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Finding Conference Funding for Undergraduates

My passion for having students engaged in our professional conversations has been articulated loud and clear (read herehere, and here). We need more of it.

But when it comes to conferences, we are often faced with the question of how to find funding for students to attend with us, and often this barrier leads us to not even both engaging with the idea of adding a student to our paper or presentation.

At the University of Oklahoma, we are fortunate enough to have centralized funds that students can apply to receive in the event they get their proposal accepted. But that pot is limited, and what happens when, say, SIX students get accepted?

Multiple colleagues of mine in Gaylord College will often co-author papers with our undergraduates. Jensen Moore blew it out of the water this year and submitted several of these papers to the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC). As she writes:

The IPRRC has an extremely low acceptance rate and Gaylord is one of the ONLY colleges in the United States that has had undergraduate research accepted and presented at the conference.

We take pride in the fact that we engage our undergrads in research, and thus we want to have them publicly present their findings. Which is how we found ourselves in this predicament.

A couple of years ago, OU launched its own white-labeled crowdfunding platform so that students and faculty can raise money through the broader community. As of date of publish, we’ve used it to raise $488,144 across 61 projects (roughly $8k per project).

In Gaylord College, we’ve been previously successful utilizing the platform at a faculty level. Last semester, another colleague, Melanie Wilderman, successfully used the platform to raise $5k for Media Monday, an event that brings 400-700 media students to Gaylord College every semester.

Now, Jensen is utilizing the platform to raise the funds to bring all six students (four of which also happen to be former students of mine) along with her to IPRRC in Orlando.

Would we better off if we just had dedicated travel funds for undergrads? Absolutely. But I’m proud of my colleague and college for being willing to engage students in research regardless and putting in the extra effort to raise external funding. Crowdfunding is hard work, but I know that there are also a number of people that will be willing to support our students and their work.

A huge congrats to our students for their efforts as that’s no small feet. I’ve given a small amount to support the effort. If you feel so compelled, please consider contributing as well.

One Year.

For the last 365 days, I have not drank a single diet coke.

I’ve never been fully diagnosed (I don’t know even if they diagnose this) but I’m quite certain I’m addicted to sugar (and sugar substitutes) and this addiction–while it is not limited to diet sodas–has most manifested itself best in this bubbly goodness. I started answering the question, “Would you like anything to drink?” with “Yes, anything that is diet and brown please.” Diet Coke, Diet Dr. Pepper, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero (my personal favorite). Diet Pepsi, if I must…

I don’t believe I’ve publicly written much about my personal health and, while I don’t believe I plan to make a habit of it, this feels like a victory worth celebrating.

I’ve come to terms with knowing that I’ve long had an abusive relationship with food. Like others, my weight tends to fluctuate with the season. I tend to thin out in the Spring–sometimes too much too fast–and then will pack the pounds back on over the holidays.

In the past few years, I’ve tried to ratchet up my physical activity. I ran two half marathons in 2015/16 and was feeling really good about my health but desiring a new physical challenge. I had a buddy who was a regular at a Crossfit gym here in Norman. I enjoyed ragging on him about the usually stereotypes of Crossfit, but eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to sign up for a six week “beginner’s challenge.” The gym was also doing a nutrition challenge that started the same day as the beginner’s challenge and, through nothing more than good timing, I was automatically signed up for that too.

I am neither going to write about the actual approaches that Crossfit takes (the most comprehensive read is here) nor try to talk anybody into starting Crossfit. but what I do want to say is that what I’ve come to appreciate most is how Crossfit takes a rounded approach to fitness by integrating physical activity with community and nutrition. All of this is a setup to say one of the rules was don’t drink coke–diet or otherwise. And that one happened to stick all year.

Is diet soda bad? I don’t know. Interestingly enough, swearing it off has made me more curious to look at the research and my best conclusion (formulated from others people’s conclusions) is that it’s actually totally fine in moderation. But my issues were very much more mental than they were physical. Diet coke wasn’t making me fat, it was controlling my mind. And I just wanting to stop desiring it so much (spoiler alert: that never went away, still want it).

The best news is that, while my relationship to food has only slightly changed, my relationship with myself is much better. I didn’t actually win on the scale this last year, but I did make progress in my head. And that demon is much harder to conquer.

I don’t have the words yet to artfully articulate this next thought, so bear with me as I attempt to pull a metaphor out of this one. I’m too prideful to make New Year’s Resolutions, but I will happily set goals two weeks into the year. In the same way that I have allowed (insert your answer here: consumerism, industrialization, capitalism) to dictate my eating habits, I’ve also allowed (insert your answer here: social media, algorithms, cable television, consumerism/industrializaiton/capitalism) to control my media consumption habits. Similar to how I desire to consume bad food, I also desire to consume new information (often referred to as “news” but I’m thinking broader than MSM and will include statuses and tweets), and I frequently consume it at a rate in where likely haven’t even processed the last story before the next. Yet I desire to feed the beast.

As with diet soda, I don’t think it’s unhealthy to engage with media (mainstream, social, or otherwise. I mean I teach it…), but I do wish to focus this year on severely limiting my intake, which means less time swimming in the ever-flowing streams that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram serve me and being more conscious about other types of media (podcasts, late night talk shows, private conversations I have etc.) and dialing it all slightly back; not in an effort to go completely dark or become ignorant of our world, but rather to participate differently. Hear me when I say I’m not convinced the answer is to shut down accounts… I just sure would love to stop giving in to desire to check it all the time.

I joked with a colleague the other day that part of my solution was going to be more email. But it’s true. Recently, I’ve signed up for more daily newsletters (one recommendation is a column from the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Media Today”) so that I can continue to scratch the itch that once to know the day’s top headlines, but simply do so first thing in the morning and then go on with my day.

Exactly one year later, I’m doing the challenge again. Hoping to reclaim my mind little-by-little. I am thankful for how I have been able to grow over the past couple of years by learning about health and wellness and particularly thankful for the support of my local community gym. As someone with little-to-no athletic background, I’m much more aware that fitness is not just physical strength but also mental fortitude. And I’m hopeful that this one small, itty bitty victory will be motivation for me to conquer other physical and mental challenges.

Featured image: Trippy Diet Coke design. Great colors. flickr photo by adam.croom shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Hiking in Beavers Bend State Parking

I ended 2017 by spending two and half days in Broken Bow, Oklahoma attending one of my oldest friend’s bachelor party. I first met Ben in middle school through my dad who at the time was Ben’s bus driver. We became friends in high school and although he migrated south to Baylor for undergrad, we continued to keep in touch mostly through football games. Medical school plus residency moved him back to the Oklahoma City area and I’m thankful that we’ve continued to stay close. The older I become and more childhood becomes a distant memory, I hold on closer to those who have seen me through; a number that I can likely count on one hand.

Beyond the enjoyment of spending quality time with people I love, this trip coupled with a few days on the opposite side of the state spending the holidays with my wife’s family, was a much needed and well timed wind down from twenty seventeen.

I dabbled in photography around the time my oldest daughter was born. I bought my first DSLR camera for my birthday three months before she was born and utilized the time in between to teach myself through various YouTube videos and blogs. It’s indeed true that anybody who’s anybody can call themselves a photography based off of a very minimal amount of time spent learning the craft. In fact, I previously owned adamcroomphotography.com where I posted galleries of photos that I had taken. Since buying my camera, camera phone quality has increased dramatically and I find myself dragging out the DSLR less and less. Now it’s mostly just birthday parties and holidays. But knowing that I was about to experience a very scenic part of Oklahoma, I decided to work out the rust in my camera skills and play dad-with-a-camera for the trip. I’m sure nobody minded. ;-)

A fun tourism fact about Oklahoma: despite the stereotype that Oklahoma is flat and barren, it’s one of the most ecologically diverse state in the US. Virtually any type of terrain is within a few hours drive for me. From an archive TravelOK.com page:

Mile for mile, Oklahoma offers the nation’s most diverse terrain. It’s one of only four states with more than 10 ecoregions, and has by far, the most per mile in America. Oklahoma’s ecoregions – or, terrains/subclimates – include everything from Rocky Mountain foothills to cypress swamps, tallgrass prairies, and hardwood forests to pine-covered mountains. Each is graced with wide blue lakes, rivers and streams. Plus, there’s one man-made type of terrain: urban turf.

Ecoregions of Oklahoma

Ecoregions of Oklahoma. Source.

Broken Bow feels like more like a small Colorado town than an Oklahoma town. Somehow, I had never made it down to southeastern Oklahoma to see it for myself (it’s actually closer in distance to Dallas than OKC), so that in and of itself was a real treat.

On the second day, we spent a few hours hiking a total of five miles. A freeze was about to enter the area that night but we lucked out with it being in the 40s for that day. We hiked various portions of the David L. Boren Hiking Trail in Beavers Bend State Park, a trail that is a 12 mile hike with seven various smaller trailers inside of it.

We took Beaver Creek Trail down to Lookout Mountain Trail and then went ahead onto Deer Crossing Trail before taking the road back to the visitor’s center.

David L Boren Hiking Trail and our path overlayed

Beavers Bend State Park hiking trails with our path overlayed

To keep ourselves occupied, we packed a football and a frisbee. The football came out early on Beaver Creek Trail which had level paths. In the middle of Deer Creek, we found a clearing for a telephone line and stopped there for about half an hour to throw the football and frisbee. We also converted a sizable tree branch and some pecans into a little stick ball home run derby.

Below are my favorite shots from that morning and the following hike. As the “photographer,” I felt fortunate that it was an overcast day, which meant I didn’t have to deal with harsh shadows from the sun. Grays work very well with greens and browns, so these definitely have the whole winter hipstery family photo colors one would hope for. As you’ll see, most of my favorites are just us playing around like little boys on the trail. Super fun. All and all, super happy for how both the day and trip turned out!

Media and the End of the World (The Podcast)

Recently, Ralph Beliveau and I launched a podcast called Media and the End of the World. Podcasting is a medium I’ve wanted to delve into for awhile now and after a couple false starts trying to get one going, I’m really thankful Ralph asked me to join him in this endeavor.

The format is fairly simple: we do a weekly half hour podcast which covers the latest news of the media. The name of the podcast is a riff from the following:

We ought to see this moment—that of the end of the world as we know it, in which the Internet assumes its place in a new informational order—as one in which environment and anti-environment are colliding.
– Gordon Gow, Marshall McLuhan and the End of the World as We Know It

Of course, our take is tongue and cheek, and that’s what I like most about it. It’s fun to aesthetically tap into apocalyptic rhetoric as it walks the line between a close reality and incredible exaggeration. It’s also really fun to do it with Ralph, who is not only a really good friend, but who taught the very first course I took in Mass Communications and made Berger’s Ways of Seeing a required reading. As someone mentioned on my Facebook wall, Ralph was the instructor who made you question both what life and media even was.

As someone who likes the technical side of both audio and the web, this particular project is like a dream come true. The TV4OU station was kind enough to repurpose an unused soundboard and hooked it up so that anybody could fairly seamlessly record a three person podcast in one of Gaylord Hall’s audio booths. Per usual, I’m trying to find a cost-effective way of creating media. I’ve opted for Soundcloud as the host. Soundcloud gives you 180 free upload minutes a month, which comes out to 45 minutes per week. That’s just enough buffer space for our half hour format to slot in quite nicely. After that, I purchased mediaandtheendoftheworld.com on Hover for $12.99, hooked it into my current hosting space on OU Create, installed good ol’ WordPress, and submitted the Soundcloud RSS feeds to iTunes and Stitcher (I’ve got a request in to TuneIn as well, but they have yet to green light us).

We’ve got a handful of episodes up now, which makes me comfortable enough to start promoting it a bit. So, please take a listen and subscribe, be it on iTunes, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.

The Criticality of Open Platforms

Below is a somewhat summary of the talk I gave in conjunction with Amy Collier, Daniel Lynds, and Jim Luke at OpenEd17. The tl;dr is that I’m convinced that need to start publishing analyses of the open platforms we adopt in order to bring transparency to a number of metrics to include not just data ownership and stewardship but broader metrics such as who has monetary vested interest in the success of the product. As I’ve returned home, I’ve began to construct in my head a real tangible way in which we can start to build a community to do this work, much of which is being inspired by Jon Udell and Mike Caulfield’s collaboration on Digital Polarization. If any of this sounds in the smallest bit interesting, please comment or reach out.

Situating My “Open”

When I find myself at OpenEd, I often feel the need to explain myself. As smarter people than myself have mentioned, the word “open” itself is often a moving target. So I want to quickly give some context to how I interpret open. David Wiley wrote in April that whether you are talking about OER, open access, open source, etc. They all involve two things:

  1. Free access.
  2. A formal grant of rights and permissions normally reserved by the original creator.

This implies open as an end product. So I’ll go ahead and say I see open as an end product less interesting. Open as a space that can produce open products: I find much more interesting. I’m equally weird though in that I don’t necessarily blindly subscribe to open pedagogy. I’m also less interested in open as a pedagogical strategy than I am open as a digital environment for situated learning, communities of practice, and identity construction. For me, much like how Lave and Wenger positioned communities as practices, it’s much more of a learning theory than a pedagogical practice.

Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytical viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning.

– Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning : Legitimate Peripheral Participation

At OU we’ve tried to position our Domain of One’s Own project, OU Create, as a space to be inhabited (or in contrast—not inhabited, maybe abandoned). Yes, it fits the definition of free access and of specific permissions. But it doesn’t have to.

I often go into classrooms to lead demonstrations on how to use our domain platform (and I do want to call it a platform and highlight that because I’ll come back to that point later), and I’ll tell the students what it means to register a domain. That’s it yours. That you own it. That you own the data. And you can take it with you after this class, after you graduate, or not. Long term, it’s your garden to tend to and you can decide whether you want to.

And often I’ll get a student who wants to contest me on the issue. Do we really own this? Does this mean I can do with it what I want? Can I decide whether it’s public or private? Etc.

And the answer to all of those questions is yes. What’s interesting is that I’ve never had a student ask about ownership of their textbook or ownership of their LMS course.

As an institution, OU Create has lent us the opportunity to talk about what does it mean to give students their data. How do we define data and how do we support that notion of taking it? What obligation do we have to help them to protect the data? What do we mean when we say we respect a students privacy? How do we support free speech?

I want to be clear and say that I’m not trying to say that domain of one’s own is the best and only solution for having these conversations. In the same way that I believe forcing someone to stand for a pledge to a flag defeats the purpose of a pledge to a flag, I believe requiring someone to own their digital identity defeats the point of ownership as ownership is a choice. Openness is simply the ingredients in which someone is afforded the opportunity to make that choice.

Misinformation and Platforms

But as someone who is often thinking critically about the types of virtual spaces we require our students to enter, I think this moment in time is a better wake up call than ever to reconsider those spaces—including the open ones. I don’t think anyone was surprised to hear that Facebook and Google have been required to turn over Russian-linked data to the federal government for investigation. It’s been reported recently that YouTube, Tumblr, and even Pokemon Go also turned over data. Shame on you if you didn’t see that one coming.

As both a faculty member and practitioner in journalism, I care deeply about these issues, specifically fake news, and have found Mike Caulfield and his work on digital polarization to be a canary in a coal mine. Mike has recently argued, while citing a Stanford History Education Group study, that the issues involved in disinformation extend well beyond the concept of fake news. The black and white argument is there’s hoax sites and “real” news. But there’s a large grey area. Intention is much harder to recognize, pull apart, and understand. As Mike said at 10:30am, in quite possibly the quickest citation ever, the problem is we are all vulnerable to charges of biasness.

I’ve been thinking recently about how we begin to apply these analysis techniques used for evaluating information or disinformation and apply them to platforms. What metrics should be using to evaluate OU Create as a platform? In recognizing not all open is good and closed is bad, that’s its much messier than that, how do make sure we are continuing to be critical of OU Create knowing that it’s ultimately still just a platform for data creation and possibly dissemination.

As I find the conversation in the OpenEd community start to concentrate around platforms–specifically OER textbook platforms–I want to ask to what standards are we holding these platforms accountable? Further, how can students evaluate these tools and the company’s practices and intentions?

One website I often show my students is Terms of Service; Didn’t Read. This site is a community collaboration that seeks to offer both easy to read explanations of the Terms of Services for popular sites like Google and YouTube (and even gives it a letter grade!). Here’s some of the questions they are trying to uncover:

  •      Do you control the copyright of your content on this platform?
  •      Can your content be removed at any time without prior notice?
  •      Do they monetize your data for third parties?
  •      Is your content permanently deleted if you delete it?
  •      Do they contribute their developments as open source projects?
  •      Can the terms be changed at any point without notice?

These are indeed some of the right questions and are really helpful. Unfortunately for my own need, they’ve only gone deep into a few platforms, a lot of their findings are inclusive, and very few have overlap with edtech.

In 2012, Audrey Watters develop The Audrey Test, a set of yes or no questions for edtech products that goes beyond TOSDR to include some of the questions more specific to education

  •      Do you work closely with instructors and students to develop your product?
  •      Do you offer data portability to students?
  •      Do you offer an API?
  •      Do you meet accessibility standards?
  •      And, finally, do you have a revenue strategy that involves something other than raising VC money?

I like that last question because it does get us closer to understanding the intent of the company in developing the platform (Note: Part 2 of the test is equally valuable). Now I want to tread lightly here knowing that we have many attendees this year that are either looking to give or receive funding. I don’t mean to say external funding is bad, but I don’t also want to say it’s always good. What I do believe is that it’s really helpful when organizations that receive funding are open and transparent about what they’ve received, who they received it from, what the funders intentions are, how that money will be utilized, etc.

I bring up this conversation because when the revenue model for the web is inherently either selling content, advertising, or a mix of both, these questions help inform what happens to student’s data and the topic of this conversation. And as much as I was to speak towards DoOO with rhetoric such as student agency and digital identity, all of these ideas hinge on just that–data.

I want to end with a few recommendations:

  1. As a community, we need a more comprehensive strategy for how we evaluate open and OER platforms. It has to extend beyond access to permissions to include business model, growth model, and intent, but am still not certain what that comprehensive list looks like. One example is the live annotation of Slack’s Privacy statement that was led by Kristen Eshleman and Bill Fitzgerald.
  2. We need to continue to be willing to be critical of those within our community and we need to allow others to be critical of our own work. Caulfield also told us we all have biases. And for when our own biasnesses fail–and they fail–we need to support those beyond the institutions whose critical analysis of our practices is necessary. At this point, there’s really only one person and that’s Audrey Watters and she’s such a much needed voice. So please support her.
  3. Last, I want to echo some of the comments we heard in David Bollier‘s keynote: the conversation needs to extend beyond end-products like open source, open websites, open textbooks, to be thinking about what I was referring to as “open as a situated learning space” or what he refers very wisely refers to as the commons.

Featured Image: “Platform” by Martin L is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Croom: The Font

Yes, that’s right. I’ve now developed a typeface based on my handwriting. If you are looking for a very hastily written, chicken scratch type of font, may I suggest this option.

I got this idea right before #Domains17. The great Bryan Mathers developed the poster and I had asked him for a high resolution copy so we could print some. I’ve been a fan of Bryan Mathers’ hand-written, visual thinking style for some time and was quite surprised to find out that what I thought was hand drawn was actually a custom developed typeface. On top of his creativity, the fella has smarts! (Sorry Bryan if I just gave away your secret!) Given my inability to come up with a new idea myself coupled with a predisposition towards design resistance, I decided I needed one too.

You might be asking why someone would go to the lengths to do this. I’ve always been intrigued by digital note taking for some time because I like having a digital record of my thoughts, but I’ve never been able to convert over to digital note taking because my handwriting is very small and thin. It doesn’t convert well to a stylus, so that’s always been out of the question.

But I also find type to be interesting and deeply personal. As design as progressed to a user-centered approach with templated ways for humans (what Amber Case calls the templated self) to work through and process content, design (type included) has, in fact, became more boring. Designers have wised up and realize that hard-to-read typefaces don’t bode well for keeping readers on a page. And then Microsoft came in with their flat design operating system all the while laughing at Apple whose design aesthetic, referred to as skeuomorphism, was still all wood grains and gradient buttons and shininess. All the sudden every student in my class tells me they are such a big fan of minimalistic design.

Source: Cleveroad

Well I have tell you that I agreed with Steve Jobs, who continued to advocate for Apple apps to look like real objects. I loved the bookshelf wood grain to iBooks and the green felt on Game Center. Maybe it’s because I’m often overly nostalgic or maybe it’s because it’s a reminder that there is a world beyond these machines. Or maybe it’s just because limiting your options to a handful of san serif fonts feels boring and overtly Western.

The beauty of the web–it’s ability to be inherently flexible, shapeable, and machine readable–means that the end-user can consume the content how it sees fit. It gives you syndication and “reader view” and aggregator apps. But it can also strip it of cultural contexts like the original author’s intended design choices.

For example, a WordPress post often comes along with a Featured Image at the top of the post. This image address is not natively part of the information built into the RSS feed and, thus, you wouldn’t see the image unless the image also existed within the post itself.

I’m not trying to gloss over that, but I do feel that I should leave it to smarter people and more elegant writers than myself to write about how flat design et al is colonizing the web (though it’s not like three dimensional buttons weren’t), and I’ll just say that this font is an attempt to, specifically, make my digital presence uniquely myself. Onward with the process.

Within a few minutes of looking for how to make my own font, I found an online app that does it for you. You print out the equivalent of a bubble sheet and write in your letters.

This page can be scanned in via a smartphone to the webapp and are then converted (via magic) into a font file. If you look really closely at the photo above you can see very light lines which are supposed to represent the baseline and the cap height. I was supposed to write really big and it was also recommended that I use a felt pen. As you can you see, I did neither. I wanted the font to best mimic my natural writing style which is most often done with a thin Uni-ball Signo 207 and written very, very small and often hastily. Luckily for me, Calligraphr allows you to increase the font up to 275% (you can also adjust character spacing).

Next, because I also don’t write in a straight line, I had to go in and individually adjust the baselines so that I wouldn’t get the wave effect  when I typed it out.

To integrate it into this website, I found a plugin called Use Any Font and uploaded the OTF file that Calligraphr spit it and proceeded assigned it to all H1 and H5 tags.

And it looks like this:

This quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Adam rules.

Pretty neat! As you can still tell, it’s fairly small. But, hey, I ain’t no 12 point kind of guy. But can you imagine this being the only font on adamcroom.com and what a different type of experience of that may be? I’m curious about how my work would be read (or not read) differently. Does seeing a digital representation of my handwriting change the way you empathize with my thoughts? Does it better convey that this space exists for thinking out loud? Or as a digital notebook? Let me ask you a different way…

Can you imagine this being the only font on adamcroom.com and what a different type of experience of that would be? I’m curious about how my work would be read (or not read) differently. Does seeing a digital representation of my handwriting change the way you empathize with my thoughts? Does it better convey that this space exists for thinking out loud? Or as a digital notebook?

Ok, so maybe it’s not a pretty sight, but it is an interesting thought experiment, if only as a tool to think about how our design choices reflect (or don’t reflect) our digital identity(s) and how some of that can be potentially reclaimed.

Road Trippin’ to O-HI-O

On Friday at 9pm myself and one of my best friends decided to buy tickets to a football game taking place on Saturday 13 hours away. An hour later we left and drove through the night and the next morning to get there.

My buddy Chris and I are no strangers to road trips. We’ve been pals since high school and have completed a number of them. For spring break our senior year, we drove to Austin, San Antonio, and North Padre Island. One time in college we randomly decided to drive to Kansas City over the weekend. We’ve made many o’ trips to Dallas for the annual Red River game between OU and Texas and for other reasons. When he was living in DC, we bussed our way to New York. When he was living in Boston, we road tripped to Portland, ME. And, in fact, the last football game we had attended together was the 2009 Orange Bowl in Miami, FL, which required a 24 hour straight drive to Orlando before heading down to South Beach. We’ve shared a lot of miles and football games.

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The desire to hop on the road and leave is real. Personally, I love it, and have a massive affinity for the Mother Road. 20+ hour drives are something I’ve experienced enough times to know what a physical toll it can take and it doesn’t scare me. Most of all, I enjoy the conversations that the road takes from you. Planes demand quietness and are usually too short to really elicit a meaningful conversation. The road is different. It demands that you contemplate. It’s organized loneliness. An incredible bonding experience.

If you don’t follow college football (spoiler alert) we won. Several times while driving to Columbus, Chris and I debated if we were beginning a death march, so it was a nice to leave this one the victor.

I wrote a year ago about Ben Scragg came down from Ohio State and stayed at our house. We talked many times about returning the favor and coming to Columbus, but it never felt quite in the cards being that the Fall semester is rather busy travel-wise and I didn’t want to put another trip in the middle of myself and the family. If Chris and I had not had our wives basically pushing us out the door to go, we would have been watching the game at home. They are the real MVPs.

Ben was kind enough to let us park at his house and, though he wasn’t in town, he wrote an extensive email of things to do and sites to see, which helped immensely. I have to say I was incredibly impressed with Columbus, both campus and beyond. First, I wasn’t aware of how big their downtown area was. Campus appears to be off to the side and has it’s own economy. There’s an incredible amount of retail and housing space built around the campus. It feels like student-centric housing–both on and off campus–stretches for days.

The campus is sprawling and gorgeous. OSU is known (at least I imagine) for a large amount of intersecting sidewalks which I want to believe create a nice amount of serendipity for student interactions. Ben had mentioned checking out the library, who’s centerpiece is this large display of exposed stacks.

We headed towards the football field to grab drinks and I witnessed tailgating on a scale I’ve never seen before. With a stadium that can hold 110,000 bodies, it’s safe to say there’s just a lot of people. The majority of OSU fans we interacted with were very welcoming. The question I received the most was, “Are you really from Oklahoma?” I’m curious as to why this was asked. Was the assumption that outsiders never visit or that Oklahomans never leave? Either way, I was happy to explain myself.

The stadium itself was a true sight to be seen. We entered “the horseshoe” from an area called the rotunda. You feel like you are in Rome as you look up at the unpainted, concrete double-decker structure.

We were fortunate enough to be sitting amongst friends and enemies. The assumption when you buy seats to an away game is that you’ll be surrounded by fans of the home team. Fortunately, Oklahoma travelled well, and we were never left to defend ourselves. The best conversation was with a man behind us who, despite being decked out in Ohio State gear, was rooting for the Sooners. An Ohio native, his daughter had actually opted to study musical theatre at OU her freshman year before returning back to Ohio to study veterinary medicine. He said he fell in love with Norman when they visited and had planned to retired here until his daughter moved back home.

After the game and ended and the flag was planted, we unsuccessfully looked for some buckeye candy to take back to the family before heading back home. The worst stretch of the drive was ahead of us as we hadn’t slept more than an hour between us both in the last 36 hours. Night driving on a low tank of energy is never recommended. Chris drove and I dozed off a handful of times before we finally stopped near Indianapolis to catch an hour of shut eye.

The game was great and was only surpassed by the conversations. We are both admittedly terrible at forcing conversation, but it comes very natural to both of us given that we’ve experienced a lot of life together. As the saying goes, we’ve seen each other at our best and worst. As I get older, I am no longer taking for granted the opportunities to spend lengthy amount of times with good friends as they become fewer and farther between. Our friendship could have been fully put on ice after college, but we’ve always been intentional about staying in touch (and have even had the chance to work together twice at OU).

So my advice is to find that friend and go on three day road trip where you don’t sleep. It’s worth every penny and life is short.

Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?

I had the pleasure of enjoying three life events yesterday:

  1. I witnessed a (partial) solar eclipse that was (for the contingent US) 38 years in the making .
  2. The first day of classes and thus my first official day as an Assistant Professor for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
  3. I turned 30.

I’ve started a “new”ish role where I now have a split appointment: Director of the Office of Digital Learning and the aforementioned faculty appointment. I still am kind of in shock when I look at my now double-sided business card.

I’ve written before about how I somewhat stumbled into academia. While this wasn’t exactly my long term goal, it could have been had I had the appropriate level of confidence. Anybody who knew me as a student or knows me now knows how deeply passionate I am for higher learning. As a native Oklahoman, I know how few routes there are for socioeconomic mobility there are few Oklahomans, and I still firmly believe that’s institutions like mine exist to fulfill that opportunity for our students. It certainly has for me and it’s what drives me every day. Education has a big role to play in fixing what I often see is wrong and unjust in my state.

I’ve said multiple times that my three years of teaching in Gaylord College has been the single best professional experience. It makes me better in all areas as they relate to understand the roles and needs of faculty, what good face-to-face and online teaching looks like, and empathy towards students. My classroom has played the paradoxical role of both my routine escape and laboratory. I’ve always encouraged my team to teach if given the opportunity because there is simply no better way to understand teaching than to teach. That opportunity has allowed me to grow and shape this one-man show into a small-but-mighty department of incredibly intelligent and hard-working designers, technologists, and creatives who have to deal with me. One agenda item I have is continuing to see both the faculty and staff roles as not conflicting but symbiotic and to see where that relationship leads.

I’m not one to focus too much on personal accomplishments, but I’ll be honest and say that I’m soaking it up for all it’s worth. I attended OU’s New Faculty Orientation, despite the fact that CTE runs the event itself and I’m fully aware of the resources that exist for faculty. But why not?

I’m also enjoying faculty meetings at Gaylord College and getting the opportunity to think about the future of our programs and how they can be improved. I’m quickly learning how teaching is only a small fraction of the ways faculty can positively impact an institution.

Beyond my professional life, I’m also shutting the books on a decade, which gives me an opportunity to reflect on life in general. Eight years ago, I spent my birthday in the absolute beautiful city Missoula, Montana, as I was touring in a band and partially living out of a van (my wife and I bought a minivan last week and I joked that I feel like this decade started and ended in a van). I always think back fondly of that specific show and how welcoming it was. We had just finished a run of dates on the west coast making our way from SoCal up to Seattle. Big market shows are so different because you are competing with so many different entertainment opportunities. And then you play shows like Missoula or Carney, Nebraska, where kids just show up because that’s just what they do on the weekends. They are true scenes and you get the opportunity to be a part of that. Some strange force has kept me planted in middle America and I’m thankful for that.

I’ve also became a husband and a father–the two most important roles I have in life. Nothing has made me understand both selfishness and sacrifice quite like these two changes. I grew up in house full of boys and baseball teams. If there has been one big personality difference over the last ten years, it’s that I’m a much softer person. I think about all the big and small special moments I’ve been able to enjoy spending time with them. Sharing parenting moments with my wife is like sharing a million new life experiences you could have never imagined.

Last, I’ve also lost. I’ve lost best friends and grandparents and I’ve seen families torn apart and relationships end. I’ve witnessed tragedy and darkness and inequality and suffering. I’ve came to know the hard truths of our world. So it must also be said that this decade has shown me the fragility of life.

Still, I’m one to not meander in one spot too long. I’ve already walked my fair share of roads and believe the best is still ahead. My favorite album of the year so far happens to be from The Menzingers and the opening track really resonated with me. The song is about the struggle to let go of your youthful ways and repeats the line, “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” It’s a fantastic song. Really, check it out.

I don’t know my answer to The Menzingers just yet, but I’ve never exactly lived my life by plotting too far in advance. For now, I’m just going to be thankful that I’ve been privileged enough to live a lot of life.

I was listening to a recent On Being episode recently with danah boyd, who tells a really great story about her brother who was into computers and introduced her to the web:

He showed me different online bulletin boards, and all of a sudden I realized that this computer was made out of people. And the computer became much more interesting to me, once it was made out of people.

I, too, feel made out of people. I’ve had a real stroke of luck of a sequence of mentors who put faith in me even when I wouldn’t have. Similarly, I’ve been able to observe so countless number of incredible people in both my life and my field who have help shape my perspective. So thank you for being a part of it and thank you for allowing me to indulge myself for just a bit.

A sophisticated heat beam called a “laser”

For the past four years, I’ve assisted with OU’s annual Deans’ Retreat with both design and organization. The retreat brings together over all of our academic college deans and the Provost’s Office for a couple day event structure around vision casting for the year, learning from each other, and team building. For the past three years, attendees have been broken up into teams of five or six and had them compete for an overall prize.

This year’s theme was called Captains and Commanders and lent itself wellfor all kinds of punny nautical references. For the grand prize, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize the OU Innovation Hub which opened up last year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to make it down there, but after reading a blog post from Terri Cullen, one of our education faculty members (who–by the way–is on a blogging tour de force this summer), I was itching for a reason to use it.

One of the tools available in the fabrication lab at the OU Innovation Hub is a laser cutter. I set my sights on taking logo’s Adobe Illustrator file and etching it onto the side of Yeti tumbler. I wanted to do a prize that felt rewarding but wasn’t too pricey and achievable from a design perspective. The pen look of the logo really called out to me about wanting to be etched (etch? cut? burn? I have yet to understand the correct verb here). So etching it was.

2017 Logo

First, I’ll say that it felt cool to just be hanging out with the students who use the I-Hub. What’s nice about the laser cutter is that you can define the type of material, so while I had always imagined laser cutters as a way to turn wood into coasters and ways to personalize Yeti’s, the students were showing me all different types of use cases. One student was cutting pieces of cloth to make backpacks. Another had designed a full Sooneropoly board. The students were thinking WAY more creative than I was with my silly little aluminum cups.

I laid the logo out on an Illustrator canvas the size of the machine and then converted it from CMYK to RGB.

Next we prepped the cups by spraying a metal marking laser spray. In all honesty, I just took their word for it that this would make it look better. I default to the experts here.

Next, we added a rotor to the laser cutter and measured the circumference of the cup so the machine knew exactly when to turn the cup as it cut it. Again, a piece of the puzzle I would have been missing had I not had excellent help. As it started, it looked like this:

You can set laser cutters to either go at a slow or fast pace. We did the first cup on slow mode and unfortunately it took about 26 minutes. On the second cup, we set it to super speed and was just under seven minutes per cup. Here’s a cup once it had completed the print:

Last thing we did was wash the cups off with regular soap and water and the soft side of a sponge as to not scratch the brushed aluminum finish.

Then you just rinse and repeat until you have your fleet o’ cups.

I want to thank Brandt Smith and his student workers in the fabrication lab for helping me with this project. They made it almost too easy for me and I was able to get out of there way. I’m going to go ahead and call my shot that I’ll be back. My eyes are fixed on building a guitar this year. All I need to learn is everything.

A Web Diet: Converting WordPress Sites Over to Static Sites

Over the years, my main course web project, PR Pubs, has became one sprawling beast. For the most part, people know prpubs.us as the homepage for the course, but I haven’t actively used that space for a few semesters. Thus, in May I made it one of my summer goals to rework prpubs.us in such a way that both narrates and preserves the history of the course and the space. The story of Pubs is an epic one with many twists and turns. Once upon a time, it started as a blog feed, morphed into a full open course, vacationed for a summer on the Jekyll CMS, and is now more integrated with Canvas, our LMS. Nothing really captures this story well and for good reason: I’ve tried counting and I believe it’s existed in eight separate places since 2014. In fact, out of all the spaces, my own personal blog is probably the best representation of the evolution:

I got interested in archiving a bit more while visiting Middlebury College last Fall where they’ve started a project out of their library to preserve student web work at the request of students. I should also mention that Kin Lane has been a major inspiration in helping me see the benefit of static sites. The point being that I’ve known good and well that no CMS is in for the long term. I’m a data pack rat so I’m always thinking about the long term.

At the heart of every course site has been the blog feed powered by the FeedWordPress plugin. Students are writing between 250-500 total blog posts per class per semester. I’ve systematized the process of preparing for the next batch of PR Pubsters. Every semester, I clone a clean version of my syndication hub which is already preloaded with theme, plugins, and custom code that I need to make it work. Over the past couple years, I’ve probably done this a dozen or so times across various courses and thus end up with a ton of WordPress instances.

Eventually, the semester ends and these 250-500mb spaces of content become dormant. There are tasks that I’ve done in the past to close a course site which basically involves unsubscribing to student feeds. But recently I’ve decided that for better preservation purposes, I would rather have a fully static HTML version of each course site. In a lot of ways, it feels like I’m putting it sites on a diet. “Why consume all of those data-dense databases?! Stick your macronutrients: HTML, CSS, and JS! Get rid of your addiction to Cigawordpress!”

What are the upsides to doing this?

  1. You know no longer need WordPress or any other CMS to be the engine of the site. The biggest benefit is that you are less vulnerable to becoming infected through an out-of-date theme or plugin. If you aren’t actively updating the site, you are making yourself susceptible to a lot of mean people on the web.
  2. You can host it on any type of web server.
  3. You can even just keep it locally on your computer and access it via your web browser.
  4. Because of it’s portability, it’s much easier to share a static site as an open education resource (OER). You could even host them on Github allowing people to create forks of the site if they so choose.

Jim Groom turned me on to a tool called SiteSucker a few months back because that guy is always thinking a step ahead of me… SiteSucker does exactly what I laid out earlier. And Jim lays out a strong argument:

I don’t pay for that many applications, but this is one that was very much worth the $5 for me. I can see more than a few uses for my own sites, not to mention the many others I help support. And to reinforce that point, right after I finished sucking this site, a faculty member submitted a support ticket asking the best way to archive a specific moment of a site so that they could compare it with future iterations. One option is cloning a site in Installatron on Reclaim Hosting, but that requires a dynamic database for a static copy, why not just suck that site? And while cloning a site using Installatron is cheaper and easier given it’s built into Reclaim offerings, it’s not all that sustainable for us or them. All those database driven sites need to be updated, maintained, and protected from hackers and spam.

Side note: Isn’t it always a let down when you are trying to write a blog post and you realize that someone has already made your argument and in a much more succinct fashion I might add? That Groom! But, nevertheless, I’ll continue on in hopes of imparting a little bit more wisdom…

Sitesucker grabs your site contents and converts it into HTML, CSS, and JS. You can also set how many links deep you want to pull content. For me, I wanted to grab all my students blog posts, but I didn’t necessarily want the links they were referencing in their blog posts, so I went three levels deep (front page, pages, blog posts).

What are the downsides?

  1. Because it is a static site, it can no longer make dynamic calls. Dynamic calls are when pieces of the web resource are being constructed when the URL is first called. This includes comments, searches, and other organization features like categories and tags that are native to WordPress. Now SiteSucker will generate a copy of these dynamic calls and turn them into static, but after that they will cease to function. None of the content disappears but it can’t be regenerated, so no new comments. This isn’t a big deal for me considering the sites are completely dormant, but it does sting a bit to lose search functionality.
  2. You need to understand basic HTML and CSS to make any significant edits to the site after it’s in it’s static state. Remember, you longer have access to the nifty WordPress WYSIWIG editor. This is where the OER argument gets tricky. Yes, it’s more portable, but potentially less editable depending on the user’s knowledge.

John Stewart was kind enough to test it for me with prpubs.us and it worked like a charm. I then went and grabbed static versions of the other course sites followed by hitting that scary “delete” button in Installatron which made the WordPress instances go away.

Last, I redesigned the prpubs.us front page to better tell the historical narrative of the course. There you can find images of past versions, full information on the technologies that powered each, and links to the archived versions.

Hopefully this is a much more helpful resource for visitors and student alike. Either way, I feel like the state of the health PR Pubs is at an all-time high. Here’s to surviving.