Category Archives: Digital Creativity

Computational Thinking and Art

Automated Landscape - Richard Millwood (1971)

Automated Landscape – Richard Millwood (1971)

I recently made a presentation with Mags Amond at the Art Teachers Association of Ireland‘s 2017 Annual Conference in the National Gallery of Ireland. I spoke a little about technology and learning, technology and art and then gave some examples of our own experiences and thoughts. You can read our presentation ‘LED by the heart’ here.

Included was the picture above, which I painted in school in 1971 following an algorithm given to me by my art teacher. I remember being satisfied with the process and the outcome, and the pleasure never went away. This was what the teacher asked me to do:

  1. Draw a steep zig-zag line to make a mountain range
  2. Draw a less steep zig-zag line to make a range of foothills
  3. Draw a smoother zig-zag line to make rolling countryside
  4. Extend the lines thinly to divide the space into geometric sections
  5. Paint the sections using sky, mountain, hill and field colours

I have since written a computer program in Snap to do this automatically.

Mags demonstrated to the teachers how simple electrical circuits work, and later we encouraged them to ‘pimp their badge’ with LEDs, coin batteries and decorations.

pimping their badges

pimping their badges

Other examples I showed included the use of Snap by young children to program lights on the front of a four floor building at the Scratch Conference in Bordeaux this year, the use of light emitting diodes with micro-controllers to make wearable electronics and programming an embroidery machine to make patterns:

butterfly class embroidery

butterfly class embroidery

Our proposition to the art teachers, was that computational thinking and computing might be something they have the aptitude for, confirmed by Keith Gregg’s MSc dissertation.

We also proposed that STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) might better be written ASTEM, putting the art first, and themselves taking a lead in developing computing in their schools.

Wearable Electronics Workshop

 

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace's musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace’s musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

This is the story of the Wearable Electronics Workshop, given by MAKESHOP by Science Gallery Dublin in March and April 2017, in collaboration with the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin.

In 2015, I was introduced to the idea of ‘pimping your badge’ at a conference by friend Mags Amond.

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

It involved adding a watch battery and an LED (light emitting diode) to my conference badge to make it light up – my first wearable electronics!

Conference badge with LED and watch battery

Mags was later to get involved in the workshop to introduce some basic ideas about circuits.

That Christmas, at my annual birthday party, I gave similar treatment to a bow tie, and it was well received.

Bow tie with LED lights

Bow tie with LED lights

The following summer (2016) I found myself in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, having my heart checked out when experiencing a rare irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). The time in the hospital was short, since I proved to be in robust health, but enough to stimulate an idea for another wearable electronic – something driven by my own pulse:

 

The experience stimulated the following design, ‘LED by the heart’, which pleased me, so I resolved to try and make something wearable with it.

'LED by the heart' - a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

‘LED by the heart’ – a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

Feeling a little worried that it might be hard work, I sought friends and advice. My good friend at Trinity College Dublin, Doireann Wallace, offered support and interest, and later helped me to invite all my party guests in Christmas 2016 to complete and wear a glowy wearable. Doireann kindly prepared for this by cutting felt into Christmas shapes and stitching battery pockets for the partygoers to assemble.

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Friends wearing their glowies at the party

On a hunt for new components and advice, I visited the MAKESHOP by Science Gallery here in Dublin. There, I got into a conversation with Jessica Stanley, who runs electronics workshops for them, and as luck would have it, had a background in wearable electronics. She had wanted to offer a course on this for some time, so I promised to help by finding some other participants.

Then I came across the Trinity College Dublin Visual Arts and Performance Fund. I made an application, and the committee were kind enough to sponsor our course. So in March 2017, we recruited participants to join us: some had craft experience, others programming and design knowledge – all were keen to know more.

Working together, with Jessica’s supportive and knowledgeable leadership, we each made artefacts to be proud of. Over six weeks of Wednesday evenings in the MAKESHOP we learnt to sew conductive thread, programme micro-controllers and solder circuits, as well as make sense of the exciting electronic components we could combine with interesting fabrics in our designs

Finally we demonstrated our work in an exhibition in the Science Gallery on April 26th 2017:

Doireann’s glove instrument

Susan Reardon's jacket

Susan Reardon’s jacket

John Hegarty's bowler hat

John Hegarty’s bowler hat

Una O'Malley's scarf with loudspeakers

Una O’Malley’s scarf with loudspeakers

Katrina Enros' badge

Katrina Enros’ badge

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating 'LED by the heart' decoration

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating ‘LED by the heart’ decoration

I am now wondering how far this can go.

The initial premise was for me to find a course to fulfil my own creative aspiration. I now think that it may be a route to learning about programming and technology, starting with our desire to be crafty and creative, building from where we are already comfortable in making things, to add a desirable electronic aesthetic dimension. Having broken the ice with this encounter, perhaps participants will find a better relationship with  programming and technology, or at least a greater clarity about how such things work.

So now I feel it may be the basis for an adult education model, and so intend to pursue this as an idea for Art teachers, working with the Art Teachers Association of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design and of course MAKESHOP!

I also think it may be interesting to explore the idea with a more general public, by seeking support from Enterprise Ireland to establish feasibility.

Personally I am now the proud owner of two Adafruit Flora Arduinos – small computers usually called micro-controllers, two BBC Microbit computers and lots of lovely LED swag – I can’t wait to make the next mad idea come to fruition!

Thanks to Doireann Wallace & Jessica Stanley for working with me, to all the participants for working so hard and to Nadine McDonogh Cunningham & Rozenn Dahyot for the photographs.

Jigsaw programming

Blockly program to compute a factorial

A program to compute the factorial of a number using Blockly

I’m sure many of my readers will know what I mean, but just in case, I am talking about the visual programming languages for programming computers which use blocks that plug together like a jigsaw to express algorithms. Examples include StarLogo, App Inventor, Scratch and Blockly.

These are widely used to introduce programming for the following reasons:

  1. such languages tap in to a pre-literate capacity to help learners make sense of things without depending on technical reading and writing literacies;
  2. learners appreciate the tactile and kinaesthetic sensibilities involved in producing a visually pleasing artefact, the program, regardless of what it does;
  3. such languages clarify the logic of the program through the display of visual, diagrammatic shapes that make it easy to determine the relationship and scope of program elements;
  4. it is impossible to make syntax errors such as incorrect spelling, conjunction or punctuation;
  5. they provide a visual menu of programming elements so that opportunities for expression are clear and the learner’s memory is not overtaxed.

All this I can understand and I am very much a fan, but I am unclear why there is considered to be a desirable progression from these languages to the traditional text-based languages?

In some cases features are missing from the visual programming languages. For example Scratch doesn’t do functions and local variables.

It may be thought that a complex program would be visually unwieldy, but I find that true of any reasonably sized textual program.

Then there is the historical/cultural/custom-and-practice concerns of experienced programmers – I can hear them saying “surely there is something important, expressive and pure about traditional programming languages?”.

I maintain an open mind about this and can even imagine jigsaw programming becoming the method of choice for serious programming in the workplace. If I am right, there are some interesting challenges:

  1. What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness / efficiency / legibility of a program made using jigsaw programming?
  2. What are the examples of programming problems that cannot be solved using jigsaw programming?
  3. How do we benefit from the version control and sharing that matter for collaborative development?
  4. How do they effectively encapsulate and hide libraries of service functions and procedures?
  5. Can we add styling control so that we can tailor the visual appearance to suit the person and the task, or simply provide an alternative view?
  6. How can they reveal and make editable the variables and data they manipulate? (Scratch does this well with lists).
  7. How can they animate the program’s diagram to illustrate its execution, single step, interrupt and thus help us debug?

Some of these challenges may already be tackled – I’d be pleased to hear about where to find developments!

Reflection on Reflection™

No this is not a treatise on reflective practice, it is reflective practice.

Today I took friend @benjeddi ‘s advice and decided to RiskIT (for only seven minutes rather than two weeks). A key RiskIT element is to be ‘Not afraid of failure, but learn from it’ – an attitude I have nearly always benefited from, despite some pain.

I was presenting at TeachMeet Essex, in front of an unusually strong gathering including many head teachers. The meeting exceeded my expectations of this novel form of CPD with excellent food (thanks KEGS’ chef and kitchen), excellent organisation (thanks @aknill and @ICTMagic) and clear evidence of the power of a good head’s sanction, thanks @headguruteacher!

My risks were:

  • to demonstrate from an iPhone via Reflection on my laptop;
  • to present my ideas using VideoScribe;
  • to test a proposal for developing modern apps based on lost ideas.

It all went wrong, as it often does when you use technology in a presentation for the first time, but since I am going to do it all again at #tmbolton on Friday, I fruitfully learnt from the experience.  For all those let down by a slightly duff speech, here is the video from Videoscribe I would have like to shown:

Incidentally, I created the video by using Reflection to record the video as it was played by VideoScribe on the phone. A subsequent re-compress using Quicktime Player 7 to half size and H264 yielded a video only 3.3Mb in size.

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

Dimensions in creative work

In talking about the issues of user-generated content with friends Stephen and Joy recently, Stephen reminded me of this presentation slide I used to show in 2004 in the context of a growing movement to engage children in the filming and composition of digital video.
The push by specialists such as the British Film Institute was to teach film technique, to be methodical, to learn ‘film language’ and essentially to be equipped to make compelling feature films. My feeling was that encouraging creativity and the arts demanded a rather more diverse approach.
With regard to audience, it seemed to me that an artist may well be concerned to articulate their ideas to an audience, on the other hand they may not care what the audience thinks, but simply please themselves in a deliberate (or naïve) break from tradition and justify it as art for art’s sake and true to their calling. I am not an art historian, but this is somewhat the realm of the modernist.
From Wikipaedia:
“The most controversial aspect of the modern movement was, and remains, its rejection of tradition. Modernism’s stress on freedom of expression, experimentation, radicalism, and primitivism  disregards conventional expectations. In many art forms this often meant startling and alienating audiences with bizarre and unpredictable effects, as in the strange and disturbing combinations of motifs in surrealism  or the use of extreme dissonance and atonality  in modernist music. In literature this often involved the rejection of intelligible plots or characterization in novels, or the creation of poetry that defied clear interpretation.”
Narrative on the other hand relates to the structural-temporal purpose of an art form – whether to tell a story which maps roughly on to our life experience of sequenced events or to simply effect a reaction, inspire an idea or evoke a feeling. Clearly a film intended for the latter purposes need not conform to traditional ‘film language’, although it might benefit it.
Control is about viewing an art form in a sequence determined by the author or on the other hand through choices made by the audience. The former could be a film in the cinema, the latter an interactive game or a web-site. Digital video which forms part of a ‘navigated’ experience may owe nothing to traditional film techniques, and make new and less well-known demands of the author.
The bottom line is that it pays to be open minded about the purpose of creative work and at least discuss these choices when introducing new technologies to young people. If they choose to be on the left hand end of each of these dimensions, then it will pay them to develop some film language skills – perhaps at the excellent Filmsense website created by Media Education Wales.

TeachMeet North East London

2simple-cake

This TeachMeet was brave enough to throw the rules up in the air and try a new plan – and mostly it worked! I enjoyed the way the break-outs gave more intimate discussion and flexibility, but I missed the quickfire and serendipitous action of the random speaker. Most of all there was a mature relationship with commercial sponsors who were very much present, but respectfully supportive – thanks to all of them.

There were great talks from Drew, Tom and Ollie and others I didn’t hear, but I also loved the Max’s ‘next thing coming’ talk with augmented reality, Blue Peter style. As ever with Teachmeet there was a mix of old-timers (I mean you Penny) and newcomers (Edith) and enthusiasm in buckets.

Having done CEME, can we do the top of Canary Wharf next time? Can’t think of anything else they’ll want it for…

Guilt upon accusation

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!
There are some major proposed changes in NZ law that will have an impact on education.
The proposed Section 92 of the NZ Copyright Amendment Act assumes Guilt Upon Accusation and forces the termination of internet connections and websites without evidence, without a fair trial, and without punishment for any false accusations of copyright infringement. An organisation called the Creative Freedom Foundation has been set up to specifically represent artists voices on these issues.
Check out their website: http://www.creativefreedom.org.nz , sign up and help NZ MPs make an informed decision about S92!

Moderating a Web 2.0 world

It’s illuminating when an organisation such as the BBC takes the trouble to explain its efforts to deal with the flood of expression that has risen in a  Web 2.0 world.

Thanks to Tom van Aardt, Communities Editor, BBC Future Media & Technology, for blogging their experiences here – Strictly Message Board: What Happened

“Eventually, I decided to close the Strictly Come Dancing board at 22:00 so the moderators could work through the backlog of messages.”

He doesn’t mention the hours that the reader can sink into reading such commentary in the search for insight, a phenomenon I have recently experienced whenever trying to make sense of high definition television or keeping up with reaction to Obama’s election!

Content is muck

muck

I have been reading  the report ‘On-line Innovation in Higher Education‘ submitted by Sir Ron Cooke to John Denham recently and I’m not impressed.

It seems to be but a variation on the ‘content is king’ theme and, by its own standards, seems to miss many points.

The title of this blog ‘Content is muck’ is intended to disparage this approach and at the same time recognise the importance of high quality, accessible content as a fertiliser for the growth of knowledge amongst learners.

Probably most critical is the following:

“2.5 The education and research sectors are not short of strategies but a visionary thrust across the UK is lacking.” p8

So where in this document is a vision outlined – where is it to come from? I (and many others) would be happy to offer one! But seriously, this is the moment and little here is visionary.

These further quotations from the document raised a range of issues:

“1.1 [..] We lag behind in generating and making available high quality modern learning and teaching
resources. [..]” p3

The difficulty I have with this is the way in which we go about catching up. We should be careful not to spend too much money on material which becomes out-of-date within a year, is specific to particular courses, contexts and levels or fails to enhance the creative rôle for the learner in developing their own knowledge.

“3.15 [..] diagram [..] showing areas where students are currently pushed beyond their comfort zones.[..]” p12

The diagram referred to shows some ICT tasks in a grid with four quadrants – the top left shows tasks which are ‘”Familiar” / “Not comfortable using”  and includes “Using social networks such as Facebook as a formal part of the course”, but the task “Using existing online social networks to discuss work” is shown in the bottom right quadrant “Unfamiliar” / “Comfortable with using” – how can this be, what do they mean? Sadly the document lets us down here, with no reference to a source, unlike the bulk of the work. A report of this significance needs to be of the highest quality of it is to be convincing.

“3.19 [..] iv. where students tend to learn almost entirely at a distance (e.g. The Open University and the student base the UK e-university aimed for) high quality, purpose written, online materials and high quality online support services are essential;” p13

I agree in part, but what does “tend to learn almost entirely as a distance” mean? Is it not the case that  learning materials and support for face-to-face learning should be of similar standard? The unspoken assumption is that learning at a distance is solitary and thus the materials and support must compensate for the lack of ‘learning conversation’ – this is simply not the case in the modern social web.

We have had extensive experience over five years of fully online provision in the Ultraversity project where “purpose written, online materials” have been minimal. This has led to no lack of quality, as the guidance and support is generated through dialogue shared by a cohort of students – the online community of inquiry. Authoritative sources, journals and textbooks including key professional documents, are available widely on the internet and can be engaged with rigorously, critcially and comprehensively. This way of organising learning is most effective in that it also sets up the student for further lifelong learning.

“3.28 [..] The e-university was ahead of its time but the UK can learn from its mistakes and it is not too late to try again to address the demand for virtual, largely on-line education in the UK and
elsewhere. [..]”  p15

I think not – the e-university did not take a visionary nor innovative approach in my view and was not at all ahead of its time, but tried to take old approaches into new technology with minimal account of growing evidence of the efficacy of new models of online learning.

For the sake of my tax bill please lets not try again without considerably more care and wisdom!

New Learning ’08 – Connecting the Future to the Past

New Learning '08

This conference is taking place on Wednesday with about 50 folk – I know many others would have liked to come, but this is only a start and there’ll be more. For those unable to be there, there will be plenty of reporting to come, and you can download the conference pack and archive leaflet right here.

More importantly, if you have a story to contribute about your experiences with educational computing over the last four decades, contribute it in the stories section of the National Archive of Educational Computing website and if you want to do more, fill in the form in the support section.

TeachMeet Redbridge (part 2)

TeachMeet 7

My first post about TeachMeet was a hurried blog in case Ewan offered a prize for the first person to Blog the event!

More reflection, and waiting until the end, allows a more thoughtful blog which fills in some of the blanks.

Blank 1 – why speak about delight?

It was delightful to be able to speak about delight, and to discuss with colleagues in the breaks to ‘orient’ my thinking about this important topic.

I failed to say that I care to make an analysis of delight for many reasons:

  1. I feel the need to put some intellectual effort into a mantra, ‘delight is important in learning’, which I have been chanting uncritically for over fifteen years.
  2. I believe delight is one of the sources of motivation, perseverance and retention which softens the pain of the ‘hard yards’ in learning.
  3. I believe delight (and more generally fulfilment) is an entitlement for learners, as they learn, not when they pass exams.

Blank 2 – what a stonking set of presentations!

I failed to mention the wealth of speakers and the high quality of their ideas and practices on parade. Egocentrically, and only after Drew Buddie had pointed it out, I was struck by the chickens coming home to roost from Ultralab‘s and Apple Teacher Institute work in the early ‘noughties’, such as movie making and stop-motion animations around social and serious issues. More moving were the confident presentations from folk like Sarah Hackett on using Moodle to teach folk fiddle and Tom Whitehead on animal shape poetry workshops, both researchers from Ultraversity, these along with many others were inspiring.

Blank 3 – FlashMeeting

I had volunteered to be the meeting end of an online video-conference for those who couldn’t be arsed couldn’t get to Redbridge. 🙂 Thanks to David Noble, Anthony Evans and Nic Hughes for making it all so easy. It seemed to work well, using FlashMeeting and connecting my Apple MacBook Pro to a Canon digital video camera with a firewire cable and using a directional microphone to get the best quality – I rely on reports from participants as to whether this was effective and I apologise now for the time through the break when I went to get a beer and got cornered in the bar – I came back to find the camera pointing at the ceiling! I only regret not carrying through my original plan to use a second data projector so that the audience in the building could see the participants out there and perhaps respond to their questions and comments. Next time.

An Analysis of Delight

Delight

Ever since reading about John Heron’s ‘up-hierarchy’ of delight, with his wonderfully expressive language, I have been enjoying adding new elements (although disregarding for now their connection, except as a list). I have made a poster of them and will be talking about them (if chosen to speak) at the TeachMeet in Redbridge on Monday 19th May.

The idea is that they are a source of explanation and stimulus for designing delight into teaching & learning.

Why do we like playing games on the computer? – perhaps because high quality and visually seductive graphics offer ‘appreciation’ and the many choices and their consequences feed ‘zest’.

Why do we like learning together? – perhaps because we get ‘conviviality’, ‘recognition’ and ‘controversy’.

Why do we persist when learning is tough? – perhaps because there is ‘interest’, ‘recognition’ and ‘resolution.

Is this all too obvious? Or do you, like me, want to put this poster on your wall to keep it fresh in your mind?

Creative Commons License
An analysis of delight by Richard Millwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at blog.richardmillwood.net.An Analysis of Delight

‘Relationship Productivity’, Identity and Privacy

Thanks to Wesley Fryer (and his informants!) I watched this movie from Vanessa Van Petten which explains her view of the ‘why’ of social networking.

It reminded me of the trouble I am in with simple email – the ability it has brought to maintain half-baked relationships with altogether too many people, and thus fail most of them. I have termed this ‘relationship productivity’ and view it as troublesome, but to a teenager it is real power. The issues of identity and privacy are easier for me to enjoy/control, and I reckon I get a buzz from them just like the modern teenager.

Rotorua learning@school 2008

Audience using laptops in Learning@School

The participants in Learning@School have brought so many laptops it broke the wireless! I am here in New Zealand with Patrick to present at this massive teachers’ conference organised by Core Education. I have two workshops on ‘Delight in Learning’ and a keynote to present on ‘Learners at the Centre’ at the end. In fact I have just finished the first workshop and learnt some really useful ideas of how delight happens in learning, which will be reported on the conference web site (I will edit this post then to include a link).