Posts in Category "Career & Technical Education"

February 10, 2014

Reaching Critical MASS: Promoting and Leveraging a Diverse Learning Ecosystem in Foundation Art and Design


As part of our Foundation Art and Design program review—initiated in the Fall of 2013—we have been considering the status of each of our course offerings and ensuring compliance with provinical ministry program guidelines and addressing gaps identified in the programming through student feedback questionnaires (SFQs). We are also undergoing a process of rationalization to the provincial government in order to help them identify areas of excellence and/or duplication. It is important that our program stand over and above the other foundation programs offered in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in order to ensure our place in the mix of offerings.

As part of that process of defining just how our foundation programming is different, I have been striving to create a student experience that sets itself apart from offerings at other schools. The vision looks at promoting and developing a set of essential qualities in the teaching and learning experience and the systems that we engage our faculty and students with.

I can’t understate the importance of drawing on timeless and essential soft skills to ensure a positive student experience. There is no technology solution that can even approximate the worth of an enthusiastic, caring and engaged faculty member. One aspect of what we will be promoting in the teaching and learning experience will be engagement with new digital tools and environments that will prepare both faculty and students for the emerging workplace of the 21st Century. In no way do I wish to suggest that the integration of technologies into the teaching and learning mix will supplant the soft skills that were alluded to earlier, rather, they should augment and enhance that experience in some meaningful and substantial way.

The recommendations that are being proposed here are the product of testing and consultation with third year design students in our Knowledge Design-I elective course. These students engaged with a variety of emerging technologies and were asked to envision and weigh in on their potential for enhancing the teaching and learning experience.

In addition to the specific skills developed within each course and the Essential Employability Skills (EES) stated in the course outlines, we are striving to transform this experience in ways that recognize the shifting and emerging competency requirements for the 21st Century workplace.










Above: The turbulence caused by rapid advances and declines in technologies are not only posing significant challenges for large institutions like schools, they are rapidly imposing new relationships on us. Being agile enough to bend and sway with these changes will be a significant predicate for success. On much reflection, I am convinced that the only way to effectively deal with this turbulence is to develop much deeper relationships with innovation drivers like software and hardware development companies. We should seek to  deepen relationships with these companies such that the culture and processes that define these agile development communities are inculcated in an institution’s own culture and workflows. This, of course, will require a radical re-configuration of that institution’s conception of its own organizational structure and culture.
Collaborative organizational, methodological and economic models that define the innovation economy are antithetical to the traditional, linear, hierarchal and authoritative models that define most institutions today. Deeper, strategic alignment with innovation companies will help to strengthen an institution’s understanding of the structural and procedural transformations required to inhabit the innovation space. In this way, institutions can move from being relatively slow and unresponsive “reactors” to change to becoming proactive “drivers” of change. Much like a software or hardware company, an educational institution becomes a “lifeware” or “peopleware” commited to providing meaningful, relevant and powerful “upgrade” paths for their client base.

For more on my background views on innovation in the applied learning space you can access my related posts by CLICKING on the blue links below:
Perpetual Beta: 21st Centrury Course Structure Rationale
RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Model of Teaching
Worth vs. Work: Transforming People and Organizations for the Knowledge Economy
On Demand Amnesia at the Self-serve Window of Education
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Knowledge: Exploring the use of Augmented Reality in Education
Goin’ Down the Road: My Teaching Philosophy

I am confident that an emphasis on engaging our students with a blend of solid, traditional pedagogy with a new ecosystem of technologies and their related protocols will help to nurture the following qualities:

Our Learners will be:
Reflexive, collaborative, agile, knowledge producers and knowledge sharers. They will be effective and responsible digital citizens with the skills and knowledge to build and promote a strong personal, digital brand in a global context.

Our faculty will be:
Creative, caring, sharing, professionals who are current, collaborative, reflexive, agile, and committed to life-long learning and  the success of all our students and fellow faculty members.

Our School/Program will:
Offer flexible delivery of information and learning (Blackboard, ON, HARVEST for supporting student online experience)
Offer content that is universally accessible. Provide an opportunity  to experience a variety of digital environments and tools and to develop an agility and facility in their use. Teach the skills necessary for successful student collaboration with their peers.

The “thing” that will set us apart from other similar program hinges on developing AGILITY, ADAPTABILITY, COLLABORATIVE CAPACITY, SHARING, STORYTELLING, PERSONAL DIGITAL BRANDING and DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP in both our students and our faculty.

I am in the process of developing a plan called Critical MASS that is aimed at ensuring that all of our students will have had the benefit of coaching on team-building and collaboration strategies (not only an Essential Employ-ability Skill but also a requirement of being effective in virtual work environments too).
Once students know how to function as a team, this team will serve as an ongoing peer-resource not only explicitly for group projects but as a support and mentoring mechanism aimed at Mutually Assured Student Success (hence, Critical MASS). This will serve to promote a stronger sense of community while ensuring higher levels of engagement and retention. Forming students into effective groups is determined in accordance with a skills and infrastructure readiness survey that I have developed in order to identify  the distribution of competency and access to technology for our students. Data is used to build balanced teams. Other data, from Diana McIntyre at Student Success, shows that the nature of student commuting, hours of work and other life commitments are such that it is exceedingly difficult for student groups to physically meet before or after classes. To that end, with our Dean’s encouragement, We have built prototype infrastructure to support virtual/remote teaching, learning and collaboration capacity here at the school. The infrastructure forms an ecosystem with many overlapping parts some of which have particular strengths and limitations. There are plenty of options available to faculty and students from using a mixed bag of technologies to using a one-top-shopping approach. Each of which offers particular advantages.

Much has been made over the confusion of having so many systems and, on the face of it, I feel that this is a valid consideration; however I also strongly feel that it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that the technology ecosystem outside of our doors is infinitely more complex and confusing. It is ever-changing and expanding at an exponential rate: software titles become more complex and feature rich, more titles are published, we are now into tablet computing and mobile data, the app universe is nearing 1 Million apps and growing, browsers are becoming increasingly modular, programmable and complex, and the list goes on. We are all affected by the consequences of this turbulence and I am sure we have entertained the fantasy of being free of technology altogether but I don’t think that it is going to happen in our lifetime. The point being that we cannot avoid it and we ignore it at our own peril.
It behooves us, then, to help both ourselves AND our students negotiate this chaos in some meaningful and effective manner.

Yes. It is chaotic and complex but I feel that the technology infrastructure that we currently have in place is considerably pared down by comparison. The idea is to get all of the stakeholders to develop a degree of comfort and agility—an understanding  for why and how to inhabit and move through these environments and to do so in a more purposeful fashion. In my estimation, the benefits outweigh the risks, and, if we can make this ecosystem an integral part of of how we do business here at the School of Design, this will provide a value added experience for our graduates that goes beyond the pale of a standard design curriculum. THIS is what will set us apart.

The biggest challenge, of course, will be developing an understanding, fluency and ease of use for faculty. It has been my experience, that my students use these environments very effectively for the most part—so much so that, where faculty have not been using virtual environments, they simply create their own Facebook pages. The issue with this, of course, is that if there is a systemic issue with the students, you remain blissfully unaware until it shows up in your SFQ several weeks after your class is finished! Being able to monitor the pulse of your class at a glance is a very powerful way of ensuring quality and consistency in the student experience and provides invaluable data for informing iterative designs of your course.

Of course it is never quite as simple as throwing a switch. Using this ecosystem, combined with the power of the internet, requires new protocols and new forms of pedagogy that allow us to leverage its full potential. For example, having access to thousands of authoritative resources on a subject via an instant internet search shifts the balance of authoritative power away from the traditional professor in the traditional classroom setting—the roles in the classroom change dramatically. At worst, the instructor’s authority is undermined as students seek alternative sources for their information. At best, professors are valued, knowledgeable guides who can help the student leverage the maximum potential of the resources that they have at their fingertips.

Currently, we are in a situation where it is reasonable to expect students to research and present on a topic that, traditionally, might have been covered by their professor—that they should access knowledge outside of class and come to class for an experience other than information dissemination. The natural outcome of the fact that students have 24/7 instantaneous access to knowledge that we have traditionally dispensed has created a gradual drift towards “flipped” models of teaching where the students are actively encouraged to be researchers, presenters and content creators instead of content consumers. In this scenario, they need to develop a crucial set of ancillary skills in research, writing, documentation, presentation, visualization, storytelling, etc.

Digital storytelling of one’s know-how on a global stage forms the new basis on which students and professionals are starting to build their value. For example, trillions of images are searchable and available on the internet for free. Few people are willing to pay for them—even designers! So, the value proposition does not lie in the production of yet another image, rather, the value inheres in building a following in a social media platform by sharing know-how. It is no longer good enough to simply show one’s work, it is critical that they be able to tell cogent stories about how said work came to fruition—sharing insights into creative processes as well as technical how-to-s. THIS is the new currency that will help to build a person’s brand. This brand building and story-telling is an important dimension of how faculty add worth to the teaching and learning experience and build and promote their own personal brand by sharing their own know-how, not only with their immediate students but with the world at large. Both students and teachers are increasingly becoming active participants in this expanding circle. Some examples of how these stories can be curated and shared are shown below (This very BLOG is one such mechanism whereby a student or faculty member can share their insights):


Faculty Reflections
History of Game Design Student Research Project Summary
Faculty Curated Student Work (by Program—Course—Project, respectively)
Foundation Art and Design Homepage (Generic, program landing page)
ART1029: Digital Art and Design Homepage (Course Specific Landing Page)
Digital Art and Design Gallery (Project Specific Landing Page)


Student Profile:
Public Profile Page
Student Reflections:
Student Learning Narrative: BLOG
Student Portfolios:
BEHANCE Portfolio

Of course, none of this would be possible without a very powerful, interoperable infrastructure. Some of this infrastructure is a college resource and others lie outside of the college domain. Some of the elements are large enterprise level systems and others are small, niche apps. My personal preference is to cobble together an aggregation of technologies in a way that allows for greater independence, flexibility and agility. The fact that many commercial level tools offer freebie versions makes it very enticing. Also, the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. as output conduits allows most, if not all of these resources to be interoperable on some level. This allows for an unprecedented level of freedom of choice in configuring a network of enabling technologies.

Let me introduce you some of the tools and spaces that comprise our ecosystem and explain what their core strengths/use case scenarios are (Keep in mind that there is a significant amount of overlap and that not all of these tools are used all of the time but they have all been introduced at one point or another over the past several years in an attempt to gauge their roles and impact for later integration).



Above: This is the college standard default for online/blended online learning delivery. You can fully expect a greater push to utilize this resource. It is feature dense and the user interface is far from being comprehensible and user-friendly. It is like the COSCO of online. It has everything and you can wear yourself out trying to find it! It is a bit like taking someone up in a Jumbo Jet to teach them how to fly a plane.

Fully supported by Blackboard under contract; We have a small team of experts over in ELTI, Rubrics allow for quick, automated marking; Tests are automated and marked, Grades are calculated automatically; Grades instantly available to students if you want. Mobile compatible.

We have a small team of experts; Tries to do too much. Non-intuitive—Not a very friendly User Interface. Low adoption rate by faculty. Low function use by faculty if they are using it. Difficult to learn for both faculty and students and requires dedication of scarce time and resources to train for use.
I am fully committed to mentoring each and every one of you through this process of getting to know and acclimatizing to these environments and will gladly make time to assist you with the transition. Perceived as “extra work.” Limited mobile functionality. Online collaborative environments (collaborate) are difficult to use and prone to gltiching (Fall of 2013). Very costly.


WIKIS (Click BLUE LINK to view page)

Above: This is a WIKI/BLOG/VIDEO server that we have here at the SOD. This VERY simple and stable platform can be used for making course materials available online. Each course is identified with unique branding and icons that are part of a cohesive branding program. Permission levels can allow for private, semi-private or public levels of access.

You can explore some of this infrastructure by clcking on the BLUE LINKS to view additional content such as the Digital Art and Design course. It also allows students to create profiles and to BLOG on their weekly learning. It is also great for curating work and for telling the stories of what you did with your class in any given semester (this reflexive practice is very prevalent in US schools and US educators are establishing clear leadership roles and setting the agenda for online education. Some examples of how we are using the environment are accessible below:
Student BLOG
Art of Wine and Cheese
Hawaiian Shirt Project
Director’s Design Competition (Daniel’s Spectrum, SPRING 2013)

Extremely simple and easy to learn (takes about 10 minutes and works pretty much like a simplified word processor); Faculty can create/post content there; Secure (Only registered faculty and students can author in it). Students and faculty can create profiles and post blogs about what they are learning; Unlike Blackboard, the material posted there is persistent and is always accessible (don’t have to worry about content importing every semester as in an LMS); Great resource for holding and presenting video; No ads or ownership issues as with Facebook and YouTube.

Limited layout potential (uses basic templates). Does not allow simultaneous co-authoring of pages. People outside of the college system can be allowed to SEE the material but they cannot author with it. Perceived as “extra work.”


Above: This is an Open Source version of Facebook. It has all of the same functionality: Create Special Interest, Group or Course pages and set membership privileges for them. You can create and promote events. You can Poll users, send public or private messages, post video, audio, create threaded discussions, blogs and more.

Leverages student familiarity with Facebook so no training is required. It is a popular social media platform with most students. Very secure environment hosted behind the college firewall. There is no data collection as there is in Facebook and other Social Media Tools. Can monitor and track user engagement data and feature student leaders within the community in order to promote greater participation and development of knowledge sharing, storytelling skills in the service of building a strong personal brand and good digital citizenship. Has potential for introducing “badging” to recognize student accomplishments.

Lower level of uptake than anticipated. There is a need to promote the benefits of the environment to key faculty and students. Perceived as “extra work.”  The environment is “by invitation only” and requires professors to have students input their email to generate an invite. There are some bugs but they don’t impare usability they are just minor annoyances. We are upgrading this by the end of January, 2014 to address this issue.

Adobe provides a wide range of collaborative tools for virtual collaboration that includes application and screen sharing and video conferencing (Connect) as well as document co-authoring, document signing and security and file sharing (, work spaces) that integrate with their universal PDF workflow. This is an important workflow for the 21st century skillset. The creative cloud brings together creative tools and collaborative spaces that duplicates some of the functionality such as file sharing and collaboration that is found in

Above: The workspaces interface allows for the creation of teams and the sharing of files with its members.  

Above: The Creative Cloud interface allows for file storage and sharing as well as a mobile workflow and social media capacity. This is an important environment for anyone using 21st Century digital authoring tools and, particularly, for creative industry workers and teaching professionals.

BEHANCE: Professional Creative Community and Portfolio Site

Above: This is an online community of professional creatives that allows for portfolio curating, sharing, commenting, collecting, collaborating as well as a job market board. It is useful to follow influential creative types for the industry or field that you may be interested in becoming a part of in the future. 

Industry leading. Global community. Connected to industry professionals and leaders. Costs the college nothing. Powerful curating tools. Can socialize and promote work or follow community professionals. Can create feedback groups. Easy to organize and catalog student work. Helps promote the notion of building a global professional brand and participating in a community of practice. Owned by industry leader Adobe Systems.WEAKNESSES:
Currently follows the two-tiered membership model of most social spaces. Free membership for a limited array of functionality and a pro-level (could revert to entirely subscription based in future). Perceived as “extra work.”

This cloud-based note-taking software allows for the creation of custom notebooks (for each course, project, etc.) and can record text, images, web pages, audio and video. Notebooks or individual notes can be socialized or shared with individuals via email or via a public URL.
Go to EVERNOTE by CLICKING on the BLUE link and download Evernote, Skitch and Web Clipper.  (Feel free to try others) these are great tools for capturing, representing and organizing information.

Above: In order are icons for Evernote (note-taking), Skitch (annotating web pages or screen captures) and Web Clipper (Capturing web pages). If you are a visual thinker CLICKING on the BLUE MohioMap link to download this visual notes organizer for Evernote.

Promotes a group-based, collective strategy to capturing information. Two students per class are assigned to take notes on an iPad or laptop or workstation (one at the first half and another after the break). The link to the notebook is shared in common so all students can draw on it. It eliminates duplication of effort and spreads the workload out across the entire class. It costs the college nothing (no note-takers required). It is available on any browser on any platform including mobile. Accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Notes can be downloaded and printed if desired.

Not all students are adept at this and the focus, style and veracity may vary considerably. Perceived as “extra work.”


I have my students follow my Twitter handle @prof2go. Not all students use Twitter and even fewer faculty do. This form of instantaneous communication platform is variously used and abused and, for many, it represents the most invasive form of communications tools—commanding a great deal of moment-to-moment attention. It demands brevity and clarity in messaging and allows for deep socialization.

Excellent research tool. Students can “follow” seminal thinkers and industry leaders to gain insight into the things that they are driven by and can, on occasion, establish dialogue and ongoing relationships with those who share their passions. It keeps messages short and to the point. Potentially, you have a global audience. You can create and follow trends using metadata #hashtags. Feeds can be aggregated from multiple sources using tools such as Paper.Li, HootSuite, etc. Fast method for generating alerts or sharing links.
Limited message length. Not good for detail-oriented communications. Aggressive and demanding media that is constantly “on.” Can be distracting and, some claim, addictive. Large volumes of noise (useless, whimsical data). Perceived as “extra work.”

(Tufts VUE, SimpleMind MapWebspiration, Inspiration, ):

These tools are for visualizing complex concepts such as processes, workflows, ideas, etc. and making connections between them. Webspiration and Inspiration are cloud-based and desktop mapping software, respectively and come from the same company. These tools were sponsored by the distributor. They aid in making complexity less intractable by visualizing and simplifying. Elements in these maps can be connected to rich media assets such as video, audio, PDF and text documents as well as URLs and other maps. The tool from TUFTS University is a research-based tool that is capable of powerful data modelling and semantic analysis.

Helps to organize thoughts. Simplifies complex scenarios. Great for visual thinkers and different learning styles. Can link to various media. Webspiration and SimpleMind Map have a cloud function that allows for sharing and collaboration. SimpleMind Map offers limited free version and TUFTS VUE is free. SimpleMind and Webspiration have tablet enabled Apps.
Often proprietary formats with poor translation into HTML5 or PDF structures. Webspiration co-authoring is buggy. Webspiration is subscription based. Perceived as “extra work.”


This is a handy little tool for shortening incredibly long and difficult to recall URLs. There is no downside to this. You can curate collections of your URLs too.


This plug-in gives your browsers the ability to access the Zotero collaborative Research cloud to form research teams, collect, catalogue, cite and share every sort of media source imaginable.

Provides a structured approach to research. Allows sharing and socializing. Provides collaborative research infrastructure. Works inside the browser. Accessible on both your computer and in the cloud. Well documented.

Could use a live social function. Not entirely self-evident use. Potential for browser upgrade issues. Too much horsepower for what a Foundaton program would need. Focused more on academic research at the university. Perceived as “extra work.”


Above: One of a few publications that Professor Jim Kinney compiles on Augmented Reality.

Socialization capacity. Global reach. Great research tool. Great for personal brand building.

Everyone can do it It will be difficult to stand out as a truly original piece. Little original content connected to the syndication publisher. Perceived as “extra work.”


This lets you manage your social media for information blitzes, campaigns and promotions and tracks the recognition of your personal brand in social media circles. You can monitor trending and use analytics to  understand traffic patterns and trends.

Robust and deep functionality. Allows you to aggressively promote your message and monitor its effectiveness. A pretty good free trial version. Great tool for faculty who are active members making contributions to professional discussions and events.WEAKNESSES:
Limited user base for free. More horsepower than is necessary for student needs unless they are focused on advertizing and social media design. Perceived as “extra work.”


This is a very simple, free polling tool that is useful for determining meeting schedules.

Simplicity. Free. Aids group collaboration efforts.

No additional project management functions. Perceived as “extra work.”


This survey tool has a free version that allows students and faculty to gather data from a broad range of sources on a broad range of topics.

Simplicity, unlimited global reach potential. Great research tool for gathering user experience data. Great for getting timely student feedback on issues.

Need to pay to expand sample size and analytics. User should be knowledgeable in asking the right sorts of questions to avoid inherent biases and leading questions. Perceived as “extra work.”


These environments were explored in the winter term of 2013 for their ability to augment the teaching and learning environment by delivering access to on-demand knowledge in situ. My students and I built a permanent installation in our new game design school on the history of game design. Students can now access short documentaries and interviews by designers that relate to seminal digital video games simply by pointing a smart phone or tablet at trigger images throughout the school. Later experiments were done with select faculty on using AR to deliver tutorials, room greetings and schedule and web site access from one’s smart device. For more on this follow the blue links below:
The Virtual Academy Emerges
Research Synopsis
Faculty Knowledge Transfer


Here we look at how classroom culture and rolls can be transformed in order to promote a more profound use of the ecosystem and how to prepare the learners of tomorrow with 21st century skill sets.

Working collaboratively is an essential skill. Organizing students into groups and arming them with the tools and techniques to work effectively in groups will be the key to ensuring their success not only in project work but throughout their tenure at the school. We will develop a shared sense of responsibility for the success of one another that will build a more cohesive and caring learning community. Peer groups will act like a family support mechanism throughout the year.

We will promote the notion of the student as a capable researcher, scribe, presenter/storyteller, teacher and allow them to directly participate in unearthing and presenting subject knowledge. They will construct and share knowledge with their groups, their class, the school and the broader global community through participation in professional online communities of practice.

We are moving, in some instances, towards a flipped model of learning where students participate in knowledge creation and sharing as above. Faculty, will make content available prior to class and predicate class activity on prior engagement with any posted materials in order to reserve face time for deeper levels of interaction that transcend mere information dispensing.
I recall a time in my undergraduate years at the University of Waterloo where I sat in the Engineering Lecture Hall at 8am alongside 200 other very groggy students only to watch our professor put acetate copies of the textbook on an overhead and read from it verbatim. It was by far the worst experience that I ever had as a student and it stuck with me. In light of unprecedented access to information on the internet, standing in front of a class and dispensing facts is somewhat akin to the professor reading from a textbook. It is incumbent upon us to create more engaging experiences with important content and having the students researching and presenting is one such way that provides the added benefit of learning how to work as a group and present.

I have been introducing Evenote to classes and rotating the responsibility through the student body. This is just another example of working smarter in a collective and collaborative manner. Each day two students take responsibility for recording audio, video and text and for sharing public URLs that connect everyone to the notes. Each student is responsible for taking notes for only one half of a class all semester (provided there is a class of at least 30 students). This also has the potential of saving the college considerable expense for note-taking.

Students are expected to participate directly in the life of their learning community and can do so by reading, liking, commenting, posting in the Open Network community on a regular and ongoing basis. Highly active students who are showing leadership can be promoted and potentially rewarded (praise and recognition from their professors, recommendations for student awards, being featured in the blogs/social platforms, etc.
Faculty, too, will be encouraged to leverage these community forums to ensure direct participation in the development of programming. Like our students, our faculty have diverse interests that make face-to-face contact difficult most of the time and this reduces opportunities for part-time and sessional faculty to add their voices and ideas to the conversation. This underscores the need for leveraging these environments to allow everyone to participate.

Students (and faculty too) are encouraged to reflect on their learning in the Harvest network personal blogs (blogs are also available in the Open Network too) This promotes meta-cognition and promotes awareness of what one is learning by incorporating weekly reviews of learning.

At the midterm break and at the end of the semester indiividuals and the groups to which they belong will be evaluated on the level and quality of their participation. This will be directly reflected by a grade that measures aspects of this participation. They will be evaluated by the professor as well as by their group members.

Faculty and students will work to build their online presence through direct participation in key online communities of practice. Through sharing their work, know-how, creative insights, commentary and critiques both faculty and students will build personal brand recognition in key online communities like BEHANCE.NET Building a strong brand of leadership will be the cornerstone of what sets us and our students apart from our competitors.

Through the Critical MASS initiative and participation in online communities we will continue to promote mentoring between students and faculty alike and will develop opportunities for sharing best practices with one another through online training, discussion forums and face-to-face meetings where possible.


There is a considerable amount  of information put forward here and it may be difficult to understand all or parts of it and how it impacts both the faculty and your students. I have created discussion groups within the Open Network, Foundation Faculty Page where faculty can contribute ideas, voice opinions, etc. Discussion boards are created for each course and are used to share best practices and ideas for course changes with the faculty members who share courses. There are also pages dedicated to the technologies introduced above that allow technology-specific Q and As.
Participants accept their invitations to join the Open Network and create a profile (including head shot) . All future communication regarding our programming will happen inside of that community resource. Ultimately, the success of this venture will hinge on faculty participation and, already, I am starting to see a real community of learning and practice emerge and stakeholders, that were initially overwhelmed, navigate the ecosystem like ducks in water.

9:22 PM Permalink
November 15, 2013

The Digital Photo Workshop with David Black: Yosemite



A weekend in Yosemite with David Black… Sign me up! Last year at Photoshop World I had a very rare and random experience. I won a workshop pass from “The Digital Photo Workshops” team with David Black. It turned out to be a very Enlightening experience about the world of photography.

 IMG_1357I prepared for the conference by worrying that my gear was not up to the task. I have a Cannon 20D that is pretty old but I didn’t have a budget for a new one just then. I ended up borrowing a Cannon 60D from another high school and it was a good thing I did! We pushed the very limits of the 60D and I ended up wishing I had a little better model but it got the job done. Also I was very glad that I purchased a 256 GB Solid State Lacie Rugged Hard Drive with Thunderbolt 2 which made backing up go in seconds rather then minuets and when you have the opportunity to be with some of the best you need the time to ask questions not waiting on hardware. Also I bought a great bag from case logic that allowed me to pack my Wacom, MacBook Pro, and both the 20D and 60D. The only thin I regretted not having was a neutral density filter, a polarizing filter, and a shutter release for the 60D. I packed 3 batteries and ran out one day. I also had two 32GB SD cards and they were over kill but it was nice to have space. My wife bought me a nice microfiber cloth 12” X 24” which was very nice to have.

IMG_1237The travel to Yosemite took some planning and research. I stayed at the Cedar Lodge in a very nice room for $110 a night as opposed to $200+ to stay in the park. The drive was about 35-40 min to the main lodge on a pretty windy road. I rented a hybrid which was a great cost saver at 40 Miles to the Gallon. I flew into the San Jose Airport and drove out through Merced and In all the drive was about 4 hours.

The first night we had a meeting where we met our Instructors: David Black, Rob Sylvan, Jeff Leimbach, and Randy Van Duinen. I had met some of them at Photoshop World and I felt very welcome even though I cam in a little late. Randy did a quick lesson on how to set up a camera for HDR so we would be ready for the next day (Sunlight meets shadows…Valley). I had no idea what HDR was so it was very useful. Dave showed us some of his photos and told us his main goal was to make sure we were able to go home and do light painting. He also told use the keys to composition three across, three vertical, three deep, and then light the subject.


The next day I ended up not being able to find the group so I was late. Ugh I hate being late but there I was late twice in a row. I found the group after about an hour and I jumped in. Rob stayed behind with me so I could get some one on one training and some good pictures.  The day was really great and I came away with some amazing shots for the first time I’d ever been out taking pictures.


After we had some shots we came into the classroom and we had assisted editing time where we worked on our own images and were able to ask questions about how do I do… or what do you think… How could I… it was very informal and it worked out really great!


While we were doing some editing Dave was in the other room setting us for light painting. He showed the entire group and then asked half of us to keep working on photos while he worked two stations with the other half. The whole setting was professional but casual all at the same time which was just great!

That night we went out and did some light painting in nature. Dave lined us all up on these dead bushes and was saying isn’t this going to be great! We were all wondering what Dave had for lunch but we did as he said and just as the sun was down he light up the bushes with the Brinkman spot light and a 30 second exposure later… complete magic! One of my favorite shots that I brought home from the trip. IMG_1226

The next day it was more of the same in a different location. We did some reflection shots and some moving water. We moved back to the classroom where we set up our own light paintings with our own cameras. Then later that night we went to an old chapel and did another light painting where we had the opportunity  to uses the Brinkman’s to light the scene ourself. Once we were done at the chapel there was a group of us who wanted to stay and do some star trails. So I setup in a field and took 50 Exposures of 30 Sec each. I had a nice shot as it was pointed at the North star. I was looking at others shots though and well… I was jealous! Rob had a great shot with the stars over half dome and I wanted one.

Star Trails

I drove back to my hotel that night feeling defeated because I didn’t get my star shot I wanted. I did the only logical thing I could think of and checked out of the hotel and drove back to Yosemite at 1AM. I parked in a field and spent the next three hours working on my star shot. The exposure was 61 min at 200 ISO and it came out great! I left the conference that day feeling as though I had slain the giant!


It was a great experience full of great instructors. If you get a chance to go do not pass it up for anything.

6:05 PM Permalink
January 23, 2013

Interesting Developments on the WordPress Front

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbWith so many of us working on collaborative projects like the Gamified Curriculum Delivery System that Mike Skocko’s Mega Students of the Mac Lab developed, many of us are looking at getting a more global presence with our course materials. Others of us just lose every sheet of paper that hits our desks (myself a prime example) and want to eliminate paper from the classroom and have the curriculum available 24 hours to our students. For many of us, WordPress has proven itself a great solution. In fact, here at the educationleaders blog, we’re running a wordpress back end also.


WordPress is amazing. Take a look at this list of benefits:

  • It’s free, So it fits a teacher’s budget
  • It’s easy, so we have time to focus on content rather than the construction of our sites
  • It’s scalable, so we can ramp it up to a school wide or even district wide enterprise
  • It’s extensible, so you can add cool features easily, like Skocko’s students
  • It’s popular, so there’s a TON of help, lots of free plugins (add features) and themes (the layout and look)


What’s been missing is a great plugin that does all the classroomy, traditional stuff that we’re used to… traditional assessments for pre- and post-tests, monitoring of student access to the site, gradebook incorporated online, etc. I used to run a moodle install alongside my WordPress install for assessment and tracking of student work, but I found it cumbersome to have to manage 2 sites that acted like one.

A screenshot of my class site running on WordPress with Skocko's Plugins

A screenshot of my class site running on WordPress with Skocko’s Plugins

Finally, there’s a solution that is looking pretty good and it’s exiting beta soon. Don’t have details on prices yet, but it may be a great all-in-one solution for the classroom. I’m mainly looking for something that can track the users and provide pre-and post tests to help find where the kids are not completely comfortable with the content yet… I use tests not to see where the kids failed, but where I’ve failed the kids. If everyone’s missing a certain question, then it’s feedback to me that I haven’t covered this concept well enough yet or they’re still not comfortable with the terminology (and let’s face it… our industry LOVES it’s terminology and acronyms!).

I’ve been keeping an eye on this LMS plugin to replace my missing moodle functionality. I really want an online gradebook so that the kids can monitor themselves… Whether it’s self-reported (easy to do with a test) or actual, traditional testing and assessment, this plugin seems to fit the bill without sideloading moodle in my sites.

LearnDash is the plugin and the plugin’s author, Justin, has been very helpful and responsive- which is great for a plugin that is running your classes! Don’t have to worry about no support at all (which is common with wordpress plugs… you get what you pay for.) I encourage you to sign up for his newsletter and grab a copy when it’s time to test out on your wordpress site for class.

And if you HAVEN’T yet set up yourself with a wordpress blog for class yet… what are you waiting for? Even signing up with a free blog is a great way to get started in sharing your content with other educators across the globe.

And don’t forget to cross post your stuff at the Adobe Ed Exchange!!! It gives you great visibility to teachers that might not find your site elsewhere… but posting to your own blog ensures that all your students and parents can access your classroom resources easily.

Keep your eyes open for a series of blog posts here on setting up wordpress for your classroom and helpful plugins, themes, and tips for keeping it innovative and awesome!

6:56 PM Permalink
January 8, 2013

Hey Dad, What is a JPEG?


In the process of parenting two kids and growing as an Adobe Education Leader each new year, I realize I have a responsibility as a dad to help my own kids grow into the 21st century.   It has been comforting for me and for them to come home after school, telling me with excitement about what they have been learning in their internet safety program at school.  I bring up with them about naming files and organizing their assets with computer folders.  They tell me about learning about this already.  I have moments of feeling humbled and surprised by how much they are learning at school.  I decided as a dad to get involved from the beginning, teaching them computer literacy skills.  The idea is for my kids not to notice that dad has now just shown up in their  technology world.  I don’t want them to have this experience of a sudden jolt of dad looking over their shoulder.  I have decided to sit down with my kids once a week, becoming a guide and coach for them, having them identify with me as a helper.  I have introduced and working with both of my kids on these programs and skills:


Photography: (Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Photoshop, Bridge) – Downloading Pictures, Scale and File Type and Naming, Organizing Their Assets, Importance of Metadata, Photo Safety and Appropriateness).

Video: (Adobe Premier Elements) – Downloading Video, File Size, Video Output, Formats for Publishing, Video Safety and Appropriateness, Editing).

Email and File Storage: (Google Applications, Creative Cloud) – Filtering, Folders, Naming, and Search.

Presentations: (Microsoft Powerpoint, Adobe Presenter 8, Adobe Connect) – Lighting, Webcam, Recordings, Slide Creating, Importance of Audio Setup, Audio and Video Integration.

Website: (Google Sites): URL’s, Tables, Photo Scaling, Uploading, Organizing Assets, Color.

Social Networking: They are not old enough to have their own Facebook Account

Mobile: (Adobe Collage, Adobe Connect Mobile, Adobe Photoshop Touch, Adobe Ideas).

My vision and hope is by teaching them basic and more advanced skills of Digital Photography, Video, Asset Management, Emailing and Texting, Online Presentation and Website Development is that when it is age appropriate for them to have their own mobile devices and have access to social networks that they will be leaders amongst their peers, helping educate others what is safe and appropriate, and becoming very skilled for their own future.



Dave Forrester

Connect Shaman


8:37 PM Permalink
July 25, 2012

Do we have an inspiration gap?

Imagine a situation where you finally have something you and others have yearned for for years and yet it has now become common and people have become blasé about it. You struggle to get everyone excited about it, to find it relevant to their work and daily lives, to take advantage of it. No, I’m not talking about the right to vote in the US. I’m talking about Adobe’s great tools and technologies.

After years of conversations and negotiations my institution, Indiana University (IU), signed an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with Adobe giving our students, faculty and staff access to Creative Suite, Captivate, Lightroom and others. At first they melted the wires downloading it, but now it’s become commonplace. Sure the Fine Arts, Journalism and IST students are still in hog heaven, but what about the Business or Chemistry students? How can we make it relevant to them? Think of how well Mendeleev could have presented the Periodic Table if he’d been able to throw together a mock-up in Fireworks. And imagine how much more accessible E=mc2 would have been to the average reader if Einstein could have added an Edge animation to his landmark “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” paper.

How can we broaden the conversation about Adobe tools? How do we get our entire school populations to think outside of the creativity box? This software is not just about makin’ thangs purty. This software helps us express ideas – sometime simple, sometimes complex. It should be an arrow in our communications quiver. We need to help our communities screw in and turn on the lightbulbs of inspiration. These tools are for everyone.

How. Do. We. Do. This?

First, we need be sure the tools are up to it. Are they simple enough to use? DW has a nice drop-down list to change the layouts. Can you make a “for dummies” layout that gives you just the essentials and removes the finery? if Adobe can simplify the UI for the touch apps, why can’t they give us an option for a simplified UI in the desktop apps. Sure, we want to power, but only when we need it. The rest of the time we want simplicity. Imagine Steve Jobs designing an SUV. It would be able to 4-wheel up the mountain when necessary, but the rest of the time it would be a car simple enough for anyone to drive to the grocery store. Can we get reach those heights of UI simplicity for PS or IA?

Second, we need someone – the community? Adobe? – to examine the WHOLE education space, not just when the teacher is in the classroom with the students, and develop relevant examples to seemingly mundane activities for all to see. Adobe Connect for office hours? Not really flexing the muscles of the product, but it is simple, relevant and gets people using the tool. A time-lapse profit chart in a Business student’s company case-study report? It will not only blow away his professor, but it will give the student a deeper understanding of the content. It might even be their gateway drug to other CS apps… The list goes on.

I have the greatest respect for those who work and teach in the visual and creative arts. I am envious of their talents. However it is far too easy for the Adobe Creative Wow Factor, exemplified by their work and the praise it justifiably receives, to so dominate the conversation. It can seem unattainable to and shut down the imaginations of those who exercise less artistic pursuits.

We need inspiration. We need examples. We need to show a broad spectrum of use cases from across the academic spectrum. Adobe tools for the poets and scientists! Adobe tools for music and pre-med! Adobe tools for the researchers! Adobe tools for the secretaries! If the tools can be used by everyone (jury is still out on that question), then lets show everyone using them.

This may not seem relevant to you. You may be in a school where getting the software is a struggle. It was a struggle for us too. That’s why keeping it, by showing its ROI, is so important.

Stand up and be counted! Share your thoughts.

10:13 PM Permalink
December 28, 2011

Introduction and ponderings on James’ Tar Pit

Hello James et al.  A very interesting and thought provoking commentary on our ever changing quest for knowledge, albeit Canadian.  I suspect that most teachers in western countries feel much the same. I pondered responding directly to your Tar Pit piece James but thought that an introduction was in order.

Before commenting, I would like to first introduce myself, mainly to contextualise my response.

My name is Deb Whittington and I am a Lecturer in vocational studies in the Printing & Graphic Arts Training Package at Central Institute of Technology in Western Australia.  Training Packages have been created for all core industry groups at a National level in Australia in a partnership between Learning Providers, Industry and the Federal Government, and constitute minimum knowledge and skills required by industry.

They are at once both simpler and harder than traditional curriculum, and contain units of competence, each with their own elements of competence with criteria.  Students are assessed both on-the-job and/or in a simulated workplace, as competent or not yet competent.  There is no pass mark.  Pure and simple – you can either do it, or you can’t.  You either have the knowledge, or you don’t.  The acquisition of knowledge, understanding and competence is overseen by workplace trainers and assessors with significant, high level experience and knowledge.  I occupy that position with tenure.

Training Packages do not replace traditional high school, though many schools are now opting to deliver simulated workplace training and assessment as a vocational alternative to traditional, academic studies.

I must first say that I am by no means a traditional academic!

People talk about life long learning.  I have been blessed with a moderately high intellect, and have been greedily learning all that I could on subjects that have fascinated me since I was 3 years old.  I am now 57 and I still feel that I am in a lolly shop full of knowledge and there is not enough time to explore and learn all that I would like.  But like many young people today, I need a better reason to learn than that it is “what is required”.

I’m fascinated by Jungian type theory and it’s role as a potential tool to understanding and nurturing aptitude and talent, with particular regard to left-brain/right-brain balance skills such as graphic technologies.  In terms of MBTI and Keirsey’s Temperament Theory, my own preferences are towards INTP with balanced I/E, moderate preferences for T over F and P over J, and very strong preferences for N over S.  I have no S preferences on testing.

With your indulgence I will later post some of my observations, hypotheses and discussions over the past 10 years relating to learning, technologies, design and type (as in typology) preferences.  I believe there are some very interesting correlations between the epidemic, modern diagnosis of AD/HD and Dyslexia, and aptitude for learning, technology and creativity.  This has been supported in discussion with a number of learning gurus.

In response to your piece James, there is a plethora of information available as a result of the technologies of today, BUT I believe our role as educators and trainers is to provide guidance through that minefield of often insufficient or inaccurate information, to teach students to question everything, have faith in themselves, to have the joy of curiosity (or as noted Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman’s book suggests – “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”), and to synthesise and provide context for their learning rather than pursue the old rote learning those of my age were often subjected to at school.  We need to teach them to make informed decisions from a sound understanding.

At the beginning of each semester I ask my students who is there for the piece of paper, and who is there for the knowledge and understanding.  Interestingly, to me at least, those who say they want the piece of paper, frequently do not achieve it.  Those, however, who aspire to the knowledge and understanding, are often their own worst taskmasters, and rarely fail at achieving the piece of paper.

We must return I believe to where knowledge and understanding, and provision of sound reason for methodology, are again the prime target of we educators and trainers.  The other will follow.

10:22 AM Permalink
October 28, 2011

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching

Trapped in a Tar Pit

Metaphorically speaking, a dinosaur is any entity lacking the capacity to adapt to environmental changes in a timely fashion. While a dinosaur may well possess the ability to adapt it may be an unfortunate accident of biology or culture that predisposes it to an internal rate of transformative change that is relatively static compared to the rate of change in the environmental factors that, normally, support and optimize conditions for its survival. This inability to match the pace of change places the dinosaur at a competitive disadvantage that eventually pushes it to the margins of relevance and results in its eventual extinction—both literal and metaphorical.

No creature would invite change for its own sake and—humans being like most other creatures—expend enormous amounts of energy attempting to stabilize our situation and achieve a form of stasis that allows us not only to survive but to thrive in relative safety and comfort. We tend towards mitigating the effects of the unknown and the unpredictable and this requires apprehending and utilizing knowledge of the environment in order that we might exploit it to advantage.

Our ability to utilize binding symbolic language and symbolic artefacts and to fashion tools that—according to Marshall McLuhan—extend, enhance and accelerate our effective selves, creates a buffer between us and a natural order that challenges us with the timeless struggle for survival.

The fact that we will soon be uneasily celebrating the turnover of our biological counter to the 7 billion mark is a testimony to how successful we have been at disconnecting from or minimizing the risks that the natural order presents. One could argue that this disconnection could be better characterized as a complete domination and subjugation of the environment that carries with it a dire corollary for our long-term survival and that the technocomplex that we created constitutes its own environment with its own evolutionary pressures.

The Silicone  Pit

Iterative improvement and automation have resulted in the sort of hyperbolic innovations that engineer Gordon Moore predicted in the mid 1960′s. The rate of change is dizzying and poses significant challenges to our capacity for adapting to the changes they usher in. The explosion of new technologies, whose cycles of innovation and obsolescence relegate one to the status of instant expert or instant dinosaur in the blink of an eye, constitutes our greatest environmental challenge.

Having knowledge of one’s object of inquiry has traditionally meant being able to give a name to it—to plot its co-ordinates and assay and record its characteristics. This sort of knowledge has traditionally conferred on the inquirer a degree of power and control over their object of inquiry—it is a form of experiential mapping, if you will. However, this is not so easy with respect to characterizing much less predicting the evolutionary trajectory of our modern technological landscape. Mapping the contours of our ever-changing, ever-expanding information and techno-complex is intractable as mapping sand dunes or clouds—the particulars are so infinitely complex and changing that it defies linear, rational and concrete approaches to knowing. It is a phenomenon that has rapidly emerged into a quantum state where power comes from making sense of the relational dimensions between the elements of this complex rather than knowing the particular qualities or quantities associated with the constituent elements themselves. Understanding, then, assumes a holistic character where inductive logic gives way to deductive and intuitive processes that may benefit more from a metaphor or narrative thread with which to frame or anchor one’s understanding of the infinitely complex. This form of knowing differs from the traditional detached objective methods of scientific knowing. Instead, this form of knowing is experiential, immersive and, simultaneously, transforms both subject and object.

Consider that, in using a technology, you have changed the manner in which you interact with the world around you and this results in the emergence of new patterns of behavior, new modes of interaction, shifts in language, value systems and culture and we are irrevocably changed and the system within which this technology has been used is changed too. This implies that the relationship between subject and object have also shifted. In short we see the world in a different way for the simple reason that our internal value systems have dramatically shifted and the world that we inhabit has also dramatically changed. While we highly value information that is accessible and searchable many with the means to do so would pay millions of dollars for a highly inaccessible “original” painting by, say, Rembrandt, while few of us would be willing to pay for a digital version of it. An objects potential for ubiquity works in tension with its unique instantiation. An object that can readily be reproduced and reducing its value to near zero in a commodity-based economy where value is predicated on scarcity. The web-enhanced age in which we live is one of infinite abundance and, hence, traditional economic value cannot be derived from the objects produced in this ecosystem but, rather, from the relationships that it facilitates. While scarcity and  authenticity are still significant arbiters of value today we see from the runaway success of social resources like Face Book

The Renaissance Through the Looking Glass

The age of now has oft been described as one of digital tribalism where the age of empire, standardization, control and concentration of power and influence have given way to chaotic and barbaric forces that truculently refuse to be defined and controlled by the old paradigms. We are advancing toward the past—almost medieval, semi-literate forms of informal, quasi-embodied social interaction where the emphasis is on the relationship—on being there (digitally) and participating in the conversation. It is Walter Ong’s Post-literate society or age of “secondary orality.” We are leaving the time where meaning was defined in terms of rational scientific constructs and entering a new epoch where our old science creates more questions than it is capable of answering—adding to an already infinite data set. We are entering a new mythopoetic age where it is pointless to look at the massive complexity of our modern technological and information ecosystem and hope to induce meaning and significance through observing it. What is significant is that we are not detached from it (as the old science would have it) we are caught up in its turbulence trying to keep our heads above water, as it were. The more sane approach would be to recognize that this leviathan chimera unleashes enormous pressures on us and to not ask what this means but, rather, to demand “what do we wish this this to mean for us now and in the future” and to hold it to account for this vision. We must not embrace technology simply for its own sake, rather, it should be subsumed in the service of our collective vision for the future and, in that sense, we are called upon to dream and to do so boldly. To envision a world where technology and information serves to nurture humanity requires that we come to understand who we are at our root and to what purpose must our hearts and our minds be put. These questions resonate with aspects of spirituality that seem antithetical to the project of science. However both science and technology have no life or no meaning without being grounded in the context of life—of attending and attaining to being fully human in a world that is rich,  diverse and healthy and to this end all human projects should bend their respective backs to the task of enriching life on this planet and, thus, must be held fully accountable to this demand. Human health is linked to a complex web of inter-relationships that extends out beyond the human sphere to include the entire created order. Our evolving technological landscape has the potential to allow us to discover who we are both individually and collectively in relation to the broader world and to deepen the veracity of relationships that putative modern western science, and the tsunami of uncritical progress it unleashed, has unwittingly compromised.

Why Are We Here and What Are We Doing?

The philosophical perspectives/worldview that I outlined in the preceding paragraphs were not derived from gleaning through the tomes of savvy and erudite pop culture gurus (although I owe a great debt to Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong and have enjoyed sharing insights articulated by the likes of Richard Ogle, Don Tapscott and Malcolm Gladwell), rather they came from a direct experience of some fundamental changes that I was experiencing in relation to my subject area and my relationship with my students.


2:44 PM Permalink
June 30, 2011


An ultimate exam – can there be such a thing? If it is in a high school senior design class is the Adobe Digital School Collection up to the task? ABSOLUTELY – on both counts. My classes did it and the results were fabulous.

Our principal explained she needed a favour. She was the volunteer chair of our school board’s United Way campaign for 2011-2012 and she needed new posters for the campaign. The posters would be printed and distributed throughout the board (no small deal – we are one of the largest school boards in Canada) . I love authentic tasks. Having spent 20 years in ad agencies and design firms before moving into teaching I know the difference between textbook work and “real” assignments and this opportunity was incredibly real. Each year I have several students who are move into the design field in post secondary programs and for them to have first class published work in their portfolios would be fantastic.

To make it interesting I chose to do the posters as the final exam project in my senior design classes. Our provincial ministry of education allows us the freedom to create our final exams in whatever form best suits our courses and students and for me that always involves a practical design assignment. After all, we are a project driven, student centered creating, solving, building, testing and evaluating class so why not get the students to do exactly that as part of their exam. The challenge built in to this, however, is that because the poster assignment was being presented as an exam I would not be able to offer all of the feedback and assistance I would normally offer in a regular assignment. But – I had promised fabulous posters for my principal to use for the campaign. Would I be able to deliver as promised?

The software we use is the Photoshop Elements 9.0 (with Premier Elements 9.0, and Web Standard CS4 – Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash Pro). My senior students have repeatedly confirmed that this version of Photoshop is more than up to the task. So many tools and functionalities have been carried over from the CS4 version that it has become a powerhouse of its own. A full slate of layers functions – layer blends, clipping masks, layer masks – plus a broad range of colour functions and selection functions as well as a full range of filters means that there isn’t much you can’t do in this version. Obviously it is not the same as Photoshop CS4 or CS5, but it isn’t a pale junior version either – it holds its own and produces wonderful results. For high school classes getting into digital design I find it is a very accessible and accomplished tool.

A quick side note, should you chose to do this type of assignment – I helped many of the students with the words for the posters. We are not a creative writing class, we’re a design class, so helping them with the text really eased their concerns and allowed them to focus on what was important – their designs. Photos came from only – it allows users to use the images in almost any way imaginable and that was important to me since the school board was printing and distributing the posters and copyright issues could not interfere with this process. As part of this assignment the students also had to learn and meet the requirements of logo use for both the United Way and for our school board – yet another authentic element built into the project.

So – how did it all work out? My grade 11 classes created two posters each – one for an adult audience and one for a student audience (their choice of age range – elementary, middle school or high school). The grade 12’s did a similar assignment but had three posters to do – they also had to create a poster using typography (no illustration or photo). In all 200 posters were created – and I was delighted by the results! I presented the top 21 designs to our principal and she was totally blown away. She wanted to use all of them! Our superintendant was equally impressed and I was delighted. It had worked. A real task with a real client and a real deadline and real requirements. THIS was an ultimate exam – and in a few weeks I will learn which posters the committee has chosen so they can be prepped and printed.

One last important note. Like every other teacher I have students who bail part way through a course. It happens and sometimes you can try to overcome this but…. Well – apparently word got out to all of the students, including those who had not attended regularly, because every single student participated in the exam assignment. AND I am very pleased to say that included in that group of the top 21 designs were designs from the peripheral students. A couple of them had really come through and their work was exemplary. And isn’t that why we do what we do in our classrooms every day?

10:52 AM Permalink
March 7, 2011

Perpetual Beta: Knowledge Design and Curation Course Rationale

Seeding the Knowledge Garden Beta Lab: Developing a Cross-disciplinary course in Knowledge Design & Curation for George Brown College.
By Jim Kinney, Professor, School of Art & Design, George Brown College.

The number of web pages in existence today is estimated at anywhere from 25 billion to 1 Trillion and is moving towards an infinite value. Having the equivalent of all human knowledge a mere Google search away confers knowledge power on the average internet user that eclipses the wildest imaginations of our predecessors yet, in order to fully utilize this incredible resource, requires that we are able to harness this chaotic agglomeration by subjecting it to a process of refinement.
The rigour of computer science and library science has helped to make this infinite datascape easier to navigate, search and visualize. As more of our economic activity migrates to this space, productivity gains as well as new ways of interacting stimulate the emergence of novel economic patterns with new value propositions. These emerging values do not conform to the old paradigms of vertical, hierarchal organisation and functional specialization with their synchronized production of concrete artefacts.
Artefact production is an anachronism of an industrial age that we have been increasingly outsourcing and leaving behind. We have migrated to a new space where value lies not in things but in relationships and this new landscape has opened the door to a creative impulse that has not been experienced since the dawning of the renaissance.
The adept is one who can work outside the traditional constraints of space, time and function and who can assume a multiplicity of roles and adapt on the fly to rapidly changing environments. These participants in the new economy will, by necessity, be effective in team-based approaches and organizations will need to move to a rapid response or Just-In-Time operational model that can accommodate changes in the wind and allow for innovation.
In order to allow for the incubation, acceleration and commercialization of ideas organizations will need processes and infrastructure that allow for a design-centred approach that can quickly prototype, test and refine ideas for market. Part of an effective infrastructure will be a cultural apparatus that promotes multi-disciplinary collaborations that allow for the confluence of design thinking, new methods, materials and technologies to solve problems in a myriad of domains such as healthcare, service sectors, security, finance, etc.
Crucial to the success of this design-centred approach will be building the capacity to capture and curate process knowledge on the fly in order to build a powerful, searchable knowledge repository that can be drawn upon to inform other teams working on other projects. The ability to organize effective teams and capture their experiences, as it happens, and to use this intelligence in debriefs to inform standards of best practice will be an integral tool in the emerging economy. The ability to modularize the functionality of knowledge assets in order to enhance their accessibility and usefulness as well as an ability to re-configure and repurpose these assets for a variety of applications constitute an emerging skillset. See Appendix 1 (Knowledge Worker)
Participants in the emerging economy will require broad base of skills that can be adapted to a multitude of scenarios in order to collaboratively, co-create, curate, distribute and monetize digital assets and experiences. Whether you are a Chef working with a programmer to produce an interactive mobile menu application that will allow for people around the globe to participate in a cooking class from home or whether you are a Palliative Care practitioner who is documenting patient care and interactions on a tablet in consultation with a medical doctor, you will need to know how to work in a team in order to design workflows and applications that help you to optimize your outcomes. Given that these complex systems are rendered more usable through rich visual interfaces, at least a rudimentary knowledge of these processes would be critical to establishing a common framework of practice around how information in the moment is best captured and made usable. This forms the basis for a new class of participant in the emergent economy that we can call the knowledge holder/creator. The knowledge holder must be adept at working with programmers, engineers and designers to render their knowledge into assets and experiential opportunities that are more accessible and usable by a broader spectrum of clients. The knowledge holder will need to learn the skills of capturing and curating their know-how in ways that optimize this accessibility and usability.

The Knowledge Garden Project
This project used a team-based, distributed model of peer-to-peer learning that was designed as an adaptive response to pervasive, persistent and aggressive change in technology.
By reframing traditional classroom roles and empowering students as co-creators/designers of knowledge, over 150 individuals were soon doing the work that was done by only one. The ability to rapidly research, demonstrate, document, podcast, archive and curate a myriad of learning experiences across a broad spectrum delivered the power to generate know-how that was vastly superior in both quality and quantity to what could have been done by a professor alone.
The fact that subsequent teams of students would assume stewardship of this resource meant that an entirely new generation of stakeholders could work on updating and improving the resource by adding searchability, improved assets, better organization, etc. Even if a new release meant that over 30 hours of podcast instruction and hundreds of PDF manual pages were rendered obsolete, the new owners could cope with this. While this would represent an unmitigated disaster for a group of professors this was a relatively simple fact of life that could easily be remedied with another burst of creativity from its stakeholders. Individually, the task was leviathan, collectively—it was relatively easy.
In this model the professor took on the role of mentor providing research direction that best tied to the problems being tackled. Finally, the professor acted as a knowledge harvester—taking the best materials and promoting their use within a content system by the broader student population.
This new methodology combined with some software and hardware infrastructure paved the way for creating a Just In Time or RISK-based approach to learning (Rapid Integration of Skills and Knowledge).

Beta Lab (Knowledge Curation and Design Course)
While the provenance of this idea was borne in the context of teaching software to Graphic Design students it quickly became apparent that the real potential for innovation lay in bringing design practice, RISK methodology and Knowledge capture/curation infrastructure and know-how to non-traditional disciplines in order to widen the net of inclusion and to “push the envelope” as it were in disciplines that, traditionally, had not enjoyed the sort of knowledge/tech transfer that designers have enjoyed since the mid 1980’s. It occurred to me that a multi-disciplinary approach had the potential to float many more boats and provide a context for rich interdisciplinary collaborations that would address some of the key skills and competencies required by the communities that we serve—namely, the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively.
A workforce that has the knowledge skill and infrastructure to capture and reframe the intelligence of their respective fields delivers the capacity to transform those fields by making their know-how accessible, searchable, transferrable, comprehensible and highly mobile. These new modalities have the added capacity to generate revenue and promote great efficiencies while binding participants in the process to powerful new modes of interaction and providing them with direct participation at the epicentre of the new and emerging economy.

The Ground Covered
I have worked since 2003 on refining methods of peer-based collaboration within the context of design. My students have self-organized, self-taught, demonstrated and published a wealth of materials in the three primary areas of Photocomposition, Illustration and Page Layout/ Printing using Adobe’s industry standard toolsets. The learning was contextualized in solving three main problems: The production of highly realistic illustrations using the two-dimensional medium of Adobe Illustrator and the compilation of a manual that detailed the tools, tips and techniques necessary for accomplishing the task. Further explorations of Photoshop were required in order to produce a compelling piece of cover art for the manual and InDesign was used to publish the materials as a PDF book. Rather than learning being a series of seemingly disconnected factoids, each element eventually took its rightful place in a sequence whose sum resulted in expert and compelling works. All of the research presentation and publishing were co-ordinated and executed in a collective fashion while the Illustrations, naturally, provided an outlet for individual expression and grading. It was a blended form of learning that, while it allowed for a summative expression of individual abilities, could not have been made possible without a concerted commitment to a group-based approach to learning.
Initially, Students not only showcased their individual talents (some of whom won international design awards from Adobe) but they each shared the fruits of their collective efforts in the form of a beautifully designed and extremely informative manual covering key functions of three very key Adobe toolsets.
In 2009 I participated in a joint research project with Apple Computer and three other Canadian universities that allowed me to explore the potential for the creation and distribution of mobile learning assets for and by students. This opportunity resulted in the generation of a rich, searchable resource that could be configured and used both on an individual and a collective level. In addition to the usual production of illustrations, cover art and how-to manuals, over 200 podcasts were generated many employing closed captioning and several executed in other languages such as Spanish and Mandarin—effectively transforming what would normally be considered as a roadblock to learning into a terrific learning advantage. The racial and linguistic diversity of our large urban mosaic was changed from challenge to opportunity by leveraging this inherent capacity to speak to the world. On conclusion of the research, infrastructure was repatriated and, only recently, has it been re-established with the acquisition of a new podcast and wiki server. Ideally, it would have been helpful to acquire a third authentication and sign-on server but we are working on managing these resources in a very independent manner that allows us to minimize reliance on IT resources and maximize experimentation and innovation by way of this relative autonomy.

The Course
It occurred to me that the course should build incrementally in order to develop best practices, test infrastructure robustness and requirements and that early iterations should be limited to design students with proven capacity to work with these technologies and document their processes in a clear and usable manner. Later iterations should ideally reach out to include other departments within our school in order to allow them to explore untapped niches of opportunity in their own domains. Eventually, in the third phase the course would encourage community members NGOs/agencies and private companies to partner with the program in order to leverage our capacity for providing solutions to these problems. I envision a cross-disciplinary team that would involve second or senior year students from various departments in order to provide a broad base of skill sets, a variety of faculty consultants, an IT liaison, a community partner with a problem to solve and a technology provider who sees in the community partner an opportunity to explore untapped applications for their product. This ecosystem of stakeholders would then collectively define and deliver innovation in the sectors represented by our community partners. The college itself could be designated as its own community partner and derive benefit from the creation of a cutting-edge knowledge ecosystem that buoys up underserviced areas. For instance, the simple inclusion of closed captioning as part of any workflow by student researchers creates a direct benefit of inclusion for a broader swath of the community!

Just In Time
The benefits of access to pre-release (beta-level) engagement with toolsets are significant. Instead of reacting to change, participants would have a role in shaping the changes affecting them by occupying a seat at the table where decisions are being made. This ground-sourced form of participation is a trend that will continue to grow and be incorporated in the development and marketing strategies of most leading companies. Any institution that can incorporate this form of dialogue into its program cannot help but assume a leadership role in shaping future trends and, as a corollary of this approach, its students are given significant lead times that allow them to anticipate and prepare for the changes that will effect their respective industries in ways that are profitable to them and the organizations that they work for.
Already the wheels have been set in motion with Apple Computer and Adobe Systems with respect to high value strategic relationships that involve this sort of cutting edge research and curriculum. Eventually, I envision an evolution of the lab where a multi-disciplinary team of students works with faculty, IT, a community partner using pre-release technologies that are being tested on real world problems—moving from scenarios of theoretical use to actual case use. Students and faculty would not only gain experience in emerging technologies ahead of the curve, they would get to apply it in particular instances relative to a problem identified in the community. They would also capture and curate this know-how and report to the various stakeholders on progress. The beta providers would gain access to a team of researchers who would provide critical bench testing of their wares and access data relevant to contextual use scenarios as well as proof of use for new markets/customers. They also would share in the warehoused knowledge and make this public on the release date. The fact that the beta providers could then offer the know-how material that was produced to their traditional user base as well as to anticipated new markets is a powerful incentive to participate.
The college would have the advantage of having know-how embedded in its participants but also in the form of searchable podcasts that could then be distributed to the broader community on the release date. The students, too, would have established a leadership position vis-à-vis this know-how and would have developed valuable research and collaboration skills in the process.
An opportunity also exists to license and distribute this content to create an income stream through Knowledge channels such as, iTunes, etc.
Strategically, Knowledge Capture and its curation are highly significant in adapting to the skills and knowledge vacuum created by the wave of succession caused by the Boomer generation’s exit from the workforce. Implicit knowledge held by Boomers, is in danger of being lost if it is not expressed, captured and repurposed for a smaller, younger generation taking the reins. Much work needs to be done in helping organizations acquire and utilize the capacity to capture and re-purpose the strategically important knowledge that constitutes their intellectual capital and competitive advantage. It is entirely reasonable to promote this form of Knowledge design and curation as a standard business practice.

What We Need
The project has only tacit approval at this stage. The course outline has been submitted to both the Director, Luigi Ferrara and his Co-ordinator, Judith Gregory for approval. We will need:
Lab space: Room to accommodate 15-20 people with tables in the centre to facilitate face to face interactions. White boards around perimeter to allow dtailing of discussions and prototyping.
Podcast Server/WIKI server (already acquired)
Service contracts to guarantee QS. On system configuration and maintenance
10 new computers (preferably Mac)
High bandwidth Wireless connection to the internet
VPN clients for senior administrators
Pre-release Software/Hardware and reporting software
Cross-disciplinary liaison to assist with outreach and building connections to other departments.
Creation of cross-curricular (Gen Ed) Requirement or accreditation possibly incentivized by two credits.
Ability to extend tenure of particpants to more than one term.
Terms of Engagement Agreements/ NDA’s, etc.
Recruitment process.
Interview process.
Legal advise on streamlining a process for binding a diverse group of stakeholders to the obligations of a Non-disclosure agreement while upholding the rights of individuals or organizations bound by them.
The will and the vision to support the project.
Potential Downside
The success of this enterprise is contingent on a number of factors. First, if the institution and its leaders fails to understand what is at stake and what the benefits are, it will be difficult to promote the risk-taking necessary to facilitate the acquisition of adequate resources and to experiment with new approaches in delivery. Cross-disciplinary approaches are difficult to co-ordinate with willing partners. A climate of risk mitigation will minimize participation in unproven territory and will default to a wait-and-see approach that is anathema to innovation—cultural acceptance of risk taking is necessary. Binding agreements between stakeholders need to be negotiated in order to ensure longer term viability. This will require signatories at the management level to give the project the endorsement it requires and to negotiate relationships that work to serve the interest of all parties involved. Other faculty and managers need to be educated on the significance of the approach and how it is validated through research and is consistent with emerging trends in experiential learning and is ideally suited as an adaptation and innovation methodology.
All stakeholders must perceive advantage in engaging with this approach and must be given a role in determining the contours of the engagement. Exclusion of any one party could result in a disconnection and a failure to “own” and promote the process towards excellence.
Given its marginal, off-grid approach adequate IT support for this project has been ad hoc in nature. Proper resourcing of IT support will be crucial to the success of any joint venture and care has to be taken to ensure clear and open channels of communication between our internal support and those of our technology providers. Failure to ensure that our technology partners and our internal IT partners are aligned in their respective tasks will result in technical impasses that will delay the move forward with project-based research.
NDAs are extremely important to partners providing pre-release opportunities and cultivating a climate of discretion and secrecy will be of the utmost importance. An interviewing process and the signing of binders by participants can help to lend weight to this necessity and the violation of these agreements would, understandably, do irreparable damage to the partner, the beta project and the reputation of the institution. The lab and the participants will be under wraps until the release date at which point we will be at liberty to share our successes and leverage any content/processes.
Non participation would effectively render the ambitions of this project to being moot and, so, proper promotion of its merits to the college community, managers, faculty, students and the broader community will be key to its long term success. Failure to promote the enterprise will result in its marginalization and eventual decline.
Keeping the initial offering limited to a small, select number of students will constitute budgetary pressure on the local level but will be necessary in order to ensure manageable success. The research-based focus may well present opportunities to attract research grants from government agencies, internal funding as well as our partners who will already be supplying in-kind investments of technology for our use but may well provide additional funding. Our community partners may best be able to provide an infusion of financial support given that we are helping them to solve a problem. The lab should be kept to a small group of 10-15 students and the professors involvement would require a release of two teaching blocks to accommodate proper oversight. As the lab culture matures we may be able to move to a staffing model where a student from a previous year is given the paying position of research lead and reducing the amount of direct involvement by the professor.
Debriefing sessions will be crucial to monitoring the health of a project and for instituting best-practices that will guide and inform future project participants. This will provide an opportunity to garner feedback/ratings from the various participants. A reporting structure will be necessary in order to share findings with the management layer and provide transparency and accountability on performance. Where NDAs allow, opportunities should be sought for presenting findings in the public domain through conferences, workshops etc. and victories and accomplishments should be celebrated in vehicles that are accessible to all of the parties (Trade Magazines, Symposia, Conferences, etc.).
This project represents over seven years of methodically acquiring resources, experimenting with methods and promoting its potential. I have every confidence that, with the proper support and dedication to its vision, it will help to place our college in a leadership position not only in innovation in teaching and learning but in providing new capacity to non “design-oriented” domains that will allow them to leverage the power of the knowledge that they hold and to migrate that knowledge into more contemporary domains that provide efficiencies as well as revenue-generating potiential.
I am excited to begin forging bold new partnerships and building something new and powerful that will serve our communities for years to come.


Jim Kinney

Appendix 1_K-Worker_Competencies & Relations

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February 23, 2011

Adobe Forms Central

We all know the implications of illiteracy as students move into the workforce. Too many students cannot write a coherent paragraph or comprehend basic reading passages. Students who have demonstrated grade level literacy skills have recently produced formal essays that consist of texting-gibberish infused with a few multisyllabic words that they got from a quick word search. You know all ofthis because the battle over reading and writing is fought in every classroom, every day.

I pursue literacy with zeal in my graphic design, art, and yearbook classes. Students read and write two times per week about every aspect of art and design that is relevant to their field of study . Years ago, I created reading passages with InDesign and printed them off for students to finish in class. I added photographs, diagrams and illustrations to reading/writing worksheets to make content comprehensible for English learners, but I had to print them out in B&W. Occasionally I would print out worksheets in color and laminate them so that they could be used for following semesters.

I create lessons with Captivate but I wanted an easier solution to create successful reading/writing lessons. In March 2010 I started the move to computer-based literacy activities. I now create interactive .pdfs that make it possible for students to engage with lessons that reach all levels of literacy. But what about the dilemma of collecting, reading, grading and giving feedback on all of those scribbled sheets of paper? I attempted to use Acrobat Forms with my lessons, but had difficulty doing so because of cyber blocks from the IT department. Then, I found GoogleDocs and used Acrobat worksheets with a link to online Google Forms.

As a solid advocate of Adobe products, I kept my use of Google Docs/Forms quiet hoping for an Adobe solution and it is here: Adobe Forms Central. It integrates perfectly with the lessons that I create.

  • More engaging lessons. No more predictable B&W paper worksheets.
  • Less time reading essays. I don’t have to lug home piles of papers with illegible handwriting
  • Better teacher feedback. Students don’t have to try and read my scribbled, hasty “red-ink” corrections and comments

For each lesson, I develop an InDesign document that is loaded with audio, video, images, captions, and diagrams. The finished interactive .pdf file has links to Adobe Forms that (unlike Google Forms) have the same .pdf images to further aid understanding. I make the .pdfs available online for students to download. ELL students can translate the interactive .pdfs and more easily capture the gist of the lesson from the visuals ; I can sort the students’ answers and essays (for easier grade input); and using Acrobat, I can convert the answers to a .pdf file , mark them up, and “stamp” grades on each essay (How to use Acrobat Custom Stamps:

But the best news is: students’ are writing more than they were before. Their essays are longer and the writing has improved because the feedback they get is more consistent and thorough than the old “red pen” approach. At first I thought it was the novelty of the new approach, but as this school year progresses, I am finding that 21st century student learning and engagement happens best when students use the tools they’re excited about.

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