United States of Learning Networks

Laugh, Scoff, We have no need for these.

In 2007, I started my work career in a context completely resistant to Drupal for non-technical reasons. I’ve written about how we changed that and will receive my M.S. in December as a result of defending research surrounding it. It is a better solution, but as we’ve too often seen in the world of politics. The best ideas don’t often win. It’s the loudest, or those with the best marketing, or because “we’ve always done it this way” (Normalcy Bias).

One of the uniting pieces of media created early on in the movement, was an image depicting the groups using Drupal and those using other technologies (there were many, including Sitecore, Adobe CQ, Sharepoint, Plone, home grown, etc). I took this map, and then laid out Drupal-icons in spots I felt we could start to spread to, and those we already had. This was the simple battle plan of how we’d unify the community around a common platform. The critique is, largely, that I’m some kind of sociopath. That it’s some kind of strange obsession to win, and it’s fine if you feel that way. I don’t fault alternate interpretations of events.

It’s just, your camp. It’s your way, your click, if they just do what you say, oh I get it. It’s just so you can win

No.. It was never about me, it’s never been about how I can win. It’s about how we can win, by banding together. Speaking a common technical language, we can collaborate and build on each other’s efforts instead of working in silos of micro-innovation, imagine the macro-innovations we can all produce if we unify.

Change your community and you can change the world I’ve heard it said. And so we went, we started to unify our own community. Because we aren’t just people who show up to work. We love this place. We have a seemingly unbreakable bond and love of this place. It’s people, our friends, our neighbors and neighborhoods. How best to improve these connections and extend them beyond where they are other then community? How can we improve educational outcomes through uniting not based on products, but based on ideas.

And wow the amazing things we have been able to build. The excitement in the eyes of coworkers, colleagues, friends, when they actually bring to life ecosystems for learning. It’s grand, but it’s only the beginning..

A more ridiculous map was one written down in the notebook of a motivated, crazed, 20 something. A map that would be an unspoken, driving vision to prepare me for my 30s. Plots of land with dense forests of trees. Treating these trees each as beautiful, sharing the same general make up, but still being uniquely their own, was key to the visual. Distributed, dense, diverse, and beautiful each in their own way.

I get asked often what drives me.. It can largely boil down to a few “ridiculous” notions, those that cause visuals like the one in this post. We’re not just here to solve one or two problems. We’re here to set in motion a revolution of amazing ideas that are not cost prohibitive. Every day, we’re making things easier to use, easy to setup, better documented, more powerful. And most importantly, doing it all as FOSS, as donated effort. Others are going and starting to do the same; and while these network effects are currently small, they will continue to spiral.

Because Products are Ephemeral, and Movements are Eternal.

Why is OER so powerful? Because it’s more then just a phrase, it is a way of being. So too are we interested in helping bring about a revolution in open systems and the notion of what people have to pay for and what is “too technical” to use. We are a movement of Makers. We believe not only we can do these things, but that you can too. We know you can, and we want your awesome ideas to shine our community ever brighter.

Who do you want to be?

The idea that we’re asking the wrong question of our coworkers comes to me at an appropriate time; Halloween. At Halloween we never ask “What do you want to do?” We ask “Who do you want to be?” “Who are you going as?” “What are you going to be?”.

Probing questions of the self and the remaking of ones self. In our daily lives if only we framed it this way. Too often we might ask someone “What they want to do?”. This puts the work in the driver seat and who they are constant, illustrating no personal growth. Instead, we need to get at who someone wants to be and where they want to go. In this framing, the work is the vehicle as opposed to the driver.

Who do you want to be as a result of the work you do? You would say something like Doctor, not, someone that knows how to operate small, sharp implements. In technology, focus less on what you want to do (full stack developer for example) and more on who you want to be (a change agent).

Anyone can go work at a company, woohoo there’s a million. But not everyone can enter an organization and be a force of change and optimism. Special people don’t just happen, they are all of us making a series of intentional interpersonal design decisions every day, over several years. Some call this growth, a plan, a career.

I call it who I want to be. The person that I’d be proud of 10 years from now. Would 41 year old me look back and be proud of who I was. How do I achieve that.. The skill-sets and chips will fall where they may to get you there. Just always remember, it’s just getting you where you want to go, and who you want to be.

Ending Disruption

Silicon valley disruption is providing no new concepts when it comes to user empowerment. What we’ve seen:

  1. Replace teachers / tutors (with our product)
  2. Replace Taxi drivers (with our product / your own car)
  3. Replace Newspaper (with our DRM news / information)

These disruptions of existing industries simply divert dollars from one tower to another. If we are to actually make a freer society, we need to empower our citizenry. There was a time when capitalism and companies helped provide better outcomes for people, many of them by providing the tools needed for others to accomplish work. While this still does happen, too often the new paradigm in the digital realm is to simply provide SaaS (Software as a Service) options.

It’s time to decentralize society. The technology is there and it enables us to do amazing things. DevOps is there, and it enables us to do great things at scale with repeatability. So, how do we start to decentralize? It’s all in how you view a problem space.

Cool Sounding Driving Company

This cool sounding driving company, diverts dollars to a new company that treats its employees slightly less badly then existing corporations (woohoo). It provides a better customer experience (or perception of one) through technology integration and cars that are better maintained (because people own their own).

Decentralizing this industry

A website that uses HTML5 geo positioning and BitCoin could easily achieve the same money-less transaction but be completely peer to peer. “Oh but what about background checks and verification” riiiight, like I’m supposed to trust the quality of the driver when you run commercials constantly saying anyone can do it.

Redecentralization seeks to equip users rather than just make them consumers of a different product. Information Altruism aligns nicely with this concept of a decentralized society because we know the impact that donating information technology can have when applied to stable actant networks. The key here with redecentralization, is to form industry in building the technologies that allow people to take control of things for themselves. Yes they are responsible, but I don’t see people drying their clothing at a big box store simply because they have models on display there for fear they won’t be able to fix them. You use appliances all the time that you have no clue how they work (and you own them in your house yet magically they still work for years).

Why does server technology need to remain any different?

Flipping your conference

Society and the way we learn has been forever changed by archival video, easy and accessible blogging platforms and our ability to obtain information through an unlimited number of sources….once we know what to search for. When joining a community of practice for the first time, I can only imagine how I must have acted when I first joined the one I’m apart of. I recall not participating in events, only going to sessions and then scurrying back home.

I didn’t join a community I simply showed up, it was just work somewhere else.  The next year though I started getting asked to put on birds of a feather talks, and realized that community was everything. Engaging, is everything. everything and everyone.

And so, I feel that we’re over that hump with the community of practice I reside in. Not just me, but a lot of us. We’ve got events and people come to camps / schools of thought; so how do we become more engaging. How do we challenge ourselves as those speaking at camps, and how do we challenge our audience.

We flip the audience and we flip the content of the conference. These are two ideas I’d like to try at a future drupal camp, but honestly I’d like to see them in almost any conference of any kind.

Flipping the lecture

Classroom flipping is common and shown to have great value for many learning styles. So we need to flip the lecture. If you get accepted to present at a camp, you are given the same time slot but you do your presentation and post it ahead of time. This presentation is shorter in length, say 10-20 minutes on a topic. Then, when people come to your session they can ask you questions about the talk and related problem spaces OR, you give them homework so to speak. So if it’s talking about site building, videos showing how to do site building in an environment with directions on how to set this up on Service X, will allow people to come to class and start to work on doing it with the instructor on-hand.

This may require slightly longer in person time, but is more effective then the same person giving the same talks all around the country (for example). It also allows access to the expert (the thing people actually want) while archiving their knowledge so that it can reach a wider audience.

Expert Mentoring

Take 1/2 a day of a conference, morning most likely, and have a sign up. People that are mentors, those presenting and accepted as being experts in the field, challenge that notion. There’s a sign up of X number of attendees per Y number of experts. The mentor then gives hands on advise and works in a small group to help the group actually resolve issues and gain knowledge in the space given their working context.

For example, if I’m the “Performance and scale” guru, I work with 5 to 10 attendees. We briefly discuss common issues that everyone is having, and then anyone that has their work available, we have an open critique / audit of their client work (yes this isn’t possible with everything so don’t bring it up). This takes up the morning of the conference. You then eat lunch as a working group. After lunch, each working group gives a brief talk about issues that had to be resolved and how the mentor was able to help them resolve them. They present this info without the mentor on stage, this is just the attendees telling their stories / outcomes / knowledge gained.

This mirrors what many faculty are trying to do in the classroom with student groups of experts, where the students all focus on different parts of a larger problem space and then teach the rest of the class about their part of the topic after working in small groups.

These are some ideas I’d love to see at conferences / camps in the future, Drupal or not. I think it can lead to better outcomes and a more engaged audience in the short-term. In the long term, I think it promotes the building up of community better then watching people talk at the front of the room while everyone else sits at screens and does other things / zones out after 25 minutes for a 50 min time slot (of varying quality). By promoting community and having more people present on the topics discussed in these breakout mentor sessions, attendees may be more apt to contribute in the future and help promote community sustainability and less burn out.

from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-of-the-blockchain-2014-4

Bitcoin-ing society

For those that live under a rock, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. What’s a cryptocurrency (other then evil sounding, MUUHUUHAHHAAAA)? Good question, but you better learn quick because we’re going to spell out how we’ll be doing it to society.

Uhh what?

Bitcoin is a distributed network that processes payments. This allows for a flattening of the traditional payment certification infrastructure. It’s also a great example of Information Altruism at work and meets the four factors when it can be applied to a context.

  • Currency: Digital Dollar overhead — eliminate overhead
  • PowerFlow: Centralization — attack with decentralization
  • Values: Huge corporations — the individual
  • Flag in Ground: Bitcoin logo and a community that no one will claim ownership of who actually created it.

Bitcoin is an excellent example of the direction society is heading; flat, structureless and hyper-connected. Internet of things (IoT) is also going this route and is something people will start to experience every day without realizing it. Every device on the planet will be web connected and (the good ones) autonomous and distributed. Calling home as needed but doing what’s needed to keep their Actant network stable. This is the direction we are pressing forward on as well.

How do managers, governments and C levels prepare for this world? Start the process of flattening by choice, or be bowled over by the unstoppable march of technology. Technology spits in the face of human hierarchies. It does not require approval, it does not require consensus though it often allows for it; it forms the optimal solution and liberates members involved. True digital freedom and the best options emerging remove the needs for endless meetings seeking consensus among large groups (when it’s not even possible in small).

Especially in IT organizations or those built on advanced technology, it is important to recall that people align with the workflows they are placed within. If technology cannot pass an XML statement from point A to B (and it is required to do business), jobs will be created as they have a need filled. If you require HTML to be produced to do your job, then HTML workers will be employed.

But if you utilize web-services and sufficiently advanced replacements for HTML, you no longer need data entry and you no longer need HTML jockeys. It is critical that employees that work within fields that are easily automate-able (data entry, booking, anything with standard process and routine that interface with technology) be prepared to find new work within the next 5 to 10 years. In the future, you either align with distributed, flat and Bitcoin like computer networks or you succumb to them. Start a gradual collapse now, or be collapsed.

It’s not all Bad

A misconception I get a lot is that when I say automation and elimination of tasks means we eliminate workers. Much like when we talk about elimination of hierarchy, we’re not talking eliminating jobs, we’re talking graceful restructuring of jobs. Follow the Two Pizza rule; smaller teams, more focused tasks, less reporting order, less coordination and meetings, more productivity. NEW work, not elimination of work. Out of the tedium and into increasingly more meaningful work.

The forest

Creating randomly distribute, dense forests of innovation

I like to write things down, especially when I think they’ll be important. A really cool aspect of Actor-Network theory (ANT) is that people respond to and are influenced by artifacts in the world, even if they created them. For example, I write down an idea. The paper with that idea, replicates the echo chamber effect of its importance to me, but if that paper is broadcast to an audience, I can be removed from the venue and still be impactful.

ANT should be popular with artists as often times an artist is trying to communicate a message and leave an impression behind. For example, I can no longer speak to Michelangelo yet I can “hear” his influence echoed throughout history in sculptures and paintings; inspiring for generations beyond the original conception of the idea and the person.

So too can we do this with code that’s been imbued with philosophical principles. Political Artifacts, is a concept that any technology created is done so with a certain set of ideals. This ideals, philosophies, politics all live on and are potentially enforced greater in impact then the person who held them. A powerful (awful) example comes from racist architects in the early 20th century who intentionally made bridges too low for public transportation. These road that buses couldn’t go on would lead to wealthier areas of the city and through this simple (yet intentional) design “flaw”, the “artist” (as terrible as he was) is able to ensure that poor people don’t go into rich neighborhoods.

So why do I lay this backstory and provide an obscure notebook drawing? I am very intentionally trying to structure technology to send a message. If the motive of the developer is important to understanding how and why one should use technology, it is paramount that you understand the motives if you are able to trust; otherwise, what’s to say we’re not just “building the new monster but at least it’s your monster” as someone framed it to me recently.

Because we’re setting things in motion to prevent the emergence of monsters. We’re not building just a platform, we’re building a platform to help you rise up out of the cave and to help bring your coworkers out with you (see Plato’s Allegory of the Cave). We know that you can’t fix government and education by becoming part of the problem, you have to forge a new path. We are trying to eliminate the possibility of such corruption emerging.

And in doing so, we come to our picture in question. “Big Seed Vendor” has proprietary seed technology and seeds intentionally engineered to not reproduce (terminator seeds as they are called). There are conflicting reports as to if this happens but the notion that these proprietary seeds blowing into someone else’s farm really stuck with me (true or not, the concept). IP right would still allow “Big Seed Vendor” to go after the farmer who’s land this has blown on to and started to germinate because, as I said, it is proprietary IP.

The visual is from a bus ride when I was early 20s and I knew it would be important. We don’t want to allow the seeds of elms to blow onto other farms simply to have someone come after another “farmer” for not using their flavor (Jewel2 much, “Open source” masqueraders?). In fact, we actively want nature to take its course and randomly distribute dense forests of innovation across the globe. This is the dribs and drabs I speak of and why I stick to the phrase. We want to be everywhere and in everything (eventually, everyone).

I, will not rest, until these unattainable dream are realized. That’s what dreamers do, they shoot for impossible “knowing” they will fall short. Every day since creating this I’ve felt I would die unhappy, knowing I could have just done more. I could have released more code, I could have solved more problems and made the world an even better place. It was at this time I grew up, and seemingly fell into madness (as I’ve detailed before) or maybe I just realized that the entire focus of my life is to advance the ball as far down the field as I can until I have to lay it down and allow my children to pick it up and run with it. Regardless, I have to tilt the playing field in their favor, in the favor of everyone’s children.

This world can be so much more to so many people, if we speak openly and donate freely. We were made to be so much more. Don’t let anyone limit your potential and ensure you always speak to unlock it in others. The endless (FREE) well of innovation in the educational technology market is not some utopian ideal (and if it were, I’d rather dream of bliss then dwell for despair).

Our children deserve the best educational experiences, avenues, and outlets. Let’s work together to ensure we allow others to germinate and breed new, better forms of pedagogy and technology that connect with students to avoid the emergence and propagation of more terminator seeds.

Collapsing information economies

I used to start my presentations with my kids and say, this is for them. I stopped as it wasn’t really professional and people didn’t really know what to make of what I was saying, cause they didn’t know me. I, didn’t know me. But I think this process that has seen lots of documenting nation building over the last 8 years has finally allowed me to be completely honest.

We’re not building a platform. We’re not building a product. Because to most people, most of society. Technology, doesn’t, matter. What does matter, is changing the way people think. Changing where they view power as stemming from. Who has authority to dictate their existence. These are ideals we can imbue technology with.

So when I get asked what I’m after (because it’s starting to become obvious that I’m not honest) I stop, and am honest. Change. We are building a change agent. Every day, every line, every support request. We are building what ever is necessary to challenge the status quo that would have you go into a vendor room and pick from the trinkets.

And then do it again the next year. and the next. Endless support contracts and nearly worthless code that you don’t own (you just rent silly). It is a platform intended to liberate, to open your eyes to new ways of thinking; to inspire and to enact change. A symbol.

The way to alter the face of markets is not to participate in them and simply lower costs. That works for a time and certainly helps people be able to afford and access technology. I’m not talking about lowering costs though, I’m talking about eliminating costs.

If the educational technology market worked like big Pharma; you’d see (yes I know they fudge things but it’s the idea) forced innovation and force progress through the inability to hold a long term patent. The same should be true of software.

It is morally reprehensible to produce a product, spin it out via Jenkins (free), on to servers running linux (free), with web requests handled by apache (free) or cached in any number of other free code bases / architecture (Pound, Varnish, Memcache…), then have people pay for code you wrote in php/python/go (free) that talks to a database backend (which is free) and then nicely delivers to the end user’s browser (which is free) and does some nice interactive things in Javascript / Jquery (WHICH ARE BOTH FREE).

The entire stack for a developer of the software you use every day is, and will increasingly become, free. How is it justified to copy and paste a command with a different name, hundreds of thousands of times and produce millions upon millions of dollars. For a time, yes, that’s absolutely required to recoup costs.

So how do we end the cycle? Do we join the system of control that others have helped establish a “customer base” for us? No. The information altruist would declare war against the system of control and effectively eliminate the ability for there to be a customer base.

Think I’m crazy? This is ridiculous, no one will ever do it and it’s utopian. Oh, that’s cool, ever hear of Wikipedia or an Encyclopedia? Or perhaps Mozilla vs Internet Explorer? No, no bells. How about David Wiley and Open Educational Resources? What’s the point of OER (if you ask hard liners)? It’s to eliminate a corrupt and dead publishing industry. eliminate. Not “Join the market and make money in a more ethical way” (non hardliner argument). It is to eliminate the ability to make money in the same way ever again (free book, want to print it? Ok, that costs a couple bucks; totally new relationship and information is “free”).

We are capable of amazing things when we join forces and see each other as equal partners, instead of cattle and ranchers. We can build amazing things when we don’t seek simply to join systems of control, but to liberate them.

Who will you liberate in your life time?