Posts in "Conferences"

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

Small is Beautiful. Metaphors and Other Musings from #Domains17

I’m recovering from the week that was #Domains17 and want to thank everyone from near and far that took the time to come to Oklahoma City and be a part of this conversation, particularly Jim, Tim, and Lauren from Reclaim Hosting who suggested OKC.

It’s likely that part of being an Oklahoman is wanting to be overly welcoming, inviting, and hospitable, given that there are few reasons most would find themselves in Oklahoma, a relatively small state in the middle of the country. There are a lot of events and conversations floating around in my head at the moment and I don’t plan to be able to remember all of them. Maybe it’s best to start with one of the first which was Tim, Lauren, Jim, and I were having a couple days before the conference started where Jim referenced the quote, “Small is beautiful.” I found multiple places to reference it across the conference.

Being a small conference (I believe we clocked in around 85 physical attendees and many more through Virtual Connecting and Twitter) gives you a lot of flexibility. You don’t need an incredibly large space, attendees feel approachable, and it’s easier to organize social outings. I certainly wanted to take advantage of the intimacy given that I was heavily motivated by the opportunity to introduce some wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know  to each other. I tried to make three suggestions for the event which were 1.) be friendly 2.) shared widely and enthusiastically and 3.) inhabit the space. All were a futile attempt to appeal to both the extroverted and introverted natures that I equally possess myself. In essence, meet new people but also don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the programmed schedule in the event you need to recharge. I tried to give people permission to both choose to attend events from those they don’t know (in order to avoid simply building echo chambers) and to skip a session and do something else if they so chose.

IMG_8510.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

Because my own way of reflecting on events runs through my blog, I’ve been both hesitant to immediately write and publish my own version and anxious to see others. Alan Levine called it a gathering and offered the hashtag #notaconference. Tim Klapdor refused to label it and instead called it “something new” where he felt “invigorated.” Brian Lamb called it a “thrill ride.”

Many people have commented that they don’t quite have the words to describe it and, personally, I like that. There’s something to be said about not quite being able to define something in the most perfect and concise words and learning to be okay with that. I was thankful that Martha Burtis in her DENSE keynote (listen to it here thanks to Grant Potter) gave people permission to embrace metaphor while also understanding the limitations of all metaphors.

Im struck more and more that in order to dive into these deeper waters of Domain of One’s Own we need to find language that lets us do so, and for me that’s the language of symbolism and metaphor and even poetry. (blog)

And not all of the metaphors have to be perfect (see: Jim Groom’s house) to be meaningful.

While I poke fun at Jim’s house analogy, I’ve come to realize more and more that these analogies, metaphors, and symbols are the way that we can come to teach the Web so that our students know it in the sense of recognizing it — distinguishing it, perceiving it in relation to those things already known. (blog)

IMG_8628.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

Commenting on the event, Amy Collier wrote about belonging, saying that it “felt like I was at someone else’s party.” I had joked early on that inviting this many people to your hometown kind of feels like planning your wedding, but her perspective makes me rethink that analogy. It actually felt more like being the host and venue for someone else’s wedding. While it was rather hard to do, I felt the urge both before and during the conference to slip out of the limelight as much as possible and not present myself or draw too much attention away from such the opportunity to highlight the work of newer domains institutions.

Where do we go from here?

I was really thankful Jon Udell brought his perspective to Domains. As I’ve said before, he is on the short list of people whose passion can cut through some of the hairier technical sides of the web. The way he articulated annotation as not just an annotation service but a toolkit really spoke to me. His notes from his talk are definitely worth a read.

IMG_8666.jpg flickr photo by bionicteaching shared under a CC (BY-SA) license

But, anyways, after lunch on day 2 he sat down with myself and Keegan Long-Wheeler and had a story and question. He said he had just talked to Heather Castillo, a dance professor from CSU-Channel Islands. She had told him she wasn’t a “tech-y” but wanted to show him her site. And Jon was so impressed with how she had culled together multiple tools like VoiceThread, Padlet, Populr, and Google Docs to meet her pedagogical needs. He was so impressed that he recommended that she speak at a future conference (agreed!) and then asked an excellent question: How do we teach people to do that?

It got at the heart of the question I was hoping to serve with the entirety of the conference. While DoOO certainly does rely heavily (almost too heavily) on a specific set of architecture, it’s always spoken more to me as a space to understand the networked web. Learning basic digital literacy like file structure, web servers, HTML, applications, content organization, (oh wait I realize I’m just reiterating one of Martha’s points so I’ll paste her words too)

What do students really learn when they learn how to fix the things they’ve broken on their domain? They learn a bit about how their site actually works. About the interplay perhaps between script files and databases. About how DNS functions (hopefully once they learn this they will teach it to me, because dammit if I know). Perhaps they will learn something about how a hacker can gain access to Web sites and why there is a burden on those of us who create on the Web to also secure what we create.

These are all the types of learning activities most edtech tools don’t care to serve. They are also the learning activities that are more difficult to teach. Which is likely why it’s easy to shy away from doing so. It’s much easier to hand out prepackaged applications prepopulated with sample content. I know this stuff is hard because we’ve struggled with “where to start” in our own shop and because I’ve talked to several institutions who also struggle with this. How do you teach people to “domains” (it’s a verb now) in the way Heather did? Not just the ability to find and discover tools, but understand how to build and weave together the various number of tools that will serve your need. You know it’s a tough question if is Jon was struggling with it as well.

A lot of the hope was that this conference could begin to build conversations for how we support each other in thinking through these issues. Some of the people I admire (Tom Woodward hijacks gravity forms to build full fledged web apps or how Alan Levine architects full learning environments) know how to do this really well in environments they are comfortable with (For Tom: Google Spreadsheets, For Alan: RSS). How great would it be if students where able to through this same learning environment (I’m starting to almost refuse to refer to it merely as technology) and engage with (insert your term here…problem solving/ computational thinking/digital citizenship) in a way in which they do work of equal or greater feats?

No conference/#notaconference/gathering can serve everybody’s needs perfectly on the first go around, and I look forward to the possibility of future opportunities to sink into this and many more hard questions. Hopefully this event laid the groundwork for a community of practice of institutions that equally want to engage in these questions and the environment wasn’t sensory overload to the point at which the event felt like slight of hand.

I’ll end by adding my own way of describing Domains17: it was the beginning of a conversation. As always, I’m always willing to chat with anyone about what we’re doing at OU so don’t be afraid to contact me.


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

An Annotation-Oriented Browser

I’m trying to catch up on a couple of blog posts that I’ve put off over the last couple of weeks. This one is primarily on a conversation I had with Jon Udell and the Reclaim Hosting crew (Jim Groom, Tim Owens, and Lauren Brumfield) which you can (and SHOULD) listen to below.

We’ve been doing these weekly interviews as we get ready for Domains 17 and this one was a real treat. I commented during the conversation that talking to Jon Udell about structured data on the web is like talking to Kin Lane about APIs. The smartest people I know make the most difficult concepts appear incredibly approachable and I’m deeply indebted to those who can help me understand complex systems. And the Digital Polarization work that Jon’s doing with Mike Caulfield with bringing fact-checking and annotation to the classroom is truly inspiring from a teacher perspective., the annotation tool Jon works on, has been one of the more innovative true-web projects I’ve seen in a number of years. As I’ve mentioned, I met Jeremy Dean of fame at OpenEd16 last November. His session on (actually I’m pretty sure he was just an audience member now that I think about it) was highly contentious: the notion that anything you write can be annotated on raises a wide array of comments and concerns. The point is that it truly feels like the game changes when the entire web can be challenged via annotation.

One thing Jon brought up was about how recently the W3C, the standards body for the web, standardized annotation. I actually saw the blog post about it and even tweeted it, but I don’t think I had truly internalized the possibilities until Jon explained it (again…highly recommend just listening to it).

One way I am newly interpreting the possibilities of standardization is a browser that is solely oriented towards annotation. For example, you may have heard of the browser Brave. The idea for Brave is that it works a lot faster by focused on speed measures such as blocking tracking tools and stripping out browser ads (and subsequently replacing some with their own).


Brave Browser

Brave has built a community of users who are similarly interested in privacy to use the tool. It’s a browser (sort of) oriented towards privacy. I’m curious as to what a browser oriented towards annotation would look like and how that could possibily re-orient the user to move from a total consumption mode over to a more critical consumption mode. Seriously–what if a little annotation tray was always open and we never read the article and then annotations but rather we read everything concurrently?


Illustration adapted from Hailey Papworth on the @NounProject.

Is it much different than a browser plugin? Functionally I’m not so sure it is. But I do think a closer integration of browser and annotation-ware would create a more positive user experience and likely open up some new possibilities (customization of UI for instance–varying fonts, serif vs sans serif, etc)

One last thing that I mentioned in the podcast is that I will be curious to see what it looks like if/when the major browser players (Google, Apple, Microsoft) start to bake annotation into their browsers. Can annotation continue as a tool that works across platforms or will annotation become simply another place for silo’d conversations to take place?

Whatever happens, I can say that Jon has continue my excitement for web annotation as well as my excitement for the conversations that will take place at Domains 17.

Building a Student’s Technology Palate

Jim Groom had a great idea to have a pre-conference conversation with Domains 17 keynote speaker Martha Burtis, which you can listen to here:

Much of the conversation was around (what I’m assuming) is a central point of Martha’s upcoming talk is/was that the web has been infiltrated by monetized centralized apps which run counter to the both the openness and decentralization that the web was built on and higher ed could have done something to stop it if it wanted to do so (and maybe we still can).

This is supposed to be what we do: educate the the next group of citizens about how knowledge is shared and created and what values are enacted in knowledge. Instead of engaging that and building that and informing our communities about that using the voices, platforms, and institutions that we have; instead of doing any of that we bought LMSs. – Martha Burtis

Tim Owens brought up a point (18:20) about people wanting a “fast food” approach to creating a domain that streamlined the process of getting up and running, which I think is arguably one of the most unfortunate products of this new web we live on. Companies are so focused on converting a person to a user as fast as possible that they strip all work out of the equation and instead provide people with a menu of options. “Do you want the light theme or the dark theme?” “Here. We’ve suggested you follow these people based off ‘your interests.'”

I’ve thought recently about how I can expose to my students how this is now happening. I’ve seen graphic design software also move towards a templated approach to design rather than building from the ground up, and I’ve come to conclusion that there are use cases for both approaches, but you don’t know that unless you’ve lived in both worlds. It is through these exposures that I think students have the ability to build a critical palate for the technology they use.

I’ve always taught Adobe products, not necessarily because I think they are the best value, but because they are the industry standard (and are supported by the College). If I say the term “Photoshop,” the majority of the public can at least recognize it. I feel that a large part of my job is to prepare students to work within the advertising and public relations industry, so I try to teach the tools they use such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Premiere. It also doesn’t hurt that these are all packaged together and can be purchased together which brings an added benefit to learning the suite.

I also feel it’s my job to teach far beyond the tools. I teach a lot of communication strategy, copywriting, and criticism. Beyond being critics of their own work, I also want my students to have enough experience with a tool to know its affordances. This means that after every tool I have them compare and contrast it with a previous tool we’ve used.

I’ve started introducing Canva as a graphic design tool. Canva is a very user-friendly web-based design platform. Unlike Photoshop/InDesign/Illustrator which are a massive tools with nearly unlimited possibilities and can take years to master, Canva is inituitive enough to learn through a small set of tutorials. You can upload your own graphics, place text, and draw shapes. The biggest advantage of Canva is that it has several preset sizes (brochures, posters, social media assets such as posts and cover photos, etc.) as well as templated designs for each of these sizes and assets. It’s monetization model is that they sell stock photography and graphics inside the platform. In a lot of ways, Adobe tools are even LMS-like in the sense that they have built and iterated on over a long time and can feel bloated. Canva feels very light weight. It’s also worth mentioning that Adobe has rolled out, as Adobe tends to do, it’s own Canva-like tool Adobe Spark.

So how do students anecdotally react to a week in Canva? Anecdotally, I’d say that the 2/3 of the students, first and foremost, like the break from Adobe products, but they also love the simplicity of it.

Wow, I love Canva. I don’t know if I have ever found anything so user-friendly and professional. Using it, I was able to create several different types of social media graphics for my internship at Trifecta Communications. (source)

In my opinion, this gives the best argument for how to use Canva: emphemeral social media graphics that can be completed by anybody at any level of knowledge.

But students who have become used to the flexibility of Adobe platforms also note the downsides. 1.) You’re relying on platform uptime and 2.) limited options can limit your output and templates can stifle your creative process:

Oh Canva – so easy yet so fidgety. I was crossing my fingers the whole time hoping it wasn’t going to crash on me. Canva was sooooo slow on my laptop and on most of the Gaylord desktops. It is NOT a reliable source. InDesign and Photoshop won’t crash on you. This will. BUT Canva is easy. If you are looking for something fast and effective Canva is for you. Canva is limited though. There are ENDLESS possibilities with InDesign and Photoshop but Canva has its own layouts, texts, frames etc. and thats it. So you can only be as creative as Canva allows but for a PR practitioner who doesn’t know how to work InDesign and Photoshop this tool can be really helpful. I think, for me, I would like to use Canva in the future maybe for inspiration but then create my own thing in Photoshop or InDesign. (source)

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with Dan Blickensderfer and Laura Gibbs via Twitter about Seth Prince‘s Feature Writing course and WordPress versus Medium.

As I mentioned in the tweet, Medium does allow the student to (sort of) “own” their space (“owning” here meaning it wasn’t provisioned by the institution) and it does allow for, albiet limited approach, syndication. And, as Laura mentioned, it can help tap into an already existing community which might be very beneficial for Seth’s course which is doing feature writing as opposed to personal blogging.

Am I saying use Medium instead of a Domain of One’s Own approach full stop? Of course not. But all of us are able to have this informed conversation about the platforms because we all have enough experience to recognize the affordances of the platform.

So what’s the point that I’m trying to make with my students? Once you’ve spent enough time in platform, you have the platform literacy to be critical of other platforms that exist in the world. Students can’t gain that knowledge if the instructor prescribes one platform.

One thing I’ve come to learn intimately through OU Create is that students will likely have a difficult time seeing the value of the domain if they aren’t contrasting it against another tool. I loved the recent way in which Erika Bullock framed domains NOT as the place for her to develop her digital identity but as a way for her to develop her understanding of the web:

Now, I am in my Senior spring. I have 7 sub-domains, all of them incomplete, all of them spaces for me to try out new WordPress themes, widgets, fonts, and layouts. I use sub-domains to model web projects for work, to try out new layouts for my personal website, or just to see if I can create a project that I’m envisioning in my head. I have benefited from thinking of Domains as my digital sandbox.

Through prescribing multiple graphic design platforms throughout the semester, I am hopeful that my students are building a palette towards which tools work in various scenarios. I also hope that we’ll continue to see ways to diversify experimentation in web spaces with the increasing interest in light weight, non-database CMSs and static site generators. And, last, hopefully we’ll stop searching for the perfect tool but rather search for an increase in web literacy across all platforms.

Jim also wrote a blog post about this conversation too, as he mentioned, we’re going to attempt to continue to have these pre-conference conversations. We’ve got Jon Udell talking and web interopability. If you have an idea for a pre-conference conference or if you want to join one of our conversation, comment or reach out.

To continue the palate analogy, I feel like I’m getting just a taste of what Domains 17 will be like and I’m liking it. Be sure to register as soon as possible.

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.

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.)


OLC Innovate: Exhaust and Exhaustion

Per usual, as another conference comes to an end, I’m in an airport with shoddy wifi attempting to pen my thoughts before they escape the front of my brain. As I said last year with et4online, this conference has appeared to consistently bring together a large contigency of really (I mean really) good people within teaching, learning, and education technology. I find myself often commenting on how genuinely good the people are at this conference and how humbled I am by my peer group. Every meal is a family dinner. Everybody is invited to everything. Nothing is exclusive and people appear to really enjoy each others company. The downside to this (if you can call it that) is that it makes for 16 hour days, which leads to me running on fumes. Woof. But, fear not, whatever is left, I’ll be utilized to attempt to summarize my general feelings on OLC Innovate NOLA.

Fork U!

I want to start with my Github workshop because 1.) it was first (like first-session-of-the-conference-first) and 2.) I believe I had more fun putting together this workshop than anything prior. We titled it “Fork U! A Github Approach to Learning and Collaboration.” It’s always great when you get to disguise your presentation with both a potential name for a Silicon Valley-led, for-profit institution, as well as an obscenity.

As much as I love giving talks, there’s something about giving people space to learn and build that really resonates with me. My colleague, John Stewart, and I probably started working on building the workshop roughly a month ago. What was great about this session was I, myself, was able to learn about how many different use cases there are for Github. It’s really true that the most powerful way to learn something is to teach it.

I was doubly inspired by Kin Lane on this one, who first introduced me to Github almost two years ago during the Reclaim Your Domain Hackathon LA. I was re-inspired last month at Davidson where Kin laid out APIs in such a simple, concise, and understandable manner. He also happened to make it a resource site chalk full of valuable information for anyone who wishes to embark on their own personal API journey.

So my goal was to show Github by embedding myself within in it as much as possible. This meant building out a resource site for our participants on Github using Github Pages, hosting the presentation on Github with reveal.js, and using the Issues and the project management tools embedded within Github to keep John and I on track with the work.

The resource page is up and available for anyone who wants the opportunity to work through a few projects that can give you a sense of how Github might be appropriated for higher education.

We chose forkable syllabi, academic peer-review, and Github pages as our jumping off points. The syllabus project is particularly intriguing as I was able to find an example of a syllabus on Github which seemed dead simple to replicate. Participants forked a syllabus template and edited a single markdown file. This markdown file generated a very clean one-page website for the participants syllabus.

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Academic peer review was built on the shoulders of the Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities book which is doing its entire editorial review via Github. It’s very inspiring to see how transparent and well documented their process is and I look forward to continuing to watch it develop. We asked an author if we could use one article as an example and had the participants submit Pull Requests to document as if they were editing it in real time.

Last, we showed participants how to easily run a Jekyll blog by forking a repo of the Clean Blog Jekyll template. If all these uses of words like “git” “fork” and “pull request” are super intimidating, I highly suggest you checking out the Glossary section of the resource page. :-)

One of the more rewarding moments was chatting with Laura Gogia during the session. Laura and I have a long standing relationship of brutal honesty :-). She was able to bluntly ask me why she should care about Github. I noted how I knew that she thought much of her dissertation out loud through blog posts and was constantly posting small updates of her diss and requesting feedback. What if she did the diss via Github and, not only could openly people raise questions and edit, but they could also be noted as actual contributors towards the work. It would also help with the nightmare of version control which can come along when writing, and re-writing, and re-writing, and… a dissertation. Once she heard it, she said over and over, “I got it. I got now.” Relationships, man–you learn what others love and you can make a lot of headway. Teach into people’s passions.

As I mentioned, we also built the presentation of reveal.JS, an html presentation framework. This was done by trying to deconstruct Kris Shaffer‘s use of it for a previous Github presentation (another academic for I’ve admired and who has been talking about how higher ed can embrace Github since 2013). Reveal.js allows you to build slides in a single HTML file and toggle your presentation up and down as well as left and right.

I noticed as I was creating the presentation that it gave me an entire perspective on how to build slides with these extra directions. Instead of filling slides with several bullet points I group the slides into sections and created what felt almost more like a narrative with the slides. The ability to allow users to jump around the presentation gave it the feeling that its less like a linear product and more like a resource collection.

I can really see myself sticking with this resource site/reveal.js presentation workflow.

Solution Design Summit Advisory Groups

This was the first year for SDS. I got to watch it develop from the steering committee side this year after I was publicly talked about how we could do better than last year’s teacher tank. And, man, was this a breath of fresh air. I got to spend an hour and a half with a wicked smart group at Muhlenberg College who will be bringing a Domain of One’s Own project online soon helping them perfect their pitch. I continue to be deeply passionate about lending whatever resources and advice I can to institutions looking to start their Domains journey and I appreciate how much thought they are putting into their campus ramp up. 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.

Utilizing Innovative Customizable Pathways / Dual-Layer MOOC

Matt Crosslin of UTA put us to work thinking through the dual-layer MOOC model of this year’s offering of #HumanMOOC. I was able to participate in this year’s version as a guest speaker but didn’t get to see much of the course. Matt showed us how they attempted to blend portions of xMOOCs and instructionism with cMOOCs and constructionism. I’m not fully convinced the two models can necessarily work in parallel, but I like the direction in which Matt is thinking, which is to dial back the idea that a student chooses a “path” (garden or stream) and rather has multiple paths with multiple outcomes. As he noted, in his patented humble manner, this will allow for the design to not be so upfront in present in the class itself.

I agree that students shouldn’t be worried about whether they chose the “correct” path and that they are able to focus more on their journey in the course.

One other note was that this was my only intersection with Virtual Connecting. They took a different approach for Matt’s session and, instead of having attendees get a post-talk recap, they literally got to watch it live. As I continue to think about independent edtech, this example really struck me. Sure, virtual attendees can access the conference via the $150 virtual pass which gets you hand-picked live streams. OR, someone can just turn their laptop around and stream it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Sure, part of the idea within indie edtech is pushing against the structures of our institutions. But the other side of the coin is pushing into our community in efforts to better give voices. Why aren’t we doing more of this?

Innovation is Not Enough: Building Soft Infrastructure

This talk was from Andy Saltarelli (Stanford) and Amy Collier (formerly Stanford, now Middlebury) talking about a research project they worked on when they were previously colleagues. The research was a qualitative study focused on the diversity of faculty motivations and interests in creating MOOCs.

A couple things that they touched on really resonated with me. First, Andy mentoned how one course on databases has evolved taught not only on several platforms but by multiple institutions and instructors. As Andy put it, the faculty member could have spent their sabattical consulting in Silicon Valley and instead spent it travelling and talking about teaching. That’s rad to me, and, as much as flack as MOOCs caught, I find it unfortunate from a research angle that it was such a flash in the plan innovation. Ideas like the distributed flip that Amy and Mike Caulfield articulated in 2013 still seem like valuable concepts worth exploring and maybe could pop back up in OER research where the focus is less on textbook costs and more about the life cycle of OER through the remix.

Second, Amy can always be counted on for bringing the humanizing element to learning design and faculty development. Andy shared of a story of a faculty member telling a story of how she felt empower by Amy’s suggestion for what they could build to support her course (all the while a bit teary eyed). He noted that listening can be (soft) infrastructure. Please let me know how I can convince someone to invest in building up listening infrastructure because I’ll take more of that, please.

Lastly, I’ll add that I don’t know Andy and Amy found time within their development to work in their research but I highly respect that they are doing so. Folks like Eddie Maloney at Georgetown and Kristen Eshleman at Davidson College are also both making sure that research underpins their teaching and learning spaces, and I’d love to figure out how that becomes an integrated component of not only my own team, but of teaching/learning centers everywhere. Research = good.

Audiovisual OER in a Text World

This was the presentation I got to do in conjunction with Rolin Moe, another long time friend, and fellow Pepperdine brethren. The benefit of being on the last day is you get the opportunity to slightly rewrite your talk based off of the conversations you are a part of. It allowed me to rethink the title of my presentation and create this title slide:

I have to admit this was one of the tougher presentations for me to wrap my head around in awhile. Rolin and I have long had conversations about how easy it feels to remix text and how tough it can be to really understand how to “get into” other types of media. Our thesis was that Creative Commons, which we are we both huge fans of, by the way, seems to be best utilized in text, the medium which still rules the roost in academia. But the complexity of other mediums in there nature of being layered pieces of media, coupled with the short history of the film industry (thanks Walt) in comparison to the printing press, means we haven’t done enough to really figure out how these can be shared.

We tried to build off this notion of the complexity of medias to attempt to show the analogy that a ton of complexity exist that, while we continue to grin from ear-to-ear about the money we’ve saved due to textbook adoptions, haults a community of real sharing within our discipline. Academia has been historically defined and bettered by our ability to share our discoveries and further knowledge. How do we make sure we don’t continue to adopt technologies that concurrently build walls arounds our work that creates a wasteland of our work in merely a few years when its abandoned. And if innovation, as was harped on continually at the conference, means we should always be building towards new, what’s our plans for what we’ve already done?

Rolin and I didn’t come armed with a ton of answers though I did give one more nod to Kin Lane and his idea of “intellectual exhaust.” If there’s an easy step to take, it could be (both at the faculty and student level) concerning ourselves less with sharing content and sharing our thoughts. Kin notes how he is does this by thinking out loud through his API work and how he hopes all of it can further the conversations on his passions:

You are welcome to collect, observe, remix, learn from, or get high off of the exhaust off my daily work—go right ahead, this is one of the many reasons I work so hard each day. You my loyal reader. One. Single.

Despite the lack of real tangible action items, the presentation did evoke a lot of discussion amongst the participants. Questions rose about how do we create a community of learning by sharing and where sharing is rewarded. Questions around how we deal with technologies that have a large barrier to entry to even understand, much less interact with content. Questions around how the ability to create open doesn’t perpetuate privilege amongst faculty rank.

All of these questions tell me that we can’t just write off open as inherently good because it saved money. We need to further critical conversations on access and equity.

I think that discussion really was the perfect way to end my experience in NOLA. Surrounded, once again, by my peers trying to ask tough questions that can further our field. In a conference focused on innovating–moving forward–we need to, first, pause and listen to each other. Listen for the pain points. Listen for moments of inequity. Listen and make sure that every voice is heard. Listen to make sure that has we erect new infrastructure we aren’t displacing those who dwelled their before.

As Jane Jacobs‘ says in the Death and Life of Great American Cities:

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.

Infrastructure. Physical infrastructure. Personal infrastructure. Soft infrastructure.

Is That What We Meant?

I’m back in the heartland after a wonderful past few days in Vancouver for OpenEd. First, I want to give my deepest appreciation to David Wiley and team as well as the BC Campus for such being such accommodating hosts. The work that has happened over the last decade at BC Campus is nothing short of phenomenal. To get a quick recap, check out their slides from a presentation on Friday when they become available, which chronicled the evolution that brought forth the BC Open Textbook Project. I have mad respect for what they have done and thank you for sharing your city with all of us.

On Wednesday, I wrote a post on my Known blog that gave out APIs that I had built which contained every abstract for OpenEd since 2012. I originally built these because I was curious about the acronym “OER.” When did we go from “Open Education Resources” to “OER” and what is the acronym usually associated with? As a lot of my projects, I abandoned it before I made a ton of headway, but I encourage you to download the files and play with the data to do so (or use it, of course, however you would like).

As I left on Friday, I heard grumbling (some of it, admittedly, my own) that the conference felt very heavily focused on OER Textbooks. This gave me a good reason to revisit the data and see if there has indeed been a growing trend.

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

As you can see, in 2012 “textbook” was one of many conversations that was being had in 2012 and made up less than 10% of the abstracts. There’s a clear moment though in 2013 where the abstracts that contain textbook grow three fold. This has only increased since and now makes up almost nearly a third of every session. Assuming there are four concurrent sessions at once, you are guaranteed to land on something about textbooks.

So what does this mean? While certain folks on Twitter may have caused a stir asserting that “OpenEd = Open Textbook,” it’s not necessarily a new trend. It may even be a positive result of a concerted effort towards a strategic goal for the OpenEd community (something desperately needed and a point that was hammered home by Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill in their opening keynote and further articulated very well in the new OER strategy document).

The tough piece to quantify is, of course, where the conversations diverge and what conversations occurred outside the formal structure. While this doesn’t really give you a sense for the collective conversation, this does give us is the dominate narrative the conference planning committee is building.

I’m not against a conversation about OER textbooks. I’ve attended OER textbook conferences. I’ve worked on large-scale class adoptions. I’m a fan. I’m not so certain though it needs to maintain such a dominant presence at this conference. David Kernohan and I were talking about this on Friday: at what point does their need to be a OpenEd OER Conference? Not necessarily to remove the textbook conversation from OpenEd but at least to make space for other flavors of Open Ed: pedagogy, theory, data, analytics, maybe even courses (dare I say MOOCs?).

That is not what we meant.

Michael Feldstein pointedly said this during his Virtual Connecting session that really stood out to me and I paraphrased below:

There was this pretty strong reaction in this community to what we’ll call “xMoocs” … There are plenty things to be worried about with xMOOCs. I’m not here to argue the virtues. Nevertheless, there is something there that can be legitimately defined as a new kind of “open” that I didn’t get a sense that, now there’s been some rich discussion about it, but at the time there was a pretty strong reaction of, “That is not what we meant.” And rather than, “Huh, that’s not what we were thinking of. What does that mean?” That’s a fine reaction, but I’m not ever sure I got an answer for myself for “Ok, well what is it that you meant?

Ok, well what is it that you meant?

I was reading a book on the plane ride home and tweeted this quote:

Licklider is known as one of the pioneer’s of the Internet and he is writing this pre-Internet. The visions that the Lickliders and Bushs and Englebarts had was not just access to information but re-conceptualizing how we interacted with information. And so here’s the question I want to ask: If OER textbooks are where the OpenEd community wants to make this the first point of attack, what’s next? Let’s assume a world where all textbooks are free. Did we win? Or did we just make the act of passively interacting with information less expensive? Is that what we meant?

My last session of OpenEd ended with this thought from Robert Farrow:

“There is no such thing as openness.”

To become more open is to remove restrictions that you’ve previously imposed. Before we commend ourselves too much for saving students money on a textbook, should we recognize the burden that we’ve allowed be imposed on our students for decades? Is that voice strong enough and does it apply further than textbooks in areas in which we are currently afraid to address? If OpenEd continues to be a conversation dominated by a specific theme, what conversations and themes are we suppressing and how ok are we with that? And, my challenge to myself as much as anyone else, is if this or that or the other is not what we meant, then what the hell is it that we mean?

A dLRN Detox

Let’s rewind a bit back to Saturday morning. A session has just ended on the last day of the dLRN (Digital Learning Research Network) Conference. I had walked in a bit late with two Georges (Station and Siemens). As Siemens walks in, he gets a round of applause for even showing up (he’s the moderator). I awkwardly follow behind, grab a seat towards the back at a table of four, and flip it around to watch the session which includes Dave Cormier and Rebecca Petersen presenting the early ideas of his research on edtech practioners, Paul-Olivier Dehaye explaining networks and himself for his mass confusion experiment during Coursera’s Mass Teaching MOOC.

An attendee eventually wheels up a chair next to me and proceeds to ask two incredibly pointed questions during the session that I’m deeply impressed with. I’ll tell you: dLRN was a conference where I was continually impressed by the level of critical discussion as much as anything else. This was a group that is deeply literate in the complexities of the field of digital learning and education, and I was continually moved by different attendees abilities to challenge an idea without belittling it.

I also witnessed support for a variety of diverse stakeholders. I’ll give the example of Jonathan Rees, who was in attendance, and who I appreciate because of the level of criticism he has offered of MOOCs. IMHO, people like Jonathan have shaped how we move forward more than they’ve been credit for. Without trying to speak on behalf of Jonathan, a successful historian and teacher in his own right, his stance is something to the effect of “give me something to believe in enough that I don’t feel compromises my profession. Until then leave me alone.” His own analogy is that he is Carl from UP.

And this opinion was applauded. I constantly hear the argument made, by several smart people I admire I might add, that the status quo is not good enough. That evolution (be it technology, classroom pedagogy) is required. And, while I agree to an extent, I also believe in Jonathan’s ability to exercise his agency in saying no. Yes, Jonathan, please continue to be you until you feel otherwise. Continue to rage. You’re literate enough in the discourse of today to know when it’s time to latch on to a balloon.

Anyways, the sessions ends, and the attendee and I begin to chat. He asks me what is the story of dLRN.

This isn’t a casual ask. In fact, I interpreted it as the sincerest of requests from someone who is trying to better understand how to explain dLRN once they head home.

And, as I sit on a plane, headed back to Oklahoma from the great state of California for the sixth and last (!) time this year, I don’t know how clear one can adequately make sense of the two day struggle we all experienced.

The answer I give is partially this: This conversation was almost like one amongst family. At the helm we had the parents, Dave Cormier and Bonnie Stewart, who literally let us share in their own family experience as they brought their two kids along with them. Their son and daughter, both delighted by the magnetic technology of the nametag, jointly fashioned mine to my jacket as if to say “Welcome to our family.” And the first family gathering started–like all good family gatherings–with a “Let’s have a talk,” discussion led by Mike Caulfield.

Caulfield’s keynote was arguably a total criticism of the architecture of the web and how we interact with it. As he talked through his experience with Federated Wiki and “the garden,” I got the sense it was a struggle maybe even for him to properly identify the problem or the solution.

A few weeks ago, as I preparing for my talk and reading John Markoff‘s retelling of the history of the personal computing revolution, I began to internally make the comparison between Caulfield and Douglas Englebart. Englebart is a man now held highly in regard for his contributions to personal computing, mainly through the initial idea and prototype of the mouse. He, too, was a man obsessed with Vannevar Bush‘s essay “As We May Think” and the idea of the memex, which has been argued to be one of the first conceptualizations of the web (ask Caulfield how close the idea really is as he has opinions). But Englebart was also a man who few understood when he presented at conferences. As told by Markoff:

Englebart presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Documentation Institute, outlining how computer systems of the future might change the role of information-retrieval specialists. The idea didn’t sit at all well with his audience… He also got in an argument with a researcher who asserted that Englebart was proposing nothing that was any different from any of the other information-retrieveal efforts that were already under way.

Federated Wiki anyone? I’ll have to admit that while I feel like I now have a better grasp on it than the previous two times I’ve heard Caulfield talk about it, I’m still struggling with it despite his persistence. My guess is that in a decade we look back and talk about how Caulfield was right about everything. For now, I’m happy to conclude that the reason I don’t understand is simply because I’m not yet at the level of Caulfield.

From there, I would hear from a diverse set of voices; non-US, community college, African American, researcher, practitioner, administrator, teacher, critic, and even students; all a strategic decision of the conference planners. And, yet, when the conference ended, there were still comments of a need for more voices from more areas. This is certainly something that resonated for me, since the talk Jim Groom and I gave focused around asking the question how to we acknowledge and support the counter-cultures of our institutions.

And that’s education, right? The burden that we’ve all accepted is to make sure that all voices and perspectives are heard. It’s why projects like Domain’s of One Own personally resonate with me. It’s certainly not the only solution, but it is one in which my skill-set can support, and I’m happy to do so.

I am certain that the call for more diverse voices will be heard. This group, as it continues to expand and whether I can continue to be involved or not, is as good of a group as any to be thinking critically about the future of education.

I also appreciated how the fat was trimmed from what I get at other “edtech-ish” conferences I have attended. There was no distraction of vendors (I love you vendors–I promise–but I don’t always need your focus groups). Further, I didn’t attend a single presentation that focused around the implementation of a specific tool.

I talked about this with Siemens as well and his comments to me, which I believe were echoed during the last session of the conference though I had to duck out early, were this: For the last decade we’ve been talking about technology and now we are talking about humanity.

Was much solved? I’m not sure. But I don’t think we got in this business of “complexification,” as George has described, to solve all or any of our problems in two days. Personally, I left with a better own understanding of my own biases, my privileges, which were thankfully illuminated. And our best hope is that, as we continue to shine a light on issues about student learning, we can take back what we learn and apply it in our own unique situations. These stories of student advocacy; of human advocacy, are the stories I promise to continue to tell. Our biggest challenge of having our voices heard is also our biggest opportunity. Our future depends on it and our students desperately need it.