Snows And Crows and Adobe’s Lightroom

A crow playing in the wind on a snowy Saturday afternoon in February prompted me to get the Canon T6i out.  These were taken with the 55-250mm lens.  The original photos are so atmospheric that I started posterizing them in Photoshop and then gave Lightroom a try.  I’ve never used it before and was curious to see what it could do.  As a simple image editor it can do quick and effective image touch-ups.  LIghtroom did a nice job of making the images posterized in Photoshop pop…

The original image: f/8 1/500 sec, ISO 200 -1 Exposure, 250mm


Posterized (colour reduced) in Photoshop 


Details tweaked in Lightroom
Original image f/7.1, 1/400 sec. ISO 100 250mm brightened in curves in PS.


The crow colourized and layered with the background monochromed in black & white
After some tweaking in Lightroom.  The tree reflection caught in the window could have been washed out, but I liked how it came out with the vignetting.  I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods at the moment and this reminds me of Odin’s crow Huginn and Yggdrasil, the world tree.
Original photo: f/10, 1/800sec, ISO 200, -1 stop, 250mm


Posterized in Photoshop
Touched up in Lightroom…


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Triumph 955i Stalling Issues Part 3, between a rock and a hard place

This started in June with intermittent stalling.  I’ve done all the obvious things like spark plugs, fuel and air filters, but the problem persisted intermittently, so I had another go at it in JulyThe Tiger has been my go-to ride for over four years now.  I’ve put over twenty-seven thousand kilometres on it, and up until this year it’s been as dependable as a sunrise.

This week I chased down some other possible electrical issues.  The ECU was covered in muck so I cleaned it up and sealed the plastic underbody around it so it won’t get mucky again any time soon.  I then found out how to test the ECU relay under the seat:

That’s the main how-to test Triumph 955i relays video, here are the two follow up videos:

Everything else is sorted on the bike, so I’m down to the valves, which I really should have done in the winter.  I’m now between a rock and a hard place since I’m not sure I’m hanging on to the Tiger and it takes weird, old 25mm over bucket shims that Japanese bikes haven’t used since the ’80s.  Modern bikes use much smaller under bucket shims.   My nearest dealer is far away and dropping off the bike there would be a real hassle, so I’m looking at getting the Triumph valve shim removal tool T3880012.  But you don’t need that if you’re willing to remove the cams, so now I’m elbow deep into pulling most of the top end out if I want to avoid getting a special tool for a bike I’m selling on. 

On the other hand, one of the reasons I got into bikes was to get back into mechanics, and any self respecting rider should know how to do valves, so I’m kinda keen to do the job since I haven’t done it yet.  I’m just shying away from sidelining my long distance motorbike in the middle of a too-short Canadian riding season while I wait for COVID crippled parts delivery on a 17 year old European bike.  The valves need doing anyway, but doing them might still not sort out the stalling issue, which would be very aggravating.

If I can move the Honda on I’d get the C14 Concours I’ve been eyeing and then the Tiger could take as much spa time as it needed.  I just had the Honda up for a few days in the four thousands, which is high for what it is, and only got an offer for a trade.  I’m going to put it up this week in the threes and see if it goes, then I can do some shuffling and take the weight of expectations off the old Tiger.

Motorcycle Valve Adjustment Research:

Good primer on valve clearance from Revzilla:

Why higher revving bike engines have bikes have solid rather than hydraulic valve lifters that need adjusting (cars and Harleys rev less and so use hydraulic/self adjusting valve lifters:
Why checking your valve adjustment is important.

Triumph 955i specific valve clearance primer:

Local advice on how hard it is to find 25mm shims for the Triumph 955i engine:

Some 955i engines are under bucket shims, the Tiger has over bucket shims (which is why the tool is needed if you don’t want to remove the cam):

Good advice on when to do your valve clearances (when you stop hearing the valves ‘rustle’):

Shim sizing on 955i Triumphs (25mm over bucket shims are hard to find!):

BikeBandit has the tool (1-2 week wait, and a 25mm shim set for $335US/$455CAD because even though the US is making a mess of COVID19, their currency seems to be immune to their poor management.

At this point I’m stuck between over four hundred bucks in tools, parts and the opportunity to do my first valve adjustment and whatever Inglis Cycle gets back to me with costs wise – though that’ll also include having to get it over 140kms down there and get it back again on another day.  If they get back to me with a price north of $600 and a long delay in getting it done, I’ll be going after the tools to DIY it, though I don’t want to go crazy with a fancy set of 25mm shims when most modern bikes don’t seem to use these big over bucket shims any more.

I’d go with Fortnine, but for some reason they’re selling the identical shim kit to BikeBandit ($179US/$243CAD) for $278CAD. 

If I can move the Honda, I could get the C14 Concours and then have time to work on the Tiger without depending on it as my main long distance tool.  On the other hand, selling the Honda means I’ve just sold the only bike that’s working right at the moment.  The Tiger picked a bad time during the summer of COVID to tighten up on me, though I’m well past when the valves should have been checked so I only really have myself to blame.

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Triumph 955i Engine Stalling: next steps

The Tiger continues to stall out on me at the most inopportune times.  It starts from cold and idles high, but once warm the lower idle doesn’t seem to hold and the bike will stall, but not all the time, only when I really don’t want it to.  Riding back from Haliburton last weekend, the bike stalled at lights and when I got stuck in traffic on a 6 lane highway traffic jam during a rain storm, but when I pulled over later it idled normally.  This kind of intermittent failure is very hard to diagnose.

Looking up the issue online, intermittent stalling on a Triumph 955i engine seems to be an issue.  I’ve replaced the idle control system and tested the vacuum tubes again (no leaks), so I don’t think that’s the issue.  It might be a sensor that doesn’t return information consistently, but there are a lot of sensors feeding the computer that controls the fuel injection, so unless the bike is showing an error, I don’t want to start replacing them willy-nilly.

The bike does occasionally show errors on the Tuneboy Software that came with the bike:

July 1st it showed:
P0113 Intake air temperature sensor
P0230 fuel pump relay fault
P1231 fuel pump relay open

P0462 fuel level sensor input
P0463 fuel level sensor input
P0505 Idle control system malfunction
… but then they all seemed to go away and the bike was running well when I left for the long ride last weekend (over 800kms over 2 days), at least until I was riding home at the end of it when the intermittent stalling returned.  It was showing this again this week:

I’m not sure that the air temperature sensor would be enough to stall out the engine, but this at least gives me a couple of things to look into: that air temp sensor and the fuel level sensor (though again, that shouldn’t affect the idle).

Some advice people have given (on the internet, so take this advice with a healthy dose of skepticism) is that out of balance throttle bodies might cause the issue, so I got a Carbmate vacuum balancer from Fortnine who have their shit back together as far as filling orders go and got it to me in less than 2 days (use UPS, not Canada Post, who are still not working properly).

I balanced the throttle bodies with it, but the stalling persists.  I’m now looking at the mapping for the bike in addition to keeping an eye on errors that might pop up.  This video uses Easy Tune, which I haven’t monkeyed with, but gives the impression that early Triumph electronic fuel injection was a bit of a mess and many dealers don’t know how to resolve it:

That’s a bit worrying because if I’m still stumped I was going to take the Tiger down to Inglis Cycle and have them resolve this with some factory testing, but if I’m going to pay dealer rates and get the bike back still stalling, that’s not cool.

TuneECU was a free Windows software download (it’s still available but not supported any more), but now it’s an Android app you have to pay for (though fifteen bucks isn’t unreasonable if it gives you control over your bike’s ECU).  Unfortunately the Tuneboy cable and software I have isn’t directly compatible with it without some dark Windows driver mojo (newer windows auto-install a driver that doesn’t work with the old chipset on the Tuneboy cable).  Triumph uses the same FTDi FT232RL VAG-COM OBDII/USB cable as VW does, but I think I’m going to try and resolve any mapping issues with the Tuneboy since it came with the bike and works.

I think I’m going to go back and look at the fuel pump relay and the wiring for it as an intermittent fault there would starve the engine and cause stalling.  Less likely are the air temperature sensor and fuel level sensor, which have been a bit whacky with the fuel gauge going from full to empty and back to full again, but I don’t see how that could cause a stall.  If there’s gas in the tank, the engine will use it.

My order of operations is:
– fuel pump relay (which might have gotten wet at a recent cleaning, so it’s on my mind)
– fuel level sensor
– air temperature sensor

If they aren’t crazy expensive, I might just get all 3 new rather than paying shipping x3, which would probably cost more than the parts.


“throttle slides were out of balance”
fuel injector/carb syncronizer
vin looker upper if you’re wanting to confirm year and make
‘free’ ECU tuning options for Triumphs – early FI Triumphs seem to have a number of issues
video guide to TuneECU (I can’t stand online how-to videos, I prefer text. Waiting for 30 second intros each time drives me around the bend, but maybe you like that
chip drivers for FTDI cables
Using a Tuneboy cable with TuneECU
connections issue with TuneECU (I found Tuneboy pretty straight forward, but it’s a more expensive option that I’m using only because it came with the bike)
Parts diagram for a 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i focusing on the EFI relay (it’s under the seat) Triumph RELAY, EFI Part # T2502109

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How to Pick a Project Bike

I’m still wallowing in the sense of satisfaction from taking an old, field-found Concours and putting it back on the road again.  With a road-ready bike in the garage I’m looking for another project bike.  I’m not short on choices, a quick look online revealed a wide variety of ‘project’ bikes; apparently a lot of people start them and don’t finish them.  You can pick up failed projects that run the gamut from boxes of bits to a machine that just needs a bit of TLC.  I’d think you have to feel like a real burk if you bought a bike, dismantled it and then walked away from the mess you made, but people do it.  I’m left wondering if some people start projects just to waste time rather than aiming for a finished product.

Knowing which bike to pick is a big part of selecting a workable project.  The Concours was owned by an older fellow who knew what he was doing and fully intended to ride the bike again.  It wasn’t stored properly or used, but the attention paid to it was knowledgeable, making it a good choice for a project.  I was able to hear it running and even rode it home, so I knew what I was getting into.  

The Connie is also a popular bike with a huge online community.  The ZG1000 Concours I have was in production from 1994 up until 2006 and ’86 to ’93 in a previous, similar generation.  A lengthy production run means lots of parts out there.  I had no trouble finding both new and used parts for it and getting advice was as easy as logging into the Concours Owners Group or referring to the easily found shop manual.

As a starting project the Concours was a good choice.  For my second project I’m looking for a bit more of a challenge.  Just north of me a 1989 Suzuki DR600 Djebel came up for sale, menacingly suggested as a project bike.

The DR600 evolved into the DR650 in 1990.  DR650s are still in production today, but the DR600 was quite a different machine.  After doing some digging on the interwebs I discovered that finding parts for it might be a real problem (one Suzuki dealer said there was no such bike).  There is no shop manual available from any of the usual publishers and the only thing I could find that was close was a photocopied PDF of a 1985 model from a guy in Australia.  The bike was available in continental Europe and Canada, but not the UK or the US, so I’m looking at a long out of production bike that was never sold in the largest market in the world.  This didn’t stop me from going up to look at it though.

The DR600 is a huge trailee machine.  The young owner had the ownership, but it was still in the previous owner’s name in spite of the bike being in his possession for a couple of years; the project had obviously gone stale.  The amount of rust on fasteners suggested that the bike had been left in the weather for at least some of the time.  It won’t run, rust in the tank and fuel system was the diagnosis.  Aftermarket tanks are pretty easy to find for off road bikes (and look very Mondo Enduro), but there are none specifically for the DR600.  A DR650 tank might fit… might.

A non-running machine means you’re missing a chance to get a sense of the internal workings.  You’re probably walking into a complete engine rebuild if the bike has had rust force fed through it during two years of failed diagnostics.  An unplugged speedo cable and loose, corroded wires also raise questions around the accuracy of the mileage as well as the potential for annoying electrical issues.

I’m looking for a challenge, but the Djebel (an Arabic mountain!) is one I’m too cautious to climb.  If I’m a decade in and have wrenched a lot of bikes, I might have taken a swing at it, but not when the asking price is similar to a ten years newer, running KLR650.  I still had to fight my mechanical sympathy which was tugging at me to take the bike home and make it whole again.

So, I’m still looking for another project bike.  An ’81 Honda CB400 came up nearby for half the price of the Suzuki.  Also not running, but a much more popular machine that isn’t a problem for parts availability or service manuals.  Stored inside, it looks like a good candidate for my first rebuild.  It also looks like a good choice for a more complicated customization.  A CB400 Scrambler would be a sensible evolutionary step in bike builds for me.

VR: visualizing data and realizing potential

Originally published November, 2016 on Dusty World:

I spent Saturday morning in the next town over demonstrating virtual reality systems at our board’s Digital Saturday.  We had a line up the whole time and put dozens of kids through their first VR experience.  You get to see their first moments when they realize just how immersive this technology is, and then you get the follow up when they start thinking through the implications of what they just tried.  The next ten years aren’t going to be like the last ten years.

Our choice for first VR experience has always been Google’s Tilt Brush.  Users get used to the 3d experience in virtual space by sculpting with light.  This time I launched the Vive using Google Earth VR, which just came out last week.  If you’re looking for shock and awe Google Earth in VR will do it for you.

There was a moment last week when I was looking for Machu Picchu in Google Earth VR.  I was hovering over the Andes about ten miles up looking at various peaks, trying to isolate the ruins.  I looked up to my right and could see across the curve of the Earth into the Amazon basin.  To my left the Pacific receded into the distance.  Looking up I could see the Andes like a bumpy spine up the back of South America.  I was in this huge space looking to distant horizons in all directions.  People often talk about how intimate it feels being inside a headset but in this case I felt more like an ISS astronaut.  This kind of visualization is thought provoking.  It changes how you conceive and manage complex data.  It changes how you interact with digital information.

The first thing many people do when they first enter Google’s virtual Earth is to go somewhere they long for.  One of our business teachers went to her Grandmother’s house in northern Italy.  I went home to the north Norfolk shore.  We both got quite emotional about getting to go home even if it’s only virtually.  Our sense of place is really just immersion in the literal sense.  Virtual reality mimics that feeling remarkably well.  Don’t underestimate VR’s ability to provoke an emotional response with immersion.  How we manage that emotionally powerful response is important, especially if it’s being used for educational purposes.

While at the recent ECOO conference I gave the Microsoft Hololens a try and was surprised at how effective it was for an engineering sample.  It isn’t a full virtual device like the Vive or the Oculus,  instead it inserts digital information into the world in front of you as augmented reality.  Only the user could see a ballerina dancing on the conference floor or digital information like distance and size overlaid on real objects.  The resolution is surprisingly good and the fact that it’s wireless (battery powered and wifi) is totally next level.  This experience suggests that fully immersive virtual reality and augmented reality might start to move off in separate directions in the future.  The Hololens doesn’t send you elsewhere like the Vive and Oculus do.

What’s next for VR?  I’m not sure, but software is constantly probing the limits of what this new display technology can do.  Having data all around you in resolutions you haven’t seen outside of a 4k display means we’re going to be forging new relationships with the digital world.  The days of accessing digital information through a window (screen) are numbered.

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Rearsets and Customizing how you sit on a bike

Stock Ninja on me

Unlike cars, a motorbike has a set position for all riders.  Can you imagine a car that had a seat without adjustment?  That’s what sitting on a bike is like.  When one doesn’t fit you make adjustments, unfortunately most of those adjustments are aftermarket choices.  If something doesn’t fit, you customize.  This is yet another way bikes are different from cars.  Can you imagine if all car drivers had to customize their own vehicles?  There would be far fewer traffic jams…

Modified Ninja on me

If I make some minor adjustments to the rearsets (foot pegs and the frames they attach to) on my Ninja I can reduce my forward lean by almost half, relax my knee angle and make the bike a custom fit for me.  The other advantage of custom rearsets is that they allow you to focus the bike.  Instead of the stock 2-up rider/passenger rearsets, many are simplified, single rider kits that allow for adjustable footpegs that suit the rider’s dimensions.

Modifying your rider position is a next level move in riding.  Don’t be satisfied or dismiss a bike that feels a little out of sorts.  With some minor upgrades you can set your foot pegs and controls just where you want them.

Marketing Education / Marketing Your Subject

Advertising for publicly funded education.

The other week I was sitting in a local movie theatre before the latest round of The Hobbit when an advertisement came on for our local Catholic board.  It strikes me as odd that they allot money for advertising, but I guess that’s what you have to do in a publicly funded system that competes against itself.

The idea that we have to market our educational choices might seem mercantile to academics, but it’s not always a bad idea.

The poor appearance of our departments on our school webpage came up at a recent heads meeting which tailed into a big discussion about how we lose a number of students in grade 9 to our (marketing focused) catholic competitors.  Evidently most are back by the senior grades because spending ten hours a week on a bus for what turns out to be a better advertised, if not necessarily better education, doesn’t add up.  Our poor showing in marketing our public school for local consumption raised questions of what we should be focusing on, advertising, or, you know, education.

I might not understand the benefits of funding two redundant public systems that then pay to advertise against each other, but the need to market your subject area in a high school is vital for a successful program.   If we don’t get students signing up, we don’t get sections, so any teacher, especially one in a non-mandatory subject area, should probably spend some time ensuring that students know they are out there.


Tonight is grade 8 parent’s night.  We have a large group of excited, nervous parents and students touring the school.  Each department is expected to set up a booth and ply their wares, encouraging next year’s new grade 9s into taking what they teach.  I’ve been spending the semester beating the bushes to put computer studies in its best light.  You’d think that computer studies would be an easy sell in 2014, but not so much in rural Ontario.

I used to treat grade 8 night as just another time grab, but it’s silly to ignore marketing your subject area, especially if it can help you get sections and run a more complete program.  In the case of computer studies I’m straddling the need for school-wide fundamental computer literacy as well as offering specialized courses that will prepare students for post secondary and beyond in programming and engineering.  I’m beginning to think Ontario should split its focus on computer studies and offer general technology fluency as well as specializations.

As many of the celebs mention below, a working knowledge of computers is vital to life in the 21st Century, whether you’re looking to be a career computer nerd or not.

Grade 8 night was a successful evening.  With robots, quad-copters and other technology on hand, I put the department on the map.  With any luck we’ll get an uptick in computer studies sign ups next year and be able to run a more complete program as a result.  You’d think a healthy computer department in any high school in 2014 is addressing an important 21st Century fluency, but if students and parents aren’t aware, they won’t sign up.

Here are some of the pieces I put together (thanks to for the quotes):

Taken from the quotes & Will.I.Am’s webpage
Everyone should know the basics of a technology if they are going to live submersed in it every day.
Just one of the smartest guys in the world, feel free to ignore the opinion.

I did a number of posters for the department.

Extra-curriculars are a good way to support student interest in your subject.
Even if you’re not headed for a career in computers, they are
becoming a vital soft skill. If you work anywhere and can
provide your own tech-support, or can problem solve even
basic coding, you have made yourself vital to the 21st Century
workplace.  Computer studies: not just for nerds any more!

Paper is so 20th Century

@banana29 is currently taking her Master’s degree. We’re already 500 sheets of paper and a lot of toner and electricity into printouts. All of that paper immediately becomes less accessible once she’s read it and made notes on it; it disappears into a stack of unsearchable ideas. Obviously not ideal for keeping your ideas accessible and developing them. Paper is so 20th Century.
The master’s course is online, but the text book isn’t available electronically. Does this strike you as inconsistent? Why would this university make a course available online and then not offer the text digitally? Money!
I’d love to move her to a digital format, where her content creation and her content consumption is entirely electronic, but text book publishers won’t release their content digitally because they can only respect the money they’ve put into paper publication and refuse to see the digital wave happening all around them. Very similar to what music companies did a decade ago, and we all know how that turned out. Burying their heads in sand is exactly what they shouldn’t do, but it’s what they are doing.
The other side of the problem is a good educationally friendly digital window. Ipads are nice, but they aren’t designed to show text books in their original format. With low resolution and limited screen real estate, ipads work very well as quick digital windows, but long term content contact means lots of page turning through a small 1024×768 window.
I had high hopes for the Kno tablet, but it’s been cancelled… : Kno tablet awesomeness that never will be.
Is the idea of an educationally focused computer/tablet that mimics text book layout and offers generous screen real estate dead? Can we get by with an Apple monopoly? It looks like we have little choice. Microsoft has cancelled its Courier 2 screen tablet as well. For the foreseeable future, 1024×768 is the only window you’re going to get into ereading.

Kno is now an ebook presentation software for ipad (ipad dominance destroys potential improvements in hardware before they can even appear). This isn’t an entire loss, a piece of software that lets students organize and access their texts on a single device is great, but I think I’d prefer something web based, so I can get at my content anywhere on anything.

The fact that they are trying to force the paper based text industry into providing etexts is also invaluable. They are forcing the change that is coming anyway. Until we can pry text content control from an industry solely focused on paper based money streams, the option to adopt an etext is very limited.
What a student needs, according to Kno’s research, is something that faithfully reproduces a full-size textbook, without compromise. In contrast, the attempt to cram a textbook onto a smaller screen is a primary reason that previous trials with replacing textbooks with e-readers such as the Kindle DX were abject failures.

I love the idea of a dual screen tablet that folds like a book. The screens are protected while in a bag, it can be opened into a 2 screen or 1 screen layout (by flipping it over) and one screen could be used as a full(er) sized keyboard, the benefits of a short interface ipad like device or a longer term dual screen interaction with content (that doesn’t require all books to be reformatted).

I also love the idea of a transformable tablet, so here is my wishlist for that ideal education tablet:
  • a tablet that can be purchased like Lego pieces: one screen, two screen, three screen, keyboard, whatever: you can keep joining them together and configuring depending on what you need
  • the ipad2 has nice dimensions, but a huge bezel! And the resolution is too low.
  • Keep the dimensions for length and width but lets aim for 5mm thick (so 2 folded together are only slightly thicker than a current ipad), and 500g (so 2 folded together still only weigh about a pound and a half)
  • instead of a 9.7 inch display, an 11.8 incher would all but eliminate the MASSIVE BEZEL, making for an almost seamless dual (or more) display.
  • 1400×1050 resolution on that bigger screen
  • when you link multiple screens the systems work in sync to offer you a multicore, networked machine, more screens equals better performance
  • yeah, it should run FLASH, and HTML5, and offer an open source, community driven OS (so I guess Apple and M$ are out)
ipad3? Not without Jobsian control. Asus, are you into this? Google? You could partner up for the OS, Honeycomb is awesome! I’d ask Blackberry but they’d take 3 years to get it finished.

In the meantime, reams of paper get printed and paper text books get delivered. Living in a hybrid time period kinda stinks. Twentieth Century, will you end already?

Southern Ontario’s Motorcycle Watering Hole

A warm weekend had us out on two wheels yet again.  By this point in November it could as easily be a blizzard as it could a luke warm autumn day.  For no other reason than it’d be nice to have some fresh bakery bread, my son Max and I rode over to Erin.

The Forks of the Credit were as busy as ever with dozens of motorcyclists making use of what may very well be the last weekend of riding before winter finally shuts us all down.


Whenever you see that many people together with their bikes you can’t help but recognize all the vastly different cultures that exist within the riding community.  The Harley crowd was there in droves, dabbing around the parking lot on their heavy bikes.  At one point a group (dare I say gang?) left at once, their potatoing the only thing louder than GnR’s Paradise City rattling out of tiny bike speakers.  As conversation resumed after the cacophony left the old fella in a well used Roadcrafter sitting behind us said, ‘that’s all a bit much.’  It’s a funny thing, but I have more respect for that beaten up, well used hundred thousand kilometre Aerostich suit wearing V-Strom rider and the words coming out of him than I do for all the noise and attitude.  One is about motorcycling, the other is about something else.
While having a coffee a couple of dozen bikes pulled in or rode past but we were the only Triumph, which might have been why people kept stopping to look the Tiger over.  At one point three Lamborghinis, two Ferraris, an Aston Martin and a Nissan Skyline drove up from the Forks; some kind of rich guy country drive?

We saddled up and went up and down the twisty bits, getting stuck behind a massive pickup truck with motor company stickers all over it on the way back.  I put away my frustration and just enjoyed the last of the Fall colours.  It was all very big and loud but I entertained myself by slowing to a near stop (no one was behind us) and then speeding up on the bends.  I guess being big and loud myself I don’t need to compensate vehicularly.

A whole new batch of people had pulled in to Higher Ground’s parking lot in Belfountain when we passed back by.  You can do a lot worse than just heading over to the Forks of the Credit on one of the last warm late Fall days.  You’ll see everything from Ducati Monsters and race reps to some outlandish chops from the ’90s; it’s never boring.

via Blogger

One Day Edtech Will Amplify Pedagogy Rather Than Stealing From It

Originally published on DUSTY WORLD, February, 2014:


Pedagogy ORIGIN: late C16th: from French pédagogie, from Greek paidagōgia ,
from paidagōgos,  Sometimes etymology can be wonderfully ironic.

This one is complicated.  Trying to work out the relationship between pedagogy, technology and money is the trial of our times.

The other day Alanna was reading a passage about how little technology has affected pedagogy.  Rather than revolutionize how we teach, technology has merely become a new, more efficient medium for the same practices, it’s done nothing to advance pedagogical practice.  This got me thinking about the relationship between pedagogy and technology.  As I was pondering those two, money crept in, as it always does.

Pedagogy is a rather terrifyingly open concept, but I’ve always found its breadth to be its saving grace.  With a sweeping definition like “the method and practice of teaching“, pedagogy is applicable to the full spectrum of teaching and learning, and that range is truly staggering.  Pedagogy can be found in everything from the coach who reduces their players to mush after a hard practice to the use of a chalkboard in a math class.  It lives in the first turn of a wrench by a budding mechanic and the circling of a grammar error by an exhausted English teacher.  That pedagogy is in everything related to teaching and learning is its greatest strength, it becomes an ideal in an education system that otherwise exists as a series of compromises.

In our real world of compromise pedagogy often makes uncomfortable demands.  This is where money sneaks in.  When we consider sound pedagogy, we consider best teaching practices to maximize learning.  But we don’t go searching for best practices in an ideal environment, instead we attempt as much effective pedagogy as the money allows.  Good pedagogical practice costs money.  Educational technology costs (a lot of) money.  Both are reaching for the same finite, decreasing pot of funding; this can’t end well.

Does this mean more money always equals better pedagogy?  Not at all, but pedagogy is one of the first things you see diminish in money challenged situations.  Poor schools tend to lack the student to teacher ratio or basic equipment to provide strong pedagogy.  Rich schools can offer smaller class sizes and better trained teachers, both of which support sound pedagogy.  That these pedagogically proven concepts have to compete with the same funding that feeds ed-tech is where the equation gets more complicated.

Digital technology, an expensive new medium of communication, offers unprecedented access to information and democratizes publication.  There is no doubt that it is important as both a skill to learn and a tool with which to learn other things (though education seldom recognizes that distinction and just assumes digital natives magically know how to make technology an effective tool).

Outside education, digital communication has revolutionized everything from manufacturing to broadcasting.  Inside education it has let students type the same essay assignment they would have done on pen and paper twenty years ago, though it has made plagiarism easier.  Instead of making a poster for a presentation, students can now make digital presentations.  All technology has done in education is to offer a faddish means of producing the same old work we’ve always done.  That faddishness appears to take care of the dreaded engagement problem, which excites many boring people.

Digital technology hardly seems revolutionary in the school context.  If all we’re using it for is as a replacement for paper then it’s just a new, more expensive, less environmentally friendly way of doing what we’ve always done.  If technology doesn’t have an additive relationship with pedagogy it’s a lost cause, and from what I’ve seen it doesn’t.  It does however take a lot of limited funding away from other, proven pedagogical strategies.

The money creep goes further than stagnant pedagogical practice.  It turns out you can make a lot of money convincing educational systems to buy in to technology.  Even if your teachers aren’t considering digital pedagogy, someone still gets rich pushing it.  There is no doubt that money and technology go hand in hand, and with limited funding, as edtech eats more everything else gets diminished by necessity.

When ed-tech eats a big piece of the education pie the assumption arises that the technology itself provides the pedagogy, so you don’t need to (that appearance of engagement pushes this thinking).  Giving students already overdosing on habitual, uninspired technology use technology in the classroom is a recipe for pedagogical disaster.  The relationship between technology and the actual process of learning is tenuous at best.  It only gets worse if we assume the use of technology will magically produce engaged, productive learners.  Engaged maybe, productive?  Not so much.  This peaks when the teacher then throws the same assignment they’ve been doing for fifteen years on a Google-doc and calls it 21st Century learning.  What we end up with is a poor learning environment ripe with distractions that encourages the same habitual use students are already mired in.

The engagement we’re so excited about in educational technology is a smoke-screen.  It is little more than us giving addicts access to more of what they already have too much of and don’t know how to effectively leverage.


What is digital pedagogy?  What does digital educational technology allow us to do better in terms of the actual learning process?  Until we answer this question edtech is nothing more than an expensive environmental disaster that has us producing digital dummies.
The Third Industrial Revolution

To appreciate what technology could do for education it might help to see what it’s doing for everything else.  Manufacturing, once a large scale, capital driven process, is becoming accessible to smaller and smaller concerns.  Where once you had to buy million dollar milling machines and the experts to maintain and run them, you can now manufacture complex parts in a small machine shop using digital tools.  Not only  does this free us from a production line mentality, it also frees us from production line products.  We’re moving further and further away from Henry Ford’s idea of product customization.  Digitization is allowing for smaller runs of customized parts in more niche workshops.  As the Economist says in the link above, this really is the birth of a third industrial revolution, the re-democratization of craftsmanship and personalization in production.

Broadcasting has been staggered by digitization.  From a music industry that was forced to change decades of old habits to television that has had to diversify offerings just to remain relevant in a world that can suddenly tell its own stories, digital media and the internet have fundamentally changed how we see ourselves in media.


1920s office, look familiar?

Over the course of the Twentieth Century education has been influenced by industrial methods of production even more than business itself.  The classroom, the school bell, the rows of desks, it all points to a Taylorist love of systematization.  It seeks to quantify and sort people in the most cost effective manner possible.  In order to do that it clings to ideas of standardization because it believes this leads to credibility.  It happily ignores sound pedagogy in a blind charge toward clinical efficiency, it’s the most perfect example of a production line ever developed.

What if, as in broadcasting or manufacturing, education were to consider how digital technology could re-individualize education?  Instead of producing modernist widget-students we could use digitization to embrace radical customization.  The systemic methods we use in education – the marking, the timed classrooms, the report cards – are there to process as many students as possible as efficiently as possible.  We reduce them to numbers because we don’t have the resources to treat them like people.  What if educational technology solved that problem instead of replacing paper?

A sufficiently complex Learning Management System would assist in assessment and maintain a current and complex analysis of student achievement.  We see this in a very rudimentary way in online systems like Code Academy, where students are able to review their learning and get acknowledged for their achievements but can only proceed when they have demonstrated sufficient understanding.  The immediate benefit is that each student can move at their own pace.  LMSs should be driving toward this level of complexity, instead they are used as replacements for handouts.

Digitization offers us an opportunity to individualize learning once again.  After a couple of centuries mimicking industrial practices education has a chance to reinvent itself as a digitally empowered, personally focused system of learning, like pre-industrial apprenticeships but on a massive scale.

What does a post-industrial, digitally enhanced, individualized education system look like?  In that relationship, technology enhances pedagogy, it doesn’t eclipse it.  In that relationship there may be monetary efficiencies, but they are a byproduct rather than the point of technology implementation.  In no instance would pedagogy be financially victimized by educational technology.

If you’re still ‘teaching’ information, you’ll quickly find yourself irrelevant in a post industrial education.  In a world where information is abundant, the ability to access it is more important than the ability to afford a teacher to say it to you.  Skills development will still be a vital piece of the education puzzle, and skills based teachers who develop understanding through experience will always have a role, but information delivery is a dying art, assuming we begin teaching effective technology use.

The LMS used in future school is a constantly evolving construct that can access all facets of a student’s learning.  This virtual assessment tool doesn’t just review a student’s ability to retrieve information, but instead looks at them holistically.  In assessing their skills and knowledge, a future LMS would consider learning habits and then suggest individualized tactics for producing best results.  A teacher would be able to see a student’s zone of proximal development before trying to assist them (I have a live graphic playing in my head of what this would look like).  Your progress as a learner includes everything from demonstrated writing ability to the most complex numeracy you’re shown.  It considers your patterns of absence, when you produce your best work and who you do it with.  That future LMS is actually an learning management system, not a glorified webpage.  It can reach across other systems to see examples of student progress in a variety of ways.  When a student activates their LMS it supports their learning and aids a teacher in both teaching and assessment.  Perhaps the modern, virtual equivalent of a paidagōgos.

Instead of being an onerous task done poorly by time harrowed teachers through a computer system that merely mimics the paper based reporting system before it, post-industrial student assessment is detailed, accurate, holistic and personalized.  The machine assists the teacher in customizing the education of each student instead of just producing neater, printed reports of letters, numbers and generic comment banks.

Wouldn’t that be something, if digital technology were to amplify sound pedagogy and revolutionize our industrialized education system into something personally meaningful?  Until we break the mould and begin leveraging digital technology for what it is capable of, we’re just diverting money from the task at hand: effective pedagogical practice.