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The Offline Web

I was asked to speak to a delegation of community radio journalists from Bangladesh next week. A description of the group:

Participants will return with improved journalism fundamentals, understanding of the United States and American culture, and a perspective on convergence with and transition from terrestrial radio. This understanding will include the role and contribution of community radio in a democratizing country, the skills to optimize journalism through community radio, management and leadership exposure and how that translates into a community radio environment and more. Radio in Bangladesh is woven into the fabric of village life, but since the advent of mobile phones and 3G internet it is a matter of time until those patterns of life change.  These communities will likely still appreciate the content community radio produces. Therefore, this exchange program will help community radio stations make the transition to digital and mobile platforms while continuing to play their critical role in a democratic and democratizing Bangladesh.

This idea of bridging the space in between terrestrial radio and the world wide web had me thinking about Tim Clarke‘s presentation at the Domains Fairs at #domains17. As part of his presentation, he showed off a couple of DIY tools called the LibraryBox/PirateBox. These are tools built with some concoction of a wireless router, a USB drive or SD card, and (though not completely necessary) a Raspberry Pi. The idea is that you can flash the software on the wireless router, install your own, and thus create a mini offline web that is accessible as long as someone is in the range of the router.

LibraryBox v2.0 from Jason Griffey on Vimeo.

I thought this could be a nice way of situating some of the projects I like to work on with something that might be valuable to the group. There’s a quote that I saw Dave Winer refer to recently:

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

There’s an earlier quote that speaks directly to radio as well:

Like the press which is free for those who own and control it, the radio is free for those who can buy equipment, hire technicians and talent, and secure profitable advertising contracts.

The argument I intend to make in the talk is that freedom obviously isn’t given to everyone, but technology has significantly decreased the costs and there are affordable solutions out there. As Dave asserts, I think its necessary for journalists to not just understand CMSs but the infrastructure (or at the very least the concept of infrastructure). Per usual, it’s going to harken back to what I normally wax poetically about: domains and servers. Web servers give us an environment to come to understand what it means to take care of, produce, and serve content/publications. In many ways it is the modern press and, again while not universal, much more democratized. But it need not be limited to the World Wide Web. The skills you can learn by learning to host a site are transferrable once you can understand the concept of files sitting on a server to be received by other devices.

So as a demonstration, I’ve put together my own version of the PirateBox: the CroomBox.

At Domains, Tim Clarke gave away three gifts that consisted of everything you needed to make one of these so this gave me an excuse to check it all out. I lucked out as only two people claimed them and Tim gave me the third (thanks Tim!) I downloaded both the firmware update and the install package and by noon it was good to go. So now I have a little offline web that stays with me now and looks like this:

All anyone has to do is connected to the wifi network “CroomBox” and they’ll be redirected to this page. It’s got built in chat and file sharing and I’ve enabled a couple of extra features including a discussion board and media library.

I’ve made a couple of very basic tweaks to the index.html to personalize it to the crowd and I’m on my way.

Obviously, you don’t have to use yours to serve a PirateBox…. The site can be whatever you wish it to be. But this concept is pretty neat and I like the possibilities. An underground publication, information for disaster relief in case of network outages, distribution of OER books, a physical classroom shared network, anonymous file swapping in airports. Whatever.

I’d write more but I’m supposed to be writing my talk and/or leaving my office because it’s Friday at 4:59pm.

Featured image: CC BY/SA PirateBox

I See What Google Did There…

A few years ago, I read a book called What Would Google Do? I actually don’t recommend it. But there’s a little nugget that I took away that is the only reason I remember anything in it. It’s this quote:

Google has turned commodification into a business strategy.

It’s through this quote (and through a Coursera course on a similar subject) that I started to understand why Google, the company, makes the decisions they make. The Coursera course was called Understanding Media by Understanding Google. During this course I had this specific a-ha moment. And I actually WOULD recommend the course, as it was quite intriguing, except it no longer exists and resides in the MOOC graveyard.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 4.31.53 PM.png

But the premise of the theory (at least what stuck in my head) is pretty simple: Google exists to montetize data sets. Therefore they want data. Therefore they’ll build tools that are valuable to you so you’ll give them data. It all comes back to ads. Which is quite fascinating that it’s that simple.

At the time, Google Plus was very new and it gave me an insight into why Google Plus exists at all. You see, there’s a lot of data that you store on your Facebook page. What your interests are, who you are connected to, etc. At the time that Google Plus launched, it was assumed that Google wanted to compete with Facebook. And, of course, that isn’t true at all. They don’t want to be Facebook. They just want to have a similar profile snapshot of the type of data you would put on Facebook. So they built Google Plus and gave it some social features and some maybe something Facebook didn’t have at the time (circles) so people would be intrigued to use it. Why does Google Plus not get updated anymore? Because they already have the data from you they want. Similarly, why does Google Plus not get killed? Because it continues to bring in data they want. And now they force it on you by having a Google Plus account be the center cog in a Google Account wheel. It’s really fascinating stuff.

Today Google announced what is, again, a fun and intriguing tool called AutoDraw. You draw some squiggly lines and it uses AI to guess what you meant to draw.


I have to admit that I played around with this tool for longer than I should have. But that’s because 1.) it actual is pretty neat technology and 2.) it almost feels like a game of pictionary. You want to know if it can guess what you are trying to draw.

And the reality is that it is a game. That’s exactly what Google wants. It wants you to play a game. It wants you to help improve the AI algorithms by drawing a bunch of doodles so it can get smarter. Does Google really want to improve drawing everywhere? Did Google find a specific weakness within the human race and thus felt compelled to solve a world problem? Or is Google creating a product that meets a market need of designers who need quick icons? Nah, none of those. Does it want to improve machine learning? Hell yes it does.

And if you don’t use AutoDraw, well then guess what? We’ve now forced it on you through CAPTCHA.


Personally, it’s fun when you start to understand the underlying reasoning for why companies like Google do what they do because you become critical enough to question intent. But it’s also scary to think that how easily we allow ourselves to become the slaves for the tech giants as well. What is really nothing more than a bar trick is enough of a carrot to get us to help improve their technology.

Placemaking and the Web

I’ve always felt that deep down I’m not a technology person–I’m a community person. And it just so happens that throughout my life I’ve happened to find an abundance of community through technology. But overall I’m much more interested in building community.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking more about what lessons can be learned from community planning, which of these lessons translates to the online world, and which ones need to be expanded/adapted. This post isn’t here to flesh ideas but rather it’s to draw a line in the sand about something I want to explore more closely over a (hopefully) extended amount of time.

How do we* make place in online learning?

*also, who makes up the “we” and who shapes who makes up the “we”. But that’s another story for another time.

It feels like there has been a lot of conversation post-Election about civility online. About how we recommit to constructive conversation. I was reminded of this from a recent episode of On Being where Krista Tippett talked about her new project: Civil Conversations Projects.

There’s a similar narrative in urban planning and design: We built to scale and not towards human-to-human interaction. I’m curious about what the web world can learn from the development of placemaking movement.

As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value. More than just promoting better urban design, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.

Today on campus at OU we are hosted our third Placemaking Conference and one of the speakers was Fred Kent, the Founder and President of Project for Public Spaces, who wrote a book called How to Turn a Place Around.  The book lists the following eleven principles for creating great community places:


You can read extended definitions of the 11 steps here. Again, I have little to say at the moment but I’m more and more curious about principles for designing online spaces, educational or not, in a collaborative fashion for communities with specific sociocultural contexts and believe these principles could be useful if taken with the right balance of open mindeness and skeptism. Please share if you are aware of folks that are doing research into similar ideas.

Featured image: Diodati Bike Stencil shared under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Looking Closer at Oklahoma and National Pell Grant Data

For the past five weeks, I’ve been leading a faculty reading group with Mark Morvant on Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab. This has been a great experience given the fact that I didn’t feel I would have time to be involved in Bryan Alexander’s online group like I was for We Make the Road By Walking.

I had three main goals for being involved with the reading group:

1. I’ve been wanting to read the book myself.

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s keynote at the OpenEd Conference in Richmond, VA was a refreshing surprise for me. I wasn’t aware of any of her work prior to hearing her, but she is such a captivating speaker. I like to think of OpenEd as a group of education technologists and librarians who are interested in student equity and social justice. For this particular group, Sara’s talk felt like going to church in the sense that you have an overwhelming feeling of personal guilt as she unpacks both the statistics and the stories and how much higher education is failing our low income student population. As I said in November:

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.

This group gave me an excuse to dig deeper into Sara’s work.

2. I wanted to be involved in collectively building empathy towards the student experience.

The majority of those who have been an instructor have been involved with a student story of misfortune. For me, these tend to be very individualized experiences which is probably because I want to respect the privacy of our students or because, from the student’s perspective, their issues are stigmatized. The point is that there isn’t a lot of opportunities for faculty to come together and discuss some of the experiences they’ve witnessed through their students or even talk about their own personal struggles as a student.

I began the reading group by introducing myself and my own student story. I entered college from a single income family. I worked part-time the entirety of my undergraduate career. Most of the time I was working two jobs although one semester I worked three (and paid for it heavily–it was my worst semester grades-wise and I had to drop one of my classes mid semester). The cost of living in the residence halls forced me to look elsewhere in Norman after my first semester. We managed to pay for the first year with no loans due to some local one-year scholarships I had earned. But those ran out and I had to make the decision to take out both federal loans and parent plus loans the next three years. Of course, I say all of this knowing I was in a much better position than other students. My parents still assisted with rent and my cell phone while I covered the rest of my living expenses. While I feel this is a very normal story, it was something I had yet to share in my professional life.

3. I wanted to use this as an opportunity for faculty and administration to have a collective conversation.

The truth is that OU really doing some excellent work and my guess is that faculty haven’t been painted a full picture of the resources that students have access to. For instance, through one of these conversations, I learned that there is something called a Work Assistance Tuition Waiver Program at OU. Students qualify for the scholarship if they are working 25+ hours a week. Even if there hours get cut to 10 hours a week, they can maintain their scholarship by completing 15 hours of school credit (summer courses and be banked towards this) and keep a 2.0 GPA.

For the reading group, we’ve had visitors for Financial Aid, the Provost’s Office, and Administration and Finance come talk about various efforts taking place on campus. As someone who strattles the line between the faculty and the administration, this reading group was a great opportunity to continue to build that bridge.

Looking at the Data

The last goal has been my favorite part of it. I came to know through the reading group how little I knew about the different groups of students we had on campus. Before, I couldn’t even tell you what a Pell Grant was or its monetary value. Now I feel much more equipped to speak towards the issues at hand and better support our students. It’s also been great to understand what efforts are happening for student success. I was given these figures on Pell Grant recipient retention:

Student Cohort Head Count ACT/SAT After One Year
2011 968 24.8 76.40%
2012 1004 24.7 75.80%
2013 779 25.5 79.10%
2014 757 25.6 79.90%
2015 727 25.8 87.30%

You’ll notice the big jump from 2014 and 2015. What will be really interesting to follow is to see if that jump maintains towards graduation.

Getting this data though led me on search for some bigger data set. I was curious to look at Pell Grant data a little bit more in the state of Oklahoma and beyond and landed on a 2015 Report called The Pell Partnership: Ensuring a Shared Responsibility for Low-Income Student Success. I created this interactive graph that helps you visualize some of the data specific to Oklahoma.

You can download the data set for this visualization or get the full data set rom the report to make sense of it however you wish.

Once I started playing with that data, I got even more curious about where Oklahoma is lands in the grand scheme of $31.5 billion spent on Pell Grants by the federal government. I came up with a visualization, colored for public vs private, that looks like this (sorry if your on a smartphone, it’s not very mobile friendly and you’re going to have to scroll a lot):

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I ended up adding a handful of filters so you can look at the data from a multitude of angles. Beyond looking at specific states, you can look at number of undergrads, grad rates, specific institutions, etc (again–sorry for mobile users. This one is virtually useless unless you are on a desktop).

View this visualization in a new tab

I’ve got to be honest and say that I’ve spent more time building the visualization than I have playing with the data. So if you find anything particularly interesting to you, please let me know in the comments. I’m also happy to visualize the data in a different manner if you would like custom views.

The main reason for the leading group is that Derek Houston, a visiting professor, was able to get Sara to come to campus to speak. This is my second time already this year where I’ve had the opportunity to rewatch a keynote presentation from OpenEd. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have those opportunities but also how valuable it is to watch anything twice. It’s like your favorite movies; the first view is awe and surprise while the second viewing allows you to catch the nuisances of what makes the work really special. I don’t quite have the words to describe the feeling quite yet, but there’s something swirling in my head about watching these talks both pre and post election and being reminded about the issues at stake. There’s something about being grounded in the type of work people like Gardner and Sara are doing. I think Gardner would firmly agree with the quote from Sara’s talk about OU (below)

I want to say thank you to Sara Goldrick-Rab for a number of things. First, you’ve been really inspiring to me as a scholar and an advocate and I so admire somebody who is  willing to play both of those roles in higher education. Second, thanks for jumpstarting a larger conversation around serving Pell Grant recipients at OU at both the faculty reading group level as well as the institution. And, last, thank you for inspiring me to look closer at my own local data, issues, and potential pathways forward.

Restarting the Battle

I’ve been listening to the New York Times Daily Podcast since it launched the last couple weeks. They end the first episode asking when in your lifetime you have felt that your life was intersecting with history. For me, the first time was April 19, 1995 when a white radical named Timothy McVeigh terrorized the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, less than 19 miles from my school, killing 168 people, including nineteen children in the day care center on the second floor, and injuring 684 others.

My dad was on the interstate at the time and felt the aftershocks of the bomb. One of my aunts, whom I am very close to, is a survivor. She worked in the building next door and the bomb blew out all of their windows. She likely would have not survived had she not been shielded under her desk. She was only down there because she walked to the Murrah Building every morning to get an iced tea and was reaching down to get some money out of her purse.

Today I didn’t necessarily witness history, but I was certainly in the presence of it.

I had scheduled what was expected to be a rather normal meeting with a group of faculty members in the Department of Human Relations. As I walked into the department’s conference room, I noticed a picture of a man on the wall. I had a hunch that that I knew who it was, but lacking full confidence, I walked up and read the plaque which read, “George Henderson.”

My hunch was correct.

Despite never have meeting Dr. Henderson face-to-face, I know his story quite well. In 1967, Dr. Henderson moved his young family to Norman, Oklahoma from Detroit to take a professor position in Sociology. Coming from an all-black neighborhood, he would be the first African American to purchase a house in Norman.

Last year, the Norman Transcript did a wonderful in-depth on those early times for the Henderson’s shortly before the upcoming 50 year anniversary of the Henderson’s move to Norman.

Barbara said they knew immediately that they were not wanted by some of their neighbors. It took many forms: Rude phone calls, trash in the yard, hateful messages passed between acquaintances and even threats to their daughters. Their son became the first black player to win a varsity letter in basketball at Norman High, but despite his talent, he still faced an uphill battle. George said that his son’s coach, the late Max Marquardt, told them straight up: “Norman isn’t ready for a black starter.”

Much to the advantage of everybody, the Henderson’s never left Norman. According to his biography, they went to incredible lengths to both foster human rights initiatives and mentor African American students. Fast forward 48 years later to 2015, when a campus-wide racist fraternity chant led OU President David Boren to swiftly and decisively ban a local chapter. The video of the chant was released on a Sunday night and early Monday morning Dr. Henderson was seen front-and-center standing in protest with others in the OU community.

Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

For the students involved in the incident but continued to remain on campus, they were the beneficiaries of getting the opportunity to go through a sensitivity training personally led by Dr. Henderson.

“He’s a great civil rights pioneer in the state,” Boren said. “He’s made a tremendous difference in the fabric of our society. And he has counseled me as well during this crisis.” (source)

So you probably know where this is going. Unexpectedly the meeting starts and in walks Dr. Henderson, who quietly unbuttons his overcoat and takes a seat in the back and the head of the table.

I don’t want to go over the specifics of the meeting–mainly because that’s not the point of this post–but I found myself in what felt like an out-of-body experience watching him talk. He spoke about a number of topical issues: creating the Department of Human Relations two years after joining the OU faculty, being a retired dean of the College of Liberal Studies, where online education first came to bare at OU, and about a major focus of the department: social justice. With the turbulence happening across the country, it feels like that focus is as important as it has ever been in the department’s history.

The meeting ended a little over an hours worth of time. I was sitting next to Dr. Henderson and, feeling a bit at a loss for words, I attempted to convey my abundance of reverence by simply turning to him and mustering together, “Thank you. For everything.”

He knew what I meant. Slowly, Dr. Henderson responded, “I would have never believed that in 2017 we would be starting the battle all over again.”

I looked back at him–now with tears in my eyes–and responded, “Dr. Henderson, you’re going to make me cry.”

We talked a little while longer about a handful of issues. How the events we witnessed at OU in 2015 were somewhat of a early signal and how they had put the institution in a much healthier position to lead moving forward. We talked about what a model citizen Barack Obama was and how proud Dr. Henderson was of that moment in time (he specifically mentioned being particularly proud of Michelle). And we talked about when he first met President Boren who, at the time, was a law professor at Oklahoma Baptist University.

Dr. Henderson thanked me for what our department was doing to bring faculty together. He doesn’t like faculty being “in their silos,” which is a comment I imagine he often says. I found this from an Oklahoma Daily article:

This might surprise you. When I came in ’67, through the ’80s, we valued as a university teaching more than anything else — this was an excellent teaching place. So therefore, as teachers, we were not so much driven by our academic discipline in terms of research, we were driven by just the quest for knowledge. And so, we were not in silos — the physical, the social, the fine arts and so forth. People were not in silos, we were together.

I think as a whole, faculty members knew more individuals across campus than they do today, which meant also it was a time in which it was not uncommon to go to a student union and see faculty members, either from different departments together, or faculty members with students. There was an awful lot of that going on. I don’t see much of that anymore. Maybe that’s the price of progress — I hope not.

If you didn’t–as I didn’t–witness the Civil Rights Movement firsthand, it can be hard to fully understand the length at which our citizens went to fight for equality in our country. And if you are a white male–as I am–it’s easy to ignore how far we have to go. It’s much easier when you get the opportunities to interact with people like Dr. Henderson because he has witnessed both sides. There are many advantages and disadvantages to living in a state so young (our university is predates statehood), and being able to work in an environment where people like George Henderson and David Boren still work, people who have come to help shape and define our state’s short history–that’s a real blessing that the University of Oklahoma affords.

And so we start the battle all over again.

Dr. George Henderson and me


I have to be honest. I’m really struggling with carrying on business as usual, particularly in the online space, due to the events that took place during the first weeks of the new presidency. Even more so, I struggle with how to be a valuable participant in the conversation. And so I struggle with what and how to write, even the simplest of event recap blog posts like this one (I’ve had to come back to this a handful of times to properly finish it).

As I reflect on my post-election actions thus far, I notice that I’ve become a bit of an internet recluse and being purposeful in expanding my vehicles for listening. In that, I’ve found Twitter lists to be really helpful as a way to gain new perspectives in mass. This White House Press Corps Twitter list has been a go-to. I’ve also subscribed to two separate lists: Republican and Democrat Congressman. And on a personal note, I’ve found myself staying farther away from social media when in the presence of my family in order to keep my mood in check. My social media apps are very strategically hidden from myself on my phone. My go-to nightly read is the NYTimes Evening Brief. I very highly recommend reading everything Maggie Haberman writes as her sources seem to be really close to the White House action and her coverage is really, really really good.

At the same time, I think about what happens if I stop blogging about work, education, and education technology. I certainly don’t think the world is a better place because of my writing, but I struggle with what would happen if I turned that part of my brain for a bit. If I stopped sharing my thoughts. And then I get even more scared that I’m feeding the beast by keeping my mouth shut. I’d be allowing external forces to deeply control what I do and do not share.

So I continue to blog. Not because of my ignorance to the world around or my lack of willingness to acknowledge it but because it is a vehicle for my sanity. Though these events put so much into a bigger perspective, I will not allow them to overshadow what I still feel like is work worth doing and words worth writing.

And so I blog.

You’re a mad person if you hadn’t been more appreciative of the friendships and relationships in your life lately. A couple weeks ago we held our annual Academic Technology Expo (ATE). We were fortunate enough to have two people here in Norman who I deeply respect. Gardner Campbell from VCU keynoted the event and Jeremy Dean from was also willing to brave an impending snow storm to visit campus as well.

I’ll work backwards and start with Jeremy. I invited Jeremy because we had two faculty panels that dealt with My team and I have been big supporters of since we heard about it. I’ve written about integrating it into every WordPress instance as a plugin and John Stewart has done great work with building the Collector, a Google Spreadsheet that interacts with the API. Jeremy and I connected first on Twitter and though we didn’t meet in person until OpenEd17, I knew very quickly after multiple nights of drinks and story swapping, that we we were kindred spirits.

I blogged a few months back about having Ben Scragg stay at my house for the Ohio State football game slash meet with our team. I’ve loved being able to open up my home to in-town visitors and offered up the guest room again to Jeremy if he wanted to come participate in the conversations. He obliged and hung out with the Crooms. Like Ben and myself, Jeremy is a dad of little girls and I can’t be thankful enough to how genuine and loving the people in my small, little network are. My oldest, who is five, mentioned this morning the Dragons Love Tacos book she received from “Mr. Ben” and the sticker book she received from “Mr. Jeremy.” No joke, the tiny remembers them by name.

Our late night conversations revolved around how to best support the others endeavors. After conversations like delete your account, I’m reminded that higher ed needs to be better at identifying the good/bad and supporting the ones we believe in. Higher ed doesn’t seem to understand 1. how to build/share the appropriate tools it needs or 2. convince the right people to build them in a way that promotes values of accessibility, openness, networks, etc etc. People like Carol Quillen and Kristen Eshelman at Davidson College, along with George Siemens and others, have discussed a concept like this as the radical middle.

What if ed tech companies and higher ed institutions began not by negotiating a contract but by identifying a shared purpose with respect to teaching, learning or research?

There’s a sense of optimism in that concept that demands a type of path be forged.

And then there’s Gardner Campbell. I got the honor of introducing him at ATE and had to give recognition to his article A Personal Cyberinfrastructure, which was highly influential in many things–not the least being my eventual Masters thesis. Paired with Papert’s work and Mimi Ito’s Connected Learning framework, Gardner’s article guided much of that research project. That phrase though… “Personal cyberinfrastructure.” So good!

I was in the fortunate position of already getting a tasting of Gardner’s talk on Insight at OpenEd. A couple times in the past few years, I’ve got the opportunity to see how a talk evolves. For instance, I saw Jim Groom’s thoughts evolve from an et4online keynote to the eventual keynote at ATE 2015. Jim’s ATE talk was the best version of a Jim talk I had seen and the way he was starting to frame out domains into the analogies of transportation (“How Automobiles, Super Highways, and Containerization helped me understand the future of the Web”) was brilliant and also ties nicely into the idea of “infrastructure.” In the blog comments of the link above, Alan Levine refers to this talk as the Grand Unified Theory of Reclaim, and I couldn’t agree more.

But back to Gardner. I was curious to see what the post-election version of this talk was like. How would he adapt a talk that was originally attended for open/oer to a general institution audience? Well, he did it in a great way, thinking more about the concept of insight itself, thanks to a good friend Mo Pelzel, who referred Gardner to a book called Insight by BJF Lonergan after OpenEd.

One of my favorite adds was, not surprisingly, a quote from Alan Kay:

Slide from Gardner’s talk

But, more importantly, I think he rightfully challenged the traditional view of what the outcomes of a classroom should be. I’m fascinated by the perspectives of very personal insights taking places within a broader network.

I urge you to think about how these networks can actually be ways of re-describing the world in revelatory modes.

Equally as important to me was the opportunity I got to spend with Gardner sharing meals, sharing my home, and seeing Norman. As I mentioned, the weather was terrible, but that didn’t stop us from making a quick trip to the local record shop, Guestroom Records.

I wasn’t actually aware of what an avid collector Gardner was before he arrived though he’s enough of a collector to already be familiar with Discogs, the site I use to catalog of collection, and the basis for my Vinyl subdomain. While at Guestroom, I actually happened to find a very rare pressing of the Postal Service record I had been hunting for for some time somewhat shockingly. Gardner unfortunately struck out on finding anything that he didn’t really want. At dinner the night before Gardner asked me if there was any record where I had multiple copies of it. Indeed, I own about five copies, four separate pressings of one of all time favorite records, Dog Problems by The Format (if you’re feeling the need for music criticism in your life, this Modern Vinyl podcast on the album is really rich). As a parting gift and token of my appreciation, I gave Gardner one of my duplicates that also happened to be unopened.

I can’t say enough thanks for the opportunity to bring Gardner back to my community or for the conversations we got to subsequently have about the possible futures of digital learning. I’ll particularly cherish those for a long time. At the moment, in a time of so many unknowns, there are a lot of directions it can go, and it’s only more important that perspectives like Gardner’s continue to be shared. I know I’ll always be listening.

If you want to see the full presentation from Gardner, check it out below.

It also feels good to be blogging on this side on 2017!

This transforms the road.

This will be my last blog post on the series I’ve been doing over the book We Make the Road by Walking, which included three chapter posts (1, 2, 3), a technical post on my quote generator, a co-authored post with Amy Collier, and a Twitter bot. In the end, I’ll have written roughly 12,000 total words on #HortonFriere, so many thanks to Bryan Alexander for organizing this online book club.

HortonFreire was the right opportunity at the right time. It became, more than anything, a way for me to channel my energy towards something that felt productive within my professional community. Recently, Alan Levine wrote a blog post about building a neat animation web tool based off of my annotation spreadsheet, which pulls in all of my book highlights. I replied with this comment:

I’m thinking more about building as a way of processing or as a way of contributing.

I like when I get to both contribute and stretch myself through little projects. It’s only icing on the cake when someone as talented as Alan builds on top of it. There should be a name for all projects that Alan and I both contribute it. I’m still mulling it over but I like the sound of “Adam Levine” at the moment.

Alan’s quote animator. We Make the Read by Annotating.

Doing the co-authored post was also one of those moments and probably the most ambitious project I did within #HortonFreire. Please take the time to read it if you haven’t. In one fell swoop, we covered openness, scaffolding, grief, politics, participatory inquiry, and the future of infrastructure–aka our “roads.”

I was really connecting with Amy and her blog posts so I DMed her about having a virtual call in a similar format to the book and releasing it as a blog post. It gave me an opportunity to ask Amy some questions about her thoughts on the book while also thinking through written conversation as a medium. John Stewart and I were having a conversation about what’s the biggest difference between a podcast and a book like this. I have to admit that I’m a real big fan of the conversational style if only because it makes something like “critical pedagogy” much more approachable. It de-academicitizes something that I’ve come to think of as a very complex topic.

Amy and I used Skype for the phone call and I used a tool that David Kampmann turned me on to called Call Recorder for Skype, which makes a stereo recording of both inputs and outputs. I then took the audio file in to Audacity so that I could dial back the tempo which makes it a little easier to transcribe.

I will say that it’s pretty funny to listen to your own conversation at 70% speed. Eventually you get use to the slow pace of it and forget that you’ve sped it down. It mostly just sounds like you are just really struggling to find your words.

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Our conversation was right around 45 minutes long at full speed and it took me maybe 90 minutes to transcribe it all in a Google Doc. I then gave us a few ground rules which was to only lightly polish the transcript although ach party was allowed to rewrite a single sentence if they wished. If you read it, you’ll notice that the sentences aren’t always perfect but that’s the point. I really was hoping it would reflect the natural flow of a conversation and I think it lives up to that.

Reflecting on this now, I do feel like we rushed through a lot of moments in order to fit everything into the 45 minute time slot. There are a couple of areas where we probably could have expanded on a bit. But I can now see how these books can come together rather quickly. I can imagine it would only take a handful of three hour conversations to build this.

The next question was where to publish it. We both agreed that a neutral space would be best. I found a tweet that said you can co-author Medium articles that are in Medium publications, but this seems to not be true as I never figured out how to do that. I was also curious in the new tool which is a publishing platform that doesn’t require a login, but that still is a bit too beta for me to trust. We landed in using Github pages and a Jekyll Boostrap theme.

What’s neat about Github pages is that anyone could fork the site, add their own blog post, and do a pull request to our repository. This means that anyone can add their own conversations as blog posts to the blog if they so chose to do so. It gives some kind of visual of what a federated social media network of transcribed conversations could possibly look like. Because there’s probably a market of like 11 people looking for just that.

I also made my first Twitter bot. Once Alan had released his project, I had the itch to build one more thing. It felt like a natural progression to go from quote spreadsheet, to quote generator, to Alan’s full blown webpage, to a textbot. I had a read a couple articles about Twitter bots that were Python-based. I’m still inimitated in that area so I went hunting for an easier solution. Thanks to Tom Woodward, I’ve become addicted to the Google Spreadsheet to Power Everything model and googled “Google Spreadsheet Twitter Bot.

As luck would have it, I landed on a post from Zach Whalen from Mary Wash.  Zach has his students create Twitter bots with a  Google Spreadsheet. There are four different flavors of bots you can create including one that pulls from your Twitter profile via Martin Hawksey’s TAGS tool as well as a Markov chain algorithm text generator, which has you paste in a text corpus and then puts together a sentence string based on pairs of words in the text. One of the neater pieces of the tool is that you can generate a preview that will show you potential tweets, so I pasted in my collection of now 100+ annotations of We Make the Road and hit go.

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Terry Elliott, who was actually the person to invite me to first annotate the text using, made a comment about whether you could tie the bot directly to the tag.

This seemed like an intriguing idea, so I took Zach’s code that was tied to Hawkey’s TAGS tool and rerouted it to my spreadsheet. I did indeed get it to work although for some reason the sentences are nearly as complex.

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So, for now at least, I’m sticking with the Markov generator. Feel free to follow @HortonFreireBot for your daily #HortonFreire zen (thanks @HortonFreirebot for writing the title of this blog post and other things I agree with)

I don’t know what it means when you decide that you believe bot gobbly gook. But I’m at a point where I don’t know what sources to trust, so create your own.


I’m excited to follow more posts as others continue their way through the book. While this is my latest “official” post, I’m excited to participate in an ongoing conversation. Now alls I got to do is write a couple end of year blog posts. What’s it mean when you are ready for 2016 to be over but you also don’t want 2017 to come?

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 :-)

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