How to flash safely?

Twitter discussion

The other day, the topic of gifs and photosensitive epilepsy came up on DS106 Twitter, so I thought I’d find out more. I went straight to the medical journals and asked a friend of mine who works at Jisc TechDis.

Types of light sensitivity?

There are a range of ill-defined sensitivities to light, from facial twitching in response to bright light, actual induced changes in brain electrical activity, and changes dramatic enough to induce a seizure. The latter is referred to as photosensitive epilepsy.

What objects or aspects of light can evoke a seizure?

Many of the medical papers report the most common stimulus is a FLASHING LIGHT, and can also be PATTERNS OF LINES, GRATINGS or CHECKERBOARDS. I think we all recognise sometimes we can watch stripes or squares on the TV or PC screen that make our eyes feel funny.

How many people does this affect?

The figures are a little unclear because the data relies on individual’s own reporting, and tests actually done in the lab measuring brain activity (electroencephalograms EEGs) are usually on selected individuals and not necessarily those at risk so are likely to be lower. Nethertheless, the figures range from 5 to 9 % of the population. SO IT IS STILL A RISK FOR A NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS. (Fisher 2005). Studies suggest it is more common in young people than in adults.

Notable cases?

There have been cases of TV programmes and video games inducing seizures. Wilkins and colleagues (2005) described a case relating to a TV advertisement (Golden Wonder Pot Noodles) where seizures were reported in three viewers in the UK. In Japan in 1997 a children’s program “Pokemon” reportedly led to 685 admissions to hospital, with 560 identified as epilepsy. The cartoon displayed alternating red and blue backgrounds. What was startling was most of these people had never had an episode before. I’m not sure of the follow-up, meaning, whether this was just a one off event or actually primed the people into being sensitive, I do not know.

So what colours and patterns are thought to be worst?

Wilkins 2005 paper led to guidelines being introduced in the UK and Japan, and now also internationally. Although they are devised for TV and not PC screens where proximity, resolution and environmental conditions may be different, they are a useful guide for our understanding.

1. Frequency. Flashes with frequency >3 Hz are prohibited.

2. Opposing changes in luminance. Flashes ≥20 cd/m2 are prohibited.

3. Area of flashes. Flashes greater in area than one fourth of the screen are prohibited.

4. Color. Flicker from saturated red light is prohibited.


Frequency – in Hertz (Hz), the number of cycles of the pattern per second. Fisher (2005) reported that the majority of people in their study responded at a peak of 12–30 flashes per second, but Wilkins’s 2005 paper reported this lower at 3Hz or above.

Luminance – relates to the contrast between light and dark. The bigger the contrast, the bigger the risk.

Areas – stationary patterns seem worse than ones that move slowly. Stripes, gratings and  patterns are implicated more than spots for example. The paper explains this relates to area covering the screen. On a PC we can assume the pattern might occupy the entire screen.

Colour – red is thought to be more provoking, although the effect of colour is not really well known. The importance of luminosity and contrast is much greater as a consideration.

So they recommend as a correction for you to look at the screen and ask these questions:

Are there more than five stripes?
If so, do they last longer than 0.5 s?
If so, does the brightness exceed the stated limit? If so, categorize the motion of the pattern
Are the guidelines contravened?
If so, reduce brightness.



So what can we do?

  • TV broadcasts are now monitored, but computers and video games are a bigger risk.
  • People with known epilepsy will safeguard themselves using screen protectors and maybe coloured glasses, but many people just won’t know.
  • Whilst the guidelines are written for TV, the effect of digital screens is less well known.

How to practice safe gifs?

Well not just our beloved animated gifs, but video and animations. I would use the criteria above as a guide – avoid flashing geometric patterns of contrasting colours.

But as my friend at TechDis commented:

Just don’t do it. Its not good for accessibility or usability.

As reported in a specialist workshop in 2004, flashing images on websites and roll-over-images are not good for usability. (NGfL Accessibility workshop 2004). I guess if we are making “art” we might want to think about it a bit more carefully.

And some additional notes on accessibility from Terry at TechDis regarding visual formats:

The accessibility of an image depends on technical factors (colourless, contrast, sharpness) as well as pedagogical factors (how effectively it is labelled, how well it is described, how it is integrated into a text / audio narrative).

For moving images, video and gifs:

However visual formats can create barriers to people with poor sight and they tend to be far less searchable and navigable than text.


So, we should certainly think about the art we are creating, and maybe we should be more careful about accessible alternatives to go alongside it?


Or maybe we should consider having a clear warning if we are unsure?







Fisher RS et al (2005). Photic- and Pattern-induced Seizures: A Review for the Epilepsy Foundation of America Working Group. Epilepsia, 46(9). Available:

Jisc TechDis (2014). Technology matters – visual. Available:

NGfL National Grid for Learning Accessibility Workshop (2004). Flashing, flickering and blinking. Available:

Wilkins A et al (2005). Characterizing the Patterned Images That Precipitate Seizures and Optimizing Guidelines To Prevent Them. Epilepsia, 46(8):1212–1218. Available:

Give me an OER every time!

Jisc Digifest 2014WOW! The highlight of open education week for me undoubtably was Jisc Digifest 2014.

It was so packed with festival goodies that it was difficult to chose which sessions to attend, and then what highlights to write about. So here are a few, and some additional blogs for extra reading.


Jisc Digital Festival 2014

A rather shaky start!

The festival kicked off with a number of excellent speakers including Diana Oblinger from Educause. Along with the Jisc executive, I was soon launched into a rather unexpected and terrifying commercial world, with language including “service users”, “consumers”, with educational goals including “margins” and “metrics”. I did start to wonder what on earth had I attended this for.

Whether this was the intention of Jisc, along with the rather lovely but somewhat incongruous technology companies and suppliers in the main auditorium, to be moving toward a more corporate purpose I’m not sure? This was alongside one of the opening speakers talking about educational delivery (deliverology aggh), 3 month degrees, and I was beginning to think this all just reeked like the onion rings of the “Macdonaldisation” of education. I must say I entered the coffee break very depressed. But from that point on, it was clear that the conference delegates were having none of it! None of it I say!

The festival was about people!

I was rather thinking that a digital festival would be very technology-centric and all about the tools, but I was completely wrong. The next two days without exception, it was all about the people. The users, students, educators, technologists, librarians, members of museum staff, geologists and a wide range of delegates in attendance. And a few students but not enough. The festival attracted a diverse group of people which was refreshing and provided rich discussions in the workshops. For the win!

And Jisc is about people!

Each session was led by a member of the various Jisc teams, and I hope that Jisc in its corporate reshaping, does not forget to cherish their most valuable asset. Any company is only as good as its staff, and Jisc is about expertise, collegiality, enthusiasm and support. They are some of the most talented individuals I have ever worked with across any organisation.

OK. Now for the highlights.

Wikipedia: a platform for learners as producers.

Martin Poulter from Bristol University talked about a series of case studies that had involved students in Wikipedia writing and editing. Unbeknownst to most people I suspect including me – and I’m just doing a Wikipedia course myself – is that the level of writing, the need for accuracy, the need for good evidence and referencing, the need to work as part of a community – are all adopted to a very high standard. As Martin said:

Wikipedia values are scholarly values.

What a great thing for transferable skills and allowing students to be part of global communities and the knowledge economy. And it is open of course.

Open access monograph publishing

Amazing stories by Brian hole (Ubiquity Press, UCL), Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers Cambridge) and Martin Paul Eve (Open Library of Humanities, Lincoln). Each had a similar tale, naffed-off by the publishing industry so decided to set up themselves. Their books are free to access online, often openly licensed, and are certainly putting valuable subjects back on the map that publishers had little commercial interest in. They claimed that their websites were easily pulled together using Scribd online reader, Google books and Lighteningsource electronic printing solutions. I did struggle with the CC BY license, so yes, if I was savvy, I would set up a publishers in China, take the content, repackage and sell. As they pointed out, all the good for the distribution. Well, actually, yes! Genius.

My lasting concern though still of the CC BY license was how to preserve the quality and authenticity of the work. But knowing these guys, they’ll come up with a solution to that.

Digital content sustainability and entrepreneurship

Naomi Korn ( Naomi Korn Consulting ) and Stuart Dempster, Jisc. Well this was just too good to miss. How many conference workshops can you say were so good that you stole the flip charts afterwards? *confession*.

This was particularly pertinent to me because I run three open education websites which I financially maintain, albeit for the cost of probably a bottle of wine a week, it is certainly worth it. This session gave me the structure of a business model to consider based around the overall goals of the site – to maintain or to grow. Well grow I say!!! There are only so many hours in my days I can sit around my kitchen table supporting VAL, SCOOTER and BIOLOGY COURSES, and I now have a plan. Things to consider:

  • Institutional ownership – far to many projects are pioneered by individuals and are never preserved by their institutions. A must for sustainability.
  • Digital preservation – we can’t future-proof everything, but releasing materials openly licensed, using open source and not locked in behind proprietary software. Multiple file formats please.
  • Existing and “outside of the box” revenue streams, or crowdsourcing a bit of money to pay the costs.

For more information, the Jisc Strategic Content Alliance has a heap of resources on this very subject, and I’ll be delving in very shortly.

The future of research – are you ready?

By Jeremy Frey and other contributors. I’m waiting for the Digifest site to publish the content and full list of contributors.

This was a mind blowing session. There is a rapid move toward publicly funded research in the UK making it mandatory to openly share all research data. The pain of the learning curve for open educational resources I remember was quite significant but achievable with the right support. The pain of this I feel will be much greater. It will require huge cultural changes to ways of working.

But new technology is helping – digital notebooks, data companies, increased collaboration between laboratories and transparency. Of course there are massive implications for individuals, departments and universities and much pain to go through before amazing benefits can be achieved.

I’m thinking – hurrah – the honest publication of research data that will at last overcome the bias of publication where mostly only POSITIVE findings are revealed. But would I want to reveal my scruffy notebooks to the world? And again, although it wasn’t clear if this would be openly licensed, but how would you prevent plagiarism, or even define it, if any researcher could pool data from a number of researchers, and republish? I guess that is the process of meta-analysis, so there would need to be assurances that the originator would be fully attributed. Fine, but not sure how you would police that.

Whatever happened to the MOOC?

Of course I’m going to pick this panel session because I was very kindly invited to participate, and what a mind-blowing panel talking about global open education in terms of history, university policy, activity in Scotland, applications to post-graduate teaching certificates, open educational science resources, and university courses that have gone totally and mindblowingly open.

It was quite telling, that during the entire course of the conference, MOOCs were barely mentioned. In fact I only recall one reference by Diana Oblinger in her keynote questions:

I would suggest that even though quite a lot of people are excited about MOOCs, …. they are a form of brand extension. It is not designed to be a course. They are hugely expensive and their audience is not traditional students.

Enough of silly MOOCs. The session was led by the irrepressible, irresponsible, unbelievable David Kernohan in his Chas n Dave t-shirt.

Digifest Lineup
(Me), Antonio Arboleda, Lou McGill, David Kernohan, Lorna Campbell, George Roberts, Jonathon Worth.

And if that wasn’t enough of a panel, on video was: Audrey Watters, David Wiley and Jim Groom.

Some wonderful examples of the power of opening up classrooms were told and have been written about elsewhere today:,


And finally, futurology?


The final conference speaker was Ray Hammond, a futurologist. Ray spoke about many things and how they will affect us. He missed out one very important thing though.


The future is absolutely and most definitely OPEN!



It feels only right to finish on a song!

Roll up. Roll up. Get your free study skills OERs here.

Happy Open Education Week!

Open education philosophies and approaches – resources, courses, practices – are well embedded into educational thinking around the globe. Here is just one example of how awesome open education can be, and how completely awesome the global community indeed is! Amber asked a simple question about open educational resources (OERs).

Open Education

Amber asked:

Hi! Could you please point me to any openly licensed materials that support students preparing for undergraduate degrees? Study skills but also independent learning for those students away from home for possibly the first time.

These were the responses:

OER1Digital Scholarship Website (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – Becoming a Digital Scholar – resources for research students and anyone wishing to use digital tools for study. Learning online, WordPress, academic and digital literacies and skills.


OER3Ready to Research Website (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – Getting started as a researcher, accessing and reading papers, data management, ethics and intellectual property.


OER2Prepare for Success ( (C) Southampton but free access to website) – a website for international students who are getting ready to come to the UK for study in further or higher education. Adapting to a new life, getting ready for university study, academic skills and studying independently.

OER4Learning Skills Portal University of Surrey (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – produced by Viv Sieber, a compliation of a vast number of open educational resources to support student study skills, researcher training, employability and lots more!

OER5OpenLearn Study Skills (Mix of (C) and Creative Commons licenses) – a number of short online Open University courses orienting students toward all the basic skills.


OER6Learnhigher (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – a “must” for all lecturers. Free to use, download and repurpose, a large number of resources from time mangement, to literacy, statistics, research and employability. Aimed at university staff.


OER7Careers Service OERs University of Leicester (Creative Commons – range of licenses for downloading, repurposing and reusing) – a whole range of academic skills and employment skills covered here including applying for jobs and CV writing. Aimed at students.


OER8Being Digital – Skills for Life Online Open University ( (C) OU ) – a great online course covering a number of important topics such as digitial identify, using social media, and use of online tools to support learning. Aimed at students. Not openly licensed to download or reuse.


OER9Time Management Oxford Podcasts ( (C) Oxford University, but many other podcasts are Creative Commons). A podcast on time management – useful for students and staff!



OER10Engage in Research University of Reading CETL ( (C) University of Reading) – free to use website getting students started in research. A step by step guide from ideas to dissemination.





Barkology. The origins.

From Bachology to Barkology. 

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 08.53.34.fw










Barking Certificate by Christina Hendricks.

I loved Christina’s Daily Create today because it referred to the Institute of Barkology. It is a little known fact that the institute was derived in the 1600’s from the word Bachology, pertaining to the ancient and thankfully almost forgotten work of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750).

It is a little known fact that in his early manifestations of human creativity, JS Bach was in fact the originator of the Daily Create. Bach was compelled to “Artwork Machen” and composed one Invention per day to pacify his spontaneous creativity through challenges he published every day, always punctual with his two- and three-part contrapuntal musical offerings whilst working in his dark attic lodgings in the city of Hundsville, Germany. Of course, he was always careful not to complete his Daily “Erstellen Ger Flumpf” until he had finished his paid work of the day.

How did the institute get its name?

The interdependent polyphonies and independence of rhythms to maintain a hypercongublastic predominant textural element have sometimes been likened to the sound of a dog howling. Hence, the name Barkology was later derived in reflection of the polytonality of the internal structures and the pain experienced by both the student and the listener of the gregariously constrained counterpoint, not florid, and usually without anyone giving a phrygian mode.

Newly discovered artwork. Dammit.

Unfortunately in 1703 the original institute burnt down, and below is the only surviving portrait of JS Bach during his “Täglich Erstellen” phase.