Log

WkFlw

With the advent of digital computing technologies one of the biggest challenges to production can be the work flow. How something gets from a person’s mind to a design environment and then to becoming a reality is always worth thinking about carefully. There are philosophical debates about form versus content, but the simple choices we make for the hard and soft tools we use to design things can simply either help or hinder the creative process.

I have found in my own creative work and in teaching that the best design work flow process to practice is one that works best for the specific individual or groups involved, and is customized for their needs. Whatever creates that reality in whatever form is the proper solution, and it does not necessarily require the most expensive tools. Being creative with the way we find that “best” solution usually lets us go beyond the limiting factors of budgets and cost while focusing on what is important. A piece of paper and pencil are still very useful technologies for many creative people. And off-the-shelf software can never be all things to all people.

That’s why it is important to consider all the options and create your own blended solution. Many creative people are justifiably intimidated by newer technology and the very real quagmires of minutia one has to wade through in order to just be able to determine that an application or tool doesn’t do what they want it to! It’s totally normal to feel like your time has been wasted, but it won’t be if you make note of what is missing and why and use it to inform future decisions.

A good approach to being creative is to avoid seeing technology use in any environment as an “all or nothing” proposition. There is always a process to making things and it always involves forms of old and new technology of various kinds, even if the creative person involved claims they are “not a computer person”. As strange as it may sound in this tech-heavy world, the human mind itself is still both the oldest and most sophisticated piece of technology we have. We don’t want to throw the brain out with the bath water.

The exact problem with the “all or nothing” proposition of technology use is that it assumes a few things it should not. First, it usually assumes (wrongly) that there is a fundamental (or intrinsic) difference between old and new technology and not just a syntactical difference. An example would be assuming there is a fundamental difference between drawing something on paper and drawing that same object with a digital two-dimensional drawing program on a desktop computer. There can be a difference between the two that adds value for a particular design challenge, work flow, accessibility, or all of the above. But the value added should never be assumed. Along the same thinking, the affordances we had with older technologies being supplanted should not automatically be dismissed as unimportant without consideration. In short, what we like and don’t like about any of our “tools” should be clearly identified. When we do that, we make the next evolutionary step in the process of finding tools and creating workflows easier. We turn our seemingly failed efforts to find the right tool into a small case study, valuable on its own for guiding all future efforts.

The other problem occurs as a direct result of the first misinformed assumption. The need was not analyzed or identified, therefore any customization missing in the chosen technological solution will not be correctly identified. I see this quite often in software purchase decisions made by businesses and in web development projects. Formative evaluation of the people, materials, needs and goals involved in a given project or enterprise is a very neglected part of the overall “work flow”. Big businesses with big budgets call in “logistics” rock stars to find solutions, or they will spend millions on R&D. Small businesses can still follow the same practices on a smaller scale. There should always be room for input from existing staff and resources, which may be resources that are grossly underused for that purpose. So it is important for any project to consider formative evaluation to aid tool choices prior to executing an idea.

The current state of affairs is that businesses usually adopt new technologies and the impulse is often sound but newer technology is touted as the solution to problems without actually quantifying those problems or analyzing the needs I mentioned above. This means the basic premise of the solution is flawed even if it ends up helping in the end. The result is that success of a technological intervention is often ad-hoc, after-the-fact, and the process is working backwards. In the classroom, the direct result of this problem is a pile of computers in the corner that the teacher doesn’t have time to maintain or use to their full potential.

The best way to embrace this important step in the process of building, making, and creating is to include it in the “tooling up” phase. Once we have room for evaluating our needs carefully in the tool-up phase, we can also begin to appreciate the design process as being continual rather than just a milestone that we meet and pass and never think of again. This is a missing link in many educational programs, where a student is guided towards completion, but challenges or even failures experienced are merely identified in passing along the way. It is rare that a student completely re-writes a paper, or completely re-builds a wooden boat. Time is a limiting factor, but the more important reason is out-dated conventions in training programs.

Business case studies are a great resource because they are a written dissection of the processes involved in a given project. They are write-ups that analyze a completed project from a high-level, and can provide valuable insight into the challenges associated with a specific design-production process. But with creative endeavors that involve repetition in production, or craft skills, the lack of that kind of evolutionary repetition in training can be a lost opportunity. If students are not empowered in training to “whitewash” the canvas and start over, is is extremely unlikely that their future work environments will remedy that missed experience.

BioStipple

Technology & Innovation Blog

This page is an introduction to my Technology & Innovation blog. With this blog I hope to promote art & science as being born of the same continuum of communication and discovery that we all participate in.

Much of my passion for Teaching & Learning comes from a broad exposure to the liberal arts, and a personal love of learning all things. But if I could teach only one thing to someone, most important would be to never let physical separations of knowledge prevent mixing ideas and things together to see what can be invented.

Stipple Pen & Ink Drawing

For years I worked in traditional fine art mediums; printmaking on intaglio presses, painting on canvass, drawing with ink on paper. One technique I like using is the “stipple” effect with pen & ink. The technique involves hand-rendering thousands of tiny dots to create shapes and tonal ranges. Here’s an image of mine that uses that technique, which was published in a novel:

It is essentially a way of printing ink pixels on a page without needing a computer or ink-jet printer. It is a time consuming technique that takes patience. But the time it takes is only an issue if you compare it to the time it takes to press the “print” button from your image editing program.

Closeup – Stipple Pen & Ink Drawing

If you count up all the actual time it takes to initially create a digitized image from scratch or scan something and then add the time it takes to tweak it, and color correct it for the printout, troubleshoot color calibration, etc., to make it perfect, you may find the stipple technique relaxing and Zen-like as I do.

Along with these types of drawings I’ve created other illustrations and artwork using a variety of mediums. As computer graphics evolved, and I became interested in the digital realm, more than once I was asked the question “What do your drawings have to do with your interest in technology?” The question itself has to be turned on its head to find the answer. “In the real world, how could art and science not be related if we humans are the ones doing both?

Many have written about the similarities between artists and scientists, but those works are usually apologetic or anecdotal. I prefer to encourage people to identify creativity holistically, systematically, everywhere it occurs, using abstract evaluators. “Is it productive or destructive?”. “Does it compliment or contrast something else”. “Does it resonate, or ring true with anyone?” Emphasizing common language around abstract evaluators is portable, mobile, agile, and more socially inclusive. New technologies in all aspects of art, communication and research now easily facilitate multidisciplinary work. It is assisting new generations of learners and makers to de-construct the physical and cultural walls that have traditionally separated intellectual pursuits or ways of knowing and learning.

Yet educational reform at the institutional level is slow moving, since most schools still separate pursuits by “topic” or traditional (antiquated) notions about what constitutes valid domain work, how job descriptions should be written, or what the people who fill those jobs should look like or say or do. One of the most interesting areas where new technology has been fostering innovation between previously separate domains is in Bioinformatics. The two areas of biology and computer science have always been somewhat related through general Information Technology being integrated into research from the very beginnings, but the only recent maturity of certain standards, technologies, and tools have greatly advanced the rate and scope of collaboration between those fields.

Photo 51 X-Ray diffraction of DNA molecule

As a visual artist my first reaction to beginning to learn more biology was; “…hey stop talking about enzymes and let me see the process!” I began to be fascinated by the way biology communicates and functions. From a purely visual and illustrative point of view, even very early technology was able to help us visualize very small things to make huge discoveries.

Here is one of the most important images to ever be created:

Without this image, Crick & Watson of DNA discovery fame may have doubted their progress or ventured into a different and unfruitful area of investigation. Seeing a visual representation of what existed at the molecular level was crucial. Today, understanding what is not seeable with the naked eye or optical tools is also very important, since much of the complex ways biology communicates systemically is unknown and may never lend itself to being captured in a simple two dimensional representation.

Analysis of raw captured data has become the new microscope, and a way to test assumptions about natures’ systems. So visualizing the data in multiple dimensions is crucial, and one of the best ways to look for areas of interest, or communicate information within the data.

Gene Mapping

This is where traditional visualizing best practices meet high-tech graphics, machine learning and big data. One type of visualization for genome data is seen here in a gene map, which helps researchers identify and communicate gene sequencing and DNA related data.

Despite this being a 2-Dimensional image, the analysis it represents has several dimensions. There is a spatial dimension of the 3rd kind relating to the areas of the gene being located, and the 4th dimension of time is represented by both the computational loops used to generate the data, and the linear area of the genome which can be conceptually considered to be a timeline. The result is a very rich representation of multiple processes and data types.

MicroProduction

The production of films, ads, books and so forth used to be a big deal. Making a film used to require cutting the processed film stock and taping it together in bits and pieces before making a final master print. Graphic designers used to hand-rub Letraset type from mylar backing onto layouts by pressing and scratching at it. Photographers used fragile Pantone paper sheets for background on a product shot. And last but not least videographers in the early days used to need huge expensive computers and other bulky video gear to create a final bulky video cassette for distribution. Compared to using a computer for manipulating digital media and streaming video today, those days seem pretty medieval. But advances in computer technologies have not saved us from two universally unavoidable challenges: Our own creative minds, and technological taxation.

Most creative minds sloshing around in the skulls of researchers, artists, or designers know that the creative process will always disrupt the best informed production time-line. Designers struggle for hours over aesthetics of a design. They scrap earlier efforts based on new content, and so forth. And they should be allowed to do that regardless of the technology that they use. Creativity just takes time, sometimes a lot of it. This is a truth that should be accepted in any creative or educational effort. It should also be respected even in fast paced corporate or commercial efforts. But except for Hollywood movie projects with monstrous budgets, the need and means to cultivate the creative process slowly is under-appreciated or seemingly out of reach.

So here is a mouthful; One of the biggest myths we need to debunk in any endeavor touched by technology is the one that says new technology relieves us of having to worry about production as a process that exists outside of the technology that is used to execute the project. Even the smallest media projects now have huge aspirations and yet the people involved usually LOATHE the idea of taking time to break the process up into design & production steps and milestones. A “just add water” expectation permeates our world that gadget making companies continually promote. That’s not a bad thing per se. We can all hope for a world of instant perfection and expect it as consumers, but we shouldn’t give in to it without first understanding what we lose in the process.

Muybridge Animation Frames

What we lose in the process is just that…process. There are essential ingredients to the production process in any media which don’t go away just because the software involved fits on your phone or a watch, or the head of a pin. It’s a real problem in creative work environments because the hyperbolic equation as presented by Apple or other tech-toy makers goes like this: The smaller the tool, the less you have to work at using it.
But true designers and artists know that all the preparation, attention to detail, content creation, editing, proof-reading, designing, dwelling and stressing that go into good creative projects still stares us squarely in the face even when we try to just make small stupid things that supposedly nobody will ever see. Start fooling around with video footage of your dog, cat, or kid’s third birthday party and three hours later you may still be working on it. And then your phone rings and it’s time to pick that same dog, cat, or kid up from the vet or school.

A more accurate tech slogan that holds more water than the “instant tech” slogan is this; Hidden in the wonders of technological tools is a kind of taxation without representation. As red blooded Americans we won’t tolerate that in our government so we shouldn’t put up with it on our hard-drives either. Nobody wants to spend thirty minutes looking for the buried preference setting that stops that stupid animated dog from asking us “Are you writing a letter?” whenever we type the word “dear”. But it keeps happening and whenever it happens we suddenly lose focus. That’s a kind of random mental tax we pay for each computer snafu or bad software feature. Loss of concentration, loss of momentum. We’ve all experienced that no matter how tech savvy we are.

And ironically in all the new innovations that have emerged, technology becomes a time drain on the very things it’s supposed to speed up. Here’s another example: Anyone who has thought that a blog would be cool on their website quickly realizes that there is not much point in having or promoting a blog unless you frequently add new content, regardless of how many readers you actually might have. That content will not write itself, and if you have a life outside of blogging all day the new blog will quickly become the bane of your existence, or become a monkey on your back that you pretend to ignore. Or if you don’t put any real effort into it, everyone else will be sure to ignore it. Because of all this madness, one of the best pieces of advice I can give any designer, teacher, or artist dabbling in technology is to simply respect the mental tax that goes with any technology and learn to work both within it and outside of it.

Working within it means respecting the micro-production needs of it all. Don’t be afraid to talk about your project as a production, involve others, or make productions schedules. Get into the computer programming lingo that permeates our culture. Don’t think of it just as lingo, because behind each geeky word is a concept or process that might not be so alien to you after all, or might actually become useful to you at some point in your life. Parents raising kids certainly already know the value of an “If….then” statement, they were using them for centuries before programming languages came around. Embrace the irony.

Working outside technology means not allowing students, Applesauce, Microswift, Gurgle, Twister, or FarceBook to pressure you into feeling inadequate because you don’t create award winning feature films on your 20 minute commute home or while you are shopping for food. It also means protecting the educational integrity of your content from being clouded by the false promise of revelations in your field through using bluetooth instead of houndstooth. That’s a common pressure of faculty. In other words, be mindful that communicating an idea or topic can be achieved in a plethora of ways, some that include electronic technology, and some that don’t depend on the power grid at all. There isn’t just one way to teach or learn something, and the quality of any process should never be judged ahead of the learning. The trick is to have good justification for the methods you do use, depending on the goals.

Overall I think that if educators and researchers can encourage students to both embrace technology, and respect the full potential of a creative process that works independent of technology, future generations will be able to make more innovative, complex and strategic uses of the amazing technology and information that they inherit.

PedaGotcha

Providing faculty with good support for technology integration requires a wide range of skills and patience. A sense of humor also helps. IT professionals, as well as Instructional Designers and Educational Technologists all have different titles and levels of skill. Some embrace technology wholesale, some are cautiously optimistic about the promise of technology to reform. Others are skilled with politics while others focus on design and production of tools and interventions.

One thing that all technology professionals in education have in common in any environment is the challenge of navigating culture change. Technology has done awesome things, but has also imposed on everyone a large learning curve. Often change is difficult on an individual level, and also when it comes to organizational structures. It needs to be acknowledged at all times that this is not a phenomenon of the past. In 2017, it is still a reality even for organizations which embraced technology decades ago with ambition. This is true partly because people adapt at different rates, and because the technology product landscape is continuously evolving and shifting. The rate of adoption of technology can even vary due to scholarly changes in various fields. An example would be the hard sciences where industry and for-profit enterprise propels change more quickly than other fields.

In the face of ongoing change and recurring volatility, it’s good for all stake-holders in technology integration to stay mindful of the big picture. Change is a continuum but it needs guidance and nurturing. I attempt to keep one idea prominent in my mind in all interactions related to educational technology, be they focused on the business, technical, or learning side of the equation.

The idea is to at all costs avoid the us-and-them dichotomy. This can emerge for many different reasons. Sometimes the reasons are organizational, sometimes they relate to intellectual styles, sometimes they relate to scholarly differences. No matter the impetus, tech and non-tech lines seem to inevitably be drawn. Sometimes they are imposed on others by judgmental individuals. Many labels are self-imposed in the form of “I’m not a technical person”. My goal is wherever possible to avoid alienating any individual or group by falling into discussions which re-enforce that type of unnecessary clash.

On a campus or within a school, the dichotomy of us and them often manifests itself in disagreements about pedagogy or technology ; form versus content ; or even teaching versus managing. My personal view is that the pitting of those pairs of ideas or activities against each other is extremely unproductive. At their core is alienation, control, and competition, ideas that are counter-productive in education. In their wake we lose any hope for meaningful dialogue about learning success. The trap has been laid for all to fall into. The lines are drawn and pedagogy becomes what I like to call pedagotcha.

For that reason and others, a best practice in my opinion is to strive to lead others away from that type of discourse towards a more inclusive discussion. For that type of leadership to prevail in a discussion or group one needs the ability to translate ideas from the abstract to the technical and back again, for all involved, gracefully, while avoiding the appearance that either a technical or pedagogical view or bias has any more merit than the other. This is a challenge to implement but has the potential to build positive energy towards technology integration even in the face of organizational resistance to technology.

I have found in my travels that one method for avoiding pedagotcha is to identify and reward all teaching innovation no matter how big or seemingly small. A ceramics instructor at a small state college whose only use of newer technology for instruction is email should never suffer the label of “not using technology in a meaningful way for instruction”. A more positive, inclusive, and productive approach would be to identify their current efforts, applaud those efforts and assist them in deepening their understanding of technology by helping them translate their current use of technology into a professional development milestone. This process represents one important component of the ideal Faculty Development strategy, which if done poorly often becomes something faculty negatively refer to as faculty control.

Even though email is taken for granted in most places today, the simplified use of email for a hands-on Ceramics course has pedagogical, andragogical, and or theoretical merit, which could be summarized in a formal way that might not have been previously highlighted.
Ceramics 101 – Faculty: Christine Stoneware

Communication is the essence of any kind of instruction. Email provides me (as the instructor) a form of asynchronous means of communication for ideas, references, and images. This in turn affords me a means of communication extending beyond the classroom and campus for instructional purpose as well as logistical benefits. My time giving hands-on instruction in the ceramic studio can be fully maximized without taking away from the students experience on the whole.

Using URLs and attachments within my electronic communications allows me to share with students various ideas, concepts, outside events, and content related material that would otherwise be difficult or costly to organize and distribute in the live classroom. Further, the personal desktop computing experience that all of my students benefit from at home and at school gives my students a valuable way to organize an interpret my communications and the information I share. They are also able and encouraged to use those desktop and web based resources to investigate further their own tangential ideas or interests related to ceramics.

With a simple observation like this department chairs and faculty support can offer validation for a given faculty who may otherwise feel self-conscious about the tidal wave of technology on campus and the pressure and competition among faculty that can follow. This is a small thing which can be done to focus on what is being done rather than on what could be done.

In addition to identifying all faculty successes, even small ones, instructors must be encouraged to be creative with teaching, and by extension with technology integration. So while supporting all types of technology use formally, having formal research to justify an intervention should not be a requirement to using a given technology. We should never obstruct the creative and experimental aspects of teaching. In these cases avoiding pedagotcha is important for those who support faculty, as well as an ability to be a kind of safety net.

The contribution of faculty is not just the creative part. Assessing the impact of any technology use continually is critical if faculty are to benefit as a community of professionals with the shared goal of student success. Any use of technology big or small should be tracked and evaluated in some fashion, so that its value can be known and nurtured, or its failures avoided. In that sense, instructional technology support teams, and instructional designers, and IT professionals work in living laboratories. The only way to success is to have information on all the complex social and technical scenario outcomes. With documentation on technology integration efforts that includes BOTH technical and pedagogical perspectives, such as the short ceramics course example, a valuable local (school specific) knowledge base can be developed. That knowledge base can be a valuable resource for technical and teaching related stakeholders.