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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Op-Ed: Open educational resources would make post-secondary costs more affordable

assorted books on wooden table

The following article was published in the Edmonton Journal by myself, Chaten Jessel (University of Calgary) and Michael McNally (University of Alberta) highlighting the benefits of provincial government funding for open educational resources in Alberta. OER are highlighted as a strategy for the Alberta 2030 post-secondary plan. We argue that the current conservative government could easily resurrect the OER pilot project, which was initiated by the previous conservative government in 2014, and put aside a small annual grant to fund resource development in the province.

Article link: https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-open-educational-resources-would-make-post-secondary-costs-more-affordable

In 2014, the Alberta government funded the provincial OER initiative — a pilot project designed to promote OER in the province. This program was eventually ended, but the Alberta OER archive is still available. Open textbook adoptions were projected to save students $5.5 million over five years.

The government could make meaningful progress on open education in Alberta over the next 18 months. Here are three steps the government could take.

– Reinstate the Alberta OER initiative by providing a modest annual grant: The money could be used to fund OER projects throughout the province. The majority of the funds should be distributed as small grants, to fund educators who want to develop OER materials for their classes. The remaining funds could be used to track student savings and prevent duplication by encouraging co-ordination and co-operation across the province.

– Recruit educators to volunteer on the Alberta OER initiative: The previous initiative comprised many volunteers from the post-secondary sector, and there are many skilled people across the province who would be willing to administer the grant and plan OER related events.

– Develop partnerships with other provinces: There are numerous OER initiatives going on in provinces like B.C., Ontario, and in Atlantic Canada. Through establishing partnerships, Alberta could benefit from the knowledge, expertise, and already made OER that other groups have.

Boostrapping an education technology podcast

Photo by Jukka Aalho on Unsplash

In July, 2020 my colleague Kris Hans and I launched the EdTech Examined podcast. Almost one year and 25 episodes later, we’ve had some amazing conversations and we’ve have had the privilege to speak to educators and innovators in EdTech. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity to interview people on our podcast, and we look forward to ramping it up over the next year.

In April, Kris and I had the pleasure of delivering a presentation about our podcasting journey at the 2021 Mount Royal University Faculty Association Retreat. I want to extend a thank you to all those who attended our session and to those who’ve been encouraging us along the way.

I’ve written a follow up article on Medium, outlining how we got started and three takeaways we’ve learned along the way. We hope this will be useful if you decide to create your own podcast.

Medium Article: “Bootstrapping and Education Technology Podcast”