Drawing a Tube Map – how hard can it be?! March 4, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Resources, Tools.
Tags: #366Web2, Great Bear, Inkscape, SAMR, Tube map, Tubular Fells
Whilst I was working through my 365 project, it struck me that when concluded, to continue to be useful as a resource potential explorers would need a way of interrogating the posts. From the outset I made sure each post outlining a Web2.0 tool was tagged appropriately – with both a SAMR level and a category (or more than one) stating the affordances of the tool. The tags could then be used to filter posts corresponding to the type of tool a viewer might be seeking. However none of that could provide a overview and summary of all 366 posts and tools; for that I’d been considering using an infographic of some sort.
Right from the outset I’d had in my mind a graphic along the lines of the London underground map which had been morphed to use in other ways like Simon Patterson’s Great Bear which swapped the tube lines for fields or spheres of endeavour and the stations for people who were known in those spheres (like scientists, actors, authors etc), or Tubular Fells by Peter Burgess which used similar design principle to the Tube Map, but changed it to suit Lakeland Fells and walking routes. So in my version, Web Tube.0, the Web2.0 tools would be the stations, the categories of tools would be the lines and the SAMR categories become the zones. How hard could it be?!
Well it turned out … very! If I chose to use the London Underground system as a template (leaving aside the potential copyright pitfalls), with only 270 stations spread across 11 lines, I would be well short of my needs. I had 366 tools spread across 34 categories. So I tried using similar design principles (as Peter Burgess did in Tubular Fells), but quickly came to recognise the enormity of the task. The problem wasn’t drawing 366 stations on 34 lines, the real problem was where a tool fell into more than one category and the lines had to intersect … and some tools fell into four categories! In fact about half the tools fell into more than one category compared with less than a third on the Underground map. Then superimposed on top of that would be the zoning for the SAMR levels! Now all of that is doubtless doable and in fact I suspect a programmer could probably come up with some solution, but surprisingly an extensive search of the Web found few possibilities. Most ‘solutions’ suggest using graphics programmes like Inkscape, Illustrator or Freehand, but they seem to miss the problem – it’s not the graphical issues, it’s the computation that’s at the very heart of it. I came across a PhD thesis “Automated drawing of metro maps” which outlined the nature of the problem as follows:
Given a planar graph G of maximum degree 8 with its embedding and vertex locations (e.g. the physical location of the tracks and stations of a metro system) and a set L of paths or cycles in G (e.g. metro lines) such that each edge of G belongs to at least one element of L, draw G and L nicely. We first specify the niceness of a drawing by listing a number of hard and soft constraints. Then we show that it is NP-complete to decide whether a drawing of G satisfying all hard constraints exists. In spite of the hardness of the problem we present a mixed-integer linear program (MIP) which always finds a drawing that fulfils all hard constraints (if such a drawing exists) and optimizes a weighted sum of costs corresponding to the soft constraints. We also describe some heuristics that speed up the MIP and we show how to include vertex labels in the drawing. We have implemented the MIP, the heuristics and the vertex labelling.
(Suspect this is a translation, given the origin of the paper is Karlsruhe in Germany)
I wasn’t reassured when further investigation led me to an application called Context Free which “… is a program that generates images from written instructions called a grammar” Err, yes, well I certainly found an example in the gallery that might help – 24 stations on 3 lines with only 4 points of intersection (& of only 2 stations each) required in excess of 750 lines of code (albeit some blank spacers & others single characters)!
Which is when I decided Web Tube.0 would go onto the back burner. I considered instead a dartboard or Mandala-style diagram which would adequately provide 34 sectors for the categories and outward protruding arcs for the SAMR levels, but I couldn’t easily resolve the issue of overlap where a tool spans several categories. I toyed briefly with the possibility of drawing a concept map (plenty of applications there), but once more it was the issue of the intersects. Recognising that the points of intersection were proving the stumbling block to this form of representation caused me to shift perspective and whilst considering, but rejecting the Periodic Table (overlapping categories once more!), I thought there might be merit in the grid-style layout. And that’s when I settled on:
It’s a simple alphabetic layout following the chronology of the posts and is only that shape for ease of viewing in its entirety; it could easily be a single row sweeping out an extended linear area … not so good for Web viewing perhaps? So at a glance the tools offering a particular SAMR level are easily identified. Finding tools in a particular category, for example concept mapping tools, requires a little deeper interrogation and perhaps at a higher zoom level. Whilst the colour coding helps here, some colours do tend to merge with their neighbours and are less easy to tell apart unless side-by-side.
I designed and created it using Inkscape, an open source, freely downloadable vector graphics editor … which means the output can be scaled without the pixelation you get if using a bitmap editor like Photoshop or GIMP. In addition it provides another useful feature for those viewing the output svg file using certain browsers, namely the capacity to add interactivity to the image. So moving forward it’s my intention to make filtering the complete toolset down to just the ones you’re looking for with a single click – so clicking on ‘Survey’ for example will hide all tools except for the survey ones. I know it’s possible, but I suspect it will take a few more hours work … assuming the audience wants it?! Be grateful for your feedback.
When might a safety manual be a story? February 24, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings.
Tags: #etmooc, storytelling
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Whilst I was thinking about the process of storytelling during a previous post and how
Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care.
I wondered also how that might map across different media. To what extent are the authors of these media also storytellers. To what extent do they draw in their readers and lift them beyond the simple consumption of information? Do all media merit some degree of storytelling to capture the minds of their audience? At that point I wondered whether it might be possible to place different media on a spectrum stretching from basic conveyance of information through to passionate involvement.
Would you agree with those placements or would you change the order?
These clearly aren’t the only (largely) print-based media which could be positioned on the spectrum. How about school textbooks? Perhaps there’s something to think about there …
Image sources in the graphic:
Time to turn the page? February 22, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Reading.
Tags: digital textbook, ebooks, textbooks
Just had my interest piqued by a post from Dai Barnes (Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?) and having initiated a reply, once I reached 500 words, thought it only polite to retreat to this blog. I have to confess to several similar conversations with students as the one Dai had with his daughter; even the most tech-savvy. In some ways I am perplexed – why on Earth *wouldn’t* someone want to swap lugging several kilos of paper around for a few hundred grams of tablet?!
There are (at least) two things to consider I’d suggest:
1. Workflow. What textbook publishers have done is replicate a paper book, add some extra features that paper books don’t have (interactive content, rich media, links etc) and add the things they think a reader would need (notes, bookmarks, highlighting etc). What it appears they failed to do was observe the workflow of the average teen … or any textbook user for that matter. How do they use a paper textbook? A ‘Go to page’ feature for example will never work the same as riffling through pages and perhaps happening on something useful. Being able to add bookmarks or highlights which you can index, filter and search just isn’t the same as adding Post-Its which stick out so you can quickly return to significant sections. It’s not that these features are worse than their original counterparts; quite the contrary. It’s that they’re different and require a rather different workflow, which brings me to…
2. Expectations. The way we use a book is set at an early age when we begin to teach our youngest how to read, at home and in school. Most current teens began their reading in paper books. The skills they were taught as they moved through school were all paper book oriented: browsing, using an index or table of contents, not allowing them to make notes in the books (for the most part). When they meet digital books for the first time, they become frustrated because they simply don’t work in the same way they’ve come to learn and expect. They can’t deal with them and don’t have the time or see the need to relearn. It’s not just teens; I see the same behaviours in adults. Many love having an ebook reader for fiction or extended reading, but would be horrified at having to use one as a textbook. I remember when I started studying seriously again a few years ago and it became necessary to read vast numbers of academic papers, my first response was to print out the pdfs for later reading and annotation. It was all I knew. It didn’t take too long however before I forced myself to learn to read and work on screen, even in pre-tablet days because in the end it was so much more efficient.
Now what if our youngest were introduced to reading using digital books? What if they weren’t exposed to paper books? What if, as they became older, they were taught the skills to manage their reading digitally and to exploit the features that digital books provide. What would their reaction be when if, as a teen, they were presented with a paper textbook? We’ve all seen surely the videos of cute toddlers trying to pinch-zoom a magazine?
On the other hand what if publishers or authors revisited what a learner needs from a textbook, then threw the notion of a book out of the window and started from scratch. What would the product look like? Perhaps authors brought up in the traditional world struggle to envision anything other than the traditional page-turning format. I’m not sure what the next-generation textbook should look like, but I do know that whatever it is will probably be designed/assembled/crowd-sourced by a young person.
James Clay and Zak Mensah had quite a thorough discussion around some these issues in one of James’ e-Learning Stuff podcasts, as indeed did Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers in Episode 5 of Out of School.
“I wanna tell you a story” February 19, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea, Tools.
Tags: #etmooc, digital storytelling, storytelling
I hope those (more mature?) UK residents for whom the title quote has meaning will forgive the reference to a long-lived and for many, well-loved English variety entertainer, Max Bygraves. But his catchphrase neatly encapsulated what entertainers need to do – to tell stories. Or at least to adopt the role of storyteller. Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care. Storytelling can be for entertainment and pleasure, but also help understanding, solicit co-operation or build coalition … or even sell a product or service. As Joe Sabia outlined, the influence of digital (and other) media on storytelling may not have changed the essential elements of storytelling, but I’d suggest they have enabled the following:
- Reach – access to a much wider audience through the Internet and the social networks which magnify.
- Richness – diversity and profusion of media through which stories can be expressed.
- Revealing – allowing a wider range of creators, for whom traditional storytelling may have been less accessible, to appreciate that they have something to offer and the media through which it might be delivered.
- Recycling – where content created by others can be reused to tell the same story in a different way, or weave an entirely different narrative, or be mashed together from different sources.
- Requesting – the audience need no longer be passive receptors and can be invited in to contribute to, or influence the direction of the story
As teachers, perhaps we need to scrutinise more carefully the role of storyteller and how might exploit the techniques and processes of telling a story so that the experiences to which we expose our students become more compelling.
The ‘story’ I chose to tell for this #etmooc assignment was inspired by a single image a colleague showed me just last week. I wondered whether it could form the subject of a story, but rather than put it up front and centre, I chose to approach it obliquely. Other storytelling techniques such as 5-card Flickr put imagery front and centre in order to stimulate the imagination. I elected to use simple words to conjure images which would hopefully lead the reader in a direction such that the final reveal was a complete surprise. Progressively revealing more and more of the image hopefully served to stimulate the imagination further.
Master storyteller? Well not yet. With such little text, each phrase, each clause, each word needs to be chosen with care and precision. I could have done with a little more time, but you can only tinker so much and eventually you have to ‘ship.’ I think maybe the image reveal could have been done a little better and though I considered making it visible on every frame, thought it might detract from the story and the reader’s need to conjure their own image as they absorbed the words – doing that whilst pondering the imagery would have been too much I felt. One final thing, boy isn’t finding a piece of appropriate CC music for the backing track time consuming?! Wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final choice, but the days are only so long.
Progressively revealing an image is a useful technique on large screen displays, perhaps using IWBs to tease out the storytelling in our younger students. Rather than show a whole image at once, use the IWB spotlight or eraser tools to reveal just a small section and ask students to first describe what they see, then as different scenes are shown, how or if they might be related. It’s surely the process of filling in the background for oneself that stimulates imaginative thinking?
Rhizomatic Learning – too cool for school? February 10, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, research.
Tags: #etmooc, informal learning, rhizomatic learning
It doesn’t usually take me this long to get down to writing a post, but reflecting on the Rhizomatic Learning (RL) session with Dave Cormier has had me stumped … as indeed it did Dave. It’s not that it’s a particularly difficult idea, making as it does a metaphorical link with the way certain plants propagate as part of their growth process.
The main aspects include how easily and rapidly rhizomes spread, how haphazard growth can be via multiple paths (responding as they do to local environment) and the degree of resilience they exhibit (when rhizomes are severed, the parent plant continues to grow and the severed sections can form new plants). These factors are also found in certain learning situations, MOOCs in particular, but community-centred situations in general, which means RL can provide a model for describing learning under these circumstances. I can also see how learning rhizomatically helps deal with complex situations and help prepare learners for uncertain futures. Having telegraphed its arrival I’m going to jump in with the ‘BUT’ (and this is I guess why it’s taken me so long to write this post), there are aspects of RL with which I feel less comfortable. These fall into three camps: the first being how far the rhizome metaphor holds up in describing learning ecosystems, the second in how applicable it is to my continued experience in pre-higher education and the third is that RL might just be a bit of a cop out.
When rhizomes grow, though they do respond to their environment, the degree to which they interact with it is questionable I’d suggest. There’s no interlinking, no connecting, no collaboration, co-operation or symbiosis as there might be in a learning community. Indeed this can be taken even further and rhizomatic growth (or learning) can have destructive effects as Kaska discussed here. I also wonder too about the true resilience of rhizomes; clearly they are incredibly persistent within their own niche, but what is their fate if transplanted to a completely new environment? And I guess that takes me to my second point …
Too cool for school?
Primary and secondary education (K-12) is dominated by formal learning and whilst a little non-formal might sneak in the back door, there is neither room for, nor acceptance of informal learning. Organisational structures, timetables, schedules and calendars, externally mandated curricula, school buildings, cultural inertia, educational dogma all serve to exclude informal learning. I’d argue its an environment entirely hostile to rhizomatic learning. Or to flip it around, the needs of the learners might not be best served by applying the principles of RL; they are after all dealing with neither complex nor chaotic circumstances, their curriculum is not ‘the community’ and though we might wish to ‘make them responsible for their own learning,’ whilst teachers and schools exist to take the fall, that’s going to be an incredibly hard sell to society. In all fairness, Dave C is not claiming that RL applies in all circumstances and maybe I simply have to accept that unlike behaviourism , cognitivism or constructivism, I’ll struggle to find a place for RL in school. Yet perhaps this is the source of the discomfort and disconnect I feel; the tension that I know exists where the immediate future of our learners is pre-ordained and clearly laid out, yet the future beyond their school is far from certain and their learning needs might be better served by a more rhizomatic approach.
Having an ‘open syllabus’ where the ‘curriculum is the community’ and where learners determine their learning paths and success criteria, are all highly laudable aims, but I wonder to what extent they shift the responsibility away from the ‘course’ leader, thereby making their job a whole lot easier. No syllabus, no learning outcomes, no testing. It sure makes it a whole lot harder to be called to account by your line manager/employer if the learning experiences of your learners are less tangible. Or maybe it’s actiually the opposite and proponents of RL have a much tougher job justifying their existence when the evidence of their learners’ progress doesn’t conform to conventional structures (strictures?)?
Perhaps then I’m looking in the wrong place for instances and applications of RL? I simply need to content myself with the fact that my own learning is often rhizomatic. It’s often chaotic, dealing as it does with complex issues in preparation for unclear futures. I determine my learning pathways, explore a plethora of different avenues and decide for myself when journeys are complete. My curriculum is indeed my community and maybe that’s enough … for now.