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…)!!!

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