For the past year or so I’ve been thinking about classrooms, how they work, and how we might use technology to improve them. I’ve been experimenting and building tools to do this in the online context, and, on Thursday last week, this work came to fruition with the launch of Handl — an app for social learning. We tested an alpha version with 120 BSc Computer Science students from University of London’s online degree. Their response blew me away, and so I want to share the experience with you here, but first let’s start with some context.

When the pandemic…

Around 1:00 AM, on a night just before Christmas in 2009, I sat at my desk and wept tears of frustrated exhaustion into my laptop. Having enthusiastically pitched an interactive piece for 12 performers and escalator for a festival in January, I’d just started work on the implementation and it wasn’t going well. My first attempt at running the Computer Vision example from the Open Frameworks website had resulted in 600 compile errors. I had no idea how to solve them, I’d been at it for hours, and I was yet to write a single line of code.

Les Escaliers Mechaniques — Kings Place 2010

The problem…

When I was 14 I took my French GCSE. My French teacher, Madame Percival, had studied the exam and mark scheme intricately. She taught us just the right grammatical constructions to achieve the highest marks. ‘Au bord de la mer’ was worth a particularly high number of marks, so we were all to use this phrase as much as possible. In my exam I stitched together these little memorised passages to score maximum points — ‘Hier soir, je suis allé à la crêperie et j’ai choisi une crêpe au jambon mais c’était trop salé, j’ai décidé d’acheter un verre d’eau…

Before I talk about programming, I’d like to put forward a theory: every discipline has its own myths. I’m referring to those beliefs about a discipline’s nature which, though commonly held by its own practitioners, are nonetheless false. I use the word myth to indicate a degree of mysticism, often revealed by a tell tale lack of detail and supporting evidence, peppered with a hint of delusional vanity. Propagating and persisting through a discipline’s pedagogy, myths divert and confuse students’ efforts. …

Simon Katan

Digital artist and educator — I work with hidden mechanisms, emergent behaviour, paradox, self-reference, inconsistency, abstract humour, absurdity and wonder.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store