Want To Write Just One Thing Down? Try Edit

This post was originally published on ProfHackerProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/want-to-write-just-one-thing-down-try-edit/65607 on June 14th 2018.

The desire to capture something quickly on one’s phone is a pretty common one. As I mentioned back in April, one of my favorite iOS apps is Drafts 5, which somehow combines both great quickness with a relatively easy-to-learn automation scheme. It’s terrific.
Yet, as great as Drafts is, it lends itself to a proliferation of little scraps of notes, potentially turning it into Yet Another Inbox that needs to be managed/weeded/curated/shunned in fear. That’s because just about every time you launc… Continue reading


The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet

This post was originally published on Digital Inspiration Technology Blog https://www.labnol.org/internet/101-useful-websites/18078/ on June 4th 2018.

The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet is a frequently updated list of lesser-known but wonderful websites and cool web apps that will make smarter.The post The 101 Most Useful Websites on the Internet appeared first on Digital Inspiration.

Social Media Jujutsu

This post was originally published on Bionic Teaching http://bionicteaching.com/social-media-jujutsu/ on April 17th 2018.

Jujutsu1 is a martial art focused on using your opponent’s momentum against them– clever redirection of force rather than trying to meet it directly. This seems like it might be an option for some of today’s social media woes where people are trying to continue to take advantage of the good aspects of these tools/communities while opposing some of their attempts at manipulation. There are major alternatives like Brontosaurus Mastodon but many people aren’t going to make that jump.2 So consider this post more of a way you might mitigate harm while continuing using tools meant to bend your mind and warp your perceptions. Twitter Numbers One way these interfaces play games with your mind is by showing all kinds of numbers. You’ve got a score card for likes, retweets, followers etc. It becomes a shortcut. Is this tweet funny? 453 people fav’d it. Should I fav it too or is this just a bandwagon thing now? How good was my tweet? Did enough people retweet it? That extends even to following people. How many followers do they have? Are they worth following? It can make you skip really looking at the content. One path out of Twitter’s attempt to manipulate you via numbers is Benjamin Grosser’s Twitter Demetricator. It’s a browser plugin3 that removes all those numbers replacing them […]

My Internet. One Course at a Time.

This post was originally published on Cole Camplese https://www.colecamplese.com/2018/02/my-internet-one-course-at-a-time/ on February 28th 2018.

I sit in my spare time these days searching my mind for sites to visit. I hit The Verge, NYT, and maybe a couple of other places that are familiar to me regularly. I still spend more time every morning browsing my RSS feeds via Feedly then I do resolving any random URLs. I only … Continue reading My Internet. One Course at a Time.

What if the United States decided to cancel all student debt?

This post was originally published on Bryan Alexander https://bryanalexander.org/future-of-education/what-if-the-united-states-decided-to-cancel-all-student-debt/ on February 13th 2018.

What would happen if the United States decided to cancel all student debt? A Bard College economics research team (Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum) decided to explore what such a bold near-term future could look like … Continue reading →

PLATO and the History of Education Technology (That Wasn’t)

This post was originally published on Hack Education http://hackeducation.com/2018/01/25/plato on January 25th 2018. Republished here via Zapier.

The computer scientist Bret Victor gave a keynote back in 2013 that I return to again and again. (See? Keynotes need not be a waste of time and energy!) In “The Future of Programming,” he offers a history of programming – or more accurately, a history of programming developments that were never widely adopted. That is to say, not the future of programming.
The conceit of Victor’s talk: he delivers it as if it’s 1973, using an overhead projector in lieu of PowerPoint slides, and the future he repeatedly points to is our present-day. With hindsight, we know that the computer languages and frameworks he talks about haven’t been embraced, that this future hasn’t come to pass. But as Victor repeats again and again, it would be such a shame if the inventions he recounts were ignored; it would be a shame if in forty years, we were still coding in procedures in text files in a sequential programming model, for example. “That would suggest we didn’t learn anything from this really fertile period in computer science. So that would kind of be a tragedy. Even more of a tragedy than these ideas not being used would be if these ideas were forgotten.” But the biggest tragedy, says Victor, would be if people forgot that you could have new ideas and different ideas about programming in the first place, if a new generation was never introduced to these old ideas and therefore believed there is only one model of programming, one accepted and acceptable way of thinking about and thinking with computers. That these new generations “grow up with dogma.”
Victor mentions an incredibly important piece of education technology history in passing in his talk: PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), built on the ILLIAC I at the University of Illinois. PLATO, which operated out of the university’s Computer-based Education Research Laboratory (CERL) from 1960 to 1993, does represent in some ways a path that education technology (and computing technology more broadly) did not take. But if and when when its innovations were adopted (and, yes, many of them were), PLATO remained largely uncredited for its contributions.
PLATO serves in Victor’s talk as an example, along with Douglas Englebart’s NLS, of the development in the 1960s of interactive, real-time computing. In forty years time, Victor tells his imagined 1970s audience, our user interfaces will never have any delay or lag because of Moore’s Law and because “these guys have proven how important it is to have an immediately responsive UI” – a quip that anyone who’s spent time waiting for operating systems or software programs to respond can understand and chuckle remorsefully about.
This idea that computers could even attempt to offer immediate feedback – typing a letter on a keyboard and immediately seeing it rendered on a screen – was certainly new in the 1960s, as processing was slow, memory was minute, and data had to move from an input device back to a central computer and then back again to some sort of display. But the “fast round trip” between terminal and mainframe was hardly the only innovation associated with PLATO, as Brian Dear chronicles in his book The Friendly Orange Glow. That very glow was another one – the flat-panel plasma touchscreen invented by the PLATO team in 1967. There were many other advances too: the creation of time-sharing, discussion boards, instant messaging, a learning management system or sorts, and multi-user game-play, to name just a few.
The subtitle of Dear’s book – “The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture” – speaks directly to his larger project: making sure the pioneering contributions of PLATO are not forgotten.
If and when PLATO is remembered (in education technology circles at least), it is as an early example of computer-assisted instruction – and often, it’s denigrated as such. Perhaps that should be no surprise – education technology is fiercely dogmatic. And it was already fiercely dogmatic by the 1960s, when PLATO was first under development. The field had, in the decades prior, developed a certain set of precepts and convictions – even if, as Victor contends in his talk at least, computing at the time had (mostly) not.
Dear begins his book where many histories of education technology do: with the story of how Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner had, in the late 1950s, visited his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, been struck by its in efficiencies, and argued that teaching machines would ameliorate this. The first mechanisms that Skinner built were not computerized; they were boxes with levers and knobs. But they were designed to offer students immediate feedback – positive reinforcement when students gave the correct answer, a key element to Skinner’s behaviorist theories. Skinner largely failed to commercialize his ideas, but his influence on the design of instructional machines was significant nonetheless, as behaviorism had already become a cornerstone of the nascent field of educational psychology and a widely accepted theory as to how people learn.
At its outset, the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois did not hire instructional technologists to develop PLATO. The lab was not governed by educational psychologists – behaviorists or otherwise. The programming language that was developed so that “anyone” could create a lesson module on the system — TUTOR — did not demand an allegiance to any particular learning theory. As one education professor told Brian Dear, CERL did not operate “under any kind of psychological banner. They just didn’t seem to be driven by psychological underpinnings. They were driven by a more pragmatic approach: you work with students, you work with content, you work with the technology, you put it together in a way that feels good and it will work. Whether it’s consistent with somebody’s psychology is a quickly irrelevant question.”
But it seems more likely, if we examine the history of PLATO (and perhaps even the histories of education technology and of computing technologies), that this is not really an irrelevant question at all – not in the long run at least. Certainly, the open-ended-ness of the PLATO system, as well as the PLATO culture at UI, fostered the myriad of technological innovations that Dear chronicles in The Friendly Orange Glow. But the influence of psychology on the direction of education technology – and to be clear, this was not just behaviorism, of course, but cognitive psychology – has been profound. It shaped the expectations for what instructional technology should do. It shaped the expectations for what PLATO should be. (I’d add too that psychological theories have been quite influential on the direction of computing technology itself, although I think this has been rather unexamined.)
The Friendly Orange Glow is a history of PLATO – one that has long deserved to be told and that Dear does with meticulous care and detail. (The book was some three decades in the making.) But it’s also a history of why, following Sputnik, the US government came to fund educational computing. Its also – in between the lines, if you will – a history of why the locus of computing and educational computing specifically shifted to places like MIT, Xerox PARC, Stanford. The answer is not “because the technology was better” – not entirely. The answer has to do in part with funding – what changed when these educational computing efforts were no longer backed by federal money and part of Cold War era research but by venture capital. (Spoiler alert: it changes the timeline. It changes the culture. It changes the mission. It changes the technology.) And the answer has everything to do with power and ideology – with dogma.
Bret Victor credits the message and content of his keynote to computer scientist Alan Kay, who once famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to build it.” (Kay, of course, appears several times in The Friendly Orange Glow because of his own contributions to computing, not to mention the competition between CERL and PARC where Kay worked and their very different visions of the future). But to be perfectly frank, the act of building alone is hardly sufficient. The best way to predict the future may instead be to be among those who mythologize what’s built, who tell certain stories, who craft and uphold the dogma about what is built and how it’s used.
To a certain extent, the version of “personal computing” espoused by Kay and by PARC has been triumphant. That is, PLATO’s model – networked terminals that tied back to a central machine – was not. Perhaps it’s worth considering how dogmatic computing has become about “personal” and “personalization” – what its implications might be for the shape of programming and for education technology, sure, but also what it means for the kinds of values and communities that are built without any sort of “friendly glow.”

A Day of Storytelling at The Song Room

Originally published by me at 2017 – CogDogRoo (see it there)

I’m very fortunate that the International Specialised Skills Institute organizers of my speaking schedule suggested visiting The Song Room.

The Song Room is a national not-for-profit organisation that brightens the futures of Australia’s most disadvantaged children with tailored, high-quality music and arts programs, delivered in partnership with schools across the country.

Their work is both through in school educational programs, bringing artists into schools, and providing professional development for teachers. The reach tens of thousands of students each week and have a large amount of research to back up their efforts. They have also been active in developing a large collection of online resources and programs, ARTS:LIVE.

It’s rather impressive to see this amount of effort and support to promote arts programs in schools, especially knowing how such programs have been well gutted in the US.

So in planning this I had to do a huge <gump> to figure out what I could tell them about storytelling! I took may materials I had organized for a What Makes Storytelling Work session with a few bits added on just for The Song Room.

I was asked to share what I found exciting in technology and art. That’s a nice wide open opportunity!

A bit flashback to when the internet felt like a bubble blowing party, to what was a simple optimistic view 10 years ago, and how that is somewhat blurred in the middle in 2017.

My excitement still remains the interactive cool art things individuals have built that work in a web browser and that they are openly shared (my choices are just samples, hardly comprehensive). I tossed in my love of web serendipity, telling once again the Amazing Flower Story— which is almost exactly 10 years old.

I also shared how we might be more effective at the human scale on the big internet, rather than hoping for large scale change, using as an example the reach out to my friend Antonio in Puerto Rico. Then I added on the value of doing daily creative habits and also a few other friends, colleagues who do and share creative ideas.

Next was a talk through my various digital storytelling projects, from 50 Web Ways to Tell a Story, Five Card Flickr Stories, pechaflickr (and we did a round, they loved it). I really ran out of time before I could do much more to say about ds106 than It’s The Best thing Ever Put on the Web, and a quick description of the ds106 Assignment Bank.

I did not get to more than share the link for another collection I had assembled, a “bucket of mixable ideas”

This was a riff on the time Dean Shareski asked me if there were DS106 assignments that would work for science or math. My answer was, “not off the shelf” but it just takes a little bit of imagination for a teacher to take one and recast it to their needs.

I have examples there how the Four Icon / One Story assignment was recast by 3 elementary school teachers and how I did it myself for a session with 2nd grade students.

My idea then was to create an annotated list of digital storytelling activities organized by some larger buckets of activity types. The examples were mostly form DS106, and some other Daily ____ sites, and a few from my other projects. So it’s an Alan Centric view. But it was a useful exercise to think about the DS106 assignments in a different grouping than by media type.

After this we had an hour of discussion more about teaching and running programs online.

I really appreciated the energy and interest of this group of maybe 15+, and even more after hearing they were getting ready for an event the next day. Some 400+ kids from 8 schools who participate in the Song Room were performing at Melbourne Town Hall. Since that is just around the corner from where I am staying, I had to go see it.

It was, to be overly effusive, brilliant.

The Song Room Show
The Song Room Show flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I recorded only a short bit of video from two acts, so this is but a tiny sample:

I appreciate so much the interest from Caroline, Deborah, Kirsty for organizing this, and everyone else who so genuinely welcomed me.

And then, to top off a great morning even more, I was treated to a fab lunch in the Prahan neighborhood… I had my first smashed avocado on toast. I have trended.

My First Smashed Avocado on Toast
My First Smashed Avocado on Toast flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

And… they gave me a fantastic bag of swag including their philosophy tea towel with words from Plato:

Such Nice Gifts from The Song Room
Such Nice Gifts from The Song Room flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy, but most importantly music, because music, for in the patterns of music are all arts and the keys to learning.”

And… I got a real Air Guitar, it;s all air– one of The SOng Room’s brilliant promotional campaigns — see http://playair.com.au.

Featured Image: The Song Room Show flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

2017 – CogDogRoo is the primary blog for my 2017 Australia Tour

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Some Recent Noticings From the Jupyter Ecosystem

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve got back into the speaking thing, firstly at an OU TEL show’n’tell event, then at a Parliamentary Digital Service show’n’tell.

In each case, the presentation was based around some of the things you can do with notebooks, one of which was using the RISE extension to run a notebook as an interactive slideshow: cells map on to slides or slide elements, and code cells can be executed live within the presentation, with any generated cell outputs being displayed in the slide.

RISE has just been updated to include an autostart mode that can be demo’ed if you run the RISE example on Binderhub.

Which brings me to Binderhub. Originally know as MyBinder, Binderhub takes the MyBinder idea of building a Docker image based on the build specification and content files contained in a public Github repository, and launching a Docker container from that image. Binderhub has recently moved into the Jupyter ecosystem, with the result that there are several handy spin-off command line components; for example, jupyter-repo2docker lets you build, and optionally push and/or launch, a local image from a Github repository or a local repository.

To follow on from my OU show’n’tell, I started putting together a set of branches on a single repository (psychemedia/showntell) that will eventually(?!) contain working demos of how to use Jupyter notebooks as part of “generative document” workflow in particular topic areas. For example, for authoring texts containing rich media assets in a maths subject area, or music. (The environment I used for the shown’n’tell was my own build (checks to make sure I turned that cloud machine off so I’m not still paying for it!), and I haven’t got working Binderhub environments for all the subject demos yet. If anyone would like to contribute to setting up the builds, or adding to subject specific demos, please get in touch…)

I also prepped for the PDS event by putting together a Binderhub build file in my psychemedia/parlihacks repo so (most of) the demo code would work on Binderhub. I think the only think that doesn’t work at the moment is the Shiny app demo? This includes an RStudio environment, launched from the Jupter notebooks New menu. (For an example, see the binder-examples/dockerfile-rstudio demo.)

So – long and short of that – you can create multiple demo environments in a single Github repo using a different branch for each demo, and then launch them separately using Binderhub.

What else…?

Oh yes, a new extension gives you a Shiny like workflow for creating simple apps from a Jupyter notebook: appmode. This seems to complement the Jupyter dashboards approoach, by providing an “app view” of a notebook that displays the content of markdown cells and code cell outputs, but hides the code cell contents. So if you’e been looking for a Jupyter notebook equivalent to R/shiny app development, this may get you some of the way there… (One of the nice things about the app view is that you can easily “View Source” – and modify that source…)

Possibly related to the appmode way of doing things, one thing I showed in the PDS show’n’tell was how notebooks can be used to define simple API services using the jupyter/kernel_gateway (example). These seem to run okay – locally at least – inside Binderhub, although I didn’t try calling a Jupyter API service from outside the container. (Maybe they can be made publicly available via the jupyterhub/nbserverproxy? Why’s this relevant to appmode? My thinking is architecturally you could separate out concerns, having one or more notebooks running an API that is consumed from the appmode notebook?

Another recent announcement came from Google in the form of Colaboratory, a “research project created to help disseminate machine learning education and research”. The environment is “a Jupyter notebook environment that requires no setup to use”, although it does require registration to run notebook cells, and there appears to be a waiting list. The most interesting thing, perhaps, is the ability to collaboratively work on notebooks shared with other people across Google Drive. I think this is separate from the jupyterlab-google-drive initiative, which is looking to offer a similar sort of shared working, again through Google Drive?

By the by, it’s probably also worth noting that other big providers make notebooks available, such as Microsoft (notebooks.azure.com) and IBM (eg datascientistworkbench.com, cognitiveclass.ai; digging around, cognitiveclass.ai seems to be a rebranding of bigdatauniversity.com).

There are other hosted notebook servers relevant to education too: CoCalc (previously SageMathCloud) offers a free way in, as does gryd.us if you have a .edu email address. pythonanywhere.com/ offers notebooks to anyone on a paid plan.

It also seems like there are services starting to appear that offer free notebooks as well as compute power for research/scientific computing on a model similar to CoCalc (free tier in, then buy credits for additional services). For example, Kogence.

For sharing notebooks, I also just spotted Anaconda Cloud, which looks like it could be an interesting place to browse every so often…

Interesting times…

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El Puente de Puerto Rico: A Bridge of Postcards

Are you stressed, tired in the middle of your semester?

Imagine your classrooms, campus, students not even sure if they have water, electricity, food, much less internet, just because the place they live was twice in the path of hurricanes. Imagine you are a citizen of the United States of America and hear its leader blame you for this problem, and not delivering a fraction of the aid seen in Texas and Florida.

Imagine your syllabus when, as university professor teacher, your are hoping just to contact students, and figure out how to continue classes.


Like several of my colleagues, I have been very worried about our friend, colleague Antonio Vantaggiato (@avunque), and relieved when he was finally able to message us that he was okay.

Antonio has been a generous soul in our field, arranging for me a slot at the TEDx event he organized plus a month long fellowship he arranged for me at Universidad del Sagrado Corazon.

I don’t think he bumped into Zuck’s avatar.

A few people have been asking how we can help, and Antonio is working to come up with some needs and suggestions.

As a very small thing I thought we could do now, I suggested we start a campaign of mailing postcards to he and his students just to say, that unlike our President…. we care.

Send a postcard to Antonio and hist students at Universidad de Sagrado Corazon

It’s really simple. Do you know what the postage is to mail to Puerto Rico? Easy, the same as mailing something to me in Arizona or some clown in Washington DC. You seek, Puerto Rico is in the United States of America (someone mail that to the clown).

That is 34 cents to mail from the USA to the USA.

So I am asking as many people as possible to send a We Care About Puerto Rico postcard message to:

Also, some things Antonio and I have talked about:

  • We will plan a DS106 Daily Create on Wednesday October 18 as another way to send a message of care.
  • Ask people to tweet messages of support with #care4sagrado and/or any of his course tags: #inf103 or #inf115 or #inf1034 or #inf1037
  • As Antonio teaches his courses via blog syndication http://inf103.com/ and http://inf115.com/ (where you can already see some posts like Rebuilding after Maria), he’s thinking about setting a way people could blog messages to his students via RSS feeds
  • We are thinking about doing a podcast / storytelling project about teaching and learning under these conditions

These are small, but as Antonio and his university develop their continuation plans, we will wait until he can share some more specific needs of his students.

In my month in Puerto Rico, I experienced an overwhelming amount of friendliness, generosity, and spirit despite what were challenging conditions before the Hurricane. And I am horrified by the tone and lack of empathy our President is sending out; he does not speak for me.

I’d like to think a pile of postcards might let our friends and fellow US citizens in Puerto Rico know that others feel like me.

As I was scrambling to find a first card to send, I ony had a few left from some old movie postcards I bought last year. But the one I did pull was for the movie El Puente de Waterloo (The Waterloo Bridge) — so with some editing via Sharpee pen, I want to declare it as part of a Bridge of Care to Puerto Rico.

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