The world is flat, but not frictionless.

kirk-st-amantDuring my search for Canvas LMS migration topics, I came across the site for the Clemson University “National Distance Learning Week 2014“.  The Keynote Address. “Rethinking Online Education for the Age of Globalization: Recognizing Risks and Realizing Rewards was by ECU professor, Kirk St. Amant.

In the presentation, Dr. St. Amant stated that “the world is flat,… but not frictionless.  Friction points: Anything that slows the flow of information and ideas across the surface of the flat earth.”  He then went on to list 10 friction point considerations:

  • Platforms and delivery
  • Software and compatibility
  • Timing and infrastructure
  • Credit and accreditation
  • Financing and payment
  • Laws and policies
  • Ethics and expectations
  • Language and translation
  • Global students and local focus
  • Scale and sustainability

Emerging economies (formerly referenced as “developing nations”).  These are the locations to focus upon regarding growth in Internet access and online education:

  • Brazil
  • Russia
  • India
  • China

He made a point that emerging economies have in some cases “leap frogged” certain technologies (laptops/PCs have been replaced by hand-held devices, smartphones/tablets) as the choice for online education and that you have to plan for and offer multiple contingencies for loss of Internet connectivity.

And of course, when I hear these things, I immediately start to think about the power of WordPress as a mobile communications tool that is responsive (dumbs itself down depending upon the device being used – PC, laptop, tablet, iPad, iPhone, Android smartphone, etc.).  I can both create and deliver content easily from a device with WordPress, or using its email posting capabilities.  The Internet is unavailable, I can still create multiple email postings, and then when I have connectivity again, they are automatically sent and posted.

I also think about something like Screenly and a Raspberry Pi.  The app will continue to rotate the display items even if connectivity has been lost, and then once connected again will download content and make any schedule changes that were made during the outage.

Digital Signage and Raspberry Pi

Weekend before last, I drove down to Georgetown, SC, to visit the South Carolina Maritime Museum (FB).  They were having a special public reception for the opening exhibit, for riverboats that ran on South Carolina rivers.  Several of these steamboats had traveled the Cape Fear river before heading to SC.

Before leaving the museum, I was talking with Robert McAlister, (I guess he is the Director.), and he mentioned wanting some sound effects, e.g. steamboat whistle, steam engine sounds, etc.  I said that I would look online to see if I could find some free effects.

But, looking for these sounds online got me to thinking about multimedia displays in museum settings.  I had experienced a sound dome, which directs the presentation audio down onto the viewer.  Someone standing nearby might not even be able to hear the presentation.  *It would be nice to have an repeating audio presentation for those viewing the new Planter model.

Raspberry-Pi-LogoEventually, I turned my focus onto the Raspberry Pi as a multimedia presentation hardware.  Sure enough, there was already a great number of items for digital signage from a couple of years ago (2013).  “Sixteen Slices of Raspberry Pi for Digital Signage

So, I finally had a good reason to play with the little computer.  I ordered a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 package from for about $69, which with Amazon Prime, had no shipping charges, and arrived in a couple of days.

pi2modb_angle1_web_3184559bThe kit included the Raspberry Pi 2 motherboard, a black plastic case, HDMI cable, power cable, a USB WIFI adapter, & a pre-loaded micro SD card.

I was worried that I was going to have to purchase a cheap USB keyboard and mouse, but then I watched a YouTube video and saw that it was very likely that a wireless keyboard would connect without a problem.  *I ended up using my Dell PC’s wireless keyboard & mouse (USB dongle to the Pi) successfully.

Although I will play with some “geeky” things, I am not adept at it.  I will break off plastic parts either trying to get something open, or while trying to close it.  Trying to get a memory card out of a plastic package can be a major task.  *I say this because it took some jostling to get the plastic case and the Pi motherboard to fit correctly and so that all the ports lined up right.

So, I didn’t have a memory card reader.  I wasn’t going to be able to burn the NOOBS image to the card to start the install process, and then I went back and read that the card I had received was “preloaded”.  It already had everything that I needed to start the Raspberry Pi install.  I just slipped the tiny micro SD card in it’s slot on the motherboard.  Its located on the underside of the motherboard, from all the other good stuff (various ports).

So, I got the Raspberry Pi in it’s black plastic case and hooked up the HDMI and network cable, and then plugged in the power cable.  The rainbow screen appeared on my Samsung TV screen, and eventually the Raspberry Pi logo.  I had mistakenly plugged in my Logitech wireless speaker bluetooth dongle and eventually realized my mistake.  Once I plugged in the correct dongle, the Dell keyboard and mouse worked fine on the Raspberry Pi.  *The setup process went as described in the YouTube video I had watched.

So, I got to the point where I had a GUI interface for my Raspberry Pi.  I used the included web browser which worked for much of the pages I visited.  But, there is relatively little else to do.

I finally revisited the Screenly web site and found that it was possible to install the Screenly OSE without burning the image that Screenly provided for the SD card.  I followed the steps, and it seemed that the setup had been successful, but being new to this OS, I had mistaken a setting.  I needed the GUI interface instead of the commandline for this to work.  Once I figured that out, Screenly came up as it should.

Screenly pops up with a URL for you to visit (from a different device).  From there, you can start to add content for Screenly to display.  I put up a couple of pictures, a QR image, a web page, and then added a 1 minute video (“Big Buck Bunny”).  They all worked as they should, but then I realized I didn’t know how to start the Raspberry Pi without it going directly into the Screenly app.  *I’m still not sure I have that solution yet.

Screenly offers a Pro (paid) version at $10/month.  One major problem that I see with the setup is that Screenly boots up showing the Management URL, and there is NO PASSWORD on this site.  If you had your setup in a storefront window and there was a loss of power, you wouldn’t want everyone seeing the Management URL, even if it was for 20 seconds or so… especially if there was no password to stop anyone from changing or adding WHATEVER content they wanted. NOTE: I later saw that there is a login option to Screenly’s web site, and their setup image (non-OSE version) generates a unique ID to pair the online management window to your Raspberry Pi setup.

I’ve already ordered 3 – 16 GB Class 10 micro SD cards (-$7@), and a card reader ($10) which should be here in a couple of days (probably tomorrow).  At that price per card, you could easily be working on several projects and just pop one card out and another in.

In fact, to get Screenly working on a fresh Raspberry Pi, you would just need to plug in an already formatted SD card, plug in the various cables and then the power cable and Screenly should be up and running without a problem in a few minutes. *I haven’t tested plugging in a USB cable for power from the TV to the Raspberry Pi, but conceivably, it is possible.

Items needed to get digital signage working via Raspberry Pi:

  • HDTV
  • HDMI Cable
  • Raspberry Pi 2 & Case
  • 8-16GB Class 10 Micro SD Card
  • USB Keyboard & Mouse (can be wireless, with Bluetooth dongle)
  • Network Cable
  • Power Cable (possibly USB cable powered via TV)

Polldaddy Poll

Adobe Acrobat – Form Distribute

I have not played with Adobe Acrobat in quite a few years.  At one point, I had figured out how to create form fields that could be submitted to an online database from a fillable PDF document.

I had the opportunity in the last day to return briefly to Adobe Acrobat and find that the app has developed well in certain areas.

The need was to distribute a lengthy document (a planning guide) and have various readers comment on up to 9 “goal” areas.  The original thought was to have a WordPress site and allow for comments.  I even went the route of activating a form plugin with the idea that viewers of the document could send (via email from the online form) their comments.  *I finally abandoned that route because the layout of the original document was lost when moving it from Word to HTML, and to make it look “pretty” online, there would be a time consuming process to port the data over into Table columns and rows.  The comment form was also sprawling.  Given time (which I didn’t have), yes, I think I could have made the form layout more aesthetically pleasing.  But, there was also the problem that aggregating the comments would become a time consuming manual process.

So, early on, I realized that the task was calling for a fillable PDF document.

Adobe Acrobat XI easily found all the potential form fields.  It found about 4 others that were easily deleted.  I did have to delete about 10 fields that were best represented as a “checkbox” and not a “text” field.

I didn’t know how to set the PDF so that anyone, whether they had the full version of Adobe Acrobat, or just Acrobat Reader, so that they could fill in the responses and save the PDF.  That was later found under Forms –> Distribute.  This allows you to choose to save the PDF, and send it via email to a specific address.

I also found that you could Choose Tools > Forms > More Form Options > Manage Form Data > Merge Data Files Into Spreadsheet, to aggregate all the data from those returned (filled in) PDFs and export as a .csv file.  Then pull that file into Excel.

A Learning Object with a “Something” Interface


golden sphere

I think of a “learning object” as having the shape of a ball.  Everything inside that ball relates in some way to the overall understanding of the learning object’s subject or core concept.  A student can approach the learning object and enter from any direction, but to be effective initially, the student should be encouraged to enter the subject from their strongest point of understanding.  Doesn’t that make sense?  If understanding is built on prior knowledge, then entering the study of a new subject would be best from where we are most comfortable.

Analogy, “something is like something else,” provides a framework of clarification and understanding.

The learning object is in constant motion (like a Roomba, it eventually will cover all the area) and as it rotates, it reflects back our level of understanding.  Where the interface senses our greatest level of recognition, it “lets us in.”

As we enter the learning object, our level of understanding could be portrayed much like a smaller bubble (sphere), or that is what we are imperfectly working toward.  No one ever understands it all.  There are always areas of knowledge that make our level of understanding like Swiss Cheese.  But, we enter the sphere and immediately we see some things that we readily recognize, while other things are dim, or possibly even unintelligible and apparently blank.

bubbles-n-bubblesSo, we can once again move to what we know, and “turn right”.  There is that dim item and we begin to learn how it is related to what we know.  The item becomes brighter, and down to the “southeast” we see another dim item.  We explore and find something, that we never knew existed, or that we thought was totally unrelated to our current level of study.  We learn more.

Now if we step back out of our learning object and attempt to re-enter where we first entered, our level of understanding has changed.  There are still the most recognizable areas, but now, some of the dim areas are equally as bright, and to our surprise, at least one blank area is not blank any longer.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning should be as simple as controlling the weather, or herding cats.  There are so many variables when it comes to individual learning that it would almost be impossible to create a tool (other than a teacher) who could interface with a student, determine their level of understanding and then proceed accordingly to improve their understanding where they are weak.

The “Something” Interface needs to be able to test our understanding and respond accordingly.  Images, audio, video, text.  Something from “A Clockwork Orange” or some psychological study where images are flashed before a test subject in a dark room.  The subject, hooked up to electronic equipment which is sensing bodily changes, increased electrical activity between synapses, modifications in the levels of gases in exhaled air, etc.  I’m not quite sure how you would determine a level of understanding.  Is it as simple as responses to questions?  It could be.

van-de-graaf-learning-objectBadges?  Someone has to determine the differing levels of understanding of a subject.  As our model of understanding of a subject begins to approach that of an orb, but there are still pockets of emptiness, resembling Swiss Cheese, then we need to fill these in.  We need a complete set of badges to complete the instructional process.

If a learning object is in the shape of a sphere, then the process more than likely will not be a linear progression.