Tag Archives: digital creativity

Turtlestitching – programming embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

 

 

 

 

 

My first introduction to programming an embroidery machine came at the Scratch 2015 conference in Amsterdam, when Andrea Mayr-Stalder from Vienna presented the Turtlestitch programming environment based on Snap. I didn’t take that much notice, however lovely the designs and the possibilities were.

Then I went to Seymour Papert’s commemoration in Boston in January 2016 and met Susan Ettenheim from New York. Susan had joined forces with Andrea to explore Turtlestitch and was on a learning journey with Susan’s student Jennifer Lin. Jennifer was struggling with a problem – how to fill in space with an embroidery machine using Turtlestitch. The task she was attempting was to fill in a petal shape. Artemis Papert had made a good solution, which tackled the problem using variables and trigonometry. In this program, the petals have become leafs:

Artemis Papert's petal

Artemis Papert’s petal

Susan told me that Jennifer struggled at first to understand such sophisticated mathematics. Never one to ignore a challenge, I designed an alternate solution which stuck to ‘body syntonic’ principles – essentially, exploiting a learner’s prior knowledge of moving their own body to make and debug a computer program. My solution involved three ‘sprites’ – one to run around one side of the petal, one to run round the other and finally another to run between them, filling in the space. One can imagine children actually acting this out for real, collaboratively, as a precursor to programming a solution in code, in the same way that turtle geometry allows them to solve geometric problems by imagining they themselves are moving and turning. It is salutary to note that my solution involves synchronising concurrent processes – a topic I would have considered above my pay grade, let alone appropriate for learners as young as 5! (Later I found out that ScratchJr, designed for younger learners, also included this kind of notional machine!).

After this, I was hooked, and at Scratch 2017 in Bordeaux I met Andrea, Susan and Jennifer together with Michael Aschaeur, who had programmed Turtlestitch, and had the opportunity to talk about my ideas and learn how they planned to go forward. As a result, I resolved to buy an embroidery machine!

I purchased a Brother Innov-is F440E embroidery machine in September 2017 from SOSBrother in Bray, I resolved to create an opportunity to play with colleagues and friends using Turtlestich to explore programming and embroidery, and thus was born the Turtlestitching workshop held today, Thursday 19th October as part of EU Code Week.

The introduction that Susan from SOSBrother gave me in to the machine’s operation was invaluable and I tried to pass on all I could remember to my collaborators.

Mags created designs seeded by our date of birth:

Mary Jo followed the brilliant Turtlestitch cards to create some lovely interlocking circles:

Mary Jo's simple but effective design

Mary Jo’s simple but effective design

Jake was like a duck to water, his work here modelled by Mags:

Jake's pattern

Jake’s pattern modelled by Mags

John’s design started black and white, but became really beautiful when using the multi-coloured thread:

John's design

John’s design

Glenn inspected, analysed and modified an existing pattern to fit the Brother’s 18 by 13 cm space:

Glenn's pattern

Glenn’s pattern

And after they all went away, I made my own Automated Landscape (the illustration at the start of this blog) into an embroidery, using the wonderful multi-coloured thread.

The workshop taught us several things:

  • “move 10 steps” produced a 2mm stitch, which was a ‘good’ size stitch;
  • going over patterns twice or even three times could make stronger designs;
  • multicoloured thread could make spectacular embroideries;
  • more time was spent discussing computational issues than embroidery issues;
  • it was hard fun!

I am absolutely delighted to announce that Trinity College Dublin’s Visual Arts and Performance scheme have agreed to fund a course and exhibition based on this, following a successful Wearable Electronics Workshop last year – look out for the advert in the New Year!

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.

Heaven

On Friday, I left my meeting in London and set off from Liverpool Street Station to Essex (the only way is Essex, I live in Brentwood).

“It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.”

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I didn’t get out at my usual stop, but instead the train continued towards Southend and I disembarked (thanks Sasha) at Southend Airport.

Had I fallen asleep on the journey? Was I in a dream?

I got on a plane to Dublin and found myself inveigled into a secret-service plot to surprise my friend Boyd for his birthday. A black limousine met me at the airport with good friend, colleague and Boyd’s partner Eileen and Tom ‘No. 1 son’, who whisked me to a pub to mark time with Eileen’s old friends (and a Guinness). Then we collected Zac ‘Besty’ (George Best? Animal? or simply the best?) and finally we hid in Findlater in Howth to await the birthday boy. Hosted by Sabine, we enjoyed a fantastic sea-food skillet and laughed and lived our love of family. Aoife offers me a bed for the night and she and I have a cracking conversation long past my bed time.

A very good dream indeed.

Saturday, like in all my best dreams, was spent at a stimulating Association of Teachers’ / Education Centres’ numeracy conference, re-connecting with Eileen Two and meeting the vibrant Dolores Corcoran (where were you Elizabeth?). I guess I should have been suspicious of the conference title – ‘Does it All Add Up?’

Later the birthday party continued with Boyd and Eileen’s neighbours and friends – more cracking conversation and such warm, good people.

Boyd's birthday

Boyd blows out the candles watched by Eileen, Tom and Chantal

Food from Joan (now known as Jo-an-issima) was spot-on, with the shiniest cutlery and glasses. Sing-songs and good company. Shared a brilliant falling star with Aoife and I had to be taken home by the delightful Nessa. It’s not usual to sleep in dreams and I didn’t sleep much before Sunday morning. On waking to a dawn over Dublin Bay, I am off in another limo, to the airport, to fly to London Gatwick.

Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay and Howth at dawn

I then enter another level of dream – ‘in transit’ – like the novel by Brigid Brophy, that I marvelled at as teenager. Vana arrives and we work on categorising future trends in TEL before a flight to Turin, Italy.

We meet Katherine, who drives us to Pollenzo in Bra, to L’Agenzia di Pollenzo ‘si fa in quattro’ the international headquarters of ‘slow food’. The ‘quattro’ are our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia also housing Guido Ristorante Pollenzo, the Banco Vino (wine bank) and best of all, the University degli  Studi Scienze Gastronomische (University of Gastronomic Sciences) – “the first academic institution to offer an interdisciplinary approach to food studies”. The whole campus is built on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of King Carlo Alberto’s 1835  Savoy Estate, which in turn is built on the Roman town of Pollentia.

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

I sit down to dinner with Vana and Katherine:

antipasto – Sformato di verdure con crema di Roccaverano

primo – Tajarin al sugo di salsicca di Bra

secondo – Brasato al Barolo con patate al forno

dolce – Panna Cotta

with a powerful Barbaresco from close by, and we speak all night of creativity.

wine and panna cotta

Barbaresco wine from the local region and Panna Cotta

In this heavenly dream, I wonder how did I deserve or manage such a dreamy, surreally wicked dream weekend, at such times in higher education…

“…with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures” ?

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I began to realise, unlike the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, who doesn’t know he is in hell, that I must be in heaven and that I passed in my sleep on the train from Liverpool Street.

 

How does technology enhance learning?

Ever since 1979, I have been curious about the instinctive reaction (and evidence in front of my eyes) that computers might support learning. That first computer program, intended for me to discover how to program, was Snooker. It simulated (on a Research Machines 380Z) the snooker table with a single ball. By specifying a force and a direction (as a bearing) you could hit the ball and see if it went in the pocket. When I showed my mathematics pupils, they were full of it – running to the cupboard to find protractors so they could more accurately estimate the angle.

In 2002 (call me slow) I had the opportunity to make my own analysis of how technology could enhance learning in the context of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority project, Investigation Into Pupils’ Creativity Across The Curriculum, for which I was a consultant.

In 2012 (call me an octogenarian snail) I have tidied up that work into a a rather text-full poster which summarises what I had learnt, mapped on to the model of learning which I use in my practice – expression and evaluation – that poster is coming next!

UPDATE 14th August 2012: I have recreated Snooker using QuiteBasic!

Screens, health and causality

Hal playing a game in the back of the car

‘Warning over children’s multi-screen viewing’, a BBC web site article by Katherine Sellgren from August 2011, updated today and hence came up for my attention, reports on research at Loughborough and Bristol universities. They found children (63 in Bristol) were often “multi-screen viewing” – watching TV while simultaneously using smartphones, laptops or hand-held gaming devices. Furthermore, they are reported as saying such habits are linked to obesity, poorer mental well-being and health problems in later life.

If you read their peer-reviewed published research report, the claims are somewhat softened – the health problems are concerned with adults mostly and with too much overall screen watching. And in the discussion, the reasons expressed by the 11-12 year olds give comfort – they are common-sense explanations which confirm the thirst for knowledge, activity and social communication:

“Participants reported that there were three main reasons for engaging in multi-screen viewing.”

“Firstly, it tempered impatience that was associated with a programme loading or waiting for a response to a text message or instant message. For these children the second or third screen filled the time and prevented boredom.”

“Secondly, multi-screen viewing was a reactive response that enabled the child to use their time more efficiently as they could filter out unwanted content such as advertisements and focus their attention on just the content that interested them.”

“Thirdly, multi-screen viewing was a proactive decision with the children opting to do two or more things at once as it was perceived to be more interesting or more enjoyable.”

Still, no clear certainty that the health problems are actually caused by multi-screen viewing (sad, fat people may prefer to watch television than join in team sports).

My colleague and friend Stephen Heppell discussed this issue nearly twenty years ago (!) in ‘Children of the Information Age and the Death of Text‘ – an article that first appeared in the Society of Authors’ journal “The Author” as part of a computer focused edition “The Electronic Author”, in Summer 1993.

In the article Stephen writes:

“…the TV too is typically reduced to a small information window in a larger social context – children watch it whilst browsing a magazine, listening to music, playing with their “Game Boy” or whatever.”

and that:

“We should not view this as a deficiency model of children. It is not that their concentration threshold has declined; rather, they are not happy anymore to adopt the role of passive information consumers. This is progress.”

I find it simply amazing how frequently researchers judge children’s habits as deficient before proving the causal question – is it the multi-tasking use of multiple sources of information which leads to the health and well-being issues suggested?

Might there be a connection with the food industry, dysmorphia or the ‘stranger-danger’ fear of playing outside?

How has the research shown any connection with later life?

Most importantly, why are we discussing passive ‘screen viewing‘ as being the predominant interaction in the contexts described when modern mobile technology is all about active choices, games, social communication and creativity?

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.

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!

Surprise, surprise

Times Higher Educational Supplement logo

Tara Brabazon in the Times Higher Education Supplement when discussing coursework masters degree courses:

“They are squeezed between the crowd control of undergraduate education and the over-bureaucratised doctoral programmes that dislodge the historically functional relationship between a PhD candidate and supervisor.”

She draws attention to the remarkable creativity of her students, when unleashed with a little flexibility:

“Although there is a science – and craft – to curriculum, we never know how our students will remix our aims and riff off our structure to create melodies and syncopations beyond our lesson plans.”

I know what she’s talking about and we have designed this thinking in to our new degree framework for batchelors, masters and doctorate at the University of Bolton.

Although her article is flowery in its language and this begins to grate as I get to the end, the sentiments and concepts are important:

“These students want a second chance to remake their careers and lives. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their examples show that change and creativity emerges when courageous students decide to live their lives differently.”

Our take on this fertile opportunity is Inter-disciplinary inquiry-based learning founded in an action research philosophy.

At this point in her article, Tara switches to talking about the link between research and teaching, through the students’ inquiry referencing the HEA report Linking Teaching and Research in Disciplines and Departments.

My worry is that this paper, and her language, are not radical enough in conceiving students as co-researchers in the 21st century. Surely now, ivory-tower academic authority is no longer seen as the know-it-all top of the pyramid (to mix a few metaphors myself), but still has a vital role to play in gathering the best, modelling excellence and rigour and wisely critiquing and deferring to the evidence base from professional practice.

Tara pleas:

“I hope that through the stress and the marking, the stress and the moderation, the stress and the exam boards, academics feel buoyant at their teaching achievements but humbly reflective about what our students can teach us.”

Agreed, and I suggest we should focus on how to make these important teaching acts as delightful and stress free as possible.