We can no longer turn our nose to an industry

I sat quietly, removed from the rest. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know if I had any ability to fit in; I don’t speak the same language. The language of a rhetorical academic (even that I’m sure is used incorrectly). And so, out of my element (by choice) I sat and listened to an amazing speaker discuss his journey from insider to… outsider. This is the issue of a cross-sectional as well as those who both need and can generate new technologies; living on the bridge between universes (but that’s a good thing).

I sat, listening to the keynote address the crowd as if they were family. He was one of them. He came from them, he had been where they had been and been in their community for some time. He had ascended the ivory tower, to which I’m sure some showed scorn (after all, pure research is why we get into this gig). He then related this fact (that they probably hate him for doing so) to friendly chuckles.

He then started to talk about how he built a product that some of them used and that while this was an idea that he had been working on within an institutional organization, that the structure itself would never allow it to overtake the corporate stronghold of a single player in the industry. He then said that they considered making what they were doing open source, but that it could never been open source and be successful because no open source solution has ever started in academia and been successful (a point that I reject but still).

Feeling the mood shift in the room when he talked about having to incorporate, he stopped and said what was pure gold for me (not exactly quoting):

I see how you responded when I said we had to build a company. It’s antithetical to how we academics want to operate. But I’m actually trying to do something. We can all complain about how much we hate _________ and turn our noses up and feel good about ourselves. We can skip using that product and encourage our peers to do so as well, but guess what; All your universities and college are still paying them. So they’ll still suck, and they’ll exist forever. So this is me taking a stand, because we need more options.

Some of this is that it was several months ago at Computers & Writing 2016 that I heard this talk ( I believe) so the quote is off; but much of the context remains. If no one stands up. If everyone simply scoffs at what has become the status quo and doesn’t provide a challenge to it; it will remain the status quo. And we’ll feel great, wow will we feel great. We hate “the man” and we rail against the system of control that our lesser colleagues just can’t see through. But we do nothing to provide them with a different solution.

In technology, much like in politics, you don’t catch flys with vinegar. You don’t win people to your system, your way of thinking or your way that you know leads them to freedom by being an ass and simply thumbing your nose at the establishment.

Don’t do what simply feels good. Do as Alinsky said

Do one of three things. One,go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves.Two,go psycho and start bombing-but this will only swing people to the right. Three,learn a lesson. Go home,organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.

Real change doesn’t come through violence, hate, anger, or self-loathing. Real change comes through building community, organizing, and doing whatever it takes to become the thing that the next generation will grow to hate: the establishment.

The only way to usurp the establishment is to become that which you hate. If you desire change more then you desire winning, you know what to do. Polish, refine, always accepting feedback, always improving, always accepting any minor victory and not focusing on the lost battles, always accepting the new, always accepting.

Quit writing about how badly edtech needs change or how bad players in the industry are. Quit talking about what a cash cow this market is (looking at you TechCrunch), all the while decrying that the educational industrial complex as too expensive and too often missing the mark. These wailing walls do us no good but sure feel nice to relate to.

Go home, organize, build power. I have for some time now… and while it takes me from my family and friends, while it shifts my focus to commits instead of conversations, while it is devastatingly lonely at times to feel as I feel and work as I work towards unachievable goals… we are building something. Because while I used to be just I or the royal we… there is we now. And soon, we will be that much stronger; together.

Join us. The future wants your help. It needs your help.

Hacking btopro

An activist minded developer gives a weird talk in Ohio. Someone convinces him to go in on a submission to something called Computers & Writing. He does, if only for one reason; figure out who he wants to be when he grows up.

Someone in my talk today said it’s interesting that I still refer to myself as an outsider even when amongst an event I was accepted to. Yeah… it is. But I think it only makes sense that I’d be so lost here. I’m not part of this community and it’s waaaay outside my comfort zone (which is why I came oddly enough). C&W is a very faculty centric (predominantly writing / language faculty) conference.

So what am I doing here?

Well, I wrote my thesis about how I was able to apply socio-technical theories to my university in order to bring about social change around a platform (Drupal). It’s not exactly normal stuff, Drupal people are (weird) developers writing code and giving it all away because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a very different side of me, a side I don’t always talk about outside a few friends, but it’s very important to me. It’s the mission.

I’ve been to so many camps. so many, many camps. Drupal events are awesome, community is awesome and I love talking to and meeting new people. At one time I knew no one and now I feel like I fit in at any event I go to. Edtech and education events I largely don’t fit in because well.. I don’t; but in coming here I think I know why.


Educators are too busy being learned to stop and solve technology problems

In any other area of life this is called apathy. The Apathetic, hands in the air, up turned noses approach is exactly what the keynote called out at CWCON when it comes to TurnItIn (a grading / evaluation platform that many use but hate). He called for people to do more then just scoff at solutions, we need alternatives.

The problem though (among many), is that everyone is too busy to stop and process what the problem is and solve it. We’re all too busy being specialized to stop and be a generalist for a month (something needed if we’re ever to get pedagogically sound tools built by / closely with faculty).

Where I think maybe I do fit in.

Maybe that involves building bridges to new communities of practice. Maybe that means coming to this community more in the future (best way to fit in is to force your way in ;)). The talks are really interesting and I’ve had some good conversations. I even saw a WordPress social community site by Stony Brook that looked pretty decent. I immediately saw potential, good ideas,… things we were doing and thinking of in ELMS:LN land.

There are other makers out there, I just need to find them.

Off to bed, there’s another big day of being an outsider in a community where I don’t belong but am interested in fostering the success of regardless 🙂


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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


Steal these ideas

Impacting the world is more important then being credited with it. It’s why when someone blatantly stole my work several years ago I was annoyed briefly, then satisfied. So please. Steal these ideas. Steal this system. Steal these concepts. I don’t care, in fact I actively encourage it.

These ideas are not my own. They’ve been assembled through the remix of remixes over the decade. All of ours have. Make something cool related to our network? Present about it. I don’t care if you didn’t author it, you utilized it, you made something better because of it; tell the world about that.

Tell them that what we empowered you to do was useful. You see I’m not here to take credit, to win the promotion or be the Man in the High Castle. I’m here to change things. Promotion of what we’re doing and exposure in more venues is far more important then me being affiliated with them.

Be, change.

The questions

Good research, starts with a question. Deeply held beliefs are supposed to be set aside when studying such a question or the concern is that you’ll impune the results. That by holding an opinion, you remove the vacuums that are supposed to surround research environments and affect that which you seek to study.

The problem with doing social research though, is what if the whole point of the research is to inflict an ideology and then to step back see what happens. This isn’t new for me, see: Information Altruism (IA). In being an active participant in sociology research you intentionally try to affect (in order to study) the outcome.

I’ve been debating what the next big thing is for me. After all, I spent last year finally sitting down and writing about the idea I had inflicted in order to study it. I did so after keeping quiet for many years about what I was really doing… so without research I’m left… empty in some ways.

Who do I want to be at 40?

(I’m 32 for context)… but I plan things out in decades… at 16 I dreamed of going to penn state and winning a national championship playing roller hockey. I did, 10 years later (coaching, lost my final season in a nat. championship game though)… so I’ve been asking myself lately who I want to be for 40.

A lot of my family life is beyond how I’ve always wanted it. Friends that have kids we enjoy hanging out with (and our kids do), neighbors we love, a happy life. Work life sees the project taking hold in areas previously thought impossible. The mindset I’m inflicting upon this world is becoming sustainable. But what next; who do I become?

Do I want to continue being the developer? Writing code endlessly, being beholden to others to set the direction for my life, staying in place, intentionally not “advancing” as part of some longer play. Do I want to be a thought leader? Do I want to teach? Do I want to do more research? Do I want to abandon all this and work at PapaJohns delivering pizza for more money* then I make now so things can be simple and “happy”.

All of these paths are different… and dedication towards any one can paint me into a corner. To Drupal people, I’m too edtech for mainstream module usage. For Edtech, I’m not enough instructional design focused and I don’t have the credentials (PhD) or work in a startup so who cares what I think. For faculty, I don’t teach. For other IDs I’m just the developer… So again. Who do I want to be… who am I needed to be.

The Question

To be clear. I’m not doing formal research. And I may never do formal research. I’m just a person going about his day like anyone else… except I have other motives. I have a mission, and questions that drive all my actions (and you should too). A desire; to be something more then “just” a developer.

When I’m 40, that would put us at 2024; 4 years beyond the timeline that we so often pick as “where will we be in the future”. 2024 moves the goal post a bit but not too much so. After all, I just completed a task previously marked for 2020.. last week. So what other questions and problems do we want to tackle? Where do I want to position things that I’d be proud of who that person is to be?

And so, I’ve tried to arrive at 2 questions. It was previously many more, but I’ve removed them because they are too dangerous for now. They’ll sit in notes, diaries and diatribes to myself. Locked away, ready for when the time is right (like 2025 when we can all have a good laugh at how stupid we were in 2016 to feel as we do).

Question 1

Using mass automation, virtualization, encryption, full stack open source, using organic deployment architecture, and maker culture / devices; Can we propagate Libertarian Utopian ideals while also achieving Socialist Utopian ideals?

Question 2

Can we discover “better angels” of governance through technology’s ability to illuminate processes. Can we find new, more perfect forms of governance because of mass automation?


* There is a delivery driver in town that we know makes more money driving pizza because of tips off college students then most people I know. So no, it’s not an exaggeration.

Scaling ELMSLN to 120k+

This is the way to scale ELMS Learning Network to support the needs of institutions of any size. The method to do so, is to align deployment architecture with organizational structure. This simple change while radically different then how educational technology deployments happen, is how things happen every day in nature and other human hierarchies.

Drupal Doesn’t Scale

First, let’s dispel a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) based notion: Drupal doesn’t scale. Let’s look at this statement. Thing doesn’t scale. This is simply false. In technology deployments, your desire to scale is aligned with the finances and team you are willing to put at it. Anything can be scaled, it’s if you know how. So please, don’t tell me what we’re doing doesn’t scale or can’t scale, your flatly, politely, wrong. I share your concern of scale and as a result I think you need to contact The Whitehouse, The Grammies, Weather.com, PSU.EDU and others and tell them “Hey million hits per day website owner; did you know this doesn’t scale?”

Crushing the Committee Deployment Paradigm

Now let’s look at our approach to scale for when I tell you that we can easily scale to meet the needs of not just this university, but any organization of any size. We do this by attacking the empowerment paradigm of institutions. As we know (but have previously never spoken out of FUD), institutions purchase things incorrectly. So let’s reshape this notion of scale by crushing the committee paradigm.

You have 23 colleges represented in a room. They all say “We need a video management solution”. So you come out (historically) after many months, with a solution: “If we just buy vendor X product, it will do what most of you are talking about”. It takes a year or two to select this product, another 6 months to pilot, only to find it either doesn’t work or won’t meet the needs of all (but hey, 70% is better then 0).

An alternate reality: “Land Grant” 2020

Let’s rework this using the structure of the institution and aligning the deployment methodology against it shall we?

You have 23 colleges represented in a room. They agree upon 50% of what a video management solution needs to do. You create 3 options:

  • Central – No control over what it is, you take what you get
  • Decentralized – Local deployment, some influence but also lack of control of some areas
  • Developer – Total control, no outside update or influence

The groups that agree to pay X dollars into the pot, get their own localized, modifiable copy of the Video management solution. Jenkins (an open source automation robot) sets up their replicated copy of the original “product” that central helps manage. In the future, there is no central management, there is the person that manages Jenkins; central management has been largely automated. Central gets the control of security and quality required via the robot, but the local units that can afford adoption, have their own local copy to run.

Because of how this works, developers in a distributed manner can now contribute back to the Video platform by working completely disconnected from working production instances. These contributions at the local level, give the colleges control over the system (what they needed) while allowing for contributions to bubble back up from the college to the central level. Through iteration, actual on the ground use-cases and collaboration, you form consensus around the next 45% of the system. This leaves you with a decreasing percentage of centralized product that doesn’t meet needs, while allowing the entire university community to have engaged in the process. Don’t engage? Well then you get what’s made by those that do (Open Source is a do-ocrasy).

Effectively, the colleges of the university form distributed innovation nodes which allow them to run ahead of what a central authority could have done; while still benefiting it over time. This already happens places right now but is typically referred to as bad apples and chaos. Our empowerment and control structure built on automation forms Structured Anarchy — The distributed nature of everything with just enough structure to maintain order and prevent devolving into chaos.

Mirroring the form of the institution over time

Four years from now, trends shift. Two colleges merge, two others are formed to address new trends, two others collapse and are eliminated. These are different button pushes in an automation system. Use case one merges ELMSLN deployments (weird, I thought this was a video example; oh, we’ve got that too).Use case two is click a button to build out their new deployments, Use case three sees their course snowflakes merged back into the main central version while their localized copies are killed off.

In this model, we always have a central copy, but is naturally (because of diminishing variability as a supported base increases) is less flexible / feature robust then the innovation nodes found in our colleges, departments, and yes, individual faculty members running their own learning networks. How do we maintain consistency? Automation. How do we maintain “control” while democratizing deployment methodology? Automation.

This model will resolve conflicts, increase faculty / staff satisfaction with solutions which will in turn lead to better, more timely solutions across the organization which will increase student satisfaction with college experiences.

How do I know? Where’s my evidence? Come see us doing it daily where I work. It’s incredible working here, maybe you should think about joining us in the transformation of education. See you in 2020.

Get up and move, keep walking. Lift your head, it ain’t over yet!

To know where we’re going; and I can’t contain the excitement anymore. I keep hearing that I’m behaving differently.. situations where I would have normally been me. Well, there’s a new me; a more transparent and open me. And it will be exponentially more devastating to closed minds and closed methodologies. We (the many) aren’t just here to make some neat tools; we’re here to transform workflows and education in the process.

To see through my eyes, you have to know my history with educational technology and why I know we’re in a new phase of transformation. This is a silly history to get that out of the way so that I can lay out the vision of where we’re going and what we’ll enable (or who we’ll empower).

Fall 2002 – I experience my first Learning Management system, we’ll call it “Devil“. Devil is primitive, but what isn’t at this time. It goes down constantly, constantly. Everyone hates; does nothing better exist?

Winter 2003 – While taking a development class and accessing Devil and getting completely lost using the “groups” functionality, I start to envision that web development doesn’t need to be this way. I use folder structures every day, constantly organizing, why does the web have to be any different. I doodle my first conception of what I’d one day call the Outline Designer; a hierarchical content organization tool that’s visual. Content is just elements in a hierarchy and you’d drag and drop it around to alter the structure. Nothing special here, I hate edtech, I will never have need of this idea and pitch it.

2005 – On campus job working in a college after taking a project management class and asking if there was employment. I’m tasked with learning how to import hundreds of student accounts into Drupal 4.6. This is a small part of my job, the rest is building visual database management / relationship builders in Apache Derby, a hacky little java based DB engine.

2006 – I fiddle with drag and drop JS libraries in a basement of a dormitory while working in Arts & Architecture. It’s boring and I am largely accomplishing nothing of value. I notice that everyone around me is using Dreamweaver and editing HTML. This is appalling. I speak up and suggest we use something dynamic. I prototype the same thing everyone is working on but in this “new” thing called AJAX. It’s well received but the notion of moving from this to a CMS is terrifying. I do it one week, no one dies, we never turn back.

2007 – We start moving everything into the CMS (Drupal 5) after a successful Drupal 4.7 implementation used to accept student image submissions. This system was created to overcome the the limitations of Devil which imposed a file size limitation. Compression, on demand image submission and optimization are not standard things yet. This isn’t about sending a message, it’s not personal, it’s a job, a really really really fun job.

2008 – Our Drupal 5 tech starts spreading. It isn’t open, but people internally are buzzing about it. 3 groups take this tech back to their space, modify, remix, break it apart, learn how to use it, and start putting their courses in a CMS for the first time. I also automate the original reason I was hired and routinize creation of courses. We get approval to go GPL with it and gain access to d.o. (terribly written) contributions flow.

2009 -I migrate from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6. The change brings improved UIs, accessibility and now the automation is put in the hands of the instructional designers. I up my game; this learning curve is steep. This is getting fun, making meaningful contributions (a few 100 installs of projects we make)

2010 – We win an award for our Open Studio concept. We attempt multiple large attempts at working with central authorities to create an instance of the technology for everyone. The effort goes no where and is ultimately axed.

2011 – We win an award for our Media management system which took 2 days to create. We’re automating everything, there’s no reason for any effort to occur on anyone’s part, anywhere. I create ELMS, my first distribution for Drupal. I spend the better part of a year pouring myself into something that I know is destined to fail. It does. While the system runs and is used by a few groups, it never takes off, there is no revolution, my own unit doesn’t adopt it. I hate life, why am I doing this; I have a family now, why do I stay here, having to justify the right to breathe at times. The culture is terrible; stagnation always is.

2012 – Chaos and learning Drupal 7; I up my game; this learning curve is steep. I formally abandon ELMS D6 as a platform / architecture. While at a total bottom from a work moral perspective, I have a vision in the shower one morning. A way out, the idea I told myself I’d hold onto and run away to one of the several VCs knocking. I told no one, I scribbled it incessantly in notebooks, rambled about it with myself. I am driving myself mad (well, I already was). This has to exist, why has no one thought of this, this must already be a thing. It was the thing I’d take with me then if no one else had thought of it. It was mine, it was unique, it was the key and the answer. I’d use this key to change everything, then they’d see; then they’d appriciate what we’re capable of.

One calls..multiple times, it doesn’t feel right;

I know why;

they’ll own everything…

I won’t change the world for my son, I’ll just be part of the problem; nothing matters beyond this goal.

I study history, social movements, anything substantial… I can’t hold onto this. It can’t be mine, I have to let it go;

All ideas that have changed the world were given away.

2013 – I start talking about ELMS Learning Network. I feel so strongly about this idea that I flip on my webcam and record myself giving an intro of what people will see (something that I didn’t do; not about radical stuff like this). The key is what I say at the end of this short clip of my history. “I think this has real potential to disrupt education“. This isn’t just a statement, I’ve found my passion. It is who I want to become and who I will have to become if we are to succeed in the mission (a better world for my, now, sons). It’s what I want to be with my life; part of the movement to change education.

What I show, is incredibly rough. LTI launches setting up Drupal sites. I don’t call it ELMSLN, I don’t really know what I’m building, I’m just building neat Drupal sites that talk to each other while trying to achieve what I’ve always tried to do: Automate everything. They follow the pattern I was scribbling, what I saw in my head as the way out.

2014I deemed this ELMS Learning Network and do my first recording describing what a learning network is and how this is going to be different this time. I doodle a few things about what this idea is and how it would work while making fun of the educational technology market’s enjoyment of shiny things (a common thread) as well as social engineering to get people to flesh out new innovative ideas. As I said to a coworker about this idea… this isn’t something we undo; there is no going back from this mindset, because it is the way we should have always been thinking (hyperconnected, distributed, ever changing, transformational).

I start drawing things, constantly… drawing… and refining the way I talk about the platform. Sandboxed, repeatability, REST, we’re working towards what it is we will do the rest of our lives. I close out the year discussing ELMSLN at Drupalcon and OpenEd. A friend’s comment on seeing me talk “SEE THE PASSION“. I am no longer snarky, full of himself, has all the answers, “that ass hole”; Bryan Ollendyke who I’ve been my whole life; I want to be someone more. Education needs heroes; I want to be one.

2015 – We get a distributed team (what!? yes, a team). We move to github. We automate setup. All of it. Drupal, ELMS, the server, the custom modules that need written (the system writes its own modules to talk to itself… trippy). We boil our existence down to a single command which makes it as if I had never needed to exist. I copy and paste something and let it run in the background for dramatic effect while giving  talk on automation and the future of development; what do we become when it all just happens?

I dissolve the notion of self, and allow others to join in the ownership of this idea. Quickly it’s no longer my idea, it’s our idea. Our team unifies, it expands, we all start to move into unique and important roles on the project. I never shut up about the project, it’s no longer a project, it is my life’s work. I take up my previously abandoned research and finish it with total, unapologetic, honesty. I stop hiding in the shadows and embrace the light. I no longer think we’ll change the world. I know we will.

Nothing exists, until we speak it into existence.

We expand further in who’s using the platform, who it supports, how many developers there are. We meet someone willing to take a chance on us, they add credence to the platform, they get the approach, they start promoting it at events. We speak at 10 events; I drive to all of them, covering most of the East coast. I’m no longer just doing development, I’m on a mission. We will liberate instructional designers, faculty and students through empowering automation.

In automating the boring, we will let their suppressed ideas shine.

2016 -Our Architecture now stands up on 4 different OSs and in several different hosting providers. We have a versioned code base with multiple contributors. We are winning hearts and minds under the banner of pedagogy first design. By letting pedagogy drive the creation of technology rather then the first 30 years of the reverse.

These are no longer my ideas, and it’s amazing. These are our growing community. We have people that have our backs, people in all levels. We have people excited; excited about what we’re doing, excited about what they can now accomplish with the platform, excited that they can dream and make and build once again; most important, we have people talking differently.

This isn’t just an alternative LMS; this is the thing after the LMS, the thing to improve the LMS, for now; the thing to bring control back into the hands of those that have never had it.

Next up: 2016 – 2020