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Pencasting During Lectures in Large Venues

In a recent post on pencasting as a way of teaching/learning weather and climate, I stated:

Monday (October 1, 2012), I intend to use a pencast during my lecture – to introduce aspects of the stability of Earth’s atmosphere. I’ll try to share here how it went. For this intended use of the pencast, I will use a landscape mode for presentation – as I expect that’ll work well in the large lecture hall I teach in. I am, however, a little concerned that the lines I’ll be drawing will be a little too thin/faint for the students at the back of the lecture theatre to see …

I followed through as advertized (above) earlier today.


My preliminary findings are as follows:

  • The visual aspects of the pencast are quite acceptable – This is true even in large lecture halls such as the 500-seat Price Family Cinema at York University (pictured above) in Toronto, Canada where I am currently teaching. I used landscape mode for today’s pencast, and zoomed it in a little. A slightly thicker pen option would be wonderful for such situations … as would different pen colours (the default is green).
  • The audio quality of the pencasts is very good to excellent – Although my Livescribe pen came with a headset/microphone, I don’t use it. I simply use the built-in microphone on the pen, and speak normally when I am developing pencasts. Of course, the audio capabilities of the lecture hall I teach in are most excellent for playback!
  • One-to-many live streaming of pencasts works well – I streamed live directly from myLivescibe today. I believe the application infrastructure is based largely on Adobe Flash and various Web services delivered by Web Objects. Regardless of the technical underpinnings, live streaming worked well. Of course, I could’ve developed a completely self-contained PDF file, downloaded this, and run the pencast locally using Adobe Reader.
  • Personal pencasting works well – I noticed that a number of students were streaming the pencast live for themselves during the lecture. In so doing, they could control interaction with the pencast.

Anecdotally, a few students mentioned that they appreciated the pencast during the break period – my class meets once per for a three-hour session.

Although I’ve yet to hear this feedback directly from the students, I believe I need to:

  • Decrease the duration of pencasts – Today’s lasts about 10 minutes
  • Employ a less-is-more approach/strategy – My pencasts are fairly involved when done …
  • Experiment with the right balance of speaking to penning (is that even a word!?) – Probably a less-is-more approach/strategy would work well here for both the penned and spoken word …

Finally, today’s pencast on the basics of atmospheric stability:

  • Previous approach – Project an illustration taken directly from the course’s text. This is a professionally produced, visually appealing, detailed, end-result, static diagram that I embedded in my presentation software (I use Google Docs for a number of reasons.) Using a laser pointer, my pedagogy called for a systematic deconstruction this diagram – hoping that the students would be engaged enough to actually follow me. Of course, in the captured versions of my lectures, the students don’t actually see where I’m directing the laser pointer. The students have access to the course text and my lecture slides. I have no idea if/how they attempt to ingest and learn from this approach.
  • Pencasting – As discussed elsewhere, the starting point is a blank slate. Using the pencasting technology, I sketch my own rendition of the illustration from the text. As I build up the details, I explain the concept of stability analyses. Because the sketch appears as I speak, the students have the potential to follow me quite closely – and if they miss anything, they can review the pencast after class at their own pace. The end result of a pencast is a sketch that doesn’t hold a candle to the professionally produced illustration provided in the text and my lecture notes. However, to evaluate the pencast as merely a final product, I believe, misses the point completely. Why? I believe the pencast is a far superior way to teach and to learn in situations such as this one. Why? I believe the pencast allows the teacher to focus on communication – communication that the learner can also choose to be highly receptive to, and engaged by.

I still regard myself as very much a neophyte in this arena. However, as the above final paragraphs indicate, pencasting is a disruptive innovation whose value in teaching/learning merits further investigation.

Google: From Grad School to $150 Billion Company

There’s a visual portrayal of Google’s ascent from an idea held by a pair of Stanford grad students to a publicly traded company over on Online PhD. Enjoy!

From Unity to GNOME to LXDE: A Journey of (Personal) Discovery

Much is being written these days about Unity – but more specifically, Canonical’s decision to shift from GNOME to Unity as the default desktop environment.

When I make use of a recent-generation laptop/desktop, I use Unity. Soon after reviewing Jorge Castro’s video on multitasking in Unity, I became (and remain) a fan of Unity. About the only serious omission of the Unity environment is the absence of the panel applets that I’ve grown attached to from time spent in the GNOME environment. (I believe improvements are already afoot in this area, but I have not explored the same …)

Perhaps the only negative feedback I’d offer about Unity is that I needed Jorge’s video to get me up to speed – and I find that somewhat ironic (from a usability perspective) for a leading-edge UI …

The fact that Unity has won me over is interesting in another regard. My first exposure to Unity was on an Asus 1000 netbook via Ubuntu’s netbook remix. In hindsight though, anything negative I’d share from this time had more to do with the Asus netbook and its built-in mouse than Unity, per se.

Although I am a proponent of Unity on recent-generation laptops/desktops, I’ve found it unusable on older hardware – and this applies to the 2D as well as the 3D version. In fact, I came to using the no-effect version of the GNOME environment on the old Dell equipment I still make use of.

Though this was a passable experience most of the time, there were far too many instances of excessive paging which rendered the system unusable.

It is fortunate that my end-user experience on legacy hardware was so unacceptable.


As a direct consequence, I recently discovered Lubuntu – at precisely the time Lubuntu was receiving official recognition from Canonical as a bona fide Ubuntu flavor.

I’ve thus been using Lubuntu 11.10 since its release last Thursday (October 13, 2011). Even though the honeymoon remains in effect, the shift to Lubuntu is proving to be increasingly worthwhile – I have a responsive interface to my legacy hardware, with the option to selectively leverage Ubuntu.

One final thought … Lubuntu provides Sylpheed as its built-in mail user agent (MUA). I’ve found Sylpheed to be extremely viable on my legacy hardware. In fact, I’ve even found the latest version of Thunderbird performs reasonably well on this same platform under Lubuntu. Despite these options, I’ve remained a user of Google’s browser-based version of GMail. Why? I seem to have lost the value proposition for fat MUAs for the moment ….

Feel free to comment on this post and add your own $0.02.

Aakash: A Disruptive Innovation in the Truest Sense

Much has been, and will be, written about the Aakash tablet.

[With apologies for the situational monsoonal imagery …] As I awash myself in Aakash, I am particularly taken by:

  • The order of magnitude reduction in price point. With a stated cost of about $50, marked-up prices are still close to an order of magnitude more affordable than the incumbent offerings (e.g., the iPad, Android-based tablets, etc.). Even Amazon’s Kindle Fire is 2-3 times more expensive.
  • The adoption of Android as the innovation platform. I take this as yet another data point (YADP) in firmly establishing Android as the leading future proofed platform for innovation in the mobile-computing space. As Aakash solidly demonstrates, it’s about the all-inclusive collaboration that can occur when organizational boundaries are made redundant through use of an open platform for innovation. These dynamics just aren’t the same as those that would be achieved by embracing proprietary platforms (e.g., Apple’s iOS, RIM QNX-based O/S, etc.).
  • The Indian origin. It took MIT Being Digital, in the meatspace personage of Nicholas Negroponte, to hatch the One Laptop Per Child initiative. In the case of Aakash, this is grass-roots innovation that has Grameen Bank like possibilities.
While some get distracted comparing/contrasting tech specs, the significant impact of Aakash is that it is a disruptive innovation in the truest sense:
“An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.  Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include:  lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics.”
I am certainly looking forward to seeing this evolve!

  • Like Aakash, I am of Indian origin. My Indian origin, however, is somewhat diluted by some English origin – making me an Anglo-Indian. Regardless, my own origin may play some role in my gushing exuberance for Aakash – and hence the need for this disclaimer.
  • I am the owner of a Motorola Xoom, but not an iPad. This may mean I am somewhat predisposed towards the Android platform.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on Aakash by commenting on this post.

Google Chrome for Linux on Bright Hub: Series Expanded

I recently posted on a new article series on Google Chrome for Linux that I’ve been developing over on Bright Hub. My exploration has turned out to be more engaging than I anticipated! At the moment, there are six articles in the series:

I anticipate a few more …

It’s also important to share that Google Chrome for Linux does not yet exist as an end-user application. Under the auspices of the Chromium Project, however, there is a significant amount of work underway. And because this work is taking place out in the open (Chromiun is an Open Source Project), now is an excellent time to engage – especially for serious enthusiasts.

Google Chrome for Linux Articles on Bright Hub

I’ve recently started an article series over on Bright Hub. The theme of the series is Google Chrome for Linux, and the series blurb states:

Google Chrome is shaking up the status quo for Web browsers. This series explores and expounds Chrome as it evolves for the Linux platform.

So far, there are the following three articles in the series:

I intend to add more … and hope you’ll drop by to read the articles.