When I was doing a bit of coding every day, I found I could much more quickly grasp key concepts. But if I stopped for a few days or, every so often, a few weeks, when a crush of work in my day-job and a load of personal-life responsibilities arrived, it was like wiping the slate clean. I’d come back to work on a coding project and I’d have forgotten a shocking amount of basic stuff. Clive Thompson ‘Ten Lessons I Learned While Teaching Myself to Code’

The current pandemic has led to many changes in habits. One of which is that I like to be prepared when I go to the supermarket, especially when doing a big shop. Fine I may not last out the two to three weeks that Zeynep Tufekci flagged early on:

For food, you can just buy two or three weeks’ worth of shelf-stable food that you would eat anyway, and be done; this could include canned food like beans and vegetables, pasta, rice, cereals or oats, oils/fats, nuts and dried fruits. It’s really not that hard because we’re talking two-three weeks, so whatever you get is fine. It doesn’t have to be expensive or super healthy or specialized ready-to-eat meals in camo boxes guaranteed to survive the meteor strike! Rice, beans, salsa, ramen, some sort of cooking oil, oatmeal, nuts and dried or canned fruits and vegetables enough for two weeks can be had at relatively little cost and take up fairly little space.

However, I at least try and limit how often I go out. That is usually the intent of lockdown measures (Melbourne is currently in its fifth lockdown at the point of writing) used to hammer the virus. One strategy I have used is to be clear about what I might need at the shops split into different sections. As a part of this, I wrote out a list of essential items and have been using this to create the weekly shopping list. Today, I decided to have a go at turning this into a spreadsheet using Google Sheets that I could use to generate the list. Here then are my steps:

List of Items

I started by writing something of a complete list of items. Associated with this, I categorised each item in a separate column. To save from writing each category each time, I created a separate list of unique categories and then used this with data validation to create a dynamic drop-down list. This meant that if I added a new category it would then be added as an option. In a third column, I added a checkbox for each item to be used to produce the weekly list.

Switch the Category

Added to the category, I used the SWITCH formula to create a sort order.

=IFNA(ARRAYFORMULA(SWITCH(B2:B,"Veg",1,"Fruit",2,"Meat",3,"Dairy",4,"Bakery",5,"Sweets",6,"Non",7,"Freezer",8,"Other",9)))

Generating the Summary List

Once the items required were ticked, I wanted a summary that I could copy into a message. My initial iteration was a simple query: =QUERY(Sheet1!A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE ORDER BY A") The problem with this is that it did not put each item on a new line. To fix that, I used the JOIN function and the New Line character.

=JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(Sheet1!A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE ORDER BY A")) 

Although this put each item on a new line, I then wondered about adding an emoji for each section to break up the information. To do this, I combined the new line and emoji characters, with a separate query for each category.

=""&CHAR(129477)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 1 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127822)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 2 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129385)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 3 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129472)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 4 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127838)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 5 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127851)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 6 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129387)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 7 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129482)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 8 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129531)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 9 and D = TRUE"))}

Resetting Selections

The last task was to add a script to reset the checkboxes. For this, I added a script via app scripts I found here and created a button as a trigger. You can make a copy of the whole spreadsheet here.


When it comes to coding, Clive Thompson talks about learning to code by doing something every day and doing so with purpose. Here is another example of a solution that is as much about learning as it is about the solution itself. Comments and recommendations on improvements welcome.


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Until we call out the ridiculousness when it appears, until we recognize exactly how broken things are we may be falling into the trap of longing for nostalgia. For a past we can return to where the problems we have didn’t exist. Or, we can recognize that nostalgia is fed from exactly the dynamic that got us to this thorny moment in the first place: the denial of our broken social contract, and institutions and rituals that were performatively there, the way the debate was, but no longer providing the function that was the stated reason for their existence in the first place. Zeynep Tufekci ‘Against Nostalgia’

Responding to the presidential debate, Zeynep Tufekci draws on the work of William Fielding Ogburn to discuss the mismatch between a past we hope we can return to and the actual reality that has moved on. Debates worked in an era with little choice, however with so many other means of communicating it does not make sense.

We could, instead, have panels of journalists interrogate the candidates in separate hours, where the candidates have time to speak. The panel could consist of journalists chosen by the candidate and his opponent, with questions alternating between the friendly questions and those less friendly. The questions could be negotiated so that some of the same questions are asked of both candidates. They could be a mix of questions submitted in a town hall and questions polled among the public. The follow-ups could also alternate. And so on. Something else. Anything else.

Although different from the debates, this notion of mismatch is something that has been called out by the current crisis.

As students return to classes, there is a lot of discussion about what has changed and the dangers of snapping back into an old sense of normal. For Steven Kolber, the move to offsite learning has highlighted the opportunity for asynchronous learning.

A ‘build back better’ move would be to allow a portion of students’ load to be delivered remotely, giving teachers and students some space for variety in their schedule, and freedom from the byzantine and industrial timetable of schools.

I think that this opportunity is something pertinent both inside and outside of the classroom.

In my work in supporting schools, the move offsite has forced a rethink for how schools and staff are supported. Where in the past, there was a focus on in-person workshops, structured around particular topics. In their place we have been forced to explore other approaches. One of the consequences of this is that it has broken up sessions into support that is done at the point of need.

One of the things I have been doing for a while is following up support calls with a summary of how I saw things. Many take their own notes, but having my own set allows for cross-checking. Associated with words, I have been exploring a number of other ways to communicate and explain various points.

Annotations

The simplest way to supplement a written explanation is with an annotated image. Although it is possible to provide clear descriptions, this presumes we all share the same language. For example, here is my online course associated with Global2 which is regularly broken up with annotated images. Although in the past I used Google Drawings to create such images. These days I use SnagIt to quickly capture and create images, especially when connecting remotely using BOMGAR.

Gifs

I have taken to using GIFs to capture more complex workflows which cannot be presented in a static annotation. This was in part inspired by Jake Miller’s EduGIFs. It involves turning short screen-casts into GIFs. I have found if short enough, they can be sent by email or uploaded into a Google Doc. As with annotations, I have been using SnagIt to create these GIFs. Although I like Miller’s combination of text and image, this is not possible with SnagIt. I therefore still provide these with written instructions.

Video

One of the limitations to both images and GIFs is that often they only capture a particular part of a longer processes. Therefore, I have taken to using Captivate to record video demos this year in something of a flipped model. This has involved:

  1. Recording the video. Although research suggests that showing your face is important, I find it impedes the ability to edit the video unless you keep your face really still. If I make a mistake or am unhappy with a particular instruction, I usually just do it again while recording, knowing I can then just cut this out later.
  2. Fixing up the audio. Opening the narration in Audition, I normalise the volume and silence any unwanted noises, such as coughs, umms and words I inadvertently repeat, like ‘now’. In the past I have used Levelator and Audacity for this, however Captivate has a direct integration with Audition, which makes it easier.
  3. Trimming the video of parts not needed. This includes pauses and moments where I may be completing a task that does not need to be demonstrated. Ideally, it would be good to keep such moments in and speed them up, but I have not found a simple way of doing that with my current setup.
  4. Editing the narrative. Using the Zoom and Highlight Box functions I guide the viewer’s attention to match my instructions. This includes updating the default Highlight Box so that the background is basically blacked out.
  5. Publishing the video. Once complete, I upload the videos into Google Drive to be shared. I have been thinking about whether it would be better to load these into YouTube as unlisted to provide access to transcripts, as Mike Caulfield does with his instructional material. However, for now Google Drive works.

Much of this is captured in this video from Paul Wilson and this guide:

It needs to be noted that another influence in regards to asynchronous videos has been Ben Collins. I have written about presentations before, focusing on the importance of content, delivery and supporting materials. Lately though I have been inspired by Collins’ courses and the way in which he carves out succinct narratives and breaks-up the whole into its parts. I am sure that hours of effort have gone to getting this stage.

The challenge I have with my work is two fold: to build the capacity of users, as well as develop a sustainable support processes. In addition to using images, GIFs and video, I endeavour to use de-identified data in the images that I share, this means that if somebody else has the same request that I can easily just send them the same message and image.


So that is my new normal beyond the classroom. What has it been like for you? As always appreciate any thoughts and feedback.


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Adults don’t call what we’re doing “homeworking,” we call it “working from home.” Consider not calling it “homeschooling.” Consider thinking about it as “learning from home.” Austin Kleon

As the cases of the coronavirus in Victoria continue to grow and the possibility of a return to learning at home becomes a possibility, I thought I should really stop and reflect upon my experience as a parent supporting our daughter as she learnt from home. I had intended to submit this to the governments review, but time got away from me.

Structure and Rigidity of Online Learning

The learning was very methodical. In many respects, it followed the same structure of the schools day with a block of literacy, numeracy, integrated and personal/social learning. This was supplemented by weekly activities provided by the specialist teachers. Students were encouraged to submit tasks each day, however the only aspect that seemed to be explicitly required was logging into the daily video conference.

A few weeks in, students were given an additional option to pursue a passion project. For my daughter this became Minecraft. This choice came as a breath of fresh air and became a focus for the rest of the time. Sadly, there was little guidance provided and this often led to hours of tinkering and never actually produced any sort of question or problem. It was a reminder that even passions need to be cultivated.

Communication with School

In regards to communication, the parent portal was used to broadcast information via the news feed. This included links to things like daily learning, weekly assembly and any other updates. For those wanting to contact the school, the platform provides a module for messaging a student’s teachers.

The problem with this is that the expectations associated with communication were unclear. Although solutions were put in place, there were no protocols about what would be appropriate. Was it appropriate to provide updates on the struggles that I was seeing at home or were these actually being picked up in the daily conferences? These were things we may have written in the school diary, however for fear of coming across as a helicopter parent, I often stayed silent.

Play and Social Spaces

Each day there was an hourly class video conference. This session usually had a particular focus, such as writing or numeracy. There was also opportunity to connect with other students. However, this space was managed by the teacher. This was the same with the use of Google Classroom. Although there is a space for writing posts, students were encouraged to use this for questions and conversations about learning task.

Although so many of the structures were carried online, one that was absent was a deliberate social space encapsulated in the yard. A part of me understands why. Some may abuse such an opportunity. There is no means of putting in place clear habits and policies before moving online. Also, it would become another thing for teachers to manage. Maybe such a space is the responsibility of home, I still think that this social side is one of the limitations to moving online, a place for play and experimentation.

As Kathleen Morris touched upon in her post on Facebook Messenger for Kids:

One thing that instantly annoyed me about Messenger Kids is that there are so many distractions from the core features of messaging and video calls. There are filters, stickers, and mini games (like spinning to choose a llama head during a video chat… go figure… kids love it!).

My 6 year old is SO drawn to these features as are her friends. So far, this is their main interest during video calls. They don’t talk very much. They just play.

Initially, I kept prompting in the background, “ask them what they’ve been doing”, “stop playing with the effects and talk!”

Then I took a step back and thought, this is what they want to do. This is play. They’re only 6/7 and if they were playing together in the same room, they probably wouldn’t be sitting chatting about what they’ve been up to. They’d probably be playing in a way that’s sometimes hard for adults to understand.

So my way of thinking now is that it’s okay. Maybe the novelty won’t last. However, when my daughter is talking to her grandparents, for example, I’m insisting that she talks rather than simply playing with the effects. It’s about changing your interactions to suit who you are communicating with; a vital lesson for both online and offline encounters.

The Role of the Parent

I found it hard to know my place within the learning process. Maybe this is because I myself am a teacher, but I actually think this made it even harder. Although information was sent home about the expectations of where, when and how students would learn, it was not clear the place I served as an aide within all of this.

In some ways, I felt more akin to being a relief teacher with little agency. Although I was happy to help my daughter unpack various tasks, she regularly made clear, “but you are not my teacher.” Even with a planner provided each day, this did not necessarily elaborate on the intricacies of the various steps and strategies the school or teacher uses.


If schools are forced to work remotely again, it will be interesting to see what stays the same and whether any lessons are learnt. Simon Breakspeare talks about the importance of recognising the effort put in, my fear is that that for many there has not been enough time for such reflection.


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The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.

Strange events like the coronavirus provide the opportunity to look at the familiar with new perspective and reimagine a new sense of normal.


There is something uncanny about social distancing and staying at home. One oddity is that there is so little to compare it to. A colleague compared it to being trapped on a desert island. This made me think about Wilson and Castaway, however I feel that is a bit extreme and does not completely capture the situation.

The strange thing as to consider various pieces of fiction and how if they were set in the current climate they might be different. Jessie Gaynor reimagined the beginnings of a number of stories, such as Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.

However, the book that has left me thinking has been How to Make a Movie in 12 Days.

Written by an old friend of mine, Fiona Hardy, the novel tells the story of Hayley Whelan and her journey to create a film over the summer break in memory of her grandmother. It grapples with one calamity after another in an epic quest against time set in suburbia.

After finishing the book, I was left thinking about the world it depicts. Whether it be riding around the streets, sending messages to friends on the family computer or posting on YouTube channels, I wondered how this may date in the future. However, the pandemic has taken these thoughts to a whole new place.

I was left thinking about the impact that the requirement to stay at home would have on the ability to film various scenes, the limitations in regards to socialising, especially not in parks, cafes or libraries, and definitely especially not with the older at risk members within the community. There is also the impact of hygiene practices, such as washing hands, wearing face masks and disinfecting equipment, and the challenges this would create in regards to the movie making process in twelve days.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was in fact a great novel for capturing the current circumstances. Although there is a longing for face-to-face communication, with pyjama clad late night rendezvous, there is also the reality of asynchronous communication. Associated with this, the novel was built around a personal passion project with an authentic outcome. Something essential during times when formal learning is not occurring. Much of the inspiration stemmed from the long movie binges that Hayley and her father would partake in. This all encapsulated what Ian Bogost suggests when he says that we are all basically already living in quarantine.


Discussing what The current virus is so confusing, Ed Yong suggests that the coronavirus itself does not have a clear narrative.

I cannot read about the losses that never occurred, because they were averted. Prevention may be better than cure, but it is also less visceral.

I would argue that other than dystopian tales there are not many pieces of fiction which help in making sense of the current normal. However, what I have found is that solace and meaning can often be found in strange places.

What about you, what books have helped you during the current crisis? How have they helped you in making sense? As always, comments welcome.


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