eXtensions - Wednesday 26 August 2020


Wednesday Diversion: Online Teaching, 2 Steps Forward, 3 Steps Back; Apple Stock Split

By Graham K. Rogers


In universities, online teaching is widely used for many classes. Students and teachers have reservations about the medium. Many teachers are trying to adapt to produce the best from the limitations the format brings, with materials, tasks and hardware. The Apple stock split has brought out the worriers. An Adobe Lightroom update caused many users to lose all their pictures: it is what it is, they are told.

I had two online classes early this week, with the first at 0900 on Monday. An advantage is that I am doing this from my condo, so I don't have far to go. I do make the effort to dress in a white shirt as I do when teaching any class: a sort of trademark. I also wear black trousers now (no socks), although when I ran courses from home a few months back I wore shorts. With the current classes and student groups, there is more likelihood that I have to move around. In that case I want to show students that I am making the effort. I don't actually worry about what the students wear, nor do I care if they are eating - I allowed that in classes anyway. I want these young people to be comfortable while learning.

With online teaching I have found that assignments for the students need some special management and this has taken more time than I expected this week. With 3 groups and about 100 students, if I set a task that means 100 emails with 100 PDF downloads, and 100 markups on the iPad: more if any student sends back a corrected version. Most of my weekend and the beginning of this week were taken up by two such tasks. I won't do that again: you see what I mean by management?

With a new HP monitor for the online classes, I decided to move the room about and also use a smaller writing table. I gave this a try out first before teaching in case the setup was too heavy for the table, but it held up and gave me more room to work in as well as providing a neutral background.

FaceTime With this change, I dug into the odds-and-ends drawer and found the Logitech camera I knew was in there. To test this, I tried Facetime on the Mac. Although the Mac's own camera worked properly, despite being a little grainy, the Logitech device would not focus. I did find that I could have a perfectly sharp image of my fingernails, but my face was blurred. I do use my hands in an expressive way while teaching, but the face and body are more important.

I am waiting for Nikon to release a Mac version of its recent DSLR webcam software, which is just for Windows right now. Petapixel report that Sony has joined the webcam game with release of an application that allows its cameras to be used as webcams. However, DL Cade (PetaPixel) writes, "Just like Canon, Fuji, and Nikon, the first version of this utility is Windows-only, with no mention about if or when a Mac version will be on the way".

At the weekend, I tried to find a webcam, with my main intention being to buy another Logitech device: I know these work out of the box. There were several options, but I could find nothing in the Siam Paragon iStudio, nor in other shops on the same floor. One floor up is PowerBuy. When I asked, an apologetic assistant told me they only had one type, and showed me the Logitech C525 (720p). It was not quite the top of the range which is the C920 range, but it would do for me at 1200 baht. It is $59.99 on the Logitech site which is 1625 baht here, so that was a good deal, especially as Logitech reports these as back ordered. There are 4K cameras available from Logitech too, but I don't think I need that much quality when most of my students (75% in one group) are working with handheld devices.

Logitech 525 Webcam on HP Monitor
Logitech 525 Webcam on HP Monitor

When I tried the camera with Facetime, the difference was obvious. Changing camera selection in Facetime is a menu selection, but in Webex it is a little more complex. Like other features, settings can only be changed once a user connects to CISCO before starting a meeting. Another oddity is that the camera setting is changed by accessing the microphone panel. When I did set it up and start the meeting, the video worked fine, not that any of the students commented on it. I shall use a different microphone next time too.

At the beginning of the week, having been asked to teach a group of graduate students I went to see the setup in the Department of Civil Engineering. Half the students will be in a small conference room and half will attend online. I had a look at the setup, which uses a better Logitech camera than I have, and later scheduled a pair of Webex meetings for the group. With the classes being run from home, the USB-C adapters I usually keep in my backpack are in permanent use: the HDMI adapter for the monitor and the USB 2 adapter for the webcam. With another course on campus I picked up a couple of extra adapters this week to save me disconnecting the ones at home.

USB-C adapters
USB-C adapters for USB and HDMI

I am beginning to grow more comfortable with this medium although the format is not yet producing the results that I want. In the summer, I ran simple lecture classes with occasional questions. Now I am using an interactive format as this is how language really works: it is not a series of rules to be learned.

Many of the students are less willing to react, however. Producing vocabulary for example is an exercise that has worked well in the classroom where I can walk around and make encouraging noises, but the output with online teaching is poor, although the point is not wholly that the students come up with lists of words. The interaction, comment and input from me working with them is more important.

Reading is essential. Language learners need realistic input and I have plenty of texts to give them. Going round a class is usually fairly effective, but online it is clear that some students are not following, so when I ask students to a"read the next sentence", they may not know which sentence they need to read out. This wastes time and slows the class down. If I ask a question during the exercise (say for the meaning of a word), there is often poor response, even though I instruct students that they should ask me before we start the reading if they have any words they do not know. All this is learning for me too as I need to understand which types of teaching are less effective.

I have been delivering worksheets that I use in the class while the class is running, by providing a link in LINE and the same link in the chat feed in Webex so students can download the PDF in a browser. I have to set this up before the class by uploading the materials to my website, then opening the PDF in browsers on my iPhone and on the Mac. When the time comes, I copy and paste that link and deliver that to the students. Unfortunately, as with the classroom-based instruction, students share the information with their friends, as if providing the answers without thinking is the way to learning. This is a cultural problem: they need to be seen to be correct, even if they have no idea how they arrived at the answer. I have some projects later that are aimed at individual input so their friends cannot provide the content, but might advise. I am OK with that.

Last week Apple hit the $2 billion mark with its valuation. Almost immediately the chickens in the barrel started to drag it down. Comment from the CCN site (Andrew Packer) mentioned the $2b but wrote of the expectation that Apple is more likely to hit $1.5b before $3 billion.

With the stock split imminent, the way some indexes handle AAPL changes. As it uses the valuation, Apple's weighting in NASDAQ will continue to rise but Mark DeCambre (MarketWatch) and several others are concerned that the lower share price will release untold woe. With a split, the value of Apple (share by share) will fall so its position in the DOW will be lower and the lower weighting will mean that the DOW will also lose some of its force. Many funds are linked via robot trading (algorithms) to the DOW and when the Index falls below a certain level this triggers an automatic sell off. It works the other way too of course, so if there were a rise in the Index, there would be an automatic buy.

As we have seen in the UK when critical exams were cancelled due to COVID-19 adjusted teacher input was intended to produce a fair result for hopeful university entrants. This did not take into account the eugenicists. The messy use of an algorithm, developed with the help off a company linked to Gove and Cummings (David Conn, Guardian), gave thousands of students lower grades than they might have had if they had been able to sit the exams (some had impossible U grades given for example when they don't turn up). Algorithms and programmed trading are no match for real life situations in some cases. In the case of the stock market, there have been crashes because of this. With the exams, most students should be OK now as the government was forced into another U-turn. Johnson was criticised for this débacle and there was more pressure put on him, but if he were to go, it would be quite likely that Gove would step up.

As I have mentioned before, CCN don't seem to be able to produce anything but negative reports on Apple. With long-time shareholder, Berkshire Hatahaway having made several billion dollars with Apple by ignoring the calls to sell, sell, sell, sell, sell, Mark Emem on CCN thinks it is time that Warren Buffet trim his stake. Emem calls Apple "the iPhone maker", revealing that he might not be fully up to date. The report is littered with charts and other input to support the case, but like many, he misses the point (or points): neither Apple, nor Berkshire Hathaway (Buffet) have ever listened to the pundits, nor do they behave like normal companies; and they have made a lot of money. Regarding my comment about CCN negativity: there is a sidebar on the Buffet article page of Apple-related links, not one of which is positive.

Although this was reported widely, I first saw that there was a problem with an update to Adobe's Lightroom last week on PetaPixel (DL Cade). Some of the sources I read later confirm this as the first report. Users were reporting that after an update to the app, they were losing images and presets. Adobe seems to have issued a weak-as-dishwater apology and an admission that all the images are lost. One hopes that the users have all those images backed up. Adobe comments - "the issue has no fix and that these lost photos are unrecoverable". Could you imagine the reaction to Apple saying that after a bad update?

GIMP I am not a fan of Adobe products anyway: the website annoyed me and the move to subscriptions totally put me off. I am not a professional photographer so don't need all the tools, but in any case I can find most on Affinity Photos, Pixelmator (a couple of apps), Graphic Converter, the Open Source, Gimp (see icon) and many others.

I tried Lightroom when it first appeared but had already decided on the now-defunct Aperture. It may be ok for organizing which is an essential for me, but almost none of the apps allow me to synchronize with my other devices. That is the essential for me, and currently Photos (for all its shortcomings, particularly on iOS) is the way I handle that. Working with photos needs me to use albums to assist in that organization and keywords for search. On macOS and iOS where photos has limitations, there are many other editing apps I use to take up the slack, especially Darkroom and Pixelmator Photos, which is Aperture-like, without file organization.

A few days ago I commented on the lack of iTunes Gift Cards here. This might have been one way to pay the bill for my iCloud account while the credit card was being rejected. That part was solved by the next morning, so I still have my 2TB of space. I did check about the iTunes cards just to make sure and as far as the online iTunes Store is concerned, these do not exist here, like many things from Apple (Siri, AppleCare for iPhones, the HomePod, Apple Credit Card, Apple Wallet et al). While I was confirming this I also looked in the Apple Store online where another type of gift card is available.

Apple Gift Certificate

These cards are delivered online and come in the 4 colours of the iPads and Macs, with values running from 500 to 65,000 baht. I guess that high end means you would be gifting a computer to someone. This may be a better way as rather than buying a device with the wrong colour, the recipient of the card can select model, specs and colour.

I had avoided comment in the TikTok debacle as after Microsoft looked like it was involved and Trump was claiming a payoff for the Treasury, things were only going to become worse. I think Bill gates recognized this as he advised against Microsoft's involvement, while others were also put in line, mainly by Twitter experts.

Trump made another Order and the time limit was reduced, with China clearly not happy. Whatever happens, there will be retaliation. Now it seems, according to online comment, a Financial Times tweet, Larry Ellison and Oracle are interested. With some 3 billion regular users, this makes sense but I sense a number of hurdles before any of this is settled.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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