Katarina Mårtensson keynote – Significant conversations in academic microcultures

Dr. Mårtensson‘s research formed much of the foundation of the plan for the Taylor Institute. Specifically, the macro/meso/micro layers within an organization, and working with each layer in various ways to draw people into the community. Her keynote at the 2017 University of Calgary Conference on Post-secondary Learning and Teaching was great, and nicely connected many of the threads of the conference.

The Weird Thing About Today’s Internet – The Atlantic

Alexis Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic:

Nowadays, (hyper)linking is an afterthought because most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web. And the idea of “harnessing collective intelligence” simply feels much more interesting and productive than it does now. The great cathedrals of that time, nearly impossible projects like Wikipedia that worked and worked well, have all stagnated. And the portrait of humanity that most people see filtering through the mechanics of Facebook or Twitter does not exactly inspire confidence in our social co-productions.

Source: The Weird Thing About Today’s Internet – The Atlantic

Jason Kottke provides this response:

The thing is, Facebook did open up…they turned themselves inside-out and crushed the small pieces loosely joined contingent. They let the Web flood in but caught the Web’s users and content creators before they could wash back out again.


Facebook as a giant baleen whale, siphoning the web, filtering out the parts it needs in order to feed.

Whale of a Mouthful
Photo by Teddy Llovet

The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? – NYTimes.com

Zeynep Tufekci, writing about the latest ransomware, in the New York Times:

If I have painted a bleak picture, it is because things are bleak. Our software evolves by layering new systems on old, and that means we have constructed entire cities upon crumbling swamps. And we live on the fault lines where more earthquakes are inevitable. All the key actors have to work together, and fast.

Source: The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? – NYTimes.com

In one of the Reddit threads about the ransomware, it was speculated that the “kill switch” (that was activated when an unregistered domain was registered by a security researcher) was really just a test in the code to see if the virus was running in a sandboxed environment. It tried to connect to a URL that didn’t exist. In a sandboxed environment, it would get something returned like or somesuch, and the code terminated to avoid being analyzed more deeply. Coincidentally, by registering the nonsense domain, all infected computers behaved (to the virus) as if they were sandboxed, so the code terminated.

But a new variant without this kill switch behavior is already in the wild. A leaked NSA “cyber weapon” is now in the wild, with no kill switch or any way to stop it. Awesome. Digital infiltration tools built by US military intelligence, now in the hands of Russian teenagers with no control or oversight.

The flip reaction is “update your systems, jerks!” – but it’s just not that simple or easy (for the reasons outlined by Zeynep in the article). And, throw on the new Internet of Things pattern, and it’s going to get really bumpy, really quickly.

I work at a campus that got hit hard by ransomware last year. It’s not fun, for anyone involved. Our IT folks moved mountains to try to get systems and data back online. Again, this problem is only going to get worse. How do we prepare for that?

How Google Took Over the Classroom – The New York Times

Natasha Singer wrote a piece for the NYTimes on Google in the classroom. Is it a marketing ploy? (of course it is – there is no such thing as a free lunch, etc…) Google says “of course it isn’t – we just want kids to learn! It’s about the learning!” 🤔

These two quotes, one from Bill Fitzgerald, the other from the director of Google’s education unit, Bram Bout, outline the tension nicely:

“Unless we know what is collected, why it is collected, how it is used and a review of it is possible, we can never understand with certainty how this information could be used to help or hurt a kid,” said Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media, a children’s advocacy group, who vets the security and privacy of classroom apps.

Google declined to provide a breakdown of the exact details the company collects from student use of its services. Bram Bout, director of Google’s education unit, pointed to a Google privacy notice listing the categories of information that the company’s education services collect, like location data and “details of how a user used our service.”

Source: How Google Took Over the Classroom – The New York Times

So… we need to know exactly what is tracked, stored, retained, and used to generate profiles about our kids, which is the exact business model of Google.

Or, we don’t, because we can trust Google absolutely and without question, they aren’t applying their established multibillion-dollar-per-year business model here, and are merely grooming a generation of kids to unquestioningly and fully embrace the Google ecosystem so that they can be more effectively profiled the day after graduation.

Ignite sessions at UofC Conference on PostSec Learning and Teaching

We tried something new (for us) this year, and had an Ignite session during the Taylor Institute’s annual conference. It was a risk, as we had never hosted that format before, and none of the 6 presenters (for 5 presentations) had ever done an Ignite. Nevertheless, we persisted.

I got talked into being the (humble) host for the event, introducing the format and acting as emcee between presenters. Each presenter provided their slides earlier in the week, so I had time to smush them all into one master presentation file and apply the automatic slide progression for their decks.

Photo by Susan Cannon

I have to say – I’m extremely proud of each of the presenters. They took a HUGE risk in trying the Ignite format, and they all nailed their presentations. The audience was very supportive and enthusiastic, and that led to some great presentations as the presenters fed on the energy and vice versa. I had meant to take some photos during the session, but being the emcee made that difficult. It was amazing.

I had never hosted an Ignite session, but would do it again in a heartbeat. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to give an Ignite presentation, at the Discovery Education Network’s event at the Barley Mill back in May 2016. Dean Shareski hosted that session wonderfully, and I found myself channeling my inner Dean throughout our session.

The Ignite session format worked really well – we had 5 extremely diverse presentations – some technical, some philosophical – all in a keynote-style all-hands session, with all conference attendees gathered in the Forum to participate. I have to say – I love that conference style so much more than running 7 simultaneous tracks of longer sessions, which breaks up the community and spreads it into smaller pockets. There’s a need for broad interdisciplinary coming-together, as well as deep context-specific being-together.

Photo (I think) by Jessica Snow

Production notes from this… I sent out an intro and plan by email to the presenters a couple of weeks before the conference, outlining how the session would flow, and the technical requirements. I sent a couple of follow-up emails to make sure people felt comfortable, and to see if they had questions (and, nervously, to confirm that they were aware of the Ignite format).

All decks were created and submitted as PowerPoint files, and I created the master deck as a PowerPoint file as well. I asked presenters to stick to the 16×9 HD aspect ratio, but they were free to do whatever they wanted with their 20 slides.

There were some very minor technical glitches from combining all 5 presentations into a single deck. Each had used different themes, which meant fonts and colours were wonky in the master deck (I creatively used the “Office” default white template, to keep things neutral). Also, some slides had used background image rather than inserted images. Turns out, background images don’t survive the combinification process intact. Not a big deal, but some manual futzing and recreation of images was required. I’m sure a PowerPoint expert would laugh and say “haha! Just click the ‘don’t mess up merged presentations’ button!” (or some such). Whatever. You’re not the boss of me. Copy/paste/fix/repeat/done.

For the master presentation, I had a few slides as an “Intro” section that described the plan, described what an Ignite-ma-thingy is, and then listed the 5 presentations. Then, each presentation had a title card that I added as an untimed padding to give people a chance to get set up before hitting “GO!”. When they were ready, they gave me the signal, and I nudged to the first slide of their deck. 15 seconds later, auto-progression to the next slide, etc., through their whole deck. At the end of the 5 minutes, the presentation landed on a neutral untimed padding slide (with an abstract image), and a bell gave the signal that time was up. Quick emcee duties, transition to next presenter, and then “GO!” and they’re off! Repeat until all 5 presentations are complete.

After the presentations were finished, Natasha took over as emcee, and masterfully led the question-and-answer and discussion. I had asked the audience to take notes of things they had questions about, were inspired by, or wanted to more about as the presentations flew by, so they would be able to remember their points during the post-discussion. This worked well – giving the prompt to remember questions led some to actually make note of things they wanted to ask, which led to a fantastic discussion.

Feedback from presenters and attendees was extremely positive. I think we’ll likely be looking at trying the format again, if not expanding it in some way. Lots of ideas already…

The Rise of Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon | EDUCAUSE

The push for educational technology exists within a broader political, economic, ideological, and technological context. The all-too-common ignorance of this context and the subtleties of learning itself may prove problematic for edtech — and higher education’s future.

Source: The Rise of Educational Technology as a Sociocultural and Ideological Phenomenon | George Veletsianos and Rolin Moe

The article is a really good one, and points to the broad issues with the disruption-of-education-by-silicon-valley narrative (one which has been championed by Audrey Watters for years, and which also overlaps with the work that Stephen Downes has been doing forever).

I think it’s important to make a distinction between “online courses and commercial MOOCs” and “educational technology”. The billions of dollars that have been funnelled into online courses and platforms to enable them have been largely flushed down a giant toilet. Billionaires have pushed money to drive a narrative that erodes trust and value in institutions that serve a critical role in our society. I think that’s reprehensible. And, they use that money to further push the narrative of radical vulture capitalism – if you can’t make it big, like me the billionaire who did it with totally no support or help from anyone anywhere, then it’s your fault.

Educational technology in general is still a viable and important thing – I view it as “how things are done in 2017” – we need tools to support collaboration, and active learning, and all of the wonderful digital pedagogies stuff that is developing at (and across) institutions. I see educational technologies not as replacing teaching by people who care about learning, or of disrupting institutions that provide for such experiences.

I see good educational technology not as replacing the face-to-face classroom experience, but as enhancing, extending, enabling and amplifying it. But, as Veletsianos and Moe point out, technocentrism is a real problem – we can’t be led by vendors or investors. We need to lead this from a teaching-and-learning perspective, not an enterprise-purchasing one.

One dangerous outcome of technocentric practices and the dismissal of the field’s history is the development of products and services uninformed by lessons of the past. For example, even though MOOCs were pursued to both disrupt and reimagine education, their pervasive pedagogical practices are primarily objectivist, marking a sharp contrast to theories of learning that imagine learning as a collaborative, active, emancipatory, and social endeavor.

Immersive theatre informing VR experiences

But for as popular as immersive theater has become, it hasn’t solved its scale problem. Productions like Then She Fell offer incredible intimacy between the actor and viewer, but to do so, they only fill 15 seats a night. That means a year of shows can accommodate less people than a single movie theater for half a day.

A few years ago, creator Jennine Willet was having drinks with 14 creatives at Disney who worked on park attractions. They’d come to see how she crafts plays like Then She Fell. “They were like, I loved that scene with [redacted], how could you make that for 600 people?’” she says. “I think I spit my cosmo. I said, ‘I think that’s a paradox. I don’t think you can have intimacy with 600 people.’”In person, that’s probably true. In VR? That rules of intimacy can change

Source: The Sexy, Scary Play That’s Influencing Google, Facebook, And Disney | Co.Design (via Jon Kruithof)

This is basically in line with what I’m thinking about for my PhD research – how can the lessons of theatre and dramaturgy and performance be adapted for other media?

The production of Then She Fell sounds amazing – and also insanely exclusive. An in-club-event for in-club-thought-leaders. But, with tools like VR and AR in the hands of new storytellers, these kinds of immersive alternate reality productions are going to be coming from individuals and indie developers. This is partially what the future of storytelling will involve. And – where I’m hoping to go with this – how can these experiences be used to foster reflection on performance and learning?

Lessons learned: AV systems design in the Taylor Institute

We’ve been in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning‘s new building for almost a year now, and it’s time to step back and reflect on what we’ve learned through that first year.

The building itself is a marvel of architecture, design and technology. We’re extremely fortunate to be able to go to work there every day. It’s been a constant source of inspiration – not the building, but the amazing things that instructors, students and staff are doing within it, together, on a regular basis.

Several key design principles were used to guide the design at every stage of the process – most importantly, transparency and flexibility. The main floor of the TI is a wide open space, with lots of glass, high ceilings, and windows. The light is amazing. It feels like a space that matters, and that instructors and students matter because it’s for them.

But, designing the audiovisual systems that power the learning studios in a way to enable that kind of flexibility and transparency was a real challenge. We couldn’t just stick large displays on the walls – because many of the walls are glass – and the ones that aren’t glass are Skyfold retractable walls that get folded up into the ceiling to combine studios.

We also couldn’t install permanent floor-mounted displays, because the spaces needed to be quickly adapted for different uses and layouts – each class can use the spaces differently, and sometimes they even change the layout of the room on the fly during a class. We needed technology that would support that kind of flexibility.

We (the broader team, led by The Sextant Group) came up with “collaboration carts” – 33 standalone units on the first floor, each with a 50″ touch display mounted to a stand with wheels. They can be plugged into floor boxes throughout the learning studios, and can be easily repositioned (or removed) as needed. We’re able to do everything from presentations to active learning sessions to collaborative project work to academic conference digital poster sessions, changing the layout quickly as needed.

Here’s a basic schematic of the bits of kit that power these collaboration carts. The carts themselves are really just the 50″ display, a webcam, and an ethernet connection that sends input data to the computer that controls that cart and sends back the video signal for display on the screen. All of the computers are on another floor in the building, in a dedicated server room.

This design gives a level of flexibility I’ve never seen anywhere. Each of the 33 collaboration carts can be positioned anywhere in the learning studios on the first floor, and the system discovers where they are and routes data accordingly. The instructor (or students) can control what happens to the room from a simple Crestron panel on the podium – switching the room from “presentation mode” where the facilitator can display content from the studio PC or their own laptop, and push it to all displays in the room (including the projector and any collaboration carts that have been deployed in that studio). Participants can see the presented content up close on the nearest collaboration cart display – and this has turned out to be a wonderful benefit in line with Universal Design for Learning.

From that Crestron panel, the studio can be switched over into “active learning mode”, turning each of the collaboration carts into a standalone unit to support small group collaboration. In this mode, participants can use the carts for Skype for Business calls (although that hasn’t actually been used, aside from demos), or launch Chrome or Firefox browsers to access any web-based content or software (including Office 365, Google Docs, Prezi, Padlet, Top Hat, and various domain-specific tools including chemical molecule viewers).

The carts also have a “present media” option, that activates a Mersive Solstice Pod for wireless presentation of media (or screen sharing) from participants’ own devices. it works on macOS, Windows, iOS and Android devices, and doesn’t require a dongle or cable for people to share their work. It’s been a really powerful tool, used pretty regularly by students.

We’ve also discovered that students love having access to the studios when there aren’t classes in session. Students have colonized every square inch of the TI, and are regularly working together in the learning studios (and occasionally watching Netflix or even dragging in a PS4 to play on the big screens…) – but by and large, they actually come together to use these amazing technologies to work on projects together. I’m really glad we decided to take the risk of leaving the studios unlocked during operating hours for the TI – our initial plan had been to leave them locked when not in use by a class. We took a risk by changing that, and so far it’s been extremely successful by letting students adapt the spaces and technologies to support their own learning.

So, what have we learned about the design of the AV systems in the first year? Mostly, everything has worked as designed. With the sheer number of units in the building, of course there were failures. Thankfully, that was covered under warranty, so we were able to get replacements quickly. But, the warranties all expire at the end of this month. Gulp.

1. Evergreening. We were in the honeymoon period during the first year, with warranty periods covering everything. That’s about to expire, and we need to plan to evergreen – replacing and upgrading portions of the system each year to make sure it keeps working as needed and we’re able to incorporate new technologies.

2. Fragility. The flexibility built into the system has been absolutely incredible – empowering people to do cool things without needing much more than a quick orientation – but, the state of the tech when the building was designed meant that the level of flexibility came with a cost. There are many points of failure – often, if a collaboration cart goes down or acts up, there are literally 15 different things to check, several trips to the mezzanine floor to reboot things and tweak configurations, and eventually the tech comes back online. But which of those 15 things did the trick? When there’s a class in session, we’re not about to methodically go through 15 trips upstairs and back downstairs to verify each step. We have time to make sure cables are seated, and reboot the smallest number of devices without bringing the rest of the studio or first floor offline in the process.

In the 2 years since the systems were designed, there are already new technologies that have the potential to greatly simplify this design, reducing the reliance on interconnected systems from different vendors (and hoping the interconnection keeps working).

3. Support. We’ve come up with what I think is an ideal support model. Instructors who teach in the building have to apply for space on the TI website, and a committee reviews applications to make sure what they’re wanting to do is feasible. Once they’re approved, we assign a staff member to be their designated first contact, who then liases with the rest of the team as needed. It’s meant we can learn much more about the courses and what instructors and students are dong, while still pulling support from the various groups in the TI as needed.

We’ve also launched a “TI Learning Technologies Coaches” program – 2 undergraduate students who are available to work with instructors and students to help brainstorm strategies before or during classes, and then pull in other team members to expand that support as needed. Drawing on the experience of students has been fantastic, helping instructors to think through some of the things they’re wanting to try from the perspective of students before trying them in an actual class.

4. Stewards. Because of the extreme flexibility of the learning studios, they can be kind of a mess at the end of each day. We have 2 student “TI Stewards” who take care of the studios, resetting technologies, clearing whiteboards, moving the tables and chairs into a common default position, and helping students clear the building before it closes. This has been a huge success.

5. Letting go of control. We had initially planned to leave the learning studios locked when there was no class in session. We let go of that, and it was a huge success. We have instructors doing weird things in the building. Our initial reaction was “is that allowed?” but we’ve always wound up responding “sure! that sounds awesome! how can we help!” and as a result, we’ve had life-sized african elephants made of newspaper, or volumetric data visualizations with a raspberry pi-powered fog machine. And lots of other weirdnesses. Let go. Amazing things happen.

2017 week 9 in review


We moved our team meeting into the TFDL VR Suite to explore some applications on the HTC Vive. We wound up only having time for Tilt Brush and Slingshot in Valve’s VR demo The Lab. We’ll definitely be going back to spend some time with a few other applications…

Saw a demo of a new product from Sony that would have been super-handy 2 years ago. It basically combines two of the complicated-and-therefore-fragile bits of tech we use in our Collaboration Carts in the TI. May need to look at a pilot to evaluate…

Adjudication for the 2017 University of Calgary Teaching Awards wrapped up on Friday – I was on the final committee. It’s an amazing experience, but super-difficult because every single nominee is inspiring in their own ways. The conversations of the committee then have to focus on strengths and gaps of evidence in the nomination package. So many great teachers (and emerging teachers through the TA awards) on campus!


I gave a presentation of my theme study to the lab. The topic was “performance of emotion by robots in theatre”, and I looked at 5 papers that described a bunch of projects. Obviously, robots don’t have emotions. But robots in theatre give a unique/weird opportunity to explore explicitly describing (recording, programming, playing back) motions and gestures as part of a performance. Interesting work, looking at when a thing shifts from being a static “prop” to becoming perceived as a dynamic “character.”

HRI theme study



I’m trying to work on maintaining a sense of balance. And, maybe more importantly, not feeling like I have to be responsible for everything, everywhere on campus. (which is clearly impossible – but, figuring out where I can pull back to allow others to take the lead is important).

Also – I’m working on prioritizing what I focus on, so I don’t get caught up in URGENT work that really isn’t important (and if it is important, likely others can do it better and faster than I can), and not getting to the actually important stuff.

I’m also trying to keep active – still recovering from the Back Issue of ’17 – riding the trainer in my basement every morning, and getting out to COP every saturday afternoon for the next bit while The Boy™ is in snowboarding lessons.

another COP afternoon