BiochemAR is now available!

3d model of molecule appears above QR code on a plain table.

BiochemAR, an augmented reality app for visualizing 3d molecular models, is now available for download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. This app, a collaboration between Rou-Jia Sung (biology) and Andrew Wilson (AT), also includes learning modules and ways to use the app in the classroom. To read more, checkout this write-up in The Scientist. If you’re interested in more information or talking through developing additional modules, please email Rou-Jia ( or Andrew ( directly.

Guest Post: Arduino Water Depth Monitor

Author: Nathan Mannes, ’19

With supplies from the Geology Department and with the advising of Andrew Wilson, we have created an Arduino-based water-depth monitor. The grey cone you see at the bottom of the photo is a sonar-device that measures how far the closest solid object in front of it is. That could mean a wall, but we intend to put it over a body of water, like Lyman Lakes, to measure its depth over a long period of time with little maintenance. Because it is solar powered, we can leave it outside and let it send readings on its own.

On the right side you see a 3G shield module (with the antennae) mounted on an Arduino. It uses mobile data to send readings over the internet. But it has to send data to somewhere, right? We are setting up a public-facing webserver so that we can keep track of this data long-term. Then, much like the water tower, we will always be able to check what the depth of the Lyman Lakes are. In the future, we intend to expand this to conduct other readings on the water, like its pH or temperature, or volume of flow.

Civic Engagement, Spanish Classes, and Instructional Video

Dann Hurlbert and Palmar Alvarez-Blanco co-taught Spanish 206, a Carleton College course focused on fostering civic engagement–while giving back to the community. Students in this course worked with under-represented community organizations to help them spread their message by creating a participatory video with them. In addition to using video creation as coursework and as the assessment, Dann also uses Instructional Video to teach and guide the learning. This sample video includes short selections from the following films: Bacon and God’s Wrath by Sol Friedman and Sarah Clifford-Rashotte; Godka Circa by Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora; Damon at 86th Street by Emily Sheskin, and the Price of Certainty by Daniele Anastasion.

Demystifying project communications for students (part 2)

kermit the frog looks at screen of Mac laptop

**crossposted from Celeste’s blog**

This post expands on my previous post about some of the basics of project communications, with the idea that these can be helpful references for students who are new to doing project/community/client work. In this post, I want to talk a bit more about time (which makes my historian heart happy!) and managing expectations.

The obvious: people are busy. People lead complex lives. It’s incredibly rare that anyone has huge swaths of time dedicated to one thing and one thing only. And scope creep is all too common.

The idea of “working hours” is fraught and complicated: technology affords us the ability to respond quickly, at all hours, to issues as they pop up. And lots of folks find there are certain times of day when they’re more productive (night owls, early birds…why are these all bird related?)–which is great. But it becomes a problem when these start to create implicit expectations about responding on demand or at any time of day. The responsibilities people have in their lives outside of their academic or professional selves are present and important, so finding ways to be open and realistic about communication is key. Here are some ways to do the best you can to keep project work contained on a personal level, and work with others toward solid practices:

  1. Think about how you work, how you manage tasks, and meet deadlines. Write down when you think your most productive hours are and what is realistic for you in terms of being able to turn around responses.
    1. Example: I know that I’m best from 10-2 for generative work (writing, coding). I check emails 3 times a day (9a, noon, 4p) for ideally 30mins. I respond in those windows of time and try my hardest to avoid checking email outside of those times (I fail at this all the time, but I strive toward this goal daily).
  2. At the outset of a project, ask how the group prefers issues and notes to be communicated.
  3. Discuss with your collaborators what the expectations are for responding to emails, issues, messages, etc.  
  4. Do what you can to triage and manage incoming and outgoing communications. A couple examples:
    1. I use Boomerang (Gmail, Outlook, Android): I schedule the emails I write at 11p to send to collaborators the following morning at 9am when I know they’re at work or in their productive hours.
    2. Manage your notifications: for example, I’ve turned off push notifications for email because email is a huge distraction for me, but I’ve turned on push notifications for Slack because I know those are usually more time-sensitive messages.

The hardest part of all this is sticking to the boundaries set. But, setting and maintaining those boundaries helps deter burnout and unfair encroachment on collaborators’ time, while managing the expectations of all involved. Just because it can be done right away by you, does not mean that it needs to or should. Busy is not a virtue in itself.

Demystifying communications for student workers

person types in collaborative Google Doc at conference table

My colleagues Sarah Calhoun, Austin Mason, and I are collaborating on creating 4 new undergraduate internship positions related to front end/back-end development for digital humanities and digital scholarship projects, accessibility and inclusive design, and digital ethics. The DHAs and AT student workers are fabulous, but their job roles are written so that they wear several hats: tech support, triaging reported problems with campus-supported technologies, in-class support, etc. At Carleton, internships are distinguished from student worker positions by their additional expectations of mentorship, professionalization opportunities, and engagement with relevant fields.

Since we’re envisioning these internships as project-oriented, I thought it useful to start to think through some of our expectations for communication both during the internship, but also during projects. It’s likely that the interns will be able to see projects through from start-to-finish, but it’s also likely that they’ll come into a project in-process to contribute to a specific aspect. And in the interest of being explicit about expectations and minimizing the perils of tacit knowledge, I wanted to outline a few preliminary draft guidelines I’ve come up with so far:

Tl;dr: be generous and respectful, always.

  • Communicate information generously: it is better to include too many people than too few. Unless directed otherwise, share information, documents, code, etc. with the entire team and all the internship supervisors. If you are emailing someone on behalf of a small group, include all of the group members names in the closing signature and cc everyone.
  • Address collaborators respectfully and thoughtfully. This includes things like asking for preferred pronouns, and using appropriate titles and names. When interacting with a faculty or staff member for the first time, listen for how they refer to themselves and use what they said. If you’re emailing someone for the first time, use their formal title (Dr., Prof.) if applicable. Which leads us to…
    • Email etiquette: generally, this rundown by Laura Portwood-Stacer covers a lot. In addition, try to keep your emails shorter rather than longer. 4-5 sentences max and try to include all relevant info upfront.
  • Credit your collaborators: be generous and acknowledge contributions from your collaborators. This can be everything from help talking through an idea to a recommendation about where to find a code snippet to a comment someone made in a meeting that stuck with you. This kind of work and support often goes underappreciated–everyone (hopefully) knows it’s important but it’s often forgotten or left unmentioned in favor of a finished product.
  • When dealing with collaborators and “clients,” be sure to show up to all meetings on time, do any follow-up work promptly, and be highly responsive and polite over email. Loop in all relevant people.
  • When things come up at the last minute (because they will!): sometimes you will need to call in a favor from a collaborator to help you get work done rapidly. When this happens, make sure to acknowledge that this is a favor you are asking, give them an easy out, and thank them profusely if they are able to help you.

This is a general outline that will live in some other form TBD. But for now, I’d appreciate and comments/feedback/additions you think would help demystify project communications for students working on collaborative projects!

**huge thanks to Sarah Calhoun for her insights and suggestions!

**cross-posted on Celeste’s site.

Digital portfolios at Carleton

See Janet’s Blog by clicking here.

This is my inaugural post from a Carleton College blog. Carleton uses the WordPress (WP) Edublog platform  and I’ve chosen the template called Blogghiamo. I’ve chosen this particular template because it is the template we are using for the students in the OCS digital portfolio project. After I play with this template a bit I’ll likely pick one that is more suited to the sorts of posts and pages I’ll be doing for our work in Academic Technology but it’s fun to take this template for a drive!

There are several portfolio initiatives on Carleton’s campus. Probably everyone is aware of the Writing Program Portfolio and the good work coming out of that, but I want to focus in this post on a couple of the digital portfolio pilots that are happening.

Helena Kaufman and Cynthia Shearer are doing some interesting exploratory work with a small group of students doing a term abroad. These students were introduced to WP in Spring Term 2015 and collected artifacts for their portfolios while they were gone in Fall Term of 2015. Those students are now back on campus and are meeting with Helena and Cynthia to begin to make sense of their experience and share their reflections in their portfolios. AT Associate, Eric Mistry, is meeting with the students to help them with any WP issues. Eric is also well positioned to help students reflect on their time abroad because of his own travels as a student which are preserved on the blog he kept at that time. Eric’s current blog is also a good read and you can access it here.


Melissa Eblen-Zayas has two goals for the digital portfolio pilot she and the physics department are doing. A small group of volunteer students are documenting their physics work in their WP blogs and those blogs will serve as a robust resume for students and as a method of departmental assessment for physics. One of the keys to making this work for departmental assessment is the careful and consistent use of the tags the department agreed upon. These tags will allow the department to search and sort student posts into meaningful categories. The tag categories are: Topical Area, Project Type, and Objectives. For example a student might tag a post: Classical Mechanics, Computational, Apply/integrate physics knowledge to understand real problems.

Both these digital portfolio efforts are in early stages and I’ll report back from time to time on their progress.

WordPress is a powerful tool and can be just the right tool for a digital portfolio. If you want to think with us in Academic Technology about how WP night work for you please track us down!

Building the Lightboard

Every day of my Carleton job has been a new adventure. I get opportunities to work on creative, innovative projects that I get to run fairly autonomously. In this post, I’ll be talking about the Lightboard.
The Lightboard was one of the first projects I was assigned to during my starting week at Carleton. I was given the following problem: research other Lightboards around the country, and try to figure out how to make ours work well. Before we delve into solving the problem, I should probably answer the most obvious question: what is a Lightboard?
A lightboard is, in essence, a clear whiteboard. The instructor stands on one side of it and writes on it with a fluorescent marker. A camera is on the other side that captures the writing that glows on the screen. The footage is then flipped, cropped, and edited for color and lighting. We end up with footage that captures not only what the instructors are writing, but also their full expressions and face, rather than their back or hands.
The original Lightboard was developed at Northwestern by Michael Peshkin, a professor of Physics. His site not only shows his (very sophisticated) Lightboard build, but collects build instructions and documentation from Lightboards at schools around the world. This was extremely helpful in figuring out how to solve our own issues with the Lightboard.
With that brief introduction, back to the problem at hand. We already had a frame with plexiglass installed, but it was nearly impossible to capture what was being written on the board, and the audio was also muffled. The audio problem was relatively easy to solve; we simply attach a wireless lavolier microphone to the presenter, and the audio streams directly to the camera, instead of having to go through the plexiglass. Solving the visual issues was a bit more of a process. First of all, the plexiglass was extremely reflective, and our first attempts often captured more of the camera than the presenter. Second, if the presenter was well-lit enough to see, it meant that any writing was impossible to see. This was what an early test looked like.

Idea 1: Adding lights to the board surface.

First, I attempted to add better lighting to the  outside of board. This was simple enough. I had bought some simple IKEA lights [link] to install in my apartment bookshelves, and figured they might help light the surface of the board, as they were relatively flat and easy to place where I wanted. I stuck them on the front of the plexiglass and angled them down, hoping that it would help make both the markers and the presenter more visible. It did help, but not in the right way. Even with fluorescent markers, the writing was barely distinguishable.
Next, I tried adding blacklights to the board. My reasoning was that backlights help things glow, and that it would really boost the intensity of the fluorescent markers. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Even with the blacklight, the markers barely glowed. At this point, it became pretty clear that attaching any manner of lights to the surface of the board was not going to work.

Idea 2: Installing lights directly to the side of the plexiglass.

After studying the documentation and other builds more closely, I decided to test what happened when I added lights directly on the edge of plexiglass. I borrowed a spare piece of plexiglass and attached the lights on the edge facing inward. The entire piece glowed as the plexiglass conducted the light from edge to edge. I mounted that piece onto our existing board and did a side by side comparison. The difference, as you can see in the videos below, is very apparent.
With the difference made clear, I got permission from Ben at St. Olaf to physically modify the board so I could install the lighting properly on the top edge of the unit. I removed the top piece and a few support pieces and began to get to work. I lucked out and found that this board had a grove that would perfectly fit the IKEA lights. I installed the lights, remounted the top piece, and added a power strip to the board’s base. The change in quality was fantastic.

Better lighting and editing

With the board now effectively lit, I got to focus on lighting and editing the footage. With lighting, I’ve found that placing a light on both sides of the board to gently light the presenter works quite well. It can’t be too focused, or it creates jarring dramatic shadows. It also can’t be too diffuse, or the board begins to have reflection issues. We also shoot in an otherwise dark studio, with a black background behind the presenter. We use a polarizing filter on our tripod-mounted camera to further reduce reflections, and also cover the red “recording” light with painters tape to ensure it does not reflect on the board.
After we’ve shot the footage, it goes through a brief editing process. I use Adobe Premiere to edit, but the necessary changes would likely be possible on less expensive or free software. I start by color correcting the video, then super-saturating the specific blue of the marker we use to make it extra-visible on the final product. I then apply mirror image filter (called horizontal flip in Premiere) so the writing is facing the proper way, and crop and scale the video so that we only see the board, and not any of the lights or frame. The video is then exported and sent to the presenter for their class or presentations.
We’ve had some really interesting uses so far, even in this initial experimental stage. One of my favorites has been Japanese symbol lessons developed by visiting Professor Miaki Habuka. She has her TA go over the  symbols that students in her Intermediate Japanese class need to learn. By using the Lightboard, her students are able to see each stroke of the symbols as they are written, which is an important component in understanding how to properly write in Japanese. Check out the video below to see an example of one of the language lessons. This is just one of the many uses for the Lightboard, and we’re looking forward to many more amazing projects to come.
This is just the beginning of the Lightboard. In later posts, I’m planning to write a more in-depth guide to our specific build with pricing, instructions, and advice. I’ll also continue to show more examples of finished videos and additional modifications or builds.

Grant Winner Introductory Videos

By Dann Hurlbert & Eric Mistry

Our faculty delve into a variety of unique projects, often aided by internal grants. This fall, we produced a series of introductory videos for any grant winners who were interested. It can be a challenge bringing an engaging thirty minute interview into an introductory video of approximately two minutes, so we have to carefully pull only the most relevant pieces of information while maintaining the personalities of our interesting subjects. Every project is slightly different, and that’s what makes each one a fun challenge.

Here’s a sampling of our work from this project. Enjoy, and let us know what you’d like to see more of!

All videos can be found here, or you can click on the embedded videos below.


What does Academic Technology do?

It’s a broad question to answer. Our work stretches across disciplines and departments. We get to work with faculty, staff, and students to accomplish some pretty incredible things. We’re looking forward to giving you a view into the work that we do, and hope you are inspired to work with us!

Here’s a small sampling of project explorations to look forward to:

  1. Introductory videos for grant winners, showcasing their projects and plans.
  2. The Carleton Lightboard- a low cost version of a very cool teaching tool.
  3. Crafting a workspace for collaborative creative projects