Intriguing structures: Timelines

I enjoy finding visualizations that enhance understanding in different ways. In the recent past, I explored the use of calendars to share resources and support self-directed learning (Public Domain Day calendars). This week I was exploring graphic and interactive timelines. Although you might think that timelines are only useful for presenting a visual overview of historic periods, they can also deepen understanding, provoke further exploration or enhance retention and retrieval. Some timelines are presented as a static image while others feature intriguing interactive features.

What is a timeline (in your understanding)? When I began exploring, I thought of timelines as horizontal lines with text and images that highlighted significant events, people, objects, etc. over a specific time period. In my past experiences, I had found them useful to show students how ideas developed, the breadth and depth of historic events and related objects, and the changes in beliefs around teaching and learning.

What I found this week is that timelines can be thought of in two ways:

  • as a time or project management tool;
  • as a method of understanding/learning about historic or chronologically organized events, people, things, etc.

My interest is primarily in supporting or enhancing learning so I’ll focus on the 2nd group. These kinds of timelines have some shared characteristics but the actual structure, level of detail and focus can vary widely. While historic examples of timelines were somewhat limited to one iteration or presentation (an image or document), technological advances have allowed a greater creativity and flexibility.

The historic timeline shown on the left “A New Chart of History” is a static yet amazingly detailed and comprehensive timeline developed by Joseph Priestley, a British scientist and multi-subject teacher and philosopher. Priestley developed this timeline to help his student understand the history of empires and changes in power.

two timelines side by side
Timelines: 1769 vs 2023

The current immersive experience of history on the right “The Museum of the World” is a joint project of the British Museum and Google. It divides the world timelines into the major regions with time running ahead of you as you move deeper into the space. There are various filters for the types of history you want to explore and you can see fine lines that connect events and objects across time and space.

Many of us will want to develop much simpler timelines and there are many different ways to create useful and visually appealing time charts or maps. Many of the different companies that provide online timeline makers also have free templates you can use to explore your ideas. They all emphasize the importance of defining your purpose and scope first. I’d also suggest you test out what each one of them means by “free to use” plans. The limitations may make it useless for your purposes. It may be worthwhile to subscribe for a month or year to test your ideas.

And if you are an instructor who wants to explore the implications of your timeline design, check out this story by researcher Sara Di Bartolomeo: Timelines are not always lines: An evaluation of different timeline shapes. Her team researched the impact of horizontal, vertical or spiral timelines.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to the possibilities of timeline structures in teaching. I’d appreciate hearing if you actually use this infographic structure in your future teaching. You can email me at sylviar at educomm dot ca

Refs and resources:

Priestley’s Timelines, Infographics Lab, University of Oregon

A New Chart of History (image), by Joseph Priestly, Wikimedia

Types of timelines, Lucidchart

A Quick Guide to Timelnes and Different Types of Timeline Templates, SlideUpLife, Medium, Jul 3, 2020.

Timelines of World History, Wikipedia – visual examples include vertical Timeline of natural history, and the more complex ChronoZoom a free open source project that visualizes time on the broadest possible scale.

Timeline Maps, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Timeline Graphic Organizer, Lesson Plans by Anna Warfield, StoryboardThat

Examples of infographic timeline templates:;;; etc.

Public Domain Day 2023

So, January 1st, 2023 (aka Public Domain Day) has passed. Did you wonder why you didn’t see any news about Canadian works that have been released into the public domain?

I think that most educators and other curious people are already familiar with the reasons for copyright and the value of works that can be shared freely when they enter the “public domain.” The internet is full of creative examples of re-imagined images, writings, etc. and many educators have enjoyed free access to historical maps, journals and books to deepen their understanding and teaching.

There are good reasons for copyright protection but, in the past, Canada had been in the “life plus 50 years” camp. We had believed that the value of sharing cultural works to the public was more important as it allowed them to be more widely enjoyed and benefited the institutions that curate and store many of them (i.e., galleries, libraries, archives and museums – GLAM). A recent article in the Canadian Lawyer highlighted the division of potential benefits and challenges.

For the less-than-one percent of copyrighted works which remain valuable 50 years after the authors death, the movie studios, recording studios, publishing houses, and other people or entities that own them will have their monopoly for another 20 years, says Anthony. But for the majority of copyright owners, “the extension is irrelevant.”

Daniel Anthony of Smart & Biggar LLC

However, as of December 31, 2022, Canada fell into line with the USA, a requirement of our participation in the Canada-USA-Mexico free trade agreement. Canada has now joined the “life plus 70” countries that include, among others, Europe and Australia. Therefore, there will be no Canadian works entering the public domain until 2043. If you weren’t aware of the impending change, check out this recent CTV News article.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy what became available from other countries on January 1, 2023, and learn more about shared culture. You may even be inspired to modify or remix the images, movies, books and other materials that are displayed in the following interactive calendar format.

The Public Domain Review (a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring the history of art, literature and ideas) shared its annual “Advent-style” calendar early in December. Each day reveals a highlighted work to be released on Jan 1, 2023. Enjoy exploring and savouring each day’s resource on the calendar (displayed below) OR go straight to the list shared by Wikipedia’s page: 2023 in public domain.

Article links:

What Will Enter the Public Domain in 2023? A Festive Countdown, The Public Domain Review,

Canada Extending Term of Copyright Protection From 50-to-70 Years, Aidan MacNab, Sept 20, 2022, The Canadian Lawyer,

Canada Extends Copyright Protection Another 20 Years to Meet New Trade Obligation, Mia Robson, Jan 2, 2023, Canadian Press,

2023 in public domain, Wikipedia,

Intriguing structures

Sparking interest and capturing the attention of busy learners can be a challenge at times especially if you aren’t present (either virtually or in-person). But online environments and free or inexpensive digital tools (apps) can make it easier for you to curate or present a collection of intriguing information, encourage critical thinking and develop self-directed learning skills. One of the ways you can do this is to present information in an interactive calendar.

I found a few examples you might enjoy from The Public Domain Review and Oxford Continuing Education. These examples are called “countdown calendars” as a new resource is released each day during a selected month – similar to the way an Advent calendar works.

Works Entering the Public Domain

Free, online educational resources – Oxford CE

Allow yourself some time as there are endless rabbit holes to dive into!

If you’d like to experiment, you could try using the following tools:

Create using a website editor like  BeaverBuilder or Divvy (look for masonry display options or photo displays). Or try some of the new options in Gutenberg blocks.

Try an opensource tool like H5P! Lots of different options – interactive presentations and even an Advent calendar tool (beta).

Enjoy exploring. Let me know if you create anything to share your interesting collections with learners.

Accepting loss

As we get older, things change in ways we may not have anticipated. I was certainly surprised at the unfriendly tone of the recent emails I received from the most recent owners of my Flickr account (SmugMug). I hadn’t uploaded anything since about 2015 but kept my Flickr photo site primarily as an archive of a really important time in my development as an edtech instructor and learning designer. The recent changes in the management of the popular Flickr photo sharing web service surprised me (they shouldn’t have) and they ultimately led to me deleting my long-time account (a free and sometimes Pro member since 2004 when Flickr was launched by Ludicorp’s Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake.

In 2004, I was just completing my Masters in Educational Technology at University of BC and an instructor (Brian Lamb) had gotten me interested in the possibilities of blogging and social sharing. He introduced us to Flickr, blogging, wikis and all kinds of intoxicating ideas about free-range learning and sharing.

I loved Flickr right away as it was so easy to post images to the Internet and share them with friends. I started uploading so that I could link images to my blog posts (Dave Winer’s Manila). ‘Hypertextuality’ was adding so many dimensions to my writing I was constantly thinking of new ways to share and images were a natural way to catch attention and spark discussion. The community feeling on Flickr was amazing – people offered suggestions for improvement, pointed me at other images I might find inspiring or useful and I got several friends hooked on the service as well. It was an exciting place to be and I enjoyed seeing images and exchanging messages with people from around the world.

Like so many free things on the web in those days, making money was really the primary objective. By making the service free and functional, the founders quickly drew a large audience and were soon bought out by Yahoo (Yahoo acquired Ludicorp and Flickr in March 2005 for somewhere between $22 and $25 million. I wasn’t a big fan of Yahoo – their search engine, their mail service or other features. And I really wasn’t happy that all my content was migrating to US servers. But I stuck it out and changed my email, cut back on my uploads and even signed up for a couple of years of Pro so that I could feel like I was paying my way.

In 2017, Verizon Communications bought Yahoo (and Flickr) and they reorganized. I was busy with other things and didn’t pay a lot of attention.

Then SmugMug bought Flickr in 2018 and it changed again. More rules, more restrictions, more fragmentation – due in large part to the huge participation in Flickr. I can understand that it was getting unwieldy and expensive. I believe that they did their best.

But this year, the tone seems to have changed. I was offended by the blunt email I received demanding that I modify my account as I either was in non-compliance of new regulations on free accounts or I had images in my collections that didn’t meet their standards??? It was obviously a generic email cuz I rarely posted images of friends and family. In fact, my non-compliance was two small private albums of a friend’s visit and a family trip to Hawaii.

I took the protected albums down, and spent some time reading all the marketing hype and the new rules for photo storage. I hadn’t actually uploaded anything for years but apparently I was still being asked to remove much of what I had. I requested a backup of all my photos and considered deleting my account. I checked the first level of paid account and it really wasn’t worth it. But I got really nostalgic as I looked back at some of the photos and the conversations and found that several old friends were still posting.

But at the beginning of this week, I got another email from Flickr. They obviously hadn’t checked my account as it still accused me of having two albums behind a password and used what I considered fairly agressive language to tell me that my account could be deleted. That was it – I logged into my account and followed the instructions to delete…sadly.

I did check around on the Internet to see why Flickr was being so agressive to try and drive me to pay for my light (actually non-active) use of their service. The experts seemed to agree that SmugMug had no choice but to push people to pay as they just weren’t making money. Hard to believe with such a popular service. I guess storage is still more expensive than it was originally touted to be.

Flickr always offered generous upload limits and promoted it as a free service for everyone – from the person who took snapshots while traveling or during events, to the professional or wannabe who were trying to develop their skills or promote their work to earn a living. I guess I no longer fit their preferred audience as they didn’t offer a place or a service that was worth paying for. I don’t want everything for free; but the Internet services are so varied and increasingly “walled gardens” that I have to be selective. I can’t afford them all so I pay for the ones I use a lot.

I guess SmugMug just forced me to recognize that I have many other expenses that I need to cover and indulging in a fun photo-sharing site doesn’t fit my budget.

I’ve also recognized that my sense of loss is more about the time, the freedom, the people in the community, and the sense of fun and discovery. I remember when Flickr was fun. Now it needs to be profitable. I understand what drives the owners but it ain’t for me anymore. Bye and thanks for the opportunity to play in your photo pools.

A history of Flickr:

Flickr forever, Mar 17, 2022 –

New limits – Mar 2022 –

Honouring Indigenous Writers

What have you been reading lately? Are you part of a book club? Have any of the books you’ve been reading been written by indigenous writers? I’m guessing (perhaps unfairly) that you might have to say “No”?

Well, here’s your chance to change that. Get to know an indigenous writer – make the effort to read and hear the voice from another culture – and it’s much easier to do over the next week. What’s special about the first week of March? It’s Open Education week and, UBC is hosting an event to raise the profile of indigenous writers AND benefit Wikipedia!

Although I missed the first event – a Reading with Smokii Sumac and Daniel Heath Justice, (they’ve posted a recording), I’m signing up for the rest AND exploring the possibilities of the Weekly Activities shared by the folks at UBC – if you’re nervous about contributing to Wikipedia (a lot of rules!), this is a great array of options for you to check out. I’ll be doing it cuz I have to admit I’ve skated around contributing to Wikipedia because of all the rules and policies in the way! This is a chance to engage with Indigenous writers AND learn how to add value to one of the most commonly used and cited online sites – Wikipedia.

Talk about two birds with one stone! What can you lose – check it out and get involved.

Honouring Indigenous Writers – Weekly Activities