An Evening of Astronauts and Magically Informative Skies

 

Last night’s sky over Dublin was spectacular, and a magical evening unfolded. I’ve been sequestered in my flat here in Dublin for the past few weeks, on a self-imposed writing retreat away from my current home in London.

 

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The view from my balcony, looking south toward Four courts, just beyond the roof of the Cappucian Friary and Padre Pio church.

However, my retreat has transformed into a sort of boot camp. The past few weeks have been like the days I was enrolled full-time for my Ph.D. while holding down my full-time teaching job (and somehow still doing well at both). I’ve been so inwardly focused that I’ve thought of calling this time my ‘hermitage.’ Yet, I’ve been so productive I’ve considered making this an annual thing.

After working straight through the weekend and submitting two big projects Tuesday, I was ready for a break Wednesday evening. And the evening didn’t fail to deliver. It was nothing short of magical.

Remarkable moments I enjoyed:

  • Views from my balcony at sunset.
  • Views of the city center from the top of a double-decker Dublin Bus–before realizing I was heading in the wrong direction and getting nowhere fast!
  • Recognizing, just in time, the error in my plan.
  • A fine fair-weather clip across town on a Dublin Bike, with a long haul up the hill to the far end of Phoenix Park to the residence of the US Ambassador.
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    US Ambassador’s residence in Dublin

    The stunning sight of the Ambassador’s home, tucked under a thick, delightfully-cheerful but ever-so-slightly-ominous blanket of clouds.

  • Clouds lit from the underside by our small but bustling city–a town beaming with holiday cheer and festive lights.
  • Stories of being in orbit from a man who has traveled far above the earth’s surface, in multiple spacecraft.
  • Learning about different types of rockets, and safety procedures that saved the lives of his colleagues in a recent failed mission.
  • Viewing dramatic photos US astronaut Shane Kimbrough captured from space–many from the Russian side of the Space Station, which he says has clearer glass that makes for better pics. img_2158
  • Meandering around the ground floor of the residence and enjoying the architectural details, but unfortunately, not recognizing a soul.
  • The delightful sensory experience of cycling back through the park on my way home. (By this time, the weather was starting to cool and I wished I’d donned the jacket that was tucked in my purse.) I pushed onward, not wanting to break the magic.
  • Parking my Dublin Bike at Blackhall Place, wandering through Smithfield Plaza, and enjoying the plaza’s holiday lights.
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    Music session at the Cobblestone, with Mick O’Grady, Pat Goode, Brenda Malloy, Tony Nugent, and others.

    And finally, stepping through the warm and welcoming front door of the Cobblestone pub, and soaking in greetings of musician friends and bartenders–catching some tunes, and sharing stories after the 7-9:30 session.

This fairy-tale set of events unfolded, after a somewhat odd day. I’d dealt with random, miscellaneous tasks, following on the heels of a week of productive writing and editing. Although this day wasn’t particularly productive, I kept trying.

But I had a particularly strange occurrence while working from home during the day:

A guy knocked on my apartment door and I asked through the solid core panel, “Who is it?” He didn’t say who, but rather that he needed something. I asked what. He said, in pained exasperation, that it was too complicated to explain. He sputtered and stuttered that he’d just have to go tell someone else. Fine by me. Look, if you’re bleeding and you need a doctor, say so. If you can’t explain your problem, I’ve no way to assess if and how I can help. My friends at the pub last night said never, ever open the door. Thanks to both God and good judgment that I didn’t.

I’ve been struggling with my vision and waiting for a new pair of multifocal glasses to arrive. Turns out, my far sight has improved, and this has thrown off all the settings on my progressive lenses. As a result, I’ve been fighting headaches from struggling to find a head-tilt position where I can actually see the screen. This has been going on for months, and I’ve only just gotten to the bottom of it all. A temporary pair of reading glasses is helping, but wearing them is disorienting and headaches still crop up.

So yesterday I was quite ready for a break. I wrapped up my work to head out for an event. I blended up a healthy juice of fruits and veggies–apples, carrots, cucumber, spinach, celery, and ginger–to pep me up for the evening.

I noted the stunning view of clouds rolling into Dublin at sunset. I clicked a photo from my balcony to post on Facebook:

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It’s already feeling like Christmas in Dublin! A bit of a Dickens Christmas, the lighting suggests. 

Such a lovely place to be, in this bright and sunny flat!

I quickly donned a skirt and boots with heels (unusual for me these days) and I zipped out for the bus slightly after 5 PM, en route, I thought, to the US Embassy. I grabbed a seat front and center on the top deck of the bus, and successfully deflected the man-spread in progress in the adjoining seat.

Views from the top deck were lovely! But, a half hour after I’d left home, sitting atop a bus stuck in traffic, I double checked the invite. It was quite clearly sent from the US Embassy, and that’s where I was headed. It’s on the southeast corner of town.

Nevertheless, the event–a public discussion with a highly experienced US Army astronaut–was actually in the other direction!

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The only way through rush hour traffic and up to the US Ambassador’s residence perched on the hill of Phoenix Park was by bike. It’s touted as the largest city park in Europe (or something of that sort), and the Residence is, as I’d come to discover, at the very northwest corner of the park. On the far opposite corner of town.

I had to wait for the bus’s next stop. It goes all the way from the Liffey, around Trinity College, to the far, far end of Nassau Street–almost to Claire Street, between stops. Quite difficult to see all those buildings pass by while wanting to disembark!

Once the bus finally stopped, by the grace of God, I clambered toward the nearest Dublin Bike dock.

Despite the mini-skirt and tall wedge-heeled boots I’d put on, I managed to make good time. I was up to the Ambassador’s in under a half hour. The cycle ride required great physical exertion, but there was no other viable way to get quickly from Trinity to Heuston Station. From the station, I could have taken a cab up and across the Park, but I persevered. After days sitting at the laptop, I needed the exercise.

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Gusts of wind billowed past, pushing a thick blanket of clouds across the winter sky. But it was warm. What a treat–the feel of cycling through the park in this delightful weather (despite rough paving on the cycle lanes, which appear to be under renovation). I felt a deep sense of joy while approaching the formal gates, to be greeted by the cheerful security officers who quickly found my name on their list. The magic of the evening was reinforced by this delightful setting–the Ambassador’s residence was aglow under a dramatic sky.

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The US Ambassador’s Residence is architecturally impressive.

I arrived in time to grab a canapé and a glass of wine before finding a seat. My face, flushed with energy, glowed brightly. The crowd filled three rooms, and so I observed through two different sets of doors. What ensued was delightfully informative. The dialogue was well worth the haul!

The speaker, US astronaut Shane Kimbrough, has the rare distinction of having served aboard BOTH the Space Shuttle AND the International Space Station. Once, he was in orbit for a full six months. That mission had been planned for four and a half months. Near the end, he received word that his stay was extended another six weeks.

Such interesting stories! He told of a mission he was on that launched from Russia, of bringing a soccer ball from a Challenger astronaut into space. He said during a spacewalk, you’re essentially in your own little one-person space capsule. He brought the experience of being-in-space alife for us all. img_2139-1

For more on NASA Astronaut and Former Commander of the International Space Station Shane Kimbrough see his webpage.

Shane shared amazing photos of his adventures and talked of cultural exchange, including multiple Thanksgivings spent in space. He described one year where the multi-national group aboard the Space Station celebrated our Christmas (December 25) as well as Russian Christmas (January 7).

He was also on a mission touted as “Home Improvement” since their team delivered and installed new kitchens, bathrooms, technical and exercise equipment and the like. Shane seemed so young and vibrant, yet he’s done all this. And what a remarkably humble guy he seemed to be!

Something he described will stick with me: he emphasized the fragility and beauty of the thin layer of atmosphere that protects, and indeed enables, life on our planet.

Of course, I ‘know about’ the ozone layer. My mom taught me to protect it since I was a kid. But I had never internalized the magic of this layer.  Although I knew about it intellectually, I had trouble ‘feeling’ it.

The scale is immense and the set of variables inconceivably complex. I have always had trouble wrapping my head around the idea of climate change. Shane made it palpable.

With a few words from Shane Kimbrough, I realized I’ve really only been looking up and out. From the International Space Station, he’d been outside, looking in. There, he adopted a more holistic view. He articulated it beautifully.

I’d been looking at all this from our human center, and been rightfully concerned. This astronaut helped me ‘see’ another way, but this also increased my concern. We must do more. I now have a better sense of awe of the beauty, vulnerability, and fragility of this thin veil.

img_2196-1On a night like yester–looking up, looking out–I saw the clouds rolling past. The jet stream pushing them along bound from the Atlantic along toward Scandinavia. img_2212-1

Heading home, I saw clouds. The stars were masked by plumes of water droplets suspended in air. Thick blankets of billowy, puffy clouds–holding us together–keeping us safe.

En route, I was inspired to wander the plaza and soak in the festive holiday lights. Then, I stepped in to see friends at my favorite local pub, the Cobblestone. Inside this pub, I feel love. Love of music and life-long friendships among musicians. I am always treated like family here.

Returning home, I fell into dreams of stars, with a new and deeper sense of awe for this planet we call home.

img_2218I awoke this morning to the ominous political news of Brexit, the pending collapse of the UK government, and then Teresa May’s resignation.

There was a different sort of sky, the sort of rays my friend Glen calls ‘God light’. Dear God, please let this light show us the importance of the atmosphere and of each other. Let it lead us to make better decisions.

Working Hard, Playing Hard: London city models, maker spaces, and materials libraries

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Sums up the week.

Getting back on track after a vacation is always hectic. A road sign I passed today announcing “CHANGED PRIORITIES” summed up the ironies I’ve faced. My first week back (after a holiday in France and conferences in Denmark and Greece) has been a flurry of activity. I had to put a lot of time into recovering lost documents and preparing government applications, and that wasn’t expected. I anticipated being in Dublin this past week, but fate (and lost IDs) sent me in other directions.

Besides trying to make headway with research projects, file expense reports, get back into my gym routine and recover the plethora of bank and identification cards I lost in Greece, I did make time to meet colleagues and explore material libraries, maker labs, and the massive city model of London. The list below attests, though, that I actually got some “real work” done. I’m making progress despite the detours!

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With Dr. Anne Gardner, the new Deputy Editor of AAEE

Chronological highlights of the past ten days have been:

  • Quick catch-ups with both my supervisors, Profs. Nick Tyler and John Mitchell. John is the incoming Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Education, so we had much to discuss.
  • Submitting two abstracts for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2019 conference.
  • Providing input on a curriculum proposal under development at our Centre and module (course) planning for our new MSc in Engineering Education.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Euan Lindsay, of Australia’s Charles Sturt University and making with him a quick trip to the Building Centre’s exhibition on spatial modeling by Zaha Hadid’s lab and the giant model of London.
  • Touring UCL’s Institute of Making, its materials library and maker space.
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  • Thomas Empson’s fabulous RES2 presentation
  • Attending a dynamic, well-structured, and highly successful milestone presentation by my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson of London South Bank University (LSBU). Delighted to have contributed to Thomas’ success.
  • Touring LSBU’s extensive maker labs (theater and cave for virtual reality, robotic arms, 3D printers using all sorts of materials, high-end laser cutters, and old-school lathes, milling machines, spray booths. Room after room after room. An amazing set of resources for the LSBU engineering community. I was astounded. They also have a small materials library.
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  • A product of LSBU’s extensive Maker Lab, this shell in the shape of a skull was printed in a liquid that contains emulsion and hardens when struck by a laser beam in the printer. Then the remaining liquid is drained away.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Anne Gardner, incoming Deputy Editor of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education and another quick trip to visit the Building Centre.Gaining official approval from the UCL Ethics Committee to proceed with two research projects.
  • Completing UCL’s new online training program for data protection (GDPR), earning 100% on the final test.
  • Reading a UCL publication of guidelines for research staff. This is a very organized place!
  • Reading an incoming manuscript for the special focus journal issue and helping manage the review process.
  • Meeting with an expert in phenomenographical research methods, Dr. Mike Miminiris, to plan for an upcoming project.
  • Scheduling dates for upcoming seminars at UCL (by Dr. Mike Miminiris) and DIT (by Dr. Bill Williams).
  • Meeting with Prof. Simon Philbin, the new Director of LSBU’s Natu Puri Institute (NPI) to discuss strategic direction for the Institute.
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Aongus studying the London model

Over the weekend, I decided to bring Aongus to the Building Center because he hadn’t been yet. We spent most of Saturday with the model of London (using its interactive learning tools and the videos), taking a sneak peek at an exhibition being mounted on modular construction, visiting the special exhibit on the history of the Centre, viewing the Hadid exhibition (mentioned above), and learning about commercially-available building products and materials in the Centre’s massive product library.

That makes THREE materials libraries and TWO extensive maker labs visited in a week! All these are pictured in the photo gallery below.

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New global rankings from THE

I discovered that the new global rankings of universities, by the Times Higher Education, has placed UCL at 14th in the world. Each rating system uses different variables and metrics, so it’s not surprising that this is a bit different than the QS system that has UCL at 7th globally.

On Saturday and Sunday, we also made time to immerse ourselves in London–including the rainstorm on Saturday (oh my). Aongus and I enjoyed delectable meals, including dim sum at Dim T, my favorite fix at Chipotle, and molten cookies at Kingly Court. Saturday evening, we enjoyed the opening of the film “A Star is Born.” On Sunday, Aongus and I visited the Churchill War Rooms.

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Hot off the presses @Usborne #STEM “Engineering Scribble Book” for kids. Loved offering guidance as Eddie and Darran developed the content! @Centre4EngEdu @CREATE_DIT. A university bookstore outside London replied to comments on my Twitter feed. @cccubookstore said “Engineering Scribble Books will be in stock tomorrow. Science Scribble Book on publication in November ;-)”

So far this week, I’ve reviewed feedback I’ve collected from colleagues on three important documents I’m preparing. I spent the better part of a day re-vamping a manuscript to address reviewer comments.

Also this week, I enjoyed meeting a new Ph.D. student at UCL, Aristos, who is studying tidal energy and knows Greek–he has helped me contact the police station in Greece (still no word on my lost items). I had lunch one day with my officemate, Sital, and learned more about her family’s heritage. I meet online with the board of the Research on Engineering Education Network (REEN) planning the 2019 Symposium (REES 2019) to be held in Cape Town July 10-12, 2019. I also met online with Dr. Bill Williams to plan his upcoming lecture and workshop topics.

Ending on a high note yesterday, I received a fun package in the mail–a copy of a book I helped create for kids. I served as the “expert advisor” for Usborne Publisher on a publication called Usborne STEM “Engineering Scribble Book.” It’s the first in a series and it looks great!

With all these unanticipated adventures, I’m wondering if I, rather than fate, will help set my own priorities for the upcoming week. Probably not!

Copenhagen to Athens to Kos: A hop, skip, and a jump from SEFI to ICL

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Copenhagen

Following last week’s meeting of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) in Copenhagen, I enjoyed a post-conference dinner with colleagues, explored Copenhagen’s old town in the morning, and then jetted off to Greece for a second international conference–this one on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL). I spent a day in Athens en route, inspiring a deep sense of awe! For an architect like me, visiting the Acropolis is a must, and the experience was even more uplifting than I’d expected. I loved Athens and I will certainly return!

The photo album in this post includes photos of the day I spent cycling around Kos with my colleague, Dr. Stephanie Ferrall, and also from my one-day layover in Athens. It also provides a glimpse into the conference events to show what the work of a traveling researcher really looks like.

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Athens

The highlight of the ICL conference was getting to know colleagues with similar interests. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the Portuguese and Sri Lankan delegations and the keynote speakers.

Presentations were interesting and informative and I’ve posted photos of Anuradha Peramunugamage (from Sri Lanka), Stephanie Ferrall (USA), Christina Aggor (Ghana), and Rovani Sigamoney (currently from France) presenting their work.

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Dr. Ferrall’s ICL keynote

Stephanie was a big reason I attended. I submitted a paper for this conference after seeing she was listed as a keynote speaker. Stephanie and I were research fellows in Dublin together at DIT during the academic year 2014-2015. Stephanie is a world expert in engineering education pedagogy and in supporting LGBTQ+ students. She is currently the national president of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE). Her work focuses on inclusivity and “revolutionizing diversity” in engineering schools. Stephanie’s keynote speech at ICL focused on classroom diversity whereas the keynote she delivered the week before, at SEFI, described large-scale patterns and philosophies regarding diversity. At ICL, Stephanie was honored by the International Society for Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP) with its highest award, the Nikola Tesla chain.

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My ICL presentation

I was also drawn to this conference because much of my research has to do with engineering students’ experiences of collaborative learning and that is the core subject of the conference.

At the ICL conference, I presented one line of my analysis, a study of Middle Eastern women’s experiences studying engineering abroad in Ireland. I collected interviews with eight such women over a period of four years. You can download “Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences of Collaborative Learning in Engineering in Ireland” at this link: https://arrow.dit.ie/engschcivcon/109/. The citation for the paper is:

Chance, S. M., Williams, B. (2018). Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences of Collaborative Learning in Engineering in Ireland. International Conference on Interactive Collaborative Learning (ICL) in Kos Island, Greece, 2018.

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Bike tour of Kos Island

As there were a few days free between SEFI and ICL, I’d gotten to spend time exploring Kos with Stephanie before the second conference. I posted some photos of us on Facebook with a notable but unanticipated effect. A colleague of mine from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA, Christopher Kochtitzky, took notice and reached out to connect with Stephanie since their goals for changing the world overlap.

img_0173Thus, one of my top accomplishments of this conference was connecting my colleagues from the CDC and ASEE. Soon Stephanie and Chris will be working together. They will connect engineering educators and students with the CDC’s new initiatives to increase physical activity across the US population and to improve public transportation, particularly with regard to accessibility. Stephanie will be able to tap into Chris’s experience and policy research and Chris will access Stephanie’s national contacts to help achieve CDC goals.

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On the Acropolis in Athens

The best surprise of my trip to Kos was meeting and getting to know Rovani Sigamoney from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This organization does amazing work. UNESCO was created following WWII to help preserve cultural monuments, artifacts, and places. Today it seeks to get better educational opportunities to the world population and to improve living conditions. I’ve always admired UNESCO’s work but saw it as a big, far-away organization. Now I see ways I can contribute, and I’m getting straight to work! Thanks, Rovaini, for the fine job you’re doing with the engineering division!

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UNESCO’s Rovani Sigamoney

On the last evening of my trip, I dined alone. The waiters provided my favorite dessert, although it wasn’t on the menu, and they made it a gift. Shortly before that, I had snapped a photo of the Kos police station in the evening light (see the end of the photo gallery). Little did I know I’d be back at that station in the morning, to report that I’d dropped my purse.

Into every life, a little rain must fall, and in this case, my purse fell off the back of the e-bike I had rented to get around town on the last day. With the generosity of many different people, I managed to make my way back to London late Saturday night. Now I’m working to recover all those bank cards and government-issued photo IDs. Thankfully, though, I still have my health and my happiness and great memories of Copenhagen and Kos, and friends new and old.

SEFI—researching Engineering Education with the Europeans

img_9347I’ve just attended the world’s friendliest conference, the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). I’ve never felt more welcome and invigorated by the exchange of ideas at a conference. This was my third SEFI, and while I’ve always felt incredibly welcome here, I now know people from all corners of the world by first name and they greet me likewise.

Last Sunday, I flew to Copenhagen from Nice, landing in the evening and traveling out to the campus of Denmark Technical University early Monday morning to help deliver an all-day workshop on research methods for PhD students. The workshop was coordinated by Prof. Jonte Bernhard, Dr. Kristina Edström, and Dr. Tinne de Laet. I also attended the conference’s opening ceremony and reception at Microsoft’s Danish HQ that evening.

img_9491Tuesday started bright and early with a keynote speech–delivered by Dr. Stephanie Farrell who was a Fulbright Fellow to Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) while I was a Marie Curie Fellow there. Although each morning started with a keynote lecture, for me, Stephanie’s was the most insightful of all. Attendees asked dozens of questions at the end, with another dozen people standing in line to ask questions afterward.

In all, there were three past DIT Fulbright Scholars at the conference–Stephanie, Dr. Sheryl Sorby, and me. The fact that three past DIT Fulbright scholars are still contributing to European EER on a regular basis and attending SEFI shows how a modest investment to support a Fulbrighter can pay dividends. We all still proudly represent DIT in various activities!

img_9308Following the Thursday morning keynotes, we enjoyed a fun new poster-presentation format. Poster authors got 30 seconds each to pitch their topic to the entire delegation, and then we went to visit their posters. This format raised the profile of posters as well as attendees’ interest in discussing them.

On this day, I also attended a session on writing for the European Journal for Engineering Education, got invited to serve on the journal’s Editorial Board by editors (Drd. Edström, Bernhard, and Maartje van den Bogaard), and networked with colleagues from Europe, North America, and Australia. Afterward, back in the city center, I enjoyed a lively dinner with editors from four different journals.

Working Groups were the focus on Wednesday, and I helped deliver a series of sessions of the Engineering Education Research (EER) Working Group, spearheaded by our leader Dr. Tinne de Laet. I’m a member of this group’s Governing Board, and since we meet monthly online, we didn’t need to conduct a business meeting here. In our morning session, each Board member briefly described her/his current projects. Participants each chose one Board member to join for small-group discussion. My small group discussed (1) tips for winning fellowship grants and (2) epistemology and identity topics related to EER. Later in the day, the Working Group ran a workshop where participants reviewed high-quality research papers and discussed their characteristics. During lunch and breaks–which were full of fascinating discussion with colleagues–I conferred with colleagues from Dublin Institute of Technology (Prof. Brian Bowe, Prof. Mike Murphy, Mr. Kevin Gaughan, Ms. Una Beagon, Ms. Diana Adele Martin, and Mr. Darren McCarthy) on plans to host an Inaugural Lecture at DIT this autumn. The lecture will be delivered by Dr. Bill Williams, who has just been appointed Adjunct Senior Researcher at DIT (upon my nomination–yay!). Since we intend to invite colleagues from other institutions, and particularly my colleagues from University College London, I worked to find an appropriate date and to identify the topics of Bill’s upcoming lecture and also the EER workshop he will conduct for our research group. Stay tuned for details!

img_9405After lunch, I attended a session on “Increasing the Impact of your Journal Publications” conducted by editors of the Journal for Engineering Education, Dr. Lisa Benson and Dr. Cindy Finelli. For dinner, the EER Working Group Board met in town.

Thursday morning, delegates attended presentations by individual scholars regarding their research projects. We used a range of formats including lecture, discussion, and flipped-classroom.

Over lunch, I worked with UCL colleagues, Ms. Emanuela Tilley, and Prof. John Mitchell, on strategic planning for a new Architectural Engineering curriculum we are developing. Throughout the conference, I enjoyed comparing notes with members of UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education who attended, including Emanuela, John, Dr. Inês Direito, Dr. Able Nayamapfene, and Ms. Paula Broome.

img_9380After lunch, I presented as part of the session “Reviewers! Reviewers! Reviewers!” In this session, editors of four journals explained what they are aiming to publish and how to write good reviews. I was representing IEEE Transactions on Education, the journal for which I am Associate Editor. We broke into small groups to identify characteristics of a good peer review and this was followed by a very insightful whole-group discussion.

After the workshop, I attended the Editorial Board meeting for EJEE, learning about our reach and impact from the publisher’s representative.

img_9440Late in the afternoon, everyone at the conference boarded buses for Copenhagen’s Experimentarium, a really fun science-learning center. I played with the educational exhibits alongside Stephanie’s family and other colleagues from DIT, UCL, and Fulbright. There was an awards ceremony, where our UCL colleague, Dr. Eva Soerensson was honored, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conference “gala” dinner. I sat with Belgian, Dutch, and British colleagues at dinner. We got a bit rowdy and ended up building towers from paper cups and discussing the feature of ubiquitous household appliances.

853e6054-964c-402e-b996-e9ee3e8191a1The final day of the conference had many individual poster and paper presentations, including a discussion session/presentation I delivered on patterns I’ve found among doctoral dissertations that have used phenomenology to study aspects of engineering education.

The closing ceremony for the conference was chaired by the incoming SEFI president, DIT’s Prof. Mike Murphy. We learned about the venue for next year’s conference, Budapest! Can’t wait!

img_9342I enjoyed dinner with close friends after the conference attendees dispersed. I got to explore Copenhagen a little on Saturday morning before flying off to a new conference in Greece.

Thanks to the whole SEFI crowd for a stellar week! See you in Hungry if not before!

Bread Board Games—DIT’s Electronics Workshops in Wexford

What a great weekend in Ireland, teaching four electronic engineering workshops for kids, mostly 6-8 years old, in Bunclody and Enniscorthy. I love working with the kids, and it’s always fun having a weekend outing with my friends from DIT.

DIT lecturer Frank Duignan invented the small hand held video games and instructions for helping kids assemble their own. Retired DIT lecturer Charlie Pritchard worked with local librarians to schedule these two dates, plus three more dates for workshops to be held around Wexford. Charlie also secured funding and ordered the parts from hither and yon. Then Frank and his son Sam prepared the parts. And the day before we set out for Bunclody, I helped Frank assemble the kits in our project room at DIT.

The photo gallery below shows three days of our adventure. You’ll see Frank and me assembling kits, and then sights I saw along the way from my home to the sunny southeastern corner of Ireland. You’ll see our two Friday workshops in Bunclody, our team dinner at the Pritchards’ home, and the village where my overnight hosts, the Hays, live. You’ll see some of the sights I got to take in with retired DIT lecturer Richard Hays, before Saturday’s events, and some lively fun we had between workshop sessions.

Mostly you’ll see young kids happily learning new skills, building their own video games, and operating their little devices with glee. You’ll see a bunch of teachers excited about what they do, and librarians dedicated to supporting them. You’ll see two secondary students, Oran and Sam (who were also there helping lead our booth at Dublin Maker just a few weeks ago), donating yet another day to teaching kids electronics.

I’m so lucky to know these folks–Frank, Richard, Charlie, Oran, Sam, Edith, and Geraldine–and get to help them give kids a taste of engineering. The kids’ joy when the screen lights up is worth it all. These kids’ focus and attention to detail in assembly pays off when the Bread Board Games spring to life.

Do-it-yourself punch cards and other amazing feats: DIT’s Paper Programming booth at Dublin Maker 2018

img_5842With the annual Dublin Maker fair on July 21st, DIT’s RoboSlam group of volunteer staff and students headed to Marrion Square for an action-packed Saturday. After four years of teaching visitors to Dublin Maker about build robots, we shifted focus to activities that could engage even more people at a time.

My clever colleagues in DIT’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering designed a booth on the theme of “Paper Programming” to teach the history and theory of using paper to program computerized gadgets that date back to the industrial loom for weaving fabric and the computer punch card.

img_5850The set of photo galleries below shows my weekend activities helping run this booth at Dublin Maker 2018. You’ll learn about and see photos of:

  • Getting to the fair
  • Setting up our booth
  • History of Paper Programming
  • Visiting other exhibits
  • Our activities
    • Fraktalismus
    • Scan2 Tweet
    • isitpop.art
    • Music Box
  • Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

Getting to the fair

My trip from London to the fair included a trip to London City Airport via the Docklands Light Rail on Friday. Exploring the city center of Dublin, I discovered a number of welcome changes. Namely, a second bike rental scheme has entered the city! This scheme requires locking the rental bike to a bike rack but doesn’t require using a docking stating like Dublin Bikes (of which I’m a member and enjoyed using twice this weekend). I also observed a slight increase in the use of the electric-car-charging stations. As I didn’t want to disturb my flat-mates, I dined out at Porto while reviewing calls for conference papers, and then took in a film about Oscar Wilde at the IFI. The next morning I woke early for my cycle ride to Marrion Square.

Setting up our booth

The team arrived an hour an a half before the official opening of the event, to get everything up and running. As every single activity we offered was brand new and designed for this event, we had some tweaking to do! The two main developers–Ted Burke and Frank Duignan–did an amazing job, and that enabled the rest of the crew to set up the activities. We learned a lot and had many successes at this event, and we will expand and continue to develop these activities for use in the future.

History of Paper Programming

Damon Berry and I served as the welcoming committee, of sorts–greeting people and providing introduction and background. Damon discussed the history of programming with paper, as described in the poster pictured below.

Visiting other exhibits

Before things got rolling, and on the way to pick up a lunch box, I got to visit other booths, check out the incredibly wide range of learning events, and make a few things myself.

Fraktalismus

For Fraktalismus, each participant drew one or two small sketches. Then a group of recent DIT graduates would capture the sketched image(s) and import them into a laptop.

The laptop was running a program developed by Dr. Ted Burke that applied a mathematical equation that would repeat the image in a fractal pattern. The participant could then use our computer mouse to adjust the “z” value in the equation–to flip through various iterations of the equation. The equation is included in an image below.

After selecting one fractal as the favorite pattern, the participant would then select a favored color combination. The DIT folks would print the image on glossy cardstock and provide the participant with it and an envelope to take home.

The results were artistic and consistently stunning! People of all ages got involved. I loved making my own greeting card using fractal geometry along with my hand-made sketch of a beloved fragment of London’s skyline.

Scan2 Tweet

in Scan2 Tweet, the participant used a barcode sheet with a hand scanner. Each barcode corresponded to one letter or keyboard character (space, delete, enter, for example). By scanning barcodes from this sheet, the participant could compose a short message and “Tweet” it from our group’s Twitter account. DIT’s Shane Ormonde ran this activity.

isitpop.art

Ted managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute, getting his design-it-yourself video game programme up and running that he calls “isitpop.art”. Participants could input their own drawing to use as an icon in the game, and control the background to be an image of their choice (such as their own photo, or a video clip from the internet).

Music Box

In the Music Box activity, designed by Frank Duignan, participants received a sheet of paper with a grid for plotting musical tones in sequence. They were given a quick briefing on how the technology worked—they would color one square per row with a black marker. When this colored square passed its corresponding color sensor, a note would play. Thus, participants with knowledge of music theory were able to predict or orchestrate the sequence of notes to play a tune.

The piece of paper was attached to a drum (in this case a large drink bottle) and spun on its axis. This allowed the grided paper to pass across the set of color sensors, one row after another. A tennis ball was used to hold the bottom of the bottle in the correct place (effectively weighing it down).

We tried to use a similar system to run four small motors to operate a small robotic arm and its claw, and I suspect we will see this up and running in subsequent later events. Watching the teamwork on this activity gave a sense of what it’s like to work as an engineer, working to troubleshoot and address problems that arise with the parts.

I really enjoyed this activity and enjoyed hearing the short tunes that participants created.

Time enough left for a relaxing Sunday!

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, I hailed a cab for Dublin Airport. Landing at Gatwick, I grabbed breakfast to go and headed to the train platform. When the next train to Brighton pulled into the station, Aongus popped out to welcome me aboard for the half hour trip to the southern coast of Britain.

We spent the day on Brighton Beach, with lunch in the town and a visit to Brighton Pier before enjoying a peaceful 1.75-hour trip back by train to our place in Mile End.