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.

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.

 

Learning London: Four-Day Family Extravaganza

My cousin Kaitlin has been teaching English in Spain this past year. So we (my partner Aongus and I) decided to add a second stamp to her passport and we invited her up to London for an extended weekend

Aongus meet her at the Tube station and guided her home from the airport, with a stop for dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Indigo at Richmix. Meanwhile, I sped back via train from my conference in Newcastle and arrived home minutes before them.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning for the start of a whirlwind tour that lasted four days.

On day one, we included:

  • Kaitlin’s first double-decker bus trip, on Bus 8, so as to see St. Paul’s and other prominent sites from the top deck, front row–best seats on the bus!
  • Sir John Soane’s House Museum, full of Roman antiquities and memorable painting and flooded with daylight in every corner.
  • The British Museum, stopping for coffee in the courtyard and visiting the South American and Egyptian sections.
  • Dashing into the Building Centre in Store Street to view the enormous model of London.
  • A relaxing couple of hours in Bloomsbury, for lunch with my UCL colleagues Emanuela and Folashade–our farewell sendoff to Queen Mary University of London for Folashade.
  • A walk to Picadilly Circus and the courtyard of the Royal Academy, with rose petal macaroons at Laudre in the Burlington Arcade, then onward to Green Park, the gates of Buckingham Palace, and a stroll across St. James’s Park.
  • Arriving at Westminster Abbey in perfect time to attend the choral Evensong.
  • A walk to Trafalgar Square and up Strsnd Street to fetch tickets at the box office of The Savoy.
  • A quick but tasty dinner at Itsu, where Aongus joined us after his work day.
  • A delightful evening at the West End musical “Dreamgirls”
  • Wrapping up the day with a walk through Covent Garden, stopping at Gelaterino before our bus ride home

Day two was filled with more adventures. This was Saturday and we headed by Tube to the Bourough of South Kensington and Chelsea for:

  • The Saatchi Gallery (modern art)
  • Kale salad and chestnut/almond waffles at a favorite cafe on Sloane Avenue
  • The Natural History Museum, where we focused on the dinasoaur and mammal exhibitions
  • Drinks and tagines at the Comptoir Libanas restaurant on Exhibition Road where we snagged an outdoor table under the awnings and heat lamps to avoid the evening rainstorm
  • Art-till-you-drop and cultural-encounters-of-all-kinds at the Victoria and Albert Museum (we saw several new wings due to Kaitlin’s interest in world religions)
  • Visits to high-end furniture shops and luxury department stores (John Lewis top to bottom, Herrod’s food courts, and Harvey Nichols tour of floors)
  • Pints at the Wilton Arms to again wait out the rain, and chat with some lively Brits
  • Dinner nearby at the Alfred Tennyson to round out the day and a stroll through high-end alleyways en route back to the tube–admiring the pricy vehicles.

Kaitlin spent day three with a friend she graduated university alongside. I’m so impressed with Kaitlin and all she has learned and done. She graduated first in her university class last year and then came to teach in Spain fresh out of college. She has taught both in a school and also private lessons and she even played soccer competitively, on a team in Spain.

Since it was Sunday and she was otherwise occupied, Aongus and I made the most of the day with:

  • A visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Tibetian Peace Garden, located on its grounds
  • A walk over to Trafalgar Square with a delightful Sunday roast at The Clarence
  • Fancy desserts at the sushi place in Kingly Court
  • Bus ride back to Shoreditch to catch up with Kaitlin at a South American restaurant near our home

On day four, Kaitlin and I had specific plans. We headed to:

  • The Churchill War Rooms, also viewing the exhibition on Churchill’s life
  • The London Eye, for a half-hour trip around this impressive Ferris wheel with its sweeping views of London
  • A quick visit to the National Gallery
  • Our second lunch in Bloomsbury at Dim T, since we enjoyed the one wit Folashade and Emanuela so much
  • A walking tour across University College London’s city campus

We gathered our bags from my office at UCL and boarded the tube for Heathrow, where we bid each other farewell–me heading to Dublin for a week’s work and Kait back to Spain to wrap up her teaching.

It was a truly delightful four days, though I admit I was completely exhausted the day after we parted. It was a treat to get to know this first-cousin-once-removed a bit better and to learn how very much alike we are despite having drastically different parental upbringing. I’m so very impressed with the person she’s become and how intelligent and thoughtful and hardworking and courteous she is. I’m glad I’d worked ahead and could take comp days while she was here so I could really get to know her. It was a rare treat to tour the city with her, and one I hope to have someday again.