Pointillism

I’ve been battling a lot of demons recently. You know them, they are the same 3 that we in open source and community work so often face. FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Certain events had led me to this point. Being generally overwhelmed by the pressures that increased success and scope of work bring, I keep focusing on the things left undone, unfinished, broken and still on the white-board; when something hit me the other day.

Daemons of progress

Fear – We won’t finish this, we’ll never finish this. What if it’s wrong? What if it doesn’t do what I think it will? What if I’ve sacrificed thousands of hours of my children’s childhood for something unattainable.

Uncertainty – We’re down a developer, will we get this back on track, how will we replace this need and keep moving forward. What’s awaiting me via email today to derail all progress?

Doubt – This will never catch on. What am I doing with my life. What’s the point. No one gets it. Who cares.

Standing too close

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Pointillism is an art form in which hundreds of thousands tiny dots form a painting. These dots when viewed to closely, just look like noise; a chaotic mess of tiny brush strokes, each with minor variations in color perhaps, but at the same time too similar to really tell what it is.

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As we back up from the painting slightly we still see chaos, a pattern but yet still chaos of blotches thrown upon the canvas.

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Public Domain, Wikipedia

It is only when we truly step away from the canvas that we see it’s true form; the clear picture of what it is we are trying to paint, one dot at a time.

This is elms learning network, from my perspective as the developer. I can see what we’re going for but sometimes I’m so focused on the dots that I miss the big picture of what this really means for well, education. When something is your life’s work, it can be hard to look back on something while building it. Much in the same way we get lost in the whirlwind of building a family, a career, a life so much so that day to day at times can seem routinized, almost mundane; but when we look back on memories, moments in time, we see how special what we have truly is.

At the end of the year, like any year, I’m usually shot; emotionally and physically. I need a reboot, and I got one in a way I didn’t expect. I watched myself. While trying to put together a talk for some conferences, I wanted to see the way I talked about the platform the last time I submitted a talk there (2014). Drupalcon 2014 ELMSLN talk

What I saw I almost couldn’t believe.

As I rambled for 20 minutes, trying to be funny (emphasis on trying), I start demo’ing this crazy thing I’m talking about. It includes no less then 5 different interfaces, all at different states. A build breaks during the demonstration. It’s UI patterns are non-existent, just an idea, a lot of urls, broken builds, no UX, no users. Just an idea being put forth by a crazy person that couldn’t understand why no one got it. Duh, I don’t know how to use it at this point.

What I needed

I got. I needed to see that what we’re doing now is the dots. We’re changing the hue of our dots, we’re sharpening the image a pixel point at a time, but the picture is becoming a lot clearer if we’d only step away from it. As I compiled these highlights below, I am humbled and grateful for the contributions of our budding community. One thing becomes clear as we step away from our dots: We’re killing it!

  • We gained another full time developer on the platform (which, we’ll be refilling in 2017) bringing us up to 3 internally + several IDs across units influencing / bug testing + 2 part time student developers. (in 2014 this was 1 + 2 ids)
  • Buttercups in the UK is hiring a PHP / Drupal developer to help support and build out ELMSLN further for them. (in 2014, this wasn’t a thing)
  • We had 13 different people make core commits to ELMS:LN this year, 5 from primary core devs, 2 from faculty, 2 from IDs, 4 from Drupal developers during sprints (in 2014, there were 4 total)
  • There have been 18 point releases this year, up from 2 the previous year, seeing us go from 0.0.2 to 0.6.3 with 0.6.4 (more bug fixes) & 0.7.0 (stable studio) expected early in 2017.
  • We closed (an insane) 1,215 issues in 2016 and at present have 114 issues open!!
  • We adopted MaterializeCSS as our design framework and unified all themes in our network under this brand (previously we had no design standard) and applied it successfully to all systems in the network
  • We adopted xAPI to start doing learner analytic tracking across all content and starting to visualize it for faculty and staff, as well as doing survey and self-check tracking.
  • We had a faculty member get ELMS setup on his own and talking to Learning Locker to start doing response tracking in H5P!
  • We’re now able to ingest markdown / flat file content and turn it into outlines of material (this is rather insane)!
  • There were 3 ELMSLN Sprints at different Drupalcamps this year (PA, Ohio, and NJ)
  • ELMSLN was presented at 6 different events, did a major drupal podcast interview and was presented in 2 webinars. It’s also already got 3 accepted talks for next year at major education events (2 at Educause ELI, another to be announced soon), an invite to be announced soon to speak at a major FOSS supporting university, and 2 webinars planned.
  • We built multiple accessibility tools, including a voice based navigation system (crazy)
  • We stabilized and moved into production our Media and Interact solutions, moved into beta Studio and are far along into building quiz / testing capabilities for the assessment system.
  • We built 2 core APIs, one for scaling back-end jobs / internal processes and one for Angular / JS based app development
  • We had 2 commits to Drupal core accepted from testing and feedback in use in ELMSLN!
  • We’ve got one deployment on EC2 that’s got 40k users!

As I step back now, I see the picture we’re building together, and it’s pretty amazing. All we have to do is keep going, keep making things easier to use with more capabilities, keep pushing the envelop and keep pushing forward because the only thing we have to fear is FUD itself.

Happy new year! Let’s make 2017 brighter, bolder, and more usable then last year (and the one after, and the one after…)!!!

Just Breathe

Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life

9 years now in the game. 3 years into this 6 year cycle. Right before you win you always face the greatest doubt that you need to stop moving forward. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, these are the poisens of community and human progress. We see it in politics as much as open source. It’s why I (try at least) don’t spit poison on people’s communities and mindsets. Flustered people are useless people. Focus. Drive forward. See the road we are forging the world we can all build together.

Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life
It’s ready, set, go it’s another wild day
When the stress is on the rise in my heart I feel you say just

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe

I do often need to just breathe. I laughed at myself at 26, knowing that with lofty goals and expectations come the likelihood that those would be broken and unfulfilled. Only a blistering pace, resiliency, and unbreaking spirit can win us what we seek to produce in the world. Emotion is good, it comes in waves for me, and at times, I need to collapse in order to reframe my mindset and steady the hand on the invisible wheel.

Third cup of joe just to get me through the day
Want to make the most of time but I feel it slip away
I wonder if there’s something more to this crazy life
I’m busy, busy, busy, and it’s no surprise to see
That I only have time for me, me, me
There’s gotta be something more to this crazy life
I’m hanging on tight to another wild day
When it starts to fall apart in my heart I hear you say just

Oh boy, this part of the song breaks me every time. Every time I hear “busy busy busy” and “me me me” I think of the times my kids have encouraged daddy to play at the dinner table while I work towards some next impossible thing. Some impossible thing when they are right there, tugging on my arm. “Poppa, you play with me”. Yes hunny… just as soon as daddy answers this email, this issue, this cool idea, this request. Really, all the screen does is demand more attention then those around me.

A quote from Man in the High Castle Season 2 (Episode 2) cut right through me tonight: “Are you here right now or are you often nowhere?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well.. are you not here right now or is it that you are always lost in thought everywhere. Such a sad idea. If your mind is somewhere else, are you really here at all. And is this reality if you aren’t really here?”

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need

And I have. Do you stop and take a breathe? Really, just stop everything, close your eyes, and focus only on your own breathing. With all the chaos and spinning of life around you, we all need a moment to drown out the noise with silence.

Is to take it in, fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe (just breathe)
let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe (just breathe)

Just breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Just breathe

I believe. More now, then ever; because I see how close we are. I know what pieces are in motion and what more are possibly in play. These discussions, invites, acceptances, affordances, open minds, and good vibes wouldn’t come if it wasn’t the case.

The cycle is just beginning. Time to reset in this season. Enjoy time with friends and family (actually enjoy it). Then, in the moments of silence and still. Open the keys, and obliterate complacency one line at a time.

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Right Click -> Inspect -> document.body.btopro

I’ve read a lot of articles by management in the web design industry over the years about unicorns. Primarily about how it is that you don’t want one. Everyone thinks they do (or so the tales go) until they have one and experience all the problems. They don’t work well with others. They destroy teams. They ruin moral. They take on too much of the operations of the group, burn out, leave and then your both crippled.

Everything about these articles is the negative side of developer unicorns.

And they are all true. So now let’s lay out why I’m trying to foster more of them.

I am a unicorn

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Let’s inspect my meta data for a moment to try and understand why.

  • Loves my job and the people I work with and serve
  • Extremely passionate about what I do (see above)
  • Abrasive and doesn’t always play well with others (see above)
  • Works endlessly, far more then asked, borderline addicted. (leading to, see above)

Why do I consider myself a unicorn? Have you even attempted to follow the project I’m leading up? It’s confusing as hell. There’s this platform Drupal (duh) and it’s complicated for sure. This makes that look adorable by comparison given that it’s heavily networked Drupal that has a site factory system baked in (so Drupal requesting and building Drupal) that then automatically sets up network connectivity to the new sites it produces and stitches the UX together in such a way that people are constantly confused that they are going between different sites.

This isn’t “just Drupal” for sure. It’s a bit insane; but let’s start to unpack the notion that unicorns are a bad thing shall we? Anyone, can copy and paste something into a server and get an identical working copy of everything the team and I have done the last 3 years now. Millions of lines of code, dozens of databases, server libraries orchestrated together perfectly to produce a living, growing platform. This now forms the new baseline we stand on and as others grow to realize what it’s capable of (and we improve UX for sure) then they’ll also start to say “where did this come from?”

To which I’ll say, it is the thing of unicorns (plural). Because I’m no longer a unicorn. If you are a unicorn, something the blogosphere wants to stomp out and tell you not to go with, you have 2 paths options:

  • You can stop being special; stop being what makes you unique
  • You can make everyone special; empower everyone to make everyone more vibrant

And so, here we are today and the trajectory forward. Fostering, building up, encouraging and yes, actively seeking out unicorns. We’re going to have a whole flipping heard of unicorns, stampeding together. A flock of unique thinkers who are empowered to empower others to change the world.

How to grow unicorns

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[ ] Become a Full-Stack developer

Never paint yourself as “only” front-end, only back-end, only anything. If you aren’t in development, this is the equivalent of being a jack-of-all-trades so to speak or master carpenter, and painter, and mason, and logger, and foreman, and any other job in the construction of a project of any kind. You know how to do everything. You are Emit when he achieves master builder status.

[ ] Pass up promotions that only give you “power” over others

I’ve been offered “management” types of jobs and promotions and said no each time. I don’t want to just manage people and tell them what to do, I want to become a more powerful, efficient, better, smarter full-stack developer. I want to be the best full-stack developer on the planet, and you do too. Find those that want to be Master Builders. Encourage them, shape them to be even better builders. You don’t want to be the one-eyed king in the land of the blind, you want to give others as good or better eye sight then you possess and to genuinely be equals.

[ ] Find your passion, follow that

You can always get a job that pays different, or different benefits, or different people; but you can’t always get a job doing what you love. If you aren’t genuinely in love with what your doing and the mission it serves (or it has no mission) then it’s time to be looking if you aren’t already. You need a mission to inspire one in others.

[ ] Worry about the people that actually matter

I’m passionate about my work but only because I have an amazing support network in my family. They make me want to make a better world for them and other families like them. If you don’t stop and focus on the people that actually matter at home then the work becomes empty and meaningless. I am incredibly blessed.

What’s this all about anyway?

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I needed to write this because I’ve been realizing why I came here. Why this place chose me to be where I accomplish something amazing. Where we accomplish something amazing…

Because I started many years ago. I’ve been searching for architects, builders, visionaries, and for a long time would get frustrated, sad and lonely.  At first, I loved being the only one who could “remake the matrix” so to speak. But it wasn’t till I stopped caring about the rank order and started caring about helping friends and colleagues that I got what I actually wanted. I needed to stop expecting architects to just be there and instead start helping to shape and mold and grow an army of Emit’s.

It’s the scene at the end of the Lego Movie where Lucy gets on the TV and says that everyone needs to be ground-breakers, tearing up the bricks that had been laid for them and create new things, things that no one’s ever thought of. Weird, amazing, stupid at times, unique, snowflakes of their own.

By fostering and helping build up the capacity of the Drupal community in higher education we have created an army of potential future LMS builders. Through investment in organic deployment methodology, we will create systems that can be scales fragmented, broken apart and scaled 3 dimensionally with limited to no effort. The more we democratize that process, improve user experience, increase capabilities, the more we will come closer to achieving my actual grand plan. My magnum opus.

If successful, it won’t be my great work, it will be all of ours. Run wild Unicorn developers. Wild open pastures await you. Be free.

Our tapestry

I heard a quote on the way into work today.

“Sometimes you work too close to the canvas to see the beautiful tapestry you are creating”

No, it’s not some famous quote you can google, it was by a speaker in during an inspire spot on k-love radio. (As I’ve detailed before, I throw everyone off as I cycle between Tool and Christian radio quotes, yeah, I know).

It immediately made me think of another quote by a friend and colleague as we were joking around at the bar one night over a beer. It had been a stressful, but productive week. I was detailing something that was rather ridiculously complicated about how network transactions work in elms:ln and how the spider web of snake calls allows for (theoretically) infinite scale without infinite load. I was boring myself as I was talking about it (wow is it ever a “why is the grass green dad?” and then responding with how photosynthesis works in detail style answer).

“What did you ever do before I came around?”

To which I said I was lonely… cripplingly lonely…

Having a vision of the future and no one to share it with (that would understand what you are talking about at a technical level) is an incredibly lonely feeling. I’ve always had a strong family network and my wife is wonderful, but my excitement over architectural design and how it will influence education isn’t the easiest thing to keep up with beyond “Bryan thinks he can change the world” or “How’s taking over the world going?”. It’s why I sway so violently between sheer joy (like someone over the moon about collecting xAPI statements from their students) and utter despair (like someone being excited about the color of a button while not comprehending where spoken interfaces will take us).

I don’t “just show up” to work, I live it, I take it very seriously (even if I don’t ever take anything seriously seemingly). I don’t just “live to work” though, I live for my children and the world that I think I can help bring about as a result of this social movement.

…Social movement?

If xAPI coverage on youtube / video assets is my canvas I’m too close to, and elms:ln at the college I work is a portion of that tapestry, the project as a whole is the rest of the tapestry; but at the end of the day, it is all just a carpet in a large warehouse. By the end, I want to use my voice to stand up and manage the thing that manages the warehouses. So much automation, so much ease of use, so much free and open source software will continue to put pressure on the social fabric that for centuries has dictated that human capability be measured in dollars per hour, where you went to school, etc.

What if systems were free? What if the tools to build them were free? What if the automation setting them up was free? What if they were self-healing, never needing human intervention for maintenance?

More important then “wow that’d be neat”, what would that do to society? What does that do to the cost of education when all the systems powering it are free?

You socialist

Far from it (actually techno-libertarian but I’ll write about that another time) but the network effects of elms:ln are already out there in the global economy. I want the world (and so many others do) to be better, write more, build faster, deploy more accurately, deploy at higher scale with less human and physical overhead then they did yesterday (and the day after, and the day after). This is a continual building up the infrastructure society has available (for free) to build on. Over enough time (decades here), businesses are effectively forced to offer more for less because people can click a button and get billions of dollars of work for free (and if it needs no maintaining / humans… well.. there need be no businesses in that space).

Code produced for this project (not people using the project itself) has been downloaded over a million times and has 15,000+ reported installs (typically thought to be 10% actual real world usage). This is the real impact of the project, the ability to improve the social fabric of the internet at scale through contribution. There are over 120 listed projects on drupal.org credited to me, which doesn’t count github, elms:ln itself, or the other projects that have benefited from the act of contribution thanks to this project.

But this isn’t just me anymore, it’s multiple full time developers (starting next month 3 full time senior developers, right now 2 senior and 1 junior full time). So project. Project all our open contributions. I’ve been at this for 9 years (elms as a named idea is 9 years old, open contributions around 8 years). We can already produce (today) through a copy and paste, what previously took 5 years to create; minutes to give (for free) what should cost millions of dollars to assemble from scratch.

So focus on those lines on the canvas team. The picture we are painting is unlike anything the world has seen and we’re only growing. Never give up. A more free world is in reach.

Fix education, fix everything.

 

We can no longer turn our nose to an industry

I sat quietly, removed from the rest. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know if I had any ability to fit in; I don’t speak the same language. The language of a rhetorical academic (even that I’m sure is used incorrectly). And so, out of my element (by choice) I sat and listened to an amazing speaker discuss his journey from insider to… outsider. This is the issue of a cross-sectional as well as those who both need and can generate new technologies; living on the bridge between universes (but that’s a good thing).

I sat, listening to the keynote address the crowd as if they were family. He was one of them. He came from them, he had been where they had been and been in their community for some time. He had ascended the ivory tower, to which I’m sure some showed scorn (after all, pure research is why we get into this gig). He then related this fact (that they probably hate him for doing so) to friendly chuckles.

He then started to talk about how he built a product that some of them used and that while this was an idea that he had been working on within an institutional organization, that the structure itself would never allow it to overtake the corporate stronghold of a single player in the industry. He then said that they considered making what they were doing open source, but that it could never been open source and be successful because no open source solution has ever started in academia and been successful (a point that I reject but still).

Feeling the mood shift in the room when he talked about having to incorporate, he stopped and said what was pure gold for me (not exactly quoting):

I see how you responded when I said we had to build a company. It’s antithetical to how we academics want to operate. But I’m actually trying to do something. We can all complain about how much we hate _________ and turn our noses up and feel good about ourselves. We can skip using that product and encourage our peers to do so as well, but guess what; All your universities and college are still paying them. So they’ll still suck, and they’ll exist forever. So this is me taking a stand, because we need more options.

Some of this is that it was several months ago at Computers & Writing 2016 that I heard this talk ( I believe) so the quote is off; but much of the context remains. If no one stands up. If everyone simply scoffs at what has become the status quo and doesn’t provide a challenge to it; it will remain the status quo. And we’ll feel great, wow will we feel great. We hate “the man” and we rail against the system of control that our lesser colleagues just can’t see through. But we do nothing to provide them with a different solution.

In technology, much like in politics, you don’t catch flys with vinegar. You don’t win people to your system, your way of thinking or your way that you know leads them to freedom by being an ass and simply thumbing your nose at the establishment.

Don’t do what simply feels good. Do as Alinsky said

Do one of three things. One,go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves.Two,go psycho and start bombing-but this will only swing people to the right. Three,learn a lesson. Go home,organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.

Real change doesn’t come through violence, hate, anger, or self-loathing. Real change comes through building community, organizing, and doing whatever it takes to become the thing that the next generation will grow to hate: the establishment.

The only way to usurp the establishment is to become that which you hate. If you desire change more then you desire winning, you know what to do. Polish, refine, always accepting feedback, always improving, always accepting any minor victory and not focusing on the lost battles, always accepting the new, always accepting.

Quit writing about how badly edtech needs change or how bad players in the industry are. Quit talking about what a cash cow this market is (looking at you TechCrunch), all the while decrying that the educational industrial complex as too expensive and too often missing the mark. These wailing walls do us no good but sure feel nice to relate to.

Go home, organize, build power. I have for some time now… and while it takes me from my family and friends, while it shifts my focus to commits instead of conversations, while it is devastatingly lonely at times to feel as I feel and work as I work towards unachievable goals… we are building something. Because while I used to be just I or the royal we… there is we now. And soon, we will be that much stronger; together.

Join us. The future wants your help. It needs your help.

Hacking btopro

An activist minded developer gives a weird talk in Ohio. Someone convinces him to go in on a submission to something called Computers & Writing. He does, if only for one reason; figure out who he wants to be when he grows up.

Someone in my talk today said it’s interesting that I still refer to myself as an outsider even when amongst an event I was accepted to. Yeah… it is. But I think it only makes sense that I’d be so lost here. I’m not part of this community and it’s waaaay outside my comfort zone (which is why I came oddly enough). C&W is a very faculty centric (predominantly writing / language faculty) conference.

So what am I doing here?

Well, I wrote my thesis about how I was able to apply socio-technical theories to my university in order to bring about social change around a platform (Drupal). It’s not exactly normal stuff, Drupal people are (weird) developers writing code and giving it all away because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a very different side of me, a side I don’t always talk about outside a few friends, but it’s very important to me. It’s the mission.

I’ve been to so many camps. so many, many camps. Drupal events are awesome, community is awesome and I love talking to and meeting new people. At one time I knew no one and now I feel like I fit in at any event I go to. Edtech and education events I largely don’t fit in because well.. I don’t; but in coming here I think I know why.

 

Educators are too busy being learned to stop and solve technology problems

In any other area of life this is called apathy. The Apathetic, hands in the air, up turned noses approach is exactly what the keynote called out at CWCON when it comes to TurnItIn (a grading / evaluation platform that many use but hate). He called for people to do more then just scoff at solutions, we need alternatives.

The problem though (among many), is that everyone is too busy to stop and process what the problem is and solve it. We’re all too busy being specialized to stop and be a generalist for a month (something needed if we’re ever to get pedagogically sound tools built by / closely with faculty).

Where I think maybe I do fit in.

Maybe that involves building bridges to new communities of practice. Maybe that means coming to this community more in the future (best way to fit in is to force your way in ;)). The talks are really interesting and I’ve had some good conversations. I even saw a WordPress social community site by Stony Brook that looked pretty decent. I immediately saw potential, good ideas,… things we were doing and thinking of in ELMS:LN land.

There are other makers out there, I just need to find them.

Off to bed, there’s another big day of being an outsider in a community where I don’t belong but am interested in fostering the success of regardless 🙂

 

Faculty Rising, the next 10 years.

I’ve worked in higher education for nine years now and finally found two blog posts basically sum up every experience everyone has had (but never wanted to write down). The first by Michael Feldstein is titled “What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems“. Spoiler alert: The structure of institutions (committees, bureaucracy) is not conducive to purchasing innovative big box solutions (shocking).

The second is by Martin Weller in “IT services – we need to talk“. More spoilers: Faculty are treated like children by an institutional predisposition to IT being the only solution to problems, a stance that in practice is disempowering.

The important thing to get out of the way here is no one in the hierarchy is to blame directly and none is being placed (even if it sounds like it is). This is more a railing against the way systems of governance have manifest and not those that work within them. Think of it in the same way critics of the military industrial complex is blaming the system of people, not soldiers.

DDoSA

It is in reading these two posts that I feel comfortable publishing an idea I’ve had rumbling around that I’ve called DDoSA. Similar to a DDoS (distributed denial of service) in the technical realm, humans can use a a DDoSA to influence the usage of technology within organizations.

The thing I don’t mention in the DDoSA concept, is that it’s actually a better alternative to the lack of recognition that DDoSA are already happening. We just don’t want to admit it or know what to do. What if instead of discouraging “dissent” the better alternative was to encourage it?

Explain..

Right now, when faculty don’t like options provided by an institution (which is high) what do they do?

The IT establishment: Those damn faculty, we can provide them with what they (mostly) asked for and they aren’t happy so they just do their own thing.

“Rogue” faculty: Those damn IT people, we provide requirements and they don’t meet them so I’m just going to have to use ____ to run my course I guess.

The DDoSA is happening already at every institution in ways that can’t be easily quantified or controlled; it is random and diverse because the deployed solutions at the institution are minimal. Someone does a class poll on google, they use twitter to collect attendance, they require people submit things with an unverified 3rd party service. Why? Is it because they want to break *GASP* policy?! No! It’s because this is the path of least resistance while maximal gains (meeting pedagogy, hoping to improve learner outcomes through experience design).

When IT cedes this point, that they don’t have all the solutions is when we can meet in the middle and more securely encourage sustainable innovation. Currently, the human hierarchy and goals of the individuals are out of alignment with the structure of the organization. The humans are organized loosely in a distributed manner yet are “encouraged” to utilize singular solutions to problems. Because education encourages exploration, innovation and autonomy, autonomous educators pursue innovation which they view as everywhere the institution is not.

The future of institutional deployments

By leveraging automation, virtualization and the structure of our institutions we can start to put humans back into harmony with the organizational structures that have emerged.

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Many people, many structures, few solutions

Today (and yesterday)

Let’s start with today. We’ve got a (simplified of course) 3 organizational / institutional checks and balances between the faculty and the LMS / VLE / tools of their choosing.

People at all levels of the hierarchy have had input on the decision and everyone needs to be made reasonably happy. Unfortunately, we’ve all got different (at times competing) visions of uniformity. This conflicts starts to become reflected in the masses being unhappy and turning to other solutions for much of their learner experience (in who knows where).

People are an endless sea of ideas all supposed to unify and rally around a singular solution. This is political parties as well; how’s that working out? Singular vessels for too many ideas.

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Unification around college level solutions, few more solutions

Tomorrow (2-3 years)

Let’s remove one level of centralization and replace it with an IT solution; in this case, middleware. The top-level of the institution, in this case centralized management of a singular solution has been replaced with middleware.

In this LMS / VLE future, the solution is one level close to adoption to those adopting. In this future people coalesce around what makes the most sense for their college to use. This is probably in better alignment with the needs of their fellow faculty.

After all, do we teach Arts, Philosophy, Physics and Health all the same in a classroom? Are our classroom environments for these diverse subjects not different based on the needs of that topic?

This isn’t perfect, but it’s a better form of tool selection. By making the solutions college centric, patterns will start to emerge for institutional IT in charge of the middleware. They’ll notice that 4 colleges are utilizing 80% of the same applications and be able to craft automated deployment solutions that help with managing these diverse toolsets.

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Faculty cohort groups formed around technology selection, more solutions, less people, less hierarchy.

The next day (4-6 years)

People like control, and crave more of it. We’ve been able previously to meet people in ways that better hit their needs because we’re closer to their problem space. Now working groups for more boutique solutions can arise.

These groups start to break away even within colleges. Specific sciences may not have need for a virtual lab technology that another does. We may find that across colleges there is overlap in needs and that competing virtual lab tech exists.

Duplication, in this instance, is a really good thing. Because now we can have these groups review each other’s usage of the technology and figure out which is “best” (or if something actually is best). We may find that a WordPress vs Drupal dichotomy emerges (where better is in the eye of the beholder based on intricacies in the problem space).

Faculty are in greater control of the solution space because they are finding alignment with smaller teams of cohorts that also utilize the same technology solutions.

Institutional and College level IT can coordinate middleware and remote management solutions to automate much of the roll out and empower faculty to take things further then they could have alone.

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Bring your own NGDLE, one solution per person if desired.

The future (7-10 years)

We’ve completely eliminated connotations of institutional, college or departmental “control”. Faculty are effectively LMSs of their own; just as they actually are. If they weren’t experts in a topic with need of tools to facilitate gaining insight into that topic, then what are they doing? They are the source of knowledge that people want, and they need technology for managing the learning to take place. They are the ultimate LMS; something beyond a simple LMS. They form the human side of next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE).

They have fully flipped the technology implementation to be in total control of the learner experience.While today, Hibbitts’ vision of a flipped LMS requires many steps to accomplish and knowledge barriers exist, the future doesn’t have these issues.

Department, Colleges, and Institutional level staff and instructional designers work with faculty to improve this army of LMS-of-ones-own sea of solutions. Powered by open source, and open automation platforms like Jenkins, “control” and order can still be maintained from the institutional side while faculty are at the center of technology selection. They are constructing their technology suite, we are supporting them.

It’s not scary though it is radically different from today. Think of us all more like a mechanic. Most people don’t know how to perform work on their car, that’s why they go to a specialist. Most people can’t improve the horsepower of their car, they go to a specialist. That’s where we fit in. Instructional designers and IT working WITH the faculty directly to create and improve solutions instead of taking the opinion of into account when making decisions. This eliminates the “They just do what they want” mindset because..yea… of course they do, WE want them to do their own thing. It’s no longer us vs. them, it’s WE.

As technology gets more powerful, more automated, more free, and (most importantly) more usable every year; this no longer becomes some absurd vision of what could be, it’s what’s going to happen whether you like it or not. By encouraging redecentralization and admitting that (because of technology) it’s already happening, we can have greater control than if we stand in the way. Allow decentralization to happen, foster it, and you’ll have a seat in influence all those that we empower as part of the societal shift.

It’s the linear and logical progression of things as society orients itself more to blockchain then legacy top-down hierarchies. We all stand to benefit greatly when we stop worrying and get all hands on deck! 🙂

Windows into the future

ELMSLN Tool Builder: Fully automated idea to sustainable, code based innovation, without humans writing code.

Flipped LMS via Grav CMS: Paul Hibbitts LMS managed via Git / version control to use static files and turn them into a site. Once setup, instructors can deploy changes with one click!

tsugi: Dr. Chuck Severance’s PHP framework for creating tools as part of NGDLE.

Spawn: ELMSLN project to automate the creation of a system for automating the setup and management of EC2 deployments.

H5P: A distributed interaction creation platform for engaging, free platform that has free, remixable items that are produced.

Open Curriculum specification: Git based open curriculum specification to allow for getting something more powerful than just OER but creating interoperable OER that can stand up items in LMSs and NGDLEs.

Project Stark: ELMSLN project to envision a wearable, self upgrading, personal, distributed LMS that the owner keeps on them to collect and organize their knowledge. Initial work pictured below:

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Project Stark Prototype: Hacked Google Cromebit + USB drive + ELMSLN = Distributed NGDLE of one’s own.