2017 week 3 in review

Work

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.

PhD

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.

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Other

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

Work

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.

PhD

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!

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Other

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

Work

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!

#TICONF2017

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.

Retwittering

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

PhD

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

Dimensionality

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.

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Other

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 MĂĄrtensson, 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!

2016 / 366photos

I just pulled together photos from each day of 2016 – and realized I’ve been shooting at least one photo per day for a decade now. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep doing it, but now can’t imagine not doing it.

The latest gallery has 366 photos, due to the leap year. My photos have gone through artsy phases, and have pretty much settled into an informal documentary style. Lots of repeating shots over the years. Lots of progress shots – of people and places. This was the year of building the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, installing a bunch of tech, and moving in. So, lots of photos of that.

Probably 99% of the photos are taken with my phone. The camera built into the iPhone 6 Plus is pretty decent. It’s no DSLR, but it’s always with me. Always. And optical stabilization helps. For the handful of photos that were taken with my over-a-decade-old Canon XT, the glass makes those photos much better. But I don’t carry it around much anymore. One of the photos was taken with the software camera built into Forza Horizon 3 on XBox One. One was made with Gephi. So, whatever camera is handy… Photos are usually prompted by “hey, that’s interesting”, rather than being pre-planned or composed. Several of the photos appear trivial, but were taken before, during or after important conversations.

Here’s to the next decade of daily photos…

2016 week 52 in review

Work

Nothing. The university was closed for the break. IT even thoughtfully shut down campus websites for a network upgrade.

PhD

I poked around with some Python tutorials to prep for the course I’m taking next semester – I’ll spend 4 months programming robots to do interesting things, while hopefully obeying at least 1 of Asimov’s 3 Laws…

Read

Some of the python code I cobbled together automatically pulls “starred” items from NewsBlur, links saved to my Scuttle server, and stories I’ve recommended on Medium. So…

I need to refine the script to automatically yank items from previous weeks – easy for the Scuttle links because I have direct access to the MySQL database, and possible through the NewsBlur API, but Medium doesn’t put the date of the recommendation in the feed (so if I recommend a story today, but the story was posted on Dec. 1, the date of the feed item is Dec. 1. Not helpful…)

Other

Headed out to Nakiska for a ski day yesterday. Still in horrible shape. Need to build the legs back up…

getting starred feed items from Newsblur via Python

One of the things I’d come to depend on when using FeverËš was a hand-rolled PHP utility script (cleverly called “Readinator”) that grabbed all feed items that I’d starred in FeverËš in the last week and generated a list in Markdown syntax for easy copy/paste into my Week in Review™ posts (it also pulls links that I’ve added to my Scuttle bookmark server in the last week as well). After moving to Newsblur, my utility script obviously became less useful. Sadface.

But, Newsblur has an API. I could have probably tweaked my PHP script to use that, but I’m learning Python for use on projects so I took the opportunity to learn a bit more Python with a real-world scratch-my-own-itch project.

My Python-fu is very weak. Hell, my programming-fu in general has atrophied pretty horribly. So, after a few false starts (the Python-Newsblur wrapper looked promising, but it hadn’t been updated in 6 years and I couldn’t get it to do anything), I rolled up my sleeves and wrote something using the handy Requests python library.

It took a fair bit of trial and error, googling, and scratching of head, but I wound up with a script that logs in, stores a session ID, calls GET /reader/starred_stories, and iterates through the results to generate markdown.

Hey, presto! That’s the meat of it – about 20 lines of code (I err on the side of readability over brevity, so it could have been compacted quite a bit). There’s another bit that does the logging in and generation of the cookie to return with the GET /reader/starred_stories call.

And so, a preview of the Newsblur-powered portion of this week’s Week in Review: Read section:

The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

Audrey Watters‘ third annual edtech book publishing spree brings us The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology – a compilation of her keynote addresses from 2016. As with the previous two, it will be a must-read. Given how dark and dismal 2016 was, even/especially in edtech…

Once again, I spent much of 2016 on the road, traveling and speaking extensively about education technology’s histories, ideologies, and mythologies. The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology is a collection of about a dozen of those talks on topics ranging from pigeons to predicting the future.

Source: The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

rebooting my rss workflow

I’ve lived with RSS as a major source of information for over a decade. I’ve been using Shaun Inman’s fantastic FeverËš self-hosted reader since 2009 or so. It’s been a solid workhorse, and I’ve built quite a workflow around it. Shaun is refocusing his efforts on software that he uses himself, and is putting FeverËš and Mint out to pasture. That’s a hard decision to make, and I admire him for making it. Since FeverËš is self-hosted, I could just keep using it until it eventually crumbles (as PHP updates around it, etc.) but I’m taking this opportunity to take a look at how I manage my feeds.

First, I had subscribed to too many feeds. Well north of 1,000. Which was handy for keeping on top of everything, but that’s not something I care to do anymore. So, I exported my feeds from FeverËš, cracked open the OPML file in BBEdit, and started pruning. I’m now down to 161 feeds that are important enough to keep on top of. And some of those will likely be pruned to help with focus.

Next, how to manage the feeds? Self-hosted tools (other than FeverËš) are a bit clunky. I don’t have the energy to battle with creaky software anymore. So, a tool hosted by an individual, organization, or company that doesn’t suck. I was looking at Feedly and Newsblur. Both seem decent. Both integrate with Reeder on Mac and iOS. Christina suggested Newsblur. That recommendation is good enough for me. So I picked up a one-year license, and fed my 161-feed OPML file into it.

I’m going to give Newsblur some time – the UI is way different than what I’m used to with FeverËš, and I need to figure out how to rebuild parts of my previous workflow (like getting a list of the last 7 days’ worth of saved items in Markdown format for pasting into my week-in-review posts…). And, it will take a week or so to build up content in the feeds I subscribe to. Right now, it’s a lot of emptiness. Which is refreshing, but not interesting.

RSS is dead. Long live RSS!

2016 week 51 in review

Work

It was a quiet week, but maybe that gave burnout a chance to catch up to me. I don’t know how to explain it – I’ve worked much harder before, but there’s something about my current role that seems to keep me constantly close to the edge of burning out. I need to figure this out. I’m not going to speculate publicly, but there are some things I’m going to tweak in the next few weeks, and throughout the coming year. This stuff is too important to just keep trying to brute-force my way through it, hoping things will magically change. It doesn’t work that way.

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Other

I took a day off and went to Sunshine Village with a friend on Tuesday. It was easily the best ski day of my life. An almost-empty ski hill (compared to what I’m used to), on so much fresh snow. And it snowed all day. Amazing. And, we had the added experience of being near the top of Lookout Mountain in complete whiteout conditions. I need to get in better shape before heading out again, though. Ouch.