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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 7.37.56 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 7.38.15 PM.png

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.

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  • Praises your way for not being to exhausted to write a conference recap post.

    I poured through and cheered your GitHub delivered and presented talk, and while I have been dabbling too, like Laura, I wonder about it. Not wondering though about the why, but the how.

    The language and the concept of forking/branching are huge cognitive hurdles. I tried two low threshold fork challenges (not posted here to get you to do them)


    The only responses garnered where by people who had used GitHub before and had pulled things to my previous projects. That’s not a conclusive at all test of GutHub’s worthiness.

    But I think if we are going to help people over that hump, it has to be a real task that is meaningful to them (mine fail there), and likely one that is led in maybe the manner of a workshop like yours or a PD structured activity.. ITS THE STREAM! THE STREAM?

    Anyhow, that’s a ramble. It’s great to know there are conference experiences that make you want the exhaustion. That’s encouraging (and we met first time at #et4online last year, right?)

    Go strum some strings!

    • Alan–So happy you got to follow along digitally. Your posts bring up some very valid points–some of which I think get at the heart of sharing in general. If a tree is shared in the forest and no one wants it, does it even exist? I have the same issues with syndicating my work to Medium. I’m told that it will be DISCOVERED. The fact is NOBODY reads my work on Medium.

      My first question during the Q&A of my workshop was “Am I crazy for thinking there are small things worth leveraging with Github?” And I think many folks agreed that the barrier to entry is high. You aren’t only possibly learning a new language but a new vocabulary as well.

      One interesting idea was to build a platform for Academics on top of Git the same way Github is on top of Git. Add a WYSIWYG editor and then just swap out some of the words they use. I’m fine with continuing to call “commits” simply “saves.”

      The other barrier to entry, and this was part of Rolin and I’s talk, is that academics aren’t fully comfortable with full sharing. Whether that’s a technical or social issue, I think the jury is still out, but academics are used to citing original source and feel a lot more comfortable doing that rather than simply grabbing shared resources such as the full code. I’ve made a career leveraging code so I have no problems there ;-) but so much of the academic culture is originality that “remix” becomes a really hard thing to get off the ground.

      I still think things like syllabi are easy entry points… They are heavily shared amongst faculty, particularly with junior faculty as a means for them to not spend as much time building courses pre-tenure. So maybe there’s something there. But I’m also ok with saying we’re probably a ways away, if ever being close, to seeing real heavy use of it.

      And happy anniversary to our first physical meeting. I’ve saved the top layer of the et4online cake. Ready when you are. :-)

      • Damn, that was a good workshop.

        Have you seen https://www.gitbook.com/ as a front end type experience? I’ve only read something there, have not tried the creation space, but hoping it offers a different window into using GH.

        Save the cake.

  • Not fully sure of the idea? What? There is gonna be 10 MOOCs in the future, and they are all gonna be dual-layer MOOCs. You just watch and see!!

    Just kidding. I’m still struggling with how to communicate the idea. Things like “dual-layer”, “xMOOC/cMOOC”, “instructivist/connectivist” help some connect with the general idea quicker, but on the other side they also end up giving the wrong impression. “Why isn’t this two courses”, etc. The main goal is really to handle the mapping/management/etc of learning over to the learner, while recognizing that not all learners are going to be ready for that or even wanting that control at the same time for the same thing. When we had originally discussed this, my initial metaphor was not layers or pills or gardens, but of a table full of all kinds of bottles of play-dough that learners would take and mold into their own learning path.

    Not sure how to visualize it in a way that is makes sense to the most people. I imagine the instructor content as the road that can be taken through the content if learners choose, and the other modality is the off-road vehicles that learners can take off the path in their own direction. But even that is too linear, too 2 dimensions. If learners want to dig under the road, or fly into the sky in another direction, or time travel into other alternate realities, or… and so on. Stuff like that is hard to cram into a PowerPoint slide :) Not sure how to take that all forward, but hopefully it will fall in place some day!

    • Well, as I’ve mentioned, I think you’re absolutely heading in the right direction. One thing that you’ve stood firm on, that I’ve appreciated, is that learners like the instructivist model. It makes complete sense to find the happy medium.

      One example I come back to time and time again (and #HumanMOOC used it) is the Assignment Bank. It gives structure (“Do three of these”) while also allowing for a lot of autonomy.

      To your point on analogies, the subway map has become one I’m growing more and more fond of. Multiple pathways, but structure to allow you to get from (your) point A to (your decided) point B. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this one on digital literacy: http://allaboardhe.org/digital-skills-framework/#tl-ab3e4f6

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  • Thanks for this post Adam. I am completely feeling you on the exhaustion part after OLC. I was pretty deeply involved in all aspects of VC at OLC but yet I’m still regretting that we were not able to do more. We had a good number of onsite buddies but many of them were busy with other presentations or other organizing at OLC. There were so many people there that we wanted to talk to that we could not. I’m glad that we bumped into you at Matt’s dual-layer session.

    That session is a special one for me as, like you described, we took a different approach. Much of this credit goes to Matt for seeing the value in our virtual participants (many of them past #HumanMOOC participants or facilitators) and wanting to include them. We did plan it beforehand but in many ways it was an experiment as we had never done anything like that before. As you noted here we were able to turn my laptop around and let the virtuals see a presentation that they otherwise would not have been able to (well there were some in there that had purchased a virtual registration but most had not). That is cool and all but that was actually not the part that was exciting to me. That part really just replicated what virtual attendance has been for a long time – and probably at a poorer quality to be honest.

    What I found really exciting about that session was the way that our Virtually Connecting attendees were really a part of Matt’s session. Not just the streaming part but the interacting part. I think it started with the time before the presentation got started and before we went live where we were taking the laptop to other tables for small talk. Then, we went live and Matt did his presentation and broke us up into groups where our virtual participants and a few of us onsite became our own table of sorts. Afterward as people started to report we took the laptop around and the virtuals could listen to the different tables, the virtual table actually reported out ourselves. Finally, we even stuck around afterward to mingle and talk and such in a more informal way. I wasn’t on the virtual end and I’ve yet to debrief with them but this seems like not just a way to replicate what we have thought of as virtual attendance at a savings but to actually enhance what we have thought of as virtual attendance. Where virtual attendees are not just watching but interacting.

    I think you are right to think of Virtually Connecting as Independent EdTech and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see you say “the other side of the coin is pushing into our community in efforts to better give voices” – this is what VC is all about. These folks that can’t make it to conferences have powerful insights to add to the conversation and by excluding them we are only hurting the conversation itself. Also, thanks for asking the question “Why aren’t we doing more of this”. Anyone can do this – We always hesitate to call VC an organization or institution because that is not what it is – many of us call it a movement. A bunch of us have started this thing but the idea has always been anyone can do it. We are always looking for more buddies and we can do more with more ppl involved but others can also shoot off on their own too. I think we have developed some good processes and values that make what we do successful and we are always looking to improve. My dream – when VC no longer stands for Venture Capital but Virtually Connecting. ;-P

    • You’re right that anyone can physically do it, but, much like indie edtech, I think it helps to have something if even nascent that folks can rally around. VC is just that. Yes, anyone can do it, but, as you and Rebecca and Maha would probably note, it does take some to really organize it and I can’t thank you enough for getting to be a byproduct of the work you are putting into it. As Laura Gogia said today, VC is #IndieEdTech assuming that it wants to be. :-)

      Thanks for bringing up the points on VC being actual participants as well. That’s really true. It’s one thing to be the “camera in the back of the classroom.” It’s another to be integrated and acknowledged and able to interact. I think it’s absolutely brilliant what you all are doing and look forward to intersecting more with it in the future. A fun fact is that VC heard about #IndieEdTech before anyone else did: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW4bk_QeelE

      • MBali
        oh right coz u and Jim had that VC session with us at DLRN before you actually had your presentation :)
  • Nice recap and always great to catch up, Adam. Hold me accountable to coming back to your Git session in the near future — it was good, really good.

    I’m glad you highlighted the importance of original, empirical research in all of this, and the important work Eddie and Kristen are doing to establish this as a core, necessary function in our profession. We don’t have the time nor the permission to do it, in all honesty. I guess it’s fun that this is a slightly subversive act, but whilst sneaking around, we miss so many opportunities to give voice to others, push our field forward, and do stuff better.

    • Thanks Andy. We’ll have to talk more about your approach as I’d love to learn how we can similarly do the work. I’m wondering if it’s also something we can build into “resource requests” for larger scale projects. It underscores your point that innovation for innovation sake isn’t enough. Hashtag not enoughness.

      I’m hopeful that we’ll find more places for intersection soon!

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