Posts in "Uncategorized"


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

*indicates required

Blockchains for Federated Student Data

A couple folks  (Dave Winer, Gardner Campbell) shared a really interesting article this morning titled “Is Blockchain the most important IT invention of our age?” The timing is really nice because a good friend of mine, Dylan Mackey, has been helping me get up to speed on block chains and help me think through how it might be helpful towards university level projects such as the Personal API, which BYU has recently helped propel forward.

My current analysis of how we can start to think about decentralized student data is that the idea of JSON passed through APIs is brilliant, but currently lacks a platform. My hope is that conversations will continue to evolve through what a platform could look like and how it could be broadly integrated with current institutional systems to, first and foremost, empower students with that data, as well as allow for an opportunity to publish it out in some form of social media.

I’ll spare the details of blockchains and let you read the article, but essentially blockchain is the technology that backs the decentralized currency, Bitcoin.

A distributed ledger is a special kind of database that is spread across multiple sites, countries or institutions, and is typically public in the sense that anyone can view it. Entries in the database are configured in “blocks” which are then chained together using digital, cryptographic signatures – hence the term blockchain, which is really just a techie name for a distributed ledger that can be shared and corroborated by anyone who has the appropriate permissions.

The Guardian article cites a UK Government report title Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond block chain:

Distributed ledger technologies have the potential to help governments to collect taxes, deliver benefits, issue passports, record land registries, assure the supply chain of goods and generally ensure the integrity of government records and services. In the NHS, the technology offers the potential to improve health care by improving and authenticating the delivery of services and by sharing records securely according to exact rules. For the consumer of all of these services, the technology offers the potential, according to the circumstances, for individual consumers to control access to personal records and to know who has accessed them.

Bingo. Individual consumers to control access to personal records. Something this significant being encouraged at a government level sounds almost too good to be true, but highly compelling.

I want to throw out a really nascent idea that Dylan and I have been trying to flesh out in regards to higher ed. I am hopeful that it’s mildly coherent at this point.

Credits and IMDB

Let’s start first with credits. Specifically movie credits. Arguably, the website my wife, Katie, goes to most often is the International Movie Database (IMDB) website. When we watch a movie, 20 minutes into the film, without fail, she will whip out her phone and pull up the IMDB page for the movie.

Most recently, we were at the movie watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens (I promise, no spoilers). A scene comes on with the General Hux character. She thinks she’s seen him somewhere so she’s searching on IMDB. A-ha! Domhnail Gleeson. He was in a Black Mirror episode, she tells me. My facial-name recognition is about as good as a goldfish, so I have no idea what she’s talking about, but she goes on to explain the exact episode that he was in.

And suddenly we have pulled this information together as network; something in which we can relate to and empathize with based off of our previous relationship with other texts. Arguably, the number one value to the user in the social network is this: a way to organize and interact with their network which is made up of these disparate connections that have taken place over time.

So those in the film industry, including actors, gather credits and over time these credits start to build up a collective body of work. I can interact with these credits and try to put together my own interpretation of who this actor is and how they have developed over time based on different variables. Box office smasher or flop? Lead role or supporting? Who was the producer? Was it an independent film? Is this actor more dramatic or comedic? These are all a bit of judgements on my part, as the interpreter, because, ultimately a credit is a credit is a credit. The credit is fairly neutral.

Similarly, we can theoretically do a bit of similar approach to an academic transcript, right? What courses did this person take? Which courses show me potentially personal interest versus professional interest? At what point in the academic career was this taken? Inevitably, everything is an interpretation based upon my ability to relate to it. We’ve added grades and average grades to give some way of knowing a little bit about the course. But in reality, for better or worse, it is a limited analysis of what someone did and, thus, a credit is a credit is a credit. Again, the credit is fairly neutral (I hesitate calling something neutral once, even more so twice, but let’s play along for a second).

What I didn’t realize until rather recently was how IMDB worked. It takes a similar approach to what Wikipedia does, which is that you technically aren’t supposed to edit your own IMDB profile page. In fact, you have to be external entity who pays for the rights to edit the page. This process means that someone has to verify that you indeed did earn that credit.

Federated Credits

I think IMDB breaks down in a couple places. First, you have to pay to edit, which means that what is actually created is a powerful third party who becomes more of the problem rather than the solution. Second (this is where I believe Wikipedia gets its right) is that the end user actually can’t see who made the edit. Where I believe both IMDB and Wikipedia get it wrong (r or right?) is that the owner of the public profile is not actually the person who the page is about (see Federated Wiki for Ward Cunningham and Mike Caulfield’s good work for how we can potentially mitigate this problem).


The last technology I want to discuss is the web domain. I’m vocal about my affection for the web domain mainly because it’s a recognizable concept, offers an incredibly flexible infrastructure for hosting one’s content, and the closest any normal human can come to ownership on the web. I say closest because you actually don’t own them. You lease them from a domain name registrar which is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which I believe is an incredible piece to the puzzle.

So the question becomes is it possible to take the best of these specific approaches of social media and apply it in a way that is meaningful to a student, verified by authority, and decentralized?

A Social Platform Built Off of the Blockchain

Let me try to paint a picture. A student verifies who they are through an organization similar to a domain name registrar or ICANN. After doing so, they are allowed to download a local application, desktop or mobile, and, for the sake of not getting lost, let’s call the application Self. On Self, minimal information has already been added by the registrar, and the student fills out however much of the rest of the profile they wish to do so. Click save.

This is where the blockchain technology really enters into the picture. So far, the student has created an encrypted private profile hosted locally. There are two main ways of interacting with the profile: viewing it and editing it. A portion of the Self profile can be viewed via the web, but it requires the user to push information to the public profile. Once the push takes place, a version controlled instance of the student’s profile exists publicly via the web.

There are other portions of the Self profile that the user has in the profile but doesn’t disseminate publicly, such as detailed contact information. If you wanted to view this information, you could request this information from me, I could grant you access and pass you an API key to this specific information. Being that anything can be a record held within the chain, this seems to make sense in my head at least.
Much like IMDB or Wikipedia, we have to acknowledge that there are instances in which the end user should not be able to add information. Like, for instance, your education transcript. But I would want the University of Oklahoma to add my transcript to my profile. So I give them an access key. For them, to edit information OU makes a fork of the education portion of my Self profile and populates the information. Once it’s passed back, you can see that these data points have been added by the different author than the student.

By default, all you see is are the class names and perhaps the semester I took them, but attached to them could be a myriad of data such as grade, room location, syllabus perhaps, etc. I could decide at each data point what was visible on my public profile. For instance, I could say that I don’t want people to know I had to retake a math class so I hide that. I publish a new version of my page. Of course, this doesn’t change OU’s fork since they are hosting their version of the page locally.

I hope that has any sense of coherency. I’m highly intrigued by this idea of the blockchain and will interested to watch to watch level this can get adopted at a meaningful level. One can hope that Bitcoin was a good enough test case as an opposition to high valued, data obsessive Silicon Valley technology.

Finishing Up at Pepperdine

It’s been one quick summer and I’m afraid I’ve written less on this blog than I originally anticipated. Summers are always funny because they are, to a degree, this false hope that you now have time to get your pet project done. In reality, you take a vacation, important people that you need to help also take a vacation, you get distracted with new, top priority project… Next thing you know its the middle of July and everyone looks like deer in headlights knowing that Fall is right around the corner. Surprise!

I’m teaching the first summer edition of PR Pubs, which is certainly a different pace, and we are getting to roll out a couple fun CTE Digital Learning Team projects, which is certainly very awesome and I’m excited to talk about soon. Last, but not least, I finally wrapped up my masters program at Pepperdine University exactly one week ago. In the summer my mind tends to devolve to watching mindless summer programming and I’ve been watching, dare I say, a significant amount of American Ninja Warrior. Anyways, I imagine finishing my masters is my closest life equivalent I’ll ever have to hitting the button at the end of a ninja warrior course.


For those who aren’t aware of the program I was in, I just completed a Master of Arts in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. It is an intensive, year-long hybrid program where I made a total of three week-long trips to West LA/Malibu for face-to-face meetups. I really can’t say enough about the program’s quality and the education I received from that experience. It truly pushed me in ways I haven’t felt in years and gave me a wonderful set of lifelong friendships in my cadremates. In the end, I think everyone enters a program with the hopes of being intellectually and socially stimulated and my expectations were exceeded.

I believe there is stigma that online education is poor and takes place in isolation. And I believe this because several people have told me online education “isn’t for them.” And I’d argue that it does take a great deal of self-motivation, Pepperdine has really perfected making it meaningful. It would be hard for me to trade my experience for anything else (particularly when studying learning technologies). Recently I had a conversation with my friend, Rob Reynolds, in which he made a statement (which I agree) noting that online education is often a product of trying to replicate face-to-face strategies which, quite honestly, are even poor strategies for a classroom. We sometimes take for granted of the affordances of the classroom and how it can mask our errors. You are situated within a group of peers who can help you resolve questions, reiterate our points, and geniunely make a classroom experience more enjoyable. These can be lost in an online class–and even moreso a program–that doesn’t build in interactions, sharing/shared experiences, relationships, etc. Again, I’d argue they are often void in the classroom.

The MALT program is different in that you physically meet to kick off the program at what is referred to as Cadre Camp. As Bill Moseley says during the camp, sometimes you have to “be real before you can be virtual.” You then spend four straight days working in small groups to solve a complex problem (which I would not want to ruin for any future MALT students… but for us involved building autonomus robots who interacted with each other to complete multiple tasks and programming a full fledged video game.) Every good camp has rules and the Cadre Camp rules are as follows:

  • Be an involved, reflective learner.
  • Put aside the skeptical observer
  • Leave your comfort zone
  • Have fun
  • Trust us–we know what we are doing
  • It’s the process

So here we are, complete strangers, bonding over shared dilemmas. We then spend the semester working from our residential locations and sharing what we were learning through blogs and discussions facilitated by Google Hangouts, Google Groups, and Facebook, which culimnates in a face-to-face back together in January. And if you want to know what it was like for us getting back together just watch this video below that I recently found on my phone. Here we had just met up for only the second face-to-face meeting and it’s nothing but laughs.

People matter. If you want the best argument against “AI”-driven, personalized learning educational theories, it’s right there. In education, people really. do. matter.

I got the fortunate opportunity to return to Pepperdine a couple of weeks ago to be a TA for the new class’ Cadre Camp and it was easily have been one of the best learning experiences of the year. As a student, camp goes so fast. You’ll find everyone engrossed in trying to collectively solve a problem. I got to attend this time sans the anxiety of the problem and sensory overload. Instead, when I wasn’t talking new students off ledges :wink:, I was analyzing what was taking place both individually and socially. I got to watch how people interacted with each other; how they resolved issues and came to conclusions. I think about it now and realize I’ve never had the opportunity to simply repeat a class I attended. But I highly recommend it. And, would you know it, I felt like their interactions were completely different than ours. It’s something I’ve experienced in my own teaching. You feel like you have teaching dialed in just right and the new class throws a small wrench in there and you got to steer the ship back to safety. But each class should and will be a totally differently learning experience. It’s the people, yo.

There’s a significant presence of dramatic irony as well when you retake a class. You know the protagonist is in much graver danger than they do. It’s fun. But it was also an opportunity for me to renegotiate my role; remove myself as a learner in efforts to better understand my own past learning experience. At time it felt like slow motion. Mediation. A heightened awareness. I snuck away at one point just to photograph campus. One night I left early to walk nearly two miles to main campus to write my paper on the student center balcony and shoot some night photography. I opted-in to taking in every last drop of inspiration I could.


George Pepperdine at Night

With it all behind me now, I feel like I’m much more well equipped to articulate what I’ve always believed to be valuable learning models. Of course, it’s easy when it’s modeled for you, but my passion for what I do as an instructor, and even as a father, has only grown. I’m simply a better human. And I have my faculty and cadremates to thank for that. As I mentioned, we wrote a lot of blog posts which you can view hereas well as my thesis here. But for now I’m going to go spend some time with my family and maybe read a fiction book just because I can.

Cover photo credit: Scott Webb

Bidding Farewell to Copeland Hall (Again)

I just finished packing up my office in Copeland Hall as CTE is moving to the second floor of Old Science Hall. I’ve got used to moving every so often as it has somehow became the standard MO every 18 or so months of my short career at OU so far for whatever reason. But Copeland Hall, you, sir, are a little different than my other touchdown spots.

The office unfiltered before packing began.

The office unfiltered before packing began.

For those who are unaware, Copeland Hall is actually the old Journalism building (with an emphasis on old). The college vacated it when Gaylord Hall opened in 2004 but many of its remnants of its former existence are very much still there. The newspaper’s physical press used to actually be located in the building. You’ll find a lot of oddities in Copeland you don’t find in other buildings. For instance, I imagine they had the ability to make plaques because there is a plaque for everything in here. Award? Plaque! Door nameplate? Plaque! Building notice? Inscribed plaque!

He raised the funds for the building. Definitely gets a plaque.

He raised the funds for the building. Definitely gets a plaque.

I became a student in the J-School in 2005. I was quite attracted to the shinyness of the new building. Compelled by the technology, I remember wanting to seemingly touch everything the building had to offer. Switchers, cameras, computer labs full of iMacs. But, as it turned out, I would end up cutting my teeth on Apple computers across the oval in old Copeland Hall where Student Media still resides to this day.

I applied for a job in Student Media as a Production Assistant in efforts to get some much needed spending money my freshman year. I remember that he day I applied, Michael Wehrenberg, who is still head of IT operations and the production manager, responded to my application in lightning speed. I literally interviewed that afternoon. I can vividly recall the interview, my first time to enter Copeland Hall, like it was yesterday. He asked what experience I had with Adobe InDesign. None. Quark? None. Apple computers? None. He kindly referred me to the online desk of the paper, was looking for a multimedia editor. I interviewed for that position later that week. Now this interview I don’t remember as well. The only thing I remember is that they told me they would pay me $75 a week. I sort of laughed and asked if that was negotiable. The next week they posted the roster of the Spring 2006 staff on the newsroom door. It said “Adam Croom – Multimedia Intern.” Bull! I wrote the editor the staunchest email an 18 year old can muster to which I received the following response (copied below is the original email in its entirety):

“Really the only reason you are not an editor is money and time constraints. You are more than qualified but the two editors that I have right now can give me everyday and are the ones responsible for redesigning our website last semester. I need them to stick around and work out the kinks this semester. I am sorry if I offended you and I hope you can help us improve the site. I just didn’t want to squeeze you for time. Thank you for the great interview and I look for your contributions on the staff.”

(Editor’s note: This is benefit of never deleting emails. You can pull them up from December 12, 2005 instantaneously. Also the benefit of being the editor is that you don’t have post your own email.)

Apparently because I had asked for more money, it was decided upon that I could serve in a free capacity. The math didn’t add up so, naturally, t took the deal. This turned out to be the best decision of my college career. I had a great time as an intern. My entire job was to film short recaps of concerts on campus. This is where I had my first experience of getting kicked out of a concert. The Format was playing a free show in Meacham Auditorium on April 20th, 2006 and apparently tour managers aren’t interested in gigantic cameras being side stage during the performance. I was kindly escorted out of the building. But, man, what I would give to look back on what footage I shot now. A young Nate Reuss pre-Dog Problems!

And while my internship was genuinely fun, thanks to lifelong friends I would meet such as Brian Blackwood, I was eventually offered the production assistant job, the one I had first applied for. My co-worker was another freshman who was prone to performing extra curricular activities, then coming to the office, and, I kid you not, turning off the lights and going to sleep. On the clock. He eventually got caught in his dorm room in the midst of said extra curricular activities, received a salaried job offer outside of OU, and dropped out before he was issued any consequences. I gladly took the extra hours.

My job three or four nights a week was to process the ads (yes, then newspapers had lots of ads), place them on the pages, give one last glance at the pages as they came in from the editors, and then FTP the final pages to the Edmond Sun to be printed. It was a fairly simple job if you could stick with a strict daily protocol.

I ended up working seven semesters at Student Media. Even when I would get other jobs, I always kept my hours there. It was such an enjoyable atmosphere. It was probably the first place where I began to understand what a literal “daily grind” was. Think for a second about what little commitment college-aged students usually have and then think about the commitment it takes for a college student to produce 45-50 papers in a semester. It led to a lot of meaningful arguments in the newsroom late at night. Is this story even newsworthy? Is this going too far? Most of these would come when the op-ed was being finalized. Some times (several times) we were wrong. Of course, being the lowly production assistant I got to always be Switzerland in these types of arguments. Just get the final INDD document please. As we would inch closer and closer to deadline, more and more errors start to seep through. Those errors very apparent in the morning as Jack Willis, the newsroom adviser, would carefully markup each paper and then post it in on a column in the middle of the newsroom. Some days there was so much ink it was hard to decipher what the original version even looked like. But you learned quickly that, unlike class, creating a paper wasn’t about getting 70% or 80% or 90% right. It was simply how about learning how you could improve it, even if it were the smallest of details. It’s as if Jack was taking your raw music and quantizing it to perfect tempo by slightly nudging it into the proper place. Unless you did a truly shoddy job. Then he might restructure your song or rewrite your chorus. This kind of workplace set such a high bar, every other job seemed easy. When I would get asked about “work load” or “burn out” in interviews, I was quick to remind them that I had worked in an environment where you literally produced a very tangible product that ran with your name inside of its contents daily. In my mind, there was nothing that came with more pressure than the paper gig.

One of my favorite signs in Copeland. We're #1! We're #1!

One of my favorite signs in Copeland. We’re #1! We’re #1!

Needless to say, this experience left an enormous impression. An impression that is embedded deep within the walls of Copeland Hall. Walls that you aren’t sure exactly what is holding them up these days. While most buildings have been renovated due to President Boren’s unparalleled commitment to campus beautification, Copeland Hall has managed to maintain it’s 1960s decor. I remember jokingly asking Brian Ringer, a former Student Media Director, “Do you ever have nightmares where you look out your window and President Boren is sitting on top of a bulldozer with his trademark open smile and coming straight for your building?” In some ways, Copeland Hall reflects the paper’s motto “The University of Oklahoma’s independent student voice since 1916.” It indeed does seem to maintain a word independence from the rest of campus. It’s the Austin of OU-Norman.

A pro tip for Copeland Hall visitors: rarely use the first floor bathrooms. Most people opt for the second and third floor. I know mentioning a bathroom seems silly but you become quite familiar with them after six total years in the building and, man, the third floor of Copeland Hall is a special bathroom. Some years ago, KGOU, the local NPR affiliate which is also located on the third floor of Copeland, had the bright idea of installing speakers INSIDE the bathroom to pipe KGOU in there. This is incredibly spooky if the first time you realize this is at 10:30pm at night when you’re 19 years old. At the time, I swore I heard people talking loudly in the bathroom and immediately went back down stairs. But you eventually will brave it and figure out that the spooky voice is just the quiet NPR-y conversations and get used to it. The oddest part is that the bathroom essentially an echo chamber. You can’t understand a thing the guy from You Bet Your Garden is saying and renders it effectively useless. But it’s a nice touch.

The first time I met Mark Morvant on May 21, 2013, in Copeland Hall, it was a pleasant surprise. It turned out that the Center of Teaching Excellence was in the old Journalism Dean’s Suite. It was great to walk around and reminisce about what I had experienced within those halls. After I took the job, I was asked where I wanted to be located and I chose what was apparently once the Dean’s conference room. Today it would barely qualify as a sizable walk-in closet. Yet it felt like the proper place to start a career. Back to old journalism roots. “Don’t get 70% right. Or 80%. Or 90%.” Focus on improving and improving daily.

My second stint in Copeland Hall has been a much different experience than the first. I have come to really appreciate the collegiate experience from my new perspective on the other side. Copeland Hall is right next to Dale Hall, which is our main lecture hall at OU. Thousands of students walk in and out the front doors of that building daily and my window looks right at it. Because of its size, Dale Hall attracts a lot of visitors. One can frequently find a campus preacher there or a protester or a student who has submitted his day to giving free hugs or someone simply handing out hot chocolate. It’s fun to be a stones throw from a campus preacher. These guys irritated me in college but now I realize how completely absurd it is and just enjoy that this plays out within my view. Every day is a carnival and that’s a pretty wonderful life.

All she wrote.

All she wrote.

So, Copeland, thank you for what you’ve been to me. It’s within here that I’ve grown up twice and your nuances have only accentuated those experiences. Stay weird. And long live the newspaper.


Top image is creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by luigi morante:

Is LMS a new market for WordPress themes?

I occasionally peruse Themeforest to see what new offerings they had available and I’ve been surprised by the number of education offerings, in particular LMS imitator themes, have popped up over the last year. In fact, they’ve gone ahead and created an entire Education category for all the WordPress themes that are now available. To be the point a bit, two new LMS themes have become available just since August. One that went live at the beginning of September is titled “LMS | Responsive Learning Management System” and is designed by an incredibly popular author on Themeforest, designthemes.


LMS | Responsive Learning Management System.

The second recent theme is one called Clever Course and launched on August 21.


Clever Course.

Both themes seem to be focused on companies who want to offer suites of courses that end-users can purchase, but I’m interested to know how and if they are being used by instructors in higher ed and if anyone is using them in conjunction/as a replacement to the tool the institution is providing. Particularly Clever Course seems to be more focused on the instructor AND student experience. You can looks at screenshots of both the instructor and student backends here and here. The other integrates Sensei, a WooThemes plugin, which I’ve seen integrated in other themes as well. Sensei has been on the market for almost two years now and I still have yet to hear too much chatter about it.

But the majority of LMS theme sales seemed to be tied to two specific products: WPLMS (which Clever Course’s UX seems to be stealing a trick or two from) and Academy, which I’ve actually used before (more on that below). These two have nearly 7,000 purchases combined. Total, there are five WordPress themes of ThemesForest that are focused on mimicking an LMS and have 7,931 purchases combined. Is online for-profit education really that lucrative of a market that end-users have spent nearly $500K purchasing these themes? I have serious doubts. I can’t imagine that it’s anywhere close to 100%, and one would have to think a significant portion of those sales are direct to instructor.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that the open web is becoming incredibly easier for anybody control. WordPress, specifically, has made some incredible strides in the last couple years and the more developers focus on drag-and-drop tools, the easier it becomes to create an entirely customized experience in mere minutes (particularly if you are using web hosting similar to OU Create or Reclaim Hosting which has lightning fast one-click application installs). So that being said, its theoretically possible, now more than ever, for instructors to build and take ownership of their own custom LMS space as long assuming you’re willing to give up some of the benefits of the institution supported system such as single sign on and dedicated tech support. For instance, in Spring 2013, I worked with a professor who wanted to offer a MOOC version of his Introduction to Management course. We used the Academy theme. With all open tools, we were able to replicate the majority of the functionality edX had at the time (you can still play with the site which has now been shut down on my subdomain

OU introduction to Management MOOC. Summer 2013.

OU introduction to Management MOOC. Summer 2013.

I need to be explicit that I’m not advocating for every instructor to take this approach, rather just that it seems easier to do and web developers are taking notice of the growing market and building low-cost products to sell directly to instructors. I should also note that for security purposes, students who took Intro to Management for college credit still used the institutional LMS for quizzes and assignment submissions, so it’s doesn’t have to be an “either-or” deal BUT the theme did give us enough tools to do some basic assessment and the ability to customize to the functionality we needed, such as the bbPress WordPress plugin, to create a forum space. While the open course design wasn’t anything to necessarily write home about, the platform did meet the needs of the instructor and aesthetically exceeded his expectations. So this all leads me to a few questions:

  1. Are any instructors using themes that are geared towards mirroring LMS functionality as a supplement or replacement to the institutional LMS?
  2. If not, why? Access to web space? Security? Time constraints?
  3. Has any institution adopted any process that discourages the use of these tools?
  4. Does anyone else have experience with these kind of themes? I would love opinions on theme or access to see what you have created with them. What’s an instructors or students point of view of the tradeoffs to moving to a WordPress LMS imitator?
  5. These themes seem to be doing pretty well on Themeforest. Seriously…Who are these 7,000 people and how we can start chatting?

Top image is a creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by lecercle:

Scaling Creativity

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’ve recently launched OU Create at the University of Oklahoma which affords students free domain and is powered by the good folks at Reclaim Hosting. Intro to Mass Communications, the introductory course out of the OU Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, is a course using to build websites where students can reflect on the course (which has been wonderfully redesigned this s by David Tarpenning). This semester, among several digital initiative integrations, are multiple guest lectures from industry and the first was Mike Boettcher, an award winning (two emmys!) journalist and war correspondent and visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma. Their assignment was to break up into teams of two and do a video interview reacting to his lecture that was then added to their blog. They also wrote a blog post reacting to diversity in mass media.

We created a hub where students can now view all of the videos from their classmates: To do this, we used a WordPress plugin called TubePress which will pull in feeds from YouTube or Vimeo (channels, playlists, searches, users favorites, etc.). We created a playlist for all the Mike Boettcher reaction videos so that playlist is now being automatically pulled into the website.


As of this post, there are almost 100 videos that top 2.5 hours of students talking about the lecture. For the students, this special moment in time… the first guest lecture many have ever seen has now been personally documented by the STUDENT and it is something they can refer to for years into their journalism program and beyond. Imagine being a journalist well into your career and being able to look back and see how you originally reflected on that first journalist you ever met who is talking about how he was literally putting his life in danger daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you watch some of these, you soon notice the inner struggle that students have with understanding the places one might go to capture a story and they debate on whether they would do that themselves. It’s some unreal stuff!

For the student, there’s power in both in the individualized space and the centralized hub. In their own blog, they own it. It’s not a paper that gets submitted through a learning management system for one person’s eyes to ever see. It’s exposed to the world. The centralized space allows them to see that distributed conversation in a “flow” persay. It lets them judge their work across their peers and push each others creativity. For an instructor to do this, you are tell the students that their voice actually has value in the larger conversation of the boundaries of journalism. We’re making creativity scalable as well as personally valuable (you, yourself, just have to have to see the beauty of both). The good news is you can :-) Check out all the student’s blog posts for the course here over on


Piloting Domains via OU Create

I’ve been involved in only a few number of projects that get me as excited as one that we are piloting this Fall. Roughly 18 months ago, inspired by projects such as Clemson’s ePortfolio project, we wanted to do something similar at OU. Hoping to find something equally as exciting, Mark Morvant, myself, and others across OU started looking at initiatives at other institutions.

Last Fall I saw a presentation at a conference by Jim Groom from University of Mary Washington about their initiative called “Domain of One’s Own” where UMW was exploring how what it would look like to simply give the student’s their own domain and webspace in which they could install open source applications, such as WordPress and MediaWiki. Since the initiative started, 700+ members of the UMW community have created these .com’s, which you can explore further on their community page, The work their university’s community has done was nothing short of inspiring and even led me to restructure the course I taught last Spring in the College of Journalism to a similar model. We followed the UMW project closely and couldn’t help but wonder, “What if we could do something similar at OU?”

I got to know Jim and his co-founder, Tim Owens, more over the following months and was excited to hear that they were thinking many of the same questions from the opposite direction—how can we make it easy for other institutions to replicate the Domains project? In June, they envisioned Reclaim Hosting, a hosting service they built to make webspace cost effective, with a new pricing model specifically for… wait for it…. universities. Music was played, songs were sung, dances took place on the rooftops, and a perfect union was made between Reclaim Hosting and Oklahoma, America.

This semester roughly 500 students will be piloting the project for us by creating their own domains as part of a course’s curricular activity to be utilize as blogs, wiki, and creative portfolios, and OU will pilot its own version of “Domain of One’s Own” which we are simply calling “OU Create” or I’m already excited about how a few conversations have led to an excellent lineup of courses utilizing OU Create: Art students are going to utilize OU Create to build portfolios of their semester work, Global Engagement Fellows are going to use OU Create to document their first semester journey into understanding global citizenship as well as their future study abroad experiences, Religious Studies students will use to reflect on lectures and interact with fellow students, Journalism students will use it to wrestle with some of the toughest questions of in the industry, and it will be utilized in one course to crowdsource an interactive timeline on the history of Christianity powered by a tool called timeline.js and Google Spreadsheets. Some the initial ideas are so compelling and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on use cases.

A few reasons on what I hope a project like this can accomplish:

1. Advance Student Success

Recent research at multiple institutions suggests that blog and e-portfolio usage correlates with higher levels of student success as measured by pass rates, GPA, and retention particularly when combined with high-impact practices such as first-year experience programs, learning communities, and capstone courses. Student success has to be our numero uno in what we do. While these specific metrics aren’t necessarily always the end-all-be-all, it’s encouraging to see that other institutions have been successful.

 2. Make Student Learning Visible

The public-ness of a project like this instantly changes coursework from an exercise into a creative experience that the student owns. There’s a excellent quote from Bret Eynon in the Peer Review:

E-Portfolio Initiatives Support Reflection, Social Pedagogy, and Deep Learning 
Helping students reflect on and connect their learning across academic and cocurricular learning experiences, sophisticated e-portfolio practices transform the student learning experience. Advancing higher order thinking and integrative learning, the connective e-portfolio helps students construct purposeful identities as learners.

The end of that last line is what really resonates with me: “construct purposeful identifies as learners.” Students have digital identities which are often rarely reflect them as learners. Your lifebits, a term from John Udell, are out there and form a collective you. What pieces of you can people find that identify you as a learner? I believe its (at minimum) an opportunity and (at most) the highest responsibility for the institution to guide students in shaping identities as learners.

3. Give Students Blank Canvas

OU Create gives students access to a suite of technologies which can simply elevate digital literacy campus wide.  Not only will students be able to highlight their creativity in their courses, they will be able to be creative in how it is presented by choosing the application that matches their goals for the sites. If they want something extremely user-friendly like WordPress, which focuses on blogging, we have that. Want to create your own Wiki? Use DokuWiki or MediaWiki (which runs Wikipedia). Want to create your own cloud storage solution and get off tools like Dropbox? Install OwnCloud. Want to display collections and research? Install Omeka. Want to use all of them? You can totally do that too! Jim wrote an excellent piece (if I do say say myself!) using the domain as an analogy for a house with subdomains as different rooms. You can use one or all of the applications as you wish.

4. Build a Hub For the Distributed Community

One of the biggest takeaways from seeing what’s happened for Domain of One’s Own is simply the website. While it’s the student’s portal into accessing and controlling their own domain, it’s actually also very community focused through directories, aggregated posts, and community statistics. We are modeling much of that at As activity grows, we’ll add more ways of interacting with community blog posts such as the ability to search by topics, courses, departments, etc. We will also be building in ways in which you can syndicate your existing blogs to the community site whether they are housed at OU Create or not. Essentially, we don’t want the community to even be limited by our applications as many people are already using hosted solutions such as, Tumblr, Medium, and Blogger.

While there is a lot to be excited about, this is still very much in a pilot phase and we have several questions, technical and non-technical that we have to answer. How scalable is this beyond this semester’s 500 domains? What support will the OU community ultimately need? Do we have a culture that can sustain and support it? Can we show similar results that student success was advanced? Do the students recognize the ownership aspect of a .com vs. gets a folder of an OU subdomain and do they deem that an important aspect?

I’ve got my own opinions to all of those questions and I’ll be sure to write about them as we make our way through this academic year, but I could definitely use your assistance in answering these as well. If you are a student, faculty, or staff member interested in what OU Create can offer, go logon to and fill out a form to request access to register a domain.

Putting a Bow on PR Pubs This Semester

This post is a bit overdue, but with the semester wrapping up and summer projects getting off the ground, I just haven’t dedicated the time necessary to update the ol’ blog. Well good news! Friday has rolled around and the offices are quiet enough to finally write the last post on my series about the revisions that I made to the course I teach, PR Publications. You can read my previous posts under the JMC 3433 Category, but a quick summary is that I decided to build a web presence specifically for the course.

This semester (lets called it “Phase I” or “Version 1.0”) was for it to simply be an aggregator of the blog posts student’s made over the course of the semester. They blogged chapter responses to Aaron Walters book, “Designing for Emotion,” reflections on design assignments, they did a design blitz at the beginning of the semester, wrote new assignments for a student-generated assignment bank (both of these were DS106-inspired), and ended with a course reflection. These posts were incredibly valuable in gauging how this format worked with the students. Some common themes I saw:

1. Students didn’t miss lectures and appreciated the hands-on help.

While I spent less time lecturing, there was certainly more to do in class. A lot of assignment got bulked up a bit. For instance, if they designed a newsletter, they were also required to do a e-newsletter version with Mailchimp, etc. Students seem to really enjoy this active learning format.

Student quotes:

This course allowed me to learn. Imagine that learning by doing. – Dusti Gasparovic

More classes should have this structure – independent work with a helpful guide close behind. Sometimes you have to learn with trial and error, and that is a lot of what I did. – Courtney Kittrell

I really would like to see more classes done like this. The hands on aspect of this course made the environment so much better for learning and I think I retained so much more this way. Spenser Hicks

Overall, I would say that this is one of the best PR classes in Gaylord. Although the class could be tough sometimes with making sure to have enough time to complete projects or not knowing how to do something on InDesign or Photoshop, I really enjoyed everything I learned throughout this class. Sometimes I feel like certain classes I take not meaningful and will not help me throughout my life. However, this course is the exact opposite. – Megan Young

The lab intensive format was very different for me, but I got a lot out it. I learn a lot better when I can actually experience what I’m supposed to be doing instead of taking notes on it. So the fact that we actual got to do assignments and learn basic skills that way was so much better for me. I wish more classes were this way because the skills we’re supposed to learning as PR professionals will stick better with students. If we can experience things and learn from our mistakes I feel like we will be better prepared for the tasks we will have to perform when we graduate. – Mary Morton

I loved having the format of a lab intensive class. There was no time wasted in this class, which I can honestly say isn’t the case in other classes I have taken here at OU. Our professor lectured every once in a while, but the lectures were about important topics that helped us with our assignments. – Taylor Jurica

2. The class bonded because the environment encouraged them to do so.

And, by the way, that didn’t mean I had to assign group assignments to accomplish it. Instead I created a physical environment that welcomed collaboration and peer critique. Most days I would play light music so students felt more comfortable to talk to each other and ask questions. Additionally, we would have a feedback day after every major assignment where students would “pitch” their design and then get feedback to the rest of the class. Not only was the feedback valuable to them, but they were able to physically see each other’s work (rather than me grading it behind closed doors and then handing it back). And if they missed class, they could peruse student work on the syndicated blog. Throughout the semester, I would start to see students attempt to recreate a style that another student did in a previous assignment which was awesome.

Student quotes:

Everyone in our class seemed comfortable with each other and I loved that everyone’s work was always available to use upon completion to get ideas or push our creativity further. I also liked that class time went by fast from having something to work on and keep us busy rather than being lectured – Brooke Strother

I thoroughly enjoyed having a small classroom as well. I think the bond that our classroom created was helpful in my success in the class because I was not afraid to ask their opinion on my product. I wish more classes were set up this way because getting feedback on your work only helps a student. – Claire White

3. Students feel empowered by hard skills.

This theme was one that kind of caught me off guard, but after some thought makes incredible sense. There were several mentions of how empowered students felt now that they have a based knowledge of a couple design programs. Sure, they were equating design thought in terms of programs, but student’s are scraping for ways to get a leg up on the future workforce. Being able to add Photoshop, InDesign, WordPress, Mailchimp, etc to a resume is real value add to them. Some were harsh on theory-based courses they had previously taken, but rather than looking at other courses critically, I would say that they were thankful to have a place to individually apply what they had learned earlier. And that individual is more important than one would think think. In several courses that I took, when students were asked to create big works, faculty caved and made it a group project. Inevitably, I would miss out on some of the work that goes into  the creation experience. I’m not saying I’m against group work, but I do think students really enjoy knowing they can accomplish large quanities of difficult tasks independently.

Student quotes:

I have discovered I learn best when I am learning practical skills and when I can practice them and try them out. I think I learn and retain the most in this kind of setting because I do not spend my time cramming for tests I will forget the information on. I am learning how to actually do something. – Makenna Rogers

I have really enjoyed this class. I enjoy any class, be they ever so rare, that teaches me a hard skill. too much of my college life has been spent talking about ideas and hardly any has been spent teaching me things that make me employable. You can’t put theories on a resume, but you can put “good at InDesign”. – Wes Moody

This has honestly been one of my favorite classes since I have been in college. I feel like I learned a lot more than I have in most of my other PR classes, because I had more independent thinking. I was able to discover my creative side and do projects over things that I am passionate about. – Tyler Mahoney

4. Don’t assume blogging is easy.

This was another one that I hadn’t planned for. I guess because I grew up during the birth of blogs and know that several of my peers use(d) the format that students would naturally excel in this area. Unfortunately, it’s not as intuitive out of the gate. This era of students has grown up publishing to closed platforms with walled gardens to audiences that they have created for themselves. Of course they have no problem posting in their snarky sense of humor to that type of platform. Blogging publicly, and particularly with an academic slant, is a (albeit small) hurdle. My critiques on students usually had to do with lack of context around the blog piece. They would forget to wrap the blog with context of the assignment and write it as if they were writing just to me (i.e. Posts would start with “In this chapter I really liked…”). Students had to learn that this wasn’t an in class pop quiz that only I read. Even with this course evaluation assignment, I feel students were too easy on the course as a whole. I know the holes of the course and would love for students to vocalize the same so I could be extra motivated to fix them. Students–give me all the honesty you’ve got!!

Student quotes:

I had to blog my progress to the world, which in itself was not necessarily difficult as much as it was weird. – Courtney Kittrell

I will admit that writing for a public audience was hard. Although I am a PR major I find writing is the most difficult thing we do and we do it A LOT. Trying to choose the right words and placing it in the right place is really hard. It’s also exactly why some people pay other people to do it for them. (i.e. Why our profession exists) But I found that with the progression of the class I became more and more confident in my writing and in my designs. – Mary Morton

Writing for a public audience was definitely a different experience. I have never owned a blog before, especially not one for a class. I found it harder to write for a public audience because I never knew exactly who I was writing to. Because I was writing for a blog, I had to think about all different aspects of an assignment or reading before I posted it so I didn’t leave the reader with any questions. – Sarah Spence

5. This course is ‘uniquely mine’

At this point, I’m just rehashing things I’ve said previously, but this quote sums up what I was trying to essentially create with the course. The course is not simply for me to impart my knowledge that students then consume and consequently prove how well they have retained it. My goal is to provide enough prompt and guidance to ignite the student’s creativity. Then it’s up to them to push that as far as they wish. Either way, the outcome is uniquely yours.

Student quotes:

My favorite part of this course was creating my own domain name and making it uniquely mine. – Dusti Gasparovic

“Phase II,” which may or may not come this Fall, will include porting on more course content to the course subdomain. I want the site to become the course “hub” where students can get the most up-to-date schedule and assignments, not just posts from other students. Schedules change too often (for instance, this semester it was weather) to keep a printed syllabus any more and assignments don’t change necessarily, but students want clarified parameters which I could easily document on the website. In the end, 16 students published 200+ posts to the web on the number one blogging platform. Oh yeah, and they get to keep it. And my course evaluations were better than ever… Not bad.

A GIF-Powered Time Travel of the OU Campus

Last week I was inspired by a blog post from the OU Institute for Quality Communities, which leveraged Google Map’s new historical imagery street view feature and GIFs to show the growth of OKC over the last five years. I was curious to do the same for OU as well to see if Google Earth Streetview what  snapshot of construction at OU since 2008 could be perused. A few neat findings:

1. Growth of the OU Research Campus




2. Addition of Sammy B to Heisman Park



3. New School of Social Work Building (Zarrow Hall) / Demo of Rhyne Hall




4. Finishing of Devon Energy Hall



5. Utility Plant Construction


There are a few key projects that unfortunately wasn’t recaptured by the Google Street View cars. Namely, the second phase addition of Gaylord Hall and the renovation of Gould Hall. There’s a good chance that Asp Ave. was blocked off due to construction when Google was making the rounds. It’s also very impressive how much better the camera quality is. The 2013 images are much clearer than the 2008 images.

One last thing I accidentally discovered perusing Google Maps was this collection of campus panoramic shots by Kevin Burns, a local photographer. He happened to capture the South Oval one rainy morning last Fall, right before the mums bloom for Homecoming:

You can check out some more of Kevin’s panoramic’s on this Google Maps | Views page which include inside the football stadium and the National Weather Center at night. This lead me down a new rabbit hole of what does it take to be a “Google Trusted” photographer. Ya know, cause that would probably make a pretty cool business card.