Precipitating change

I talked with some friends at DrupalCampNYC this weekend and a few common themes kept coming up:

  • Technology is not the problem with adoption or creation of new things
  • Infrastructure and bureaucracy are increasingly the barriers to technology adoption
  • Technology adoption is increasingly a political tightrope walk across the board
  • Simply complaining about problems and pointing to a “them” or “those people” or “The man” is not the solution

The answer as a passing by colleague said at an after party is the exact opposite of that last thread: Sell out.

What is “Selling out” anyway? It’s when you give in and do what everyone else is doing. Get a job in “the system” and obey “the man”. The opposite of Occupy movements (on the surface). But where those movements may have gotten things wrong (we’ll know in about 10-20 years) is that it’s easy to protest (and an important start to any social movement); but after getting together, rising up and saying “no something is wrong here”… it’s time to take action.

There are 2 forms of action, violent and non-violent. Obviously violent is never the way to go, destruction begets destruction. You see movements that get overly aggressive or violent rejected outright, overwhelmingly throughout history (and those that don’t devolve often into more violence and chaos ala french revolution). Violence is never the answer. But what do those others do? Where do they go if not back home to sleep and forget about the movement. They sell out the rest of the group….Or do they?

Selling out is only if you actually abandon your ideals. What if instead, you get into the organizations that you see as the problem, infiltrate, and spread (positively) your ideas throughout them. The way to change is not through direct confrontation, but through consensus and changing that notion of consensus from within.

I would argue your seeing that today in the US Government via the offshoots of protest movements in the late 60s. Yeah, some got violent (and their voices lost to history, no one wants that) but the truly “insidious” ones “sold out”. They “dropped the radical means for the radical ends”.

There are a few tactics / concepts in this tool belt that we won’t go into but you should definitely read into further:

  • Nudge – get people to make the choice you want through elimination of the “wrong ones”
  • Overton window – the sliding window of society and its political acceptance of ideas as more or less free.
  • Hacktivism – using technology to change society, usually has a negative / destructive connotation though (re Anonymous / actual hacking of systems)
  • Information Altruism – Using the liberation of information to transform payment based industries.

If you want radical change, you need first to ensure it is no longer perceived as radical. You need to Nudge society to a place where it is acceptable within the eyes of the Overton windowSo wake up, stop complaining about the problems you see around you and get involved with them. The organizations of today were built by the mindsets of yesterday. Become part of the problem, and you can resolve it… unless you just sell out :)

ELMSLN snowflake symbol with sticky notes.

Will you be in business next century?

Ask yourself, right now, will my company exist in 100 years? Well that’s too far to project, ok, 50? 30? 20? 10? 5? 1???

How long is acceptable to project out and make philosophical decisions about the trajectory your business takes. This obviously doesn’t apply to all. If you run a coffee shop, you might not be able to project that robotic coffeepots overtake us in the year 2075 in the great Bux Revolution.

But when it comes to technology, to innovation; do you project far enough? Are you looking at the trends of the day in your own industry or the trends in the global market. I see infographics all the time about what life will be like 5 years from now (ones like this). Foretelling where we are going in the near future.

Without philosophy though, do you have anything to base your trajectory on as an organization, or an individual?

In education, I see too many looking to others in education for the trends to follow. This doesn’t inspire, it follows the crowd. This doesn’t lead to new innovations, this leads to trend lines in management slide decks to highlight that “yes CEO / Boss, as you can see, we’re inline with everyone else”.

Is that where you want to be? Just in line with the rest of the crowd? Wow, aspirational. What would 8 year old you say if he/she looked and said “Wow, so then, you just toed the company line because it was what you expected to hear / do?”.

Would your answer make you stop and question, or would you say “Well younger me, you don’t understand…” and then backpedal on dreams and imagination in favor of bottom lines and bureaucracy.

So back to the question, will my organization exist 100 years from now?

If the only constant in life is change, and technology is on course to change and disrupt all industries over a long enough timeline. Then start behaving like it. The Amazons, Googles, Starbucks, PapaJohns, the titan brands of industry only remain titans by taking risk. They only stand out today because of stepping outside the boundaries of what the rest of the societal line was up for.

It is walking a different path, changing the industry instead of trying to compete in it, that has dismantled and collapsed the big brands of previous generations. Where are the brands from the 20s, 30s, and 40s that were able to weather the changing times of society and still remain industry leaders. Did they not ask themselves how to survive the next 100 years by keeping agile? Only to fall into the dustbin of forgotten constructs.

Dreams, organizations, businesses; as temporary on the historical timeline as the throw-away culture we’ve become.

We can be more, we can always be better. Speak into existence where you want to take your organization. Every day. Every moment you will be resisted. Technologists especially are the most resistant to change when it involves them.

Principles to wake up to; and if you don’t work towards these, if you or your employees simply show up, I assure you, you will not see the next 100 years:

Where Innovation lives to power the next 100 years of any organization

Create – Don’t rely too much on others to achieve the objectives you seek; Build, experiment, create your own. Organizations throughout history reinvent themselves, grow, expand, risk and MAKE.

Teach – Train, invest in yourself and others in your organization. Never feel that anyone is unteachable or incapable of learning new things and new ways of doing business. If they can’t, then they aren’t going to take you where you need to go to hit 100.

Learn – Keep up on trends on society and, always more importantly, outside of your discipline. Disruption always comes from invading forces from other industries bleeding into your own. What themes exist in the societal marketplace, not just my own.

Love – love what you do, pour yourself into it. If you can’t, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Inspire – do these actions, these companies seek to inspire others to our organization / culture / movement; or do they seem to divide? Division, bickering, negativity, FUD, kill organizations. Speak and act, to inspire; if what you do doesn’t, do neither.

Dream – you need dreamers, desperately. Not to see life as it is but to see it as it will become, or could become. Envision the future and you will speak and create it daily.

We Are here to innovate through creation, love and dedication to bring dreams to reality. To inspire generations of teachers, leaners, and anyone who thirsts for knowledge to build up themselves, and to build a better planet.

My Why

Late last year, I wrote a post entitled “Pursuit of Why” on my personal blog about how I largely ignore… everything in life because of my obsession. It was mostly an apology to those that I have, will, and do offend along the way. It’s really quite simple though, my why is my children. They deserve better solutions, as do all our children.

Dribs and drabs may accelerate though. We’ve been getting more people involved in our issue queues, more general inquires, a 3rd party about to go into production, more people on the project soon through contributions. One in particular is really intriguing though because they come from a K12 background.

I hope that through his influence if he keeps putting up with us, that we can help build a platform that can meet needs in the K12 space. Accessibility being a cornerstone of the system will, sadly, set it apart from many others. Thread 88 is worth a look as there’s a lot of good discussion in there about pedagogy around the platform as well as accessibility discussions —

My kids getting into the K12 space soon which makes it all the more interesting to me. As the versioning, accessibility and quality of things get refined through the efforts of many people talking about and committing to the project now.

Join us, let’s build awesome things —

I will sit passively in your meetings no longer.

No longer will I serve on committees as a passenger, listening, and thinking the same thing as so many others: “this won’t solve anything…”. No, I won’t speak up, disrupt, be annoying, or even engage actively… without further action. It’s easy to complain, it’s time to do something about it, actually do something.

“Talk is cheap” is wrong. All of you sitting there talking is revenue loss, is budgets paying you to sit there and talk. Talk, is actually very expensive when there is inaction.

For too many of us, we sit in meetings, committees that go on endlessly, assess, review, investigate, and not, as an outcome, do the thing that would solve what everyone is actually getting at: Build. We need to Create again. We did at one time, all of us did, the collective of instructional designers went to school to build instruction, education, technology, systems.

No more sitting back, no more passive acceptance of the status quo.

If I’m in your meetings, I’m plotting, actively, as to how I can take your ideas, your demands, your requirements, your desires, and bring them to life. Not by product but by production.

Someone will build the tools you are asking for, I don’t care if you use them, but people will. If you refuse to invest in the production of the technologies that match the pedagogies, not the other way around, we will.

I am a Maker; Expect me.

dribs and drabs

We will take over the world.

Person to person, project to project, one line at a time.

We will tear down the old models brick by brick, replacing products and sales pitches with open arms and open knowledge bases. There will be no proprietary software between the learner and the educator. We will bridge this digital divide not by competing, but by eliminating.

Information Altruism hasn’t changed just my life, it’s changing the lives of many developers now. And while I didn’t create open source or Information Altruism (I merely study it), I am still that 19 year old kid that said he was going to liberate educational technology. I am still too dumb, too naive, too stupid to accept the status quo and, working with reckless abandon believe you and I can; will, make a difference. We can be the “Superman” that documentaries about education have spoke of before.

Anyone can go and make money. Anyone can pitch seed money or angel funding. It takes a different approach to really change things. Are you willing to join us? We need everyone we can, because education is in trouble; and it’s the same trouble it’s been in for decades. We aren’t connecting with large swaths of our “market” our “customers”. The solutions aren’t going to come from “Silco” or the boardroom; they’re already right here; with you and me. We can and will build something bigger. It’s why we don’t speak in products, we speak in philosophies of design and social movements.

You may say technology can’t solve everything, and your right. But it certainly can hindered the process of educating others. We always say students connect with learning differently and so we need lots of examples and modalities to connect with as many students as possible. Meeting them on the level that they learn best. Yet when it comes to technology, we throw everything in the same bucket, regardless of subject or faculty or students and call it a day?

How many students disengage from classes because the technology is a barrier to entry?

How many people can’t connect because of how poorly we route them to one another.

In dribs and drabs, grassroots, deployed in an endless series of configurations, with increasingly less technical expertise required to accomplish the task. To quote a colleague, “ELMS seems like an inevitability at this point”.

Never tire, never give up, never back down. We’re not going away, and through visions of the future you’ll only start to see how different we’re going to make the world. With so much strife, negativity and eye rolling; the world desperately needs dreamers.

Will you dare to dream with us?

This is only the beginning.

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The ELMSLNephant in the Room


A call to action by one of our own. We are all in endless meetings; it’s time to stop talking and realize we’re all developing the solutions already and to unite! We are building the future and I’ve never been more motivated then I have this year. We are a distributed team across colleges here, across institutions (with Wisconsin), and across nations with a group that will release a case study this summer about their ELMSLN deployment experiences.

We can now get a new copy of ELMSLN running on digitalocean by copying and pasting 3 lines and waiting 9 minutes. This sets a server up from nothing to a fully functional deployment, automatically authoring modules unique to the deployment, networking systems together on the fly. This is no longer just a Drupal site, it’s an organism.

It’s only a matter of time before that includes domains, certificates, load balances and beyond. All open, all free. We already have a deployment that self updates when a known configuration works; it’s only a matter of time before all deployments automatically upgrade themselves. They already back themselves up, harden the security of the file system, and run scripts that first discover what needs upgraded, then performs the upgrades. We are not here to disrupt, we are here to fundamentally transform.

It’s no longer about which vendor to get locked into. It’s about which vendor will help us implement and integrate with our processes.

This isn’t just about building an LMS, because that concept of a data storage silo structured like the phpBB forums they are based on from the 90s is dead. This is about building, modifying and sharing whole systems within systems. This is remix culture brought to the edtech space and done in a way that encourages dissent not stamp it out.

This is the network we are building. Let’s build amazing ecosystems together.

Originally posted on Little Wing:

Just over a year ago, Eric Barron was named the 18th president of Penn State, and on May 12, he assumed that role. One of the first things he addressed were the six areas in which every great university should excel, which included:

  • Excellence
  • Student engagement
  • Demographics and diversity
  • Student career success and economic development
  • Accessibility
  • Technology

How, he asked, as one of the premiere teaching, research, and service institutions of the world, could we make ourselves stand out? Numerous committees across the University rose to the charge and began tackling these six areas head-on to identify opportunities for excellence. One group started looking at piloting and identifying a new LMS. Another began investigating “content” — what it is, how we use is, and how we can best serve it. Other groups began exploring the best ways to support our online students. One of the committees on which I serve took particular interest in the economic development part…

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Lego Knight and Dragon

You are the most talented

You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you… still… can change everything.

Emmet – The Lego Movie

Read it. Believe it. Right now, you, and hopefully everyone around you, is special. I am special, and so is everyone. Stop believing that the only people special, smart, unique, incredible, work and live elsewhere. Everyone is capable of being awesome, believe it and build from there.

Companies, corporations, institutions, organizations; all of them, are only special because we give those words power over us. I have a different words for it: Branding, marketing, collectivism. It is the individuals that makes these organizations great, and that’s why we need to stop take a look at the individuals around us, and realize that we are great also.

A phrase that has really stuck with me lately is “Distribute, everything”. Distributed everything is a phrase built up around the DarkCoin / BitCoin / Cypocurrency communities. And its a mentality we need to bring to education. We don’t need to be consumers anymore.

I sit  in countless product meetings and the question comes up: “Well, is this flexible enough for…” and then an incredible use-case comes out of someone’s mount. Someone incapable of being able to build it themselves, or at least their fear is what keeps them from doing so.

It would never scale

I don’t know enough / have the credentials

I could never build that

I have another phrase for this mindset: BullSh*t.

It would never scale

This is built on the faulty premise that something needs to scale in the traditional sense. If I walk into a classroom and I have a corkboard and students pin articles to it, comment (in real life, like human beings) and then have take aways; does that experience matter less because it was confined to a classroom setting? Or because it was only available to 15 people, is it somehow less important?

The notion of course technology needing to scale to be relevant is complete and utter nonsense. If we ever want to break the factory model of education, then we damn well better get used to the notion that people are different and connect with different learning methodologies. If your talking system scale, the pace of technology and innovation and change make this a trivial point (especially when Distributing Everything).

I don’t know enough / have the credentials

Your right, IT and Educational technology vendors have access to incredibly advanced tools that you could never in your life figure out. Oh wait, it’s called Google and open source. Guess what, here’s some wisdom to impart. There is literally nothing special about what I do. Who I am, maybe (i’m a special unicorn full of butterflies). But what I do, what almost everyone does at this point, is common knowledge.

IT professional workflow: I don’t know something

www dot search engine name dot com

Search field: The problem / error message experienced

Click links on stack exchange

Most of the web is built on open source servers, code and libraries. That means it’s out there… openly. And the majority of vendors are not producing you any secret sauce you couldn’t come up with yourself.

I could never build that

You’re right again! You could never build the things that other people can! That’s because they went to schools that gave them credentials (recall point 2: this is BullSh*t) which enable them and only them to make solutions.

Words like “Cloud hosted solution” and “Scalable” are fancy ways of saying “We use Jenkins (free) to automatically request a new setup of our architecture in Amazon EC2 when you send us your dollars.”. Jenkins, open source, And lets ignore Amazon EC2 being hard to use for a moment and swap it out with DigitalOcean where you can setup a cloud based server with certain resources for a set dollar amount. You can get full blown applications setup for development in 55 seconds, and things are only going to get easier in this area. Right now, you can copy and paste commands (that you most likely googled) into a textfield and it’ll spin up your server and then run those commands.

In the future, the only thing you should be paying for is hosting. Open Source communities (or which you should join) are making the paying for much else kind of embarrassing. Is there risk involved in doing things yourself? Absolutely, so don’t just go off in a basement and do everything without connecting with others. But there’s far more risk of failing future generations by making education the same for all.

So remember, when everyone tells you you can’t or that only other people are capable. Remember…

You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things.

Live like it, stop being a consumer, and lets build a better, more distributed, world, collaboratively.