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”

The professional vs the amateur

CC image by Alan O’Rourke from Flickr

I get a lot of questions about productivity from my students and colleagues. I suppose by being relatively well read on the subject of productivity, and by being “perceived” as productive, I have brought this on myself. I could easily channel the advice of Cal Newport or David Allen, but I want to discuss a less regimented and more philosophical approach to doing work.

One of my favourite books is Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work which provides a template for how to battle “Resistance.” Pressfield argues that there is an internal force – a part of our ego which he describes as the dragon – that is holding us back from doing creative work. He is very clear that Resistance is an internal force, not an external one. The dragon represents our fear of failure and our sense of self-doubt. The more we give in to our anxieties, the stronger the dragon becomes. Each time a writer, a painter, a scholar, a scientist, or a musician sits down to work on their craft, their inner knight does battle with this dragon of Resistance. It’s a battle that’s fought every day.

Pressfield discussing how to overcome Resistance

The metaphor of Resistance has always stuck with me because it’s true. I love to write. I love to play the guitar. I love to lift weights. I love to do chores (believe it or not). But I procrastinate like nobody’s business because there’s a voice in my head constantly pushing feelings of fear, guilt, or excuses.

Pressfield’s book has had such an impact on me that I started reading through his other titles about writing. The War of Art, which is probably his most famous book on artistic productivity, covers much of the same ground. While Do the Work provides a battle plan for each creative session, The War of Art takes a step back and outlines not only the internal struggles that artists face but also how to conduct oneself professionally as an artist.

Pressfield makes a hard distinction between the professional and the amateur. But, the distinction is not based on financial success. He identifies several aspects of the professional. The following list includes many, but not all, of the “professional” qualities.

• The professional shows up to work every day no matter what (in sickness or health).

• The professional stays on the job all day. He helps the customer, answers the phone, and puts in the time required. It’s his duty.

• The professional is in it for the long-term. Professionals understand that there will be good days and bad days, but they keep on trucking regardless.

• The professional is patient. They understand that success takes time. This is similar to David Goggins’ theory that life requires “reps.”

• The professional seeks order. I love this one. Professionals make sure their house is in order (literally and metaphorically) so they have a proper work environment for the day. My Dad, who was a writer, used this strategy. The floor is swept and vacuumed. The bathrooms are clean. The dishes are done. Your workspace is organized. This habit makes a world of difference.

• The professional doesn’t make excuses. They own up to their mistakes and they strive to learn from each experience. The day of full of hills and valleys. When something goes wrong a professional sees it as his/her responsibility to correct the situation.

• The professional is prepared. Whether it’s getting up early to work out before you hit the books (like Pressfield does), cultivating a pre-work coffee-making ritual, or planning your weekly tasks every Sunday afternoon, professionals have a system that sets them up to succeed.

• The professional doesn’t show off. They are humble in their successes and resilient in their failures. Because professionals are in it for the long-term, they take only take a couple of minutes to be proud of their accomplishments and then start working on the next project.

• The professional reinvents himself. Pressfield worked in advertising and was a screenwriter before he was a novelist. Artistic endeavours, even within the same general field, can lead to different paths. Professionals are willing to take risks and reinvent themselves in the face of success or failure.

The amateur, not surprisingly, is characterized as having the opposite traits. Amateurs don’t treat their work with the same respect. They don’t show up to the “job” every day no matter what. Instead, they make excuses about why they didn’t get to it. Pressfield sums up the difference beautifully by describing how professionals and amateurs are connected to their work. A professional’s ego isn’t tied to the work. This is important because the professional realizes that any given work is just one expression, one example, of what they’re capable of. The amateur, in contrast, is too emotionally tied to each work. Failure leads to depression and success leads to euphoria.

Pressfield describes how Hollywood screenwriters insulate themselves from this amateurish nature by creating a corporation of one. By self incorporating, you can wear two hats. There’s you the individual and you the professional. Your professional self has separate credit cards for business expenses, separate stationery for notes, a separate workspace, etc. You hire your professional self out to “get the job done.” This professional persona keeps on plugging away regardless of a work’s success or failure. The professional self is bullet proof. In other words, the professional treats the art like a 9-5 job. There is no task or contract below the professional; this is the person you call when you need to sell your skills.

Furthermore, Pressfield also says that becoming a professional is a decision. It can just be made. As long as you act like a professional, as described by the points above, then you are a professional. Financial success might never come, but that doesn’t matter because you walk the walk.

The lessons that Pressfield outlines are incredibly practical and widely applicable. They are not that different from what I’ve told students for many years. Treat your studies like a 9-5 job. Learn from failures. Keep plugging away at the work. Much of the advice in The War of Art is geared toward writers, but I think it holds for anybody doing a challenging task – bodybuilders included.

The War of Art isn’t new. This title was published in 2002. But, the advice is as true then as it is today. When I think back to the 5000-word papers I wrote for university political science and history classes, I can recall the ups and downs during each session. I remember working on a paper on the second floor of the university library during one particularly cold November. I had my Mac laptop in front of me with a mile-high stack of books on each side. Everything was crammed into the small brown wood veneer cubby I was inhabiting. I must have sat in that chair for six hours. And, during those six hours I lived several lifetimes. I experience joy, loss, resentment, exhaustion, and exhilaration. I remember experiencing that session over and over again throughout my university career. Each paper I had to write was an epic battle between my inner knight and the dragon of Resistance. Every day I showed up like a professional and got my work done.

It’s a cliche to point out that we live in an “age of distraction,” but it’s true. Focus and gratitude are in very short supply in today’s society. I get a question from all my students: “How do I get started?” This could apply to any project they’re working on – whether it’s a paper, presentation, or lab report. I always give them the same answer: “Start now.” Saying you’ll start later isn’t going to cut it. Sit down and get right into it. If you can suffer through the first two or three minutes, you’ll be on your way to battling Resistance that day and acting like a professional.

Lego Star Wars Razor Crest Time-lapse build

A few years ago I posted a time-lapse build of the Lego Millennium Falcon. This is my most recent undertaking. This build wasn’t as long as the previous – clocking in at about 4-5 hours compared to the Millennium Falcon’s 8 hours. Keep in mind that I’m also a slow builder, as I like to study these models as I put them together. I assume that the shorter build time is a result of the Razor Crest’s symmetry, rather than a result of having fewer pieces.

Why do I build Lego at my age? Lego is the only ‘toy’ that I continue to ‘play’ with. Building models is a long-time interest, and I highly recommend it (and other handy crafts) because it’s very meditative. The builds themselves are also fascinating. In my opinion, Lego models can teach you a lot about engineering and design. In my teaching, I’ve used Lego to illustrate problem solving and creativity. Each time I build a model, I learn something new about creating robust structures and working within limitations.

Post-PC what?

Photo of a vintage computer
Photo by bert sz on Unsplash

The ‘Post-PC’ era was supposed to signal a shift away from traditional computing (ie laptops and desktops). It was supposed to be the age of the smartphone and tablet. I discuss a recent Asymco post by Horace Dediu and provide my own thoughts on the Post-PC idea.

Now here’s a term that I haven’t heard in a while. “Post-PC.” Horis Dediu discusses the term in his recent blog post at Asymco.

For those not familiar, the “Post-PC era” was supposed to be a societal shift away from traditional desktop computing toward a more mobile world. As Dediu points out, the term Post-PC was popularized by David D. Clark from MIT. Steve Jobs also popularized the idea, as it was in the context of the Post-PC era that he discussed the iPod, iPhone, and iPad (more so the latter two). 

Jobs famously argued at the D10 conference that the personal computer (including Mac and Windows) was like a truck. A workhorse for any given situation. And like trucks, PCs wouldn’t be the favoured vehicle type forever. Jobs theorized that other devices, like the smartphone and tablet, would steal away the more casual users. PCs would still be around, but they would remain the work devices (the trucks) while phones and tablets would be the cars.

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Apple’s M1 chip: Making desktop computing cool again

Apple M1 chip: Image courtesy of Apple

My intention was not for this website to become the Apple blog, but the famous fruit company seems to be dominating much of the news cycle this year.

This past summer, at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that it would be transitioning from Intel to its in-house Apple Silicon over the next two years. Apple said the first Macs with in-house silicon would arrive by the end of 2020. Well, here we are, and we have a new MacBook Air, 13 inch MacBook Pro, and a Mac mini.

The form factors of these devices are identical, but the real magic is the new M1 chip inside. Is it as fast as Apple claims? Will it run our apps properly? What does the M1 chip mean for desktop computing generally? In this article, I will try and answer these questions.

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Conference presentation: ‘Toward Open Pragmatism’, OE Global 2020 Conference

Abstract

Although open licensing is a necessary component of open educational resources, the overall openness of a resource is determined by several factors beyond licensing. This paper examines the applicability of the “Open Enough” framework (McNally & Christiansen, 2019) for examining the openness of existing Open CourseWare (OCW). This previously published conceptual framework proposed eight factors that educators should consider when creating a new, or adopting an existing, open course. These factors include Copyright/Open Licensing Frameworks, Accessibility/Usability Formatting, Language, Support Costs, Assessment, Digital Distribution, File Format, and Cultural Considerations. In this study, the researchers aimed to answer the following three research questions.

1. Are these factors robust enough to analyze (or measure) the level of openness in existing OCW?

2. Are additional, or modified, factors necessary?

3. Are certain factors impractical for assessment?

Method

For this analysis, the researchers randomly selected five recent open courses from two prominent OCW databases – TU Delft and MIT OpenCourseWare. The researchers came to two broad conclusions following a thorough analysis of the OCW sample.

Results

Overall, the framework was an effective tool for analyzing open courseware, though cultural considerations and usability proved to be too subjective and were removed from the framework. The study revealed the level of openness among the sampled courses to be highly inconsistent. Some factors, assessment, for example, were consistently open across the sample while language, material costs and file format often quite closed. The consistent lack of editable materials was particularly surprising and led the researchers to draw some conclusions about what openness should mean for Open CourseWare. The researchers used the data to revise their existing conceptual framework into a more actionable guideline for open educators.

Conference page

PDF slides and presentation transcript

Conference presentation: ‘How open is it?’, OpenEd 2020 Conference

Abstract

While open licensing is a foundational aspect of open educational resources, there are several “factors” that educators must use to achieve openness in their course design. This study builds on the previous work of the authors’ conceptual framework, titled “Open Enough?,” for evaluating the level of openness within Open CourseWare (OCW) (McNally & Christiansen, 2019). In the previous work, the authors proposed eight factors that educators should consider when undertaking OCW development. The authors also argued that these eight factors could be used to assess the openness of existing OCW. The goal of this pilot study was to answer the following question:

1) Is the “Open Enough” framework and its eight factors robust enough to analyze (or measure) the level of openness in an existing OCW?

2) Are additional, or modified, factors necessary?

3) Are the factors practical measures for the assessment of existing OCW? Are there particular factors which are too subjective or too broad?

For this analysis, the authors randomly selected five recent open courses from two prominent OCW databases – TU Delft and MIT OpenCourseWare – for a total of ten OCW. Each course was assessed on each of the eight factors which included Copyright/Open Licensing Frameworks, Accessibility/Usability Formatting, Language, Support Costs, Assessment, Digital Distribution, File Format, and Cultural Considerations. The level of openness of each factor was classified as Closed, Mixed, or Most Open – recognizing that these buckets of analysis are broad and could further be subdivided.

In general, the “Open Enough” framework was fairly effective for determining openness in existing OCW with some caveats. The Cultural Considerations and Usability factors were ultimately too subjective to measure and were subsequently removed from the revised version of the framework. The analysis of these OCW showed that openness among the sampled courses was inconsistent. Some of the factors were consistently open throughout the sampled courses while other factors, specifically Language, Materials Costs, and File Format, were quite closed. Overall, there was a lack of editable materials that led the authors to reconsider what openness should be in the context of OCW. The results of the analysis were used to revise the framework. This pilot study served as a proof of concept for using their framework as a tool for analysis.

EdTech Examined #13: Burnout

Episode 13 'Burnout' cover art

In this episode, Erik and Kris discuss the Descript video editing software, how universities continue to adopt new technologies, and the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also recommend their top apps for managing mental health and provide more organization strategies for managing the demands of online learning.

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