Coding & photos – vacation rumination

Coding has become a hot topic in educational circles. In a previous post – The second coming of coding: Will it bring rapture or rejection? – I responded to some comments posted by Bron Stuckey and concluded that a key challenge would be the limited experience that most teachers, and students preparing to be teachers, have of coding in any form. In my view it will not be sufficient to provide teachers with some basic instruction in coding and resources for teaching it. They will need to have experiences that make the usefulness of coding in daily life apparent if they are to embed it authentically in their teaching.

Since that time the Queensland Government has launched Advancing Education, an action plan for education in Queensland, with coding featured as a key component marked by its own hashtag – #codingcounts. The website notes the highlights as fast-tracking of the new Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies subject from 2016, creation of a coding academy, and incubation of future entrepreneurs. Robotics is proposed as a key component and professional development is to be provided for teachers.

Since the draft of the new curriculum with digital technologies appeared in 2013, I’ve been including some coding with Scratch and other digital technologies elements in the course that I teach in the 4th year of our Bachelor of Education program, EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy. Our recent graduates have had some exposure to key concepts but few have any substantial experience of coding and few have really appreciated its relevance. The new government push should make it easier to persuade them of relevance but there is still limited time to develop the knowledge and skills they will require to teach digital technologies with authenticity.

Various opinions have been expressed about coding in schools over recent months. In close proximity to a call by the Prime Minister for improved teaching of STEM subjects, especially coding, outgoing Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, has suggested that graduates of teacher education programs are not sufficiently well prepared. Recent USQ graduate, Elke Schneider, has blogged about her experiences with teaching digital technologies and questioned whether pushing it into schools without adequately preparing teachers might turn kids off rather than on. On the World Bank site, Michael Trucano has suggested that we should be thinking at least as much about coding to learn as learning to code, arguing for the place of coding across the curriculum where it can be applied in support of varied topics.

I’m attracted by the idea that coding, or computational thinking that underpins it, might be applied to facilitate learning across the curriculum. That seems the approach most likely to expose students to it as an everyday activity that may be useful in real life. Of course, that will depend upon having teachers who have sufficient skill to see and exploit the potential across the curriculum. That probably does not require them to be able to code complex applications but is more likely to involve the sort of activity that we have described previously as digital renovation, which, despite my having some formal education in programming, is where I sit by reason of infrequent exercise of my skills at any depth.

My most recent effort at digital renovation illustrates the sort of activity that I think might be feasible for many people with some basic knowledge of coding and/or computational thinking.

I’ve been interested in photography for much of my life. In the 1970s I dabbled in darkrooms with film. More recently I’ve gone digital and have become interested in what software can do to enhance my images. I was using iPhoto but began moving to Aperture a couple of years ago because it offered more for editing and easier access to various plugins. Aperture was using the same library as iPhoto and that worked well enough but then Apple announced Photos (different library format) and the end of Aperture. I did some reading, particularly of Take Control of Your Digital Photos on a Mac, and decided to make the move to Adobe Lightroom, which stores the photos on the standard file system rather than in a proprietary database and maintains a catalogue for management. That seemed to be less prone to the occasional database corruption problems that occur with iPhoto or similar systems.

Over the past year I’ve moved about 20 000 photos from Aperture/iPhoto to Lightroom with some cleaning up along the way. I completed that task in early December and then needed to think about some related issues. There seems little point in having thousands of photos that you never see so I’ve been using selected photos as desktop/wallpaper on a 15 minute random rotation and using a screensaver that presents a changing display of selected images. The close integration of Aperture/iPhoto, and now Photos, with the  Mac OS has meant that I could create smart folders in the photo management software based on applying keywords (desktop and screen) and use those folders as the sources for desktop and screensaver.

Lightroom catalogs are not supported in the same way so I needed a different solution. My first thought was to replicate as near as possible the previous approach by applying keywords in Lightroom and somehow generating smart folders but the keywords were not visible to Finder so that approach would not work. Next option was to use tags in Finder and create smart folders based on those. That was possible but the desktop and screensaver controls could not see the smart folders so that was also a dead end. A solution would require real folders but I did not want to duplicate image files so the logical choice was to create a folder to contain aliases to the selected image files. Strangely, when I tested folders with aliases they worked for desktop backgrounds but not for the screensaver which apparently requires that the selected folder contain image files. I worked around that by selecting an annual folder from the Lightroom masters folder for the screensaver and then worked on a way to simplify the creation of aliases in the folder for the desktop images.

kbm_lrThat required coding (of a kind) or at least the rudiments of computational thinking to analyse the task and develop a shortcut way to accomplish it. I built my solution using Keyboard Maestro, a  Mac OS macro utility that I’ve used for several years to ‘automate’ simple repetitive processes. In this case I wanted a macro that could be invoked by a single keystroke when an image I wanted to use for my desktop was selected in Lightroom. Creating the macro required trial and error with some Keyboard Maestro functions I had not used previously. My solution used a macro (shown at right) that is active only in Lightroom. It accesses a Lightroom menu item that shows the selected item in the Finder and uses a Finder menu item to make an alias of it. That sometimes takes a moment so there is a pause to ensure that the alias is available for the next step. The alias has the same name as its parent file with ” alias” added so it is simple enough to specify the parameters to move that file to the required folder using a Keyboard Maestro function. The Finder window is closed to avoid leaving a profusion of open windows before using a Keyboard Maestro function to rename the alias file by removing the ” alias” addition. That is not necessary for the process to work but does result in a tidier folder. The final step is to return to Lightroom.

Does my macro qualify as coding? No actual code was written but I did need to think logically and specifiy the process using steps that are arguably as much ‘coding’ as Scratch or similar systems are. If more teachers were acquainted with this sort of activity then I think there would be more chance they could engage kids with practical applications of coding or computational thinking.