Ideas while travelling on the way….

StepShot review

The Giveawayl of the Day (GOTD) for May 28, 2012 was for StepShot.  I had not heard of this utility designed to may visual tutorials from screen captures. It is built on the old proverb: a picture is worth a thousand words.

After starting the program, the user can elect to take a single snapshot, or to record a shot each time the mouse is clicked.  For a quick test, I decided to document how to use the new in-line detail feature of pre-released Freeplane. 1.2  For my initial experience I chose to turn on recording for each mouse click.  This took some getting used to and I ended up capturing more shots than I needed.  Unneeded shot are easy to delete, by simply clicking on the delete icon.  After eliminating unnecessary shots, I added a few text boxes and arrows.

Here is he first screen showing the captured files:

StepShot image 1

Notice the added text and arrow in red.  The cursor is also highlighted in yellow which is very handy in demos.

The next shot shows the first screen of the export dialog which allows the editing of several settings on the first page of the saved demo.

The second screen allows the choice or several formats:

The full demo can be found here: Freeplane In-line Demo created with StepShot

Verdict: This utility is quite different from other screen capture programs I have used, particularly Jing and SnagIt.  The idea of taking a shot very time a mouse button is pressed ensures that little is missed from a demo.  On the other hand, only rudimentary editing of screen shots is available within StepShot itself.  It does seemlessly open a graphic editor (default is MSPaint) if further editing is needed.

During my first attempt I chose to includedthe entire screen.  Unfortunately this included included the “Stop Recording” button.  This is unfortunate, but can be overcome by just taking snap shots of the active window.  As long as the “Stop Recording” button is outside the active window, all is good.

As can be seen from the above screen shot, several formats are available when exporting the demo.  All in all, a good start for creating visual demonstrations.

Setup for the Live Presentation:

Another web conference was held with Collaborate.  Initially there were no glitches, but before long there were some brief audio problems with echoes while Aldrich spoke.  They seem to be related to multiple microphones open at the same time.  Fortunately, the problems did not last long.


Clark Aldrich is nothing if not organized.  His introductory blog post, his freely downloadable book and his slides were all clearly enumerated and presented.  The first Collaborate session on Wednesday consisted of the first part of his presentation, while the Friday session picked right up where he left off.  The second half of Friday’s session moved in Q and A.

Aldrich presented a five phase outline for the development of educational simulations and serious games:

Phase 1: Concept
This phase is a combination of consultation and marketing with a potential client.  A major selling point in the success of simulations is in promoting competence and conviction.  (Conviction is understood to mean that participants are more likely to apply automatically and intentionally the lessons learned.  One of the first things that the consultant needs to understand from the client are the specific areas of need.  Early personnel roles in concept development should include at least a project lead, a designer and a project manager.

Phase 2: Create and Design
Aldrich spent the bulk on his time on time section, which reflects his area of specialization.  He makes the interesting point that simulations tend to be used in areas where the cost of failure is too great to bear. Several factors need to be considered: Engagement (activitites be fun enough), Relevance and Convenience (well chunked), all of which needs to be produced at an acceptable cost within a reasonable time frame.

This is also the place to talk of budgeting.  Features like multi-player and artificial intelligence can greatly increase the cost of production.  He made the fascinating point that the preliminary budget should be open to adjustment depending on the number of overseers that need to sign off.  Less than four signatories could reduce costs by 25%; while having ten or more to sign off may double the cost!

Learning objectives should start with the high level best practices for the area. Then there practices filter down through influencing the choice of genre and the core of the simulation.  Early walkthroughs help get the client on board.  Once approval is granted the simulation model truly gets underway with the inclusion of programmers and artists.  This stage culminates with the production of a full design document which serves as the blueprint for detailed development.

Phase 3: Code
This is the place where the “grunt work” of the programmers and coders is done.  Resources are gathered and shaped to fulfill the plan in the design document.  Usually one complete level is completed first.  Once that is satisfactorily completed, then the emphasis shifts to the production and integrate of all the small components.

Phase 4: Calibrate
Pilot tests are important to ensure that the project delivers what was promised.  Areas that need revision are addressed.  Careful attention needs to be paid to the user experience.  There needs to be a cycle of frustration, when participants cannot yet figure out exactly what needs to the done, followed by a resolution as goals are completed.  Maintaining a proper balance between frustration and resolution is difficult, but vital to success.

Phase 5: Deploy
This area received little emphasis besides being mentioned as the final step.  Little is accomplished by all the effort expended in making the simulation until people actually use it.


While the slides were not available via a link, I learned that you can use the file menu within Collaborate to download slides.  Very, very handy.

While Aldrich went through the material quickly, his clear outline made him easy to follow.  His expertise as a presenter was obvious.  He seamlessly incorporated comments from the chat window.

Take away points: I think that teaching procedures are where simulations excel.  On the other hand I was left with this question: When are simulations not the best way to learn?

Setup for the Live Presentation:

The live session in Elluminate with Jon Dron had some initial sound problems, but these were quickly corrected.  The technology is not transparent as yet, but things do seem to be getting better.


The humble screwdriver serves as Dron’s opening example.  It is a single tool that can have many technologies (uses).  What but exactly is a technology?  According to W. Brian Arthur, it is the “orchestration or phenomena for some use.”  Pedagogies are also technologies.

Central to Dron’s discussion is the distinction between soft and hard technologies.  An example of a soft technology is a pair of knitting needles.  The user has to actively provide all the “orchestration.”  This requires a lot of skill to produce a particular outcome, but many outcomes are possible.  An example of a hard technology is a knitting machine.  It has the advantage of being faster and easier to use, but the disadvantage of being less versatile and more brittle.  Designating a technology as soft or hard depends to a certain extent on the user and is never entirely one or the other, but a continuum.  The tendency is for technology to add more features.

What does hard and soft technology have to do with learning?  Using technology in learning is inevitable.  Some kind of technology will be used.  The choice of technology should be based on the Goldilocks principle: not too hard or too soft.  It must be easy enough to use, without putting too many restraints on users.

What about the invisible elephants mentioned in the topic title?  Technology will only be as good as the people using it.  A well-implemented soft technology is much better than a poorly implemented hard technology.  It is far too easy to concentrate on the technology itself rather than the skills and talents needed to use it well.


Defining terms may not be the most interesting of activities, but is vital to avoid misunderstanding.  Dron used Arthur’s definition of technology (“orchestration of phenomena for some use”) and also claimed that pedagogies are technologies.  I need to reflect more on Arthur’s definition, but I have difficulties with the second claim.  There is a difference between a technology, which requires some kind of object, (perhaps even designed for a specific purpose), from a technique which is a process.  While the line may occasionally get fuzzy, it is important to try to keep a distinction between the two.

After quibbling over such definitions, I found the hard and soft designations very intriguing: Hard emphasizing the ease of use, at the cost of confining and brittle; while soft being harder to use, but very flexible.

Can a technology be both hard and soft?  I think the answer is yes.  Take for example the software I am using to write this, Microsoft Word.  Word 2007 adopted the Ribbon bar, a huge shift from the previous drop down menu system.  Yes, I did complain loudly then and still do on some occasions about some of the changes, but I have to admit that for the average use (especially the beginner) the program is easier to use.   Most common features are easier to see and change.  In Dron’s sense it is hard technology.  The Ribbon bar itself is not at all flexible for the end user. If you do not like it, too bad.  On the other hand, more obscure but still useful things are now softer and require more skill to access.  For example, the ability to work with templates is much softer in Dron’s sense.  The nitty, gritty of applying a template requires more skill.  Instead of a couple of clicks it now may take half a dozen and that is when you know where is look!  Because this is not something the average user does frequently, it now takes much more time and effort to use them.  The philosophy seems to be something like this: make the common tasks more visible (hard in Dron’s sense), while delegating the less common to being less visible (soft in Dron’s sense).  Does this mean Goldilocks is happy?  You will have to ask her, because I am not Goldilocks.

Setup for the Live Presentation:

Three live sessions were held this week; two with Elluminate and one video COOLCast.  For the first Elluminate session, I had no sound problems, but from what was said in the chat room, others did.  In the second Elluminate session, I did not have any either, but Duval had difficulty maintaining a connection.  He was frequently dropped, but then almost immediately reconnected.  This must have been very frustrating for him as the presenter.  The video in COOLCast worked well, consisting of about half a dozen people actively participating.  I ended up watching some and  listening to the mp3 audio for the rest.


Describing the content of Duval’s sessions is difficult because none of them had the typical collection of slides to guide the discussion.  It was more like David Wiley’s session in that regard.  All of the sessions were relatively informal Question and Answer.

The title of his topic comes from the exponential expansion of connectedness.  This connectedness makes it possible to be open in ways that earlier generations could not.  For example, digital copies cost virtually nothing, do not suffer from copier degeneration and can be accessed from anywhere.  Work can easily be shared.  Hashtags and blogs result in “classrooms without walls” where anyone can participate.  He advocates that students have access to all the information all of the time.

One of Duval’s favourite classes is a five-hour block.  These do not consist in doing one thing for five hours!  He describes the class with these verbs: Hear, think, do, debrief and interact. Blogging and tweeting are required for most courses, except some introductory ones.  His view goes like this: If you are not tweeting; you are not working on the course and if you are not working on the course; you are not passing the course.

When asked if he meets resistance to these requirements, Duval mentioned one student who expressed reluctance to post openly because she was being stalked by her ex.  On the other hand, most students who expressed reluctance did so because they were afraid of spending too much time with the course and not get other things done!  Recognizing this possibility in his own personal life, Duval regularly blocks out time when he is not accessible.  Maintaining a balance requires discipline.


I mentioned previously that this session was similar in format to David Wiley’s.  The major difference for me was that I was more familiar with the work of Wiley, but I was not at all acquainted with the work of Eric Duval.  His introductory page provided a very impressive resume of organizations he has been involved in.  One of the things I found fascinating was that he teaches computer programming—a field which, according to stereotype, is populated by talented, but socially inept loners.  Duval’s approach requires a huge amount of social interaction, especially using blogs and Twitter.

I am speaking just for myself, but I would have difficulty in this type of course.  Dave Cormier mentioned that it is not uncommon for him to have several people withdraw from his courses because of similar requirements.  I find posting to a blog a lot of work, but not impossible.  (This should be obvious to anyone reading this.)  But I have never understood the appeal of Twitter at all.  Again in a confession that may say more about my personal preferences, I use my smart phone for a lot of different tasks, but very little texting.  I do not like abbreviations and hate to leave out punctuation, so I find strict character limits too confining.

Setup for the Live Presentation:

Other commitments prevented me from attending Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic learning live session and the recording on the MOOC site was audio only.  Cormier recommended a Youtube video of a draft version of the session.  Since I wished to observe the slides, this is the version I viewed.  Given that the recording did not reveal the full screen, it was not clear what presentation software was used.  The chat window was barely readable, but it looked a lot like Elluminate.  There were no significant problems with sound.


In last week’s session Cormier expressed his admiration for Nancy White.  That influence was reflected in his encouragement to participants to feel free to write on slides.  Several slides with a leading question allowed attendees to post their thoughts.  He described his session not as a presentation, but dinner theatre.

After introducing himself and highlighting some of his activities, he launched the session with a question: Why do we educate students? For Cormier, the traditional reason over the last 150 years is normativity.  The problem is having the community decide what the proper norms are.

Following the work of some French philosophers, he describes three outcomes of an educational system:

1.   Workers: “The worker was the original goal of the public education system.  How can we create a workforce that will show up to work on time, accept tasks and complete them.”

2.   Soldiers: “Soldiers are the defenders of the status quo.  They are the ones who establish what things we currently know that the worker should remember.”

3.   Nomads: “The nomad is a creative thinker.  They are not restrained by the status quo and carve their own paths.  They learn things because they need them.”

He clearly favours the nomadic approach, although he admits that it may not work in all areas.  One reason why he favours the nomadic approach is that it is the only one of the three that produces new knowledge.  If educators want their students to extend knowledge beyond the current state, it is the only approach.  Neither the worker nor the soldier develop knowledge into new territory.

How does Cormier propose to encourage nomadic learning?  Rhizomatic learning.  A rhizome is plant known for its resilience and its aggressive propagation by sending out multiple roots.  They need a lot of attention in order to keep them under control.


By XIII from TOKYO  CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How does this apply to learning?  He describes the process as follows:

The rhizome is a metaphor, like the nomad is a metaphor.  The Nomad learns rhizomatically – in directions unforeseen, and, maybe, to new creative spaces.  It’s a process of becoming, of coming to understand.  We are all different, and our new knowledge must become part of us.

In a linked article, he provides a different definition in order to differentiate his approach from other learning approaches:

In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises (Cormier, 2008, p. 1).

The outcomes of this approach are difficult to assess.  Usually connections will be made later when an individual finds themselves in a situation where they are reminded of earlier experience.


Given that Cormier says the outcomes of rhizomatic learning often do not appear until much later, I will have to get back to you on what I learned!

On a more serious note, when I first saw the title of this section, I had no idea how this botanical term might be connected to learning.  Last week, Nancy White introduced the idea of a social artist: someone who creates space for people to interact; helping them to be heard.  Cormier’s approach is similar.  He advocates providing a space for participants to explore, to push the boundaries, to go in various directions.

What are the limitations of this approach?  Cormier admits that it fits some areas better than others.  It is well suited when learners which to push beyond current limits.  However, much of education consists of finding out what is already within the boundaries.  To acquire all knowledge the rhizomatic way, seems inefficient, involving a lot of “reinventing the wheel.”  It is building on the knowledge of others that allow people to proceed quickly to the boundaries.  This is not to say that the approach should not be used until the boundaries are reached.  Providing a space for individuals to extend the limits of their knowledge can be very exciting and motivational.  It can also be very tiring, even tedious to be required to do all learning this way.  Rhizomatic learning is one approach, but not the only one.  Use it, but use it along with other approaches.

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4(5), 6.


Setup for the Live Presentation:

Elluminate now seems to have become the tool of choice for live web conferences for this MOOC.  For one of the first times, there were no significant sound issues.  Extensive use of the whiteboard feature of Elluminate was central to this conference.


The content of this web conference is extremely difficult to summarize.  One word that seems to fit is interactive.  Several pairs of questions were posed along with instructions for participants to draw their personal reaction.  Questions such as “How you feel when things change around you?” and “What about when people make you change?”  “What makes change, a pleasure; what makes it a pain?”  “Who makes change, a pleasure; who makes it a pain?”  While participants made their contributions on the whiteboard, by either drawing or typing, lively discussion took place in the chat window.

There was a strong emphasis on the idea of social artist.  In this session the definition presented was a person who makes people feel listened to and heard.  In the DTLT Today session another definition was presented: A social artist is someone who creates space for people to interact; helping them to be heard.


I knew I was in for something different when Dave Cormier introduced Nancy White as “not strictly an educator.”  This was confirmed when one of the first slides contained a circle of chairs and participants were asked to claim one by placing their names next to one.  This unconventional interaction continued to the final end game: to summarize the session in three words.  The first thing that came to my mind was “What just happened?”  It was an experience, but what were the lessons that I could take away?  What went beyond social ice-breakers?  The central idea seemed to be social artistry.  White intentionally provided a space and very actively encouraged interaction sometimes by simply maintaining a period of silence.  So she did model social artistry, especially by interacting with the numerous chat discussions.  Later in the week, the final live session provided the answer to most of my concerns.  White stated she viewed her primary role as encouraging others, a role that afterwards fades to invisibility, although it was vital in helping others to accomplish their goals.

Setup for the Live Presentation:

Collaborate (from Blackboard) was again the conferencing software.  One different element this time was that the program popped up an offer for participants to download the slides for the presentation.  There were some annoying sound issues from the presenter, probably because of his location which seemed to suffer from a low bandwidth connection.


My summary of the contents of this presentation will be done a little differently this time.  The first seven slides summarize McGreal’s presentation, while the remaining slides provide some examples of OER and also some challenges to the movement.


This presentation was not quite what I was expecting.  I was expecting a presentation on Open Educational Resources (OER) and there was a section that did treat the importance of using material licensed for open use.  However the thrust of the presentation concerned OERu, that is Open Educational Resources University.  Essentially this is the granting of credentials from consortium of accredited institutions without a person being required to take specific classes.  This movement can certainly be understood as a possibly disruptive threat and some reaction will be negative as the role of faculty will undergo great change.  But innovative approaches like this will be required to meet the growing demand for post-secondary education throughout the world.

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