Creating Interactivity: When an infographic talks!

Infographics are wonderful things. In this world of the visual, they provide an effective way of conveying a complex information graphically, so that the reader may quickly get an overview of a topic.

Tools such as Piktochart make creating infographics easy; with predesigned templates, a wide range of text and icon options and a simple click and drag interface, designing an amazing looking infographic is within the reach of everyone.

I wanted to go one step further, and create an infographic that was truly interactive.

The first step was to create an infographic that invited interaction. Being a based in a library, what better than to respond to that constant question, ‘what will I read next?’

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Ordinarily, this type of poster would invite viewers to read a short review of each book, but to introduce the element of interaction, I decided to use the Makey Makey and the Raspberry Pi to create a touch sensitive poster, where the users could point to the book of their choice, and listen to the book review.

Creating this was surprisingly easy. The Makey Makey is a device which, when plugged into the computer, replaces the keyboard or mouse and allows you to use almost anything (as long as it is conductive) to input data. You can see what I mean in the video below:

In the case of the interactive infographic, I used copper tape to provide the conductive inputs. I used Scratch to create a simple program, which when certain keys were pressed, would play sound recordings of reviews of each of the books I had chosen. Knowing that the Makey Makey provided input for the W,A,S,D,F & G, keys, it was easy to quickly create the program:
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So now I had a program which allowed me to play a recording of a particular book review each time a particular key was pressed.

Of course, I needed a computer to run all of this. Luckily, we had a Raspberry Pi, which, when installed with the Raspbian operating system came automatically with Scratch installed. You don’t need a Raspberry Pi computer – any computer will do – and Scratch is a free open source programming tool.

Installing my Scratch program onto the Raspberry Pi, I then connected the Makey Makey to it (see below)

The Raspberry Pi and Makey Makey

The Raspberry Pi and Makey Makey

After that, I went about attaching the Makey Makey to the poster, so that the poster became the input.

Here’s the finished product:setup

This could be applied to a wide range of contexts. The wires and tools don’t need to be visible; you could place the Makey Makey and Raspberry Pi inside a covered shoe box, and have the cables coming out through the lid.
Imagine the possibilities, now that posters can talk!

Making Sense of Maker Spaces – Resources and Ideas

This is what I didn’t know!!
creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by symphony of love

I was never an artistic child. I couldn’t draw, my attempts at painting were abysmal and when I tried to emulate my mother’s skills in crafts it became clear that I had not inherited her talents. Being rather academic, I figured that I just wasn’t ‘creative’ and that ‘making’ just wasn’t my thing.

Technology has changed all of that. It has become apparent that the view of ‘artistic’ and ‘creative’ I held growing up was far too narrow. I am creative! I am a problem-solver, I have an ‘eye’ for what looks good on the screen, and I have a very well developed sense of design. How do I know this?

It all began over ten years ago, when I got my hands on a copy of a basic webpage authoring tool, and began exploring the possibilities of web design. I realised that technology provided tools where I could create something practical, something useful and something beautiful – even though I still can’t draw anything more than a stick figure!

Fortunately today, there exists many avenues for creativity, and technology has grown so accessible and affordable that as educators we must offer opportunities for students to explore, develop and apply their creative skills in many different ways.

Recently I have been exploring the potential of ‘makerspaces’. Combining opportunities for design, science, technology, maths, engineering and the arts, these spaces offer students the chance to learn by doing. There are so many exciting and affordable technologies that allow students to invent and imagine incredible things, and with the The Australian Curriculum: Technologies coming online, now is the time to start exploring!

Two key resources for those who are interested in finding out more about Makerspaces in education are the seminal title ‘Invent to Learn’ by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, and the Makerspace Playbook, which is a free PDF. Click on their images below to access more info.

playbook3d-invent-to-learn

 

 

 

 

 

The resources below have been compiled to support teachers who wish to explore this area; if you have any suggestions, ideas or experiences, please drop a line in the comments.

I have written extensively on implementing Makerspaces in classroom and library environments on the ResourceLink Blog: check out these posts at Resourcing the Maker Movement and Running a Maker Faire. These articles focus on the types of resources available, how to manage these resources and an example of how we implemented a hands on makerfaire at a primary school for Years 6 & 7 (11-12 year olds).

If you are looking for more ideas, resources and information, click on the images below to access a range of Pinterest boards which have been created in a number of different areas.

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Learning Spaces: Campfires, Watering Holes, Holodecks?

Our workplace has been in the midst of great change recently. Walls have been knocked down, furniture has been culled and storage systems replaced. The result is a huge space, which has brought many visitors from the upper floors, amazed at how different the area looks. We, who work in the space are experiencing a mix of emotions. The openness of the floorplan is very inviting; it encourages collaboration and a different way of working. However we also are struggling with the complete lack of privacy; our work area is open to the world, and any ‘mess’ we make –  processing books, creating displays, sorting through equipment – is oh so public. The space in which we work impacts upon us tremendously; not just in the way that we operate, but in how we communicate with others and how we feel emotionally.

Is it any wonder, then, that many question why we ask students to do their best work in uninspiring rooms, with uncomfortable (and sometimes immovable) furniture, under the glare of fluorescent lighting? While in many ways schools have changed, in some ways they remain the same. Most schools have at least some ‘traditional’ classrooms that are yet to be revisioned to reflect what we now know about pedagogy, environment and learning spaces. Who says that we need  front and a back of a classroom, or even a black/white board, when we consider the changes in technology that bring the information of the world into the palm of a student’s hand? The traditional classroom design is not necessarily the most effective model today.

Part of our physical change has been as part of a larger review of learning spaces in general; and has been accompanied by professional reading and research, most notably (as you may have noticed by the title of this post) the work of David Thornburg, Bruce Mau and the Third Teacher crew and Ewan McIntosh. I have tried to encapsulate some of what I have learnt into the infographic below.

Learning Spaces

For those undertaking any type of redesign, I would direct you to my Pinterest board, Learning Spaces, the Third Teacher , and also to follow the Twitter hashtag #inf536, which are the tweets of students currently undertaking the new CSU subject Designing Spaces for Learning, being run by Ewan McIntosh in consultation with Judy O’Connell.

Have you been on a journey redesigning learning spaces recently? Share your experiences in the comments!

 

 

App-dependent or App-enabled: a challenge that extends beyond the App-Generation

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Read more about this book at the website http://appgen.yupnet.org/

Howard Gardner and Katie Davis have authored a fascinating book entitled ‘The App Generation’, which focuses on how today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world. The book is based on their extensive research, conducted over several years, which includes interviews, focus groups and, interestingly, an examination of young people’s creative output (e.g. artworks, writing etc), sampled from a twenty year period.

Unsurprisingly, like any text which seeks to ‘define’ a entire generation, the text has garnered praise:

“Gardner and Davis have offered a challenging and thought-provoking book: particularly rewarding for educators who are interested in thinking about how young people are changing, and how we might preserve the best practices of our profession while adapting the tools that define a generation.”—Justin Reich, Education Week (3/11/13)

and some criticism:

“While Gardner and Davis valiantly try to avoid the clichés and stereo­types typical of discussions about culture and technology, their work still feels trapped in a kind of nostalgia, pining for a lost world.” – Jenna Wortham, The Times (1/11/13)

In many ways, the text confirms what many educators already knew, and what is, essentially, common sense: that the ‘app generation’ are different in some ways to their predecessor generations, and, in some ways still the same.

What piqued my interest more than anything was the idea of being ‘app-enabled’ or ‘app-dependent’ – the terms used by the authors to describe two possible outcomes for a life immersed in digital technology.

Those who are app-enabled use apps  as a launchpad to lead a richer life, with experiences enhanced by the access to information and connections to others that mobile technology allows. This contrasts with ‘app-dependent’ individuals, who let the gated garden of the app world direct and focus their life encounters, and, in many ways, limit their potential.

I believe these terms can go far beyond a description of those within the ‘app’ generation. They could be used to describe an attitude to technology that can often be seen in education; those who see technology as a key to opening up new worlds of learning could be considered to be app-enabled;  those who see apps as tools that simply replicate what has always been done, yet digitally, could be seen as app-dependent.

The challenge is to model the true potential for technology to transform learning and life experience, so that young people do not see apps as the outer limits; so that rather than seeing apps as an ends, they see the tools as a means to reaching new potential.

Being ‘app enabled’ means working towards the ‘redefinition’ level of Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Model. This model proposes that educators use technology at a variety of levels; none are necessarily bad, however they reflect both the purpose of the technology use, and the level of confidence and competence the user has to truly take advantage of the possibilities the technology affords. Not every tool or learning opportunity has the scope to fall in the ‘redefinition’ category – however being aware of the possibilities allows educators to always consider how digital tools enable students to achieve things never previously possible.

The levels can be seen below:

Taken from Puentedura's slides for his presentation at Spark : SAMR: An Applied Introduction http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Taken from Puentedura’s slides for his presentation at Spark :
SAMR: An Applied Introduction
http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/01/31/SAMRAnAppliedIntroduction.pdf

Being app-enabled in the sense that I am referring to does not mean that every time a teacher reaches for a technology tool it must be transformational;  it simply means having the commitment, confidence and positive attitude required to think outside the box when using technology – for seeing how it might be used in ways not previously considered, and for not allowing the ‘rules’ of the tool to limit learning possibilities.

How does one begin? Perhaps by searching for creative ways of using the apps already in the teacher’s toolkit; those free and easily accessible tools that may be currently in use. The image below has just some ideas to get you started. These ideas are not necessarily at the redefinition level of the SAMR model – but they do demonstrate how one tool may have many different uses.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

 

Being app-enabled or app-dependent in this way goes beyond the tools; it is an attitude that we can model to students, and a belief in the creativity and potential possible using the huge array of tools so readily available.

Are you app-enabled? Share in the comments tips for how you use technology tools creatively!

 

 

 

Heartbleed – it’s the wake up call we all need.

The word on people’s lips at the moment is Heartbleed, and it is important that everyone who has an online account pauses to take stock.

Have you received an email  from a social media site urging you to change your password recently? Maybe you’ve seen this webcomic from XKCD, and wondered what it was all about…

According to the Heartbleed website, the Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. What does this mean? A great explanation can be found here; but essentially, the code that protects information which is sent back and forth from your computer to a website has an error in it, which enables a hacker to access not just the minimum amount of data that is usually sent, but possibly a lot more; like passwords and personal information. 

Another way of understanding it is by using an analogy like this:

You live in a high crime area. You return home one night and realise the garage lock is broken. It appears to have been broken for some time. You can’t tell if anyone has been in the house,  but you realise that you left a letter from your bank on the dining room table.  If someone had been in the house, they could have taken a copy of it, and may use it to rob you at a later date. You decide to contact your bank, just to be safe.

2014-04-14_1551Mashable has used their considerable reach to contact many of the most popular websites to see if their services may have been compromised, and published a list of sites which may be vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug; you will be surprised by how many you probably use every day.

Why is this a wake up call?

Let’s face it, we all have many online accounts these days, and we may not always take the best precautions when creating passwords, or managing them. Between email accounts, work intranets, social media accounts, online banking, online shopping and more, when you think about it,  you will probably be surprised by how many online accounts you actively manage.

Some people handle this by using the same password for every account. Others by writing every account down in a notebook. The worst way is by using sticky notes which attach to your computer screen. Not only do practices such as these put your own data at risk, if you are an educator or parent, it also models very poor security to your students or children.

While topics such as cyberbullying and internet addiction get a lot of media coverage, it is little things, like password management, which are so very important, and yet so easily overlooked. Practices such as the teacher openly sharing a password with students, or publicly consulting a written list of usernames and passwords do nothing to promote good security behaviours to students.

Using a password manager such as Keepass or  Lastpass or Dashlane, makes it easier to manage multiple passwords; teaching students about tools such as these is vital. With increasing numbers of services being delivered online, internet security, and having solid strategies for protecting personal information through the use of strong passwords is an absolutely necessary part of the knowledge set every individual needs.

One of the most important lessons students need to know; never enter your password anywhere except in a secure password manager and into the site which actually requires it; sites that allow you to enter your password to test its strength may not be secure – even Intel’s password checker site has been questioned. Tools which are installed on your computer, such as Keepass, allow you to test your password strength in a safer environment, and even better, will generate passwords randomly.

A terrific series of lessons on password security is available on the Common Sense Media website here: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/lesson/strong-passwords-3-5
Although it links to the US Curriculum, the links to the Australian curriculum are clear: in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability, it quite clearly states that by Year Four, students should be able to apply digital information security practices – making specific reference to the development of secure passwords.


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by The Daring Librarian

This content is no longer an optional extra for students today – and bugs like Heartbleed are reminders of this for all of us.

Just playing…why we need to let go and have fun!

When introducing teachers and other adults to using new technology, they often ask me how I learnt all of the tips and tricks that I know. My honest answer: I played with the technology. Yes, there are courses you can do, and tutorials you can complete; but the best way to become familiar with most types of new technology is to embrace your inner child and simply play.

The Highest Form of Research / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

There is irrefutable evidence that play-based learning is a key strategy for early years education.  Children learn through play because it allows them to practise skills, experiment, make mistakes and learn from them – all of things we need to do with technology.

Of course, playing with technology takes time. It requires time spent simply seeing what a tool or app does; entering dummy data, clicking on all of the buttons to see what they ‘do’ – discovering what makes the device or tool work most effectively, and what causes it to error or create less than pleasing results. Fortunately, the more we play, the less time it takes to familiarise ourselves as each new tool presents itself – it is amazing how many skills  developed simply through playing with technology are transferable across websites, devices and apps.

Fear is also another inhibitor. We have probably all heard horror stories of massive data loss and of hideous computer viruses that have infected machines via a seemingly innocent link. Ironically, it is through playing with technology that we will develop the familiarity and ‘savvy’ which will allow us to navigate these areas more confidently.

I do not believe that all those older than 25 are simply ‘digital immigrants’. This argument (which, by the way, is over 10 years old) implies we will never be completely at home with technology, and for many of us, this is patently untrue. I do believe that it is about having an open mind and a playful, creative and risk-taking attitude. This is the type of mindset we hope to develop in our students – how better to encourage it than to model it ourselves?

Why not set aside 30 minutes a week to simply ‘play’? Better yet, schedule your playtime into your class timetable, and allow your students this luxury also. Ask them to share one thing they learnt at the end of this time – and share your own learning too. You may find it is some of the richest learning time of your week.

Share your experiences of playing to learn below, or tweet me with the hashtag #playtolearn – I’d love to know what you discover!

Somebody’s watching me…Who’s viewing your digital footprint?

One of the most important things we must impress upon students is the responsibility that is a digital footprint. We all have one nowadays – every time we pay for something on credit card, use an automated toll payment system, walk in front of a security camera – our actions are recorded digitally, and a little part of our identity is stored online.

Our online identity is added to further by our internet use. Websites use cookies to track our search habits in order to more effectively target us with advertising, or to better ‘tailor’ their services to us. Google knows a lot more about us than we would like to think; as do other websites that we frequent regularly.

We bring this digital identity to life when we share our thoughts, photos and videos online using social media. Where we ate out, who we are friends with, which football team we support; as well as major life events, such as a marriage proposal, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one.

All of this information paints an incredibly detailed picture of who we are, what we do and how we live our lives.

Last week, an employee of the American intelligence agency known as the NSA (National Security Agency) leaked information that revealed they can access information belonging to non-US citizens.   If the servers are held on American soil – and this includes Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google, NSA can analyse this information for evidence of any activity that might lead to those planning criminal or terrorist acts. (You can read a thorough description of it here). Although these companies deny giving direct access to the American Government,  the evidence points to the fact that they have made it easier for this process to occur.

Why should this concern us? After all, if we haven’t committed a crime, we have nothing to hide, right?

The issue is not so much that we should fear the American Government. The issue is that with this data being collected, our digital identity which was once spread across many different servers is now possibly being stored on one server, altogether. The puzzle pieces that remain spread and give us some element of privacy are being placed together. This is powerful information – and although Barack Obama has said essentially ‘you can trust us‘, it is those who might hack into these servers and sell this information whom we can’t trust.

This is beginning to sound like a conspiracy theory, rather than a post about digital citizenship. It’s not meant to be. What I believe is that young people today must be aware that the information about them that exists online is their personal property, and that they have a right to protect it. Students who are true digital citizens are not just savvy about their privacy settings on Facebook and their password security – they should also be aware of how others may use or misuse their online identities, and have a voice in ensuring nightmare scenarios such as 1984 don’t ever become a reality.