Honors class explores evaluation of informal learning

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students. Stay tuned for more. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Eliza Hong:

Our class on Monday centered on the importance of evaluation of projects and specifically in application to ICAT day. Dr. Julee Farley came to share her knowledge on evaluation with us and also led us through an activity where we came up with novel and cheap ways of evaluating something like ICAT day.

Summative evaluation is evaluating a project’s outcome, whereas formative evaluation centers on the process while the project is happening. Dr. Farley explained why these types of evaluation are important, and also the difference between evaluation and research.

Before giving us any information, Dr. Farley had us group in three groups to come up with novel ways to evaluate ICAT Day, leaving even what we evaluating up to the groups. By not giving us prior information, the idea was that we would come up with more broad ranging ideas. For this project, we were given several guidelines: the solution had to be novel (which mostly meant no surveys), cheap, not bothersome, and not collect any personal information. Our groups centered on evaluating how many people visited the exhibits, and which ones were visited most often. The first group talked about a bingo game that would be filled out with stickers from each exhibit. Prizes would be given out to those who won the game or filled out the entire sheet. Having different stickers each hour would also indicate how long a given person had stayed. The second group came up with the idea of an app that would explain exhibits to people (Pokémon Go –style?) and possibly track them. My group had very (er-) interesting ideas, from voodoo dolls to food to destruction. We settled on a passport idea that participants could decorate with items from each exhibit, similar to the idea of the first group, of tracking which exhibits were visited more often.

We then talked about the ways that ICAT Day was being evaluated and had been evaluated before. Phyllis told our class that something similar to the sticker-at-the-exhibits idea but with stations at several corners instead of all the exhibits. We were then given an overview of the survey-heavy methods for evaluating ICAT Day, although a new position was just created to be a “Creative Evaluator.” For now, we were told, this position would consist of counting things, inspired by a commercial of the man who broke the record running the Appalachian trail (how many hamburgers he ate, Red bulls he drank, etc.) We finished off the class by assigning everyone to different shifts for volunteering on ICAT day. All in all, evaluation was presented in a new light to me, as something that was meaningful and could improve projects, and we get to have a part in it for ICAT Day.

Eliza Hong is a student bombarded with fresh ideas out of ICAT (Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology) at Virginia Tech, wanting to make the world a better place while finding her own mission. Eliza is hoping to transfer into industrial design; she is interested in interdisciplinary creativity.

Honors class: Communicating Science with Improv

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students. Stay tuned for more. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Chad Biever:

Well, score a victory for the non-traditional classroom experience. This week’s class took us beyond the traditional classroom lecture and beyond even the less-traditional lab tours. Instead, we played a series of improvisational theater-inspired games to help us learn to communicate science to the public. We then discussed the importance of being able to communicate science and the challenges we may face in trying to do so, and how these ideas may be applicable in the future.

List out the activities we did, you would be hard-pressed to show how they teach us to discuss science. We opened with a name-learning game that connected every person’s name to an action related to an activity they liked to do. This seemed more successful than the many name-learning exercises I’ve been subjected to over the years. We then moved into a game that had us standing in a circle and looking to make eye contact with another person in the circle. If that person you see said “yes”, you would move to take their place. Move too early, and you were out. While the word “yes” lost all meaning after a while (and left me wanting to listen to 90125), it did show some principles of conscientiousness while working with others. Another game that had us having to call out an assigned number as it constantly shifted sought to teach similar ideas.

Perhaps the most interesting game happened in the middle of the class. We were first asked to make a circle. Then we had to make a letter A. Then a letter P. We had our right to speak taken away. Then a letter S. We lost our right to gesticulate. Then a letter Q. Then a circle again. Everything was going smoothly. Then a T. Then an M. Then an elephant. That threw a wrench into our plans. Without any way of communicating besides body position and facial expressions we had difficulty coming to an agreement about whether we were making a 2D or 3D elephant, an elephant face or a full elephant, or a what any of this stuff looked like anyway. This was interesting, since our ability to make letters was improved by not being able to talk. When the goal was clear, the nonverbal cues and subtle elements who took on leading and following roles proved more beneficial to communication. When there was more intensive thinking involved, verbal communication became necessary. This called attention to the importance of nonverbal cues in communication, a fact that often gets lost in my particular world of engineering memos and diagrams.

I’m in the College of Engineering, and engineering as a subject area lives downstream from science. Transferring knowledge from science to engineering is usually done through the trusted mediators in the Engineering Science & Mechanics field, the most feared of all engineering disciplines at Tech. But surely the profession would be well served by greater understanding of science. It increases the number of things that engineers can consider in their design processes, and thus design against a greater number of failure cases. Engineers would also be well served to see examples of how design and maintenance is handled in areas outside their own; you can look at the biology-inspired machines of Boston Dynamics to see examples of the creativity that can be unlocked when this occurs.

Engineers can also use theatrical techniques to explain their own field. Engineering is a tricky discipline to explain to the general public, since much of the field is, frankly, a bit dull. Even explanations of cool stuff like robots tend to either devolve into technical jargon or stay at a surface-level discussion. Since engineering affects just about everything in the world these days, it seems unwise to keep the public out of the loop. Finding out-of-the-box ways to interest the public will require thinking clearly about what would interest people outside of the engineering bubble by analyzing what they would emotionally connect to. Then we could develop engaging ways to hold public interest.

Communication is fundamental to accomplishing anything in STEM fields, yet it is heavily deemphasized in favor of technical knowledge. To be sure, many engineering majors would rather solve heat transfer problems than hold a conversation with a stranger anyway. But through entertaining games and exercises, perhaps we can make some headway and show STEM professionals what a delight it can be to share your knowledge with somebody else and have them understand completely.

Chad Biever is a mechanical engineering student trying to escape the typical engineering design team experience and find new ways to solve problems. He has particular interests in robotics, 3D printing, and part design work.

3D modeling for the Honors class

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Justin Gravatt:

In this week’s Honors service learning class, we took a trip to the Create Studio. In the Create Studio, we learned about different ways to create prototypes. Before class, we learned some of the terminology that is used in three-dimension prototyping. Each of us also designed our own object to prototype using a free computer-aided design program, TinkerCad. We then printed out each of our objects using one of the 3D printers that is in the space. Some of the things that the lab features include two 3D printers, a laser cutter, basic hand tools, soldering supplies, electronic testing equipment, and several other prototyping tools.

Although this was not my first experience working in three dimensions or using prototyping tools, I still learned some interesting new things. I first used this technology in high school. I now regularly use three-dimensional modeling and create prototypes as an architecture major. The TinkerCad software is very easy to use, but in that aspect, it doesn’t have many features that other more advanced computer-aided design programs have such as AutoCAD or Rhino do.

As technology advances, it also gains more applications for its use. Today, 3D printing is not just used to make prototypes but also used in making products as well as in the construction industry, the food industry, and even in the medical industry. The technology has advanced to a point that it is possible to 3D print organs. This use, once fully developed, will make it possible to save a lot more lives by being able to create organs for those who will otherwise die. In the construction industry, it is now possible to 3D print a house out of concrete in less than a day.

Overall, the Create Studio provides the equipment necessary to generate working prototypes from the thoughts in one’s head. This studio and the other spaces that we have explored in class really show that ICAT has the necessary tools to foster creativity and innovation.

Justin Gravatt is a first-year Architecture student at Virginia Tech. His interests include real estate, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability.

Exploring making and tinkering with Honors students

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

This week we visited the 3D print lab, the Fusion Studio, and a couple of other of the amazing new spaces at Newman Library.  Students were asked, “What are your experiences with making and tinkering? What was new to you about what you saw at Newman Library? What conditions and mindsets do you think are necessary for making and tinkering?”  Two students’ contrasting responses make up this entry.

From guest blogger Emily Barritt:

Making and tinkering are simply names for actions that people have been doing for years. The idea of creating something from nothing is what is behind making, and the idea of iterations, not 100% knowing what the end design is an allowing the creative process flow through multiple developments is the true essence of tinkering. One cannot work on a making and tinkering project with a closed mind about the end goal. Instead, one needs to approach the project with open arms and be willing to let what comes of working and reworking the given problem guide the final product. As disappointing as it is for me to realize, I am not a good maker or tinkerer. As somewhat of a perfectionist, I have a hard time failing and learning as I work through the problem. This is something that I have been trying to work on and I am actively looking for outlets to “practice” my maker and tinkering skills. I am strongly considering working on a simple design project for the 3D printer as a way to explore my maker side.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that I did not know that any of the resources that we saw today were available at the library. This class was definitely an eye opener for me. I am excited to see what new things are created from the spaces that are being developed for students. The library is most definitely doing their part in helping VT students invent the future.

Emily Barritt is a scientist who plays music, and a musician who studies science on a quest to integrate her fields to work towards developing something bigger than herself. She is eager to explore the new technologies of the day and integrate creativity, arts, and technology to develop new innovations.

From guest blogger Pamela Kryschtal:

What are your experiences with making and tinkering? 

This past week was my favorite class so far.  I felt a real connection not just to my major, engineering, but to my engineering law minor as well.  I would heavily consider myself a maker and a tinker, I like to come up with things I can use by recycling old objects.

I made the following headboard out of 2x4s, 4-inch foam, and fabric:

I made the following duvet cover out of purchased fabric and an old top sheet:

And I also made the following DVD shelf for my boyfriend out of an old pallet:

What was new to you about what you saw at Newman Library?  

Having not entered Virginia Tech as a Freshman, I’ve always found the library rather intimidating.  I barely know how to print anything or even check out a book, let alone 3D print something.  So essentially, it’s easy to say that everything was new to me about what we saw in Newman Library.  I talk about this class a lot with my friends and I can’t wait to show them the spaces I’ve discovered and reserve time to play with 3D technology.

What conditions and mindsets do you think are necessary for making and tinkering?

As I mentioned above, this week’s class connected to my minor of engineering law.  I think the first condition that is necessary for making and tinkering is the feeling of safety that the maker’s intellectual property is protected.  If people don’t feel like they will be able to maintain control over their own ideas, they will be less likely to take chances and attempt to make.

The mindset that is necessary for making and tinkering is that of creativity and fearlessness.  The creativity approach is obvious, as the word “create” is the root of the word.  The fearlessness is important when taking chances and being open to the idea that it might not work and that’s ok, because it also might work and be amazing.

Pamela Kryschtal is a seasoned but enthusiastic engineering student at Virginia Tech.  She is driven by a passion for experiences and communication.

Alternative realities – art and architecture + Mirror Worlds

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Sean Jocher:

Today we started off by walking through the Art galleries on the first and second floors of Moss Arts Center. We were told to look at each painting without reading the description to try and understand what is happening without the context. When looking at the portrait of Monticello flooded, I could not grasp how they had real water in Monticello without damaging the place. After we were told that the Monticello in the painting was a model replica, I was shocked. The attention to detail that the artist put into the replica must have taken him tens of hours for a tiny house. This opened up my eyes that artists can put incredible amounts of effort into the paintings for them to see realistic and noteworthy. Most of the other paintings were the same way. Huge with immense attention to detail. I was definitely intrigued looking at all the works from the artists and how they relate to each other.

After the art exhibit, we learned about the mirror worlds project. This is one of the most fascinating projects at moss arts center to me because it directly relates to what I want to do in the future. We learned that the project uses fish eye lenses around the building to see where people are and portrays them as an avatar in the virtual world. The algorithm to get the location of each person from the camera was very interesting since it required more steps than I thought it would. Someone mentioned that using an infrared camera would be more efficient which I also thought would be a great idea. I was sad to hear that while the infrared camera was considered, the cost greatly outweighed the quantity of cameras they could use with a budget. I was amazed to learn that every aspect of mirror worlds has been carefully planned out and tested. The working product placed around MAC is amazing because it is very cool to see when myself show on the screens when I walk around. I asked what kind of hardware would be needed to run the mirror worlds program, and I happily learned that they are using some very powerful servers to do the job. I believe mirror worlds has great potential since it is the bleeding edge of technology.

Sean Jocher is a computer enthusiast! He loves learning about new technologies and how they can impact our lives.


Tissue Scaffold VR

Professors Chris Williams (Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Education) and Tim Long (Chemistry) along with grad student Joseph Kubalak are interested in using the Cube to explore the deviation between 3D models and the 3D printed physical manifestations of those models.  So far, we have explored two models – a tissue scaffold (normally about thumbnail size) and a dental model.  These models were printed and then CT scanned.  The scans were converted into meshes, and analyzed for the difference between the scanned version of the physical object and the original 3D model.  That analysis was applied to to the models as color.  At that point, they sent me the scanned meshes (with vertex color) and I tossed them into Unity so we could explore them in the Cube with our tetherless VR setup.  Here are two quick videos showing what they’ve been looking at:

Map of Science

Over in the VT library, Michael Stamper was recently hired as the Data Visualization Designer & Consultant for the Arts.  It made sense for Michael and I start a dialogue and figure out how we can help build the collaborative work between the library and ICAT.  As a starting place, we decided to create a 3D VR visualization of the Map of Science (http://www.mapofscience.com/, http://sci.cns.iu.edu/ucsdmap/).

This is the first iteration – a direct translation of the ucsdmap data set into virtual space.

We have to figure out where we want to go from here, but it was an excellent first step!

Honors class joins the village

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the third in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Heather Sangalang

Instead of our usual routine of visiting a specific location to experience the innovative creations that reside in the Moss Arts Center, we remained in the classroom to get educated about the serious matter of working with children. At first glance, the task of working with/around kids seems to be lighthearted and simple, but there turns out to be a lot of things that you must be aware of if. Our instructor went through a Powerpoint that contained important information about this subject.

The main goal of this “training” was to learn how to keep the children safe. They are entrusted in us and we should be made aware of how to protect them. When a child gets physically injured, we would either let another superior know or call for help ourselves; paperwork is also involved in this process. It may seem like a lot of extra steps when the easy solution would just be to help them ourselves, but for legal and safety purposes, others must get involved.

During the lecture, the class heard some disturbing and negative terms, such as pedophile. It is not a pleasant subject, but it had to be touched upon because, again, our number one goal is to keep the kids safe. We are not allowed to leave a child alone with an adult. I was uncomfortable learning about this at the beginning, but I had to realize that I had to know this if I was to work with kids because I would not want anything to happen to them under my watch, especially if it was preventable.

After getting through the Powerpoint of listed precautions and expectations, the members of the class split up to brainstorm possible emergencies that we could encounter and devise a solution for them. A few of the ideas that were shared included if a child had a seizure, if an earthquake hit, if a child got lost, and if the child had an asthma attack. We expressed our opinions on how to deal with those kinds of situations and our instructor chimed in with her advice as well.

After this class, the term, “It takes a village to raise a child”, made me realize even more that it does take a lot of people to raise kids. No matter whether we volunteer for K2C, the Science Museum, or any of the other activities that involves kids, we won’t be single-handedly responsible for the kids. We have each other, other parents, and other volunteers to assist us if there is an emergency. The most important things are to make the child happy and make sure they are protected and loved if something happens. I love working with kids, so this training excited me because I became more equipped for my K2C volunteering that starts next month. This class was beneficial for all of us because we will use this knowledge well-beyond this class.

I’m Heather and I love family, food, and football. You can usually catch me laughing, drinking coffee, or watching YouTube videos.

Sports simulation

Although I haven’t posted in a while, a lot of projects are continuing to develop.  In fact, there are number of posts I will be making in the forthcoming week with some project updates and new projects.

For today, I just wanted to show some images of the sports field Lucas Freeman (Creative Technologies MFA student) modeled for us.  Although this isn’t an official project yet, I’ve been working with Robin Queen in BEAM and Todd Ogle in TLOS to start prototyping two sports simulations.  The first is a soccer simulation for VR, which Robin can use in her biomechanics lab to make users feel like they’re actually on the field, in a real soccer situation.  She can then capture data on how they react to investigate various sports injuries.  The second is a football simulator, designed for quarterback training.  They might be in the Cube or in Perform studio wearing a headset and seeing various game scenarios.  They then throw the ball (into a net!) based on that stimuli.  That’s the very basic outline of the ideas, and you’ll hopefully continue to see those take shape over the coming months.

We already have the functionality in place for these things, so the next step was to get some modeling done.  See the images below.  Next week, we will do some mocap to capture animation for the virtual players that will go into the simulation.  Cool stuff, great job Lucas!


Adventures in virtual worlds: ICAT class visits the Perform Studio

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the third in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Clark Cucinell:

The friendly robot stared at me for a moment, then offered me a floppy disk which had imprinted on it the image of a rocket. Using the controllers, I grabbed the floppy disk and inserted it into the printer on my left. As the rockets printed, I scanned the room. It was small, around the size of the interior of a typical RV. The space looked like the home of a graduate student preparing for their thesis presentation. Papers and cans were scattered everywhere, the desk in front of me was cluttered. Directly next tome were numerous screens and buttons, which I either could not interact with or did not know how to work. The rockets had finished printing, all four a stereotypical rocket shape with an orange body and light red cone top. I picked one up, pulled back the string dangling from the base, and let go. The rocket propelled itself through the air in random directions, leaving a trail of sparks as it flew around the room.

This is one of the many demos offered by the Oculus Rift, a Virtual Reality headset that immerses the user in a simulated, interactive environment. The headset hijacks the visual and auditory senses, while the controllers provide haptic feedback depending on which object you’re touching. The Performing Arts studio, part of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), in the Moss Arts Center provided this experience for the ICAT introductory class. We, the students, took turns using the two headsets available; one providing the experience of the previous example and the other introducing the combination of a Virtual Reality headset with Leap Motion, a sensor specializing in tracking hand movement.Using this hybrid headset, the user could manipulate furniture in the area around them by using hand gestures recognized by the LeapMotion sensor. Few of us had used this technology before, which quickly became apparent by the childlike enthusiasm in the room.

Virtual Reality technology is still in its infancy regarding everyday consumer participation. Only recently did these headsets reach price ranges of $600-800, and even then,there aren’t many applications for them yet. Furthermore, the headsets need to be adjusted in order to fit each user. Attempting to wear glasses with the headsets failed, and was very uncomfortable, so I wore it without my glasses.  Though not as prominent, I still experienced blurred vision similar to how I would see the world without glasses. This is apparently easy to fix but takes time, so fine-tuning the headsets for each person in a large group wouldn’t be practical.

Another major issue currently being resolved, in some very creative ways, is the dilemma of how to travel in the virtual world. It’s possible to physically walk and have the movement transfer to the virtual space, but this limits your traveling capabilities to the confinements of the room. The device used in the Perform Studio, and one I was allowed to experience, was the Virtuix Omni, a multidirectional movement simulation treadmill made specifically for virtual reality transportation. It looked like a tripod highchair with a concave base. I wore shoes with sensors on the top, used to track the movement, and plastic on the bottom that created a seemingly frictionless surface interaction with the base. A harness is used to ensure you don’t fall over,though it can be quite uncomfortable. After strapping in, the graduate students handed me the headset and controllers and gave me instructions on how to properly move on the treadmill. Before I knew it, I was running around in a room akin to a basketball court, but with slopes and walkways. I shot robots and defended a gigantic cube, which the robots would shoot, until my inevitable defeat.

Despite these obstacles, virtual reality technology has the potential to transform multiple aspects of society. Training for jobs, gaming and other entertainment experiences, and “visiting” out of reach locations are just some of the ways virtual reality can enhance our lives. Though the impact of this technology is limited until we manage to create consumer grade devices for most niches of society, we can still enjoy the demos and experiences that give us a taste of what is to come.

Clark Cucinell is a junior undergraduate researcher at Virginia Tech, where he is majoring in Computer Science and Chemistry. When he’s not studying or working, Clark can be found at Crimpers rock climbing gym or practicing guitar at his apartment.