OLC Innovate: Exhaust and Exhaustion

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

Fork U!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution Design Summit Advisory Groups

This was the first year for SDS. I got to watch it develop from the steering committee side this year after I was publicly talked about how we could do better than last year’s teacher tank. And, man, was this a breath of fresh air. I got to spend an hour and a half with a wicked smart group at Muhlenberg College who will be bringing a Domain of One’s Own project online soon helping them perfect their pitch. I continue to be deeply passionate about lending whatever resources and advice I can to institutions looking to start their Domains journey and I appreciate how much thought they are putting into their campus ramp up. If they pull off their idea (I’m hoping someone from their team will write a post), it will be one of the more innovative approaches I’ve seen in holistically engaging a community in domains and digital literacy.

Utilizing Innovative Customizable Pathways / Dual-Layer MOOC

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


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

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

Innovation is Not Enough: Building Soft Infrastructure

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

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

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


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

Audiovisual OER in a Text World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infrastructure. Physical infrastructure. Personal infrastructure. Soft infrastructure.