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.

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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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.