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!


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.

The LM-essest 1%: Death by IT governance

As with everything, I have nothing to back this up. But anecdotally from faculty and instructional designers I’ve talked to recently, I’d imagine that they love LMSs if they were allowed to change the 1% of the issues that bug them.

For example, if you don’t have the ability to import a rubric and have to enter it manually from a previous system. That 1% capability of the LMS may be so obnoxious that it sours your entire experience. This isn’t really a problem with the LMS, it’s a problem with IT governance and dated policies.

I’d be curious to see the stats on open platforms like Moodle and Canvas when deployed as large central instances vs distributed, smaller ones at college and department levels. I’d imagine that as you get closer and closer to the end users (as far as levels of governance) that perception of quality of the same tool would improve.

I’d do research, but in the age of Singularity, bloated research is dead and gut instinct is the only way to survive. Because structures and institutions won’t change, the LMS community is doomed to a fate of less customers, more requirements. Unless the larger LMS community adopts google-esk, distributed, app-ified, networked services approach to implementation via LTI or lightweight APIs; it will be in a continued state of decline much like the cord-cutters leaching users out of the cable industry.

I think right now the LMS community’s response will be much like cable: you need us, you’ll come back, you’ll never leave, we’ll just raise rates to make up the difference. 4-5 years from now though, they’ll still be saying the same thing and those that get off the sinking LMS ship (now) will be mas money and students ahead of their dinosaur counterparts.

Because they aren’t willing to change their governance or financial model, they will be in a state of staged collapse over the next several years.  The issue at hand is that technology has changed the nature of the way new businesses and ideas can be disseminated and they are still living in the days of brick-and-mortar style buildings that are trying desperately to remain relevant in the “new”-new IT driven economy.

All it will take is a visionary “uber”-like disruption and the entire thing will be threatened; all because the people making the decisions are unable to step back and realize they are the problem.

Getting out of the LMS

I needed something to point to as a way of visualizing what’s in my head and then this post found its way on here.  I’ve been writing extensively about the philosophy that drives much of my decision-making though not always on this site.

I’m always one to snap at people who don’t put words into action so consider this my beginning to walk the walk.  How do we transform educational technology (and education through its usage) when we are typically locked into the FUD of large vendors.

LTI.  As I wrote about at the beginning of the year I see LTI as an increasingly adopted standard that will help bring about the death of the LMS.  So, now that I’ve started to get to test some stuff in Drupal with LTI, diagram and thoroughly war game a plan of attack, here’s what I see being the solution.

The traditional, monolithic LMS

So we have the LMS.  It’s a monster.  They all are, whether they claim to be new and innovative in an open source technology or not.  All present solutions are huge, one bucket representations of education.  This aligns well with the institutional side of education but poorly with the “boots on the ground” view of how education actually happens: completely messy, ad hoc, and organically tailored to each individual (at least when class size allows).

So first, let’s break out of that mindset of 1 system and users being confused by it.  As I type this in WordPress, which I had to login with its own account in an application called Chrome which had to be downloaded and installed on an Operating system that resides on a screen and associated peripherals that I had to figure out how to use… I think you get the point.  You are adapting to what has been presented to you even as you read this, it’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is pervasive logins and the sharing of data that systems should already know about.  Which leads us to visual two.

Lots of services all talking to each other, knowing enough to keep the UX seamless

We use LTI to get a person over to a system where we have flexibility.  What is assumed by the LMS community is that this is a website / tool for someone to use and interact with in a specialized way.  More important in my mind is making this the new, eventual star of the show in a series of distributed stars.

In this way, you can effectively start to hollow out the LMS and pick up the entire learning experience / interaction and continue it across other services.  I’ll know enough about who someone is to be able to make the right decision or provide a series of options associated to the decision.  We can use LTI both to register new courses in the new system as well as ask existing ones what other services are allowed to be used.  In this example we have four other services that all talk back to the new center.

This methodology is fitting with the Structured Anarchy approach to systems development.  If the UX associated with our online studio tool is degraded over time (which is typical when new shiny things come out), we don’t need to throw out or mess with the service we provide that people like with our instructional flow, course creation tool.  This will also allow us to run different versions of Drupal on different sites and different services, sometimes in a mixed way, without a break in usability.

Data flow is critical to success of any new system once we get it up and running, hence visual three.

All services are separate yet equal in how the central service responds and delivers back to them

This falls somewhere between a Star and Mesh network topology in networked systems design.  We ultimately want to get things to be completely Mesh based where everything is a node and everything is a hub, but this is a good first step for now.

The great thing about using Drupal for the majority of these services is that once we write the connections for 1 type of communication, we have it across all services.  I’m currently building out the Course Information System distribution as the starting point to create your own “online” infrastructure for the new paradigm in edtech development.  I’m working closely with our virtual server contact to ensure that we can deploy each of these services in a well structured multisite’ed way (Drush is awesome).

From there, each subsequent service will be created off of a common core of modules (typically modeled from the Nittany Distribution).  The courses service for examples is being built off of the Massively Open Online Course distribution.  While we’ll use this approach / tool set to deliver to our students internally, we’ll also be able to open things up (a flexibility we currently don’t possess in our existing architecture).

The ELMS distribution is already running in several units.  It along with the related Ulmus distribution will appear as just one service with in this setup.  The nice thing about the way I was developing both of those previously is that much of the code / ideas have been embodied into all other systems I’m building.  This also doesn’t even cover the asset management system that we have serving up media to our courses currently.

As Drupal development has picked up at the university, my ability to scale has increased.  Already module selection and overlapping development efforts that help create better websites has been used to create new features within the platforms discussed previously.

Development in tangentially related projects / modules is always helping improve the user experience and feature set of our platform.  A couple of years ago I was annoyed that more people weren’t getting into the game and it would appear that call has just started to be answered (to tremendous results).

At several points earlier this year I wondered if 2012 would break us or define us; I’m gearing up for a hell of a free and empowering definition.

Earthquakes of a Drupal LMS

Based on recent events (and added traffic to my site through search term “Drupal LMS”) I think it’s fair to say that the rumblings of a Drupal LMS are a bit more intense then a year ago. First some other opinions on the subject:

Hack Education

Moodle Discussion board

Add in the fact that Schoology and GoingOn Networks have their own LMS entries that are Drupal based and you might see where this is heading.  Enter the main event and one of three major discussions to come out of Drupalcon in my mind (for education at least): The discussion board on Drupal.org that’s starting to heat up.

There were a lot of discussions at Drupalcon about what it would take to make Drupal a full blown LMS.  Many vendors and organizations in the past have mashed up Drupal and Moodle to get the best of CMS world and best of free LMS world.

The reviews in the room (about 20ish) were mixed as to the result.  It was ok but not great.  There also seemed to be the feeling that the moodle community might be in decline from an outsiders perspective.  Based on the last 24 hours, it would appear that Moodle is about to be at an inflection point in adoption.  Either BB will help bring about the death of Moodle on FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) alone; or the community will continue with an influx of passionate educators and edtech leaders taking the charge.

As some other interesting notes from the shake up worth mentioning:

  • Dr Chuck from Sakai is also going to be involved in getting Blackboard to be promoting that project.  I’m not sure what impact this will have on that project but I know there’s a lot of fear about a project lead of his clout “jumping ship”.  While I don’t view it that way, especially from talking to him in the past, there will still be that perception (FUD)
  • Moodlerooms had a bunch of ex-Angel employees; funny how now suddenly BB isn’t going to be sun setting Angel.  Curious to see if those Angel people who jumped ship once will do so again to other moodle shops.

I also mentioned that there were three important things for Drupal in education as a movement to come out of Drupalcon Denver 2012. The second one was that Drupal in Education Unconferences will now be a yearly thing thanks to FunnyMonkey.  Drupalcon is in Portland next year (Funnymonkey’s hometown) and so the Unconference should be epic!

The last point is something that’s currently in the works and has been active for about six months, just under the radar.  A Drupal in Higher Education UnConsortium which is currently in the process of adopting a charter and more official name.  This un-developer network was announced at Drupalcon Denver and has had about 10 active members that meet monthly and have standards they are working towards to the benefit of all of education.  I’ll have more information about that in the coming weeks.

What I’m really excited about..

I’ve been really excited about the progress I’ve been able to make with the ELMS distribution for the latest version.  To most, it will seem that this has to do with adding functionality and additional stability to the platform.  Those are great, but there’s something far more subtle that I’ve been able to establish in the platform with this version: Something not specific to education.

As I’ve written before, I believe fully that better technologies / frameworks breed better, more sustainable solutions.  As such, it may seem counter-intuitive to put all this effort into something that is inherently non-educational.  I’ve done this to maximize the impact and eyes that can get on the code at all levels.  If this was just something that worked for educators (like Moodle is) then I’d be more or less barring 80% of the community from caring.

While previous versions of ELMS were mired in the context of Courses and Offerings of courses, as of Alpha 6 I’ve been able to break free of these connotations at a code level.  Everything you see with ELMS that makes you think it is specific just to education has been abstracted.  Here’s how:

  • Install Cores – ELMS ships with two install cores as of Alpha 6.  This is mostly just to showcase that it is possible to install the system towards very different purposes off 95% of the same code-base. The Instructional CMS (ICMS) is what was originally being developed towards solely, this will now enable me (or anyone) to develop towards a more collaborative learning environment (CLE) while reusing almost all of the work I’ve done for ICMS.
  • String Overrides – All language that references Courses, Versions, Offerings, and things specific to the ICMS have been written back to a single variable in the database.  The module providing this is called String Overrides and essentially allows you to alter the context of the system’s language globally with a simple form.  ICMS alters this language a little different from CLE, and suddenly we start to have two very different systems.
  • No required Theme – This is a major difference between ELMS and all the current distributions out there. ELMS has no required theme. While it ships with a theme called Cube enabled for the system layer, this and any theme from drupal.org should be able to be used in the mini-sites that are created.  Most of what a system is to people is in the theme layer so this is critical in my mind.
  • Regions – ELMS as a system layer is more of a wrapper on top of traditional Drupal.  This wrapper (provided by a project called Regions) enables the user to do one very important thing: Never have to touch Drupal pages. I think this will take some getting used to for some devs but ultimately it provides much more consistent, touch friendly interface elements that keep people focused on the site without detracting from it.
  • Kit Compliant Features – if functionality works one place it works many.  That’s what Kit packaged Features in Drupal allow you.  It’s like modules and configuration of how to use them all rolled into a simple enable button.  Because ELMS features are kit compliant they will work in the various implementations of ELMS that are going to come down the pipe (ICMS and CLE are the beginning)

It is for these reason that I’m so excited about the potential for the types of systems that ELMS can create.  It also puts my mind to rest knowing that I can swap out the entire connotation of the system on install. This vision is of a picture I’ve had in my head for the better part of a year, driving me slowly to madness :).

I’ll be presenting at Drupalcamp Baltimore Friday on this concept of using one distribution to mutate into many. I think you could reduce the development time of many complex systems as a result of the ELMS code-base.  The code / feature set allows for anything that meets these requirements:

  • There is a wrapper of some kind (parent, or course) that has micro-sites associated to it
  • There is a micro-site (site, or version) that can function also to the same level of flexibility as a full Drupal site

Here are some concepts that I think could be built with ELMS pretty quickly:

  • Popular Blog site dot com – This web service has a User to Blog relationship (ELMS + blog theme + blog + simple aggregators)
  • Popular Survey site dot com – This web service could have a User to Survey or Organization to Surveys relationship (ELMS + Webform)
  • E Portfolio –  1 to 1 Student to slightly different kind of blogging platform (Popular blog site dot com + a few image views)
  • Rubric Management service — Course to Instructor relationship (ELMS + Rubric)
  • Student Club management — Club to website relationship (ELMS + a few themes + features from atrium / commons for collaboration)
  • Asset Management System — Organization to Project relationship (ELMS + few content types to handle media implementation)
  • Traditional LMS – While i wouldn’t recommend this, it’s certainly not far off (ELMS + Quiz + Gradebook + LTI)

I know a few people have asked if this is an LMS platform to which I say, this is about transforming the LMS model.