on centennial trail

Evan and I hiked a few kilometers up the Centennial Trail, on the slopes of Pigeon Mountain. We had fun making noises to scare the bears away (bears had been spotted in the area previously, but there were lots of other hikers in the area, so we just made a lot of noise to prevent surprising the bears…)

Spore Creature Creator

I’ve been following Spore since I saw the first demo at TED. I remember playing SimCity back in the day (on my Amiga 1000!), and SimEarth, and the other variants, and have really been looking forward to Spore.

It’s really a universe simulator, where players interact at various scales separated by orders of magnitude. The full game starts at the single cell stage, evolving up through multicellular life, eventually up to group and society, and finally planetary and galactic scales. What a great way to show interconnections between the various disciplines? Biochemistry through cellular biology through zoology through ecology through sociology through planetary biology and astrophysics. In a format that can be jumped into by anyone, including kids. Especially kids. What would happen if kids are able to develop a sense of these interactions and interdependencies at various scales?

I downloaded (and purchased) the full Spore Creature Creator – it’s the demo app to showcase some of the technology that will be in the final game. It lets you create creatures using a set of biological widgets, and the behaviour and charactistics of the creature are developed based on the properties of the components selected.

I put together a quick creature to see what the full demo would do, and it’s really pretty cool just how detailed the creature is. Based on the limbs and body size, the thing as a believable gate and stance. Based on the head, jaw, and body shape, it has a realistic voice – able to call and roar.

I’m REALLY looking forward to the full game.

waiting

Evan waits in the rain for the school bus.

I’d spent almost 2 hours on the weekend examining a huge print of Robert Doisneau’s “Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville. Paris, 1950” and was absolutely fascinated by the depth of the photograph, and the life and motion captured by the slight motion blurs. Of course, this is just a silly photo of my son waiting for the bus, but I wanted to play with some of the techniques used by Doisneau.

on learning communities

I’ve been working on organizing a project I’ve called “Learning Communities” here at UCalgary. It’s still a bit amorphous, but that’s actually part of the plan. What I’m going to do is offer resources and support to any communities on campus so that they can effectively get together and share what they’re doing. I’ll facilitate meetings, find guest speakers, search for resources, organize presentations, or whatever else is needed for these communities to share the interesting things they’re doing (or want to be doing) on campus.

The project has been directly inspired by two existing projects that have been extremely successful. First, is Cole Camplese‘s really amazing Community Hubs project at Penn State. The PSU ETS team has rolled out support for 13 communities that have been identified (so far) across the various PSU campuses. The communities share resources in both face-to-face sessions, and through the website created by ETS just for that community. Support and services are provided as needed. And, the activities culminate as sessions in the annual TLT Symposium conference at PSU. I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of the Symposia, but from all accounts they sound like incredibly powerful events that solidify the physical and tangible sense of community, resulting in a highly effective professional development programme for PSU faculty and staff.

The other primary inspiration has been Jennifer Jones‘ work with Viral Professional Development at Bellingham Technical College. This is an equally inspiring project, where resources are provided and shared, and the professional development activities are really run by the faculty members themselves through a series of “play and learn” sessions. Instructors play with new tools, discuss pedagogy and techniques, and explore together in a safe environment before trying what they’ve learned in their own classes. By putting the faculty members themselves in the driver’s seats, Jen has been able to model and reinforce some amazingly powerful strategies – with a very strong pull from the grassroots levels of the institution.

So, how have these two radically different projects inspired what I’m trying to set up here at UCalgary? I really want to borrow heavily from the PSU model, where resources and support are offered to a wide variety of communities. I love that these communities are primarily face-to-face, and that the discussions are extended through websites provided by ETS. And the annual TLT Symposium is definitely something I’m going to try to get going here as well – taking the learning communities and providing them a showcase to gather and share not only with each other but with others who may be interested.

And, I want to take the grassroots and viral nature of Jen’s VPD work, and try to scale that across a fairly sizable campus. The most direct way I’m going to try this is by not predefining the communities. I’m going to handpick one or two just to get things going, but will work hard to make it easy for faculty members (and staff, and grad students, and possibly others) to identify, create, organize and join their own learning communities on any topic. And I’ll work hard to find resources to support all of these communities. Ideally, these communities will be about more than just technology – I’d love to see learning communities form around topics such as “large enrollment classes” and “storytelling” – with several technology-related topics also forming. I’m hoping to keep things extremely flexible, open, and organic, so there may be overlap between various communities (technologically and/or pedagogically).

Is it going to be successful? It’s way too early to tell. It could fly like a lead balloon. But, I think it’s important to try to put as much of an effort into providing effective professional development for our faculty as is possible, so it’s worth a shot.