University API Un-conference Debrief

I recently attended a new conference (well new to me anyway) called University API Un-conference. This is the 3rd time it’s run at BYU and is sponsored by the CIO / BYU Enterprise Architects group. They didn’t ask me to write this but in favor of transparency they sponsored me coming out to talk to expose attendees to the ideas driving ELMS, especially in areas of xAPI.

But anyway, I’ve been to plenty of “unconference”-ish events given that Drupal is usually pretty informal, hosting Birds of a Feather (BoF) rooms where anyone can write down a topic and meet informally. Room number, whiteboard, and go. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a facilitator lead unconference!

We started the day writing a brief topic descriptions on big sheets of paper, then we sat in a circle and gave like a 20 second pitch of what our topic idea was. Then we put them up on a board based on room and timeslot we wanted. It was an interesting collaboration and meet and greet in one. There were also ground rules associated with no worrying about who was in your session or how many and also not getting offended if people moved around.

Topics were all over the place. From university API (they have an API-frist architecture that all systems integrate with, it’s pretty incredible in and of itself), “help me learn about API” style working sessions, pet projects, LRS development, Swagger.io documentation talks, Event management APIs, ELMS / OER family of topics; really anything edtech builders it was there. As I expected, there were several past Apereo attendees / member organizations including Duke represented. I figured as much because I felt incredibly comfortable with the audience, people knew how to build things instead of just buy them, and the open culture really creates a vibe not present at some other edu events.

My big take aways:
– Swagger is something I really need to learn more about. BYU has a system similar to the elmsln read the docs integration where documentation can be ingested and replicated in a drupal site (funny, same workflow, same starting point, same endpoint, different bridge code to do it). It would really help us with our Polymer elements long term I think since it’s for building and documenting APIs clearly.
– Tone is incredibly important. During an OER discussion, I mentioned the notion of overthrowing past governence structures (said much more flippently then this even) and someone challenged me as to what I meant by it. She then described what she thought I was saying, which was the same thing basically but sounded way less threatening. This stuff only happen in Open and when all parties are willing to question and be questioned as equals.
– API centered design, several years after being put into practice, is something incredible to behold. Day 1, it can be painful and those painpoints were expressed, but now a few years out it’s rather amazing the kinds of integrations / solutions BYU can craft as a result of this approach.
– The idea of an “event” / “activity” API endpoint is something I’ve never thought of before and something they have working very well (even if it’s early on) at BYU. The idea is that any action that you want to track / report of any kind gets sent to an events endpoint. Anyone can create a type of event / action and supply the data to back it up
– Sovrin – I’ve never heard of it before but Sovrin the technology for global distributed identity (think blockchain but for identifying individuals securely across any solution out there) is a pretty awesome concept that’s gaining some traction. There were several discussions around the idea of Sovrin the technology and Sovereignty as individual student ownership of data and empowering students to be able to take their credentials / skills / badges with them. They are calling this Learner Profile and while it’s still in the early dreaming phases, I understand why we see eye to eye on so many things. Once you start thinking in terms of redecentralization, you can’t unthink it.
– I love hallway / lunch conversations. I met someone who had a PhD in the History of Technology; which is an STS topic that’s right up my alley from my Information Altruism work.
– Get off the island is more then just code – I was able to provide a unique perspective to attendees (and them to me) as a result of my bulk of experiences. Several times I referenced the Writing conference I attended (cause no one there did), Apereo / Sakai work (which I’ve been to and others have / use Sakai so shared experience from multiple perspectives), and being a hard-core Drupal developer when many people were sysops; which gives me a unique perspective from the “inside” of a very different open source community from the open culture of the event. Overall, this really validated that I need attend less Drupal events with people I’m immediately at ease with and instead try and search out these hidden gem events.

Validation
I don’t require it, but wow does it feel good sometimes. It was very nice to be some place with people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me or my work, and have them see the totality of the work our team has been doing (both PSU college centric and ELMS:LN developer centric) and be floored by it. It’s funny, I kept saying how blown away I was with the level of open culture exhibited and the API infrastructure they all were apart of, while at the same time people kept telling me my work was the first sign of a way forward beyond the thinking of the LMS without breaking the student / faculty cognitive load issue of multiple solutions. I had a couple people tell me this was the first tangible example of a NGDLE they had ever seen and I had many long conversations
Other things:
– People are looking for what OERSchema provides but not realizing it. In describing the problem it solves and demo’ing it to a small group they were very impressed with the idea. Always fun to present someone else’s work and have it validated.
– We’re on the right track with Polymer, BYU’s been doing it with different components in the form of straight up webcomponents for some time and have been happy with the results.
– ELMS:LN is maturing to a point that I can present the idea at a high level and delve into the trenches and not have to hide anything along the way

Going forward / Next steps
– Hopefully we can get another voice from Duke to vouch for us to the Open Apereo foundation board of organizations. We need 1 more voice to say ELMSLN should be accepted into their incubation program. This would help the project gain visibility but more importantly provide our community mentorship in what practices we could be doing a better job of with getting people on-boarded and sustain efforts.
– We need to do a better job justifying xAPI in the age of Caliper among some people, but because of our worldview with regards to data (anything is a course, anything an action, anything learning, not just what happens in higher education LMSs) xAPI will always be more flexible. It might be messier, but it’s going to always allow for more flexibility in design over Caliper. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be open to supporting Caliper, but it might be more of a filter that converts xAPI statements into Caliper ones based on skimming off the ELMSLN context properties we’ll mixing into xAPI to extend it.
– Standards all the things; We need to work more on the external tool integration aspect as well as supporting LMS APIs natively. This would be the next step in suggesting this system is higher then the LMS in what it can do and what it’s meant to provide as an ecosystem driven experience.
– Libraries need an OER hub / routing solution: Members of Duke & BYU had an interesting perspective on the OERSchema / Git ingestion workflow for markdown files. What if a library was the curation engine for OER to vet it for quality, and then much like an old library, provided an open bookshelf of sorts that people could checkout the books from. In this connotation, checking out a book would be cloning the repo so now you have a copy. This would allow distribution and help ensure knowledge never dissipates (a critique Michael Collins has of Database driven / single point blogging platforms / silos). OERSchema becomes icing on the cake as it would incentivize faculty to not just tell people to draw from an online text but allow them to legally and easily pull the book apart and remix it into new forms

Overall this was an awesome event and everyone was very approachable. Thank you all so much more having me and I can’t recommend this event enough and hope it comes out East Coast (Duke tossed out the idea of hosting toward the end of the year which I’d be up for coming down to).

Growth

I’ve written before about the journey I’m on. How I see our work, where I think it’s going and some of where it’s been. Call it high altitude, conference high, I don’t know what; but I had to do stream of consciousness for the thoughts in my head. This is what spilled out, turned into paragraph form instead of 140 characters at a time

I was in deep thought / meditation / prayer one day in 2014. I said, my work life has no real purpose, the thing I do every day at work, it’s just that, work. It only benefits a few 100 people, which is neat; I contribute code, help people in small ways which is great, but not lasting.

In that quiet. I found clarity. I found a design for what I should be doing, abstraction beyond abstraction. Designing for the unknown and encouraging the unknown, designing to be able to capture and sustain innovative efforts instead of losing them in one-offs and white-boards. A problem that everyone seemed to articulate but no one could recognize an answer it. I said this doesn’t exist, and I couldn’t unseen the picture in my head. A series of interconnection following the same pattern. A fractal in my mind.

I had to pursue it. I drove myself into the ground physically working towards it while trying to be a good husband and father to two under age three; struggling to be a good family member in the ways I knew how. The parent dilemma as I’ve been told it’s called. The vision was a huge time blackhole.. and the more I talked about it, the more I realized no one got it. I was alone in my own head, no one to look to for advise, no one to collaborate with, no one to encourage my idea. They couldn’t see the picture in my head or understand why as a concept it would be useful.

I had a talk accepted at a small event in Ohio, 100s of miles from where I work. I was really excited to talk about this idea and show, something, anything that would start to demonstrate it. My heart sank as only 5 people we in attendance for that talk, 2 of them people from back home that were good friends of mine. I swallowed and said “screw it, it’s still worth it” and laid out the vision, starting with my moral obligation to my kids to build a better world in whatever way I knew how.

And for the first time in a year, they got it. People I knew and had been explaining this to for months finally had their eyes opened to what I was trying to express. This was early 2014. Later that year, I had a talk accepted at DrupalCon (1st time ever). I laid this concept out and the state it was in. There were 100 ~ 120 people there, and there was interest and some excitement… but nothing happened.

I got accepted to OpenEd 2014. I presented on this idea as being key to laying the groundwork for open publishing systems, an OER factory and the way of liberating our institutions knowledge silos while achieving their public-good mission we are all put in place to serve. A friend from twitter tweeted “LOOK AT THE PASSION” as I was practically brought to tears describing the thing in my head to a group of people that would be eager to hear about it. I had a few questions, some good ideas and enough energy to generally sustain me emotionally afterwards. But still. Nothing happened.

I dug deeper then I knew I could and took my game to another level as a developer. I went from being a simple Drupal developer with dozens of contributions to a Full-stack developer versed in Javascript, CSS, Bash, Drupal, PHP, GIT, and any library I could get my hands on that I knew I’d have to figure out in order to achieve my dream. My friends started to notice the change in me. That this incredibly unserious, sarcastic late 20s colleague, wasn’t just working to get the job done; he believed in something. And finally, after years in the dark and almost 2 years of rambling about this vision… something happened.

My friends and colleagues started to believe in what I was talking about. They saw how passionate I had become about not just code and donation of effort. They brought their code, their time, their ideas, their take on what I was doing, and together, we all started to make it our own. They started looking into jobs they could take where the jobs could be accomplished using the approach I was talking about. At times, they took opportunities paying less money and having less job security to get a chance at working on this vision. They started working after hours, nights, weekend commits would roll in, issues would be discussed at social gatherings. And not only did the vision become shared, but our friendships grew stronger. “They” don’t work for Me or “My” project, we work toward our shared vision of the world we can make possible. Better, together, forever open source.

From those days, and meetings and blog posts, and videos, and code commits, we started to slowly attract adopters. People could see not only that this was an interesting idea, and that they wanted to play with it, but that they actually could play with it. The vision was becoming a real, tangible thing. No longer a dream in my head, our diagrams on our whiteboard, but a real thing people could touch and experience, people who had no idea what it was starting to grasp the concept in less and less time. My tone changed, my duration of session to get to the payoff changed. Hour long talks could be consolidated into 30 minutes, then 10, then 5, and now an elevator pitch with visualization to back it up.

Excited, I submitted for OpenEd as did a friend, but we got rejected. And for the first time ever, I said “I love and support this event, I’m going anyway” (something difficult to justify financially to the same degree as presenting as unfortunate reality). I listened attentively, picked up new ideas, new ways of speaking, new design patterns / use-cases I hadn’t thought of and others that were validated by going. The whole time I worked. And people in the audience, a solid mix of builders and users of OER, kept peaking over my shoulder, saying “Ooo.. what’s that?” seeing a terminal window, code, and a webpage that looked like something worth OOO’ing about.

Then, I sat in a session by people I respected a lot at a technical level. A random person in the audience asked a question about LRS technology. The answer, while valid, wasn’t really in depth. He seemed genuinely interested in seeing an LRS. So, as an LRS is part of ELMSLN (via Learning Locker though any will work), I walked over and asked if he’d like to see the one we use. As I started to show him learning locker and where our statements came from, he kept saying “No no, wait, what’s that, show me that system”, referring to ELMS:LN. I detoured a bit, showing him ELMS integration w/ Learning Locker via xAPI, how well that works, how early we were in doing it but that it’s the way forward. He gave me his card, said we needed to talk some time (a line I’ve heard too many times to ever get excited about beyond validation in that moment of work).

And an email showed up a day later, asking to do a little Skype call. Cool I thought, I’m always happy to show people Learning Locker.

We got on the call, and then another with more people, because little did I know, I wasn’t there to show them learning locker, the CIO’s office of BYU was extremely interested in ELMS:LN and my design methodology as it related to xAPI for distributed learning profiles. We discussed how we all envisioned using a distributed series of solutions controlled by the institution (or at times, not, just recommended) and developers to improve upon, bend and eventually break the LMS paradigm of singular, giant systems into a lego grid. We talked xAPI and how it’s critical in achieving this objective.

Someone got it. From no one in months, to someone in seconds. They got the approach and wanted me to show other people, so I just attended BYU’s UniversityAPI Unconference. It was a pretty incredible experience which I’ll do a separate debrief on because it’s a great event and I learned a lot.

For me though, to be presenting to members of BYU, Duke and other institutions, and have it be about the big picture (I talk on the minutia of Drupal usually) it’s a dream come true. I feel like my life’s work is starting to stick, because I laid down my shields, contribute openly, pursue contributors openly, build others up, help and reach out to anyone I can and try to get them using Drupal, Open Source, and maybe, someday, ELMS:LN to achieve the mindset that we have about education and it’s influence on society through technology.

We’re at a tipping point, I can feel the wave of emotion that comes with that tip. We’re not just onto something, we can demonstrate worth and it makes me want to NEVER discourage a big idea ever again. No matter what it is, if you can dream it, if you can stick with it,you can do it. This is fuel as much for you the reader, as it is for me, as it is a life lesson for my children when they get older.

Be. Just Be.
Be laughed at. Be ignored. Be told to shut up. Be told it’ll never work. Be told no one will get it. Be told you can’t make the world a better place. Be told “no open source project has ever been successful when originating in Higher Education”. Be told no one will adopt Drupal, let alone ELMS:LN. Be hated. Frowned upon. Misunderstood.

Just be, who your God, your worldview, your community, your industry, NEEDS YOU TO BE. And nothing less. Ignore the doubters, the naysays, the negativity. Because if people are telling you it’s impossible, in the age of singularity, automation and mass creativity at scales the world has never seen before, then you know you must be onto something.

Seek out those who build you up, distance yourself from those who tear you down, but always be willing with open arms to welcome them back in. Don’t scoff. Don’t “I told you so” or “That’s what I’ve been saying”. Just smile, be happy that they’ve escaped the trappings of their mind to see the world you are expressing (again, no matter what that world is).

We don’t just have code. We have an idea; and to quote V, from V for Vendetta; “Idea’s Mr. Creedy… Are bullet proof”. You can speak anything into existence if you just keep believing in it. Don’t back down, don’t let the negativity of this world, of the social media sphere, or your community get you down.

I am incredibly humbled today and ready to take a much needed break to think and reset. When I return, I’ll be refreshed and ready to keep setting the road ablaze with potential. We are… ELMS Learning Network. And we’d love to have you join us to build a better world! One line of code, one conversation, one course, one solution, one learning, one smile at a time, we will build a better world.

A response to `Of OER and Platforms: Five Years Later`

Original post: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4892

I didn’t want this to get lost in the comments section but I found this post by David Wiley spot on, especially in his dissection of the LMS in the comments. As long as the LMS is still a dumping ground of stuff as opposed to a link farm out to innovation, it will never be innovation.

My response down in the comments, cleaned up to be a stand alone post:

Hollowing out the LMS is the only road they have towards innovation; if one of those common launch points was an OER provider that could be at least slightly more useful but I agree that when faculty treat their course as more of a website (via Paul Hibbitts GravCMS approach — http://www.hibbittsdesign.org/blog/) it’s the way forward.

Dr. Chuck is working on Tsugi to app-ify the LMS and unbundle it as well, which could make OER proliferation more possible at the system level. In this model, Sakai and other systems are effectively hollowed out *by design* via LTI launches, content item launches, and the items pulled in (innovations) are small decoupled stand alone applications —  https://www.tsugi.org/

I also have my own methodology in the game that sees the LMS fragmented (architecturally) so that policy can be crafted in a way that allows open aspects of course (content) to be open while closed experiences (private student – teacher engagements) can happen securely along side. We are building a self-federated ecosystem meaning any new part of the system can talk to any other new part of the system once it shows up. So we’re always able to account for the NextBigThing (n+1 thinking) in education or build new things the market hasn’t conceived. https://www.elmsln.org/

All three of these approaches are signs of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) which is NOT a product but a mindset and a way of implementing education online, which I think will directly result in greater adoption (or at least production as Open first) of OER. When systems are unbundle, ownership and privacy can be unbundled as well, leading to more robust, reusable solutions.

Speaking of unbundling, make sure to checkout OERSchema which ELMSLN seeks to use as a way of allowing Markdown Files (pure, portable, open by default) from Github to be able to populate and flush out content, interactions and more in ELMSLN (or any system).

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.

today.png

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.

tomorrow.png

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.

thenextday.png

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.

future.png

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:

WP_20160426_001.jpg

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

 

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.

Live, Open.

This blog has become active again, because I’ve finally finished writing my thesis. Approximately 1 week from today, I will defend my thesis which this blog now takes the title from. The thesis is called Information Altruism, and follows the story of a large organizations fundamental transformation from within. It formulates that through interviews and observations, Tempered Radicals within the organization were able to apply activist techniques to change the organization from within.

4 years ago I had a moment of inspiration while taking a shower. I was wrong. Everything I was doing… was wrong. It wasn’t actually solving the root cause of the issues we are facing; we were simply building another big bucket and we were “right” because it was our bucket.

4 years ago, that inflection point was formed in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t shake it, that years of efforts were only there to help me grow into the developer I would need to be to take on the real battle; the thing I was born to do.

I realized I was wrong and then I made a terrible mistake; I sat on the idea for 2 months. I sat on my new idea, documented it, puzzled it over in my mind endlessly; it started to consume everything I thought about. An infinitely deep web of ideas and systems, interfaces, apis, and methods of structuring systems. This is the thing that would make me rich. I could take this and when work pissed me off one day, oh, they’d see. I’d take my idea and I would change the world, alone.

And then, something amazing happened. The more I became consumed by the idea, the more I realized that it wasn’t my idea, and I’d never change the world alone. I also stopped and thought about money. I like money, I like having enough money, but I don’t love money. And I don’t know anyone that’s been made happy or whole through money alone. So I made one of the most important decisions of my life; I gave the idea away.

I gave it up, I set it free. And in doing so, I found something greater then money. I found Love. I, Love, what I do. I love watching faculty get excited when we tell them we can build anything. I love watching instructional designers get excited about their jobs and the potential for helping faculty teach more effectively through their creations. I love to build systems that help people experience growth and collaborate.

I dropped out of the consumption economy in this way. I didn’t just want another thing that you consumed. Anyone can make money, anyone can throw VC money at someone, steal their efforts and have them sign away their ideals in the name of money and power. These are not the people we remember kindly; the power hungry and the money rich. Innovators, dreamers, and actual, lasting world changers, are not the people buying vaccines and jacking the prices up. They are the ones giving away the formula to liberate mankind of disease as Jonas Salk did with the polio vaccine.

The liberation of education from under the heel of the educational technology industrial complex. We seek the betterment of all humankind. We want to empower people to empower others. To learn, and grow. To build a better tomorrow.

I’m not here to just be another face in the crowd, and I don’t think you are either. You are the most talented, more special, best person in the universe (Lego movie paraphrase). And the best thing you and I can do to make this world a better place is to lay down our arms and unite. Put up your code, give up your war plans, and start actually changing lives instead of just shifting their contractual obligations. When we stop playing by the rules of the game, we are able to change the nature of the “market”. You can’t go into the market to fundamentally change it, you have to seek out how to make it behave differently.

I know why I’m here. It’s to fuel this movement from the inside. Because Products are Ephemeral, Movements are Eternal. As I said, I will not be the one to change the world, we will be. We surround them. We are capable of amazing things, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have an amazing story to tell, and we will continue to write it.

One line at a time, one friend at a time, one dreamer at a time, in dribs and drabs, we will change the world.

Be Jonas Salk my friends. Be someone’s Jonas Salk.

Who’s brand are you building on the “Radio”?

Let’s look at an idea through a fictional conversation

E: We need to market our brand and attract more long term clients?

B: I completely agree, let’s advertise more of the tv, “radio”, social media, everywhere. We just need to give the proper tease to get people to come ask for our services. What do you provide that people can’t get anywhere else?

E: Well, I have 30 years experience in the field, so I’ll be working 1 on 1 with clients to advise them on their portfolio. We could do a 30 second ad that shows the process you’d go through and has lots of great pictures of people happy with their families because they’ve had a secure “finance” situation thanks to talking with me and my team.

B: Hmm.. I’m not sure that’s the approach we want to take. Here, how about this. Instead of showing your services and saying how great individualized attention is with you, the expert, let’s instead have an infomershial. Yeah… I can see it now. People will be more engaged with it because it’ll be longer; AND, you’ll be able to help more of them because instead of putting it on multiple platforms we’ll only put it on “radio”! You know “radio” is the wave of the future and it travels REALLY far, almost globally. Also, people don’t respond well to that happy families thing, they want to learn about how to make more money so they can buy more stuff. So I’m thinking lots of smiling attractive people swimming in money because they listened to your infomercial and then came in to become clients!

E: err, So you want me to change the message to be a longer discussion of finance, in a more watered down way for more people? And just 1 place? Why would we only advertise on 1 location?? And besides that’s not the experience they’d get by coming in to see us, I don’t know how I feel about this plan. We’re about a lot more then just making people money.

B: Just 1 place; oh you make it sound so bad. No silly, it’s got millions of people on it. I don’t know if you know how technology like “radio” works, but you broadcast a message, people pay attention, at scale, and then the money just comes pouring in. And as for your message, we don’t want something representative of what 1 person’s experience is like; we want this to be eye catching, really wow the crowd to hold onto their attention. That’s the only way your going to make the final sale in the end, is if you present a product that blows people away; ignore the fact that it’s not really what you do, you just have to go with the flow.

E: Hmm.. ok, I mean I guess your right. We do things a bit dated around here and I am really worried that we’re missing out on potentially helping people and bringing ourselves more business.

B: Well, to make money you have to spend money; and the best way to do that is to partner with “Buy-in-large” to put your infomercial out to as many people as possible. Then, once the idea.. {cut off}

E: Wait, did you just say partner with “Buy-in-large”?? I thought this was OUR infomercial, why do we need them? And they don’t have experience in the “finance” industry, why should I trust them to get our my message about how great we are at helping individuals with “finance”?

B: You didn’t let me finish. Your clients are here to make money so that they can buy more stuff, “Buy-in-large” is the perfect fit. They sell stuff to people and provide a platform to sell more stuff upon them becoming clients of yours and “Buy-in-large”s.

Also, you can’t do it on your own. I mean this is “radio”, how are we ever going to put something on a “radio” without partnering with an organization of their size. “Buy-in-large” is exactly the kind of group that we want to be affiliated with.

Trust me, if you want this captive audience’s attention and to potentially turn this into a sale down the road, you gotta pair up with “Buy-in-large”.

E: But that doesn’t even make sense. And really, how captive an audience could “radio” possibly have? I mean I hear that there might be millions of people that goto “radio”s but that it rarely converts into paying business; isn’t “radio” more about just getting our name out there? That’s not what I need, we already have a name for ourselves in this industry, I’m just trying to attract a few more perspective clients and show them quickly how I can help them through personalized advise.

B: Ok, if your ever going to make this work you need to drop this notion that you know what your talking about. I mean, you’ve been at this for 30 years; times have changed. People don’t want personalization anymore, they want large, well presented arrangements that they get for free without any potential market applicability.

You have to trust me, I’m the expert and besides, everyone else is doing it. If your going to keep up the perception that you are also good at what you do, your just going to have to swallow your pride a bit and get on “radio” like the rest of them! It’s the only way to survive in the coming years when business is going to get tight.

E: But all I wanted was to put out a quick notice that we exist and that we’ve got great experience for them..

B: Ya well your perspective clients don’t care about that anymore; grow up. The dream is dead. No one wants the path to a better, more complete life; they want money. So just do this so that I can help you succeed!

Legend

E is Education

B is Big MOOC

“financial” = education

“Radio” = MOOC

“Buy-in-large” = Any silo’ed MOOC provider

Thoughts that prompted this:

  • When you give away a product that’s of higher quality then what you make people pay for; will that reflect positively or negatively on the institution?
  • When you associate your brand with a large bucket of logos of other brands, does that not say your all the same; forcing you to focus more on brand management then educating?
  • Don’t tell me this is about education. This is about creating an industry to “Appify” and replace higher education, especially faculty (see recent articles about the 
  • Which brand are you building? The platform? The faculty member? The field? or your own?
  • How long can this all last?

These thoughts do not apply specifically to anyone or anything. I’m sure there are great MOOCs out there taught by great instructors.