There is no doubt the interactive space promoted a more collaborative and engaging environment than the traditional classroom spaces.”

and

“The interactive space allowed more mobility, generating greater immediacy and engagement in the classroom.”

Benoit, A. (2018). Investigating the Impact of Interactive Whiteboards in Higher Education. A Case Study. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from http://libjournal.uncg.edu/jls/article/view/1631

From just down the highway at Lethbridge College. Some interesting descriptions of types of classrooms in an inventory, and proximal zones of engagement (related to distance from a screen)1. Their use of “IWB” (Interactive Whiteboard) is problematic because, I think, it’s shorthand for “an instructor using their laptop to run SMART Notebook” (although they don’t say what is powering the IWB). This would explain why student engagement with the IWB is low – it’s not their thing, it’s the teacher’s thing. Also, whiteboards are a specific kind of digital tool2 – a digital version of the traditional analog whiteboard. Cramming other functionality into the “whiteboard” tool name is confusing. We don’t have a name that I’m happy with, but our collaborative station display/interface dealies are called “collaboration carts” to abstract away from any specific software or functionality. They can be made to do all kinds of things. One of those things is to pretend to be a whiteboard.

Cogswell, C., & Goudzwaard, M. (2018). Building Demand and Reaching for Capacity. Journal of Learning Spaces, 7(1). Retrieved from http://libjournal.uncg.edu/jls/article/view/1559

An interesting description of Dartmouth’s recent Berry Innovation Classroom project, and some of the design and implementation decisions they made.

  1. but even that appears to be just a republishing of Epson’s “4/6/8 rule” marketing information []
  2. like, say, TIDraw []

Resources for learning space evaluation

I was asked to pull together some links to resources that can be used to get started in evaluating learning spaces – how are they used? how effective are they? what kinds of interactions are enabled by the spaces? etc. There are some great resources – best to share the list here rather than just in an email…

EDUCAUSE has some really fantastic resources on evaluating learning spaces. They have a book full of concepts and case studies:

https://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/learning-spaces

And they have what is probably the definitive learning spaces evaluation framework, the Learning Space Rating System which includes a scoresheet/rubric for evaluating properties of a space.

https://www.educause.edu/eli/initiatives/learning-space-rating-system

UCISA has developed The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, available at:

https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/learningspace

And the Social Context and Learning Environments (SCALE) survey measures and documents interactions between students in a learning space, which can be useful in describing the kinds of things that happen in different types of spaces:

https://libjournal.uncg.edu/jls/article/view/1525

There are also many examples and resources at the FLEXspace project website:

http://flexspace.org

I’ve got some more learning space-related links collected at:

https://links.darcynorman.net/bookmarks.php/dnorman/learning%20spaces

But the ones above are some good resources to start with. What other key resources are out there? What do you use?