Tuning Up for Next Semester

January 22nd, 2018

My winter break project this year was replacing graphics in my lectures that I didn’t like. Each semester, I wince a little at certain points when an illustration from the Internet is the best available, but still flawed in some way. Some of these illustrations have typos in them. Others are low resolution, which is especially glaring with the fancy projector at one of my schools. Here is what I have done:

  1. Drew over graph of hominin cranial capacities. Reason: there are typos in the names. Also, the original uses the many ‘splitter’ names for different hominins while my class is a ‘lumper’ zone with fewer but safer names. I made the text larger and color coded the lines too.
    { Before. }

    { Before. }

    { After. }

    { After. }

  2. Made my own chart of blending inheritance. Reason: found illustration was very pixelated. I used a photo of a red flower from Wikicommons and made white and pink versions for my chart. The higher photorealism reduces clarity a little, but the boost in resolution is worth it. I also made the symbols match the cultural anthropology kinship chart.
    { Before. }

    { Before. }

    { After. }

    { After. }

  3. Made a new graphic for founder effect. Reason: I used a common Internet picture of just different shapes, which looked terrible. Keynote has great vector objects, including a monkey, so I used that to make my own illustration of founder effect. Since I made it within Keynote, I could really use the slide space and holy shit it looks gorgeous.
    { Before. }

    { Before. }

    { After. }

    { After. }

  4. Made my own geologic time clock. Reason: This was another case where the best Internet graphic still had deep flaws. This one had too much text, the labels are also incorrect for a few of them, pointing to a different place on the clock relative to what the text says, and the text is small and pixelated. Also, why does this hour-long clock have an hour hand that shows nothing?
    { Before. }

    { Before. }

    My version makes the clock less clock-like but focused on the purpose of conveying one hour in the circle. Since I made the clock myself out of individual elements in Keynote, I could also have the slide step through each event with the hand rotating along instead of hitting the class with everything at once. All of it is done using Keynote’s image tools, transitions, and build order. Keynote has great graphical capability with a large library of vector art that was introduced in a recent update as well as flexible line drawing.

    { After. }

    { After. }

Flipping through the slides, nothing else caught my eye as needing a change. Maybe there will be other things that bug me this semester. At least there will be less wincing.

By the way, here is a little presentation tip: having bullet points come in one at a time is great for lecture since everyone is focused on the same part of the slide. That’s not the tip. The tip is that I make the last bullet slightly different (◉) to let me know that there are no more bullet points on that slide. Once I see that, I know that the slide is almost done with no surprises showing up that I forgot about.


The Pre-Show Lecture

January 18th, 2018

Anyone who arrives at a movie theater early knows about the slide presentation that plays before the show starts. There is typically a mix of ads and movie trivia, given as still images or short clips. Waiting for Doctor Strange over the summer, I got the idea to do a “Pre-Show” for my lectures.

I developed my Pre-Show last semester and it became an important part of how I ran the class, adding to several different aspects. The Pre-Show gets students thinking about anthropology before the class starts, so they start the new material already warmed up. The title slide of the day’s lecture, which used to be the only thing on screen before class starts, now shares the time with other images, such as media that did not make their way into past lectures. Having an additional illustration or striking National Geographic photograph about an old topic keeps the old material on their mind. Images of recent discoveries also have a place in the Pre-Show, demonstrating the practice of scientific research as it happens.

{ Archaeology from Historic Jamestowne. }

{ Archaeology from Historic Jamestowne. }

The slides are also a good way to get students to talk with each other and meet their neighbors. They range from icebreakers or conversation starters to asking about recent topics. I also include example multiple choice questions sprinkled in there, which also sparks some discussion before class.

The Pre-Show also handles a lot of ‘housekeeping’ by showing course and campus announcements. The most important matters still get time after the class starts, but the Pre-Show can keep students in touch with the many activities that are always going on at the college.

{ Hyping the campus art show. }

{ Hyping the campus art show. }

The Pre-Show presentation autoplays with slides changing every thirty seconds (a timing that balances getting people’s attention and showing more things) and loops as well while I do any other class preparation.  When it is time to start, I can talk about one of the slides in more detail as a warmup period for my students and I before switching presentation files to the actual topic for the day. For slides that are more important, such as announcements and conversation topics, I duplicate those slides and evenly intersperse them in the presentation among the other content.

The only problem I’ve had is that the Pre-Show is another presentation that I have to customize before class. Removing old announcements and old images and finding new ones can take time that is already scarce. My way of addressing this issue is to save old slides into their own file (called Pre-Show Snippets) that I can use to quickly refresh the presentation with pre-made slides. Sometimes my commute or my schedule goes awry and I don’t have time to put the Pre-Show lecture up before class starts. In all, the setup is worth the time since it takes care of different necessities in my class.


My Plastic Menagerie

January 2nd, 2018

When I was in the fifth grade, our classroom got a Visible Man plastic model, which shows the internal organs of a human body. In hindsight, the missing parts suggested that it was a thrift store purchase by my teacher (our country really should fund education more), but it was enough to get my young science mind going.

I still keep up with scientific plastic models, now with the financial mobility to get them myself. One company, TEDCO Toys has a line of imported see-through models for both biological subjects called 4D Vision. Looking for something to spice up my non-existent future office, I went for the gorilla model first.

( Front of the box. }

( Front of the box. }

{ Back of the box. }

{ Back of the box. }

The completed model came out to around a foot tall and long, much larger than I expected. IThe internal organs were very solid and brightly painted. It really gave perspective to the large digestive system. The robusticity of the bones is also highlighted in the artistically transparent areas. While most of the abdomen is visible, the head and limbs have clear areas on the left side, with hair and skin rendered on the right. The booklet has pictorial instructions for where the parts go, plus blurbs on each organ. Some facts are more random than others:

{ Odd unit of measurement for length. }

{ Odd unit of measurement for length. }

{ Posterior torso piece waiting for more. }

{ Posterior torso piece waiting for more. }

{ Assembled torso, minus the anterior cover. }

{ Assembled torso, minus the anterior cover. }

There is also a section for writing down your time trials in assembling the gorilla, if you want to turn it into a race. The suggested times are very generous since the model is not complicated.

{ Cool cutaway to see the robust skull. }

{ Cool cutaway to see the robust skull. }

After the gorilla model, I wanted more so I bought an imported Ein-O BioSigns Red Blood Cell after a price drop on Amazon. It was a red translucent red rubber disc assembled from four quarters and a center plug.

Moving on, I went back to 4D Vision with a Human Anatomy Muscle & Skeleton model. This one stood around six inches tall and had many intricate parts. Confusingly, the model came partially assembled, but they had to be disassembled to complete the construction. The fitting of the pieces would be an engineering marvel if it was not so instructionless and hard to manipulate. For example, the right torso could only be closed by joining the right arm and leg simultaneously. Then, the rectus abdominus piece has to be placed to hold the torso together. The problem is that the torso came with the rectus abdominus already in place, with only a tiny picture in the booklet to hint that it even could be removed. After that process is done, then the torso has to be pried slightly open to fit the right arms and legs. Even after it was completed, the right limbs could spontaneously fall out of the loosening torso without a little glue to keep it together (no more time trials).

{ Model-assembly success! }

{ Model-assembly success! }

While I was obsessed with models, animal toy vendors were having sales to capitalize on the holiday season. I indulged a lot before I stopped myself:

{ My plastic menagerie. }

{ My plastic menagerie. }

My non-existent future office is going to be sweet.


‘Interacts’: An RPG Quest Board Assignment

December 23rd, 2017

I’ve been teaching physical anthropology for just over three years so I have still been making changes every semester.  Changes include staying up to date with new discoveries and looking for useful websites or thinking of ways to engage with the topic in daily life. For example, reading a biography of Darwin on the web could make him relatable and bring some insight into how he figured out natural selection, but it would be hard to make a whole assignment out of it. Or, to get people to see the natural world, I could have students take a picture of a plant on campus, where there are labeled plants and look up information about it online, but it is also too short and may run into access problems for the distant online students. I wanted to remove online quizzes for my campus classes, so I got rid of those assignments and made a new type called Interacts that are a collection of short activities.

{ One of the neat native plants at Grossmont College. }

{ One of the neat native plants at Grossmont College. }

The Interacts goal is to engage students with the physical and online world around them in terms of anthropology. The framework is set for fun as a way to make these activities habits in their lives. The model is from the daily quests of online roleplaying games. To keep players playing, these games have a rotating set of quests to do each day that involve some mundane activity for a long term reward. Adapting that model, I can have students do a batch of short activities as part of one assignment.

Students generally choose a handful out of ten options. They range from poking around a website and writing what they saw, to taking photos or drawing pictures of course topics. The variety made it so students who could not make it to campus in the timeframe or could not run a Flash plugin on their device could just pick something else to do. For each week, I tried to mix up the activity types so some had to be done outside, some could be done at home, some involved writing, some drawing, and so on.

{ Work-in-progress image when I was on a break. }

Since the instructions could be repetitive, I made up acronyms for different assignment types: WASPA for Write a Short Paragraph About, ATQ Answer This Question with a sentence, TAPO and DAPO for Take a Photo Of and Draw a Picture Of, and LOF as a Look Online For action. My secret hope is that this lingo will make its way into the rest of the world (they are true acronyms since they’re pronounced as words), but for now it does the job of consolidating the same instructions.

I made up activities as the semester went along. Some weeks were harder than others, such as finding things to do for the race and forensic anthropology sections. I also ran out of creative steam towards the end in the paleoanthropology weeks, so some of the later assignments just asked students to go back and do options they have not tried. One of the later activities asked for suggestions, which was very fruitful and kept the new activities train going a little longer. I also had sequels of earlier activities, such as looking up the etymology of a word or browsing sapiens.org for an article to summarize. Now that the semester is done, I can plan ahead for the next semester by spreading out the activities. For the more bare weeks, I can save some activities about earlier topics such as natural selection and genetics for those times. Students can still do older activities they skipped the first time too.

Some Interact activities were wildly popular across all of my sections. Early on, an archaeology activity of examining one’s trash can for material culture (borrowed from when I was a student at Berkeley) got a lot of positive comments. Interview activities, one asking a younger person about their interests, and one asking an older person about their upbringing, were popular and inspired some great writeups. Asking for stories about breaking bones got a lot of wince-inducing responses. A linguistic anthropology activity of explaining a meme also provoked a lot of analysis. Drawing activities were also popular with students. I was surprised when many students told me that they never really drew before but enjoyed that type of activity and found it useful for studying.

Some activities were not as successful. Not surprisingly, the un-standouts were in the race section. One involved categorizing people into racial groups at the PBS site to show that surface traits are unreliable in racial categorization. A small number of people took the activity and its no-win rules personally. The game is also showing its age with very poor resolution for the images. I knew that another race activity was risky: searching for and watching a stand up comedy routine about race on YouTube and examining its message objectively. While most of the students who did that activity had great insights on how professional comedians joke about a serious topic like racism, one student took the activity very poorly but yet went through with it to tell me how displeased he was. Due to the likelihood that the activity could do more harm than good, as well as the plummeting reputation of stand-up comedians, that activity is one of the choices to be dropped.

Next semester, the lineup will be adjusted to drop some of the boring activities and include some fresh ones. I didn’t realize that students found the drawing activities useful until the three-quarters point of the semester. I will sprinkle some DAPO activities at the start. A lot of things from the early topics could be drawn, from Darwin’s finches to cells and proteins. I am going to add a new type of activity: DTA, or Download The App. There are a few free smartphone apps that could be great activities: iNaturalist, Google’s Arts & Culture, History Here, and Ayumu are what I’ve found so far.

Interacts became one of the most popular assignments in my classes last semester. For the students, it offset the more boring and draining assignments while learning the life lesson that science and anthropology are all around us. For me, grading their work let me see more of the students’ personalities (offsetting the boring and draining grading). Instructors looking to make use of a great website, video, or outside activity could consider bundling a few together and having students choose what they want to do among them.


The Cerutti Mastodon Site and the Elephant in the Room

August 14th, 2017

One of the joys of being an anthropology instructor is that I am constantly in the stream of science news that regularly changes what we know about humans past and present. Sometimes news of research findings add a little interesting information to what we knew before. Other times, the news completely changes how we view our history and prehistory. One find of the latter category made waves in April of 2017 with the announcement that humans may have been in North America for over 100,000 years longer than previously thought. Digging further into this monumental change in our past, I was surprised to hear that the find and research organization were both local. The evidence of this deep human occupation of North America came from San Diego County and was excavated by the San Diego Museum of Natural History, led by Tom Deméré. Called the Cerutti Mastodon site, the evidence of very ancient humans consist of worn stones that appear to have been intentionally used to break associated mastodon bones.

The similarities between the Cerutti Mastodon with another tale from archaeology, the Folsom Site discovery, was not lost on anthropologists. In 1926, excavation at Folsom found the bones of an extinct bison with a clearly human-made stone point embedded in the same hardened matrix. This tangible evidence confirmed that people lived in North America at the same time as animals that went extinct over 10,000 years ago, pushing the widely accepted date of this event thousands of years into the past. The Folsom discovery would have been less convincing if the stone point and the bison bones were further cleaned up and separated. Being together and viewable to skeptics made the conclusion derived from it inarguable.

The San Diego Museum of Natural History did the public and science a huge favor by publicly showing key items from the Cerutti Mastodon site. Being a skeptic based on what I read online about the site and its interpretation, I made visited the museum to see these important objects for myself. There was a new installation front-and-center in one of the building’s foyers, replacing an interactive globe. While the exhibit was advertised outside by a huge banner, I did not see the exhibit get any other visitors. Maybe the importance of what the SDMNH had found was lost on the general public that has no point of reference on how long scientists think people have been in the Americas. This meant that I had the whole section to myself to take everything in.

{ Caption: Very attractive banner for the exciting find inside. }

{ Caption: Very attractive banner for the exciting find inside. }

The exhibit had several cases of recovered items, wall-mounted displays with text and illustrations, as well as a video on loop. The first eye-catching object is a section of tusk that is mounted vertically on a free-standing display to simulate how it was found. The display emphasizes the looseness of the soil and that the tusk must have been purposely placed vertically instead of being naturally propped up.

{ Caption: Mastodon tusk displayed as found in sediment. }

{ Caption: Mastodon tusk displayed as found in sediment. }

Past this, a case contained the unusually bisected femoral head of a mastodon, with a plaque showing their unusual context amongst other bones. Another case had the most controversial of the discoveries: the stones that show wear against the nearby mastodon bones. In person, the stones are larger than I imagined, exceeding the size of a typical human head. Plaques point out the signs of wear and their significance in the interpretation.  The fourth case had more stone and bone fragments, explaining how the researchers achieved the same looking results by using large stones as hammers on bone. Having made a semi-circle around the area, the last display I encountered had a video summary of the site and presented information on the dating of the objects. Each section had several plaques with very clear writing that explains to visitors what is notable and interesting about each object.

{ Caption: One of the displays showing rock fragments that fit together. }

{ Caption: One of the displays showing rock fragments that fit together. }

As I perused the exhibit, I thought over what the researchers presented and their interpretation. Some conclusions are very solid: a tusk fragment was found vertically in loose sediment, other bones are found in odd positions, the objects date to over 100,000 years ago (though see Andrew Millard’s blog post “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“), and the mastodon bones and stones are associated and not deposited separately. Despite the surface similarities with the Folsom discovery, the Cerutti site presented less absolute evidence of human occupation. I am definitely treading on ground worn by other skeptics, but seeing the items and the presentation of interpretation myself, I noted signs that the stones were not human-manipulated artifacts. They were large and unworked, dissimilar to any post-Homo habilis stone tool style. The breaks in the bones do not correspond with the usual places to butcher bones.

If not an archaeological site of human activity, then what is the Cerutti Mastodon site? There must be an explanation for the unusual arrangement of bones and stones. There must be an explanation of the wear found on the stones and the broken fragments. Who could have produced these results that we solidly know lived over 100,000 years ago in what is now San Diego County? The being must have been strong, had prehensile ability, and maybe even have possessed some ability to intelligently interact with the environment. In other words:

DUN DUN DUN

I think another mastodon created the Cerutti Mastodon site. While hard to imagine the whys of a mastodon picking up large rocks and breaking another mastodon’s bones, as well as sticking a tusk fragment vertically in the sediment, this interpretation fits everything found at the site and involves an organism that indisputably lived at that time and place. We will see whose interpretation bears out with more evidence. In the meantime, I highly recommend visiting the San Diego Museum of Natural History to see the Cerutti Mastodon and the many other interesting exhibits.


Group Notes: A Failed Experiment

June 19th, 2017

The end-of-semester is a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work in the most recent semester. One initiative that fell completely flat was an attempt to have students take notes as a group.

A little before the start of the semester, I heard about a tweet series by Stephanie McKellop describing how the students in her class took notes in a collaborative Google Doc. There are several advantages to this method of note taking compared to the usual everyone-for-themselves. A group can catch all of the details in lecture. Students can ask questions amongst themselves. There is also a heightened sense of the classroom as a community.

I was extremely inspired to make group notes a thing. I made Google Docs for each of my sections and told my students about them in the first week of class. Then… nothing. I ended the semester with three blank documents. Since none of the three sections participated, I believe that there is something wrong with my implementation of the class notes. Maybe it has to be organically started by the students. Class notes is going to take a hiatus as I think of ways to improve it so students will use it.


Bean Pong, Spring 2017

June 13th, 2017

A while ago I dreamed up playing a version of beer pong as a final review activity. With each semester that has passed, I have adapted the game to various class sizes. This semester was my second with a class of over 50 students and I have arrived at a set of rules that made such a large number of participants work.

The first time with a large class did not end up well for one big reason: one was that there were too many teams (12-13) for a 70 minute tournament. This semester, I simply combined the teams, so two random teams played another two random teams in each game. To pseudo-randomize the team pairings, I pre-wrote each team name on a notecard and drew from that stack before each game.

There were also some rules that slowed the game down. At first, a question was only asked if a student made the ball in a cup. For a matchup of two less-agile teams, the there were sometimes over ten tosses before someone made it. On-the-fly with suggestions from the boredoming crowd, I changed the rules mid-game so that if a student missed, then that student had to read the other team a question. This kept the pace of questions the same as ball tosses. Another rule that made the game slow was that I had students play to five. Playing to three instead gives students a chance to participate and keeps the tournament moving.

Here are the updated rules that speed up the game for a large class:

Pre-Game

  1. Arrange Solo-brand red cups in two triangles of ten cups on both ends of a long table. Desks or chairs can be added to extend the tossing distance. The triangles are arranged like arrows pointing towards each other (medially).
  2. Add beans to around a quarter full of each to act as weights. Two pounds of beans is a good minimum amount.
  3. Place a quiz question in each cup. Or, for faster setup, divide questions in half and place them in piles at each end.
  4. Have student form in around 8 teams. Teams of not-divisible-by-four numbers can give losing teams a chance to play to keep them in the tournament.
  5. Have each team come up with a name and write it on a notecard.

Game Rules

  1. Shuffle and draw from the notecards to determine who plays first.
  2. Decide which team throws first. This could be done with a coin toss, rock-paper-scissors, or a warmup question.
  3. The tossing team tosses 1 ping pong ball towards the other end of the table with the goal of landing it inside a cup. If the ball misses, the tossing team asks the cup team a question from their pile.
  4. If the ball hits, the cup team reads the question from their pile to the tossing team. If the tossing team cannot answer, or answers incorrectly, the turn goes to the other team.
  5. If the tossing team answers the question correctly, they score a point. The turn goes to the other team to toss  (to discourage shutouts).
  6. Teams play to three points.

One last change was that I decided on “Bean Pong” as a catchier name than “Beer(less) Pong.” It’s shorter.

My original post advised that class sizes of over thirty were not playable. With some actual game hosting experience and suggestions from various people, I think I have settled on a good setup that works for around fifty students.

Oh, I mentioned in another post how I teach in the Small Theater of MiraCosta College. The stage setup was amazing for this game. I had the cups set up on a table behind the projector screen. I had a student work the stage lights from the control room as I raised the screen and played “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited.

{ Caption: Not ready for this. }

{ Caption: Not ready for this. }


Secret Summer Craft Project, part 4

June 5th, 2017

This is the last part of my 3D printing saga. Recall that I first dabbled in 3D printing to get a Homo naledi skull replica for the anthropology department at Grossmont College. While work on that area went on its own path, I used 3D printing for my own goals. My personal projects wrapped up before the Homo naledi skull since the latter project was far larger and more complicated than the busts that I made. I am happy that the work on the H. naledi skull reached its own happy end with the production of two life-sized replicas.

When we left the Homo naledi replica story, I had sent the hollowed 3D file off to a local printer whom I found on the 3D Hubs site. The skull has a lot of fine details and irregularities that demanded a lot of 3D printing expertise. Browsing the local printers, I found one whom I could trust to get the print done without giving up. The printer I chose was Brother Robot, or Calramon Mabalot. He is a ten-year-old who built his first printer two years prior and has made very detailed 3D selfies of customers, an articulated prosthetic hand, and quadcopters.

Brother Robot eagerly took the challenge and worked through many obstacles in producing the Homo naledi skull. Reduced-scale prototypes showed that the model was stable, but the full-sized version encountered several false starts due to printer issues (remember what I said about current 3D printing technology).

{ Caption: First print attempt, showing the breakaway support structure inside and out. Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: First print attempt, showing the breakaway support structure inside and out. Photo by Brother Robot. }

One promising attempt hit a snag common to printers of all types: running out of material right before completion!

{ Caption: Almost there! Aaaand, out of filament. Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: Almost there! Aaaand, out of filament. I here this one is now a pencil cup. Photo by Brother Robot. }

Brother Robot eventually used the Homo naledi print to christen a new advanced printer that he had built, and it worked perfectly.

{ Caption: Success! Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: Success! Photo by Brother Robot. }

The end of a 3D Hubs transaction usually involves picking up the print at the printer’s doorstep without ever meeting in person, but that seemed like an ignominious end for such a demanding project. We thought a better conclusion would be to show the classroom where the replica would be used, along with the other pieces that we have. Calramon documented his visit on his Twitter:

{ Caption: Sorry for the ageism! Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: Sorry for the ageism! Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: Showing the 3D print's fellow replicas. Photo by Brother Robot. }

{ Caption: Showing the 3D print’s fellow replicas. Photo by Brother Robot. }

As the end of my 3D printing adventure (for now), I was delighted with everything at the end. I made a few busts for me and some friends, and educational replicas for one of my colleges. I look forward to a time when 3D printing will be as easy and convenient as printing a photograph today. I am very thankful for those who have taken the plunge into this hobby today for the effort they put into this demanding craft.

{ Caption: H. naledi skull (center) in the replica cabinet. }

{ Caption: H. naledi skull (center) in the replica cabinet. }


Spring Teaching Changes

February 13th, 2017

The spring semester of 2017 brought a large sweeping change and many more minor changes than I had planned. To get the big change out of the way: I was hired to teach physical anthropology at another community college in San Diego County! MiraCosta College is a charming and innovative campus located in Oceanside. As someone who has been ‘inlandsy,’ spending more time nearer to the coast has been an experience by itself.

Getting used to working at two campuses has been a challenge. One school started a week earlier than the other, so the course schedules are always staggered. I am currently at the end of week two at one school and week three at the other and I have already gotten confused about what I am supposed to do when and where a few times. Besides the timing, differences between schools also force my two classes to be different. I had not realized how my teaching plays off of the classroom I have been using until its features are no longer around. The physical anthropology classroom I am used to has a broad set of fossil replicas (hopefully joined soon by a Homo naledi skull!) and a real human skeleton.  The rolling-desks allow students to face each other during group work.

{ Classroom fit for both lecture and group work. }

{ Classroom fit for both lecture and group work. }

My new classroom is a bit different because it is a general purpose lecture hall. It is also nicknamed the “little theater” for obvious reasons:

{ Room suitable for introducing the newest iPhone. }

{ Room suitable for introducing the newest iPhone. }

While a gorgeous space, it lacks the comforts I was used to. The immovable rows of seats mean that group work is harder to do. The whiteboards are dimly lit if the lights around the projector screen are turned off. Backstage (literally!), the computer controlling the projector cannot extend the display to show me my presenter notes during the slideshow. I also had to BYO-laser pointer. As I stand at the lectern, the computer monitor is just off stage to my left, so speaking while working the computer has me looking awkwardly away from the students. Despite these challenges, I do appreciate such a large and attractive venue for my class. I am finding that I may not need as many presenter’s notes as I did in previous semesters, though I have occasionally consulted them on my iPad at the lectern when I knew I was forgetting something. My laser pointer/remote gives me a lot more freedom of movement than I am used to. Instead of returning to the lectern to change slides out of habit, I am training myself to use the remote instead.

While teaching at Grossmont is business as usual in comparison, I did make changes affecting my course there as well. One concerns the coffee drawing that I use as a way to learn more about my students and consult them about the class. I had a process of having students voluntarily enter the drawing by providing an alias before, but it caused problems while addressing a non-existent privacy issue (names by themselves are not protected information). Some students did not understand the drawing or the reason for an alias, and so missed out on this activity by not participating out of confusion. Less than half of the class participated in other semesters. Reconnecting with Marian Diamond’s masterful lectures to see how she ran her drawing, I ended up adding all of my student’s names to the wheel. Since everyone in class is now an entrant, I have already noticed a lot more excitement during the drawing each week.

Speaking of changes brought about by a deeper understanding of relevant law, I learned that my California community colleges cannot grade based on attendance. The current interpretation of this section is that a student can still be dropped for excessive absences, grades can no longer be affected. I have had a contentious relationship with my own attendance policy, so abolishing it was a natural step. I could have also trucked on through until someone stopped me, but what kind of example of authority would that be? Since I still track attendance to see if a student has dropped off the radar, I will see if attendance levels change with the different policies.

One continuing change that affects my courses at both colleges is my tuning of my lecture slides. Last semester, I had students in several sections who had a hard time keeping up with the pace of my presentation. On my end, I realized that some of the slides are less polished than others: instead of just the most important words, some bullet points were full sentences. ‘Weasel’ words also took up a lot of space. I have been going through the slides to make sure that text are in clear digestible pieces. I have always prided myself in my slide layouts, so I hope this review makes them even better.

As I work with two campuses, I have made several policy changes and a general tuning of my lectures. While each change could be altered or even reversed in the future, my goal is that each semester is a little better than the last. There is one other change this semester sparked by my work across campuses: the move from Blackboard to Canvas as my learning management system of choice. There is a lot to say on this subject, so look for more on this soon.


Secret Summer Craft Project, part 3

February 6th, 2017

In the last two parts, I related how I stumbled into 3D modeling and printing over the summer. I had two projects, a Homo naledi skull and some busts of my comic character for my friends. While the former was being printed, the latter kept growing in scope. Instead of one stock bust, I made four different looks. They are:

Goggles on, mouth closed (prototype, busts 2-4)
Goggles on, mouth open (busts 5 and 6)
Goggles off, mouth open (busts 7 and 8)
Goggles off, mouth closed

The last one… is pretty boring. I changed it instead to:

Goggles off, tongue out (busts 9 and 10)

I had ten busts to print total: four of the first variant and two of each other version. Looking around on 3D Hubs, I found a printer in the listings nearby who had some previous work with organic designs. I ordered one print of the first variant just to see what it would look like. This became the prototype, and the one I kept for myself.

{ Prototype bust with hair flippy attached. }

{ Prototype bust with hair flippy attached. }

The shape of the hair posed some challenges with overhangs and supports. The tips of the hair were too small, so they snapped off along with the supports. Unexpected, but I liked the effect and the randomness of it. I had another three busts printed this way, but a drawback with this type of printing became too problematic to ignore: the bust was just not stable enough as it was being printed. Each print took several attempts to print without falling apart at the chin and hair tips level. A lot of plastic was wasted, which made the process more expensive.

The printer recommended printing the bust upside down so the hair sections could support themselves as they are built up in space. I had two printed this way (busts 3 and 4), but they came back looking rougher than the first prints. More of the bust needed support, even though the structure was more stable this way. As a result of the orientation, there were more rough patches on the bust. The rough sections were also located at highly visible areas – the top of the head and shoulders, rather than on the underside of the chin and hair.

{ Photo comparing scalps of bust 2 printed right-side up (center), and busts 3 and 4 printed upside-down (left and right). Lots of work would be needed to get closer to the look of bust 2! }

{ Photo comparing scalps of bust 2 printed right-side up (center), and busts 3 and 4 printed upside-down (left and right). Lots of work would be needed to get closer to the look of bust 2! }

I looked for another solution for the busts left to print. A guide on 3D Hubs used a simple example, but had a good solution for reducing the amount of support: cut the bust into front and back halves and print those separately, then glue them together. The printer and I used this idea for busts five, six, nine, and ten. Lastly, busts seven and eight were printed right side up in a different type of plastic (ABS instead of PLA).

{ Front and back halves just before gluing with super glue. I considered just shipping them as bookends. }

{ Bust 5: Front and back halves just before gluing with super glue. I considered just shipping them as bookends. }

At the end of the printing phase, I had six busts that looked good, two that had to be smoothed, and four that had to be glued. As my previous post and other work presented on this site suggests, I am more of a digital art than traditional art type of person. I experimented with various ways of smoothing and filling the rough sections of each bust, to a good amateur level. I also primed and spray painted a several of the busts to give them slightly differently looks than the plain plastic. My original plan in May was to paint the busts with comic-accurate colors, but it was already past Christmas at this stage! When they were all done, I lined them up for group photos:

{ Group photo of some of the finished busts. From left to right: bust 2, 5, 7, 9. The hair flippy for bust 7 had to be painted to match the ivory color. Luckily, my mom painted a fence in the yard a very similar color. }

{ Group photo of some of the finished busts. From left to right: bust 2, 5, 7, 9. The hair flippies for bust 7 and 8 (identical and not pictured) had to be painted to match the ivory color. Luckily, my mom painted a fence in her yard a very similar color. }

{ Group photo of busts 3, 4, 6 and 10. These were the ones that were spray painted. }

{ Group photo of busts 3, 4, 6 and 10. 3 and 4 had the rough scalps from being printed upside down. Filling with Bondo and sanding made them less noticeable. These four busts were the ones that were spray painted. }

With the busts completed and the Homo naledi skull in progress, my 3D printing projects are nearly wrapped up. I had a great time picking up another hobby. As I work on the comic more, having the bust helped standardize the character’s look. I don’t know about more 3D printing, though. At this stage of technology, 3D printing still has too many uncertainties. Maybe years from now 3D printing will be as easy as paper printing is today. Who knows what I would dream up to do by then?