Posts in "Work Flow"

A Page For Courses

For awhile now, I’ve had a link on my site menu titled “Course Site” which links to, but I didn’t feel that accurately played the evolution that has been Pubs. I’ve recently come to realize that I’m a bit of a gluten for punishment as I’ve had four separate public versions of the course. I think that has something to do with the fact that the course evolves as I evolve and I want to continue to push for making the course a better experience for the students, and the way I’ve decided to do it is by flipping sites. In other ways it’s also a laboratory for me to take on a new risk (like this summer when it was hosted on Github). As they’ve continued to stack up, I’ve wanted to change up the menu a bit. Now you can easily access all four distinct and unique snowflakes of course sites on a page simply titled “Courses.”

I like that it’s all there in each and every shape and form that it has existed. was and still is the crowning jewel, but occasionally when I would show it to faculty, I would get feedback that they couldn’t possibly do domains like me because “gee, look how pretty it is.” And so I would pull up the first blog feed I created in Spring 2014.

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Screenshot from March 2014

It wasn’t much. No public syllabus or work or CC license. Just a stream of student thoughts. Sometimes it’s nice to see that everything has humble beginnings. You don’t HAVE to bite off everything the first time around. This, too, is probably what pushed me towards Github. “What’s something that looks super simple? What’s something that isn’t intimidating to faculty?”

It also pushed me away from creating a monster of one single site. It’s really easy to say “I’ll just add this” to the course two or three times a semester and then inevitably end up with a bloated site. This happens in syllabi too–all of you with 30 page syllabi. Those don’t count towards a publication on your tenure package so lay off.

This semester the course is built natively in the Canvas learning management system. There are a few specific features in Canvas which I actually feel are very helpful for them to manage themselves (mostly calendars, reminders, and notifications). There are a few features that I don’t mind much either (for instance, now that I’ve been on the bland side of things I want my color back!), but to me everything is a bit of a design challenge. Every new platform offers affordances and restraints that you have to work inside. And the fact that the course lives sprawled out in many places across the web means I don’t fear it only ever being in the LMS. By the way, the course is public, student blogs are still public, and the blog feed is still public. If I’m doing anything different swimming’ in the LMS, it ain’t hidin’.

I’ve really struggled with how best to share my course as a resource (so much Rolin Moe and I presented on it). Where does interoperability fit in open courses? How shareable is a mega-site with plugins and shortcodes cranked to eleven? How shareable is an entirely forkable site if the code is awfully intimidating? How shareable is something in a resource like Canvas Commons if you aren’t a school on Canvas? The best answer I’ve got so far it everywhere and let people decide how they want it or want to learn from it. I’ll take my course anywhere!


I’m also teaching a new title this semester: Ad Copy and Layout. It’s because of these projects that the ol’ blog has been a bit dormant. It really does feel good to dust off the dot com. I’ve spent quite some time rethinking how to teach a design course and finally had an opportunity to jump into worlds I’ve never fully explored in Pubs. I’ve also been able to lean heavily on those who came before me, which has been a real treat. I’m not pulling any punches on Copy and Layout and I’m super excited to talk about how it works, but I’m going to leave that for another post.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Jeffrey Betts via

My Essential iPhone Apps

Last week, it finally happened–I broke my phone screen. I’ve had an iPhone for 8 years and have failed to do this before, but that streak has unfortunately ended.


RIP: iPhone 5S

Another thing I’ve failed to do in eightyears is delete much of anything at all. The pack rat that I am has text messages dating back to 07/2008. But in the interim, I’m using an old phone of ours which is much smaller in disk space, and leveraging this as an opportunity to attempt to lighten the load on what I carry storage wise given that I’m bound to always be required to upgrade to the largest size phone if I don’t cure this storage addiction immediately.

In doing so, I’ve decided to see what apps I could get away with not needing and try to trim back to the essentials. So, as listicle as this one looks, it’s really more of a reference for myself, if anything, to remember that there once was a point in your life where you decided you didn’t really need apps :-). As of today, here’s the 30-or-so “essential” apps that are installed:

Social Media

  • Tweetbot 4 – This has been my go to Twitter client ever since it was released. It has an excellent UI. Bonus points for not having Twitter ads.
  • Instagram – My go-to for sharing photos (mostly of my kids).
  • Twitter – This is only installed because not all of Twitter’s latest features are exposed in the API, meaning that the Twitter app is usually a bit more up-to-date on new features (hearts, quoting full tweets, etc.)
  • VSCO – Where I process and share non-kid photos.


  • Spark – My go-to email client ever since Dropbox killed Mailbox.
  • Slack – For Slacking.
  • Yahoo! Mail – I only use this app to isolate my personal email from everything else.
  • Facebook Messenger – Notice I don’t have Facebook installed. I actually haven’t had that one for probably six months. But this one seems a bit more necessary so I still keep it around.

Productivity / Work

  • Dropbox – For the bulk of my storage. I keep most of my files here. One big mobile moment for me was the first time I was on vacation and could pull up exactly what my boss needed directly on my phone and send it to the them. That felt so future-y.
  • Google Drive – More storage.
  • WordPress – I very rarely write posts from the WordPress mobile app. BUT I almost always fix typos from the WordPress mobile app after I publish a post and then see all of my mistakes. Job opening for a proofreader.
  • LastPass – For password management.
  • Sunrise Calendar – For calendaring. Unfortunately, this has been killed and removed from the iTunes store.
  • Canvas by Instructure – For teaching.
  • Concur – For travel reimbursements.
  • Clear – For To-Do lists. This is one of my favorite app UIs potentially ever. Unfortunately, according to this cryptic tweet from a couple days ago, my guess is Clear’s days are numbered.
  • Evernote – Which, at this point, is more for reference than anything since the latest announcement of the trimming of Evernote free.


  • Spotify – For music streaming. I’ve been a Spotify Premium member for roughly three years. I have yet to venture into any other services.
  • Discogs – For record collecting.


  • Nike+ Running – For running. I enjoy the social aspect of this particular app. Training programs aren’t bad either.
  • LoseIt! – For calorie counting. I’ve been a LoseIt! user since 2009. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to track their food intake or exercises.


  • RadarScope – As any good Oklahoman, you have to have a proper radar app. This one is MIGHTY powerful. This is the most I’ve ever paid for an app if that says something about my thoughts on it or my Oklahomie-ness.
  • WeatherRadio by WDT – I use this for more basic day-to-day weather information. Also a fun fact: this app was developed by a company that is headquartered on OU’s research campus.


  • Google Maps – I’ve been misguided by Apple Maps too many times to think of ever using anything else.
  • Uber – For Ubering.


  • SmartNews – This is my main news application. It pulls news from several different sources and only updates three times a day. It’s like my mini newspaper.


  • Cash – I’ve really gotten into sending friends money recently like when I split checks and the like. Cash is by Square and is nice and easy and deposits to your bank account immediately.
  • Venmo – Similar to Cash. This one seems to be a little more popular and has a more social aspect to it. Doesn’t deposit immediately though.
  • Paypal – Really I just like people to pay me back.
  • Arvest Bank – For personal banking.
  • Mint – For money management.


Disclosure: I really don’t play games really at all. I just have these installed for when I’m on planes and need to find a way to occupy my thumbs.

  • 2048 – A tile game
  • aa – cals its the “hello world” app for the iPhone
  • Two Dots – puzzle game
  • Solitaire – Wife makes fun of me for playing Solitaire.


And that’s it… Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it trim. DO NOT send me app recommendations. I don’t want em! :-)

Integrated Customer Support and Slack

I think it would be an understatement to say that the folks of the OU Center for Teaching Excellence are fans of Slack. We started using it in August 2014 (six months after its public launch) as we were in desperate need of a solution for quick conversations. Our old office was on two different floors. If anybody who wanted to talk with those on the first floor felt like they had to schedule a meeting to do so and this made time sensitive discussions difficult or relegated to email. Another issue was that we had what felt like a hundred people working in the same room on the third floor. Unfortunately, distractions were plenty and privacy was limited. So Mark sent Keegan and our previous graphic designer on a hunt for a chat client. We happened to serendipitiously hear about this new tool called Slack, which met our pre-req of working across any device (Mac, iOS, Android, browser). The rest is CTE history.

We now have 23 Slack #channels dedicated to different projects and topics as well as the ability to generate private conversations. Recently, we’ve been dipping our toes into Slack integrations in efforts to centralize our activities. For instance, John Stewart set up a Twitter channel which leverages IFTTT to push all of our tweets into #twitter.

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And we are now using Slack for user support as well. Our old method required users to fill out an online email form and we just used mailbox rules to forward the email to multiple parties. One can see the problem with this quickly. First, we had no way of tracking if someone took care of something (we inevitably just asked each other or copied in the email address). We also had no way of assigning tickets to people that would be appropriate for a specific question. So we went on looking for a help desk product that had both a free option and Slack integrations.

Our first stop was Zendesk but that unfortunately offered nothing for free to us. Next was Groove, which was a great looking product and gave us a free acount with three users but Slack integration was a premium offering. Finally, we landed on Freshdesk. Both the integration as well as three team members are available on the free version which is perfect for our little team.

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Freshdesk generates an email address which converts emails to tickets so we were able to plug it right in to our previous support form field. John was able to quickly setup the integration and #create_support channel:

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So now we get our support tickets notifications very quickly in Slack:

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The mobile app is quite impressive as well:


I continue to be impressed with how we can find applications that fit a small team need. We’re still on free Slack as well so this entire setup costs us zilch while increasing productivity (to quote the Bava, quoting Grant Potter, quoting Minutemen, “We Jam Econo!”).

The last little Slack integration that we’ve cooked up is for transfers from Starting soon, folks will be able to request to have their files transferred from the previous web hosting offering to OU Create when they register a OU Create space through our registration application WHMCS. The one-and-only Tim Owens was able to write an action hook that gives us the following:

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How’s that for service?!

Featured Image by Talia Herman.



It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it.

— Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Recently, I stumbled across Kris Shaffer’s project, Open Music Theory, which is a textbook hosted entirely on Github utilizing Jekyll, a “blog-aware, static site generator.”” This means if someone else who teaches music theory wants in on the textbook, they can not only quickly create a website for it through Github (which is called “forking” a repository), but they can delete the chapters they don’t want and modify the text of others to their taste. In fact, if they think they have found an error they want to suggest back to the original work, they can submit what is called a pull request which alerts the author and they can decide to accept the request. If they do, this will change the version.

This has really intruiging implications for open textbook adoption. Further, I’ve always thought there’s something deeply romantic about the discourse that takes place around how a text is formed. It wasn’t until recently that I learned, thanks to my good friend and Open Education Resource wizard, Stacy Zemke, that there’s a little “Talk” tab where you can see conversations about Wikipedia articles.


This really caught me off guard when I thought about how much I have interacted with Wikipedia’s content over time but had never bothered to peel back the Wikipedia onion. How did I miss this? As an example, on the band’s Kiss’s page (see above), I can now read arguments about their genre. The official page says Hard Rock while others call it “Glam Rock” and “Glam Metal.” Real serious stuff. Or how Anton Fick, whoever that is, was never in the band in May 1980 despite the Wiki page saying he was.

Anton Fick was not an official member of Kiss in May 1980. That is a lie, a big lie. And it is an evil lie! —

Sorry Anton Fick. But, anyways, what was I talking about?

My point is that the presentation of information is one layer of the web. Discourse and social interaction is another layer. And before anyof this can take place, there is the construction of the information, which is in turn disseminated; allowing for the opportunity for interaction to take place.

Web Cycle

Web Cycle

I see a lot of folks looking at the presentation and the social aspects that come thereof, but (for whatever reason) I don’t see a lot of people looking at how we structure the architecture that allows this to happen. What are the principles in which we can harness to build education technologies? To what standards do we hold companies (and even ourselves)? How can we begin to define indie edtech?

Continuing on the Wikipedia analogy, it’s been interesting to look at the Federated Wiki project from the creator of the Wiki, Ward Cunningham, quoted from Wired:

I always felt bad that I owned all those pages,” he says. The central idea of a wiki — whether it’s driving Wikipedia or C2 — is that anyone can add or edit a page, but those pages all live on servers that someone else owns and controls.

Mike Caulfield explained this really well at his NWACC keynote:

In a traditional wiki, you have multiple people sharing a single server, and the server is the ultimate arbiter of what’s on the wiki. In a federated wiki, everyone has their own server which stores the records associated with them. But the meaning is made in your browser. Your browser pulls wiki records from all over the internet, and makes them look like they exist on a single server.

And while Mike is brilliantly thinking on this application to wikis, I’m thinking about everything as simple as my own personal website. How can I be the original owner, and thus the authority, on myself, but still lend the site’s infrastructure and content?

I started poking around an article Kris wrote on Hybrid Pedagogycalled “Push, Pull Fork: Github for Academics” and made an unexpected move this weekend. I exported my entire personal web site and blog, which runs on the WordPress platform, and moved it to Jekyll (hosted on Github). This means, for the first time in five years, I’m working on a site that is 100% WordPress free. The two different versions are below:

See the difference? :wink:


Honestly, this is the major reason I moved over to Github pages. If you want to take pieces of my site, or the entire site, you now can download this with the click of a button. On Github, you can fork, meaning you can make a copy of my repository and experiment with the site without actually affecting my site. Go ahead and check out the repository!

This is something I wanted to explore mainly for my course site,, but tested out with my main domain for the first go around. And I’m pleasantly surprised with how much I’ve enjoyed the experience so far. It’s one thing to put a Creative Commons license on a website (really, I think that’s fantastic!), but that doesn’t make the webpage any easier to recreate. In fact, if you decided to pull anything out of my currently CC-licensed course site, you’d be met with the resistance of broken code that doesn’t work outside the ecosystem that I’ve created. Most people would spend more time than its worth.





Source: API Evangelist

Backup and Security

The second big win for Github and Jekyll is that my entire site is cloned to my Dropbox account. I’ve got a certain level of peace of mind in knowing that should anything happen to my site, I can always quickly reupload the entire thing. I’ve ran across more instances recently where I’m frantically trying to update all my different WordPress instances because of a large and necessary update and it feels good to veer a little further away from that. This is solved because while WordPress utilizes dynamic code and relies on database calls, Jekyll is purely static on the server side. Additionally, there’s no need to worry about someones WordPress plugin code.

So am I now anti-Wordpress? Absolutely not. In fact, I still would argue its the easiest entry point into publishing on the open web. It’s relatively user-friendly and gives you a lot of features that are great for a classroom, such as an intuitive admin panel and extreme flexibility. I’m just more interested moving beyond the presentation of information and coalescing around the idea of technology that has the necessary infrastructure for shareability and discussion.

Some “how” info

I tried to keep as much tech out of this post as possible (I probably failed, sorry…). So rather than posting a tutorial for how to make this happen, I’ll post some the links that helped me make the transition:

Zeroing in on Email

So I’ve been working within a new email system for almost a week and have hit the coveted #InboxZero at least once a day which is awesome. I’m sure someone will read this and say, “The real problem is you’re using email.” And that’s definitely true to a degree. Email is definitely not my preferred communication method, but I’ve seen my email die down over the last year in favor of texting, Slack, and Twitter. To be honest, I get exhausted with the amount of ways in which I can be contacted. I identified a lot with Roger Sterling’s quote from last night’s Mad Men episode:

That said, I don’t see us shutting the doors on email any time soon, so if email is the preferred communication for others for now, then I’m going to try to enjoy my email experience :wink:.

I started working at OU in 2011, two years after finishing school here. The problem (or the benefit was… depending on your position) was that my OU email never actually got deactivated. I fell into the dark matter of the university servers, slowly taking up more and more space bit by bit. Email by email. Here’s the oldest email in my inbox. My financial aid award notification from April 6, 2005. And every email since then still sits in my very, very bloated inbox which currently tops 34,320.

Needless to say, I’ve been needing an effective email solution for quite some time. OU is an Exchange campus and we rely heavily on the calendar integration so it appeared my options were limited. About two and half years ago, I deleted every possible remnants of Outlook desktop and moved over to using the online version of Exchange because having all my email stored on my hard drive was really slowing the machine.

But last week I got severely backed up on emails and didn’t know up from down, so I figured it was time to rethink the email solution. I’ve decided to move to using Mailbox and adopt the Inbox Zero mentality. My main issue with the web view of Outlook Exchange is that you can never get to “zero” because your only views are essentially “All Files” or various folders so I can’t even sort my way to zero. So I’ve put together a bit of a hack that allows me to run my Exchange email with Gmail which is integrates nicely with an application I’m using called Mailbox. Here’s my step-by-step guide:

1. Setup an Outlook rule to redirect your emails to a Gmail address.

Exchange Rule

Exchange rule: All items sent to Adam Croom are marked as read and then redirect to Gmail.


Although we are technically allowed to forward emails, as a state employee, it’s frowned upon that we directly forward our email to another server since emails are considered official records. So what I’ve done instead is simply setup an Inbox rule. This allows the email to still hit OU’s servers (and spam filters!) creating the record and then forwards it on. This is not a perfect solution as not all emails I receive are directed at me (for instance list-servs) but this is 98% effective.

2. Add your external email address as an alias to Gmail.

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Google got really smart when it integrated the option to allow you to send any email from your Gmail address via aliases. You just have to simply verify that you own it.

3. Download and Install Mailbox

I’m using Mailbox OS X beta.

4. Setup Mailbox with your Gmail account

Mailbox Add Account Dialogue Box

Mailbox Add Account Dialogue Box


5. Edit your account to use the alias.

Mailbox Edit Google Account Dialogue Box

Mailbox Edit Google Account Dialogue Box


This is a bit redundant, and its unfortunate that Mailbox doesn’t automatically pull in your aliases, but you got to do this again.

6. Set your default address to be your Exchange email.

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Last, copy over your email signature and viola! You’re good to go. The process isn’t pretty, but the result definitely is!

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So far I’m really enjoying Mailbox. I still have to login to Outlook occasionally but mostly to dig through the archives for an old email.

Here are the top things I’m currently diggin with Mailbox:

Archive feature

This is native to Gmail, but–holy cow–it’s nice to finally have. Reply to email (or don’t), archive it. Simple.

Clean design

Mailbox is really good at the email experience and has no frills. There is no advanced formatting panel, but I, for one, am very okay with that.

New Message Box

Mailbox “New Message” dialogue box. Simple and clean.


Here’s a screenshot of Outlook 2016 for Mac.

Outlook 2016 for Mac. New year, same bulk.

Outlook 2016 for Mac. New year, same bulk.


Just look at all those buttons. Flags, colors, folders, oh my. As organized as this may make you feel, it doesn’t scream efficiency to me.


Mailbox gestures function similar to a mobile app. Archive > Swipe right. Schedule > Swipe left. That means spam gets archived without a click. Anyone who has ever accidentally marked something as spam in Outlook and then routed through a decision tree of adding that address to your address block to be blocked gets how convenient this is.

I’m now looking at the various mobile solutions (which–ironically–Outlook seems to be strong in since their purchase of Accompli). I’m going to continue to evaluate this to see if I find anything that would pull me back to simply using Outlook for Web, but I honestly don’t think it’ll happen this time around. Zero is the new black!

Featured image is a Creative Commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by ConanTheLibrarian