Posts in "Uncategorized"

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

I love visitors. Visitors are my favorite.

It’s been a whirlwind of a semester already and things aren’t even close to slowing down in the DLT. We’ve added 400 more sites to OU Create, assisted in the Canvas implementation to the tune of 35% adoption, and have also been fortunate enough to give the Norman VIP treatment to a couple of people within our edtech kin.

A week ago, we had Matt Crosslin from the UT-Arlington LINK Reseach LAB come up to chat about OU Create. UT-Arlington is thinking differently about domains and the classroom with a specific slant on research. As Alan Levinrecently mentioned, there is little-to-no research being done specifically on projects like DS106/DoOO, which doesn’t actually surprise me at all. Throughout my time working within domains I’ve received multiple requests to discuss implementation of domains but very few on research.

For Matt, the team was able to pass along some of our strategies for onboarding students, how we’ve thought about how domains and LMSs can work together (this is partially due to Matt’s particular interest in dual-layer/customizable pathways as well as our recent Canvas transition), how domains have provided soft infrastructure for digital humanities projects like the New Deal in Oklahoma project, and also showed off some of the new virtual reality projects that are being championed through OU Libraries thanks to Sarah Clayton.

And THEN we had this by-no-means long-term impactful football game against No. 3 ranked THE Ohio State Buckeyes over the weekend. Back in April at OLC Innovate, on the New Orleans streets o’ Bourbon, I promised Ben Scragg a free room if he ventured down to Norman for the football game. He took me up on that offer and stayed in our guestroom for a few nights. He also spent two full days getting to understand the in’s and out’s of CTE and got more than his money’s worth of Oklahoma culture and cuisine.

I’ll get into our professional discussions further down, but let me first say how fun it was to get to spend time with Ben on a pure, dad level given that we are both fathers to tiny ladies. Ben’s kid is currently much younger than either of ours, but she has a lot to look forward too. My two daughters thought “Mr. Ben” was the cat’s meow to the point where my oldest opened up my camera app to and ask Mr. Ben to take a selfie.

She also reads two books from school every night (this is because you are only allowed to check out two books at a time and she wants new books every day) and when I asked her who she wanted to read with her she requested the bearded child whisperer.


Other than his asute ability to explain Dr. Seuss’ nonsensical words to a four year old, it was also great to spend time with someone from an aspirational univerisity for us. Ben and I first met in 2014 at a time when many people were telling me to look at tOSU as a university that was similar in stature to OU, so I’ve followed the ODEE ever since. There is a culture of complexity of institutions our size, so I really appreciate when I can hear from someone that we share a similar feeling of institutional-ness.

Similar to Matt’s visit, we talked a lot about OU Create with a particular emphasis of how OU Create has powered the curriculum for several (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) faculty learning communities which allows anybody to peer into our FLC structures. Ben even got to sit in one of Keegan’s sessions of eXperience Play, the newest brain child of the dynamic duo of Keegan and John Stewart, which requires faculty to create text-based games by the end of the sixth session. Anybody who knows Keegan knows that his enthusiasm for technology, teaching, and learning is infectious, to a point in which he’s built a small following of Keeganers.


We also talked about the Creaties. I mentioned how I hoped the Creaties brought aspiration to OU Create users by supplying a batch of best in class while also rewarding those who have worked hard in supporting our mission. It was exciting to hear how tOSU has both faculty and student showcases happen once a year through Innovate 365. Similar to OU, tOSU is current in between transitions of D2L and Canvas and this is their first full semester. This week their showcase is showing Canvas courses that are works-in-progress and gives space for faculty to talk about what they like, what they don’t like, where they found themselves stuck, and how they’ve worked through/around it.

Needless to say, it’s been great having a recent wave of visitors find their way to the middle of the country to visit campus. I’m proud of the team we built and more proud that we get to show it off in conjunction to learning from people in similar positions. If you would have told me anybody from tOSU or a UT system school ever wanted to come visit, I would imagine the only scenario would be that they were trying to collect on a poor football game bet I had made somewhere along the way. It turns out tOSU are not that kind though as multiple tOSU fans have penned letters to editor thanking for the Oklahoma hospitality.

With all of that said, please reach out if anybody else wants to do stop by rather than doing the usual flyover method of seeing Oklahoma. I love visitors! Visitors are my favorite!


The LMS has landed.

It was announced in late Spring that OU was moving from Design2Learn to Canvas as its primary learning management system. Since then, all forces in our Center have been pointed towards all things LMS. Being that Canvas is a much bigger, nastier beast than our sweet, innocent Domain of One’s Own initiative that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, the reserves have been brought in.

Given that the Digital Learning has been a bit nimble and creative in making sure OU Create students felt supported and honored for their work, I was asked to lead the student side of Canvas as well. I was also asked to design the landing page for the Canvas portal which is now live at


This gave me an opportunity to infiltrate some of my “domain knowledge” (get it?!) into Canvas, which I appreciated. So I created my own little personal challenge set out to build my own sort of a SPLOT (Smallest Possible L___ O___ T___). Behold! The Smallest Possible Landing Page! Also known as SPLP to those who like to spit.

There were a few reasons for wanting to attack from this direction: 1.) I wanted it to be pure HTML so it would be super small, fast, and could run on any server since it didn’t require a database 2.) I was told this thing would basically only exist for a year so it didn’t make sense to build out much more than a page or two and 3.) it’s in many ways a metaphor for how I feel about domains versus LMSs. One is portable and light and accessible and the other is big, bulky, scary, and behind a login page. Why not give people one last small bite of pizazz, color (and hope) before they enter the santizied white walls of Canvas. Seriously, Canvas is nice and clean but an accent wall here or there wouldn’t hurt anybody! Sometimes I feel a bit like I’m stuck in the Construct from the Matrix.


Back in March, Alan Levine had posted a link to some HTML5 templates on our little IndieEdTech Slack Channel which you can check out at I landed on one titled Alpha:

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.46.44 AM.png

This template would actually likely work for a fully functioning website as they have some subpage templates including a contact page but I opted to simply use the front page. A side note: although it’s been released on HTML5, it was built by a a couple, Cherry and AJ, who have released over 800 HTML5 templates under a CC license on their own website. Kudos to them for sharing such a vast resource for folks like me!

Anyways, my main goal was get users to the login at as quickly as possible while also sharing a bit of helpful hints on where to find resources and help. I placed two logins above the fold and a big ol’ link to the CTE resource site to learn more about the initiative. Again, knowing that this site would be nuked in a year I didn’t want to build out a lot of native content and opted to rather push users out the content in which other teams have already built out on the Center for Teaching Excellence website, which presumably isn’t going anywhere for some time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.54.18 AM.png

I gave four call outs to the following: faculty adoption, Canvas video tutorials, the mobile apps, and the Canvas guides. I found a neat little tool called which will detect the device and then send the user to the appropriate URL. All desktops will be sent to the iTunes webpage, while Apple devices will be sent directly to the native AppStore and Android devices will be sent to Google Play.

There were a couple places where the content was more text-based. Knowing that Canvas is really good about making the content, such as their guides, CC licensed I poked around their sites for some text that might talk about the platform itself. I was surprised at how focused their page is on decision makers more than anything else. Here’s the bullets of their Higher Ed LMS page:

  • How to choose an LMS
  • Will it get used?
  • Adoptable
  • Adaptable
  • Reliable
  • The Canvas experience

Not much I can sell there on the top bullets and the Canvas experience simply pointed to a few case studies (there are a few nuggets in the Research page though). Even more frustrating was the lack of student experience language. Even their videos speak more about the instructor experience than the student. As a Canvas newbie, I don’t have a lot to go off of on exactly what students will exactly like about Canvas, so I scrapped talking about features and simply went with getting help and the onboarding (logging in, downloading the app, answering questions, etc.).

I spent an extra amount of time really honing in the responsiveness and speed. I blogged a earlier in the summer how I’ve became a little obsessed with speed and websites. I really wanted to focus on the user who is coming here on their mobile device with a slower data plan. That meant optimizing images as much as possible, looking at the site from every angle on several devices, and tweaking the CSS little by little.

Last, here’s the speed test:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.54.52 PM.png

Boom! A 99! And this one doesn’t even have grade inflation! I haven’t felt this good since freshman year Sociology.

My only point dock was on a couple of Google JS files that I can’t fix for them. So I’ll take it. It’s load time is a little over half a second and is faster than 96% of the other sites.  Very cool stats. One thing that really helped was adding resource caching to the .htaccess so you don’t have to reload resources everything you don’t them. That code snippet looks like this:

As a way to gauge it’s performance, I ran it across some other highly trafficked OU websites and this little flat file is 5-10x faster than most anything else. Mission SPLP Accomplished! That’s one small site for man that gives you entrance into one GIANT LMS.

I’ve also released the code in a Github repository in the event that it is valuable to any other institutions. I would love to hear any feedback on either the site or how others have approached informing students!

Featured image: a flickr photo shared by Apollo Image Gallery under a Public Domain Work Mark 1.0 Creative Commons license

Three potentially non-related thoughts on media and identity.

Thought One

I was practically raised in some form of a media store. I have childhood memories of going to rent videos in my hometown. There were a couple of family owned video rental stores, but we were partial to one called Bronco Video, which was ran by an old man named Charlie (Charlie liked that we also had a dog named Charlie). Eventually we stopped going because my dad thought the prices were too high. Of course, he was comparing it to the new Blockbuster, which–in the span of fifteen years–put the family stores out of business and would file their own bankruptcy. Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s slightly weird to me that I’ll have to explain to my kids, who have any show they desire at their fingertips, that once upon a time, we collectively shared this specific format of media as community.

I also remember asking my mom if I could hang out by the magazines aisle at the grocery store while she shopped. I would read MAD magazine or Guitar World or Sports Illustrated. In fact, magazines are still probably one of my favorite mediums. I would frequently catch myself surfing the magazine aisles until, one night at probably 1am in a CVS in New Jersey, a store clerk told me they “were a store, not a library.” I was actually planning on buying the magazine I was holding, but felt so angry I left immediately and don’t really do that as much anymore. Thanks for nothing, Jersey!

But the mecca of media loitering for me was the Hastings in my hometown, Yukon, OK (home of Garth Brooks!) located on Garth Brooks Blvd. A usual Friday night involved going to a movie at the dollar theater and then walking to Hastings to (mostly) loiter.

Now if you aren’t familiar with Hastings, I can paint the picture fairly quickly. Hastings is a West Texas-owned media store chain for small towns mostly located in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico (although there are several scattered across the south). The store, at the time I most frequented it, could be broken up into four distinct sections: books, movies (mainly rentals), music, and magazines. Lightly sprinkled around the music section were pop culture novelty items like movie collectibles.

So we would make our way to Hastings, drink their complimentary Snickerdoodle flavored instant coffee, take advantage of their complimentary pay phone to prank dial our friends, and surf the CD section. I could spend hours in there thumbing through the various sections. There’s something to be said for the way you “discovered” music this way looking for small hints of a record based off the artwork or the record label who put it out.

Needless to say, I have fond memories of Hastings. Don’t get me wrong, Hastings was no independent record store, but it was our store. And when your options are Hastings and Walmart, Hastings felt like this direct connection to the rest of existence–a world not distracted by Friday night lights or Garth hysteria.

Recently, we moved across town and we are now in walking distance of the Hastings in Norman. As one does in efforts to relive their youth, I’ll occasionally dip into Hastings, which now has a full blown coffee shop in place of Snickerdoodle drip and has slowly started to look more like a Spencer’s Gifts than a media outlet. But there was some decency left. When my wife and I first got married, we opted out of cable and instead would rent DVDs there. They started carrying vinyl a few years back and I was able to store some real gems before the vinyl market really came back in full force and pushed prices through the roof. Their novetly section had certainly grown, but movies still occupied a fourth of the floor space while books took another fourth.

And then shortly after Christmas I noticed Hastings had nearly put the whole store on deep discount. Uh oh, here it comes, I thought. The book section has been trimmed to probably–at best–half the size it was. Instead, we now get branded toys.

Music is all the way in the back. A large section of movies now occupied by super deformed figurines called POP! Vinyl.

But the books being replaced with toys really stung. It appears to me that as media moves digital what is being peddled is no longer the media for which we interact act, but branded content that “deepens and extends the relationship between the art and the consumer.”


It’s one thing to see a bookstore close down. In some ways, it allows to close the chapter (no pun intended) on something. It’s another to watch it slowly change beneath your feet. I remember several years back returning to an ice hockey rink where I had first learned to ice skate. It’s now an antique market:


Photo by me. CC By or whatever.

And I recognize I’m a part of the problem myself. I buy vinyl (mostly) as a collectible because I listen to the music mainly from overpriced iPod earbuds. I rent my books/movies via Amazon. I stream a significant amount of content. Really, what’s left to buy? My relationship with media as a consumer is vastly different than it was ten years ago.

Of course, this change has been taking a place within and around me for along time, I’m just finally in a spot to open my eyes, look around, and recognize that I’m personally being affected by it.

Thought Two

Last week, Chance the Rapper released his latest mixtape, Coloring Book. It would be disingenous for me to say I knew who Chance the Rapper was before this happened. But there was some buzz about it around campus and I started seeing articles pop up on my Twitter feed about it. Pitchfork called it “an uplifting mix that even an atheist can catch the Spirit to” and compared it to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, which I recently dug. I have to say I really, really enjoy it and see why it’s getting the attention it rightly deserves.

If you aren’t familiar with Coloring Book, look it up and read about it. It’s a quite interesting tale in that it’s been released exclusively as a stream. No physical copies exist. No record label was involved. Chance is, for all intents and purposes, an incredibly independent artist (or not–depending on which side of the argument you like), who made a mixtape he liked and shared it via Apple music. It’s now the first album to streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200.

But I get the sense that music executives who read this as how Chance “broke all the rules” and that “streaming is the dominant medium” will miss the bigger picture. The what (not just the how) is even considered to be media is now being challenged. This kind of change to me looks more evolutionary than necessarily disruptive.

In digging around for info around Chance, I found this quote in a 2013 Rolling Stone article in which Chance is commenting on his last record, Acip Rap:

The whole point of Acid Rap was just to ask people a question: does the music business side of this dictate what type of project this is? If it’s all original music and it’s got this much emotion around it and it connects this way with this many people, is it a mixtape? What’s an album these days, anyways? ‘Cause I didn’t sell it, does that mean it’s not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I’ll just make my money touring.

Chance not selling records can be perceived as a political statement about the industry as a whole. The idea of releasing something on a specific medium with a specific price point takes away from what Chance is doing, which is making “all original music with emotion that connects with people.”

Thought Three

One of the nicest people I’ve ran across in quite some time, Kin Lane, has put API and @APIEvangelist up for sale, in efforts to fund a personal matter. As Kin says on the site, “if you want to follow the story of what I’m up to this summer you can head over to”

This really spoke to me. The world spends a lot of time building “value” and “social capital” around our online identities. Kin and API Evangelist are synonymous. As Kin says, “API Evangelist is the only asset I own.”

I’ll just say this… One can only hope that if they had the same opportunity to trade their digital identity, they would.

Featured image is a flickr photo shared by CJ Bryan under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Some Musings On Barriers to Remix

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Mike Caulfield penned a quite brilliant post titled Simon’s Watchmakers and the Future of Courseware. This response was partly inspired by David Wiley’s post OER: Some Questions and Answers which was partly inspired by an op-ed by Pearson. Note that these are arguably all required readings before really taking in what I’m about to attempt to lay out. But this is one of those reminders on what is fun about the distributed nature of the web. Caulfield uses the story of Tempus and Hora to illustrate how the Pearson can talk about their high value of what Caulfield refers to as “end-to-end” production of textbooks:

Rather than being an aggregation of sub-assemblies, it’s an end to end treatment of a subject meant to be tightly coupled to a course sequence.

But us common folk can leverage our own technology to subvert this model and add our own thoughts. In some ways, this ability to respond and build is a “sub-assembly” of the value/complexity that exists within “open.” And the nature in which it has been assembled couldn’t be a closer mirror to how the different camps work. One can only imagine that Curtiss Barnes, Managing Director, Global Product Management and Design, at Pearson and the author of the Pearson op-ed, wrote and ran the piece by a number of internal stakeholders who added input to how to best deliver the message; only to publish purchase sponsored content space on the very passionate space Education Dive. No, really, they’re really passionate about education. Their parent company, Industry Dive, is also passionate about eleven vertical markets (BioPharma, IT strategy, Construction, Food, Retail, Utility, Waste, etc etc). Oh, I see. Well then.

Others like David and Mike have independently crafted pieces of thought from their respective vantage points. And that’s fantastic. This is how the field(s) has been able to further itself. In plain sight as an aggregation of sub-assemblies.

As Mike notes, David’s piece blurs the lines of post and essay. Mike’s own piece is riddled with stories matching his nature of knowing much about a lot of things. My thoughts are a lot less formed and will more than likely take the shape of “thinking out loud” and will likely come to a lack of conclusion or, better, a stab at my utopia. In fact, I’ll probably note things like this “will more than likely take the shape of ‘thinking out loud.'” Oh good. I’m on the right track.

Rolin Moe and I have been chatting for about a year about the complexities of “open” with a particular attention to audiovisual resources (spoiler alert: we argue that licenses do very little for this more complex medium). Mike has helped us think through some of our ideas via Twitter.

This culminated in a presentation at OLC Innovate last week which, as I’ve noted, was a bit of struggle for me (again–we’re still forming over here). So here’s a quick attempt to look at some of the biggest issues I’m currently seeing that are affecting OER, open, and, perhaps more broadly, sharing in general.

Technology has fundamentally shifted away from ownership to access.

What resonated to me from Mike’s piece above everything else was his recognition of a clash between usefulness and remixability. Resources that tend to be universally useful (PDF) tend to not be remixable. Resources that tend to remixable (let’s say open source code) tend to only be accessible by a privileged few who understand how to unlock the technology into a matter that is actually tweakable.

This privilege gets smaller and smaller as technologies do not sell goods per say, but rather the opportunity to rent goods. You don’t own the source file of your iPhone app for instance. Rather Apple tells us that the apps “are licensed, not sold, to You.” The same is for Netflix and videos, Amazon and books, etc. Your purchase is more like a perpetual entrance to the show that will last until the cast is tired of performing for you or because it’s no longer economically feasible or because it’s bought out or whatever.

This idea of the “subscription economy” as described by Tien Tzuo is to maximize “flexibility” on the end of the customer. One could change from short term to long term to pay-as-you-go price models.

But flexibility, in this sense, is not flexible in the sense of open (which makes sense since the idea is rooted in economic rather than technological terms). The problem is ownership (or rather access to source materials) is fundamental to remixability. One needs to be able to access the raw data–be it simply text, code, footage, etc.

My fear is that, as general markets becomes more accustom to renting rather than purchasing access to data, remixable pieces of media will become harder to find as it will continue to be de-prioritized within the development cycle. Instead, we will just continue to cross our little fingers that cloud services continue to maintain 99.9% uptime and websites will continue to link to/sell us access to the resources we wish to see–only to create a larger gap between those who want access and those who are granted it.

To me, remixability is much more than making sure we have access to change text. It’s also a rallying cry for maintaining a specific type of development that prioritizes individual agency.

Sharing of source files has been demonized.

This next thought probably reflects a little bit more issues in America and I would appreciate anyone who could bring a more international perspective.

The court cases of the early 21st century around peer-to-peer sharing of illegal files (specifically Napster) and further cases around hosting/streaming files (Pirate Bay, BitTorrent, Megaupload) demonized the whole notion of sharing across the web. As the United States Copyright Office and U.S. courts opted to take the side of big industry instead of the individual user (they literally refer to it as “file sharing piracy“), I’ll make the assumption that the public has began to assume that it is best to not share materials broadly. This has led to a broader confusion copyright law, what we call “fair use” within higher education, and what models exist for working and sharing within the laws of copyright (such as Creative Commons). It’s worth adding an extra emphasis that I’m not publicly advocating that the sharing of illegal materials is good. I’m merely surmising that the media coverage around such acts has had a net negative on sharing of anything digital in general.

It makes me wonder what a subscription service to OER textbooks would like. Before you balk at the idea, hear me about for a bit. Consumers feel that the ability to make a secure transaction makes the purchase of goods legal. I assume that there’s some market of consumers that would pay a company to assure the textbook they are using has been vetted by some governing body plus hosting services. So there’s a free business idea.

Remix literacy needs to be prioritized

There is a long documented history of remix. One famous story is how 200+ alternative versions of Alice in Wonderland where published within twenty years of it’s release. Some of these publications were the first for many children’s book authors and were used to express everything from support for women’s suffrage to opposition to socialism. Carolyn Sigler’s book Alternative Alices: Visions and Revisions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books argues that this appropriation is one of the reason’s it’s one of the most often quoted works in history.

Being a media guy, I frequently come back to Henry Jenkins’ ideas on media literacy. In his 2009 book Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins’ laid out the “skills” essential to students in the new media landscape:

  • Play: The capacity to experiment with the surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance: The ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation: The ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes.
  • Appropriation: The ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking: The ability to scan the environment and shift focus onto salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition: The ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence: The ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgement: The ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation: The ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking: The ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation: The ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms

Jenkins uses the above story of Alice in Wonderland to illustrate this idea of appropriation:

So, we are making two seemingly contradictory claims here: first, that the digital era has refocused our attention on the expressive potential of borrowing and remixing, expanding who gets to be an author and what counts as authorship, but second, that this new model of authorship is not that radical when read against a larger backdrop of human history, though it flies in the face of some of the most persistent myths about creative genius and intellectual property that have held sway since the Romantic era. Both ideas are important to communicate to students. We need to help them to understand the growing centrality of remix practices to our contemporary conception of creative expression, and we need to help them to un- derstand how modern remix relates to much older models of authorship.

Appropriation, specifically the remixing kind, has found its way into youth culture and higher education through literary courses as Jenkins would argue, but I’m not certain it’s finding it’s way into the core of academia. We still think within the means of original author, citation, or possibly hyperlinks if we are looking in the digital realm. For instance, I’m linking to what Caulfield and Wiley and others have said rather than building on top of it. This would likely change if I was working within a collaborative technology such as a Google doc or Github repository or wiki.

What if someone built a forkable blog?! But, seriously, no one is thinking better than this one than Caulfield right now with Federated Wiki/Wikity. I said this a couple of months ago:

As a society, we’re a bit stuck. Some (see Indie Ed Tech) have a desire to own data and build on their own technologies, but building a deep literacy on how to do so is awfully difficult. The open pedagogical ethos that compliments Indie is really good for sharing ideas (possibly moreso than assets). In the opposing corner, industry wants to lock everyone in to economic models which do the opposite–making it easy to access data but have zero ownership of it. This model is possibly better for sharing assets but little on the idea side.

If we are really are interested in sharing of both assets and ideas (<<do these words incapsulate OER and open pedagogy?) in a free and open matter, I’m curious to what extent we should break the traditional model of single owner > cite and begin to work in models built within a more socially constructed medium.

Oh it looks like I went the utopia route. Good for me.

On Teams “Of Tech and Learning”

David Kampmann was kind enough to have me on his new podcast #OfTechAndLearning. I didn’t realize until the interview that I was actually the first guest to jump on with David, which is a really cool honor. David is a super nice guy who I had the fortune of first meeting last April at et4online in Dallas, so it was great to reconnect with my South Dakota brethren.

We mostly spoke about the OU Create project and what it’s meant to me personally as an instructor as well as what it means as a community leader as well. I love these kind of opportunities because they give you a chance to reflect on how you got to where you are. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without leadership like our Provost, Dr. Kyle Harper, or my colleage, Mark Morvant, who were both incredibly supportive very early in pushing this initiative forward.

One of the comments that David made was that “the whole team at the University of Oklahoma does a really good job of innovating,” which, I believe, is essentially the highest compliment you can receive in any leadership capacity. Certainly, I was deeply inspired by the team that Jim Groom had cultivated at the University of Mary Washington and wanted to figure out how we could build a similar knowledge base in Norman. When I attend OpenEd14, I spent a couple days with UMW DTLT in Fredericksburg afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed watching the powerhouse that was Jim/Martha/Tim/Andy/Ryan live and in action. They spoke so intelligently about Domain of One’s Own and the complexities around it. They, and this was over a year ago, could explain how containers inside Amazon Web Services worked. Who does that?!

I have been able to watch with my own eyes a team here start to cultivate a similar fire. Keegan is doing our OU Create Faculty Trainings as well as the very innovative online game-based FLC (GOBLIN) along with John Stewart, who is really supporting our Digital Humanities efforts and getting into API territory. Anoop Bal has taken real pride in the This Week On OU Create blog, the Twitter account, and is championing our first OU Create awards show, the “Creaties” (more to come there soon :-)).

Perhaps the most impactful project that is not necessarily OU Create-based but it a close cousin is the Learning Management System evaluation. Mark Morvant, now wielding a deep knowledge in WordPress,nearly single-handedly built out an entire website to show all sides of the issues. I highly suggest you take a look around the website and see the care that’s gone into it. It’s not just a site announcing that something is happening. He has openly shared a sizeable body of information dating back multiple years on the progression of this conversation. You’ll find faculty needs assessment survey results that we handled in 2014, an earlier business case written by OU IT, a newer recommendation put forward by the Provost’s Advisory Committee for Learning Technology, several examples of LMS transitions at peer institutions, video resources including recordings of “closed” demos and conversations that took place on campus, links to 17 (!) town hall meetings that run the gamut of various groups (faculty, students, whole campus, single colleges). You’ll also see places for both students and faculty to give feedback for/against the proposal and add additional comments as well.

What I’m most inspired by is how Mark is carefully listening to each and every point that comes through those forms. Every time I walk in his office, he wants to run by me the latest concern. It’s not just coming from private forms though. He’s taken his roadshow to both Twitter and Google Hangouts to have a fully open, transparent discussion on the LMS.

Every administrator needs to take a page out of the Mark Morvant playbook. This is how you put in the real work to make sure you reach everyone and every voice is heard. It doesn’t happen by having one on-campus presentation nor does it happen in a (1) Twitter chat. It takes rolling up your sleeves and a real desire to get out on the streets (physical and digital) to raise awareness.

I’ve been spending a lot of time, both during and after the #IndieEdTech gathering last week, in trying to find a way to better explain Indie Ed(-)Tech. I am seeing now that I used the wrong word on how to approach the answer. I was saying we need to “define” Indie and that’s the incorrect approach because Indie is a people, not a thing. Indie EdTech is an umbrella term that speaks to various pockets of communities within edtech which are pushing against the current approaches to edtech (scalable, centrally controlled, surveillance) towards agency, autonomy, and data control. But, ultimately, they are scenes with their own definitions and approaches to solving these larger issues. Let me be clear: the LMS is nowhere near Indie. But Mark’s approach very well might be. He’s using open web to build transparency and conversation. He’s out there pounding the pavement with posters to make sure voices our heard. If Indie approaches couldn’t be taken inside of institutions/technologies with long histories of being closed  or void ofconversation, well, I probably wouldn’t have a job. It’s a lot about how much to care about lending your ears to those around you.


I try my best to keep up with a handful of blogs and one of them is Dave Winer‘s blog, who was both and early blogger and early advocate for syndication. John Markoff, who happens to also be one of my favorite technology journalists/storytellers, described him in 2001 like this:

David Winer is a software designer who loves making trouble.

Don’t we all secretly wish someone like the Times who describe us that way once in our life? And what a lede, am I right? Once upon a time, Twitter bios were called ledes.

Anyways, Winer wrote a post a couple days ago that really resonated with me titled “Universities and the open web.”Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, followed up Winer’s post with “A challenge to reboot the Open Web.” Both of these posts are encouraging messages focused on the fact that universities need to be the leadership behind the sustainability of the open and indie web.

I was particularly moved by Winer’s third point:

Every student journalist should learn how to set up and run a server.

Since we’ve started offering domains and LAMP server access university-wide, our College of Journalism and Mass Communication has been one of most eager and active adopters mostly through the good work of faculty such as Ralph Beliveau, David Tarpenning, Meta Carstarphen, Kyle Bergensen, and Rick Lippert, all of whom have adopted an open writing/portfolio/blogging component to their JMC course(s).

And while they’ve been doing incredible work towards getting students to deeply consider the notion of public identities and digital self, it would be equally as interesting in JMC–specifically on our projects side–towards what Dave, along with Justin Ellis, calls the “journo-programmer.”

Naturally, I resonate with this idea of the journo-programmer; this space between public dissemination and computer science. I believe that, ultimately, your ability to properly communicate to a public hinges on your ability to correctly navigate the appropriate delivery channel (or employ someone who knows).

And when I look at use cases from this lens, and then how we’ve given student access to a server, it feels like we use only a fraction of its capabilities. Maybe it’s a product of the limits of a semester length or lack of curriculum integration (this is honestly a big factor). Or maybe it’s the fact that a foundation of code knowledge is no longer required to wield the server’s powers because of the “one-click install.”

I’m curious enough to solicit how we broaden the conversation about student servers ( domain of one’s own) beyond portfolios or access to one-click installs like WordPress, or maybe, as Mike Caulfield has noted, beyond servers. To me, it seems when you move your students directly towards WordPress, it shifts the conversation to blogging and public writing. I’m not discounting blogging or WordPress by any means, but “WordPress = blogging” seems like a rather small conversation to have with such a powerful tool in the same way I think “learn to code” for codings sake tends to get lost on me. How can we work towards a broader integrated curricular approach towards understanding what it means to host, manage, and leverage data? Or is this even necessary?

It appears to me that J-schools have an opportunity, if not a deeper call-to-action, to support the idea of teaching open web literacy considering that the world continually demands a broader of media in which to consume and interpret journalism. Further, it’s ability to bridge public and complexity makes it seem like the proper channel to also offer their service at an institutional-level as well.

Using Known and RSS to Power an Email Newsletter

I’ve busted out Known on a new subdomain. I used it in the past as a way to reclaim my tweets. At the heart of Known is the idea of syndication. It really is a very powerful application for those who wish to deploy the POSSE (publish on own site, syndicate elsewhere). One app to power all the other apps. Thus, I can orignate a status update and then send it to my social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And when I finally give up on Facebook (it’s essentially already happened… and, Twitter, you aren’t doing yourself any favors), one can turn off that channel and not worry about having to export their content. Something new comes up and you want to syndicate there? Hook it up to the hub and syndicate away.

I’ve decided that, while I liked that approach, I want to use Known a little bit differently this time around. It’s going to be more of a space for me to file articles I’m reading and jot quick notes and thoughts. While many applications are focused around blogging or micro blogging, Known has support for photo, audio, video, and bookmark syndication as well. So you’ll now find as my primarily space to see my public filing cabinet and will serve as my space for concerte, long form writing (this will syndicate to WordPress for instance :-) ).

Shortly after firing up, Jon Becker sent out a tweet that may or may not (probably didn’t) coincide with that announcement thinking about Known as a bus for newsletters.

This is a really interesting idea that I was willing to play around with. I’m actually pretty fond of email newsletters (email is dead, love live email). Mostly because i don’t spend that much time in front of Twitter and miss a lot of the activity (if only someone could algorithimically feed me what I wanted! ;-) ). So I appreciate Stephen Downe’s OLDaily and Audrey Watters TinyLetter and Maria Popova’s Brainpickings weekly digest. To me they are sort of like magazines, which was and still is one of my favorite mediums.

Known has a hearty amount of RSS integration at various levels across the platform, so subscription is fairly easy. You can subscribe to my entire Notes RSS Feed:

Or by content type such as Bookmarks:

Or even my specific hashtags:

Once upon a time, one of my job duties was to create a daily newsletter for our department that featured important news and, in fact, I did this with a combination of both RSS and Mailchimp. At the time, I was working for the Economic Development department so I pulled together a list of 50-or-so publications on my RSS Reader (Google Reader and then later Feedly) that spanned local, state level, and national level news that related to higher education, technology transfer, economic development, and policy. I then leveraged an If This Then That trigger to move everything I favorited into a Delicious feed. The point of this was to create ONE mega RSS feed of my Feedly favorites.

Then I used Mailchimp’s RSS-Driven Campaign feature to fire out a daily email.

Every morning Mailchimp would crawl the RSS feed and, in the event anything new had been added since its previous crawl, it would spit out a nice little email like this:

While this was simply a department level newsletter at first, we started to quickly have other folks around the institution subscribe to it as well. Which was pretty cool.

From Known to Mailchimp

Anyways, the new question is what does this look like with Known? I decided I would play around with setting up a newsletter based on my bookmarks, so one could get a sense of what I was reading if they really wanted to. Because I’m already curating, this removes any need for a fancy IFTTT hook. So I’ve gone ahead and generated a new Mailchimp campaign and plugged in my Known Bookmarks RSS feed as the feed source.

Mailchimp provides a few basic templates that populate items based on the RSS metadata and Mailchimp provides a nice page of their RSS Merge Tags. I’ve chosen a basic template for the newsletter:

I’ve made a couple of edits (such as remove the company logo) as well as changed one merge tag from “CONTENT_FULL” to “CONTENT” to make it a little easier on the eyes.

Now I move into Preview mode to see if it all populates and whadya know, we got a fully working automated newsletter:

So, as you can see, with bookmarks, |RSSFEED:TITLE| is what shows up as the title of the article. That works. I can also confirm that it properly pulls the link. Thankfully, Known’s RSS feed properly pulls the link to the original article. So if you click “READ MORE,” which corresponds with the Mailchimp RSS merge tag |RSSITEM:URL|, you will be directed to the original post and not my post on the post. In fact, it doesn’t look like Mailchimp has the capability to link to the Known post itself as nothing matches up to the RSS Tag <guid>. On the flip side, looking at the RSS feed, Known doesn’t seem to carry over any info from the original article other than the title and the link. Thus, the publish date is equated to when you publish on Known and the author is the Known author (not the original author). Thus, I recommend removing the author field from Mailchimp as to not confuse the reader on who wrote the post itself.

I’ve gone ahead and mocked up what gets added to the Known RSS feed as well as the Mailchimp RSS Merge Tag equivalent:

It does looks like |RSSITEM:CONTENT| pulls the Known content text box (not content from the original post). I use the context box to pull out quotes I found interesting, but one could also use it to contextual something, similar to what Stephen Downes does for the OLDaily.

Jon also brought up a very valid point on the “humanness” of an approach like this:

And I totally accept that. There is something about receiving this newsletter that feels a bit… sterile. As opposed to Audrey’s newsletter which is clearly “hand” written and specifically curated for that audience. Yet while the idea of getting a weekly well-written letter from Audrey weekly is infinity better than robots, I still see value in the automated process as well if only opens up another choice for the end-user to decide the medium in which they consume the media. And to that end choice is, ultimately, the broader value of syndication. This is why data flow and interopability is so important (again–Twitter. Let’s be honest that you only got off the ground because your open API allowed users to interact with Twitter in places such as mobile apps three years before you built your own acquired one). So, please, engage with my content however you see fit, be it via coming to my website, subscribing to the RSS feed, or the low tech approach of email. Or don’t engage. :-)

For those of you who really want an autogenerated weekly email sent to you based off of my Known Bookmarks (or just want to see it in action), have at it!

Subscribe to Adam’s Weekly Notebook Email

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