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Searching for Student Voices at #OpenEd16

I’m currently on a plane headed back to Oklahoma from OpenEd16. OpenEd brought the end of my pause from social media and a rejuvenation thanks to fellow attendees. Over the two OpenEd’s I’ve attended, Vancouver and now Richmond, the community has brought out the best of me and I deeply appreciate that.

The last activity that I participated in at the conference was facilitating a student panel on March’s Indie EdTech gathering and Indie EdTech projects including BYU’s APIs, Georgetown’s HowToCollege, and the EdSurge Independent, all of which seek to increase student agency. As Erika Bullock has previous said about the Indie EdTech conversation:

The room was full of professors, administrators, undergrad and grad students, techies, activists, entrepreneurs, and the conversations we had were engaging and challenging because of the many voices contributing throughout the weekend.

One thing I deeply appreciated about OpenEd this year was the student experience being at the center of the keynotes. Gardner Campbell focused on learning, insight, awe, and wonder. Sara Goldrick-Rab spoke about how the costs for education are simply too high, our financial aid systems are too complex/not meeting needs leading students to work multiple jobs, drop classes, and often live without adequate housing and food.

Both keynotes struck me in very different ways. Gardner took me on a journey of thinking what is possible in learning through struggle and insight. Sara was frankly a gut punch. I left her talk feeling helpless. And then I started to look around only to realize that the very voices that I would hope we could see amplified through open education simply aren’t represented in our conversations.

I’ve spent the last few months occasionally working alongsisde–not above–students. The HowToCollege project brought me to Georgetown for a couple of weeks this summer where I worked with Erika Bullock. Andrew Rikard and I started (and stopped) producing a podcast. Both attended the IndieEdTech gathering last March.

As I was attending a session that was led by my colleagues John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler on gamified faculty learning communities (GOBLIN), an interesting question was asked about how you could possibly develop games at the quality level of the video games “are students are used to playing and expect” without spending millions of dollars on graphics.

A couple of agreeing questions trickled in. And then from the back of the room Erika answered the question by saying that she had a class project where they created games out of pen and paper based off of film narratives as a class assignment.

My my, how far off we can get. Video games ONLY if we can make them with EA Sports-level graphics that can be viewed on a virtual reality headset. But this happens so often because so often we put words in the mouths of students. Students only want virtual reality right? Because native!

But I digress. Unfortunately, this was the first I had heard a student at least identify as a student and give a perspective.

In fact, when Erika first arrived, we were grabbing lunch and she looked at me and said “Are their any other undergraduates here at all?” My guess is there were but we didn’t give them enough space alongside are conversations about open pedagogy (teaching) and textbooks (which, let’s be honest, starts with faculty).

By the way, I’ve come to recognize these more by hearing colleagues like Andrew Rikard advocate for this. It’s worth too recognizing the way he has opened many people’s eyes, including mine, to student voice and #stuvoice.

How could we partner with students to begin to tackle the very clear problems that Sara laid out about higher education? Where are they at our conferences? Where is their voice in our conversation?

So I want to press the panic button immediately. Let’s design course materials (I really hate to call what she does a textbook) alongside our students like Robin DeRosa is doing. Let’s take all the data about our students that we are so preciously holding onto and put it in the public for students and others to build on top of like BYU is doing. Let’s give them spaces to house their own data and build digital identities like Domains of One’s Own. Let’s fund student-developed projects like the mentorship platform project Erika is leading. Let’s have students have cross-institutional discourse about higher education like Andrew Rikard is doing with the EdSurge Independent. Let’s submit proposals so that we can present alongside our students. I promise. It’s the most rewarding presentation you’ll ever give.

Last, let’s stop treating them like lower tied citizens of our community and let’s treat them like equals. Because they deserve it. Let’s recognize how we are minimizing their voice in our conversations. And then let’s fix it.

What “open” will we get at #OpenEd16?

A year ago, I wrote a post about scraping the OpenEd abstracts. As the conference unfolded, there was a sizeable conversation around the amount of “OER-ness” happening at OpenEd. In a subsequent post, I provided a chart which showed how many abstracts contained the word “OER” in which I concluded that this wasn’t a new development for the conference. Below I’ve updated the chart to include this years data.

Year Total Sessions Abstracts Containing “OER” Percent “OER” Abstracts Containing “Textbook” Percent “Textbook”
2012 69 42 60.87 9 8.74
2013 103 67 65.05 27 26.21
2014 100 83 72.17 32 27.83
2015 123 84 68.29 39 31.71
2016 161 115 71.43 57 35.40

According to abstracts, which is obviously all I have to work off of at the moment, it’s very possible that we’ll see the same level of OER discussion that we’ve see over the passed few years. Also consistent is an 11.6% increase in the word “textbook.”

Now it’s important to say that I don’t present this data to necessarily make much a statement about OER but rather to continue to conversation. In fact, I do this out of curiosity more than anything else. I’ve pulled a few of the top abstract terms (plus some) and done a similar simple count.

Count Percentage
Number of Abstracts 161
Open 141 87.58%
OER 115 71.43%
Students 91 56.52%
Learning 88 54.66%
Faculty 66 40.99%
Support 65 40.37%
Access 60 37.27%
Textbooks 57 35.40%
Research 53 32.92%
Open educational resources 51 31.68%
Adoption 42 26.09%
Data 36 22.36%
License 23 14.29%
Pedagogy 18 11.18%
Open Access 17 10.56%
Open Source 14 8.70%
MOOCs 11 6.83%
Open Pedagogy 9 5.59%
Analytics 8 4.97%
Theory 8 4.97%
Open Content 5 3.11%
Open Data 3 1.86%

Abstracts can certainly steer the conversation, but they don’t necessarily dictate them. Inevitably, the conversations will be whatever you wish it to be. Whatever “open” you feel like you prefer, I encourage you to wave your flag proudly. Also, if you would like to look at the data set, here’s the CSV file. You can also play with the data on Voyant Tools.

Featured Image: Open by Late Night Movie via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

Muhlenberg is the Word

A handful of blog posts have came out recently on Muhlenberg’s Domain of One’s Own project bergbuilds including a posts from Lora Taub (post) and Tim Clarke (post) at Muhlenberg and Lauren Brumfield (post) at Reclaim Hosting.

Lora’s post encouraged folks to get involved in this years OLC Solution Design Summit, which is actually where I first met Lora. I wrote this in April:

If they pull off their idea (I’m hoping someone from their team will write a post), it will be one of the more innovative approaches I’ve seen in holistically engaging a community in domains and digital literacy.

I continue to stand by that statement. Muhlenberg is utilizing their domains as a central space for students to think broadly about digital learning and digital scholarship as a student’s pre-orientation experience. From what I remember, students even move in to their dorm room early to partake in the week-long session

As someone who’s graduate experience was deeply impacted by a similar experience and as someone at a university that’s about to launch two residential colleges, I’m thinking more and more about how these types of experiences. Too often, digital is positioned as in conflict with the residential experience. I don’t want to hear another person lament about students learning at home in their pajamas, as if that’s vitriolic. I don’t want to hear another false argument about digital natives. I would rather see us explore, together, head-on the opportunities and challenge that digital space brings. If anything, let’s embrace the way that the two worlds have deeply merged.

I do believe that a good place to start building respect with the students by offering and supporting them with their own space. What better way to fully actualize the digital verison Virigina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own then a Muhlenberg-type of project? From Lora:

In fact, our tagline for this entire pre-orientation experience was, “A Dorm & A Domain” — emphasizing that a Muhlenberg experience is as much about staking out an online presence as it is setting up a dorm room or learning your way around campus.

Both Lora and Tim both touched on the ways which they’ve felt supported by the broader domains community as they’ve launched this project. Tim had these nice things to say:

To inform these efforts, we reached out for assistance to Adam Croom who kindly shared his afternoon with us fielding far ranging questions. It’s difficult to quantify Adam’s helpfulness, but it’s essetial to try. At the close of our online meeting, Adam encouraged us to continue to reach out, even offering to provide a clone of Create OU Support for us to customize. Adam’s efforts to work openly and to share everything from support documentation to learning community reading lists and curriculums will save us at Muhlenberg weeks, perhaps months, of effort. But more important, Adam’s, and Martha’s, and Tim’s, and Jim’s, and Lauren’s engagement with us will make our efforts better.

I have to say I really like this idea of working together. I’m always the first to say that what we are doing is, if anything, the opposite of innovative. One of the best things about the community is how much everybody wants to see the other person succeed. Create is only what it is because UMW is what it is and Emory, Davidson, BYU, VCU, Middlebury, CSU Channel Islands, Georgetown and many others are what they are. And the different ways in which institutions have reimagined it for their specific community is really, really gratifying to watch. It’s like, oh I don’t know, the web; small pieces loosely joined.

Some day I’ll probably stop gushing about domains and the web. But, until then, I’ll take my people over anybodys!

This Week On OU Create is back.

Last year, we launched a blog titled and a similar Twitter account @OU_Create to highlight some of our favorite OU Create content, mostly blogs from OU students and faculty, thanks to the good work of Anoopdeep Bal. I’m not sure I even know the full details, but the best answer is that we focused our highlighting attention on the Creaties and moved the This Week blog to the backburner. Then in July we had some staff turnover that caused us to hault the account altogether. BUT we are back on the horse!

The Week from 10/14 – 10/20 on OU Create

The way that we do this is fairly simple. Every newly installed application gets plugged into our Community syndicator which runs on FeedWordPress. Though not every site has an RSS feed, we are currently syndicating 3,310 sites. We get these URLs by pulling them directly out of the Installatron database file and bulk subscribing to the newest posts. Then we read them (I use Reeder to do so), share our favorites in a Slack channel, and then John Stewart writes up a weekly roundup. Anddd that’s about it.

My thought is that the only way to know your community is to be of it and in it. We are proud to publicly offer a way to see the public work that exists within it as well. I’ve always liked to the think of OU Create as the best representation of a digital common area for the community and it’s fun tosee how people are still thinking up new ways to use the space.

For instance, Darren Purcell (who is has one of the most richest faculty OU Create spaces if I do say so myself) is using it in a freshman-level Geography class to teach students about mapping and GIS tool. I just saw a post today where Lexi McLane had used ArcGIS Online, a cloud-based mapping platform, to show high school graduation rates at a macro and micro level. It shows national, state, and regional (in fact her own hometown).

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 12.27.59 PM.png

Not only is it personally contextualized but she was able to start to understand the influence how race and economics affect graduation rates:

Through the maps in my story map I compare areas with lower rates to areas with lower incomes and see a clear trend. Also groups with higher averages such as white and asian groups, are typically associated with higher income groups. The maps in my story map also show higher incomes around counties with high graduation rates.
I was surprised to find that the school I graduated from had such a high graduation rate when drop outs seemed so normal throughout high school. Also my high school was primarily hispanic and economically disadvantaged, meaning it should have some of the lowest graduation rates based on the national statistics. However, in 2014 Olustee Public High School had a 95 % graduation rate, putting my high school above the national average. – Lexi McLane

Another project I saw pop up this semester is the OU Integration Business Core program. IBC is a set of four courses students take in which throughout the courses they do market research and launch a product. The profit generated is then donated to a local company. All of the companies have a WordPress landing page (they use an OU purchasing tool for actual orders) and two of the companies are using OU Create:


I’ve said this time and time again, but I love the flexibility of the web to serve such vastly different needs. Both of these projects fall widely out of the scope of a traditional eportfolio, our original idea for OU Create, but show the creative ways for which the technology can be exploited by the users. Oh, and support these IBC projects if you know what’s good for you!

DiscPress – A Vinyl WordPress Plugin

In March, I had mentioned wanting to sync my Discogs record collection with my domain. Then Tom Woodward built a WordPress plugin that essentially did that. Because he is Tom Woodward.

The plugin Tom built pulled the metadata of each record into the record collection into a Google Spreadsheet and then the plugin pulled the information from the sheet into a custom post type. For more, read Tom’s post on the technicalities.

This was a big leap though it had some reasonable limitations. For instance, you had to manually pull the records through a Google Script. Also Wordpress didn’t quite know what records already existed and which were new, so it was a bit messy when you tried to update your collection, usually syncing records two or three times.

Then today I got a blog comment from Andrea Facheris says that Discogs WordPress plugin, called DiscPress, has been released to work directly with the Discogs API.

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From the looks of it, it appears that the plugin went live a couple of weeks ago as someone recently posted the release on the Discogs forum:

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 1.13.41 PM.png

I fired up a new site to test it out and you can see it at

The first thing I noticed about the plugin is that, functionally, what is does is HIGHLY similar to Tom’s version without the Google Script/Spreadsheet middle man. It, too, creates a custom post type called “Records” and then pulls in the record meta data as a custom field. As a visual, I’m posting what the meta data for Sam Means’ 10 Songs record looks like on both versions of the plugin:

Tom’s plugin

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Discpress plugin

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 1.17.25 PM.png

Nearly the same data is being pulled except Tom’s pulls the year release (which I really like) and the Discpress pulls the release ID and the album artwork thumbnail. I’m not 100% certain, but you have to think that the work Tom did was highly influencial on this product. So great to see how someone  (again, I think) took the foundation he laid, built it out, and got it in the WordPress Plugin Directory.

The thumbnail is a really nice touch and something I really like (I had to manually pull them in on Tom’s version) but 150x150px just aren’t just high quality enough to display very well on the site, at least for my taste.

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The other major is that while it creates the custom post type, the permalink creates a 404 error and so you can’t visually see the details in any way that’s publicly consumable, which makes the plugin virtually unusable in it’s current state. (This has been fixed. Thanks Andrea for your recommendation here.)

But, I will say, I really LOVE how you can directly interact with the API from within WordPress and sync everything up automatically. This is a big improvement to the original project.



I’ll say that, for now, I’ll stick with Tom’s version but I’m excited to see if this one develops any further. But, beyond my neediness, these are the types of projects I’m really interested in. I now have a local copy of all the data that I’ve inserted into the Discogs community. I get to own and display that data in a highly flexible manner. We live in a world where these type of communities sprout up and then shut down all the time, so a tool like this, or Martin Hawksey’s Twitter Archive on Github Pages tool, make it easier for me to grab my data and secure it somewhere as my own personal historical record; some that means a lot to me. Tack on the domain as a piece of infrastructure to unify one’s sprawling personal data collection, and you can quickly see how I would get excited.

At some point, I’ll write more on this, but it does have me thinking again about edtech, student data, and how we build ways in which students can keep the data of their work they do while in school. If anyone has any examples, I’d love to see what tools are out there that allow students to tap into the applications API and extract that data into a usable form. My educated guess is that there are few.

A brief pause from social media.

For an undetermined amount of time, I’m going to be taking a break from most social media activity. Call it whatever you want: rest, recovery, therapy, need for a change of scenery, election fatique, information overload, a distraction. They are all correct.

Sometime this summer, I found myself becoming noticeably less involved in the conversation that is taking place on social media but have yet to take action on it. And then I saw a tweet from Tim Owens:

I don’t chalk mine up entirely to the polarization of the election (though it’s certainly one factor), but the idea of a break really resonated with me (plus I’ve become quite comfortable at doing what Tim advises in general).

As such, I have decided to take a bit of a media audit. I hope in doing so I can spend some time revisiting other forms of media that I’ve all but abandoned in recent years (magazines, for instance). To assist with these efforts, I’ll be literally blocking Facebook and Twitter via Terminal and deleting mobile apps. I’m also going to refresh the podcasts I listen to get a fresh perspective (feel free to send recommendations my way) as well as trying to make my way through a reading list I’ve had for some time.

I’ll still be writing here on my blog as I still need an outlet for reflecting on my life and work. Blog posts will also continue to automatically push to Twitter as well. The one exception that I’ll be making is that I’ll likely continue to check my RSS feed, which is mostly individuals.

If you need to reach out to me, the best way to do so would be via email, text, or my contact form. I should emphasize that this isn’t a pause from social–it’s just social media. I am still a big fan of you, people, people gathering, socializing, and overall merriment. Currently, there are no plans to become a hermit.

Featured image: stocksnap photo shared by Kyle Wong under the Creative Commons CC0 license.

Updated Look For The Dot Com

As a designer, I quickly fall into the trap of thinking my site looks tired. Unfortunately, I’ve written about this before (and before that) but both my personal site and course sites serve as spaces for experimentation as much as anything else.

Recent projects have had me focusing on designing small, nimble sites that run on very little. This is a bit more difficult on this space due to the nature of WordPress and its love of database calls, so my personal site has been the last space to get a refresh. Historically, I’ve done this about once a year, and the last iteration involved a premium theme called Readme, which is absolutely gorgeous but a bit too bulky for my current taste.

A WordPress hero of mine is Anders Noren who has designed more than his fair share of high quality WordPress themes that he has freely given away. Really, I don’t know how he does it. I try to follow what he’s doing closely though it seems like he’s now employed at a place where free themes are no longer the lion’s share of work. In June, he quietly put out there that he had built a starter theme, a lightweight theme for developers to build on top of. One of the things I always compliment WordPress on is it’s ability to be both simple and complex depending on the user’s desire. For example, when it comes to theme-ing a site, a developer can write all kinds of custom PHP pages that the platform will automatically recognize based off of its naming scheme. These include 404 pages, author pages, archive pages, category pages, front pages, etc. But if none of these exist, WordPress will default to the styling of index.php. As simple or as complicated as you want to make it, do so. This is called the WordPress hierarchy and is a great reference for how this works.


Anders latest theme is just that: one little index.php with a couple of necessary functional pages (comments, functions). And that’s it! If you want more, you gotta write it. My last theme had SIXTY different page options and SEVEN different CSS files (they broke up various screen resolutions into different stylesheets). This means for someone who likes to really fine tune and customize the look and feel of their site, there’s a lot of headache spent tracking down the appropriate page or stylesheet to make minimal changes. A premium theme can seem great for the amount of options that developers build in, but they can also be unbearably overwhelming.

So needless to say I’ve been ready to take the opposite approach. Rather than using a little slice of a big powerful theme, I’m now starting with a tiny theme and building up.


When Anders mentioned that he was going to release a 38kb theme file, I was more than intrigued, but I had heard very little since June. THEN a couple weeks ago he added to the end of a different blog post that the theme is still working it’s way through theme repository compliance but that he had gotten it close to their taste even though it was still a couple of months away (which gives me insight into why we don’t see new themes too often–what a nightmare of a process this must be). But, being the nice guy that he is, he went ahead and quietly dropped in a downloadable zip file of it in its current state.

So I started playing around on it. Because there’s only an index page, this means there is no way to distinguish the look and feel of the front page and a single post. I started first by writing a single.php that would serve single posts. Next, I actually cut out a lot of the index.php by swaping out the full post blog for a small excerpt of the post so you could find posts quicker, and then I added some styling to give the posts themselves a card effect.


Card Styles. I’ve written previously about how to create this look for those who are interested.

Last, I added a header. I’ve always been a fan of Audrey Watters sites and, thanks to the fact that her sites are hosted on Github, I was able to see the code necessary to create the social media icons row (yay open source), so, yes, that part is completely ripped off and it’s a good thing. The icons are a free set called Font Awesome, which I was able to easily integrate into the theme (I ended up adding a couple extra icons in the cards themselves as well).


Site Header

All in all, I’m really happy with this one. If the last theme gave me a year, this one should do so as well. In fact, several of the things I enjoyed about the last one including color scheme, fonts, and overall aesthetic are still here. This is actually my favorite part; the identity didn’t change much, it just got a reboot. Gone are the file-size heavy, full-width featured images, shadow animations, and all the things that make it a really nice desktop experience. In exchange, I get a simple mobile-friendly (dare I say mobile-first?) approach to the blog that still looks top notch. AND, since it still hasn’t been publicly released, I guess I’m guaranteed to not see it being used everywhere for at least two more months :-)

Talking Digital Identity and Scholarship with Graduate Students

Yesterday I finished up the last installment of a six-week workshop series focused on assisting graduate students with understanding digital identity and the open web. I co-taught this with John Stewart who did much of the heavy lifting filling me for me a couple times when I wasn’t able to be available. This was also our first time to partner with the Clay Wesley in Graduate Student Life who was kind enough to organize, manage, and offer food for the event itself. I’ve spoken twice at their annual career development week and was humbled that the presentations were rated high enough to pique the college’s interest on expanding it into a more concerted effort.

The truth is a digital identity is not a tool or a website, and it can’t be fully actualized in a mere six weeks, but through the process of a building a website it can get folks started on a path and give them enough of knowledge to be armed with how to take ownership of their digital identity by giving them an environment where they are forced to put pen to paper. This fact was driven home quite well by Michael Thompson, who is our Director of Broader Impacts in the Office of the Vice President for Research, who, among other things, leads our faculty in workshops to help assist them in building and verbalizing their faculty identity. One of the comments he brought up multiple times was how identity is changing and fluid, which is so true. The more time I spend in this project, the more I see identity building as the opposite of a streamlined tech tool built to help you answer a pre-determined set of questions much like many social media profiles and e-portfolio solutions. The complexity of people demands flexibility and ownership.

The last week of the workshop was focused on digital scholarship. Digital scholarship is such a broad term and I wanted to pull examples of various ways of interpreting the notion of DS including how one’s own digital space(s) can reflect research, digital scholarship tools, digital and open-access journals, research group sites, and fully-fledged online research projects. It’s certainly nowhere near exhaustive but these are references I point to often. Below a brief summary of the sites we went over:

Laura Gogia – An example of a phenomenal recent PhD graduate site. Good example of leveraging a multitude of spaces for various identities and projects. is a landing page aggregation of work. Messy Thinking is her “thinking out loud” blog. Deconstructed Dissertation is her main research website. 

TAGS – Twitter archive to Google Sheet tool built developed and maintained by Martin Hawksey. – An annotation tool that can act as a layer on top of any public website. See this Guardian article for how an example of how Climate Feedback is utilize the tool as a way to be “a scientific reference to reliable information on climate change” within popular media.

Tableau – a visualization tool with a free offering for students. See Austin’s Teacher Turnover for an example of various ways structured data can be visualized for storytelling.

Jove – calls itself the “the world’s first and only peer reviewed scientific video journal.” An example of a digital version of traditional researcher as referenced in Martin Weller’s article

Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments – “an open-access, curated collection of downloadable, reusable, and remixable pedagogical resources for humanities scholars interested in the intersections of digital technologies with teaching and learning.” Hosted and openly edited on Github.

Inhabiting the Anthropocene – a group blog written by an interdisciplinary group of University of Oklahoma scholars interested in how humans have and continue to transform the Earth.

Community Informatics – an example of a research website. This research site began on OU Create and has since migrated off OU Create due to the faculty member now be located in Boston at Simmons College. This site is made up of a WordPress information page as well as an evolving wiki hosted that uses the application DokuWiki.

Situating Chemistry – a collaborative research database and map that investigates the sites where chemistry was practiced between 1760-1840 led by University of Oklahoma staff member and historian John Stewart. This project is built on the Drupal platform.

New Deal – an undergraduate research project at the University of Oklahoma utilizing the Omeka platform. For more information, see a more detailed blog post I previously wrote.

Digital Humanities Toolbox – A very well organized and much more exhaustive list of tools that one can use for projects including mapping, text analysis, audio, annotation, and research tools. Very applicable to non-humanities fields.

Featured image: flickr photo shared by renaissancechambara under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Finding Center: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Left and the Right

I’m coming off a whirlwind of a semester starting and that means I now have some extra time for blogging. This one is a quick summary of a talk I gave to an Art and Entrepreneurship class which is cross-listed between Art Theory & Criticism and Entrepreneurship and taught by Jonathan Hils, a sculpture by trade, and Jeremy Short, a professor of management and entrepreneurship, who is a good friend and excellent researcher (who, by the way, recently linked entrepreneurial optimism with business success).

Jeremy and I go back way back to my former life at the University of Oklahoma. Once upon a time, I started TEDxOU, an independently organized TED event, on our campus and Jeremy was, very literally, our first speaker and our first event. Jeremy was the first professor I knew to write a CC licensed textbook (also happens to be a graphic novel) and the first person I gave a national conference presentation with. I owe a lot to this guy. Jeremy was also the first faculty at OU to be interested in doing a MOOC and we bootstrapped that project via WordPress at (now archived at

Jeremy asked that I give a talk on event planning and organization and talk a little bit about the lessons I took away from doing TEDx events. This was a great opportunity to divert from edtech as well as try to pull a blast from the past in order to talk about how I came to doing what exactly I do (which is largely mysterious to all including myself). In fact, my former-former life as a full-time musician even came into play with this one (I’ve only really organized two things in my life: conferences and rock shows). So, in some respects, I’ve literally been an art-entrepreneur, if only for a brief moment, and as much as I try to hide it, these were some of my most formative experiences. As a marketer, the front lines are selling CDs and t-shirts (more importantly a culture and experience) to sixteen year old girls. It may or may not be related to the core part of the message on event planning, but I’m hopeful it atleast built some empathy with the students. I called the talk Finding Center: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Left and the Right (brains not wings).


Left and Right

I’ve got to be honest, it’s not the most fun activity; to put your past out there as “lessons learned” (particularly when you have moved past a former identity) but I did find it a bit therapeutic. My main hope was that students who might be in similar positions, who are trying to understand where art and creativity can be applied in a more corporate environment, or vice versa, can begin to relate and forge their own path.

Lesson 1: Create a diverse portfolio of experiences


This is high-school-me. It should come as no surprise that I’m holding a camera at the cusp of digital photography really becoming a commercial standard. I would categorize high-school-me as a tech geek. My high school activities mostly included building fan websites for bands that I liked as well working for the high school local public acccess channel creating and editing videos. This gave me my first actual professional opportunity in high school as an intern for Music Television (MTV) and I have an actual credit on a MTV docs production that was done at my high school.

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Once Upon a Prom

I decided to originally study broadcasting and electronic media and quickly moved to advertising when I realized that sounded more employable. I worked in student media in the production department for 3.5 of my 4 years at OU. While I worked for a centralized department, most of my work was on the newspaper and I spent many late nights spending in our proofs to the printer. This isn’t a numbered lesson, but you learn a lot when you are required to create a new product, literally, every single day. You learn a lot when you are the last one to touch a product with a circulation of 11,000. You occasionally end up in front page artwork.


Lol at writing about Facebook affecting grades

I also did marketing for a regional chain restaurant called Raising Canes and was a part of Adrian Peterson’s first professional athletic camp. My junior year of high school I interned with the Center for the Creation Economic Wealth based purely off of a recommendation of my friend Chris Shilling who said he couldn’t really explain what it was but I needed to do it. This was my first time fully understanding how I would apply my own skills of marketing to an actual entrepreneurial venture, which was to commercial a technology that helped treat polycystic kidney disease, the largest genetic disease in the world. In the span of the semester, we would raise $55,000 to move the technology further down the FDA pathway, and that technology getting ever so closer thanks to the determination of Dr. Doris Benbrook.

The random string of events can only be summarized by the fact that I was willing to create a body of work anywhere that felt loosely affiliated to what I was studying whether that meant creating newspapers, selling chicken fingers, or commercializing medical technologies (including, at one point, doing all three at the same time.) Not everyone is fortunate to get opportunities in areas that are in any way or shape related to their studies, so if you can cobble together work and opportunities come your way, take them.

My last semester at OU, I took an elective where I could host a radio show called The Lokl Hour. I decided my show would be about local music and used my PR saviness to actually get a local reporter to write about it. There are probably thirty of these shows a semester, so it’s still funny that anyone wrote about it or that it meant anything, but it would turn out to have a large impact on me personally. A band came to promote their first record. We decided that would do a live debut of the album in its entirety and an interview (I wish this was still online but the company that hosted the content deleted it).

I graduated and took my first salaried position later that summer. I wasn’t enjoying the position that much and spent a lot of time helping promote local/regional rock shows with a local promoter named Andy Loper. Loper also managed the band, knew I wasn’t super happy about the job I was in, and wanted to know if I wanted to go out on tour with the band for six weeks as a guitarist. This would required quitting my job. I tried out for the band on a Tuesday. I put in a two day notice on Wednesday and left for tour on Friday.


With The Rocket Summer.

Lesson 2: It’s completely possible to make a modest living with an identity that begins digitally

We were a band in the era of Myspace bands and we leveraged the heck out of that platform to get out our music and information about our band. I still believe that Myspace was one of the most beneficial platforms for musicians. It popularized streaming music by allowing people to add playlists to their individual sites. It was Spotify before Spotify and music was much more discoverable simply through your friends profiles. This is what allowed us to actually tour and this is where I first started to truly understand a simply lesson about digital identity. You can’t ignore platforms where your work can exist, particularly when you can create an audience for your work.

Lesson 3: Digital doesn’t mean less work and it doesn’t meaning abandoning the physical.

You don’t “go” to the web anymore, you live on it. That said, you live other places as well. Digital gave us a platform but it didn’t mean we didn’t abandon physical work. We still toured and if we had extra time we were likely to be found in the mall trying to convince people to listen to our album on our iPod and then buy our CD.

As a band, you are first and foremost a content creator, so we created content. For instance, when the holidays rolled around we released a Winter EP. Digital does, yes, allow for discovery but it also allows for understanding your audience and competition (Lots of bands were doing all of these strategies). But you quickly recognized how much a visual medium this space was. One thing we never skimped on was getting the right artist to do album artwork. Album artwork became your digital artwork and this is a campaign on the most basic level.


Animation of the ol’ Myspace page

But all of the best dreams eventually end. I stopped touring, worked a few different jobs, and began working at OU roughly two years after leaving the band. My first job was essentially a glorified receptionist for the OU Corporate Engagement Office.

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In between booking travel arrangements, I decided to attend TEDxOKC. I couldn’t convince anybody in my office to reimburse this, but they did tell me to tell them I worked at OU to see if there were any sponsorship opportunities. Their organizer, Ken Stoner, gave me one better and said we should do TEDxOU. Soon thereafter, I was organizing my first event at OU and recruiting speakers.

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Red paper clips. Because TED.

Lesson 4: Networks are not one direction. Let people engage in the experience with you. Surround yourself with people you love and can trust.

Most people think of themselves at the center of the network and they assume that most people are connected to each other through them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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My linkedin profile shows me at the center, always, but if you actually visualize the network you’ll see that you are amongst several already formed networks.


A discontinued LinkedIn tool called InMaps. A big bummer because this actually made LinkedIn somewhat valuable to me.

The one thing I learned from attending an actual TED conference a couple times (TEDActive RIP) it was that these conferences don’t exist purely to consume content, which I think is an unfortunate misconception of TED. It’s almost like the content exists to bring together a specific group of people, and I always felt that my goal was to trick people that liked TED Talks to hang out with each other for a day. To turn off cell phones and notifications and enter a new experience together. As a buddy once told me “I just want to party with people I like. Everything is just efforts to throw a party.” Rock shows and TED are only different in the type of people they attract.

But TEDxOU only existed because I had a bunch of friends, a network, who had specific skills sets that I didn’t have and could perform many of the necessary tasks for the events. One of my good friends who is a video graphic artist ran my AV, Mark Nehrenz, who I graduated with, put together the camera crew, the same buddy who likes to party (Dylan Mackey) was my stage manager, our photographer was a graduate student, our lighting guy was a freshman who loved staged design, and CCEW staff were the most supporting staff you could ask for by filling in the gaps, assisting speakers with their presentations, etc. We had a museum curator speak and he was kind enough to offer the museum for an after party and Bruce Goff’s Ledbetter House for a speaker reception. There are so many stories about the people who united over silly 18 minute talks. Which is exactly why you throw a party.

Lesson 5: Works comes before the party

There’s a lot that goes into getting the word about an event and we were no slouches if I say so myself. For instance, the OU Daily has written over 60 articles about TEDxOU. This was obviously initialized because of my connection with the paper, but it was also because I brought them into the idea of the event. The events in January, and January means new semester, and new semester means new staff writers so why not have them write a small article about each of the speakers (That was my pitch at least.)? The first year is also the year where you do have any type of cash flow as that comes after the event, so I got good at asking for favors for supplies whether that was swag or printing services or the like. It dawned on me that newspaper prints a lot so I figured why not have them run the entire agenda on the back page of the newspaper and we’ll hand them out? In exchange for a comped ad, we’ll give the newpaper to attendees as the actual agenda.

We also decided to make TEDxOU an event you had to apply to attend. You applied, if you were accepted you got a little email saying you were accepted, and that you had 72 hours to purchase your ticket. In hindsight, this is a really smart strategy for a couple of reasons. The first is that, people liked to be accepted into things. And so they end up taking your email and sharing that they got accepted and that’s free marketing which is a plus.

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The next is that you geniunely get to know about the people that are coming and we used that info to connect people to each other on Twitter prior to the event in hopes of starting conversations.

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But the big not-so-well-kept secret is no one really doesn’t get accepted. They just get an opportunity to be invited. They’ve self-selected themselves, which I do think that creates a very different atmosphere. Plus, solely from a logistics perspective, it’s so much better to know ahead of time how many people are coming. I can’t back up this claim, but I would say that with most of these type of events, people decide to attend last minute. The 72-hour window forces them to commit, clear their calendar, and show up. And these numbers are good when, say, making a budget or ordering food (less waste).

Lesson 6: Work also happens during the party.

One of the affordances you have at a TED event is you get to lean on the brand of TED. This includes the red carpet, the big block letters, etc. and creating an atmosphere is really, really fun whether its stage or lighting design or breaking up talks with musical acts. I love this part a lot.

We also partner with the OU Innovation Hub to create personalized wood cut name tags which become a high point for attendees. It gives people something small to initiate conversation and is a nice little token at the very least. I see these hanging in offices all the time.


We also build into the breaks all kind of ways to interact outside of the actual talks. These have included coffee tasting demos, interactive art installations, four square games (actually playing four square not the app), and after parties. Again, if the event was just about the talks themselves they’d be awfully boring and I think anyone who attends conferences would agree.

Lesson 7: Work also happens after the after party.

To sum up, there’s a lot of work and you don’t want to limp in to any part of any event. We do a post-event survey in exchange for priority at next year’s event. This helps us gather stories about special moments that attendees had that otherwise would go unnoticed. This is one of my favorite parts because I get to hear how someone was inspired to action through meeting someone or hearing a specific talk. I’ve got several stories from here that I deeply cherish.

But, of course, there’s also getting the talks online and promoting those as well. And some interesting stories have come from the talks themselves. When you do your first event, you really like the idea of a talk picking up steam and going viral until one actually does. And then you get over that and realize your much more well positioned to create a local conversation and just hope that it applies to somebody else, and if it doesn’t, well at least you were talking to with your community which should be your goal anyways. In the words of Jane Jacobs, “If you do it for the local, the visitor will come; if you do it for the visitor, you will lose the local and the visitor.”

Lesson 8: If you have haters, you must be doing something right (in conjunction with Lesson 9) Know who your audience is and who it isn’t. They both have positive/negative values.

But, of course, virality breeds its own stories and ours happens to involve a diet phad. We had Christina Warriner,a paleontologist, talk in 2013. Christina wanted to talk about how the paleo diet isn’t actually one thing, how diets were actually quite diverse, and what paleothic diets are like. As someone who literally researches paleothic diets, I thought this was actually a really smart idea on her part of connecting her research to a modern topic.

But if you’ve ever met anybody who has done the paleo diet, you know then that they are… very passionate about their choice. When I submitted the talk to TED, I did so with the title “Debunking the Paleo Diet.” The truth is at the time I couldn’t come up with a better word than debunking, but, lucky for me, several people in the 10,000+ comments have ;-). The video has received 1.3 million views on YouTube which is likely not an incredible number but enough to garner some attention, but it is enough to now be the number one paleo video on YouTube. More fascinating to me than any large viewership number was the conversations that it happened because of it. Robb Wolf who wrote a book about paleo diets did a point-by-point counter argument to it as well as a podcast. So did Angelo Coppola (her rebuttal as 34,000+ views). The talk was also referenced by Scientific American and promoted by TED. Christina has told me that this talk turned into a lot of hate mail which is just vile, though it also got her a few speaker gigs (hopefully that was a nice consolation). I guess my best hope is that it gave the paleo diet crowd a critical and historical perspective to their choice.

(Not in the talk) I don’t know how to prepare someone for this potentially happening. The popularity of these talks has dwindled a bit which means we aren’t seeing nearly this level of response anymore, but I know this is a major reason academics shy away from the media. 

Lesson 10: Read the tea leaves and know when the time is right to build an exit strategy.

As I mentioned before, I am no longer organizing the event day-to-day and only offering broad oversight. This is the team that does all of the heavy lifting now and I couldn’t be more thankful for them and the hours of effort the put in year-after-year. This picture was from the one TEDxOU events that I actually missed because I was out of town. Eventually, you’ll realize that there are other opportunities out there for you if you are willing to let go others. I’ve been in both a band and an event that outlasted my tenure with them, and that’s great because it means I had an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself and it doesn’t mean you didn’t have an impact. In fact, TEDxOU looks very similar to how it always has and I hooe that’s a reflection of putting together a reusable strategy with reusable processes.

Letting go (for the most part) allowed me to move on. This is probably the hardest lesson I learned. Early on, I was very careful to make sure I was highly involved with how it moved forward. I remember other departments wanting to do mini “TED-like” events and being suspicious and possessive, and the best advice I ever received from a former boss of mine was to stop thinking like that, understanding that imitiation is flattering, and embrace it. And that’s stuck with me more than anything else and I apply it constantly. In fact, sharing has come to professionally define me to a certain extent and I embrace that.

“Is that how he’s going to end?” (Yes.)


It’s the Middleburys

Yesterday I gave a talk at Middlebury College on the creative process and domains, which is now published in essay form over on Medium. This talk was first given in a much abridged form at the OU Digital Humanities Day a few weeks back and was further expanded on to tell a more full story about my experiences this summer thinking about a new class I’m teaching this Fall called Ad Copy and Layout. I spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about how creativity manifests itself–specifically when creating art–and it inevitably meant I took more trips to the library in our College of Fine Arts than I had ever done before to read about how kids learn art/how to teach art. I found my way to both some essays from Carl Rogers called On Becoming a Person and John Dewey’s Art and Experience. Both mentioned that the igniter of the creative process is allowing one’s self to be open to new ideas and possibilites. It’s a slightly different type of openess than I’m used to talking about in open technology but not totally different. So I wanted to talk about the rigidness/flexibilities of technology and the often unintentional ways we kill the creative process by giving too many parameters to our teaching (which are often perpetuated by the technology).

This talk corresponded with the official launch of MiddCreate, Middlebury’s domain of one’s own project. As I’ve written before, I’ve been fortunate enough to quietly guide this project to the extent that I can offer advice to their team. I’ve been super thankful to work alongside Amy Collier, who has my deepest admiration. When Ben Scraggs was on campus at OU last week, he mentioned how much more you take away from seeing someone in their working enviornment as opposed to conference meetups and I can completely agree after this experience. Amy has a leadership style that is both warm, welcoming, thoughtful and commanding. People gravitate to her as a trusted person of authority and it speaks volumes to her ability to lead. Put it in ink: she’s the real. deal.

Amy also puts together one mean agenda and I wouldn’t have it any other way :-). The day kicked off with a short presentation to a class taught by Joe Antonioli, who I came to learn has a family apple orchard that had 2,000 people visit it this weekend alone. Joe is officially the first faculty member I’ve met to also have an orchard (congrats Joe!). His class is doing a deep dive into MiddCreate to give analysis on how it can potentially be used and, given the diversity in disciplines amongst the students, I’m excited to see how they invision the project.

I also got to meet with the Office of Digital Learning team (Sonja Burrows and Sean Michael Morris). I’ve followed Sean’s work closely on #digped (originally because of Hybrid Pedagogy/MOOC MOOC) from even before I was working in digital learning so it was great to finally chat with him. Arguably the best part of the conversation was talking about how to integrate remote workers into the physical environment. Amy has already written a very thoughtful post about this, but I love the way Amy and Sean are critically thinking about giving embodiment to those who work at the various campuses or remotely. Personally, I’ve seen this play out several times at OU where one person will “call in” to a meeting and unfairly be addressed until the conversation has all but virtually ceased to exist. As a distance graduate student at Pepperdine, I actually had to a really rich experience in synchronous video discussions and I believe it had a lot to do with every student having their own square (as Sonja put it yesterday) rather than me being the only virtual student amongst a physical meeting.

I had a second virtual meeting with Evelyn Helminen at the corresponding Middlebury Institute of International Students in Monterey. Evelyn and I have chatted several times and I always appreciate how thoughtful and pointed her questions are. One part of the conversation focused on building an “off-boarding” strategy for student domains. I mentioned how I wanted to further explore archival tools for sites as well, and (jumping a bit ahead) I was further inspired by to look closer at this after hearing from Rebekah Irwin and Patrick Wallace about the digital preservation projects taking place by Middleburry Special Collections. They encourage students to not only submit student work spaces but personal blogs, Tumblrs, and social media accounts for institutional archiving.

The way Middlebury is thinking about exposing their digital collections is very rich. They have a sizeable presence on and have some interesting Omeka projects as well. One of my favorite lines was Rebekah on the goal of Digital Collections:

I also met with the Middlebury Social Entrepreneurship Fellows who will be using MiddCreate to syndicate reflections on their fellowship experience in a project that feels to be similar in spirit to the OU Global Engagement Fellows. The enthusiasm from this group is off the charts. No better way to end a day than seeing students genuinely excited about inhabiting the open web.

I feel like I have to reiterate how enjoyable this visit was and how thankful I am for this opportunity. Vermont is a very beautiful, the town itself has a great spirit, and the people are welcoming. And it isn’t every day you get to watch the presidential debates in the home state of Bernie Sanders and find yourself questioning how wrong everything has gone. The bern hath been felt and may the world spare Vermont from its wrath.

Featured image: flickr photo shared by Jasperdo under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license