Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Jan 2017 Resolution Thoughts

January 1, 2017

Using the analytic categories from 2015 about reducing my carbon footprint, here are things I’ve done in 2016 and my next steps planned for 2017.


The Prius was new to us when I wrote last year and now after its 100K tune-up the milage improved closer to 50mpg (get some data)


Last year I was thinking about replacing my white ’89 Toyota wagon (22-25mpg) with an all-electric Nissan LEAF for in-town driving. Mid-May I accomplished that. The 2910 miles in the table below were charged at home with renewable power via Avista’s Buck-a-Block. I pay a couple dollars a month premium on my electric bill (a voluntary tax, which helps incentivize my conservation).

The other replacement activity was to remove the natural gas works in the cooking stove in the Peterson Barn and convert the stove to a dual burner induction cooktop.

A natural gas water heater and clothes dryer in the Peterson Barn are also on the list for replacement with electric.

Car mileage log.

 Year 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472 4107  1880**
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576  966  935
Prius (silver) 7318  9756
LEAF (red)  2910*
totals  14227  10727  13418 12391 15481

* Partial year. Sold white car for LEAF 5/16/16  **estimated
TOTAL of White+LEAF = 4790
Prius includes RT to Glacier Park est 700 miles & 2 RT to Seattle


Late in the fall I started a project to install 10 solar panels (KW rating?) on the Cookhouse. We put up the rails for 15 panels, but currently the use of that building does not justify more panels. As the kitchen gets more use and the upstairs gets finished, it may be that more panels will be warranted.  I’ve also opened a conversation with Avista about “combining” meters (Cookhouse + Barn) which would increase the demand and justify more panels.

I made a little progress this year on finishing the solar hot water pre-heater in the Cookhouse. It is my intention to get it completed in 2017. The concept is to warm water en route to the conventional electric hot water tank. City water enters the building around 40-50F. My hope is to warm maybe halfway to the final use temperature. If that is successful I might consider a demand water heater or super insulation to reduce storage losses from the conventional tank.


The 2910 miles represents about 120 gallons of gasoline not consumed in 2016. The 9756 miles on the Prius at twice the milage of the old Subaru is about 200 more gallons conserved.

Finishing the cookhouse, both the gardens and hardscape as well as the construction and water pre-heater are priorities because in Aug Krista and I celebrate 30 years of marriage and I want the party here and the Cookhouse to be a model of a renewable building.

Jan 2016 Resolution thoughts

January 6, 2016

Using the analytic categories from last year about reducing my carbon footprint, here are things I’ve explored and directions for 2016.

Substitution. In December 2014 we bought a 2010 Prius to replace Krista’s 1994 Subaru Legacy. The change in mpg was from mid-20s to high-30s (most of her driving is in Moscow, it does better on longer runs on the highway using cruise control so it can do more of the thinking).

Our milage data shows her car drove about 7300 miles in each 2014 and 2015, the latter with a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Replacement. On the other hand, my work has me driving around Moscow. I find that I need to get between places faster, or take things larger, than bicycling facilitates. That is, I can’t achieve the driving reduction behavior I want, so I’m thinking about replacing my ’89 Toyota wagon with a used Nissan Leaf and moving to a carbon free automobile. I drive almost exclusively in Moscow and occasionally to Pullman and rarely to Lewiston. It seems the Leaf will meet my needs.

 Year 2012 2013 2014 2015
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472 4107
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576  966
Krista’s Prius (silver) 7318
totals  14227  10727  13418 12391

In 2014 I gave away our 15 year old riding lawnmower/snowblower. For two years now I’ve contemplated replacing the remaining gas lawn mower (self-propelled walk behind) with a reel mower and/or an electric (corded or cordless) mower. I think a purchase needs to happen in 2016, even if I keep the gas mower as backup.  Key issue is storage, I need a way to put either of those devices away out of the weather.

More Substitution. Karina and I used a Kill-A-Watt to measure the energy used by our refrigerator (part of a campaign to get a new fridge). Over a 3-day period (73.75 hrs) it used 9.06 KWH for an annual rate of 1076 KWH/yr. Karina has found replacement refrigerators with Energy Star ratings and energy usage ratings as low as 466KWH/yr and multiple options below 650KWH/yr. Now, realizing that the rating is like an EPA milage number (your milage may vary), it’s still hard to imagine we can’t get a better performing fridge.

We pulled out the fridge, it was made in Aug 1998 (17+ years ago). Googling how long a fridge lasts we found 3 sources: 80% last between 9-15 years; 10-15 years; and average 13 years.

SO, owning a refrigerator for its lifetime has 2 energy costs: operational cost and construction cost. One is paid daily, one is paid every 10-15 years.

As an aside, I wondered if there were a fridge that would pay for itself in energy savings (compared to keeping our current fridge (if it would last another 15 years)). I looked up the Avista power rate and multiplied by the KWH savings/year of our current vs potential new fridge = $45/year.

Karina was reluctant to search for a refrigerator that was 18+ cubic feet, 450KWH/year and priced under $700, but she found one (I think). Her reluctance stems from a desire to buy the features in the more expensive fridges she has found– which maybe should be a new category for this analysis: Too much vs Enough.

However, the analysis raised another question. When talking about payback period, are we talking the best sale price we can find, or the suggested retail price? That is, what does price measure: cost of inputs or other intangibles in the merchandising process?

Generation. I regularly observe that the solar air heater is in operation in the Cookhouse. I have resolved to get its water heater running. I intend that project to be the pilot one, with the home water heating to follow. The Barn is partly ready for solar hot water and solar air heating conversions, but it will be the third project to tackle. The house uses gas for hot water, the Barn uses gas for both water and space heating, so I have several opportunities to reduce direct carbon use through generation.

2015 Resolution – Reflect on Conservation

January 3, 2015

Progress on reducing my direct carbon footprint

Following on my conceptualization for the solution to reducing my direct carbon footprint (this analysis), here is the year in review:

Reduction. I think my theme for 2015 needs to be reflection on conservation, and its nuances.

In previous New Years posts I have tracked our car milage and was pleased to see our progress reducing miles driven. Alas, the reduction was lost in 2014. The lesson: bike/walking to reduce miles in town is easily overwhelmed by driving out of town, which should be obvious, it takes quite a few avoided short trips in town to equal the milage of one trip out of town.

2012 miles 2013 miles 2014 miles
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576
Prius (silver) new 12/4/14
totals  14227  10727  13418

My friend Stephen has a longer dataset and can demonstrate real progress reducing his driving, so it is possible.

spaeth carbon wedge car

In our cars, reduced use requires constant vigilance. In contrast, the area of lawn I mow is being reduced steadily by orchards, gardens and landscaping at the Cookhouse. I haven’t used the 15-year old riding lawn mower/snowblower in 12 months. Since, I’ve proven its possible to manage what is left without the rider, it needs to go away this spring.

Another notable experiment in reduction was to put a timer on our hot water heater. Now we make hot water for morning showers and again for evening dishes. While the savings from not maintaining hot water is small, we have proven in the past 6 months that we don’t lack for hot water when we want it. This experiment needs more study. For example, can we time the water heater so we use up much of the hot water and only store tepid water (rather than having the water heater reheat the water we just used and then storing that hot water)?

Substitution. Another of the strategies to reduce my direct carbon footprint is to substitute technologies.

The Cookhouse was built with all LED lighting and I thought I was done converting the Barn, but the other day I found one more CFL — a small one in a reading lamp. The house is partly converted, the Kitchen, family room and bathrooms are done.

My efforts at substituting LED lighting for CFLs are producing limited results; my home electric bill is not going down much (if at all), because the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher and electric dryer are such a large fraction of the use that they overwhelm the savings in the lighting.

The used Prius that Krista will drive in place of the “red” car appears to give her 40+mpg vs the previous 25+mpg in “red car,” so if we can hold the miles driven steady, it should be a decrease in fuel used.

Replacement. The oven in our gas stove died last spring and (sigh) there are no parts to repair a 10 year old stove. The process of deciding has been slow, but we are headed toward an induction stove, all electric. The decision process was explored in this column. Replacing this appliance will produce a permanent decrease in our direct use of carbon, but a small one compared to the gas water heater. I’m having the electrician get me ready to do the water heater, but can’t afford that change yet.

While the 15 year old gas lawn mower is still running, I’m considering replacing it with an electric one. Since I’m not sure how that will work in when the grass grows fast in the spring, I’ll keep the gas one around for another season.

Generation. I have some more data on the impact of the solar air heater in the Cookhouse. My previous report was from a short duration observation. Now I have a year’s worth of data which appears to show April, May & June readings with less consumption than heating degree days would predict. Since the structure is still unoccupied the only energy use is for heating. Goals for 2015 are getting hot water preheating going in the Cookhouse and in our house. This data are also encouraging me to develop solar air heating to supplement in the barn.

849 electric usage

Electric heating in the Cookhouse for 2014

Badge System Design

July 21, 2011

POST-it Notes from P2PU Badges Mtg II (July 18-19)

In the agenda building process, Post-it notes were grouped by the participants into clusters and the clusters given titles. Two of those clusters are reproduced here as they may shed light on design questions or framework ideas for an upcoming white paper funded in part by Hewlett Foundation via P2PU
Nils Peterson editoral comments made while posting these notes are show in [ ]
  • How to learn from mistakes of educatational games. Build on theoritical framework instead of trying things in a hit or miss fashion
  • What are the types of “power ups” that getting badges can unlock? ie. teach a topic
  • Define the informal learning space where badges can play a role for identity, process, participation, achievement, etc.
  • Foreground the educational outcomes over the technical whizbangs.
  • How can others learn from your badges?
  • What can badges tell us about who we want to be (model identities)?
  • How do I see patterns in other people’s careers [badge collections]? How do I learn from that?
  • Is the assessment [criteria] public?
  • Is displaying evidence for obtaining a badge is optional? [seeing the evidence could be useful to other learners]
  • [Badges should be] Pedagogically agnostic: but can there be values? [Possible values might be:] Language and culture, building the tools, and building the community.
  • Are there different badge considerations for different ages? How can one sytem support life-long learning?
  • Are we scoping badges just in the learning and EDU context?
This heading was also the topic of a breakout session. The original post-its were augmented with new ones and organized into a structure
Guiding Questions:
  • What makes a good badge system?
  • How do you know if you have a good badge system?
Responses were classified into 4 groups. Group #1 was giving higher weighting
Group #1
  • Learning objectives are being met
  • How are assessment criteria made public?
  • Do peers learn from doing assessments?
  • Does system record what learner is =NOT= good at doing?
  • What to do with “failed” applications for badges
Group #2
  • Is the system used for long periods in [the learner’s] life?
  • Does user advertise their badges in Facebook, etc?
  • Do learners participate voluntarily?
Group #3
  • Does the system have a user community?
  • Does it have learners using it?
  • Does it have robust assessors?
  • Is awarding of badges automatic or does it require human judgement?
  • Why will peers assess each other well? [assumes system facilitates peer assessment]
  • Are badges better to mark a learning process completed or an assessment passed?
  • [Does the Community reflect on the utility of the assessments?]
Group #4
  • Has robust assessment instruments/ criteria
  • How to assess the system without distrubing it == Portfolio==

Unconference Mechanics

July 19, 2011

I just spent 2 days at a meeting hosted by P2PU to talk about badge systems.

The meeting used some “unconference” techniques. One activity, early on, was to work in pairs and create Post-it notes with a question, or statement, about badges, e.g., “allow badges to operate as reputation currency.” People were encouraged to generate as many stickies as they wanted. Each team had a different color stack of stickies.

Stickies were posted, randomly, on a wall (photo 1) and then during a break, the group read them and lumped them into groups and gave each of those groupings of post-its a title, e.g., “Badge Discoverablilty” (photo 2)

Later the first afternoon the conference organizers picked 3 of the groupings and invited the audience to divide itself among the 3 topics, nominating a facilitator for each.

On the second day, the organizers posted a grid (rooms and times) (photo 3) and posted a few events into the structure and invited others to post events (which were drawn from the groupings from the previous day). This formed the agenda of sessions for the 2nd day.


Bread Making Community-Led Learning

June 2, 2011

Palouse Prairie School implemented a Wednesday afternoon program that invited community members to come for 6 weeks and work with 8-12 students on some learning activity.

I choose making bread. It was an interesting experiment, we need better tools to help students and facilitators talk about achieving learning outcomes.

Here is the lesson plan and associated notes as a Google doc. See also this photo essay including the building of the mud oven (not by students).

Assessment Specialist Job Application

May 29, 2011

I am applying for the Assessment Specialist position at Peer to Peer University (P2PU) because it looks like a next logical place for me to continue hacking education. Logical because I’ve been exploring peer learning facilitated by the Internet for 15 years. With the addition of assessment tools P2PU appears to be well poised as a ‘disruptive innovation‘ that can credential learning that is already happening.

I believe I fit their profile for the position:

I have been hacking education since 1984 (See CV (pdf), Papers 2-19 ). Initially I developed software simulations for teaching, and in 1986 co-founded the BioQUEST consortium with a manifesto about how real learning happens in the sciences. I think that same approach applies to learning about programming — one needs to start with a real problem, solve it, and then communicate the utility of the solution.

In the 90’s I explored the web and how it might be used for collaboration. With collaborators I explored an online science fair (CV, Online Educational Events section) and the creation and administration of a virtual school to connect pre-service K-12 teachers with children in classrooms (CV, Abstracts 15-20 & 22-23 & 25). In conjunction with my teaching assignment at the time I also explored automated assessment of student writing (CV, Abstracts 21 and 24).

In the first decade of this century my focus shifted from K-12 to higher education. As Assistant Director of Washington State University’s Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT), I led explorations of the online learning management system (LMS) the University was creating and collaborated on pilots to move away from the monolithic LMS toward personal learning environments (CV, Articles 26-28 and Abstracts 26,27 and blog posts). Toward the end of my time at WSU our focus shifted to assessment and methods for gathering authentic assessment from stakeholders (CV, Article 29). Much of our latter work on these topics was blogged here and here rather than published in traditional media. We explored creating portfolios using Microsoft SharePoint, which expanded my 1988 BioQUEST thinking about solving problems to include the social learning aspects of working in public. By mid-2008 we were exploring mashing up assessment tools in SharePoint and other platforms, in a concept we called the Harvesting Gradebook. By the end of the decade the organization’s name and mission were refocused on developing a university-wide system assessment of assessment. What we implemented for the University’s 2009 Accreditation Report is described here, and our vision for the full concept, from Harvesting Gradebook to University Accreditation is here.

I bring experience mashing up assessment of both 21st century skills and technical skills into the authentic public contexts where learning is happening. Our work on WSU’s system of accreditation required that we help programs capture evidence of student learning acceptable to their stakeholders, including professional accrediting bodies. Professional accreditation, for example ABET for Engineering, include a set of “soft” professional skills along with “hard” domain knowledge skills. We developed tools and assessment procedures to help programs document student learning in both these skill sets.

In addition to the work experiences above, further evidence of my interest in hacking education can be found in my commitment to launch a public charter school (Palouse Prairie School). For years CTLT worked with faculty, advocating contextualized learning activities with authentic assessment. Individual faculty would buy in and succeed with the idea. But circumstances always intervened preventing the innovations from becoming established. Mostly these circumstances were systemic, the University’s tenure and promotion criteria, changes in leadership, lack of program-wide adoption of the ideas, resistance by students to something new. We also tried working directly with students, advocating electronic portfolios as places they could work on learning activities and showcase (for purposes of assessment) both their process and product. But students were trapped in the same context as faculty, a system with a reward structure not aligned with our vision of learning.

Palouse Prairie School was intended from the start to be a systemic effort at an alternative. The school uses the Expeditionary Learning model, derived from the ideas guiding Outward Bound.  The model is exemplified by project-based “Learning Expeditions,” where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations, and portfolios. The school has just completed its second year, growing and still developing its implementation of the EL model. I serve on the Board, but without a teaching credential, have no other formal role in the school.

I can bring a working and pragmatic knowledge of assessment practices to P2PU, focused on gathering practical evidence and applying it to direct change. In my mind, small scale, quick, and sufficiently useful assessment beats ponderous activities that do not deliver timely results to learners or stakeholders, or in ways framed to their needs.

In my last year at WSU we began envisioning the radar graphs created by the Harvesting Gradebook as a sort of badge — both evidence of participation and as a way to asserting levels of competence in a multidimensional assessment. We came to understand that if our tools were re-implemented as widgets that could be embedded by learners in pages, communities could develop around pages. Google search could assist this, in much the same way that searches can be filtered for Creative Commons license, we imagined them being filtered for pages with Harvesting Gradebook badges, and even badges demonstrating a certain level of competency. That work came to an end with the University’s reorganization of the unit and departure of key personnel.

I have some knowledge of game mechanics. Since the 90’s I’ve dabbled in learning analytics and have some sense of the utility and limitations of primary trait methods vs. more holistic approaches.

I have worked as a programmer since the 90’s but for the last 10 years have been the technical manager for a teams that maintained and developed large scale web-based applications, including the online survey tool that WSU used to implement the Harvesting Gradebook. I have sufficient background in coding and web development to establish credibility with a development team and collaborate to create functional designs and lead implementation of assessment in the P2PU platform. In fact, I believe that I could facilitate pieces of this work being done in SoW courses by teams of students.

I have strong independent project management skills, working on grants and other projects since the middle 80’s.

I am able to travel for conferences, meet-ups and presentations, but will need to renew my passport, which has lapsed.


SODO Moscow web strategy

December 26, 2010

At the urging of Karen Lewis (“you need a web page”) and after checking around and having the real estate broker alert the property owner, I launched SODO Moscow site. You can learn more about SODO there. This post is a place to pull together my web strategy thinking.

Karen’s suggestion to work in public fit what I had been learning at WSU in my work with student ePortfolios (see Learning Portfolio Strategy: Be Public). Another part of working in public is to work where the community interested in your problem is already working. For this project, Facebook seemed a logical place. I created a FB group SODO Moscow after exploring the idea of creating a new FB account and using its personal page or creating a FB page. I choose the group approach because it seemed to allow its members the most equal footing in a collaborative space.

One of the things we learned at CTLT was that a learner’s portfolio needs to deliberately build “Google Juice” around its problem to attract a community of collaborators (why else work in public?). The decision to use Facebook worked against gaining Google Juice, because Facebook is a private island that Google does not index. The SODO Moscow blog in Blogger was chosen as a Google friendly place to be the public anchor for the project.

Live Assessment

September 8, 2010

This is the page of feedback from my P3 presentation. Use this form ( ) to give more feedback.  The PowerPoint from the session is here on SlideShare.

Radar Chart of Audience Assessment on Learner’s Criteria
Tag Cloud of Other Important Perspectives to consider assessing this work

Additional Comments
I have not yet digested the data from the session. Soon hopefully.

Notes on “tag clouding” Twitter

August 13, 2010

I’m working on my HASTAC/P3 presentation. I want a back channel where the audience can provide feedback/ assessment of the session. The idea is to see if the audience can give feedback with a combination of a controlled vocabulary and free tagging. (As opposed to using a big rubric.)

I looked at a couple Twitter-centric tools with the thought that the audience can readily come prepared to Tweet from a range of mobile devices. What is needed is a cloud of the tweets @UserID and some coaching for the audience to tweet with tags. embedded in their web page. I used @nilspeterson as a search and it says there isn’t a cloud. will get the hashtags from a user ID. UserID nilspeterson worked, This is getting the content that the user tweets, not what is tweeted @UserID.

So to get around the above problem, you need the RSS of the tweets @UserID and that is protected by the Twitter user’s password. Yahoo Pipes can retrieve the @UserID content by passing in the required authentication. You need to embed username:password in the URL used in Pipes. (not totally secure, but workable).  Pipes will do a reasonable job filtering tweets –for example, I can get them for a date range. Here is the pipe I’ve created for user nilspeterson will take the RSS from Yahoo and makes a handsome display (below). The @UserID comes thru big (duh!), but this might not be a problem — it documents who is getting the feedback. The StopList is hardwired and can’t have any additional words added, so blocking the @UserID would need to happen in Pipes. Wordle requires using it on their page (a setup issue and no embed), they say You may not copy or redistribute the Wordle applet itself under any circumstances. Refreshing the page is a pain and not practical. Need another tool that can imbed.

IBM ManyEyes won’t work because you need to upload a static dataset to them. can create an embeddable Flash from the feed. It makes a pretty handsome cloud, and in you can link from words in the cloud to web pages., but they process the tags in the URL once so the resulting cloud its static (no auto updates unless you do it on their site).

Diverse Group Tag Cloud (DGTC) is a WordPress plug in. Its not certified in version the version 3.x of WP used by First attempt with it does not seem to work.

Candidates Will take the RSS output from Yahoo. It has a customizable stop list, which will be needed to prune the junk from Yahoo (if I can’t get Yahoo Pipes to do the pruning). Takes awhile to get a personal stop list to show up in the pick list on the site. Image below is unfiltered by a stop list to show the problems. There is an embed HTML option, which would allow getting the cloud off their page — I assume it updates when the page loads. This is fairly promising.

Google Docs spreadsheet. In the top cell put the function =ImportFeed(“”).  Then need to use Google’s word cloud gadget to make the rendering and publish the gadget and display on a web page (see below). Need this to refresh on a regular basis.

Alternative (non-Twitter) Method
An alternative would be to skip Twitter and use a Google Docs form. This avoids the need for Yahoo and for stop lists. It would still work with many mobile devices.

Whats up with Google Docs?
Google is moving to a new version of Spreadsheet. The new version does not support Gadgets (even Google’s own). The old version does, but its flaky. For today, the focus needs to be on the non-Google solutions.

Google Workaround
So, what about using Google Forms to fill a spreadsheet, publish it, take Yahoo Pipes to pick it up and feed it to TagCrowd? That seems like a reasonable next experiment.