Working with Open Source – Inkscape

I’m currently exploring a variety of open source software. My intention is to familiarize myself with a wide variety of software, so that I may use them appropriately in various situations. I’m sure many of them will have a place in the classroom.

This post is a log of my experience learning to use Inkscape.

Inkscape is a game of shortcuts (I recorded most of them in this log for future reference), but they have been user friendly for the most part, and I’ve been enjoying my experience so far. I have added entries of my progress every 15-30 minutes below.

(~15 minutes)

I went straight to Inkscape’s tutorial webpage and chose to start with the Basic tutorial. The user can access the tutorials directly from the program!
I have learned how to move the canvas around and create some basic shapes, as well as how to modify them. I also learned the hot keys for “undo” (Ctrl+Z) and “redo” (Shift+Ctrl+Z).

(~15 minutes)

I have learned how to select objects, scale them, rotate them and skew them.
There are a lot of keyboard shortcuts to this program, which I am not very used to, so I am only recording those I am most likely to use.

  • Alt+arrows will move objects by 1 pixel.
  • Using Shift and selecting shapes will group them together.
  • Grouping and ungrouping objects can be done with Ctrl+G and Ctrl+U, or by going to the Object menu.
  • Colors can easily be changed with the Dropper tool (F7).

(~15 minutes)

Duplicating an object is done with Ctrl+D, and duplicates can be aligned and distributed with the align & Distribute tool (Shift+Ctrl+A).
Clicking Alt and then clicking on overlapping objects will make the cursor cycle through the objects.
The stacking order of objects can be changed with Home (to raise) and End (to lower).
Most tools are accessible by their initial, but it will be hard to remember what combination of Shift, Ctrl and Alt to press before using them. The distribution tool gives rise to some interesting images. I will now move on to the Shapes tutorial.

(~30 minutes)

I played around with shapes in the basic tutorial; here are some more tips and tricks.

  • Clicking Ctrl while drawing a shape will lock in useful ratios (1:1, 2:1, 3:1).
  • Clicking Shift while drawing a shape will draw the shape around the center instead of the corner.
  • Shapes will acquire the color that is clicked immediately after creating the shape.

At this point it has become evident that hitting Shift, Ctrl or Alt before an action will change its parameters- and it will usually preserve the shape in some form, be it ratio, edges, rotation, etc. There are so many actions to test in this program- it’s very interesting! While playing around with the shapes, I became used to many of the shortcuts.

Image: Shapes made with Inkscape.

Image: Shapes made with Inkscape.

(~15 minutes)

I moved on to the Advanced tutorial. I was so happy to see there is a freehand tool, because drawing shapes with the mouse takes a long time; freehanding is faster. I plugged in my tablet and tested it out. Sadly, the program isn’t very responsive to tablets, I experienced a slight delay from tablet to screen. The lines are also shakier than in other programs.

(~15 minutes)

I wandered over to the Calligraphy tutorial, and found out how to configure the tablet for use in Inkscape! The settings are found in the File>Input Devices menu. Now my handwriting looks better. Additionally, each stroke of the pen becomes an individual object.

(~15 minutes)

I have just learned about the difference between objects and paths.
The appearance (outline, fill, shape, randomness) of objects can be modified, but when they are converted to paths, they become lines that can be edited via nodes.

  • Objects can be converted to paths with Shift+Ctrl+C.
  • Paths can be combined with Ctrl+K, and separated with Shift+Ctrl+K.
  • There is a simplify command, Ctrl+L, that reduces the number of nodes in a path, thus making the lines appear smoother.
  • All of these tools can be found under the Path menu as well.

(~30 minutes)

I am now testing the text tools. There are so many options for colors, fonts, bold/italics, alignment, kerning, rotation, everything! Using Alt+Up or Down will move letters vertically, and text can be easily turned into a path- again, with Shift+Ctrl+C.

After writing some text, I continued with the next tutorial- Interpolate. Interpolation fills in the gap between two objects with a morphing sequence. It only works for paths, not objects. Interpolation is an extension, and takes a lot of memory- the program crashed on me once. After following the tutorial, I came up with the following image.

Image: Interpolation between two paths.

Image: Interpolation between two paths.

(~15 minutes)

Images can be imported and then auto-traced in Path>Trace Bitmap; below is an example of the resulting traces after modifying the parameters a few times.

Image: Tracing a bowl of strawberries. Original image is public domain.

Image: Tracing a bowl of strawberries. Original image is public domain.

(~20 minutes)

I was interested in learning about using Inkscape for lineart. I would draw a lot more if inking and cleaning lineart didn’t take an inordinate amount of time. I followed these two tutorials for vectorizing lineart:
I started out with a drawing I made a year ago. I imported the image, then went to the auto-trace tool in Path>Trace Bitmap. I some time tweaking the settings to obtain a smooth version of my lineart. I then exported it as a high-resolution image. You can see the comparison below; the lines become much smoother, and of course, they are infinitely scalable. Inkscape can be really useful in transforming small images into larger images without losing quality.

Image: Comparison of inked lineart and vectorized lineart.

Image: Comparison of inked lineart and vectorized lineart.

(~40 minutes)

I decided to try creating an “urban design” as described in this tutorial. I began by creating a variety of concentric circle designs, and arranging them into a composition.

(~30 minutes)

I learned about layers thanks to this tutorial. They are very easy to use in this program; I created a layer for every element of the design with no problems.
Next, the tutorial instructs to use the Bezier curve tool to create swirls. It was very difficult for me to do it, which is why I set off to look for a video tutorial. The video found here  helped me practice my Bezier curves, but it still took me a long time to get the hang of it!

(~1 hour)

I arranged the swirls, changed colors, applied effects and moved layers around. As an important note, filters and extensions are very taxing on Inkscape and often cause the program to crash… exporting images is also problematic if the user wants them in high resolution. In any case, my final product is below!

Image: Inkscape circle design.

Image: Inkscape circle design.


Practicing vodcasts

In which I give a short definition of herd immunity:

Watch Herd immunity.

Research in education

As a scientist with experience in biological research, I find it curious that educational research is not rooted in fixed knowledge and standard methods; rather, theories come in and out of fashion and there is no single best methodology. It’s true that scientific knowledge changes as we discover new things, but teaching and learning is much more complex, with many external factors influencing instructor and student success. Some of these factors include social and ethnic background, age, gender, personality, location, etc. Through the process of writing a literature review, I learned that there are research niches that explore these factors, and re-frame the issues to create different perspectives.

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source:

Researcher at the National Archives. Image source:

After class discussions, I’ve come to realize how political education can be. It is a field where the elite few can influence policy and opinion, and reject research findings when they conflict with their personal views. Because of this, I believe it’s important for educational professionals to not only file away research for their personal knowledge base, but also to be able to talk about educational issues, methods and results to promote understanding and innovation.

There exists a disconnect between research and implementation, and education professionals should be more aware of current research to minimize this disconnect. Research can take different forms, depending on the context and the audience. Different methodologies are more useful to some professionals than others; for example, a large scale study using quantitative methods may be more useful for a policy-maker to see the big picture, identify trends and adjust educational policy accordingly. Small qualitative studies may be more useful to instructors, who could creatively experiment with new techniques in their classrooms. Research is important because it gives us access to different types of data.

My plan is to use research to learn about new ways to teach and how well they work in specific contexts; in my case, the context would be a community college science classroom full of diverse learners. Even though I have to adhere to policy, research can help me identify specific, concrete ways to improve my practice and be prepared for the needs of the next generation. Research makes me feel confident in my pedagogy and allows me to talk about my practice with my colleagues.

Futures of education

I love that so many different technologies are finally being considered for use in education.

First, let us look at Thin Clients and Blade PCs. If you go to any school today, they more than likely will have computers on a network. Thin clients make up a different kind of network: the computers don’t need extra software or hardware and don’t require lots of energy or maintenance because they connect to a server that has everything they need to run. Given the low costs, schools shouldn’t have a problem implementing this technology. Instead of having to purchase new hardware and/or software for every single computer every few years, schools would primarily replace the server. I think we will see this happening very soon.

Thin client. Image source: Thin client. Image source:

Next, we have virtualization. From what I understood, it simply means to keep your main operating system intact and then run everything else on a separate virtual or physical compartment. For example, you can have your Windows OS in one partition, and then have all your downloads and documents in a separate partition, or keep your data on a different computer altogether that you can access virtually, similar to cloud computing. You can even run different operating systems on the same computer. I believe this would only be beneficial for certain disciplines. For example, Macs are the industry standard for graphic design, but design students may also need to use Microsoft’s Office suite for work: virtualization could be the answer.

To be honest, I don’t think these IT innovations will impact my classroom directly. They will certainly make it easier for students to use computers for learning, but they are not necessary. College students usually use their own devices, set them up the way they want to, and know to back up their data in multiple ways.

Let us move on to innovations that affect education more directly. First, we have gesture-based learning. This is computing based on physical gestures such as tapping, swiping, touching or simply moving. This is much more intuitive than using a mouse or typing. The article from ZDNet explains that gesture-based learning can be used to “promote activities that improve social skills, involves team work, and allows users to solve problems through collaboration” (Osborne, 2012). For example, the Kinect software can be used to make learning more interactive by having student avatars go on a virtual field trip or do math calculations on the fly, as explained by Johnny Kissco in this video. I doubt K-12 schools would implement this anytime soon, but perhaps more specialized professions might (for example, medical students could practice surgical procedures).

Student using Kinect software on a computer for skeleton tracking. Image source: Student using Kinect software on a computer for skeleton tracking. Image source:

Finally, we have learning analytics. Students are not adequately evaluated just by tests; we need to take into account their backgrounds, personalities, and learning styles. Learning analytics can theoretically double student achievement because we can collect and use all that data to give frequent formative assessments, identify problem areas and in general tailor our instruction to the students’ needs. The University of Phoenix has used learning analytics, and one of the biggest problems they encountered was figuring out what data was actually usable and what time frames to use. The process can become easier by putting all the data online to facilitate sorting and retrieval so that instructors can review the most pertinent information. I really like learning analytics in theory, but revamping the curriculum to allow for individualized instruction would be a herculean labor. It also feels somewhat intrusive; I’m not sure I want to know everything about every single one of my students. As long as analytics are restricted to academics, they’re a technology I can get behind.


Osborne, C. (2012, March 10). Gesture-based tech: A future in education?. ZDNet, Retrieved from

Article 2: Hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories.

Author: Eva Erdosne Toth, Becky L. Morrow and Lisa R. Ludvico

Journal: Innovative Higher Education

Publication date: 2009

This quarter I have been learning about theories of teaching and learning, and a question that came up was “how would you design your ideal classroom?” With all the technological innovations that I’ve learned about in Internet for Educators, I definitely want to integrate some sort of digital component into my ideal classroom. The paper I’m reviewing today is a case study on the use of virtual laboratories in addition to regular, hands-on laboratory work; I have toyed with the idea of implementing this environment for some time.

Toth, Morrow and Ludvico identify a common problem in teaching biological sciences: experiments are often carried out in order to learn experimental protocols, but do nothing to support student’s “active, inquiry-based discovery”. They define inquiry-based discovery as a learning experience based on building essential scientific skills: asking questions, using evidence to address these questions, connecting the answers to prior knowledge, and communicating the results to the community. The goal of their study was to determine if the combination of hands-on and virtual labs would provide these learning benefits.

It turns out that the virtual lab had students focus on the specific mechanism of the experiment, allowing them to internalize the knowledge without any external variables affecting the core of the process. On the other hand, the hands-on lab allowed the students to refine their manual skills, measuring skills, and practical reasoning through troubleshooting. The students commented that they enjoyed the virtual lab’s ease, speed, and illustrative nature; and they preferred to complete the virtual lab before the hands-on lab.

Hybrid learning is based on many of the NETS standards. The environment helped students explore a real-world issue and improved students’ conceptual understanding of the material (NETS-T 1) thanks to the digital experience of the laboratory (NETS-T 2). The instructor exhibited fluency in digital tools that support student success (NETS-T 3). The instructor improved their own practice, and this study can be used as a model for future classes, so it is contributing to the effectiveness of the teaching profession (NETS-T 6). This article is a perfect example of why a blended environment is ideal for advancing learning in the digital age.


Toth, E., Morrow, B. L., & Ludvico, L. R. (2009). Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories. Innovative Higher Education, 33(5), 333-344.

Article 1: Video and hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. 

Author: Nathan H. Lents and Oscar E. Cifuentes

Journal: Journal Of College Science Teaching

Publication date: November-December 2009

The paper I chose to read this week talks about two overlapping learning mediums: video and hybrid learning.

I am currently learning about designing and teaching online courses. I have had doubts about my ability to engage my students in the content from a distance. The web environment places more personal responsibility on the student than on the teacher, as Lents and Cifuentes observe. In addition, my discipline requires laboratory experiences to increase comprehension and connection to the student’s life and future career. Simply replacing these experiences with computer simulations may not be enough. The authors lobby for a “middle ground”: the introduction of web-delivered video lectures to replace a portion of traditional classroom lecturers.

Lents and Cifuentes identify some problems with this approach: there is no record of attendance, students won’t get instant feedback to clear up misunderstandings, the delivery is inherently less engaging, and there is less social interaction (2009). Still, they ran their experiment. They prepared an experimental and a control group of students to take their basic majors Biology course. They would measure student success by their exam results. The software they used for the video lectures was Camtasia.

Student accessing computer for learning

Student accessing computer for learning. Image source:

The students who received the video lectures did poorly in their first exam. The instructor then had a discussion about the process of learning by video lecture. The students who were against the video lectures replied that they had trouble staying focused. However, many students were enjoying the video lectures and found several advantages to them: they could pause frequently to take notes and check their textbooks and they could re-watch the lecture several times. After their discussion session, the grades of the experimental group improved greatly.

Students taking notes at their own pace

Students taking notes at their own pace. Image source:

Before the third exam, the students answered a survey to choose the delivery method for the last portion of the course. They decided that a normal lecture would be delivered AND recorded for web posting, so students could choose the method that worked for them: this was reflected in their high grades. Lents and Cifuentes conclude that the introduction of web-based video instruction can be used successfully.

This project was a digital-age learning experience (NETS-T 2) because the instructor developed a technology-enriched learning environment, and personalized the delivery method to reach different types of learners; plus the researchers used the data from their experiment to improve teaching and learning.  The instructor delivered the lecture by using a digital age medium, demonstrating fluency in the technology (NETS-T 3, Model Digital-Age Work and Learning).  The most important part of the project for me, was that the instructor identified a problem with the delivery method and then discussed it with the students and involved them in the decision to change it.  I think this was in line with NETS-T 4, Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsiblity, specifically “address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources”.


Lents, N. H., & Cifuentes, O. E. (2009). Web-Based Learning Enhancements: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. Journal Of College Science Teaching39(2), 38-46.

Article 2: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets

Author: Eva Kassens-Noor

Journal: Active Learning in Higher Education

Publication date: February 28, 2012

A study by sociologists at the University of Alabama examined multitasking with social activities while doing schoolwork, and discovered that using facebook and texting negatively affected student GPAs.  Educators have confiscated cell phones for years and warned students about the dangers of oversharing information in social media sites. Now, as the net generation becomes the teachers and the principals, we are beginning to see a shift in these attitudes.  Proponents of the shift offer a very simple solution: give students something to do that’s class-related on those same platforms, which then become a powerful teaching tool instead of a distraction.

President Obama tweeting

Even the president tweets!

In her study, Kassens-Noor proposes exactly that. She offered groups of students the choice of a) using twitter in an assignment as their only communication mechanism, b) doing one in-class discussion and keeping diaries, or c) writing a 5000 word essay (thankfully, no one chose the last option). The twitter group had strict criteria to meet  to get credit for the assignment (e.g., tweet daily, each answer to a tweet must add on to or refute previous data, must turn in a printout of all tweets, etc.) She found that twitter fostered communication and prolonged engagement in the learning process. The students found and shared more data than the traditional group, but they had slightly less knowledge retension. Another limitation she found was the character limit- which might have constrained critical thinking and self-reflection. Kassens-Noor ‘s study showcases several NETS standards. She inspired student learning and creativity by engaging with her students in a virtual environment, following NETS-T 1 (d).  She also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool, as described in NETS-T 2 (a). Her students demonstrated a good understanding of the technology (NETS-S 6), and used it appropriately for collaboration (NETS-S 2).

I do not have twitter at the moment, but I’m up to trying it out in my classroom. I would use it as an instant feedback tool for student-teacher communication. I think it would foster a feeling of community and openness much faster than class interaction alone. The disadvantages of using twitter really seem to depend on the content. If critical, in-depth thinking is required from the students, twitter is probably an unsuitable tool.


Junco, R., Cotten, S. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education, 59(2),  pp. 505-514.

Kassens-Noor, E. (2012). Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(1), pp. 9-21 doi: 10.1177/1469787411429190

Article 1: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Social media and microbiology education

Author: Vincent R. Racaniello

Journal: PLoS Pathogens

Publication date: October 2010

Social media is unavoidable on college campuses. Students are constantly looking for the latest news from their peers and the world through the use of facebook, twitter, blogs and internet portals. A quick look at Alexa’s top 25 sites on the web gives us Facebook as the most popular site in the world (no. 2 in the US), followed by YouTube, Yahoo!, Twitter and LinkedIn a little further down, as well as Blogspot and WordPress. The analytics reveal that many users access these websites at school.

Alexa's entry for Facebook

The most popular site in the world is primarily accessed at schools.

In his paper, Vincent Racaniello proposes to use these digital tools to facilitate learning. He talks about his experiences with blogging and podcasting- which are very similar to the model we’re following in this class. Racaniello wished to reach a large number of students of Microbiology, and so he began writing a blog covering news stories about viruses, as well as the results of his research. The social aspect of the blog was in the comments- visitors often developed a dialogue inspired by Racaniello’s posts. Later, he added weekly podcasts with expert hosts to the mix to further support student learning. His approach was consistent with many NETS standard. He inspired learning and creativity by engaging with students (high school, college, graduate and medical, colleagues and the general public in a virtual environment (NETS-T 1 (d). He also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool to promote student learning, reaching NETS-T 2 (a). He demonstrated fluency in digital technologies and communicated effectively using two different digital formats, which covers NETS-T 3 (a) and (c). Finally, he was a leader in building his digital learning community, which covers NETS-T 5 (b).

Although Racaniello used blogging and podcasting primarily for the benefit of the general public, instructors could certainly follow his example when designing their own course.


Racaniello, V. (2010). Social media and microbiology education. PloS Pathogens, 6(10): e1001095. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001095

Article 2: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Title: Increasing awareness about antibiotic use and resistance: a hands-on project for high school students

Author: Maria João Fonseca, Catarina L. Santos, Patrício Costa, Leonor Lencastre, Fernando Tavares

Journal: PLoS One

Publication date: September 12, 2012

Theme for Weeks 4 and 5: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Antibiotic resistance has become such a hot topic in Biology and Healthcare, that there is an incredible amount of resources available to educate both the general public and specialized students. I chose this project, “Microbiology recipes: antibiotics a la carte”, because it includes a mix of interactive lectures and laboratory activities that covers all the bases in a practical, engaging way.

Let me get this out of the way: the authors intended this project to be carried out by high school students aged 15-17, but I believe that it will have similar benefits in undergraduate students aged 17-20. The main reason they decided to target this to high school students was to help them transition to more sophisticated conceptualizations of bacteria and antibiotics, which might be challenging due to their abstract nature. This level of instruction is ideal for a lower-level undergraduate Biology course.

The project began with an overview of the activities to be performed and basic laboratory safety training. Subsequent lectures provided the background for the wet lab activities, and introduced students to the use of bioinformatics for finding genes that code for antibiotic resistance. Students also analyzed scientific articles to learn about the format for reporting data within the scientific community. The wet labs consisted of acquainting students with basic techniques used for manipulating microorganisms (something I would probably cover at the beginning of my course), and then assaying antibiotic resistance using commercial and natural antibiotics.

The researchers assessed the effectiveness of their project through the use of surveys (pre- and post-project questionnaires), direct observation, and evaluation of artifacts produced by the students. They found that students improved their laboratory skills, refined their knowledge of antibiotic resistance and were eager to share their experience with relatives and friends.

The project facilitated and inspired student learning (NETS-T 1) because students were engaged in a real-world issue, and used digital resources to learn about the science behind antibiotic resistance. Because of the inclusion of bioinformatics tools, I would say it was a digital age learning experience (NETS-T 2). Students developed research and information fluency (NETS-S 3) as they had to evaluate scientific literature to learn about how to use and organize their experimental results .

As an educator, I have covered this topic before, but never in such an encompassing fashion. This article gives me great guidelines to follow when preparing my own antibiotic resistance module.

Fonseca M.J., Santos C.L., Costa P., Lencastre L., Tavares F. (2012). Increasing awareness about antibiotic use and resistance: A hands-on project for high school students. PLoS ONE, 7(9): e44699. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044699

Article 1: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Title: An open-ended, inquiry-based approach to environmental microbiology

Author: Frank Caccavo, Jr.

Journal: The American Biology Teacher

Publication date: November-December 2011

Theme for Weeks 4 and 5: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

As an undergraduate student of Microbiology, most of my classes had a similar format: in addition to lectures, we had laboratories at least once a week where we explored techniques related to the weekly topics. These were self-contained (“cookbook”) lab exercises which were only meant to facilitate skill acquisition and familiarize us with the principles behind the science. This approach shifted when I became a graduate student and we began to tackle collaborative semester-long projects. Caccavo proposes that we follow this model when we teach undergraduate students, and gives a detailed report of his experience implementing this approach.

Student teams were encouraged to pick their own research topics. When they picked wastewater treatment, the instructor covered the content and took the students on a fieldtrip to the local plant: this gave students enough knowledge to be able to narrow down their research topic.

Students were introduced to the scientific method and basic laboratory techniques. Then, they collected literature on the topic so that they could get an idea of what has been done within the field, and think of which angles to pursue experimentally. Their next step was to submit a research proposal in order for them to “organize their thoughts, focus their efforts, and provide a structural framework for the execution of their experiment” (Caccavo, 2011).

At this point, students could finally begin their lab work! This was my favorite part of the learning experience, because undergraduate students often don’t realize that scientific work involves hours of work outside of the laboratory. In the end, as with any research project, they had to present their results to an audience via posters.

Students completing a lab experiment

Image source: University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, from

The project applies many of the NETS standards to the learning experience. Firstly, it facilitated and inspired student learning (NETS-T 1) because the instructor promoted a creative, collaborative environment that had students solving real-world problems. Students demonstrated they could explore a complex issue to produce original research (NETS-S 1, Creativity and Innovation). They developed research and information fluency (NETS-S 3) as they had to gather, evaluate and use scientific literature to plan their project. They improved their critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills (NETS-S 4) since they were in charge of identifying the problem, developing appropriate questions, and planning and performing all experiments. This is all tied together by communication and collaboration (NETS-S 2).

Two more things make this project stand out for me. The first one is that the instructor is a supporter and not a director- the students are in charge of their own learning.  The second one is that the project helped students decide whether science was something they wanted to pursue as a career or not. As Caccavo puts it, “the best way to learn science is by doing science” (2011), and students should get the chance to experience a real research environment firsthand.



Caccavo, F. (2011). An open-ended, inquiry-based approach to environmental microbiology. The American Biology Teacher73(9), 521-525. doi: 10.1525/abt.2011.73.9.4

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