Reflect on how different this world is from 10 years ago - before smart phone / tablet technology. Or how different the world is from 20 years ago with the eruption of the World Wide Web; or 30 years ago with the personal (consumer) computer revolution. How we communicate, learn from and with each other, collaborate, research, shop, aggregate, curate, discern… almost everything is very different. We cannot expect to teach as we were taught.
Granted, there is considerable disparity between schools, school systems and segments of societies. Most classrooms, most days are not significantly different today than they were 40 years ago, especially with regard to what the students are doing. At educational conferences, we see great examples of modern learning activities, but there is that nagging feeling that this only represents a small group of students and often only for a week or two out of the entire year.
My essential question after attending the tech conferences is:
How do we enhance education in a systemic fashion, and sustainable fashion?
Earlier this year, a good friend and fellow ADE Lucy Gray published an About.com article: Tips for Educational Technology Coaches that provided some great suggestions about pursuing excellence as a Technology Leader in the local school.
For me this article triggered a question:
Do education policy makers recognize just how important a Technology Specialist, Technology Integrator, or Technology Innovation Coach is at the local school level?
Our district is in the throws of “Racing to the Top” and at the same time we are still under severe budget constrictions. Every technology dollar budgeted is directed towards ‘Testing Computers’. Meanwhile, my dream and educational vision is to increase student use of the technology for problem solving, creativity, communication, collaboration, and amplifying their understanding. The challenge is doing more with less.
I fundraised, scrimped, saved and advocated for the purchase of a ‘Class Set of iPads’ at my school and even though the iPads themselves are about half the cost of laptops or desktop computers, there are still those additional costs for a full set of apps, protective covers, and then the big one: a charging cart for moving the iPad lab from classroom to classroom. The Bretford Charging Cart is really nice, sturdy, secure. A worthy mode of transporting and charging those wonderful iPads. But when you are starting with nothing and penny pinching, that cart is about the equivalent of 5 iPads.
My first stab was a milk crate– hmmm… didn’t roll, 24 iPads were pretty heavy, wasn’t even slightly secure, iPads were exposed to dust and dirt, and the clincher was- how do I charge all this stuff?! In my job role, I am so tired of wires, cables, adapters, cords, chargers, etc. Sometimes networking seems to be more like tangling than connecting!
So the essential question was: “Could I innovate and make my own iPad Lab Charging Cart?”
So the next choice was a rolling file cart. I was pleased to find that this particular cart would accommodate nearly 40 iPads in two rows with the charging dock facing up. Here is a step by step to help you build your own iPad Rolling Classroom Lab!
–note that this set of instructions is for a lab that charges, but doesn’t provide the hardware for wired syncing
1) Purchase Vaultz Locking Mobile Wheelie Chest. This link is available for your convenience, but I have seen these at Staples, and Office Depot.
2) Test for iPad Capacity.
Of course, before you start to modify or invest in other parts for this project, it would be good to check and see if your iPads will fit as nicely as mine did. I didn’t purchase an iPad case that added substantial thickness or width to the overall size of each iPad. So try your iPads and see if you will be able to accommodate as many as you need. Ultimately the finished project will position the iPads over the wheels and leave room for the chargers in the front of the box as seen here above left.
Remember, you want to be able to charge these in the cart, so there should be room above the iPad for the charging cables without undo stress.
3) Use a Hole Saw.
I wanted my iPad Cart to accommodate chargers, cables and a powerstrip to plug the chargers into inside the box, so the teacher could lock the iPads up each night while they were recharging. So I used a hole saw to cut a port in the front left bottom corner of the box. In retrospect I could have used a smaller diameter hole saw, it just needs to be big enough to thread the plug of the power strip through. After all this is set up, I will cover the hole with a square of felt with a slit for the cord to pull through.
4) Build your Charging Station. Buy 6 USB 4 Port Chargers (for 24 iPads).
I wrestled for a while with finding powerstrips that would allow 6 or 8 Apple iPad Chargers to sit side by side on one powerstrip. I would think that there is something like this out there, but as I was working through this, I realized that it would be hard to fit three of these powerstrips, with their cables and the iPad chargers into the space I was saving for this. So then I begin looking for third party USB charging stations. None of what I found provide the full amperage that a single Apple iPad charger provides, but the one I selected Provides standard USB 5V at up to 2A (max). From experience, this meant that if four iPads were plugged in to one of these, it would take approximately four times as long to charge as if I used the Apple Charger. If school ended at 4 PM and started at 9 AM the following day, there would be more than enough time to get a full charge restored to the iPads (17 hours). I have heard that the new iPad takes a bit longer to charge than iPad 2 and iPad 1. Some background information from––> Gizmodo.
I found that I needed to remove some of the plastic wings that were apart of the aesthetic design of the chargers.
These wings may also serve to stabilize the charger on the wall or powerstrip, but once my chargers were attached to the powerstrip, that would not be an issue, since they would be so close side by side, they would stabilize each other.
Your powerstrip may not require you to cut these off.
I had access to a grinder, but you may need to use a vice with a sander to do the same job. Careful of the hot plastic, it burns!
I initially want to have capacity for 24 iPads in my cart. The power strip I chose had 5 outlets, so I put four of the 4 Port USB chargers on that block, then I added a three outlet extension cord to the 5th outlet on the powerstrip. Eventually I could have 28 iPads charging in this cart: (7) 4 Port USB charging blocks.
As I mentioned before, as an educational technologist, wires are necessary, but I often get overwhelmed and frustrated dealing with the spaghetti that is the bane of my existence. I wanted to keep this neat and easy to use for my teachers and students. The next step was to cut a piece of 3/8” plywood so that it fit in and formed a wall between the charging chamber and the iPad chamber.
The plywood fits down below the metal rail that the top of the cart rests in.
I also cut and used wood glue to adhere a 1” X 1” to the bottom of my chamber wall. This will help reinforce (keep from bowing) and stabilize the wall. I will also put velcro on the bottom of it, to help keep the wall in place.
Next comes the cover to hide the wires, powerstrip and USB Charging Blocks. Using leftover scrap from the 3/8” plywood, I cut notches in it to pass the USB charging cables through. The slits don’t have to be exact in size or depth, just relatively evenly spread apart. I made enough for 7 charging blocks in case I get as many as (4x7) 28 iPads to populate this case.
I found that a sharp razor knife was the easiest way to cut black felt to cover the two pieces of plywood. You could hot glue the felt, but I found it fast and easy to use a staple gun. I then used scissors to cut slits where the cords would slide through.
Note: It is amazing how nice jury rigged things look once you cover them in black felt.
9) Neatening Everything Up
I started to use wire twist ties to group the four wires so they would not be randomly going everywhere, then I decided to use nylon ties. The nylon ties were much tighter, and provided a cleaner look. I only want enough of the cables to stick through as necessary to reach the iPads.
I used a few more small strips of velcro to hold the top to the side of the divider plywood. Even though the velcro had a pretty strong adhesive, I used the staple gun to secure the felt and velcro to the plywood. Everything was wedged pretty tight so that probably wasn’t necessary, but kind of helped seal things up.
10) Cushion for the Bumpy Sidewalk
Our school is an outdoor school with rather old sidewalks between wings, so I put a couple of sheets of foam under the iPads to provide a little additional cushioning. It probably was not really necessary, but it didn’t cost me anything extra, so why not?
11) Last Step: Velcro the Power Strip Cable
The last thing I did was use a small wood screw to fasten a velcro wrap to the side of the case so that during transport the Power Strip Cable was not dragging around on the ground.
Shopping List (not all items are mandatory)
Vaultz Locking Mobile Wheelie Chest
Two scraps of 3/8” plywood
5 port surge supressor powerstrip
6 Cosmos 4-Port Wall USB Chargers
~24 Small Nylon Ties
24 USB –>iPad Dock Cables
Small Piece of Black Felt (less than a square yard)
Short Extension Cord with three plugs at the end
Figure 8 electrical AC Adapter cord
Foam packing layer
Table, Band, or Circular Saw to cut wood
Sander or Grinder to modify the USB chargers if necessary
I would love to hear from you if you have any comments, corrections, or suggestions. Leave your comments below or send me an email!
I am thinking again about what are 21st century skills in a broad sense... one of them is most certainly tagging, keywording and other side of that coin is searching. While there are some fascinating stabs at visual search engines such as Tin Eye, most of the searching (or Googling) that we do is reliant on Words. Vocabulary. Language. Diction. Terminology. Phraseology. Nomenclature. Terms. Expressions. Parlance. Idiom. Jargon. Vernacular.
You get the idea, right?
As important as the visual to invoke emotion, curiousity, learning and memory- and as much as music can set mood and is the Global Language - We still rely on language to be effective at sharing our multimedia to the widest and most appropriate audience. If we don’t label, title, tag or keyword it effectively, others will never find it. On the other side of the coin, if we are looking for something ourselves– the only way to be effective at searching is to have a broadening mastery of language to expand our search returns, or to filter and refine them.
So as technology integrators, I think we have more reason than ever to expose our students to the process of intentionally going beyond their immediate personal response to the question “How should I tag this?” for pictures and other digital publications. Facilitate the expansion of their vocabulary and perspective by asking them the question: “What would someone else who was looking for this publication use as a search term?” “What would be their view or perspective, and what language would they use?”
This analysis will certainly result in deeper understanding and more durable conceptualization of the topics that they are learning about.
I am so excited about my latest school project!
Our school on the Space Coast of Florida has issued a challenge to middle grade schools in six other countries:
Show us YOUR WORLD!
As a social studies class project, my school will host 4 photo galleries for students to submit pictures from their country. Let’s learn together visually about life in your country.
|The Participants this round:||United States (contest host)|
There are four categories:
Food Picture Gallery: What food or beverages do you regularly eat that you think might be different from other countries?
Traditions Picture Gallery: What Cultural/Religious/Historical traditions do you participate in that might be unique to your country?
Home Life Picture Gallery: Do you think that your living accommodations or decor may be different from other countries?
School Picture Gallery What does your classroom and school day look like? Is it different from mine?
We will be hosting this project on our school’s Studywiz server. Each student from each country can post one picture in each category. We will rely on Exif information and honor code to insure the pictures were taken by the students during the contest period (the first three weeks of April). Teachers will monitor submissions from their students using RSS feed aggregation.
After the three week submission period, we will lock the students from further submissions and open up a five star rating, commenting and tagging system. Teachers will promote up to five pictures in each category to a new gallery that only the sponsoring teachers can submit their student’s pictures to. These will be our Photographic Best Gallery (PBG).
The Photographic Best Galleries will be judged and commented on for photographic skills and composition, and the general student school galleries will be rated for social/cultural interest and comments should be more of a conversation about cultures.
Students can ask the photographer and other students questions for clarification or more information. This will be where social networking skills (tagging, commenting), and some of the Technology Literacy goals regarding communication and ethical exchanges will take place.
All photos will be available for viewing all through the month of May and may also be downloaded under Creative Commons Licensing.
Doesn’t this sound fun?
(this is a good blog to read- check it out!)
We lose a bit of perspective when we try and equate iOS devices to laptops and netbooks. iOS devices have taken novel technologies and have opened up one of the first genuinely new ways of interacting with a computer.
After reading various GUI Experts* critiques for years, I have been intrigued with the notion that people were tired of the Desktop/File System/Mouse/Icon ways of interacting with computers. REALLY? So what would this look like? What could be better? The iOS has answered that question for me (sometimes). Maybe not 'better' but at least "good different".
Although iOS doesn't completely change the way everything works (we still have icons and clipboard, etc.), it is a pretty radical departure that makes computing much lighter weight, generally lighter wait, and simpler. Furthermore, accelerometers, gyros, geolocation, multitouch surface, these are integrated and being integrated in ways that are refreshing, novel, and inspiring! Most of us would not have imagined the crazy things that could be done with these technologies if we were limited to a laptop or netbook form factor.
So I believe our students and educators deserve to have access to both experiences and I think that true technology literacy is developed by being aware of the strengths and appropriateness of a variety of tools.
*such as the late Jef Raskin, one of the creators of the original MacOS GUI says "shuttling between a keyboard and a mouse wastes too much time." http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2003/tc20030122_7027.htm
How do we make the process more effective, more efficient, more effectual?
When we ask these things, we take our learning to the next level. At least that is my opinion.
Mid–January 2011, seven of my students (seventh and eighth graders) stayed after school to mentor students on the other side of the continent.
US. VIDEO CONFERENCE WITH NEW VILLAGE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY IN NORTH LA, CA
New Village Leadership Academy (NVLA) is a private school founded by the actor Will Smith. His son and daughter are students at this K-8 school.
Recently, their Technology Director, Mrs. McGuire asked Mr. Shupe for some suggestions for initiating a weekly school news program for broadcast in their school. He offered to have our Video Production mentor their students using iChat Video Conference and Screensharing technology. We did some pre-planning in our regular class time during school, but the NVLA students were not available until 1 PM Pacific Time (4 PM EST).
Mrs. McGuire downloaded and installed FaceTimeTM for the Mac. This allowed our students to use an ultra- portable wireless video camera on an iPod TouchTM to give our guests in California a tour of our studio. NVLA students were watching and listening to the narration on their teachers iMac in CA.
The detailed process from anchor desk to micing the talent and using the TelePrompter. Students were able to show
how the cables were hooked up with the wireless camera and where other stu- dents worked on various parts of the broadcast. Our students did a remarkable job, first using the iPod Touch with FaceTime, then moving to using iChat to share their screen with the students in CA. This allowed them to show the stu- dents how they used the different applications to create, edit then move large video files directly (and quickly) from a production computer to the final product editing and broadcast computer.
Mr. Shupe commented: My students were walking on clouds as they left our meeting. Someone far away (an authentic audience) wanted to hear from their experience and expertise. This was a unique opportunity for metacognition that occurs when the learner and practicer becomes the expert. They reflect on how and why they do a complex task. They revisit sequences, troubleshooting, effi- cacy of certain actions and skills. They have to prioritize and consider their audi- ence in their communication.
That evening, Mrs. McGuire sent an enthusiastic reflection back to our school:
OMG! that was so cool! Your kids are rock stars!! Thanks so much! My kids were so excited about their own news show done!
Technology can also improve the quality of our information by being more exacting. In science we call this quantifiable observations - observations that are quantities based on a standard of measurement. Qualitative observations that we make such as the water is warm or cold become temperatures that are much more meaningful. We are not relying on an ambiguous expression that is relevant only to some unexacting construct in the observer’s mind.
An Example of How Technology Amplifys a Student’s Understanding
A eighth grade science research student believes that the sound of a boat engine causes stress to aquatic organisms. We find a sound file of the sound of a boat engine, set it to loop as a Quicktime file. This audio file is played through a set of headphones clamped on the outside of the small tanks with 30 Daphnia (a small freshwater crustacean).
Technology Amplifies Our AbilitiesWe create a simple script on her Mac laptop in Automator to play and stop playing the file in iTunes. Then we create an event to run these Automator scripts for 5 days in iCal. On one computer the iCal events allow the looped file to play for 5 hours, On another computer, the motorboat file is set in iCal to run for 12 hours. A third group (the control group), there is no sound being played at all.
Technology Amplifies and Quantifies Our ObservationsSo we have an audio file playing at the same volume out of iTunes on six experimental groups – using six sets headphones. Or do we? How do we know the sound in the different tanks is the same sound? How do we characterize the sound? Is it loud? Medium loud? Primarily highs, lows or midrange tones? To have a clear and common understanding we need to use numbers that are based on a standard of measurement (common meaning so that other people can have a true sense of what the character of the sound is).
Sound is typically measured in decibels (dB) units. Decibels are units of pressure – but sound is also described in terms of frequency... so you could have a lot of sound ‘pressure’ at a low (bass, drum) frequency and have very little pressure at a high (tweeter, cymbal, flute) frequency. So sound is characterized by a combination of frequency (measured in Hz) and pressure (measured in dB).
Technology Allows Us To Monitor Things In Unusual PlacesNext we needed to monitor what the Daphnia were hearing in the water. It would be silly to stick our head in the water– we probably would introduce a whole new level of stress for these aquatic crustaceans, assuming our head fit. And we wouldn’t be able to quantify (provide number measurement of our observations) if we used only our ears.
So we had a hydrophone – a submersible microphone. But we needed a special type of meter that would measure sound, unfortunately I learned at the last minute that our $50 dB Meter from Radioshack was broken. Furthermore, we also looked at the specs and determined that the Radioshack device wouldn’t work to measure sounds below 50 dB, which was likely going to be an issue. Next day delivery on another $200 device from Amazon didn’t mention any external microphone port (for the hydrophone) and there were no reviews .
App Store & iPod Touch to the Rescue
Our set up included a Belkin microphone that plugged into the base of the iPod Touch (or iPhone). Research on the audio recording capabilities of the iPod Touch’s headphone/microphone input at the top of the device revealed that the Touch has a low frequency filter (probably to prevent wind noise) which was part of what we wanted to measure. The Belkin device has a miniplug (3.5-millimeter), stereo microphone adapter for an external microphone- our hydrophone in this case. This input will bypass the low frequency filter of the headphone/microphone jack at the top of the Touch.
When she was able to measure the sound levels in the tanks, our research found that the tanks that were supposed to have no sound had virtually the same audio characteristics as the tanks that were being treated with sound! It turned out that most of the sound was being conducted through the surface of the desk and since all the tanks were on the same desk surface, they were all being treated with the same sound. Our researcher was going to have to repeat the experiment and isolate the tanks so that the treatment was not transferred through all the tanks.
So end of story:
Technology helps us learn. Technology amplifiesOk, maybe I am not an amplifier, but with technology I can help others amplify their knowledge, understanding, senses, communication, and LIFE!
what we are capable of.
This list assumes that your network engineers haven’t blocked the key ports that iChat uses for communication. And while I keep referring to ‘iChat’, most all of these troubleshooting techniques will work for Skype and other video chat programs. Keep in mind, this is a complicated task that you are asking your computer, your friends computer and the network in between to accomplish. There are a lot of variables and potential weak links. I have tried to list the ones that are under your control.
Some are actually kinda common sense things, but I tried to be thorough – when we are under pressure, sometimes the obvious isn’t.
- Use your fastest computer, with the most RAM and open HD space. Especially if you are hosting (initiating) with several others.
- Unless there is a compelling reason to go wireless (for mobility), ALWAYS use the fastest ethernet (wired) connection possible. You may ask your local tech specialist- sometimes one location on campus has a faster network connection than another.
- Obviously, you should test your connection prior to your big moment. Test to make sure you can connect with your partner.
- If there are issues (unable to connect or poor quality) Minimize or eliminate other network traffic locally- ie, ask colleagues to refrain from streaming video or audio, downloading updates, transferring large files etc. If possible, ensure that other computer labs on the local network aren't browsing the web.
- If you still can't connect, close out of iChat on at least your machine, relaunch, & retry.
- Try and video chat with someone else. See test accounts below.
- Check your System Preferences (under Apple Menubar), select Sharing (third row end), and make sure all of your options are deselected (no sharing) especially Internet Sharing!
- Restart your computer and make sure that only iChat is launched. If you don't need other programs, don't have them running.
- You may even need to reset your switch and or router in the network closet.
The last two choices sound extreme, but they may help reset or renegotiate the speed or duplexing of the port that your computer is connecting to.
- There are test accounts you can check with detailed in this article:
- Check your lighting. Soft, diffused, even lighting is preferred. Watch out for a bright window in the background.
- Simplify your background. The more objects, colors etc, the harder it is for the software to compress the video stream.
- Minimize movement in the camera view while streaming your video.
- Beware of background noise sources (air conditioners, fans, custodians blowing off the sidewalk )
By all means, if you have some other tips or troubleshooting suggestions, leave them below in the comments or email them to me, I will add them here and acknowledge your contribution.
- Have a great time!
It was a simple survey that was really only asking two questions:
- What percentage of the teachers at your institution could be considered technology literate in personal practice?
- What percentage of the teachers at your institution use lesson plans that provide students with activities that incorporate 21st century technology?
This blog entry were also seven demographic types of questions, so that the responses to the two questions could be desegregated into subgroups. I will be real up front– I was both surprised and disappointed that the delta between the 1:1 schools and non-1:1 schools responses was not greater. On a scale of 1-10 Teacher Personal Use was only 1.16 points higher and Integration into Student Activities was only less than one point greater.
One would think that the ubiquitous access to computers would dictate a much more comprehensive, global use both in Personal, but especially in Student Activities!
These results are disappointing on several fronts. As referenced in my previous reflection on this survey, maybe the respondents to the survey needed more refined ways of qualifying instructional integration. It is clear there is room for more research (larger samples and better quality survey).
So I made a brash statement...
In a previous blog entry I lamented that 80% of today’s teachers don’t feel compelled or prepared to really integrate what could be considered 21st century technology skills.
As I wrote this, it occurred to me that this was really just a guess on my part. Although I have traveled to quite a few schools across the nation to do professional development, I had not read any research upon which to base such a statement. So the scientist in me said, “Let’s find out!”.
So I constructed a Google Doc’s Survey (survey now closed).
It was a simple survey that was really only asking two questions:
- What percentage of the teachers at your institution could be considered technology literate in personal practice?
- What percentage of the teachers at your institution use lesson plans that provide students with activities that incorporate 21st century technology?
Not a Perfectly Sound Scientific Study
I appreciate solid, well-thought-out research. This Google form was thrown together in a couple of hours with distractions. Here are some admitted weaknesses:
- Technology Literacy was defined in terms that for some people may be too limiting, and for others may have been too broad:
Web 2.0 defined as participating in social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. commenting, rating, tagging, shared collections of bookmarks, photos, videos, or blogs. 21st Century Skills would include such things as online text, audio and video conferencing and collaboration, a use and ability to edit digtital files such as video, photo or audio files. Standard computer skills include page layout, presentation design, use of spreadsheets and databases.
- The number of respondents over the 10 day period was only 124.
- The data collected reflects an opinion of an individual, as opposed to an objective measure of each school. So I really feel this type of survey might be useful to think about our teacher and student’s experience in terms of a generalized trend.
almost 20% of the respondents were from schools where each student was issued a computer
- The sample was not really ‘random’ by most measures. This survey was promoted primarily through Twitter followers many of whom were at the higher end of tech savvy educators. This was a mixed blessing– these survey respondents were probably better suited to answer these questions from an educated view point than (for example) a random parent who has limited direct experience with all the teachers at a given institution.
However, it also meant that almost 20% of the respondents were from schools where each student was issued a computer- a much higher ratio of technology per student than the national or international average. One would expect that teachers were teaching at a much higher level of technology integration in such a setting!
- It was pointed out to me (by a parent) that I had not included 0% in my scale for a possible answer. (What can I say?– I am an optimist and generally try and promote my profession)
Breadth of Survey Response Geographically
- 28 out of 50 states of the USA were represented
- 21 respondents were from countries other than the United States (leading the pack were 4 from both Canada and the United Kingdom and 3 from Australia)
Almost exactly 1/4 of the school respondents were from private schools.
Here we get down to the meat of the survey. I suspected that more teachers are personally using technology, and was pleased to see that 35% of the schools felt that at least half of the teachers were personally using technology extensively.
On the other hand, one wonders how schools that have only 10% of their teachers personally using technology are going lead their student population into the new decade. This group represented almost 20% of the schools!
The Real Question- How much of this Technology is Reaching the Students?!!
Next we have something of an answer to the real important question, because it is the students that matter. Is the opportunity to learn with technology reaching the students? When you look at this as a chance that one child will receive technology infused instruction, it is much better than I thought– but there is still a long way to go. Almost a third of the schools provide only one chance out of 10 to receive this experience. My next step is to isolate the responses from the Standard schools, I predict that the 1:1 schools have pushed the integration numbers up considerably. I think looking at the Standard schools will betray much lower technology integration in the average classroom.
What do these responses say to you? Please leave your comments below!
In fact, ROW #11 has been selected to be the subject of a documentary by Cameron & David Barrett and their production company, RIcom Creative. Their Executive Producer, Terry Sanders, a two-time Academy Award winning director/producer, will make "Harmony: The Story of Rock Our World."
So amongst the requests of the documentary makers, is the request for a more open/public view of the process- and Carol Anne has established a Ning community for planning and exchanging ideas. Within a few days of open registrations, she had a spammer join the Ning and begin to offer some Google™ - based marketing opportunity. Distracting at worse and harmless in the view of most – it did cause us to pause and rethink the open community model. What if it had been someone more offensive or harmful?
So if membership is closed, who is it closed to?
Now we have to pass judgement, set policy, and review each applicant to our community?
Although it may sound contrary to our desire for open dialog, it is one of those time-honored policies that are being reinterpreted in a new context. Not everyone one and every message is permitted access to our physical school’s campus.
Especially where students are concerned, we need to define our mission and regulate our participants based on that mission.
Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics -
I had really enjoyed the last couple of meetings of SIGRAPH, a good friend is the chairman of the chapter, and he is also a Computer Science Lead at Kennedy Space Center. He manages the dozens of high speed, high resolution cameras that capture shuttle launches from every angle and helps analyze visual data at the Cape.
So he has a special treat for visiting Graphics Professionals that keynote at our meetings. They all get a behind the scenes tour of the Space Center. And we get a special treat of hearing from some pretty big names in the motion picture industry. And the some of the meetings are held at a very nice location at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's center.
Last year we heard from John Knoll, one of the original developers of Photoshop and currently at Lucas Films as a special effects director. He began his presentation with a video of an Apollo launch that was nothing short of phenomenal. Lots of detail, spectacular camera angles, nothing short of amazing...
Suddenly, I realized, according to the time frame of this historical event, this was all wrong. High definition video was not being shot... as the lunar landing module began it's descent to the moon's surface- THERE WERE NO CAMERAS shooting from all these strange angles!!!
Yep, the boy who was the son of an early space engineer, born beneath the shadow of rockets, had been duped!
Turns out that all of the footage was CGI (computer generated images). With a chapter straight out of the book When Geeks Play, Knoll explained that he was often frustrated with the lack of adherence to the laws of physics when creating films for Industrial Light and Magic. So his spare-time hobby was to use all accessible the historical telemetry, images, video, and other anecdotal information to create a high definition 3d rendered model of the remarkable event. From the mangrove trees surrounding the Merritt Island Wildlife refuge to the view of earth from space to the rocky terrain on the lunar landscape, it was all accurate to the available information and true to the history of the mission. Pretty amazing...
Another meeting last year gave us a chance to hear from Pixar's Rob Cook, Vice President of Research and Development. Cook's preso was quite interesting as well as it featured the creative process from idea conception to release using Finding Nemo as the example project. As a computer applications and video productions educator, this was a valuable example of developing an involved project.
Quite honestly, the most recent Focus on Technology was not quite as interesting as the previous ones I have attended. The first speaker was Florian Kainz, Computer Graphics Principal Engineer- Industrial Light & Magic who spoke about a wide spectrum graphics file format that he helped develop. This did provoke some consideration of the enormous amount of process that is done with captured images in the movie industry. Having as much raw information as possible to work with after the shoot was the key, but it did seem to go beyond most of the folks cared to know about the subject as he discussed the file format's details for over a forty minutes. The decision to make that file format open source was one of the memorable parts of the presentation.
Following Kainz, Kevin Tureski, Director of Engineering, Maya Alias Systems gave us a history of his company and the software development cycle of it's flagship product Maya (one of the premier 3d modeling programs used by the entertainment industry. Again this was quite interesting, but not quite as applicable to my career as an Educational Technologist.
In summary, I would certainly encourage my readers to look into the local chapter of user groups - they are great sources of inspiration and resources.