Another Interview with Brian Aspinall

A little over a year ago, I conducted an online interview with Brian Aspinall.  We’ve stayed in contact and certainly I follow the stories and articles that he shares every morning.  Recently, he indicated that we should do another interview.  That sounded like a good idea so here goes.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to do another interview, Brian.  It will be interesting to catch up with what’s happening with you.


Brian: Thank you again for this opportunity. I cannot believe it has been over a year since our last Q & A!


Doug:  So, where are you teaching this year?  What grades?


Brian: I have (finally) secured some seniority and am here to stay at Indian Creek Road PS in Chatham. My current assignment is a grade 8 homeroom with some grades 7 & 8 rotary Science and Phys Ed.


Doug:  I’ve read that you’ve been out of class on special projects.  Can you elaborate on that?


Brian: This year I am active on two Board committees. This first of which is a Creating Pathways to Success committee. We are revamping our program to coincide with the new ministry document. More about inquiry and student choice. Our K-6 students are now required to have a portfolio of “all About Me” that will follow them to grades 7 & 8. We are working on what that will look like for our students.


The second project is a TLLP grant we received from OTF. We have been granted some release time to teach other intermediate staff about some of the news, technologies and pedagogies of today’s classrooms in order to level the playing field – so to speak – across the feeders schools in our area. This is a cross panel group and we have members from the local high school involved as well. This gives us an opportunity to share and highlight the great things happening in each of our schools and provides us with an opportunity to actually tour each building.


Doug:  During our last interview, we talked about Sketchlot and Clipkwik.  Where do these projects stand?


Brian: Clipkwik is still alive and well. I’m not sure what I am going to do with it now that youtube etc. is pretty well wide open in our classrooms. As you remember, Clipkwik was a solution to a problem – a way to find videos fast from sources other than youtube as it was blocked at the time. I haven’t used clipkwik much lately but still own the domain name.


Sketchlot hasn’t been on my radar since Scrawlar was developed about a year ago.


Doug:  Most recently, your biggest project is Scrawlar.  Can you give the readers a short description of it if they haven’t tried it already?


Brian: Scrawlar is a web whiteboard and word processor for schools. Essentially it is a place to collaborate on writing or math for younger students who do not have an email and want a simple tool. Students can create documents and sketches and then share them with anyone in the class. With tools like Scrawlar, our school alone saved close to $7500 last year just on printing costs! Students do not need to sign up for Scrawlar as the teacher adds them to the class network.


Doug:  Was there a little something extra in your pay cheque?  <grin>  Now, you’re entering a space where there are existing online products.  Why would someone consider Scrawlar when they could use Microsoft Office 365 or Google Documents?

Brian: Privacy! Scrawlar is just me. No data mining. No ads. No bots. Just me and a few lines of php code. Secondly, I have had many conversations with teachers trying out Google Classroom with young grades and they find it difficult. Many are making the switch back to Scrawlar. Lastly, Scrawlar is web based so it is always up to date. Teachers won’t have to bug site admins for app updates. It is HTML5 and works on all tablets, phones and PCs – for those BYOD classrooms.


Doug:  Is there room for a classroom to use both?


Brian: App smash away! You can now upload pics from the camera roll to sketch on in the whiteboard section.


Doug:  How many classrooms are currently using your online projects?  


Brian: As of this writing there are about 5500 users.


Doug:  In your mind, you must have a target figure that you’d like to reach.  Could you share that?  


Brian: I’d love to see it reach the numbers twiducate hit a few years ago. Last time I checked twiducate was about 160,000 users.



Doug:  Who pays for the bandwidth and storage space for these projects?


Brian: My wife! Ha, jk. I do. As it grows so do my bandwidth fees. I believe I currently have four godaddy accounts. Maybe I should re-think this now that you brought it to my attention!


Doug:  I had asked earlier if you would open source your projects and you indicated that you didn’t think you would.  One of the things that I think would be useful would be for a classroom teacher to customize their students instances of the projects.  Would you consider adding room for a school or classroom logo so that the teacher could really make it their own?


Brian: I’ve never considered this but I LOVE the idea. Like a Google Site or D2L teachers could make their network a little more custom with school logos and colours. Something to consider, thanks for the idea.


Doug:  I’m guessing that you’ve got a few projects on the go.  Can you share with us some of what you’re working on?


Brian: Nkwiry is my #1 focus right now. Again built as a solution to a problem. Over the last six months I have heard teachers saying “I want to flip my classroom but videos get buried in timelines on websites or social media we use”. Class websites are great but it seems there is difficulty in sharing many videos, filtered by subject area, on these sites.


Nkwiry is a place to share videos with and alongside students, based on subject area. teachers and students alike can post math videos under a math tile, science videos under a science tile, etc. I see nkwiry as the perfect flipped / blended learning tool for teachers who want to stop using textbooks and have their students research authentic class concepts. The videos shared under each tile and be posted back to a class website using a public link.


Outside of the technology front I am an active planner on the EdCampSWO team. This year we are piggy-backing #BIT14 by offering George Couros as a keynote to those local here in south western Ontario who cannot make it to Niagara. EdCampSwo is November 8, 2014 at Tecumseh Vista school in Windsor. People may register at Based on numbers so far, I think we may hit 400 participants this year!


Doug:  Over the past year, I’ve noticed that you’ve become more vocal online about getting students to code.  If a person was a fly on Mr. Aspinall’s classroom wall, what would they see on a typical day with respect to programming?


Brian: Noise. Bean bag chairs. An Arcade machine. I have students coding choose your own adventure graphic novels. I have students coding math applications to make rote tasks more engaging. I have students coding games in Unity to be played on the arcade. I also have students teaching themselves javascript from code academy.


Doug:  We’ll undoubtedly get a chance to catch up at the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls in a couple of weeks.  Can you share with us a bit about your presentation?


Brian: Based on my summary for #BIT14 I need about 6 hours to cover everything! I want to discuss Google Classroom, augmented reality and coding but 50 mins will be a challenge. I am toying with the idea of taking a vote as I love choose your own PD. I think I will cover the big ideas from two of the topics and go into greater deal on the third topic the group has voted on.

Doug:  Thanks so much for being available to be interviewed again, Brian.  All the best to you.  I’ll look forward to catching up again.

Brian: Thanks Doug, see you in a few weeks!

You can follow Brian on Twitter at @mraspinall

You can also follow his apps!  @scrawlar, @nkwiry, @clipkwik, @sketchlot

His home on the web is here:

OTR Links 10/21/2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Connected, But In Different Ways

I had a big smile as I read Brandon Grasley’s comment to my post yesterday.  I didn’t realize that my comment about losing internet access two days in a row would inspire his comments.  But I learned that we both live in what the internet would call a limited fly zone or “rural”.

Now, when I was growing up, a few of my friends lived in what would be my traditional view of rural.  

You got there by taking a county or township road, turn at the mailbox (do a favour by picking up mail if the flag was up or the box was turned), and then driving down the lane with corn fields on either side or beans if the crops had been rotated that particular year.  You park in a big gravel area and then head into the house.  Every farmer had a blade for their tractor and they were responsible for clearing their own lane in the winter.  That’s my definition of rural.

Now, being connected or not being connected makes rural take on a new meaning.  From my house, I can see our local community, buildings from a community in Southeast Michigan, and the local elementary school.  Yet, being connected here doesn’t have the huge set of options that being literally half a concession road away would.  

Just down the road, and it’s well marked by my dog on our morning walks, DSL is a reality.  When the school board implemented a fast Wide Area Network, cable internet access was pulled to the elementary school.  If we walk by, my smart phone can actually see the networks being broadcast.  I wonder if I still have an account there?

And yet, when we get home, the options are limited.  But, they certainly are much better than they used to be.  In the good ol’ days, we paid for a second telephone line.  On that line, I ran a BBS for the public with a private area for my students.  In the evenings, we could take down the BBS and dial in to a service provider and go online.  It was blistering fast with my USRobotics modem.  

Of course, blistering fast is time dependent.  You couldn’t survive with those speeds today.  But, apparently, from the roof of my house, you can see a communications tower about 8km away.  On a good day, I can get speeds close to 3MB down and .5MB up.  This is light speed compared to the good ol’ days.  When I purchased the service, I also purchased an extended capacity package since I knew that my wife and kids would be connected and using data.  We wanted to avoid overages.

It sounds like my package is more robust than what Brandon enjoys.  With his tiers in 5GB increments, he’d be in the second tier if he was doing a task like downloading the Mac OS X upgrade I did yesterday.

So, in a way, it was comfortable knowing that I’m not the only one that has to look for alternatives for big downloads, like an OS upgrade.  It’s a shame that this is not recognized by the internet or the content providers.  Most software and media these days are available only by download; the concept of going to a store and buying traditional media is all but gone.  Apparently, Apple does encourage you to visit their store to use their network.  I’d only have to go to the north end of London to do it.  There are some places in the community that offer free internet access but filter out access to online stores.  I totally understand that; often the access is provided as a courtesy not for some rural guy trying to download an upgrade from the Google Play store.

I know that I’ve been in conversations with folks about the inequities of connectivity.  It’s usually framed from the student perspective and the answer typically is to visit the local library or stay after school.  And yet, it’s not just the student.  As Brandon notes, he takes advantage of his district’s BYOD policy.  I know that I used to go into work on weekends to get major jobs done.  These days, I go to my daughter’s place.

While the whole suite of options isn’t available to everyone, they are most certainly better than they used to be.  Those that draft policy defining just what connected means need to consider the implications of all those affected.  We don’t all live in downtown Toronto!

I had a colleague once who encouraged everyone to think without boundaries.  She was fond of asked “Doug, if you were the King of the World, what would you do?”  In the connected forum, I think I’d pour research and development into providing “internet over electricity” and then making it a commercial product.  

Wouldn’t that go a long way towards achieving equity?

OTR Links 10/20/2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


As I write this post, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to post it in the traditional way.  My internet access is provided by “Canada’s Rural Internet Strategy”.  They’re currently down again.  They were down yesterday afternoon as well.  It’s frustrating.

Yesterday morning, I decided that I would upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest operating system, version 10.10.  It looked like it wasn’t going to be a nice day outside so installing an upgrade and then poking around learning it seemed like a good idea.  I checked the update and it would take approximately 17 hours to download the 5.13GB upgrade.  That’s more than I was prepared to devote to this activity.  Fortunately, my daughter has a speedy internet connection through Cogeco – she was working – so I asked to do my upgrade at her place, got approval, and I was off.

Normally, I’d wait for a week or so for bug fixes to be made available but I think this version of Mac OSX should be different.  It appears to have been in Beta testing for a long time and with so many brave souls.  I had a feeling that it might be a pretty safe release.  And, it’s free.

After stopping for a coffee on the drive in, I sat down to do the download and two hours later, I was ready to go.  Now, it’s not like I needed to do the upgrade – I was quite happy with the way things were running – but the common wisdom is to stay with the latest release for security and functional reasons.  Plus, I have nothing by the highest admiration for the programmers who manage to weave their magic through the code to make things even better.

So, after the installation and reboot, I was interested to see what was what.  If you read the Apple fanboys, this is the greatest, most beautiful release of the OS ever.

Unfortunately, my first impressions are anything but that.

Starting at the top…

I did like the fact that the menu bar at the top can be turned black.  So, instead of the bright white strip that we’ve become so familiar with, it’s now darkened and considerably less harsh on the eyes.  There’s a new font in use which is functional and that’s OK.  It does have a bit of an Ubuntu Ambiance look to it but I think I prefer Ambiance’s look.

At this early juncture, many of the icons are either now invisible, having blended into the black, or are barely visible.  Look for upgrades once word gets out.

This leads to the most noticeable change when you first log in.  The whole interface has changed.  Quite frankly, it’s not a look that I took an immediate like to.  I suppose it’s Apple’s answer to Microsoft’s Modern UI but, with it’s bright childish looking colours, it’s very much like the new commercials on television.  Is it to attract a younger environment?  It certainly is a departure from the professional, finished look in previous versions.  I use the Graphite interface which isn’t too radical a change.  Switching to Blue really is shocking and not attractive at all, to this eye.

In fact, looking at some of the icons, I harkened back to the fruit-coloured iMacs.  Bright, and they really stood out.  Everything since then has been professional looking silver and black.  Now the icons…


The translucent menus are an interesting effect.  I wonder if that’s also taking some processor power to work.  Under Accessibility, there’s an option to reduce the amount of transparency.  I think I’ll give that a shot and see if it makes a difference.

The early reading I’ve done states that “Handoff” is the biggest game changer in the upgrade.  So, if I’m working with Safari on my laptop, I can hand off where I am to another iCloud device.  My first reaction was to ask when I would ever use that.  But, I guess I’ve been using a similar functionality with browsers for a long time.  Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox will let you synchronize histories across browsers on different devices.  

The notifications panel is a nice looking addition.  I added in my location and no longer have to look at the outdoor thermometer.  If I was using the calendar, events would pop up there.

Whenever anything changes the interface of anything, you need to take a look at any hit in performance.  With one day of messing around, I do notice that performance has taken a hit.  After looking around, I see that my Time Machine is doing a backup so that’s understandable that there may be a hit there.  I’m also guessing that perhaps Spotlight is indexing my computer?

Speaking of Spotlight, this is an area that everyone needs to take a look at and consider carefully.  When Ubuntu added search to the Dash, there was a big uproar that searches weren’t limited to your computer by default.  With Spotlight in 10.10, the warning is right up front.  Read all that you can about Privacy.  Your search results, including your location, are sent to Apple to help “improve” your results.  Are you OK with that?  I’ve got to think that one through and so have turned it off for the time being.

I’ve never been a real fan of the old iTunes.  The way that it worked never seemed all that intuitive to me.  But, it was the only game in town so I learned to use it.  This new makeover however does seem more friendly.  The mind is a funny thing; I don’t know if it’s that much different or whether it’s a tweak to the old that’s just ringing bells with me.  Oddly, it doesn’t take on the graphic colours for the minimize, close, full screen buttons.  It’s only using the Blue theme.  Did that slip by consistency control?

I thought I was rather smart in heading in to town to use the fast internet there.  I’ll confess that I didn’t think it through completely.  I expected that everything Apple that I owned would have been upgraded.  It was only later when I got home that I saw the notifications that things were waiting in the App Store for upgrades.  Pages, Numbers, iMovie, etc. all had been upgraded because they were “influenced” by the new user interface.  So, I downloaded them to stay on top of things. Argh.

But, the App Store is having difficulties keeping track.  Even they were updated, they’ve now been flagged again today as having an update!

I suppose that the new look and features will grow on me with time.  With the huge download, I’ll confess to being underwhelmed.  Nothing has reached out and grabbed me yet as being worth all the time and effort that I put into the upgrade and then poking around looking for new features.  I suspect that my weeks ahead are going to be filled with upgrades as all of the other software on the computer are revised to work with 10.10.  If we learn from the experience with iOS8, there will undoubtedly be upgrades and bug fixes in the near future.  

I can’t wait until I get internet access restored so that I can read what others are experiencing.  In the meantime, I’ll just tether my laptop to my Android phone and get this post online.

If you’ve upgraded, I’d be interested in your experiences and thoughts.

OTR Links 10/19/2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Michelle’s Been Busy – #BIT14

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to join Michelle Cordy in an interview with #BIT14 keynote speaker, Richard Byrne.  You can read about it here.

Since that time, she’s been busy with a couple more interviews related to the Bring IT, Together Conference.

In addition to Richard, she’s interviewed George Couros and talked about his keynote address “Leading Innovative Change” and his leadership session “The Networked Leader“.  If you missed the interview, you can enjoy it here.

Her microphone had barely cooled off when she was back at it again.  

This time, she connected with Heather Durnin and David Hann.  At the #BIT14 Conference, Heather will be presenting “Three Dimensions in Student Learning“.  David will be presenting “How to make use of a Makerbot 3D Printer in Your School – Year II“.

You can enjoy that interview here.

Excitement is building as we get closer to the Bring IT, Together Conference.  Michelle nicely works the interview process to really tease us about the great learning that will happen.

Registration is still open – you can register through the website and read about these sessions and all of the other great happenings at the three day conference here.