Oct 08

Learning situations can be thick—as in ‘Clifford Geertz’ thick.

Clifford Geertz knew how to make people understand the importance of symbols and the way they “map,” as we say, to other pieces of the human condition. “Thick” descriptions don’t stop at describing clothing, or the actions being performed in a ritual. “Thick” descriptions try to get to the meaning of the clothing and gestures within the culture and context, to convey the impact the ritual has on the life of the ritual performer.

…between what Ryle calls the “thin description” of what the rehearser… is doing (“rapidly contracting his right eyelids”) and the “thick description” of what he is doing (“practicing a burlesque of a friend taking a wink to deceive an innocent into thinking a conspiracy is in motion”) lies the object of ethnography…
—Clifford Geertz (in Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, pg. 147)

His colleague Robert Darnton recounts an example of the power of Geertz’s thick description:

…I enumerated esoteric details about the connections between cardinal directions, color symbolism, and mythological motifs. By the time I got to initiation rites, I realized that everything was falling flat. I was making a worldview sound as mechanical as the directions in a tool kit.

At that point, Cliff intervened. He described the scenario. Adolescent boys sleeping in the familiar comfort of their beds are awakened unexpectedly in the middle of the night. They are dressed in a ritual breechclout (a kind of loincloth) covered with a blanket and made to climb down a ladder into a windowless antechamber of a kiva, the deepest, most secret room in the pueblo. Then they are told to shed their blankets. A terrible thump occurs over their heads. Elders cover the ladder with a blanket; and when they remove it, there stands the chief deity in a terrifying mask. He announces that he has come from his dwelling place beneath the lake and asks the boys if they are prepared to be “finished” as men. After they agree, he flails their bare torsos with a yucca whip, striking with all his might and raising huge, red welts on their rib cages. Finally, when they are reduced to terror, he pulls off his mask, and they see the face of a relative or neighbor laughing at them.

…Like all the students, …It made me think of the child who pulls the beard off the department store Santa Claus.…

Not at all, Cliff explained. The boys had learned that uncle x was a god, not that a supposed god was only uncle x. Suddenly we were staring into strange territory.

—Robert Darnton
Princeton University

As a teacher, Geertz delivered equally thick learning experiences. He was everything one might expect from the somewhat dishevelled, “Beware! Genius Inside” look he’s said to have sported (Darnton, 2008, par. 12).

Cliff had the students dashing around the hermeneutic circle like runners stealing bases. … as a teacher, he was exhilarating. When his eyes lit up and the words poured out, he infected students with the excitement of the chase. They, too, could penetrate another world. The game was difficult, but anyone could play. And in Cliff they had an example of a hunter-gatherer who blazed his own trail through the jungle of cultures.
—Robert Darnton

“Thick” Learning Situations …enriched by technology

It’s my experience that mind-mapping software, specifically Compendium and VUE, and their promising offshoots CompendiumLD (Learning Design), CompendiumNG (Next Generation?) and designVUE (VUE with Issues Based Information System support for dialogue mapping to solve wicked problems, available in Compendium but not the original VUE) have great capacity to help those who make learning situations, make them “thicker,” in the Geertzian sense.

Which one should I use

Well, the short answer is, I still use both. I’ve gravitated towards CompendiumNG in recent days, but I’ve also seen that designVUE’s a powerful presentation tool. The designVUE site says, accurately in my opinion: “[designVUE] enables users to capture sources of inspiration, integrate supporting evidence and visualise design decisions.” When I did my major research project last spring I found Compendium’s Web export to be old-fashioned looking but rock solid, and VUE’s to be wonderfully true to the original but including some types of information, HTML code for example, broke the output. designVUE adds Compendium’s ability to nest maps in creative ways, which is a benefit to me, but I’ve noted not all keyboard shortcuts available in the parent VUE seem to be hooked up in designVUE. CompendiumLD has icons and stencils specially for Learning Design, and CNG has a sleek updated look with very mature toolbar, workspace, almost an IDE? for learning design.

I’ve written here about student mind maps as classroom exercises, here about VUE and designVUE’s amazing non-linear presentation abilities, and my preliminary exploration of CompendiumNG here. I’ve written about mind mapping in general here, here, here, and here, and I intend to write much more about all 5 of these programs as I continue to use them and apply them in my own work—planning lessons and doing storyboards are among the things I’m trying. I wish I could put together all the best features of all 5 strains of Compendium and VUE. In the meantime any of them can perform similar basic concepts, you just have to adapt slightly to each tool. Here’s a 52-second presentation showing just one novice’s approach (mine) to a project design using CompendiumLD. I hope it’s enough to intrigue you to explore further.

Some features and benefits of CompendiumLD for project design

This is an HTML5 audio player I made that synchronizes the display of images and text to audio or video. Press play. I apologize for the audio quality, I’ve been having some problems with my setup… I used Audacity to remove noise and other problems, but wasn’t able to completely “fix it in the mix.”

Please make use of my comments section and follow me on Twitter @theFooshShow



Budd, John W., (2004) Mind Maps as Classroom Exercises, The Journal of Economic Education, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 35-46. [Available on line but missing accompanying graphics
www.legacy-irc.csom.umn.edu/faculty/jbudd/mindmaps/mindmaps.pdf, retrieved 2012-12-10]

Conole, Gráinne and Fill, Karen. (2005), A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities, Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [jime.open.ac.uk/2005/08].

Conole, G. (2007-draft) Using Compendium as a tool to support the design of learning activities [PDF], retrieved 2012-11-11.

Conole, G. (2007), ‘Describing learning activities: tools and resources to guide practice’ in Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds), Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies.

Conole, Gráinne; Brasher, Andrew; Cross, Simon; Weller, Martin; Nixon, Stewart; Clark, Paul and Petit, John (2008). A new methodology for learning design. In: Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (EDMEDIA), 30 June – 4 July 2008, Vienna.

Darnton, Robert (2008) From the In Memoriam column of the February 2007 Perspectives, This essay first appeared as “Cosmology in the Classroom: Fieldnotes on Clifford Geertz,” in the New York Review of Books, January 11, 2007. It is reprinted with permission [HTML].

Denzin, Norman K. and Lincoln, Yvonna S. Eds., (2003), Turning Points in Qualitative Research — Tying Knots in a Handkerchief, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 505 pages.

Oct 06

How did you learn how to learn?

Two chimps, one watching the other doing something with a stick.When we hand children “tablets” and walk away it seems they intuitively learn how to use them. But should we really be surprised, if we consider dedicated researchers in computer-human interface design poured roughly 40 years of knowledge and experimentation into their making (Baeker, Grudin, Buxton & Greenberg, 1995)? On The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030 Oct 9, 2013 (hashtag #Learning2030), video evidence of this was shown and it was said, “The absence of the teacher becomes a pedagogical tool.” But what do our observations of children’s intuition tell us about what they’ve learned, or about learning how to learn? In the preface to the 21st anniversary edition of his 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995/2011; I cite the 20th anniversary reissue, 2005, reprinted 2011), Howard Gardner revealed that, prior to its publication in 1983, he had believed the Theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI) was a contribution to mainstream psychology. He said he wasn’t thinking about pedagogy at all (1995/2011, pg. xiii). Yet the theory, whether one believes it or not, impacted pedagogy greatly, and continues to inform the debate on education reform. This post is for everyone who joins me in respecting Gardner’s contributions, and also finds recent evidence of kids’ intuition when mastering computerized tablets remarkable and encouraging. Howard Gardner found something about children’s intuition “troublesome” (1992, pg. 5). In the Peterson Lecture he presented in Geneva in 1992, Gardner reminded all of us: as children, and perhaps even as “educated” adults, when it comes to the big things, most of our intuition is just plain wrong.

Gardner and the Arts

Piaget believed that if you studied children you had to know what they were going to become—what the end state of development is. Piaget thought it was to be a scientist; that is what Piaget was. However, …I felt that there was something wrong with a theory that only talked about the mind of the scientist as being the endall of a child’s development. So I began to explore what development would be like if one thought of participation in the arts as an artist, or a critic, or a performer or a connoisseur as being a viable end state for human development. This is not to say that human beings should develop to become artists any more than they should develop to become scientists but rather that we can develop many different kinds of human beings.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 1)

By 1992 Gardner was celebrating Project Zero‘s twenty-fifth anniversary. Compared to its early years, PZ “…was much larger; more empirically oriented; extended well beyond the arts; and had a strong applied division, which worked in the schools, museums, and other educational institutions.” It was actually educators’ response to MI and the publication of the influential report, “A Nation at Risk” the same year that turned his lens, and that of his Project Zero, on education. The project was conveniently housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but had been “philosophical and conceptual” in the 1970s and by the 1980s was doing “primarily psychological research funded by governmental grants” (Gardner, Perkins, Quense, Seidel, and Tishman, 2003, #3, par. 1).

For Gardner, that ‘to be a musician/artist/performer when I grow up’ is “a viable end state for human development” was a radical departure from Piaget (1992, pg. 1). By this time the seven “intelligences,” the word’s very definition and implications an area of criticism then and now (see for example, Morgan, 1992 or Willingham, 2004), was beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach. In the introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition he summarizes them. “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children” (the youngest children, yes, but I think not some tweens, even pre-tweens I’ve known, as he concedes on pg. xxv). I’m inclined to assert that Howard Gardner’s divergence from Piaget has some elements of another extender of Piaget’s work, the moral theorist Lawrence Kohlberg (see Table 1).

On the ridiculous notion of replacing teachers in learning environments

Gardner rejected conflation of MI with “learning styles” (1995/2011, pg. xix), although H. Morgan (1992) points out strong parallels with “cognitive styles” (esp. pp. 4-12). He was coming to see the practical strength of apprenticeship, also uncovered by the “cognitive apprenticeshipframework posited by John Seely Brown, Allen Collins, S.E. Newman, Ann Holum et al. (Collins, Brown & Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989), and their work that stemmed from the ethnography of Jean Lave and computer science of Etienne Wenger (Lave & Enger, 1991), which as I’ve pointed out (Fouchaux, 2013) has especially promising and well-documented associations with technology-enhanced pedagogy.

In the early 90s, Gardner’s other source of excitement for the future of learning was the emergence of children’s museums like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre. Gardner developed a vision of school reform that included the expert/apprentice model: Modeling (expert performs a task, verbalizing/illustrating their knowledge and thinking) Coaching (expert observes and facilitates) Scaffolding (expert provides support(s)), Articulation (expert encourages learners to verbalize/illustrate their knowledge and thinking), Reflection (expert enables learners to compare their performance with others) and Exploration (expert invites learners to pose and solve their own problems) (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3). While he enthusiastically acknowledged these pieces of all learning situations can all be supported and enhanced by technology, Gardner seems already to have had a feeling for the importance of what is now known as “face to face” (sometimes abbreviated F2F) or “blended learning.”

Like Gardner, devotion to the study of learning and passion for its improvement drove his peers in the 1980s cognitive apprenticeship school to dig below the surface, beneath first impressions. “There are three important distinctions between traditional and cognitive apprenticeship: in traditional apprenticeship the process is easily observable; in traditional apprenticeship the tasks arise and emerge in the workplace; in traditional apprenticeship the skills to be learned are inherent in the task itself. To translate the model of traditional apprenticeship to cognitive apprenticeship, experts need to: identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students; situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work; vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learn” (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3).

Highly trained, highly respected, “reasonably competitively” paid professional educators

The benefits of training life-long teachers well and elevating the profession are proven and quite replicable. The idea of literally replacing teachers with prerecorded experts, virtual database curators guiding us through virtual museums and so on may sound very futuristic, but it is not one commonly held by serious trained educators who have devoted a life-time of study to understanding how the learning process really works. It’s more the realm of venture capitalists wielding “power tools,” dazzled by dollar signs, trying to take shortcuts past the wicked problem of obtaining consensus, and dismiss the roles poverty and privilege, equity and inclusion play in building a competitive, free and democratic society. Teaching and learning environments will adapt and adopt technology—I fully expect teleconferencing with experts to play a bigger role, experts who probably should have demonstrated superior communication skills and a concept of instructional design up front and/or work in tandem with the advanced preparation of those who do. I’ve seen indications and suspect recordings of live Webinars can retain enough genuine human interaction that they may have some vicarious benefit when observed after the fact. I’ve little doubt we’ll one day see self-driving cars, with speed and safety limits enforceable at the system level providing safe navigation of accident-free highways, travelling on auto-pilot. I ask, is “auto-pilot” a good model to pursue for the education of our children?

Whatever role we see for technology, we all do generally agree that schools fail because of the gap between what we expect them to do, and what we’ve actually designed them to do. Standardized testing, and moreover the purposes to which it is put, is the nemesis of authentic learning—not simply vinegar to its oil, more like a cancer in need of white corpuscles. Gardner has demonstrated the utter and complete failure of the tell and test model to build the kind of critical thinking skills required to connect the dots once we leave the classroom. No amount of technology will ever change this until we rethink and reframe schooling itself, in fact they may only entrench the problems. But to abandon the public social element of schools is to deny the essentially socially situated condition of learning itself (Apple, 2005; Reid, 2005).

What is Schooling?

…five-year-olds do one thing that is troublesome: they form intuitive conceptions or theories—theory of matter, theories of mind, theories of life. Every normal five-year-old develops these theories. And it is very good for getting along in the world. However, the theories are wrong. School is supposed to replace the erroneous theories with better theories.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 5)

Gardner believed in 1992 that the role of schooling is to provide “Christopherian encounters,” perhaps similar to what others have called “threshold concepts,” (see for example Meyer & Land, 2010) in order to replace childhood misunderstandings with understanding, which he he says elsewhere is easier to demonstrate if people have more than one way of representing a skill, and use their multiple ways deftly (their repertoire or tool kit, as some might say) in response to their audience or situation (1995/2011, pg. 14).

In the case of misconceptions, in the celebratory year 1992 I recommend Christopherian encounters, named after Christopher Colombus. If you believe the world is flat, but every day or every year you travel around the world and you come back to where you started before, that tends to belie the notion that the world is flat. In a Christopherian encounter you expose your theories to disconfirmation. If your theories are consistently disconfirmed, you will slowly abandon them, and hopefully construct a better theory.
Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 10)
[Emphasis mine. Of course we know
this isn’t always what happens.
Please see his arguments, which follow.]

Why even the best students in the best schools do not understand

Most of the elements elaborated upon in his 1995 recommendations for schools were already part of his 1992 guest lecture in Geneva. Subject by subject he reveals how only experts master the subject matter, while many (most) of the the most highly “educated” fail to make the connections they’ve invested years in education presumably to be able to make. He said it affected all disciplines and documented its impact on each, developing terminology where necessary.

Pure and applied sciences: Aristotelians, Rigid Algorithms

“Most people remain five-year-olds or Aristotelians even though they studied physics,” says Gardner (1992, pg. 7), and gives examples from astronomy and other sciences, as well. 23 out of 25 Harvard astronomy graduates ignore everything they’ve just studied and regurgitated on tests to do with the earth’s seasons or axis, and state the earth is warmer in summer because it’s closer to the sun than in the winter. Students “…who have taken not one, but two or three courses in biology focusing on the topic of evolution, still do not understand the basics of evolution. They still believe that something in one generation can be passed on to the next, even if it was acquired in that generation.” What he encounters in mathematics are not so much misconceptions as “rigid algorithms,” learning to plug numbers into a formula, by rote (pg. 7).

Problems in Economics and Statistics

Economics presents a bridge area between mathematical thinking in the social arena. “College-educated subjects outperformed those without a college education, but there was little difference between those college students who had studied economics and those who had not. […] Misconceptions or stereotypes were found across both groups. […] Such primary rules seem to occupy a place similar to a rigidly applied algorithm: When in doubt, invoke the rule triggered by a word like interest or inflation” (1995/2011, pg. 181). Gardner tells of a well-known set of studies by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and their colleagues asked students to answer questions calling for the use of statistical principles, and gives only 5 of their astonishing examples. In one, given a sample in which they’re told up front the ratio of engineers to lawyers is 7:3, and asked which a particular subject who just happens to be good at debate is more likely to be, trained statisticians abandon their schooling and go with the stereotype (pg. 183).

A favourite script is the restaurant script. Every four-year-old knows that if you go to a restaurant, somebody comes and seats you. You are given the menu; you order. Food comes. You eat it and then you call for the cheque, and you leave. If you go to McDonald’s you pay first but that is an exception to the script.
—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 8)

The Arts and the Humanities: scripts, simplifications and stereotypes

The Star Wars script is one very powerful script we develop as children, it goes, “it’s good to be big; you should be big yourself; if you’re not big, align yourself with somebody who is big. If you look like that person, you will be good and people who look different will be bad.” But history majors who write papers on the complex nuances of WWII approach current events in what some might call Manichaean terms of good guys vs. bad guys (1992, pg. 8). Gardner’s unschooled mind presented quite embarrassingly in the arts in a much earlier 1920s study by literary critic and poet Ivor Armstrong Richards. He removed the poet’s names from classics by John Donne, Gerald Manley Hopkins and others and “…found that the students did not have a clue about which poems were good (according to the critics) and which were bad” (1992, pg. 8) Gardner tells us “…you have very, very good students who have studied literature, who, when the book clue is removed (namely this is by a good poet, this is by a bad poet or by a non poet), display the same kind of taste that someone with no education in literature would exhibit” (pg. 9).

Schools presumably seek to present three kinds of knowledge across disciplines: notational sophistication, concepts within the discipline, and forms of exposition and reasoning within the discipline (1995/2011, pg. 143). Gardner has ideas on how to address the failings that lead to each type of misconception, some of which I’ve outlined already.

A repertoire and toolkit for repair

As I said earlier, Gardner speaks of deftly using multiple ways to represent, practice and experience skills and knowledge. He offers “…five different “windows” into the same room.” They are 1. Narrational—basically the story mode. 2. A quantitative, logical rational way of dealing with numbers, principles, causality. 3. A foundational way, asking who? what? where? when? how? …why? 4. Aesthetic—looks, configurations, impressions. 5. Finally, hands on—“What is it actually like to be this thing, to do this thing? …what is it like to breed drosophila? If you are studying democracy, what is it like to be in a group that decides by consensus as opposed to one that decides by autocracy, oligarchy or some other political principle” (1992, pg. 12)?

John Seely Brown’s Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from anthropology, education, linguistics, computer science and psychology found Seven Principles of Learning: “Learning is fundamentally social; Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities; Learning is an act of membership; Knowing depends on engagement in practice; Engagement is inseparable from empowerment; “Failure to Learn” is the normal result of exclusion from participation; We already have a society of lifelong learners” (Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989). This project in particular led to the cognitive apprenticeship framework, with immediate recognition of its potential enhancement by technology (Fouchaux, 2013, Appendices B, C, & D).

The social media boom, the rise of Facebook and Twitter and their inevitable entrance into discussions about teaching and learning have not created new knowledge, nor caused a spontaneous eruption of stunning new ideas. They have only increased the number of people with access to what we have been learning about education and technology since the emergence of these technologies. We have amplified and expanded a conversation we educators have been having for decades. The first Apple Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) were disrupting the console driven mainframes and finding their ways into the homes of relatively ordinary people and their work places in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years ago they defined the study of systems usability, and they established the practice of watching users use systems, and then measuring the results with the focused aim of making the systems more usable. Children’s “intuitive” adoption and uptake is not magic (Baeker et al., 1995).

Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing

Gardner says “ongoing assessment” or “assessment in context” means “…assessment is taking place all the time by students and by peers as well as by the teacher” (1992, pg. 12). It may be surprising to some readers that Howard Gardner, the man at the centre of the orbit of some of the most highly-esteemed education researchers and projects at Harvard and the private sector, was in 1992 so matter-of-fact in his vehement disapproval of the types of standardized testing that still dominate, and some, especially in the USA, say should be expanded (Gardner, 1992b). It was indisputable to Gardner, just as it was to Xerox CEO John Seely Brown and the set of top-notch educationists, researchers and scholars he used his corporation’s influence to assemble (see Fouchaux 2013, Appendix A), to empower, to enable—but not to dominate nor simply to exploit—in the collaborative communities of practice that characterized experimentation in education of the 1980s and ’90s.

Diane Ravitch has now made clear that, contrary to the claims being made, public school test scores and graduation rates in the USA are the highest they’ve ever been, and dropout rates are at their lowest (Ravitch, 2013). Discourse to the contrary is a concerted effort to destroy public schools in that country, disrupting a 325 year commitment embedded in the Constitution (Dennis, 2000).

Therefor it can not be more plain that those who promote more testing have a different purpose. To say in the 20-teens that one believes eliminating fully trained and accredited professional educators, and all the “thickness” years of exposure to the ideas of men and women who like Gardner, Collins, and Brown, have devoted lifetimes to improving children’s learning bring to the learning situation, can be nothing but an attempt to wrench the helm onto another tack by fiat and coercion. Children’s intuition, as Gardner showed decades ago, isn’t good enough. “Absence” of the teacher is not the same as “removal.” We’ve agreed to dispense with the sage on the stage, but if you don’t have guides on the side who know the ropes, the waters, and the weather, you will certainly get lost. You may run aground, sink and drown, or simply drift away forever upon doldrums no different than the Ancient Mariner’s, you’ll just be taking a more expensive cruise.

Educationists from across the decades and around the world concur. We must re-design schools from the ground up to be highly inclusive public spaces, purposed to build and share learning experiences in collaborative settings. We must cultivate critical discernment and expose would-be apprentices to experts who are themselves students of pedagogy. We must understand that learning is continual and there is no single learner or teacher where 2 or more humans coexist (Collins, Brown and Newman, 1989; Gardner, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lave, 1996; Meyer & Land, 2010; Salhlberg, 2011). We must not narrow instruction to rigid algorithms and formulaic responses in science and math, but design situations where experts and novices engage and interact in practice. We must let them create performances of their understanding that convey the internalization of the concepts, awareness of critical connections to prior learning and available information. We must find cohesion and build shared understanding to solve the wicked problem of education reform collaboratively, not authoritatively.

In short, we must learn how to learn, with, not just from, people whose passion it is to understand how learning takes place and what that looks like. We must learn to recognize and celebrate the hard work that’s gone before. Stop experimenting with disproven methods and apply the results of a century of experimentation we’ve already done. Make sure the people driving the school bus want to get the kids where they want to be… not drive certain kids to a certain part of town to park and sell them junk food, not to scrap the bus, nor to sell it for parts.


Watch: The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030

Watch: TVO on the Road: Learning 2030


Table 1: Lawrence Kohlberg’s three levels and six stages of moral reasoning.

Level Age Range Stage Nature of Moral Reasoning
Level I: Preconventional Morality Seen in preschool children, most elementary school students, some junior high school students, and a few high school students Stage 1: Punishment-avoidance and obedience People make decisions based on what is best for themselves, without regard for others’ needs or feelings. They obey rules only if established by more powerful individuals; they may disobey if they aren’t likely to get caught. “Wrong” behaviors are those that will be punished.
    Stage 2: Exchange of favors People recognize that others also have needs. They may try to satisfy others’ needs if their own needs are also met (“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). They continue to define right and wrong primarily in terms of consequences to themselves.
Level II: Conventional Morality Seen in a few older elementary school students, some junior high school students, and many high school students (Stage 4 typically does not appear until the high school years) Stage 3: Good boy/girl People make decisions based on what actions will please others, especially authority figures and other individuals with high status (e.g., teachers, popular peers). They are concerned about maintaining relationships through sharing, trust, and loyalty, and they take other people’s perspectives and intentions into account when making decisions.
    Stage 4: Law and order People look to society as a whole for guidelines about right or wrong. They know rules are necessary for keeping society running smoothly and believe it is their “duty” to obey them. However, they perceive rules to be inflexible; they don’t necessarily recognize that as society’s needs change, rules should change as well.
Level II: Postconventional Morality Rarely seen before college (Stage 6 is extremely rare even in adults) Stage 5: Social contract People recognize that rules represent agreements among many individuals about appropriate behavior. Rules are seen as potentially useful mechanisms that can maintain the general social order and protect individual rights, rather than as absolute dictates that must be obeyed simply because they are “the law.” People also recognize the flexibility of rules; rules that no longer serve society’s best interests can and should be changed.
    Stage 6: Universal ethical principle Stage 6 is a hypothetical, “ideal” stage that few people ever reach. People in this stage adhere to a few abstract, universal principles (e.g., equality of all people, respect for human dignity, commitment to justice) that transcend specific norms and rules. They answer to a strong inner conscience and willingly disobey laws that violate their own ethical principles.

Sources: Colby & Kohlberg, 1984; Colby et al., 1983; Kohlberg, 1976, 1984, 1986; Reimer, Paolitto, & Hersh, 1983; Snarey, 1995.
Excerpted from Child Development and Education, by T.M McDevitt, J.E. Ormrod, 2007 edition, p. 518. in article Kohlberg’s Three Levels and Six Stages of Moral Reasoning


Apple, Michael (2005) Are markets in education democratic? Neoliberal globalism, vouchers, and the politics of choice in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.). Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Baeker, Ronald M.; Grudin, Jonathan; Buxton, Wiliam A. S.; Greenberg, Saul (2d. ed., 1995) Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000, San Francisco (1st ed., 1987): Morgan Kaufmann, 950 pgs.

Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (Eds.). (1987). The measurement of moral judgment (Vols. 1 and 2). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., and Newman, S.E. (1989). “Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing and Mathematics! In L.B. Resnick (ed.) Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essa in Honor of Robert Glaser Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, and in Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989). “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher, 18(l), 32-42.

Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1989), Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible, American Educator [1991 reprint PDF].

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States [HTML]

Fouchaux, Richard (2013), Thick Situations: Paths towards a framework for 21st-century learning design, research paper submitted to the Graduate Program in Education, York University, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education [PDF]

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Kohlberg, Lawrence; Charles Levine, Alexandra Hewer (1983). Moral stages : a current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger.

Gardner, Howard (1992) The unschooled mind: why even the best students in the best schools do not understand, [PDF]

Gardner, Howard (1992b) Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing in Changing Assessments Alternative Views of Aptitude, Achievement and Instruction, Bernard R. Gifford,
Mary Catherine O’Connor, editors, Volume 30, 1992, pp 77-119.

Gardner, Howard (1995/2011), The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach, 21st Anniversary edition (2011) NY: Basic Books, 322 pages. [Read online]

Gardner, Howard; Perkins, David; Quense, Cynthia; Seidel, Steve; and Tishman, Shari (2003), Ten Years at Project Zero: A Report on 1993-2002, [HTML]

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp 149-164.

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meyer, Jan H. F.; Land, Ray; Baillie, Caroline eds., (2010), Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, 2010.

Ravitch, Diane (2013) Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools

Reid, Alan (2005) Rethinking the democratic purposes of public schooling in a globalizing world in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Salhlberg, Pasi. (2011). “The Professional Educator: Lessons from Finland,” American Educator 35, no. 2. (PDF)

Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 http://educationnext.org/reframing-the-mind/ retrieved 2012-10-10.

N.B. This post has been edited several times—to improve clarity, correct the TVO broadcast date, to fix a broken internal page anchor, and to correct grammar and spelling.

Oct 03

Where learning happens, there shall ye find teachers

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that the digital age, social networking, animation, other event timing software (from Adobe Captivate to Mozilla’s Popcorn & Butter) and 24/7 access won’t change—haven’t already changed—the way teaching, learning, and schooling are done in the 21st century. But I’m becoming increasingly vexed by those suggesting technology will replace teachers, that for-profit social networking platforms will replace professional development—or that either of those propositions is a good idea.Wordle including 21st Century Skills and other current terminology

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I’ll dispense with the obvious semantic argument right away: even in self-guided learning there is a teacher—we say “I taught myself!” If informal learning is truly “a spontaneous process of helping people to learn” and it really “…works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience…” if its “…purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing…” then not only do I hope we all find and fill that role almost every day—I shake my head in bemusement at the eagerness with which many, perhaps even TVO’s perspicacious and typically uber-informed Steve Paikin, seem to be anticipating teaching’s impending doom.

Screenshot of Hypercard from a 1980s era Macintosh Performa

Screen shot of 1980s era Macintosh Performa and Hypercard, technology that “changed the way we learn” over 30 years ago. Source: Stanislav (2011)

Fortunately, I don’t believe the host, nor any of the panel members in this thought provoking series actually believe this rhetoric; in places like Canada where the commitment to public education is for the time being less precarious than many other places, this can still be said with tongue-in-cheek. Overall, throughout the musings of this panel the vital role played by teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides was implicit. The skills, creativity and imagination professional educators bring to the situations they design and create for the purpose of conveying the knowledge they need to share, was celebrated openly. Overall there was full recognition of the approach most strongly suggested by the literature and research—and who can be seen to have been doing the “thickest” (à la Clifford Geertz1) research for decades. [Update: yours truly on Geertz.] I was schooled in the public school system of Bethlehem, PA, USA in the 1960s. My teachers sat us in circles, let students lead reading groups while they circulated giving individualized instruction, we split into groups and did jigsaw investigations, returned and taught our classmates how to put the pieces together. Tropes and talking points, pompous assertions around “industrial” or even “agrarian” paradigms notwithstanding, throughout history educators, including teachers in the trenches, have always led the search for ways to improve and enhance the process of helping people to learn.

The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework of the 80s identified elements of the mentor/apprentice relationship (e.g., “scaffolding“) that have been essential to teaching and learning for centuries, and educators ever since have been mapping these to specific strategies and the software that supports them.

A tool such as Twitter can be a useful tool, even a powerful one in the right hands. But it’s absurd to think a platform limited to messages 140 characters, blocked by governments and firewalls, adopted thus far by a trivial percentage of teachers would be a good pick to “replace professional development,” as one person on the #Learning2030 hashtag asked Wednesday night. Leave alone the fact Twitter’s priority is making money for its shareholders, and that we don’t know what this corporation may do, or not, to protect privacy. About 80% of messaging on Twitter is self-promotion—researchers coined a new term for such Tweople, “Meformers,” in contrast to “informers” (Naaman,Boase,& Lai, 2010). While I agree teachers should try Twitter, I see Twitter being used as a hub, the water cooler in the staff room around which informal learning happens, contacts, connections and preliminary plans to make plans. Just like pencil and paper, Twitter’s the right technology for many jobs. Use it for what it does well.

Several panels have noted how kids “intuitively” adapt to new technology, but I heard none remark that human-computer interface designers have been striving to design “intuitive” interfaces since there have been computers to design interfaces for. A book written on the topic in 1987 was still in use in 2010.

It’s wonderful to be in Ontario having important and fruitful conversations with genuine reformers, so sincerely devoted to student engagement, deep learning and the new possibilities awaiting discovery by all of us. There’s no need to believe we are the first to have these conversations, nor will we be the last.


  1. For many decades, forward-thinking, innovative educators have been engrossed with the exploration of applications technology. See, among many examples, posts in my own Cognitive Apprenticeship category and the various works in their reference sections. For evidence of the extensive range technology-enhanced-learning-focused 20th century collaborations across disciplines, look no further than R. G. Segall (1989), Thick descriptions: a tool for designing ethnographic interactive videodiscs, ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Volume 21 Issue 2, Oct. 1989 pp. 118 – 122. While doing so please remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Further reading

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003) Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, 2003.

Harkinson, Josh, (September 24, 2013), Here’s How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices, Mother Jones, retrieved 2013-10-03

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (webducate.net)

Stanislav (2011), Why Hypercard Had to Die, blog post, http://www.loper-os.org/?p=568

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).

Webducate [‘webducate.net’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review http://webducate.net/2012/08/twitter-in-learning-and-teaching-literature-review/, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

Richard studied music as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar, first as a sub for his own private teacher, formally at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and taught at The Arts Music Store in Newmarket, Ontario, for 6 years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band, math and computers (HTML and yes, Hypercard!) at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.

Sep 30

LilyPond with Frescobaldi: open source music engraving

LilyPond is open source music engraving software. LilyPond “…was designed to solve the problems we found in existing software and to create beautiful music that mimics the finest hand-engraved scores.” It produces some of the finest looking scores you can imagine, and almost any style of note or notation you can imagine. But it’s a scripting language—which for many people makes it very difficult to learn, and much too tedious to use. Enter Frescobaldi.

Frescobaldi is an open source editing tool for LilyPond. I won’t pretend there’s no learning curve, but if you want to print absolutely stunning music scores and enjoy learning technology it’s worth it, and I’ll help you get started. And if you’re a music educator I’ll make some suggestions about how I might use this in teaching, albeit at a high school level or higher, with students who have already learned the basics of reading. Thanks to Frescobaldi’s built-in MIDI player I see applications to ear training, as well as more obvious help with general notation problems. I’ve also screen-recorded some of my first explorations, and I intend to edit them down and add audio, and continue with a video tutorial, hopefully in just a few days.

Both programs run on Windows, Mac or Linux, but there’s no Mac or Linux installer for Frescobaldi, so if you’re not running Windows you may need some extra skills there. First, download and install both programs using the links below. You will not need to launch LilyPond. You’ll launch Frescobaldi, tell it where to find LilyPond and Frescobaldi will take it from there.

Software links

LilyPond is a music engraving program, devoted to producing the highest-quality sheet music possible. Download

Frescobaldi is a LilyPond sheet music text editor. It aims to be powerful, yet lightweight and easy to use. Download

  1. On first launch Frescobaldi opens an empty document. You type and insert LilyPond code in the left Editor panel and then press the LilyPond icon ion the toolbar to render a gorgeous PDF in the right, or Music View panel. hide image Screen shot
  2. Choose EditPreferences… show image
  3. Set path to LilyPond show image
    Windows default: C:/Program Files (x86)/LilyPond/usr/bin/lilypond-windows.exe
  4. Choose ToolsPreferencesSetup New Score… (Ctrl+Shift+N) to open the Score Setup Wizard show image
     Other items on this list will be of great interest soon… I used the Quick Insert tool and the MIDI Player early in my very first score.

    The Score Setup Wizard lets you set the following up front—especially recommended your first time, as once you create the file you’ll need to get code snippets from the documentation, the other tools in the Tools menu, another file, or know what to type.
     You might even want to fill in all the fields and save a MasterSnippet.ly file for later reference. Frescobaldi also has its own built-in Snippets manager.

    1. Titles and Headers show
    2. Parts show
    3. Score Settings show
       Be sure to try the Preview button!

To get started I just picked 8 bars of a Stevie Wonder tune I happened to have loaded in iTunes. You can see the first 2 bars of the lick on the right of the screen shot below. The script on the left side, which you’d have to write from scratch without an editor, demonstrates rather aptly I think, why a tool like Frescobaldi can likely make LilyPond more useful to a much larger community. What will be much easier to demonstrate in a video tutorial is how I copy/pasted a snippet of code from the documentation into the editor and then tweaked it until I got what I wanted. The notes you see on the right are formed entirely by this part of the script on the left. 'is' as a sharp is not intuitive (unless you speak Dutch), but now that I’ve told you perhaps you can see the 4, 8 and 16 that sets note values, ‘r’ for rest, and the lower case note names, key of B Major. The tildes (~) create the ties, and I entered staccato and accents using the Quick Insert tool shown in the left panel of the final screen shot below.
 All your music goes immediately after the % Music follows here. and before the closing curly brace (}) that lines up flush left with the instrument name above it and the code \score below it (see both screen shots beneath the following code snippet).

// You can group and nest notes in curly braces for readability.
// Here I've grouped each beat within each measure on its own line.
{b4-.} {r16 b16 dis cis->~}  {cis-. cis16 gis' fis->~} {fis8-. fis,16 gis}
{b8->-. cis16 cisis16} {dis16 fis gis b->~}  {b16 cis16 cisis dis->~} {dis4-.}

Screen shot

By the time I’d finished I’d opened the MIDI Player to check my work. You need to press the Engrave button to refresh the output on the right (there are further options under the LilyPond menu). Frescobaldi supplies the bar lines based on the time signature in the score settings, and plays audio—I feel those two facts have pedagogical implications. I slowed down my 8-bar passage using Audacity, played them side by side, and by refreshing the output was able to see and hear what I had right and wrong along the way.
Screen shot
I hope this is enough to pique your interest. There’s another LilyPond editor I plan to try soon too, Denemo, highlighted with even more on the LilyPond site. It looks quite sophisticated, but I can tell I’ve barely scratched the surface of Frescobaldi, which was intuitive enough out of the box to keep me intrigued and progressing—getting this far was fun! Please use the comments section and stay tuned for some video tutorials as I get in further.


Richard studied as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and at The Arts Music Store for many years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.

Video explorations on their way


We will soon return to our regularly scheduled programming:
…Some software and hardware reviews and how-tos (coming soon: Music lessons with iPhone and AmpKit!)
…I’m using CompendiumNG and/or designVUE to make storyboards for my own brand of guitar lessons
…and I’m also working on ways to make html5 video more interactive, making videos to make more interactive, and making videos of making videos to make more interactive.

The teachable moment, is a threshold to a concept.

Jun 18

Bookmarklets for fun and practice

Bookmarklets are JavaScript links that can be stored in your browser’s Bookmarks or Favorites folder, or attached to a bookmarks toolbar, and then used to do something relative to that page. I think bookmarklets have a lot of value for teaching and self-teaching JavaScript.

What can I learn playing with bookmarklets?

You need to create and use a fundamental unit of HTML: a link (also known as “anchor”; <a href="somewhere">Link</a> ). You can start with the most basic javascript:alert('Hello world');. You can learn how to use a closure javascript:(function(){ alert('Hello world'); })();. You’ll be forced from the start to pay close attention to syntax. If you haven’t yet, you’ll quickly figure out how to use Firebug (and/or any modern browser’s “F12 Developer Tools”) to inspect DOM elements to get their id and other properties. Ultimately you’re limited only by your skill, which will improve quickly, and imagination. What would you change about the blog page you’re reading now, if you could?

Where to start?

I started with a pet peeve about a page I visit regularly. My first bookmarklet ever hides the right column in Facebook, so I don’t have to see the ads. Take that, Mark! If you click the link below while on this page nothing will happen. But if you drag the link to your Bookmarks Toolbar (in Firefox, “Bookmarks Bar” in Chrome, etc…) do that while viewing your Facebook page (or any page that coincidentally has a right column div with id="pagelet_side_ads") you will toggle its visibility.

Bookmarklet1: Toggle FB ads Drag the link to your bookmarks bar to try it.

To embed a bookmarklet so it can be dragged to the toolbar you just place a link on your Web page:

<strong>Bookmarklet: <a href="javascript:(function(){var adsDiv=document.getElementById('pagelet_side_ads'),isHidden=adsDiv.style.display==='none';if(isHidden){adsDiv.style.display='inline-block';}else{adsDiv.style.display='none';}})();">Toggle FB ads</a></strong> 

The imagination runs wild

Still milking my own pet peeves, I wanted to collect lyrics of several songs I needed to learn for the weekend warrior band I play in. A recurring pattern is, we find a song by an artist that is a good fit for our sound, and due to that we later add 3 or 4 more by the same artist. Besides, I just like having lyrics handy… why not just get all the lyrics for that artist at once? But that would mean a lot of clicks and copy/paste! With some intermediate JavaScript you can collect all the links and titles, visit each page in a queue, get just the lyrics you want, and display them in one place in a fraction of the time. To engage students and make meaning of any learning situation requires context and relevance. Do you know any young people who like music, and might be engaged by collecting lyrics of their favourite artists?

I may explain this code in another post, but for now it’s about bookmarklets and an example of what one might do with one. If you don’t understand this paragraph you’ll need to do some vocabulary homework. This script only works at www.lyrics.com. That page has a version of jQuery installed so I used it. To write the script I used Firebug to identify IDs and classes of elements on the page that I use as “selectors” to have access. I fiddled in the console until I had a working script. Meticulous syntax is important… your script goes on one line, so semi-colons are in, comments are out.

Bookmarklet: Get Lyrics This works on Artist pages at www.lyrics.com

This script is quite a bit more involved than the first. I did succeed in making it work in the link code like the first one, but there’s an easier way. In order to make more complicated scripts work you should use the bookmarklet to load your script from a file on your server. I created rcf-get_lyrics.js and placed it on this server. You can copy/paste the script below and just change the path to point to your own file.

javascript:(function(){var url="http://www.rcfouchaux.ca/rcf-get_lyrics.js",n=document.createElement("script");n.setAttribute("language","JavaScript");n.setAttribute("src",url+"?rand="+new Date().getTime());document.body.appendChild(n)})();

I’ll discuss the code in more detail in a future post, but quickly, you create a script element and set the source to the file, then append this new element. There’s a unique identifier, which I’m not using for anything right now, created from the time and appended to the url.

Few limits

The most impressive bookmarklet I’ve ever seen, one that immediately became essential to all my JavaScript learning and development, is Alan Jardine’s Visual Event. Visual Event is an open source JavaScript bookmarklet which provides debugging information about events that have been attached to the DOM (Document Object Model; it means the entire web application represented by the “web page” loaded in the browser’s window).

Alan’s script demonstrates how to load a complex script off a server using only a small manageable amount of code in the bookmarklet itself. As you see, I borrowed it but removed his protocol check for simplicity. I think the aforementioned date/time “query string” he adds prevents the browser from caching the script indefinitely, but I didn’t research that—it’s a guess.

Another impressive project that’s available as a bookmarklet is pjscrape. If I wanted to turn my lyrics scraper into a real utility I’d probably start with pjscrape.

Update 2: I’ve placed both the bookmarklets on their own page. I expect I’ll add to the list.

Update 3: I’ve added a variation on the Facebook ad hider, using display:none and targeting only the ads—compare the two and try to figure out what’s different. I’ll add all future updates on the bookmarklets page.


  1. This was updated since original publication and now uses id="pagelet_side_ads" and display:none;
May 28

Make Captivate HTML5 Work in Firefox

screen shot of error dialogWith the slow but steady demise of Flash, SWF-based elearning software makers, like Adobe, have been “cramming” (a word from disruptive innovation) HTML5 into their products, like Captivate (I’m using v6.1), to keep up. Because the HTML5 spec itself is still growing in inconsistent and at times uncertain directions there are bound to be holes and gaps in the implementations. For Captivate 6.1 the first one I encountered was the “This browser does not support some of the content…” error I got when I attempted to view my HTML5 output in my browser of choice—Firefox. It was version 20, and I know Firefox has supported HTML5 audio and video tags since version 3.5 so it had to be something silly. In the proprietary software world that may mean license issues, and so it does with Firefox (Free, Open, Libre software) and the MP3 (not so much). Captivate exports only MP3s, Firefox (and Opera) play only OGGs. So until Adobe offers a checkbox on the Publishing page you can do the following, or hope your visitors use only IE, Safari or Chrome—as the majority probably do… but we’re big on inclusion around here so let’s not leave anyone out!

I quickly ascertained it’s the MP3-only audio export preventing Firefox from doing Captivate sound. As you probably know, some browsers do MP3, others do OGG. You may even remember why. Fortunately that’s the only reason Firefox won’t play Captivate HTML5. All you have to do are

  1. create OGG versions of each MP3 and
  2. edit two JavaScript files to
    1. detect Firefox
    2. provide the appropriate file extension and
    3. suppress the error message.

Simple enough you say, but I figured I may as well google it and see what others have done. I did, and found all the hints I needed in hermit9911’s answer to this post (scroll down a few). hermit just needs OGG. I want both to work depending on browser, so I had to improvise on hermit9911’s theme. Here are the steps I ended up following.

1. Create OGG versions of each MP3

There are many programs that convert audio formats. I used Audacity’s “Chains” feature (macros). Since I’ve met many more people who know of Audacity than know of its Chains feature, I’ve done a separate screencast of that process:

Made using Camstudio (screen video), iPhone (narration),
Audacity (mix/process audio) & Sony Vegas (mix/render video)
Can you suggest a good open source video editor? Please use the comments with my thanks!

2. Edit two JavaScript files

detect Firefox

Project.js is found in the root export folder. It’s “minified,” which means line breaks and extra spaces are removed and it’s pretty hard to read, but we can add our tiny bit of code right at the beginning. I don’t see any need for feature detection in this case, so I settled for user agent:

var is_firefox = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('firefox') > -1; 
// converts the string to lowercase then creates Boolean, 
// true if it finds 'firefox' anywhere in the name. Otherwise : false 

provide the appropriate file extension

Once you have a question that can be answered yes or no the best syntax is usually as follows:

myExtension = is_firefox ? '.ogg' : 'mp3'; <br>// Yes? Send '.ogg' No : send '.mp3

Then just search & replace existing .mp3' with '+myExtension Everything between ”s is literal, myExtension is variable depending on the answer to is_firefox?yes:no;

UPDATED: If you have Administrator rights and access to the Adobe Captivate install folder you can add these changes to the template Captivate creates the file from. Otherwise both files are overwritten every time you publish, and you have to repeat all these steps. If you can access and edit
use that file instead (path to install folder will differ depending on operating system and installation) otherwise follow the instructions as written:
Next, open [PublishFolder]/assets/CPHTML5Warnings.js and make the two additions suggested by hermit9911. (I looked up the earliest version of Firefox that supported the audio tag and replaced hermit9911’s xx with 3.5).

this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 3.5; // sets minimum version, used in code below

suppress the error message

Finally at the very bottom of the file you will find a series of IF and IF ELSE statements… add the following after the closing semicolon of the last one:

else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX) <br>  &amp;&amp;<br> (this.browserVersion &gt;= this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION )) <br> lSupported = true;

Browse to index.html in Firefox, press Play and watch your movie. With a bit of practice this will add all of about 5-10 minutes to your publishing routine. Alas, you’ll have to redo Project.js—and convert all your audio files— every time you publish.

As an extension activity, make this work for Opera (yes, you can use find/replace but watch case-sensitivity. Do each separately… firefox/opera and FIREFOX/OPERA). Use flow control instead? (Hint: yes) Look back at the code above and explain why you need to do that. Would you change the variable name? To what?

My entire solution instructions and code snippets
(including my answers to the extension questions)

/* ADD TO TOP OF Project.js */
var wantsOggsOverEasy = ((navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('firefox') > -1) || (navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('opera') > -1)), myEXT=wantsOggsOverEasy?'.ogg':'.mp3'; 
/* nb comma/semi-colon usage - I declared 2 local vars in 1 dec */

/* This is the text to search for
   .mp3' and change it to '+myEXT
  FROM: src:'ar/Mouse.mp3',du:182
       TO: src:'ar/Mouse'+myEXT,du:182

IF you have Admin privileges find the Captivate install folder and edit the warnings file found in
[InstallFolder]\HTML\assets\js\CPHTML5Warnings.js. Otherwise you can save these changes in a safe place and you'll need to replace [PublishFolder]/ar/CPHTML5Warnings.js in the published location every time you publish. (Project.js is generated programmatically by the publishing engine, so to the best of my knowledge it must be fixed after each publish, also protect your OGG files.)  */

/* In CPHTML5Warnings.js 
(somewhere between lines 19 and 20) non-destructively ADD:  */

        this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 3.5;
        this.BrowserEnum.OPERA_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 10;

(approximately line 112) AFTER final 
          lSupported = true; AND BEFORE

          return lSupported; non-destructively ADD 

		else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX) && (this.browserVersion >= this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION))

            lSupported = true;	
		else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.OPERA) && (this.browserVersion >= this.BrowserEnum.OPERA_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION))
            lSupported = true;


N.B. Post was edited for clarity since first publishing.

May 20

Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) as a presentation tool

VUE, and its design-centric extension, designVUE, are concept-mapping tools with rather extraordinary superpowers. In fact if you think they look like simple tools for making mind-maps I’m here to nudge you to take a closer look. Mind map being created in VUE.


Does quickly and invisibly making your content “more accessible, interoperable and valuable” sound good? Have you heard of “…Web 3.0, the Semantic Web or the Giant Global Graph…?” These two well-connected apps support OpenCalais and other meta-data helpers.

While the VUE site is essential for resources and documentation, I recommend installing and using designVUE. Even if you don’t use IBIS argumentation, what they refer to as “bi-directional hyperlinking between files,” known elsewhere in designVUE as “wormholes” (and in Compendium as “transclusion,”) or the ability to place one map within another, is a powerful ability that separates tools like VUE and Compendium from the plethora of mind mapping tools available.

Presentation tool

That’s what I’m learning first—the built-in presentation tool. There’s not much more I can add about it at this point than what’s in this rather comprehensive overview/tutorial (more overview than tutorial, maybe?), so with no further ado…


I seem to be able to screen record these presentations with another open source program, so if that pans out I’ll share it then. I think it’ll definitely take some practice thinking about presenting in a different way, but there’s a great deal of evidence that idea maps, visually connecting the dots, and the activities such as argument mapping that are associated with them a) may have a natural fit with social networks and social learning, and b) organize data in ways consistent with the human brain (see for example Conole & Fill, 2005 and its extensive reference list).



The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University

designVUE is a branch of VUE. It is an open source project based in the Design Engineering Group of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Imperial College London.

Conole, G. and Fill, K. (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [PDF: jime.open.ac.uk/2005/08]. Gráinne Conole and Karen Fill, University of Southampton. Page 1 Published 26 September 2005 ISSN: 1365-893X

Calais Marmoset is a simple yet powerful tool that makes it easy for you to generate and embed metadata in your content in preparation for Yahoo! Search’s new open developer platform, SearchMonkey, as well as other metacrawlers and semantic applications.

May 17

CompendiumNG, the Next Generation?

CompendiumNG splash screenCompendium is an open source concept mapping tool I discovered when I was exploring design, looking into conflict resolution and complex problem solving in general, and I learned of Horst Rittel’s “Wicked Problems.” Compendium contains an icon set and database support for its “Issue-Based Information System (IBIS)”

IBIS employs argument mapping that is designed to find solutions to wicked problems.

CompendiumNG's updated desktop.

The new Compendium has an attractive background and new icons.

In argument mapping you simply pose a question and list the pros      and cons     , but you also connect dots and from there, in theory, the discussion takes off, aided by the visualization, which evolves in real time to reflect the process. Paul Culmsee has demonstrated how framing “powerful questions” can expedite this.

Mind mapping seems to tap our brain’s need for visual cues. Compendium makes it quick and easy to create maps, link and rearrange the bubbles, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg—you can add your own icons and icon (“stencil”) sets. It has tags, categories, a powerful database and metadata abilities behind it that could be accessed by other programs. It supports a high level of collaboration. You can attach files and external links to the bubbles, even create an interactive Web page that retains those links and attachments so you can share them on the Web. One version of Compendium, “CompendiumLD,” has been adapted to Learning Design. In my readings I’ve seen Compendium and other mind mapping tools used to design units, deliver lessons, as the focus, outcome or product of a lesson, and as a record of program implementation or student achievement used to assess the program or give the learner a grade. Compendium is also free and open source.

CompendiumNG appears to be more than just a facelift. But in a world where increasingly we expect to open a Web browser and go straight to engaging content, is a modernized interface and potential limited only by the imagination enough to motivate busy educators to adopt and learn, deeply, a complex new program? I have my doubts, and I believe a browser-based HTML5 mind mapping tool is not too far down the road. But when it comes to making thinking visible, I for one can’t wait. CompendiumNG is a “show and tell” tool, and that was always one of my favorite things to do at school.


Further reading, information

Culmsee, Paul (2013) A video about “powerful questions”, live mapping with Compendium.

Kirschner, Paul A. , Buckingham Shum, Simon J., and Carr, Chad S. (Eds.) (2003), Visualizing Argumentation: Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making, London: Springer-Verlag.

Ortiz, Claudia María Álvarez (2007) Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills?, Master’s thesis, Department of Philosophy—Faculty of Arts
The University of Melbourne, images.austhink.com/pdf/Claudia-Alvarez-thesis.pdf retrieved 2013-04-30.

— Critical thinking on the web, Argument Mapping

May 10

Are you “informer,” or “meformer?”

Twitter infographicMor Naaman, Jeffrey Boase, and Chih-Hui Lai of Rutgers are on the list of researchers who’ve published early about Twitter. Naaman, Boase and Lai (2010) bring interesting new terminology to the table, casting Twitter as a member of a class of software described as “social awareness streams” Three things distinguish a social awareness stream from other communication: “…a) the public (or personal-public) nature of the communication and conversation; b) the brevity of posted content; and, c) a highly connected social space, where most of the information consumption is enabled and driven by articulated online contact networks.” (pg. 189). Does property “c” include “Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)?”

Research questions

…we use Ward’s linkage cluster analysis to categorize users based on the types of messages that they typically post. … The analysis resulted in two clusters, which we labeled “Informers” (20% of users) and – to suggest a new term – “Meformers” (80%).
Naaman, Boase and Lai (2010, pgs. 191-2), emph. mine

The researchers asked, 1) What types of messages are commonly posted and how does message type relate to other variables? 2) What are the differences between users in terms of the types and diversity of messages that they usually post? 3) How are these differences between users’ content practices related to other user characteristics? The entire study is worth a look (link below), but a summary here might be a good influence on the types of Personal Learning Networks we create.

Messages fit into 4 categories: “information sharing (IS; 22% of messages were coded in that category), opinions/complaints (OC), statements (RT) and “me now” (ME), with the latter dominating the dataset (showing that, indeed, “it’s all about me” for much of the time). Overall messaging divided into 2 types, “Informers” (20% of users) and then Naaman, Boase and Lai suggest a new term: “Meformers,” into which fall the Tweets of 80% of the users in the study. [The Figure] shows the mean of the average proportion of messages in the top four categories for each user” (pg. 191).

graph, informers vs meformers

Mean user message proportions for the four main categories, breakdown by cluster.
Source: Naaman, Boase and Lai (2010, pg. 191)

What else do we know?

Tony & Rachael Lowe have done a Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review collecting what we’re learning about Twitter in one place. They highlight in particular one by Reynol Junco, C. Michael Elavsky, and Greg Heiberger (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success in which they show that faculty participation on the platform, integration of Twitter into the course based on good theory-driven pedagogy, and requiring students to use Twitter are key to improving outcomes that I intend to review on its own soon.

Further questions

Here are some of mine:

Are these numbers still true in 2013?
Are we informers sometimes and meformers the rest of the time?
Are there other “clusters” to be discovered?

Please use the comments and ask some of your own questions here!



Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (webducate.net)

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).