Struggle with GIF leads to deeper understanding of pictures



For the topic digital storytelling in ETMOOC one of the assignments was to make a GIF. Below this text you see the result of what I made. For the people thinking but isn’t a GIF something that is moving, you are absolutely right. Click on the pic and it will start moving. I have no idea why it is not moving in this post but for sure that’s a setting of wordpress.


The process of making

As I knew before, making this would frustrate me. I always end up getting angry at the programs you use for making animations, presentations and videos. The designers of those programs seem to have different ideas about what logical then I do.

A GIF consists out of different layers, that is all the pictures you in the end turn into the moving GIF. So its nice if its easy to distinguish between the different layers and to be able to change the order of the pictures. It took me at least 15 minutes in GIMP to find out how to distinguish between the different layers. After that it took me another 15 minutes to figure out how to change the order of the pictures.

Luckily trying out what the animation would look like was easy as the playback function was right there where the manual said it would be. It turned out that the animation was running on full speed but I wanted the pictures to changes more slowly. The instructions said:

“Too fast? Too slow? No worries, in GIMP you can easily adjust this by going into the layer and typing how many milliseconds (ms) you want the frame to last.”

I had no idea how to “go into the layer” so I tried all the buttons of the program that I thought would be about going into the layer. No luck for me there so I searched on the internet. It turned out that in GIMP you “specify the delay as a layer comment”. I searched where to set a layer comment. No luck there for me also. After a few more searches it became clear to me that I had to double click on the name of the layer (had found that before), that made the name editable so that I could insert (300 ms) after the name of the layer. Running it again in Playback gave a result that I liked much better. I did not want to get more frustrated so I decided to save the layers as a GIF. After saving it the delay between the different layers was lost in the resulting GIF. It turned out that in the saving process you could set the delay time between the different layers and if you did not do it there it was returned to the default of 100 ms. Ok, I changed it to the desired 300 ms and saved it again and luckily I got what I wanted to get.

Is it just me or is everybody struggling with tools like GIMP?

The story

The topic in ETMOOC is about digital storytelling so what story is the GIF telling? Its a story about communication. My family had a visitor from the Philippines who did not speak dutch and my  children don’t speak English yet. It was difficult for our guest and the children to communicate and have some fun with each other. The guest and my daughter ended up behind the camera of the iPad and made pictures together. Asian people tend to have more restrained facial expressions then Europeans. It was funny to see that in these pictures this is reversed.

My learning

In making a GIF you look much more closely at the pictures that form the basis for it. That can lead to a deeper understanding of what can be seen in the pictures. When I discovered the pictures on my iPad it were just funny pictures to me. In making the GIF I discovered that my guest and my daughter had used making the pictures as a form of communication that was otherwise difficult for them. Also the observation of the reversed cultural traits was a result of my work with the pics. In the end it was a worthwhile experience even given my struggles with the technology to make the GIF.   


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ETMOOC and the seven principles for good education

The first topic of ETMOOC, Connected learning is ending today. After given some opinions about the risks I see with connected learning I want to devote this post to my experiences with it in ETMOOC. I will focus on what I learned so far, why I think I learned and how I think my learning could improve further.

There are many ideas out there why learning occurs but I have always liked the “Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” as a guideline for determining if learning is likely to occur. So what I will do is take these seven principles and apply them to the ETMOOC experience.

Encourages contact between students and faculty

The main idea of this principle is that contacts between faculty and students is motivating for students and gives faculty the opportunity to support students when they run into any type of problems.

In ETMOOC there is the potential for a lot of interaction between the organizers, moderators and speakers on one hand and the participants on they other hand. The organizers are putting a lot of energy in providing a safe and cooperative environment. During the scheduled “classes” in Blackboard collaborate they provide several opportunities to interact and also outside of classes there is a lot of interaction between the organizers and the participants going on.

For me it was motivating to see that my first blog post was tweeted about by two of the organizers of ETMOOC. What was very motivating was to have Dave Cormier reacting to my post about Rhizomatic learning. Also because it was a very friendly reaction while I was critiquing Rhizomatic learning. It is difficult for me, because of the timing, to take the scheduled “classes” so I watch the recordings.

I think the set-up of ETMOOC really applies this principle though I have no idea how much interaction with the organizers other participants experience.

Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students

The main idea of this principle is that cooperating with other students and reacting to what they are saying and doing “sharpens your thinking and deepens your understanding” of the subject matter.

In ETMOOC all participants are encouraged to have a blog where they write and reflect  about the topics that are discussed. It is encouraged that other participants react on those posts and that the original poster reacts back to that. Participants are also encouraged to set-up sessions with other participants about any relevant topic they want to discuss with them. Both things, reacting and setting up sessions by participants, are indeed happening.

So far I have experienced little interaction with other participants. Quite a few people have read my posts but no reactions to them so far. I must admit that I have been lazy myself also in reading other peoples blog posts and in commenting to them (the one comment I did give is still under moderation :-). Apart from being lazy myself a reason for that is that the amount of blogs you can go to is a bit overwhelming. Too much information and (even with featured posts) hard to find out what I would like to read.

I think the set-up of ETMOOC really applies this principle but I could imagine that it is still hard for a lot of participants to get to real interaction with others. What could be helpful is if the organizers would give out interaction assignments to the participants.

Encourages Active Learning

The main idea of this principle is that you have to for example talk and write about what you are learning.

As said before all participants are encouraged to have a blog and write about the topics that are discussed there is also encouragement for discussing topics with the other participants. There are a lot of participants that write blog posts and are discussing topics with others.

This here is my first blog and it is there because of ETMOOC. I have written posts I would not have written without participating in ETMOOC. So I have spend quite some time on writing and reflecting about the topic so far.

This principle is well applied in ETMOOC. Also here I think the participants could profit from the organizers being clear about the amount of posts (and length, thoughtfulness etc.) they expect from the participants in order to come to learning.

Gives Prompt Feedback

The main idea of this principle is that your learning improves if you get frequent feedback on what you are writing, saying and doing.

As described before the whole idea of ETMOOC is set-up around a lot of possibilities for interaction between the participants among each other and with the organizers. Interaction is not the same as feedback though. The safeguard for if feedback is right and worthwhile seems to be that most of it happens in public spaces where other participants can see it also and can correct if necessary.

For me it was great to get feedback from Dave Cormier on my post it stimulated me to think some more about my opinions. But I would have liked to have a lot more feedback. It would have been great to get feedback for example from Sue Waters about my first blog posts to see if I had understood what she had been teaching is in her sessions. I understand it is not possible for the organizers to give direct feedback to all the participants. An idea could be to transform some of the things you learn (how to blog as an example) into rubrics that participants could use as a guideline to react to your posts.

I think there is great potential for benefiting from this principle in ETMOOC. For sure some valuable feedback is been given but I certainly see room for improvement here.

Emphasizes Time on Task

The main idea of this principle is that the more time you spend on a topic the more you learn about it.

In ETMOOC there are a lot of scheduled activities and the whole set-up is such that you can spend endless time reading all the blogs and the links within them. Actually the organizers warn you to not try to read everything there is. There is no control on the amount of time the participants spend and its hard to get a clear idea of the average time the participants spend on their tasks for ETMOOC. I have no hard proof but it feels as if there is a lot of difference between the time the participants spend.

So far I have watched all the recordings of the scheduled sessions, spend quite some time on writing my four blog posts and have spend to little time on reading others blogs and reacting to them.

I think there is great potential for benefiting from this principle in ETMOOC. Participants who are motivated will have no problem devoting a lot of time to the material that is available and writing about it. There is no explicit push from the organizers to spend time apart from (successful) attempts to make participants enthusiastic to do something.

Communicates High Expectations

The main idea of this principle is that if a teachers expects more from students he or she will get more from them.

The organizers of ETMOOC certainly do there best to communicate high expectations to the participants. The making of the lip dub in a short time was a good example of this. For sure effective for the people motivated to participate maybe less so for the people that are struggling to devote sufficient time to ETMOOC. The whole set-up with writing blogs and expecting the participants to write worthwhile contributions on them is also communicating high expectations.

For me it was a nice challenge to finally set-up that blog that I had been thinking about quite a few times already. So far I did not really feel the high expectations when it comes to interacting with other participants and reacting to their contributions.

Its hard to effectively communicate high expectations in a set-up like this MOOC. Weak links seem to have great effects in some areas here I think they don’t work really well.

Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

The main idea of this principle is that there are many different ways in which students learn. Education should be set-up in such a way that students can do it in the way that suits them best.

There is a lot of freedom in ETMOOC for the participants to find there own approach to the way they learn. You can participate in live sessions but also watch the recordings, you can write your own blog posts or react to others, you can use the tools you like best to do the activities you have to do. Participants can be seen to do things in all types of different ways.

For me learning occurs when I can engage critically with what is presented to me. ETMOOC certainly gives me the opportunity to do so and also has an atmosphere where you feel free to do it your own way.

I think this principle is applied very well in the set-up of ETMOOC.

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No Rhizomatic learning for me

Just now I listened to a talk by Dave Cormier about Rhizomatic Learning as part of participating in ETMOOC. The most important statements about what it is to me are “that participating in the community is the curriculum” and “the Rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty”.

Put into practice this leads to no set structure for your education, no clearly defined end terms and no authority figure who decides if you mastered the subject. Put positively participants set their own goals and by interacting with other people learn themselves new things and in the process of doing so also teach others new things.

The catalyst for Rhizomatic Learning seems to be the internet, the vast amounts of information that is available on it and the ease it gives us to connect and interact with other people.

Rhizomatic Learning was not presented as a solution for learning in all contexts but only for complex contexts as described in the Cynefin framework. In this framework complex contexts are defined as problems “in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect”.

Listening to the talk and thinking about it for a bit I have severe doubts about the whole concept for three main reasons:

  1. The whole idea that this is suited for problems in complex contexts is counter intuitive to me. I can live with the idea that for simple contexts where there is clarity about the best possible answer to a solution a teacher chooses to let the students figure out the answer for themselves in any way they like and in a cooperative manner. Complex problems on the other hand are never complex as a whole. Think of this as a pyramid where the top is the complexity that is not understood by anyone. The layers below the top are complex also but understood by ever more people. The further down you go on the pyramid the less complex the underlying knowledge (for solving the complex problem) is and the more it is understood by people. Of course given the definition you don’t know for sure what the base of the pyramid is before you solve the problem but I would think that you have some idea of what knowledge might help you to solve the problem. In learning about it, it seems to me that one is better of when one does this in a context with specialists in the underlying knowledge domains who provide guidance, give feedback and prevent you from taking routes with little likelihood of success.
  2. The whole concept draws so heavily on high level skills (being able to deal with uncertainty and distinguishing which contributions from others are valuable and which are not) that it becomes elitist.
  3. As the community is the curriculum there is a big risk that people end up with misconceptions about whatever complex problem they are studying. The voice of the majority in the community in which you are studying might decide what you belief to be true while ignoring relevant facts that point in other directions. Psychologists call this group-think. The best example I can think of is people who hold intelligent design to be true.
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Connected learning or your own realm of reality

As participant in ETMOOC this week I listened to Alec Couros’ talk about connected learning. As I am always skeptical about claims that there is something new in learning I thought a bit about those two words: connected and learning.

Connected seems to be a good word to describe the whole idea of connected learning. Clearly the people in ETMOOC and other MOOC’s are connected to each other. So whats bugging me is the other word: learning.

How do we know that what takes place in activities like ETMOOC can be qualified as learning. The set up is that there is limited direction and that “the majority of interactions are likely to occur within groups & networks” Furthermore participants are encouraged to have their own blog for “continuous reflection, creativity, and resource sharing”. So basically you put your thoughts, ideas, opinions out there and in return hopefully you get comments on what you post and you could even react on those comments. In this cycle of posting, getting comments, reacting to them the learning should occur.

I have no doubt that in this cycle people will learn new things. But how to distinguish between “true facts” or at least scientific sound facts and opinions? In a more traditional setting you know that your teacher has been well educated and that the knowledge she/he is teaching you can be considered to be true. In other words the teacher has authority in the field of knowledge she/he is teaching about. In connected learning the whole concept of a teacher is vague or put differently people are teacher and learner at the same time. David Cormier takes it a step further by saying that in connected learning “curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process“.

This construction and negotiation takes place in the Web 2.0 world we live in. But in that world I see a lot of people that either search for people with the same opinions and beliefs they have and form groups with them or on the other side of the spectrum people that seek out other people they vehemently disagree with or simply dislike and abuse them. Both for me have the same source: A lot of people search for their own realm of reality and implicitly (form groups with soul mates) or explicitly (abuse people with different ideas) choose to stay there. Its comforting for people to be right all the time.


The same mechanisms as described above will be at work in a connected learning setting. Combined with the lack of an authority figure connected learning could end up as Andrew Keen described his critic of WEB 2.0:  “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.

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Introduction for ETMOOC

A short introduction video to introduce myself to the ETMOOC participants.

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