2016 week 48 in review


The UCalgary Makerspace community met over in the Environmental Design fabrication shops. Lots of awesome stuff going on there, and they’re adding 2 giant 5-axis robot arms for high end custom fabrication.


Reps from Top Hat were on campus, doing a series of workshops for instructors and staff. Top Hat is used pretty extensively in some of our largest courses, but also in many smaller ones. The more interesting uses involve anonymous questions and formative feedback from students…


I went to a presentation by Mike Casey from Indiana University, on media preservation. He’s working to save a giant collection of analog recordings, which are in the process of degrading and the players are obsolete and failing. Triggered thoughts about planning to keep important (and even not-important) media safe so that it will survive shifts in technology and whims of budgetary processes over the years.

I was fortunate enough to hear 2 presentations by Adam Bradley, who is doing post-doc work in the INNOVIS lab with Sheelagh Carpendale1. Adam is doing interesting work on augmenting close reading of poetry, and had a room full of computer science nerds analyzing a poem together – and all actively engaged in the process. Code can be used to infuse humanity and art, rather than algorithmically sucking the life out of it. These talks triggered a LOT of thinking for me, and definitely adjusted how I’m looking at my PhD research plan.


  1. INNOVIS is part of the iLab, which is my home in CPSC []

experimenting with alternative social networks

Having done the delete-social-media-account dance again, I’m without Twitter and Facebook. And still feeling really really good about that. But, I miss being part of an extended community of interesting people who share ideas quasi-synchronously. A social network, as it were.

So. I’ve been looking at some of the alternatives. I don’t think any of them are “there” yet, but they each provide an opportunity to explore different aspects of community and software design. When looking at these alternatives, I’m trying to learn about how the design of software affects what people actually do with it. I’m also aware that much of the difference, when compared with twitter or facebook, is due to novelty and freshness – there are no trolls there (yet), and everyone who is exploring the platforms is doing so because they care and are interested and interesting. So, not apples-to-apples. But, still, there is much to learn by actually using these things. That’s the only way I know of to really learn what these things mean.


A wonderful microblogging platform, built by Ben Werdmüller and Erin Richey. It’s kind of like a twitter-on-steroids, or a simplified blogging platform. It works well, and is really geared to either single-author sites or central community sites. I threw a copy on my Reclaim Hosting server, to see how that might work. There are a handful of people kicking the tires there. Come play, if you want to, and if you’re not a troll or spambot.

It can also handle federation – if you run your own Known site, you can set that site up to cross-publish to a Known community site. But it’s one-directional – you may need to go to the community site to see responses. Federating posts seems to throw an error message on the “sending” site, but the posts appear to get through regardless. So, partially federated. Partially distributed. But, because people need to [remember|want] to come back to the central site, it’s often tumbleweeds… But, when comment threads take off, they seem deeper than twitter threads.

Known has been going for awhile now, starting as IDNO. I’ve been running a site, as well as a few others – most notably Grant Potter, who has jumped right into using Known as a write-once-publish-elsewhere tool.


Thanks to an initial suggestion by Scott Leslie – This one feels the most twitter-like1. Lots of edu-folks are there already, so it might have some legs… It already feels like less of a tumbleweed-collector, with more people playing with it and posting more often. There are some new things with the UI design – longer posts (500 characters!) – and this seems to be changing what the posts/toots are. Longer @response chains. Posts that are sometimes like tiny blog posts – and so fewer tweetstorms of 20-part posts as seen on twitter.

GNU Social

Open source, LAMP software. Easy to install. Not ready for prime time. Fully federated. Fully distributed. The UI is… unpolished. The code sometimes throws PHP errors, but seems to work anyway.


I haven’t used this one yet – it’s a cleaned-up implementation of GNU Social.


Every time I let myself fall into the “hey! let’s play with some of the options for ___” thing, I give my head a shake. Who has time for this? I sure don’t. Why not just wait until the dust settles and then start poking at what’s left? Because it’s important to explore this stuff before things start to ossify. Waiting for the dust to settle is the easy route, but it also abdicates any sense of responsibility to help shape or refine the tools we will all end up using. And these tools are clearly now a major part of discourse and communication in general, meaning I’m just not comfortable leaving it to silicon valley to define things for me.

Grassi Lakes Trail Hike - 18

I think it’s important that we all have the ability to easily install and manage our own tools if they are to be important to us, and that the safest and most reliable way to do that is with a fully distributed and federated model that lets everyone choose how their tools will behave and who will have access to them, their content, and data about themselves.

I plan to poke around with these, and likely others, over the next few months. I have no idea what (if anything) will come of that.

  1. although the Quitter.no branch(?) of GNU Social is pretty close, too, but I haven’t played with it much yet []

2016 week 47 in review

So… after a year-long hiatus from doing this weekly review thing, I’m thinking it’s time to start it back up. I’m not sure what the format should be…


We hosted the (fourth?) TI Learning Spaces lunch session, to help bring together instructors who are teaching in the TI so they can share what they’re doing. This month’s topic was assessment – how do you assess learning in a flexible space, with active learning and a strong focus on student agency? Lots of great ideas from the instructors – and TI staff – who participated in the session. And we’re all looking forward to a gala dance in the forum next semester as part of a course on Jane Austen…

First year education students had a digital poster fair on Friday. 160+ students, 2 months into their program at university, sharing academic poster presentations. Amazing. The energy in the room was incredible, and students were commenting on how much fun it was. Wow. 2 months into my undergrad program, there’s no way I could have done what they did. Students are so incredibly capable and engaged. One student was Facetime-ing into the session from Montreal, where he had just finished practice to prepare for the Vanier Cup game the next day.

From an event-support standpoint for the poster session, we raised 2 Skyfold walls (AB and BC) to combine Learning Studios A, B and C, and moved most of the tables and chairs out of the way to leave the combined learning studios open for students to move between the collaboration carts. Student groups were assigned a station (with a station number indicated by a sticker placed on top of the metal cart number signs – protip: don’t use stickers for this). We had the room set up in less than 30 minutes, and it took about the same time to reset it to “normal” afterward. Many hands, yadda yadda. Go team!

EDUC poster sessions


I went to a CMD lunch presentation by Naithan Bosse, on interactive soundscapes. Lots of interesting ideas and examples for incorporating binaurally spatialized sound to locate it in 3 dimensional space, and to connect it to other locations/times/people. It can become a form of audio augmented reality, or collaborative co-composing.


Stuff I’ve starred in Fever˚ and/or added as a link:

on the evolution of video games

I’ve been playing video games since I started typing them into our Vic=20, from the pages of Compute! Magazine. ASCII-art games, in glorious 22-column resolution. Amazing. Console gaming for me started with Intellivision in 1980. One of my favorite games was Skiing, which was an incredible and exciting ski simulator.

It seemed more awesome at the time. Honest.

Compare with the latest ski simulator game, Steep, which is in open beta this weekend. I grabbed a copy (it’s free, so why not). And holy buckets.

A similar progression has happened in all other forms of video games. I’m a bit addicted to driving games. Intellivision’s Auto Racing looked something like this back in the day:

Auto Racing!

It was, at the time, at the forefront of computer graphics and free-roaming gameplay. Seriously. Compare with Forza 6, which came out last year:

Volumetrically modeled puddles to calculate drag and traction on a car as it passes through. Millimeter-accurate laser-scanned tracks. Cars that are accurate not just in appearance but in physics, response, and sound.

And it goes on and on. Flight simulators. First-person shooters. Everything has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades. Compare Pitfall! with Lora Croft in Tombraider.

And, we’re in the beginning stages of another dramatic shift – immersive experiences with motion-tracking goggles1, and new hand-held controllers or even passively sensing controllers that completely change how you interact with software.

Now, compare that level of dramatic change to the last couple of decades of educational software. Learning management systems. Even document editing. Some incremental changes. Nothing that so completely alters the experience such that it would have been literally unbelievable back in 1980.

For example. WebCT, from a decade ago – or even two decades ago – would look entirely normal in 2016 – as long as the fonts and stylesheets were tweaked. See, for example, the current interface of D2L

  1. I won’t call them VR because what’s being developed is not Virtual Reality – it’s just a video display that responds to the motion of your head. Incredible and immersive, but not Virtual Reality. []

dlnorman is still here

I hadn’t planned on writing anything here about this, but enough people have asked me variations of “OMG ARE YOU OK?” that it’s worth saying something. On October 7, I deleted my twitter and Facebook accounts. It’s not a nihilistic dramatic cry for help. I am fine. Doing great, actually.

It was directly triggered by US election fatigue (and I’m horrified, watching the results starting to trickle in as I write this. How on earth is this even remotely close?). I just got tired of the constant drain, the constant snark, updates, trash talk, and general toxicity of the whole process. For a country that likes to think of themselves as the paragon of democracy, it’s truly shocking just how dysfunctional, distracting, divisive and corrosive their process is. It’s going to take a decade to depolarize and repair after this madness ends.



It wasn’t just because of the US election. I also got tired of the uninformed opinions on how Trudeau is destroying Canada by letting in millions of refugees who are apparently stealing jobs and homes while pushing the price of oil down and therefore responsible for white collar unemployment. Go figure. It’s not an argument that will be resolved by crazy things like facts or honest and open discussion. And I got tired of how I grew to feel about people who repeated uninformed opinions on many topics. So I withdraw from that nonsense. And I’m feeling good about that.

I also threw several babies out with that toxic bath water. I miss regular updates from friends and colleagues. I miss hearing what’s going on in my PhD lab (which is coordinated through a closed Facebook page. Really?). I miss easily contacting friends and colleagues – I’ve realized I have outdated email addresses for several people (happy belated birthday, Jen!).

I know hardly anyone reads my blog anymore, so I miss sharing what I’m doing with people in various communities. But I’m still blogging.

Actually, I’ve been blogging more. I’ve also started posting stream-of-consciousness stuff as well, resurrecting a Known site. I’ve subscribed to several more RSS feeds – pushing close to 1200 now – if anyone has anything really meaningful to say, it winds up posted to or mentioned on a blog somewhere.

I’ve been surprised to realize that my thinking has become less reflexively snarky. I’ve been making more of an effort to actually talk to people, in person, and focusing more on my local communities rather than diffuse connections online.

Am I going to stay off of twitter and Facebook? I don’t know. I think it’s likely. It’s not like I’ve disappeared, and I’m super-easy to get in touch with. But I’ll be staying tuned out of the pointless nonsense.

Karen Bourrier – teaching in the TI

This is cool. Karen is teaching one of her Victorian literature classes in the Taylor Institute, and redesigned the course to take advantage of the flexible space and collaborative technologies. Awesome. I can’t wait to hear more about how it goes (as well as learning from the 20 other instructors and ~2000 students working in the TI this semester, and even more queued up for W2017!)

This semester I decided to do something a little different. I have the privilege of teaching my Victorian literature class in one of the fancy new classrooms at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. My 40-person class has six big touch screens, and as a result we’ve been able to do a lot of hands-on work in small groups leading into discussions with the whole class.

Source: Blog – Karen Bourrier

Cam-unity building

This is cool. CAM(era)-(COMM)unity. A project by the Graduate Students’ Association here at UCalgary. Not just a “create a profile and post a photo” site – but a physical token that must be passed from grad student to grad student to unlock a login to the site. An interesting way to get students to meet each other, and also to share information about themselves and their research.

Source: Cam-unity | U of C project

More info in a UToday article.

Doc Searls – The Castle Doctrine

I thought he might be talking about where we host our stuff as our castles, but he means it in a much more personal and direct way – web browsers (and other internet-abled apps, I would add) are extremely personal spaces where we invite content and code from outside the walls. I think I have the right to make sure guests leave surveillance devices and weapons outside before entering.

So here is a helpful fact: we don’t go anywhere when we use our browsers. Our browser homes are in our computers, laptops and mobile devices. When we “visit” a web page or site with our browsers, we actually just request its contents (using the hypertext protocol called http or https).

In no case do we consciously ask to be spied on, or abused by content we didn’t ask for or expect. That’s why we have every right to field-strip out anything we don’t want when it arrives at our browsers’ doors.

Source: The Castle Doctrine – Medium

Bryan Alexander – A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology

This entire dictionary is awesomeness and gold.

Blended learning, n. The practice of combining digital and analog teaching. Also referred to as “teaching”, “learning”, and “the real world”.

Flipped classroom, n. “The practice of replacing lectures that instructors give to summarize a course’s readings with videos of lectures that summarize a course’s readings.”

LMS, n. 1) A document management system, whereby a faculty member can transfer a single document to his or her students. Curiously overpowered for this purpose, nevertheless universally deployed.

2) A good way to avoid legal notices about copyright.

3) The graveyard of pedagogical intentions. A sump for IT budgets.

Source: A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology – Medium