New paper: Italian immigration to Kelowna and its lasting legacy

Cover image for Okanagan History 86.

The Okanagan Historical Society’s latest issue of Okanagan History is out, and I’m proud to have an article published in this year’s annual report. Roughly ten years ago (when I was an undergraduate), I received UBC Okanagan’s undergraduate research grant. This grant was an incredible opportunity, as allowed me to spend the better part of the summer travelling throughout the province of British Columbia visiting archives and museums. My research topic was Italian immigration to BC’s Central Okanagan and West Kootenay regions between the 1880s and 1920s. Italian immigrants played a big part in BC’s emerging economy – particularly the primary resource sector (mining and smelting), the Kettle Valley Railway’s construction, agriculture, and the development of the Okanagan’s wine industry. Italian immigration to BC was (and probably still is) an under-studied aspect of the province’s history, as the majority of immigrants settled in Ontario and Quebec. I had a wonderful time learning how to work with archival materials, reading family letters, and looking at town directories. There were two big waves of Italian immigration to Canada. One wave took place during Italy’s unification as a nation-state. Unification was a long and painful process that spanned from 1848 to 1871. The second wave took place during the rise of fascism in the early 1900s to the 1920s. These tectonic events created economic uncertainty, so Canada became an attractive destination. I still feel grateful to have had an awesome project supervisor, Professor Maury Williams. I wrote up my findings and presented them at a student conference and that’s where my research ended.

In 2020, I was contacted by Don Rampone of the Kelowna Italian Club (a social club and historical society). Mr. Rampone had found an old UBC press release about my research and was looking for archival sources on Italian immigration to Kelowna, specifically. I sent him the Kelowna portion of my unpublished manuscript, and pretty soon we were editing the piece together. Tara Hurley, an archivist at Kelowna Museums, was kind enough to help me track down sources so I could fix up the citations. We posted an earlier version of the article on the Italian community’s website. Later, Don and the Okanagan Historical Society asked if I could re-publish the piece in their 2021 annual historical report. This was pushed to 2022 which was a blessing, as it gave me time to re-work the article a bit more. My colleague Peter Houston (MRU Library Archivist) also provided some valuable feedback on the piece.

I’m thrilled to finally see this article in print. Following graduation, it was always my goal to return to, and publish, this research. It’s satisfying to have finally achieved that goal. Older editions of Okanagan History have been digitized by UBC, and are accessible online.

  • Citation: Christiansen, E. (2022). Italian immigration to Kelowna and its lasting legacy. Okanagan History, 86.

New paper: Examining the technological and pedagogical elements of select open courseware

First Monday journal logo

I’m pleased that my colleague Dr. Michael McNally (Ualberta SLIS) and I have published a new paper in First Monday titled “Examining the technological and pedagogical elements of select open courseware.”

The paper is non-traditional in both its focus and method, but it’s a step toward answering some research questions Michael and I have. Specifically, what does openness in education mean, what are the factors that constitute openness, and what does openness look like on a spectrum? In our previous paper (a thought experiment) we addressed these questions from a philosophical perspective. In this new paper, we wanted to know how ‘open’ open courseware (OCW) actually is. We focused on open courseware because we feel it’s an important component of open education, but it’s often overshadowed by open textbooks. This was a small study, where we randomly selected ten open courses – five from MIT and five from TU Delft. The sample is too small to generalize to all open courseware. Analyzing all the course materials in this sample was challenging, so a larger research team (or narrower focus) would be necessary to replicate this approach across a larger sample. We selected courses from these two institutions because of their similar focus on STEM; though, both institutions do have courses from other disciplines. Ultimately, we got a good mix of courses after running our randomizer formula in Excel. We analyzed the openness of each course using the framework we proposed in our previous paper. So, this paper is part analysis and part proof of concept. Below are our research questions from the paper.

Question 1: Based on the eight factors of openness in the framework, how open are the sampled OCW?

Question 2: Are the sampled OCW adequately designed for educator reuse or adaptation?

There are quite a few findings, but I’ll give a couple of highlights. First, we found the framework (called ‘Open Enough’) functioned reasonably well as a rubric for OCW evaluation, though it had some shortcomings. We proposed a revised version of the framework in the discussion. We also found that despite the name ‘open courseware’, the openness of these courses was a mixed bag, at least when evaluating them using our eight factors of analysis. Our results and discussion sections are long, but the paper includes a summary of the findings.

The level of openness across the sampled OCW was inconsistent. From a copyright perspective, the OCW were mixed as they employed an institutional licence across all content — a CC-NC-SA licence. In terms of adherence to accessibility standards, MIT courses were most open while TU Delft were closed. We determined accessibility openness by reviewing each OCW platform’s statement regarding which accessibility standards were observed. From a usability perspective, we concluded that TU Delft has the more modern interface, but MIT courses were more navigable. All courses (except one) were categorized as closed since the course content was offered in one language. The majority of support costs (course readings) were proprietary and many of the courses relied heavily on paid books. Two TU Delft courses were the exception to this rule; one course’s readings were completely custom (presumably written by the instructor), and another course made its proprietary ebook openly available (albeit with a closed licence). All of the sampled courses were very open in terms of digital distribution. Each course could be located using several federated OER search engines. Surprisingly, the sampled courses were categorized as closed in terms of file format, as all relied heavily on PDF content. We struggled with the cultural considerations factor, given the large volume of content and the factor’s subjective nature. Courses were split between closed and mixed/most open. Course content dictated this conclusion, as STEM courses materials were determined to be more culturally applicable, broadly speaking.

Given the limited editability of the course materials, we concluded that the sampled OCW were better suited for learner consumption rather than educator reuse. The lack of editability was surprising and severely limits these courses’ utility outside their originating institutions. These findings highlight the importance of prioritizing OCW for editability and adaptability, in addition to making them discoverable to the broader community.

Since writing this paper, MIT OpenCourseWare has redesigned its website which presents more opportunities for analysis, particularly usability and discoverability. This was an interesting project to be part of and I’m glad it’s finally published. I’d like to thank First Monday for publishing this piece, and the paper is available as an open access article from the journal website.

Citation: Christiansen, E., & McNally, M. (2022, Oct 5). Examining the technical and pedagogical elements of select open courseware. First Monday, 27(10). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v27i10.11639

Manuscript and figures

Voices from the Digital Classroom

I’m thrilled that my colleague Kris Hans and I were featured in this new book about teaching online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kris and I did an interview with the Teaching and Learning Online Network (TALON) about our experience with, and our vision for, remote instruction in 2020, and I’m grateful the fine people at the University of Calgary decided to put this book together. Our book chapter is adapted from our interview with TALON and we’ve also included an addendum where we further reflect on our experience teaching in an online context.

You can find a print and digital version of Voice from the Digital Classroom: 25 Interviews about Teaching and Learning in the Face of a Global Pandemic on the University of Calgary press website. The UofC press has also made the PDF version of this book free to download! The website includes a link to the PDF as well as videos from the original interview series.

https://ucp.manifoldapp.org/projects/9781773852782

This book is a great time capsule of voices and experiences during higher education’s transition to emergency remote instruction during the pandemic. I’m honoured to be a part of this project.

The Rogers Communications outage and the need for offline functionality

Image by IO-Images from Pixabay

I recently published a piece about the lessons we should learn from the Rogers Communications outage. The way I see it, the outage underscored two facts

  1. We are incredibly dependent on the Internet. 
  2. The importance of preserving offline functionality

Offline functionality means having devices that are functional without an Internet connection.

What I took away from this outage (I wasn’t affected thankfully) is that offline functionality in my devices is critical.

I’m from a generation (maybe even the last generation), that remembers when personal computers were primarily offline devices. It’s not my intent to scold younger folks, nor am I suggesting that I was born during a better time. It’s just a fact that most home computers from the 1990s – which were generally shared by all family members – were offline most of the time. As a result, our sImage by IO-Images from Pixabayoftware was designed with offline use in mind. Budgeting, word processing, and gaming were all done offline.

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Intel in the news

ARC discrete GPUs. Image courtesy of Intel.

Intel has been in the news thanks to the release of its new i9 desktop processor (dubbed the ‘fastest’ CPU in the world) and its new ARD discrete mobile GPUs. Intel’s i9 CPU is what we’re used to; more watts. What’s most interesting is that Intel is targeting gaming enthusiasts (and possibly esports professionals) in its marketing. That’s a curious move considering how niche that audience is.

The ARC GPUs are arguably more interesting because they represent a significant advancement in mobile graphics. Anyone running a recent Windows laptop with Intel’s Iris integrated graphics have fared well. ARC show some considerable performance gains in games and professional applications. So far, Intel has only rolled out ARC 3 – with the 350M and 370M chips. The story was originally reported by Chaim Gartenberg from The Verge.

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A passwordless future

Authentication diagram fro the FIDO Alliance.
Image courtesy of the FIDO Alliance

The FIDO Alliance recently published a white paper about its plan to replace passwords. Coverage about this paper from Wired and The Register is excellent, and the white paper itself provides some interesting solutions for eliminating the need for passwords. FIDO proposes using secondary Bluetooth enabled devices to transmit cryptographic keys locally, without data being shared over the Internet. Such an implementation would be phishing-resistant, but is its adoption realistic?

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The Steam Deck

Steam Deck
Image courtesy of Valve

Earlier this month, Valve opened pre-orders for its new Steam Deck, a handheld gaming PC built on AMD’s Zen 2APU. This handheld PC runs a Linux-based operating system called Steam OS (v. 3.0). The Steam Deck allows users to play ‘many’ of their Steam game library portably. Tech Radardescribed the Steam Deck as “one of the most eagerly anticipated product launches in recent times, with Valve trying its hand at making a handheld console.”

But the Steam Deck is more than a gaming device. It’s a new PC form factor – what I call the ‘mobile desktop’ – and showcases recent advancements in mobile computing.

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Apple Peek Performance Event: M1 Ultra and Mac Studio biggest highlights

Apple’s Peek Performance event has come and gone. Other blogs will discuss the minutia of the event, so I won’t attempt that here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the highlights – mostly Apple Silicon.

M1 Ultra

M1 Ultra specs overview slide from Apple
M1 Ultra overview: Image courtesy of Apple

As not to bury the lead, the star of the event was the new M1 Ultra chip. This is a professional-class desktop chip that builds on the M1 Max available in the current crop of MacBook Pros. M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Max chips fused together using a new “Ultra Fusion” process. M1 Ultra provides for 2.5 TB/s interprocessor bandwidth, 800 GB/s of memory bandwidth, has 114 billion transistors, has up to 128 Gb of unified memory, includes a 20 core CPU, and includes a 64 core GPU. Most of Apple’s chips have a combination of high performance and efficiency cores. The Ultra is no different, but the balance has shifted. M1 Ultra has 16 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores because this is made for desktops using AC power.

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Presentation: Higher education trends that will outlast the pandemic – McGraw hill

Image from McGraw Hill

My colleague Kris Hans and I recently concluded an invited presentation for McGraw Hill publishing. We discussed higher education trends that will outlast the pandemic. We discuss hybrid learning, online teaching/learning exposure, lifelong learning and open education, higher education costs, micro-credentials, and the growth of the EdTech industry.

A recording of the presentation can be found on the McGraw Hill website.

A big thank you to the 140+ individuals who took the time to attend this event. We got some fantastic questions from audience members. A blog post summarizing some of the presentation highlights will be forthcoming.

2021 MacBook Pro: Classic features with a new engine

Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ event happened on Oct 18th, and the company finally revealed their updated MacBook Pro laptops running on Apple Silicon. Today, The reviews are starting to trickle out. For a full breakdown of everything Apple announced (including updates to HomePod mini, Apple Music, and AirPods 3), I would encourage you to head over to Jason Snell and Dan Moren’s blog Six Colors for the whole scoop. If you want a deep dive video, I’d head over to Rene Richtie’s YouTube channel

In this article, I want to focus on the MacBooks – particularly on the new designs, Apple’s mea culpa on ports, the next-gen Apple Silicon, and what this update might foreshadow for the Mac moving forward. Having watched the announcement and read some of these early reviews, I wanted to provide my takeaways. The MacBook Pro is truly a pro machine, and nobody benefits more from their power than creative professionals. But what about enthusiasts or “semi-pro” users? I only dabble in video, audio, and photo editing, and programming is just a hobby for me. Semi-pro is the best I can hope for right now. What MacBook Pro features will benefit Mac enthusiasts and which features are overkill? In this post, I will highlight what I think are the most practical features for these folks, while also discussing the broader implications of this update.

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