New like e-textbook new?

I started writing a comment on George’s spot post Connected Learning: What have they done with Alec, Will, Vicki?, prompted by the announcement coming out of the DML conference in San Francisco of a “new” learning model called connected learning. I quickly realized that what I wanted to say was not a comment, but a blog post.

It’s a post that is also a reaction to a tweet that Alec Couros made about the same connected learning initiative over the weekend:

I get Alec’s point. Reading about the initiative did feel more than just a bit familiar. Is this really “new” as the press has been spinning it?

Well, it’s probably new like e-textbooks became “new and revolutionary” once Apple decided to get involved. Get a juggernaut like the MacArthur Foundation on board with an initiative and it is bound to cause a splash.

I also take George’s point that it is important to acknowledge the people who have been pushing this model of learning for may years. But I actually take the connected learning initiative as an acknowledgment of their hard work, and the hard work of many people over the years. It is the continuing evolution of many conversations that have been pulsing around the edges of numerous communities for quite a while now.

It has me wondering if we aren’t hitting some kid of tipping point in the whole networked/connected/distributed learning world? That there are more conversations going on about it in many diverse communities? In short, is “connected learning” (or whatever you choose to call it) going mainstream?

One of my staff said to me recently “edtech is the new vertical”. Once the public educator in me suppressed my urge to throw up at the VC speak, I found myself agreeing. It seems that the edtech space is “in play”. Money is being invested. Startups are being funded. Things seem to be happening.

Not that I want to lump connected learning with the edtech startup space. Rather, my point being that there is a lot of conversation happening in many diverse communities about this topic, so it seems inevitable that a high profile initiative like connected learning seemingly pops up out of nowhere. It’s in the air.

But I look at the names of the people floating around the initiative and I wonder – did this really just pop-up? I mean, it is coming out of the MacArthur Foundation, an organization that has more than a casual relationship with learning & technology.

I see names like Mimi Ito and Howard Rheingold associated with this initiative. Hardly newcomers, or people who have popped up out of nowhere. John Seely Brown gave the keynote at the conference and, judging from the casual banter, obviously knows Mimi Ito and her work. Howard Jenkins seems to be a fan. These are people who’s work I deeply respect and admire, and who have been either directly in the edtech space or working very close to the edges of the space for a long time. I see their names floating around a project and I pay attention.

Ultimately, I think the connected learning initiative is a good thing. A very good thing, actually. A research initiative that focuses on the type of learning I think is important – networked, collaborative, digital. A pedagogy of the internet, which is what I think open learning/open pedagogy, connected learning, distributed learning, networked learning <insert phrase of your choice> is all about. It what drew me – and continues to draw me – to the work of people like Alec, George, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormie (and others) just as it draws me to the work of the people who I see associated with the connected learning initiative.

New? No. Which I actually think the connected learning initiative acknowledges when they state that (emphasis mine) “Connected learning is a work in progress, building on existing models, ongoing experimentation, and dialog with diverse stakeholders.”

As Alec noted in a tweet later in the day, that last point is crucial. A “dialog with diverse stakeholders” :

The conversation is longer. Much longer. But it is happening. And in a lot of different spaces. I saw many people in my PLN at the DML conference, getting excited about what they were seeing. Talking about it. Practicing connected/network/distributed/open learning. Which is, ultimatley, what we all want to see happen.

So, let the conversation begin continue.


Publishing my thesis with WordPress and – Part 2

I’m working on publishing my thesis on this site using WordPress and the plugin. This is part 2. You can read about how I configured WordPress to run a second blog on a sub-domain and set up in part 1.

From Word to WordPress

This is a big challenge. If I want to take advantage of all the features of (like the auto-created table of contents), and create a nicely formatted site, then I need to publish the 130+ page thesis into post size chunks.

The brute force way is to begin cutting and pasting, but I want to see if I can be a bit more elegant than that.

I remember experimenting a few years back with publishing from Word to WordPress using  XML-RPC, so thought I would test this option out. A few setting adjustments in both WordPress and Word to enable XML-RPC publishing and a successful test post has me thinking I am on the right track.

Splitting a 130 page Word document

Still, while this looks promising, I can’t just hit the publish button in Word and magically expect my 130+ page thesis to automagically be sliced up and posted into separate posts. In fact, publishing the thesis this way will end up creating a single blog post of 40,000 words. Not ideal. So, I need to figure out how to split my single long Word document into smaller documents, and then try to publish each of those smaller documents as individual posts.

Surely, there must be a way in Word to split a long document into smaller ones. And sure enough, there is via a Word feature known as sub-documents, which allows a user to split a large document into smaller pieces.

Using the headings and sub-headings of my thesis as the logical starting point for dividing up the content, I split the original Word document into 56 documents based on chapters, headings and sub-headings.

I did have a few formatted tables and images in my thesis and was worried about how they would publish to the site directly from Word. There was some formatting that I need to do to clean up the formatting, but, for the most part, they came over clean and intact, complete captions and legends.

I was also a bit worried about how the participant quotes would translate. Being that this was qualitative research, the analysis draws heavily on participant quotes to support the findings and these quotes needed to be correctly formatted using the correct blockquote tags.

In fact, the only real issue I had (and it was quite minor) was that the posts had extra paragraphs tags at the beginning and the end of the posts, so that needed a bit of editing.

Next steps

So, now that the content is in, I could just stop and call it a self-published thesis. But I want to be able to do a bit more with it. My next tasks will include:

  • See if there is a way I can structure the TOC a bit better to have headings and subheadings formatted different from chapter headings. Rught now it’s a pretty long list with no visual hierarchy.
  • Setting up a way for people to download the entire thesis as an ebook, probably using the Anthologize plugin.
  • Add in a plugin or two to generate metadata, specifically for adding content to a citation manager like Zotero or Mendeley. Perhaps the COinS plugin
  • Look at ways to generate hyperlinks within the document to my references and citations. Something like the KCite or Zotpress plugin.

I’d also like to take a crack at some of the CSS and clean up some of the CSS around how tables and data are displayed. But these are all projects for another day.


Publishing my thesis with WordPress and – Part 1

This is part 1 of a many part process & is just the beginning of this little project. There will be more posts in the coming days as I get my thesis site launched. If you go there, you will see a work in progress at the moment.

A sick day at home with a kid gave me the opportunity to start tackling a project I’ve had on my plate for a few months now: publishing my completed thesis using WordPress and

One of the things I promised myself when I decided to do a thesis was that I would post a copy of it in this space in a format that would allow people to comment on it.

I think posting it in an open public space is important for a couple of reasons. For one, I think that, even though it is only a Masters thesis, it still represents academic research, and I strongly believe that any academic research should be as open and accessible as possible. And not just to other academics.

The second reason is that I want it critiqued by a wider audience of my peers. I want it to be a starting point for conversation. What worked in the thesis, what didn’t, what rings true to others using Twitter in a PLN, which parts are valuable & what parts are fuzzy or just wonky?

Finally, I haven’t had a good hands on WordPress project for awhile now so it feels good to dig into WP again after being in the Drupal/Moodle world for the past year.

The tools I’ll be using

I’m taking my inspiration here from the NMC and the Horizon Report and how they have published that report for the past few years. I’m also inspired by Joss Winn, who published his dissertation this way a few years ago.

You’re no doubt familiar with WordPress, the blog-cum-CMS platform that this site runs on. But you may not be as familiar with a WordPress plugin created by the Institute for the Future of the Book.

What draws me to are two features; the ability to link directly to specific portions of a large document, and the ability to allow paragraph by paragraph commenting. Both of these are important when posting something as large as a 40,000 word thesis.

I don’t expect many will read the entire paper, but sections may be of more interest to some than others so I want to section the thesis as much as possible. And, if someone does read it, I want them to be able to comment on something when the comment pops into their head and not have to slog thru an entire section of 2, 3 or 4 thousand words before getting a comment box.

So, technically, here is what I am doing.

Create a multi-site WordPress instance

I want my thesis to live on my domain, Since I already have a WordPress blog running here, I needed to figure out a way to add a second instance of WordPress that I could use with.

If this was a few years ago, I probably would have installed a whole separate instance of WordPress. However, since WordPress 3, you now have the ability to run multiple WordPress sites on a single WordPress install. Each site is independent of the other, with it’s own set of plug-ins and themes. So, after doing a bit of reading on how to set up multisites on an established blog, I fired up a multi-site instance of WordPress on my domain

Two Small Issues

The multi-site setup was fairly straightforward. I only had two small issues.

Permalink structure changed

The first was that the permalink structure on my original blog got changed when I flipped the switch to make my WordPress site a multi-site instance. The switch added the word /blog/ to the URI’s on my site. This means that links on my site that used to look like this:

Frog in a pot

were changed to this

Which broke all the internal links on my blog. So, when you clicked on the title of a blog post from my home page, you ended up with a 404 page not found error. Not good.

After a bit of digging on the WP forums, I found an easy fix to the problem, and was able to safely change the permalink structure to remove the word /blog/ from the link structure and set up the permalink structure to match what it was before. Once I did that, the /blog/ was gone from the URI and my internal links were repaired and working again.

Configuring cPanel

The second issue was that I couldn’t actually create a new sites. Whenever I tried to create a site in the WordPress admin panel, it looked like the site was created. But when I clicked the link to go to the admin panel or to the new site I got a “server not found” error. Technically, this told me that the sub-domain wasn’t being set up properly.

Off to trusty Google to try to find a solution, and it didn’t fail me.  Once I had cPanel configured correctly and my directory structure set up (although I am not really sure why I need to have a folder called blogs.dir in my wp-content folder but, whatever, it worked) I was on my way.

I created a new site and sub-domain at


After getting the site and sub-domain set up, I then downloaded and installed Before I could add to the new site, I had to add the plug-in at the admin level of my newly created WordPress network. Once that was done, I went into the admin panel of the thesis site and activated the plug-in.

When I took a look at out of the box, I saw that it needed some tweaking. There were unnecessary WordPress widgets in the lower part of the home page, and I wanted to get rid of the default text, posts and comments and get some more useful data posted to begin to see what the site would look like when I began posting my thesis content to it.

First, to replace the text on the homepage. uses the contents from a WordPress page titled “About” to populate the homepage of the site. So, I created an “About” page and added some info about what the site was about along with the abstract of my thesis.

After that, I got rid of the default widgets that appeared in the area below the textbox.

I’ve noticed that the admin toolbar that runs across the top of the page is badly formatted and might need some tweaking. But since I am the only person who will see that, it’s not critical right now since I am the only person who will see it. So, this will do for now.

Before I wrap up my first days work, I install the Akismet comment filter to begin filtering out comment spam. I’ve found with WordPress sites, it pays to fire up Akismet sooner rather than later as the spam starts rolling in pretty quickly.

With WordPress multi-site up and running and installed, the challenge now becomes one of getting the content from Word into WordPress in a more elegant way than cutting and pasting. That’s the next challenge, and the next blog post.


Instructions for a Bad Day

Yesterday was Pink Shirt Day in Canada. A day to stand up to bullying. It also marked the release of this video, created by students at G.P. Vanier school in Courtenay, BC.

It is a touching video about hope, featuring a composition created to mark the day by poet Shane Koyczan (he of We Are More fame from the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics).

What a wonderful, inspiring project, which will (thanks to YouTube) be seen by thousands of people around the world. And, perhaps, one person who just might need to hear this message at the most pivotal moment of their life.

Here is Shane talking about how the project came about.