Monday, July 25, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 7: At The Not Moodle Roundtable

Pop Up Thinglab 7 was part of the "Not Moodle Roundtable" facilitated by Julian Bream at the Mary Ward Centre for people involved with adult and community education in London.

21 people from 15 adult and community learning services across London shared their experiences, tips and tools of education and technology - here is what we talked about:

* Appropriate access to wifi was perhaps the biggest problem and challenge - their is a wealth of useful things online but its not always possible or reliable to get access to them in the venues that adult and community education use. Some services are providing "MIFI" style mobile shared wifi hotspots for staff to take with them to community venues for them and their students to use to get on-line.

* Learners expect to use familiar technology in their education (it's part of everyday lives) but the technology education offers is increasingly out of touch with everyday life and is difficult to use.

* There was much discussion about BYOD and examples were given of learners using smartphones to make videos and share things using social media and messaging apps. Waltham Forest for example have IT courses without providing any hardware - an example of BYOD family learning.

* Learners (and staff) have few problems using their own devices especially smartphones but we have to be very sensitive to technology equality issues as some people have very good personal equipment and networking while others have very poor equipment or none at all. Moving away from a focus on technology can help here - there is no use prescribing a particular app or system if it can't be used in context - focusing on teaching and learning is a better approach and putting any technology into a support role.

* Having to operate, teach and learn in locked down IT environments - restricting the freedom of teachers and learners to be flexible and to use the tools they find most appropriate.

* Too much focus on technology and its provision rather than a focus on pedagogy and using the appropriate methods and tools to support it.

* The idiosyncrasies of the venues they use - adult and community teachers often have to educate in venues operated by many agencies and the IT used has different "systems behaviours" e.g. ways to login, access storage and programs etc.

In some places there is enthusiasm but its not matched with the right level of support or infrastructure.

* Some tutors feel they don't have the skills or confidence to use technology.

* People don't like change ... this is often a consequence of institutional methods of change ... top down "big bang" systems thinking approaches with inappropriate\inadequate consideration of human factors.

* The importance of peer support and the sharing of ideas, experiences and solutions was recognised and the need for more of this was appreciated. People talked about creating a toolkit of resources that can be selected from. In no particular order here are some of the tools that people talked about and recommended Thinglink, Padlet, Camstudio, Pinnion, Polleverywhere, Nearpod, Photomath, Blendspace, Quizlet, Whatsapp, Google translate and Youtube.

Education is not a problem to be solved.

InspireNshare's Martin King did an impromptu session on education technology. He spoke about the problem of change in education, "ed-tech solutionism", education and technology cycles, history repeating and about the philosophy of InspireNshare and Thinglabs .

Martin spoke about his experience of more than 35 years with education and technology - how he has seen the cycles of "the next big thing" that will really make a difference or as Evgeny Morozov writes "To Save Everything, Click Here". The latest technology solutions that most remember and which are still being promoted in education are of course eboards, MLEs's, tablets and MOOCs. Martin told Miles Metcalf's joke about eBoards ....

"The latest eBoards are so good that you can see the chalk dust" 

There is a willingness to invest in tangible capital product but not the staff or staff development that can really make a difference and with this type of "concrete thinking" the replacement of teachers with AI systems seems inevitable. 

"Concrete thinking" means the "e" in eLearning so often stands for "expensive" - there are so many stories of institution leaderships giving the go ahead to spend tens of thousands on tablets only to have them sit in cupboards unused because no one has had any idea how to use them in practice in their subjects or have them locked down and loaded with specific apps and taken out of charging cabinets in classrooms as if they were textbooks. 

So often technology is seen as just yet another content delivery method and with this type of thinking the direct brain upload to students seems inevitable!

Why is it that education itself doesn't seem to change?

Why is it that so many talk about a growing disconnect between education and the real world?

Why is it that people talk about education technology and a crisis of relevance?

Keep taking the tablets ... technology dependence .. the solution is more of the same

One reason is that education decisions are not informed by teachers but by corporate style vested interests in maintaining the status quo of big expensive institutional technology and the high level deals with the education and technology industry "matrix". 

Somehow learners and teachers must be able to shape the future of learning and teaching

Martin spoke about his "bottom up" and grass roots development philosophy and how inspireNshare and Thinglab are influenced by the ancient Greek steam engine and the Butterfly effect - that sharing things can inspire people to see appropriate or new uses for them and that by further sharing their ideas and uses can cause bigger effects than ever imagined.

In the 1st century AD Heron described what is considered to be the first recorded steam engine but it was only ever thought of and used as a toy ... imagine if a Roman engineer had seen it ... its potential might have been seen and history could have been very, very different.

The Butterfly is a symbol of change and lightness of mind and the Butterfly effect is the idea that tiny actions and changes can have large, widespread effects through chain reactions in an interconnected world.

As part of the meeting Martin brought along the Pop up Thinglab Virtual Reality Travel Agency with a selection of VR headsets and showed an Introduction To Virtual Reality Smash Hit VR, Cirque Du Soleil: ZARKANA and Discovr. Egypt on the Samsung Gear VR and The Click Effect and "The Evolution of Vrse" on Google Cardboard VR.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 6: Open Public 3D Printing And Learning

Pop Up Thinglab 6 was an open and public 3D printing workshop for anyone held in the reception of Croydon Central Library on a rolling program for people to come and go as they pleased over three hours.

The idea for this Pop Up Thinglab was to introduce the general public to 3D printing with relatively simple, friendly, accessible and cost effective "consumer" stye technologies for home use and making.

I used a Flashforge Finder 3D printer, Thingiverse web based digital design gallery for finding items to print, Tinkercad web based 3D design tool for editing and creating items to print and a selection of PLA printing filaments: redblueglow in the dark green and "wood" for printing.

I did my work, set up the 3D printer, a selection of filaments and printed objects "out front" so that everything and myself were was accessible and easy for people to interact with.

Its important for those new to 3D printing to see everything so I made a point of starting out by switching on the 3D printer and showing people how to load the filament and how to level the build plate - letting people have a go at levelling the plate. I made a point of explaining the importance of the first layer - having a level build plate, adhesion to the build plate - explaining about different types of build plate tape and about the use of a raft layer to help adhesion.

I used a USB lead to connect the 3D printer to a laptop, loaded the 3D printer software (Flashprint), loaded the 3mm Spanner from Thingiverse, added a raft and clicked to print. The 3mm Spanner is a good thing to test things out - its small and simple and if this prints OK then the build plate should be level enough and we should have enough confidence that more ambitious objects should print OK. The 3mm Spanner is a good thing to start with as it only takes about 6 minutes to print so you have something "appear before your very eyes" to see, pass around and talk about quite quickly. I use this thing to talk about how you can use a 3D printer to make useful things like tools and parts, how you can customise them in specific ways and how useful this is in times and places where you can't just go out and buy certain things - in developing nations and in remote locations such as the Arctic or in space for example.

I thought a 3D printed Butterfly Bookmark would be a good thing to print - the butterfly is the logo of inspireNshare and a 3D printed bookmark has obvious symbolism for modern libraries. I had printed it once before but for some reason this time it came out as a blob - this was good as It's important to see when things go wrong, we learn a lot from mistakes and it was useful for the group to see this and for me to reason it out and learn authentically, openly and in public with them. I was stumped for a while but noticed that for some reason the Butterfly Bookmark blob had shifted quite a bit on the build plate as if it had been knocked - I hadn't seen this before and then remembered that that while it was printing and I was talking to the group I had leaned back and sat down on the table the printer was on a few times. I came to the conclusion that leaning back and sitting on the table had vibrated the printer sufficiently to cause the thing being printed to lose adhesion to the build plate and for it to move about with the print head resulting in a blob of plastic being formed. I remember talking with some 3D printing professionals at the iMakr 3D printing show in March - we were talking about the new Gizmo super speed top down SLA DLP 3D printer and they mentioned how they were going to put them on solid stone floors as removing vibrations to the liquids and resins used in SLA printing is so crucial. All the 3D printing I had done up to this point had been on heavy tables or the kitchen worktop at home - all quite solid. This was the first time I had set up on a "normal" sort of table - reasonably stable but no where near as solid as those I had used previously and although I wasn't using resin or liquid (SLA printing) this got me thinking about the impact of vibrations on the plastic (FDM printing) we are doing with Pop Up Thinglabs. We took care not to knock the table from then on and all the subsequent prints came out fine. This failure was a very useful learning experience for me and I made a mental note to always seek out a good solid table for future 3D printing pop up Thinglabs.

Pop up Thinglabs take education out of the box - they are open and public, there are no minimum entry requirements and anyone is welcome. Pop Up Thinglab 6 had people from all backgrounds, ages ethnicity etc - from three year olds up to 73 year olds all mixed up together.

3D printing is still a niche thing with innovator, early adopter "geek", techie, makers and professionals - it has yet to "cross the chasm" to the mainstream majority of home users - the majority of whom have heard little or nothing about them and have never seen one in use. A major function of Pop Up Thinglabs is as a form of education that makes accessible experience of technologies that lay across the chasm to the mainstream of people and to widen the discussion about these technologies with everyone.

Outside the box of formal education people still have a hunger for learning - I was amazed by the number of questions people had about 3D printing ... most of which were framed as personal interest in buying, running and using one. How much is the printer, how much does it cost to print things, what can you print, where can you buy a 3D printer and the filament, what programs can you use to design your own things, how strong are the things you print etc 

It was a real joy to have families come along and to see them interact around the 3D printer and accessories. Many children have often come across 3D printing in some form at school and I often found children explaining and showing the 3D printer to their parents.

One lasting impression I have is how children were fascinated by a 3D printed spinning top - a traditional toy made with new new technology. When they asked what it was I explained that it was the type of thing children might get as a present 100 years ago ... they were fascinated and couldn't stop playing with it so I let one of the children take it away with them.

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pop Up Thinglab 5: Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" ~ Albert Einstein

Pop Up Thinglab 5 was was a children's virtual reality workshop with the Code Club members of Croydon Central Library.

Previous Virtual reality Thinglabs have been with adults but I always struggled to explain and describe virtual reality.  Albert Einstein once said "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself" so I was keen to have children explain virtual reality to me!.

Consumer Virtual reality is very new and VR viewer manufacturers have very different recommendations for minimum ages - Oculus (Rift and Samsung Gear) say 13+ , Sony Playstation say 12+, Mattel say 7+. HTC say the Vive wasn’t designed for ‘young’ children but don't specify a minimum age and Google doesn't specify a minimum age and have been very active in children's education from primary schools up with their Expeditions program. 

For a children's virtual reality Thinglab I had to use appropriate viewers, content and method.

Children's Virtual Reality Viewers
The Google Cardboard VR ecosystem is used widely with children and the Mattel View-Master VR viewer is designed specifically for children 7+ so we chose to use the Google Cardboard VR ecosystem - specifically a View-Master VR viewer and two I Am Cardboard viewers.

Children's Virtual Reality Content
The group ranged from  seven year olds through to 12 year olds so I had to choose content that was appropriare yet interesting for this age range. While I had the Viewmaster space, wildlife and destinations "Edu-tainment packs ready - these are OK but they just didn't seem exciting enough at the time for a group that were excited about having a go at virtual reality so I chose to use "Disney" style mainstream content suitable for the age range and available to anyone free to use on their Smartphone.

Within focus on Virtual Reality to tell stories and have a wide ranging portfolio of "extraordinary stories in virtual reality" available for free on your smartphone. From the Within portfolio I chose the Invasion and The Evolution of Vrse. One of the best experiences to try with Virtual Reality are Roller Coaster rides so from the general VR experiences available for smartphone and suitable for children I added in VR Cosmic Roller Coaster App.

Invasion - "Aliens come to take over Earth. It’s up to two adorable little white bunnies to save the planet - and you are one of them! 

The Evolution of Vrse - A wonderfully relaxing musical and scenic experience where you get to rise up and meet a giant baby ... wither that or you have become very small :)

Cosmic Roller Coaster - A roller coaster ride through space where you pass space stations, planets and other cosmic objects.

Children's Storytelling With Virtual Reality
People experiencing virtual reality get quite immersed in the experience and apart from short utterances like "WOW" there is little communication from people experiencing virtual reality with people in the real world.

Its the Immersive experience that makes virtual reality so interesting but this immersion (at least for now) is individual and not shared - from the real world we cannot experience what you are experiencing in the virtual world - we cannot see what you see and we have to be patient while waiting our turn to have a go.

For a group of 10 people with a shared VR viewer I wondered how to make the experience interesting for everyone ... especially for those waiting their turn to have a go with a shared viewer- especially for a group of children who could easily get bored waiting their turn.

My idea for a group session with a shared VR viewer was for the virtual reality adventurer to describe in real time what they were seeing and encouraging questions from the group to the adventurer about what they were seeing. I was aiming to develop people's real time descriptive skills, questioning skills and to keep the whole group engaged and interested in real time.

Children's Storytelling And Virtual Reality: Impressions
This was the first time I had done this and quite an experiment - I had no idea if it would work or not.

I was amazed at how easily the children accepted technology. There were plenty of questions and excitement about virtual reality and a 3D printer I had with me for a later Thinglab - the children were so eager to learn and so keen to have a go. I kept wondering why this might be ... at first I kept thinking it was because of an association between technology, toys and play and that in general children have very positive experiences with technology and thus have a positive view on technology. However, looking across to the other side of the library at the pleasure toddlers were taking in their new found ability to walk around and explore all by themselves I could see how the joy of learning is so natural for children and that the "frictionless" experience they have with technology is just part of their natural joy of learning. 

I was amazed at how easily and how well the children were able to describe what they were seeing in virtual reality and how engaging the activity was for the rest of the group. The method created a group dynamic and engaging social experience - its certainly a method I will use and develop again ... I look forward to trying this with small adult groups to compare. 

One thing I noticed was that virtual reality seemed to level the playing field between for the shy ones in the group - once they had the virtual reality viewer on they described what they were seeing as well as the more extrovert children in the group. I wonder if this is similar to the other effects where technology mediation overcomes social inhibitions - perhaps similar to the way shy members of a class may not raise their hands to ask a question or make a comment but might contribute to a social media backchannel.  

Now ... as for children explaining virtual reality to me - Croydon Library Code Club members excelled  - here is there description of virtual reality

"Virtual reality projects into your eyes as if you are there"

In my opinion this certainly beats how NASA describe it

“Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence.”  ~ NASA

Or some attempts by adults to describe it for children such as

“Virtual reality is a computer made world which you can go into using special goggles.”


"Virtual reality is a hypothetical three-dimensional visual world created by a computer; user wears special goggles and fiber optic gloves etc., and can enter and move about in this world and interact with objects as if inside it" ~

Well done Croydon Library Code Club!

For more information about inspireNshare Thinglabs visit