Supporting what I use

For the past couple of years I’ve made it a point during this season to try to provide some financial support to the web tools and services I use that are open. And by open, I mean that are free to use, and who do not make money off of my data or advertising.

In 2012, I supported Wikipedia, Mozilla, Creative Commons and the work of Audrey Watters. Last year it was The Internet Archive, Bad Science Watch, MediaSmarts and OpenMedia. All these projects and organizations make a difference to my online life and I am appreciative of the work they do.

This year, I have returned to Wikipedia and Creative Commons. CC is becoming especially important in my professional life as it is a major component of the Open Textbook Project I am working on.

In addition to those two organizations,  I am also supporting three other open products and services that I use.

I have been spending a lot of time this year converting documents, and have come to rely on Pandoc, created by John McFarlane. This open source software package is the Swiss Army knife of document conversion, and has made my work life easier. So, a monetary nod goes to Pandoc.

Finally, there are two streaming music services that I use almost everyday. If you see me hunkered over a keyboard with my headphones on, then chances are I am plugged into either Radio Paradise  or Soma FM. Both are longtime streaming music service that are listener supported, ad free, and provide a great diverse soundtrack to my life.

I write and publish these posts because I want to encourage you to do the same, and support the open services and tools that you use. The open source software that makes your life a bit easier, the single person journalist or blogger trying to stay independent and free from the influence of chasing advertising dollars, the web service you use that isn’t mining your data as a business model. I know that, at this time of the year, there are many competing interests for your hard earned dollars. But if you have the means, I encourage you to put a few dollars to supporting the open sites, services and tools that you use.

 

Maybe it is because it is back to school time

I used to have a thing for stationary. When I was a kid, shopping for school supplies was the highlight of the back to school routine. Reams of paper bundled in clear plastic film, boxes of unsharpened pencils, notebooks and pads, pens, erasers – all pristine and full of the promise of a new year.

Once school finished, I kept up my love of all things notebook. In the pre-electronic device days, Daytimers were my stationary of choice to stay organized, holding my To Do lists, appointments, journal and various bits and pieces. I was using them so heavily that I would often rip pieces of paper and tape extra pages onto sheets for a day to keep myself organized. Each month I would take out my previous months filled up calendar and stick it in a box – an analog record of my achievements that month. At one point, I had about 5 years worth of filled daytimer calendars from my work life circa 1988-1992 archived (which I foolishly and carelessly discarded about 10 years ago with a “why am I carrying all this old crap around”).

Then the electronic devices came and, being a big fan of being productive and organized, I jumped on board. Not only did I see these devices as the next evolution of time management and planning, but anyone who has seen my handwriting knows that it borders somewhere between prescription writing doctor and psychotic asylum inmate off his meds. In the early 90’s I sported a unit that looked something like this:

It was my first handheld electronic device and from there I never looked back. In the mid 90’s I graduated to a PDA (oh how I loved my Handspring) and, eventually, a smartphone and tablet leaving the paper in the dustbins of history.

Once I went electronic, I looked for every opportunity to ditch the paper, and that feeling really accelerated when I got my tablet. I became anti-paper. Anything done on paper was a waste. I despise printing documents on a printer. I took notes in meetings using my tablet or laptop, used blogs for journals, brainstormed on wiki pages, and kept my To Do list with a hundred different apps searching for the right one to keep track of my tasks and projects (for awhile I was really hooked on Workflowy, a simple, but powerful web based system that is built around the humble bullet list).

But lately I have been feeling scattered, fragmented, and have, for the first time in probably 20 years, found myself longing for the tactile. I’ve been missing stuff as I juggle my way through life and work. My system isn’t working for me right now. So, I’ve decided this fall I’m going to go back to paper for awhile. Not for everything, but for my basic work to-do list.

My first instinct was to go back to a Daytimer, but there has been something of a revolution in stationary in the past few years with many more analog options are out there, including some really beautiful (and expensive) handmade journals that have brought back all those old back to school stationary love pangs of my youth.

A few weeks ago while vacationing with my family in Seattle we happened upon a stall in Pike Place Market who made these beautiful leather journals. My 7 year old son (so into fantasy and epic stories right now) fell in love with them and bought a journal, using up half of his holiday money in a single shot. He was so happy and proud of his book, and has been using it every day since (right now he’s keeping a list of Minecraft mods he wants to add).

While I love this journal, the handmade paper seemed like it was a bit too, well, out of place for what I wanted to do. With this type of book I would feel like I want to write SOMETHING IMPORTANT, not boring old to do lists. As much as I love this book, it doesn’t seem quite practical enough for what I want to do.

So, over the weekend, I went shopping for a notepad – something that was a bit above the standard Hilroy that makes me want to write stuff by hand.

I checked out all the cool kids fave these days, Moleskin, but, as nice as they looked, I’m much too cheap to part with $25 bucks for one. And it felt too much like I was buying into a brand.

In the end I settled on trying out a couple of different notepads that look and feel nice, but are more affordable – a 2 pack of Miro Utility notepads (which cost me $9 CAN), and a Rhodio DotPad ($6 CAN). I was hoping to find the classic orange Rhodio thinking it would be easy to find in my bag among my other black devices, but couldn’t find one.

I’ve started with the Miro and, even though it has only been a few days, am already starting to feel like I am more in control of my tasks. I like the canvas cover that is flexible enough that I can slip it into a pocket and not have it feel bulky. Makes it easy to carry around with me for notes. And the dot grid is a nice change from standard ruled lines that makes it a bit more flexible as I can make my own little boxes.

In addition to moving to paper for my to do list, I am also going to work on developing a few new productivity habits this fall. For my brand new paper to do list, I have been mulling over different ways to use paper to stay organized, and am intrigued by the Bullet Journal method and am going to give that a shot.

I am also going back to checking my work email 2 times a day at 11am and 3pm. It is easy to get sucked into working to the Pavlovian response of email and end the day with nothing really accomplished other than answering email. This system has worked well for me in the past and allows me the freedom to dig into a task (like writing thousand word blog posts about productivity and notepads).

Finally, I want to take a post out of Doug Belshaw’s blog and start a weekly recap of my activities. I don’t spend near enough time reflecting and too much time responding and I want to make a conscious effort to begin to spend more time reflecting. Doug’s idea of a weekly recap seems like a good excuse to do just that (and, with any luck, I’ll have a bevy full of notes from my ultra productive week stored in my notepad to pull from). I’m not sure if it will be public here on the blog, or if I decide to do it somewhere else (maybe handwritten it in my Miro?), but I’ve added it as a reoccurring appointment in my calendar each Friday at 1pm. And yes, I am still going digital with the calendar. I have absolutely no desire to ditch that and revert to analog.

 

Time to add some nuance to the phrase "screen time"

This post is borne out of the occasional frustrating conversations I’ve had with other parents at my kids school.

I am part of the PAC at our elementary (k-5) school, and we have just begun talking about adding WiFi to our school as a number of teachers want to use more technology in the classroom. But there is resistance among some parents about technology use in schools, and often this hesitancy is hidden behind the coded phrase “screen time”.

You see, “screen time” is bad. “Screen time” is why they don’t want technology in the classroom. Too much “screen time”. Battles with kids at home about “screen time”. The evil “screen time”.

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the phrase ‘screen time” and mean it in a positive way.

But what does that phrase really mean? What is hiding behind the words? It’s a question I am beginning to ask more and more when people brush aside the entire spectrum of technology use with the generic “too much screen time” argument. Well, what do you mean by “screen time”?

Do you mean “too much reading books”? Because that happens on a screen. When is the last time you told your kid to stop reading a book?

Or do you mean “too much making music”? Because in our house (and in many other places) making music is just as likely to occur using a screen with a physical keyboard hooked up to a computer as it is with a guitar. The screen is an important piece in the music making arsenal in our house.

Or do you mean “too many YouTube videos”? Well, in the past 2 weeks my kids have watched their fair share of YouTube videos, including a number of music & cat videos. But they have also watched videos on how to do arts & crafts projects like create stuff on a rainbow loom and draw bat wings (my son is currently a bit obsessed with bats thanks to recently reading the Kenneth Opel SilverWing series). My son has also watched soccer videos to pick up some new skills for his upcoming camp. And my daughter loves watching Mythbusters clips, learning to debunk popular myths and develop some critical thinking skills.

My son learning how to use the rainbow loom via YouTube videos created by other kids

Or do you mean “too much learning about the world”? One of my sons favorite activities on the screen is to cruise the world in Google Earth. Especially Japan. He has begun to use Google Streetview to get a better understanding of what life in a Japanese city might be like. Today he was virtually flying through the Grand Canyon as his grandfather is currently in Arizona.

Or do you mean “too much game playing”? Admittedly, we play a lot of games in our house in front of screens. My son plays Minecraft. He loves building. When he was interested in Kung Fu, he built a dojo in Minecraft. When we read that Silverwing series I mentioned earlier, he built locations from the book in Minecraft, including his interpretation of the home base of the bats, a place called Tree Haven. It was the biggest tree on the landscape. He said it was also useful as a wayfinding device. He could fly away from his island and could always find his way back, all he had to do was look for the biggest tree on the horizon.

For him, building in Minecraft is an extension of what he is curious about in his life. He reads or sees something, then he builds. And in the process, he gains a better understanding of what it was that he read or saw. He also does this with Lego, but Minecraft is what he loves building in.

I play World of Warcraft with my kids (and they only play when I am there with them). We work together as a team in the virtual world to solve complex quests. We have fun – as a family – solving problems and supporting each other. How is this worse than sitting down as a family on a Friday night and playing Rummoli at the kitchen table (which we also do)? Simply because there is a screen involved? We’re spending time together as a family.

I loved that both kids felt “famous” when they had leveled up enough that their characters become visible in the WoW community.

WoWWho cares that there are screens? In fact, through our participation in the virtual world of WoW, I am able to pass on valuable lessons in digital literacy and participating in virtual communities – what to look out for, who to trust, how to interact with other characters and remind them there are real people at the other end of those avatars. And be prepared to deal with jerks I wish my kids teachers would be doing the same. Modelling for my kids what it is like to participate in a virtual community, showing my kids how to behave in a discussion forum, what appropriate commenting is, and how to learn from the network. But I digress….

One final point about games and kids. Kids are supposed to play games. It is what being a kid is about. I sometimes think that, as parents, we are much too demanding on our kids time and ensuring that everything they does has some higher & grander purpose. It doesn’t. Kids should be allowed to waste time. That is what being a kid is all about. Sometimes play can just be fun or mindless or silly or diverting. There is nothing wrong with that.

What about the argument that screens make you unhealthy? Well, this comes down to balance (as really, most of this post comes down to balance). My son plays soccer, my daughter dances. As a family we ride bikes as our main form of transportation. There is a trampoline in the back yard. So, we have no shortage of physical exercise opportunities.

In addition, my daughter has a FitBit and spends her days working towards the goal of 10,000 steps. She often checks her screen to see how she is doing. It keeps her motivated. My daughter and I also dance together with the Wii – in front of a big screen in our living room.

My daughter and I getting our heart rate up.

Or maybe you mean “too much expressing yourself artistically”? My son has taken his passion for bats and those previously mentioned Kenneth Opel books and is using Word to write his own sequel to the series because he was unhappy with how the books ended and left him hanging. He is just learning to spell, and the auto spell check in Word underlines misspelled words and helps him see where his mistakes are. Do I stop this because he is doing on a screen? How is it different than if he was doing this on paper with a pencil? Would I stop him from writing a book because he is spending too much time with a pencil and paper?

Or my daughter, who is learning to draw and do art on a tablet. Why is that worse than doing it on paper with a pencil (which she does as well)? In fact, both my kids float from screen to “real life” as if the distinction is meaningless. Because it is.

Or maybe you mean “too much time with their friends”? Well, my kids have virtual email pen pals. Their virtual pen pals have lost grandparents, won sports competitions, they have shared artwork and learned what life is like in their part of the world. In short, my kids are learning to have empathy for people they have never met. Again, they are learning there are real people at the other end of the keyboard. How is this different than if it were paper letters? Why is this worse simply because it involves a screen?

So, I think it is time to banish the term “screen time” when we have conversations about the role of technology in our lives. In my experience, it is often used as a wet blanket; a catch-all designed to stop important conversations before they have a chance to happen. It is time for us to begin to have a more nuanced conversation about what that term means, and unpack the meaning hiding behind the term. What do people really mean when they say they are worried about “screen time” in schools? Because in the end, I don’t think it is really the screens people are worried about. It is how those screens are used. And that is a conversation we cannot have until we move past “screen time” and begin to talk about specifics.

 

Why I disabled Ad-Block

I find website ads annoying, so for many years I’ve used the Firefox Ad-Block add-on to block adverts on websites. Today I disabled it. Not that I was unhappy with it or anything like that. It has worked quite well over the years. But today I realized it is a filter bubble that might be impairing my ability to do my job well.

The prompt came in the form of an email from a person I’m connected with on LinkedIn. He sent me an email that simply said:

boundlessWhich made me go huh? I’ve viewed Boundless books many times and have never seen an ad. And when I followed the link in the email to the Boundless textbook in question, I didn’t see any ads.

noAds

Then I remembered that I had Ad-Block running. I installed it a long time ago and often forget that it ticks along in the background. So I went in to disable it and, lo and behold guess what I saw?

boundlessAd

Google ads.

Now, this isn’t a judgment against Boundless. They need to do what they need to do to pay the bills. But it hit me that blocking ads, while removing an annoyance from my personal view, was also blinding my ability to effectively analyze an open learning resource. I need to be able to do that. Knowing a site uses ad revenue to subsidize their free offerings is an important bit of information that I need to know in order to properly do my job. A filter bubble that I voluntarily put in place affected my ability to do my job, and I didn’t even realize it until this morning.

When I talk to people about “free” resources, I need to know that the “free” is ad subsidized. And I know a lot of educators that will not use a resource that is ad subsidized, especially if those ad’s are auto-magically generated based on content algorithms. Would a Psych instructor find the above ad for a counselling service inappropriate when used in a classroom setting? Some would.

At least that ad is tasteful. You’ve no doubt seen auto-generated ad’s based on article content on media sites that are highly inappropriate in the context they are presented in. A note about the previous link: I don’t think many of the examples on that page are “hilarious” as the title suggests. But it shows just how risky using ad-supported content in an educational setting can be.

Needless to say, I’ve disabled Ad Block. And have become just a bit more conscious of the voluntary filter bubbles I’ve put in place around me.

 

Build the web you want and support what you use: the 2013 edition

It’s that time of the year when it is time for me to support what I use and encourage you to do the same.

Of all the “business models” in our culture today, I think that the donation/subscription model is one of the most pure and direct. Nothing says “I appreciate the work you do” more than a donation of cash. It is also the most difficult to sustain.

During our day-to-day surfing, it is easy to fall into the mindset that many of the sites and services we use on the internet are free when, in fact, they are either struggling financially, or are kept afloat through advertising revenues or business models that tie them closely to commercial organizations and objectives. The business of taking care of the business subsidizes the free and I have (at best) an uneasy relationship with that. As I wrote last year:

They need money to keep doing the work they do; work that is generally free from commercial interests, which is something that is harder to come by on the web these days, especially in education where the VC money is calling the shots on so many “innovations” revolutionizing education.  Personally, I would rather pay transparently up front than have what I see as valuable become commodified and commercialized.

Last year, I supported Wikipedia, Mozilla, Creative Commons and the work of Audrey Watters, and if you are looking for a place to start your own annual contribution campaign, those are all worthy organizations doing, what I believe is important work. This year, I am making donations to these four organizations.

  1. The Internet Archive. Like Wikipedia, the Internet Archive has a mission to provide universal access to all knowledge. It is the digital historian of not only the web, but our collective culture, archiving long forgotten films, music, books and other items that commercial publishers have given up on long ago. They are a rock amongst the digital ephemera, arching the web and providing free hosting to anyone who wants to add to the collection. Plus they host a large collection of open educational resources.  Last month there was a fire in their scanning centre which did a considerable amount of damage, making the need to donate this year even more important.
  2. Bad Science Watch. This year I got involved with a contentious issue within our k-12 school district. For the past 3 years, there has been a very small group of people in the district who believe WiFi poses a health risk to students. They had managed to convince our school district officials to put a moratorium on wi-fi installations in schools in our district. I launched a website opposing this view (and did probably more research on this issue than I did for my Masters thesis). An important research document for me was their investigation of anti-wifi activism in Canada, and my donation is a way of thanking them for helping with the fight. I am happy to say that earlier this month, the school district overturned the wi-fi moratorium by a 5-4 margin.
  3. MediaSmarts. A non-profit here in Canada dedicated to developing media and digital literacy resources for parents and teachers (one of the big reasons I got involved in the above wi-fi fight). As my kids get older and venture out on the web more and more, I have continually come back to this site for information and resources to help empower them to take control of their digital world. Their daily newsletter is one of the few I read everyday. If you are in the US, a similar organization exists in Common Sense Media.
  4. OpenMedia is one of the organization here in Canada working hard to protect the open internet, advocating for universal access, fighting internet censorship and (as they state in their principles) keeping the “an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create, and innovate.” They have also been at the forefront of the fight to protect privacy. Their work only grows more in importance everyday.

If I want to have an internet that works the way I want it to, it takes money. And I recognize that I am in the privileged financial position to be able to help a bit to make that vision continue. So, I donate, and I write this blog post to perhap, spur you to do the same and support the organizations that you use that are free and doing work you want to see continue.

 

Those auto-magic algorithms are getting pretty slick

Today I got to work, powered up my Nexus tablet and saw a notification in the notification area I have never seen before that said “4 auto-awesome videos”

What the heck is that?

So I check it out and see that it is, actually, something that is pretty awesome.

I’m not a huge Google photo user. I don’t store much in the Google photo cloud. But when I got my first Nexus phone a few years ago, I did experiment with auto-uploading photos and videos I took to Google Photos. So, I’ve got some stuff from 3 or 4 years ago just sitting in the Google Photo cloud.

When I clicked on the “Auto-Awesome” notification, a video menu screen appeared with stills from 4 albums I had created in 2009 & 2010 during my auto-upload days. I clicked on one and saw that the Auto Awesome feature had automatically taken the photos and videos from each of those albums and made a movie out of it.

Here’s what the auto awesome feature did to a photo album I had on Google Photos from 2009 when my kids were a tad younger. It’s pretty impressive.

Well, played, Google marketing machine. Well played. You got me with your auto-notification and auto awesomeness. I have to admit that when I saw this video, I got a bit nostalgic. I had forgot that these photos and videos existed (I am sure that I have them tucked safely away in my own storage somewhere), but for a moment, the Google machine caught me and made me go “wow, that is pretty slick”

And then I come back to real life.

I am in the middle of reading Dave Eggers The Goog…er, The Circle, which is a dystopian novel set in a world where the fictional “Circle” corporation has taken transparency, openeness, sharing, privacy, ecommerce and social networking enabled by technology and wrapped in technological utopian ideals to an extreme, creating a dysfunctional 1984-ish nightmare scenario. In the past 2 days, with this auto awesomeness feature and yesterday’s personalized endorsement opt-out decision that means my face should not appear as “endorsing” a product that is returned in a Google search, Eggers vision (which, when I started the book last week seemed farcical with its extreme point of view) has suddenly become highly plausible (although, it should be noted that in the world of The Circle, I probably wouldn’t be able to opt-out of the service). Timing, as they say, is everything.

Like many, I think I am torn between two extremes. One, I find surprises like auto-awesome pretty, uh, awesome. And I can see a great utility in it. It has me reconsidering whether or not I should start using G+ and the photo service more as the final result did something that I want my photos and videos to do – evoke feelings of love and nostalgia of a time when my kids were younger.

But in the back I know that this is exactly what Google wants me to do. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy – using my own memories to play on my sentimentality to market their products and services to me, to get me to contribute more to their machine so that the data on me can be fine tuned. You can sense the algorithms at work, analyzing the video. Oh look, Clint has kids (serve ads about kid safety products). They are 9 and 7 (83% of 7 year old boys like Pokemon. Suggest Pokemon as possible Christmas present for son). He takes them skating (send 2 for 1 skating coupon to Gmail). They have a yard (target Home Depot garden ads), and the yard has trees. The trees look like apple trees. He probably harvests apples from those trees (ad’s for Better Homes and gardens website apple pie section).

When you start to go down the data mining hole, it is easy to scream, “stop the ride, I want to get off!” And in the final analysis, you begin to see even more clearly than before that the product Google sells is you.

 

This is not my web

I saw this tweet pass by my stream earlier today, so went to read the post. Then I started digging around the site and realized Audrey has not just turned off comments for future posts, but has removed all comments from her blog. Period.

I had a bit of a back and forth with Audrey, hoping that she might reconsider her decision to delete all the comments on Hack Education. In my opinion, the conversations that have happened there constitute an important record in the history of EdTech as we go through a critical period of change. She has been one of the most thoughtful and vocal critics about the business of EdTech at a time when we need critics the most, and I have seen many thoughtful comments and conversations take place in the comments.

But there have also been assholes. And worse. Much worse.

This makes me incredibly sad and angry.

“Stupid bitch”, “fuck you”, and “stop being such a bitch.” While that content is highly offensive, it’s the pseudonym that this coward uses that casts a cold chill on the message and takes it from vitriolic to menacing threat. Jack the Ripper. The very name conjures up horrific images of violence against women. A name chosen as a pseudonym designed to do one thing and one thing only: silence through intimidation.

You could chalk it up to it just being the internet. That comments like this are part and parcel of the game. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

It can’t be.

When I see comments like this, I become painfully aware of the existence of the types of terrible gender barriers that prevent many woman from participating in open spaces. It is one thing to have ideas criticised and debated. It is quite another to be attacked in a manner designed to threaten and intimidate and make you fear for your safety.

I don’t know if this specific comment had that effect on Audrey, but I do know that comments like this have led her to not only stop accepting comments, but to remove all comments from her site. It is a decision that I know she did not take lightly.

I know she will not stop writing or being a sharp critic. In fact, I hope that this may prove to be a liberating exercise for her as it frees her from having to worry about dealing with the assholes on her site.

But I do mourn the lose of conversation. I know, I can always leave a comment here, link back to her blog and signal her that way in hopes of having a discussion through pingbacks and trackbacks. That is still possible, but in reality what you end up with are a hundred individual voices scattered all over the web. It becomes a monologue and not a conversation. And I actually do read comments and often find them illuminating. In the case of Hack Education, much of how I think about the Silicon Valley attitude of education has come from comments left by people on one of her blog posts. Through their own words I see their plans.

Let me make this clear – Hack Education is Audrey’s space. She can do with it what she wants. And while I do feel that we in education have lost an important part of our history with the deletion of the comments from Hack Education, I respect her decision. No one should be subjected to the kind of abusive anonymous threats like those left by idiots.

We cannot accept this. Especially if you are male and reading this; we need to stand up and shout – loudly – that this type of language and behavior will not be tolerated.

Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a “women’s issue” allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women’s issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men. Donald MacPherson

This cannot be our web.

This cannot be our culture.

We cannot have discourse silenced because of intimidation.

We cannot have women hesitant to enter into these open spaces because of crap like this.

This is not my web.

 

The beginning of a great adventure

Seems like it wasn’t that long ago when I wrote a post a lot like this. 2 years, almost to the day in fact, when I accepted the position I have now as the manager of Learning Technologies at Royal Roads University. It’s a position I will only have for a few more weeks.

I have a new job. On February 12th, I will be joining BCcampus as the Manager of Applied Research & Curriculum Services.

Like most changes, there are good and bad. Bad that I am leaving a wonderful position with a great group of colleagues working on some interesting projects. I have truly enjoyed the time I have spent in CTET, and would highly recommend RRU as an employer. They have been supportive and given me opportunities to grow in ways I did not imagine when I arrived here 2 short years ago. And I got to spend the past 2 years sharing an office with a wonderful person & collague who made me laugh & look forward to coming to work each and every day.

The good? I will be rejoining one of my old CTET colleagues, Mary Burgess, who is now also at BCcampus. And I have many wonderful connections with others at BCcampus, like Sylvia Currie, David Porter, and the wider ETUG community. From 2004-06 I worked within another unit at BCcampus, and there are still people I worked with at the time who I am happily going to be working with again.

And then there are the projects, including some really cutting edge robotics projects. I am just starting to get into robotics at a hacker level, playing with Arduino and controller boards like the MaKey-MaKey. In my new position I’ll have a chance to work on larger scale robotics projects with educational applications, like remote science labs as part of NANSLO.

But the project that really pulls & resonates is the Open Textbook project. BCcampus has long been a leader in our province (and beyond) on open education and open educational resources. Much of how I feel and think about open ed has come out of the work of BCcampus, and the people who have been associated with BCcampus over the years. People like Scott Leslie and Paul Stacey, who in turn led me to people like Brian Lamb, David Wiley, Alan Levine, Jim Groom, Alec Couros and other open educators who’s work in open spaces have greatly influenced how I think about education. To have a chance to work on a project like Open Textbooks that I believe has the potential to make a deep and systematic change to post-secondary education was an opportunity I could not pass up.

So, for people I am connected with in virtual spaces, like this blog (thank you), on Twitter or in other spaces I haunt online, you can probably expect to see more posts and conversations about open education, open textbooks….and robots. Since they will one day be our overlords, I might as well strike up a good working relationship with them now :).

 

What we can learn about copyright from fashionistas

I have a whole new respect for the fashion industry after viewing this brilliant TED talk from Johanna Blakely called “Lessons from fashion’s free culture.”

In a nutshell, Blakely’s argument is that an entire creative ecosystem and industry has developed around fashion because fashion cannot be copyright. Indeed, without the ability for one designer to copy (or be “inspired”) by the work of another, there would be no fashion industry as we know it today.

Under the law, fashion designs are exempt from copyright. You cannot copyright a design because lawmakers view clothing as a “utilitarian” product. The common good of clothing humanity overrode the rights of fashion designers to profit from their clothing. But because there is no copyright, designers have been able to freely elevate that utilitarian product (clothing)  into something that is now considered art.

It is a compelling argument in support of copying as a model of ownership that encourages innovation as copying allows for the the free flow of ideas, and this free flow of ideas drives innovation. It forces those who are being copied to continually “up their game” and create unique designs. Copying forces innovation and creativity.

But this lack of copyright isn’t limited to fashion. Cars, food, furniture – these are all utilitarian items that cannot be controlled by copyright (which begs the question in my mind, when does something like a smartphone or computing device become a utilitarian device so that the silly litigation wars from Apple and Samsung?)

 

Supporting what I use

This past week, I have been spending money, primarily getting ready for the upcoming holiday season. But along the way I’ve also been spending some money and supporting a few of the free online services and products that I rely on everyday.

My first stop, the Wikipedia store, where I dropped $25 on an “I Edit Wikipedia” shirt, some stickers and pin. Mozilla was next, where, for $30, I got a nice, new Firefox t-shirt. $30 at Creative Commons snagged me a t-shirt, some stickers and pins.

Now, even though I get some nice stuff out of this, I didn’t do it because of the t-shirts, stickers or pins. It’s not about the schwag (although it’s nice to have a sticker on the laptop to show support and raise awareness). And I don’t see this as charity. I am not doing this for altruistic reasons. It’s selfish, really. I want these services and products to survive because I use them – no, I RELY on them, every day.  In my mind, this is a payment (albeit small) for services and products I use. They are valuable, and I would miss them if they were gone.

I financially support these organizations for the same reason I support The Knowledge Network and other public broadcasters – because I get something of value from them and I think they should be acknowledge in a way that means something to them. They need money to keep doing the work they do; work that is generally free from commercial interests, which is something that is harder to come by on the web these days, especially in education where the VC money is calling the shots on so many “innovations” revolutionizing education.  Personally, I would rather pay transparently up front than have what I see as valuable become commodified and commercialized.

Last night, after reading George Siemens post (and subsequent rich conversation between George and Scott Leslie in the comments), I added Hack Education to my list and made a payment to Audrey Watters for $25. A small price to pay to someone who I (and many others) see as an invaluable, independent voice in the EdTech maelstrom these days.

 

Georges post also made me realize that I should be explicit about these contributions and transactions. His post was a prompt for me – a reminder that these free services we rely on need to be supported in real and tangible ways, and pushed me to action. Georges post was my prompt. Maybe this will be yours?

 

Buzzkill (or these are not simple times we live in)

Yesterday was Black Friday. But yesterday was also Buy Nothing Day, and this post in in the spirit of Buy Nothing day.

This video keeps popping up on my Facebook feed. You might have seen it.

At first blush, this is the kind of video I love. Showing that people are basically good and altruistic.

But there was something that bothered me. I watched the video again. Then I zoomed in on the final shot where one guy passes a beverage to another. A Coke.

It’s a Coke commercial.

And then I got angry. Not that it was a commercial riding on the feel-good factor – commercials have always done that. Just don’t try to fool me and hide your message. It’s deceptive and dangerous. When people find out, they become angry and cynical and that beautiful message that the world is a great place completely gets blown out of the water and is replace by the message that the world is full of deception. Had there been a simple logo shot at the end of the commercial saying it was sponsored by Coke, I would not have felt so duped. So stupid. So cynical.

I was tempted to go back to FB and start commenting on everyone’s feed, “Nice, but it’s a damn Coke commercial.” But, you know. Buzzkill. No one likes to be the one to pop the feelgood balloon. Who likes to have it pointed out that they have been duped?

But wait a sec. Who have I been duped by?

I started to dig around and look into the organization that had their logo tagged on the end of the video, Love Everybody (where I am seeing comments that others are suspecting the same thing I am about the Coke product placement). I was certain I would find out that they were funded by Coke somehow. But if they are, it is not obvious from their website.

And then as I continued my research to try to uncover whether this was really a Coke commercial or not, I came across this version of the ad on YouTube:

Now in this version, there is a very definite Coke logo and product shot at the end. It is obvious in this version that this IS a Coke commercial and the message was sponsored by Coke. I see this version and I am okay with this. Coke has been explicit.

So, why did Love Everybody edit the video to remove the Coke logo at the end that clearly showed that it was a Coke commercial? What was their motivation to do this? Did they want to use the video as a vehicle for their own organization? Try to re-edit in such a way that they would get the feel good factor out of it? Or are they really funded by Coke and have re-edited the video to make the Coke message obscure and almost subliminal? Or are they engaging in some form of culture jamming and it is actually a sophisticated ploy to use the message of a corporation to provoke exactly the kind of negative reaction and backlash to a mega-corp that I felt? Or perhaps they are funded by the state and are trying to soften the perception that constant public surveillance is a good thing?

And here in lies the problem. Going down this road has made me start questioning what this simple little message that seemed so sincere and earnest really means. The message that the world is a good place has been replaced, and that pisses me off because I want to believe that the world is a good place and people are basically good. That may be a naieve attitude, but as a father trying to raise engaged kids who don’t end up living a cynical life steeped in fear, I NEED to believe that.

I like to think of myself as fairly media literate. I worked in that world, on both the commercial and alternative media sides and feel I have a good bullshit detector. But it reminds me that we are living in complicated media times where messages and media can easily be manipulated. For me, this is another indicator of the importance radical transparency in everything we do. We need transparency as a core value in our society today or risk creating a cynical society that lives in fear, uncertainty and doubt. We need to push at our governments, corporations, institutions, and ourselves, and believe that being open and transparent and making our motives & actions visible and explicit is the only option.

Cross posted from my other blog.

 

Leadership

take me...

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately.

Perhaps it is because our Director has recently moved on to another position with another organization and I (as well as the other manager in my unit) have been called upon to backfill that role. Consequently, in the past 2 months I have found myself working at a higher level in the organization than normal, sitting at the table with our senior academic leadership team & getting a firsthand view of academic leadership.

I am also fortunate to be in the enviable position of being on the hiring committee to hire a new Director for our centre (how nice to be able to have a say in who your new boss will be) and so I have been able to not only witness a number of potential leaders articulate what their vision for our unit might be, but also get a sense of what leadership qualities the other institutional leaders on the hiring committee value.

Because of these two things, I have been thinking about my own leadership role and trying to unravel the complex feelings I have about being a “leader”. I am realizing more and more that there are people that are expecting this of me and my unit. Heh. Only took me a year and a half to figure that out. Yeah, a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. There’s a good leadership quality.

Those quotes around the word leader in the above paragraph aren’t modesty. I genuinely find the thought of being a leader uncomfortable. Leaders are the ones up there at the front of the room. I am not a stand in front of the room kinda guy. Those who have met me in a f2f context would probably say I am the quiet fly-under-the-radar guy sitting over there in the corner.

There is a reason I used to work in radio. I wasn’t very good at it. I got better and could have probably forged a decent career if I had the desire to continue, but it never felt natural. It always felt like I was working against something inside me. But I took a lot away from that career that has served me well to this day. If it wasn’t for working in a  highly social and public forum like broadcasting that forced me out of my shell and into the spotlight, I would probably be this Ted Kazynski-ish hermit shunning humanity and living off the grid in some cabin in the woods. Minus the crazy. Maybe.

I am the quiet one because I often struggle to do one of the things that I think a leader has to do to be a good leader – articulate a vision of what the future could look like, and then convince people to come along for the ride. It takes a level of salesmanship to sell your ideas in a room full of people.

It’s not that I don’t have a vision. I do. I just have a hard time clearly expressing what that vision is. I struggle. I lack the salesmanship. Which is probably why I have always gravitated to writing. I joke that I am an asynchronous guy living in a synchronous world, and I find it much easier to express things in writing than I do in a highly interactive social situation. But standing in front of a room and selling your idea is something a good leader does.  I am sure the expression “take a stand” emerged out of being the one who stands out and passionately illuminates a different way.

I admire those people and seek them out. The ones who inspire. Who are the big thinkers. The ones who can cut through the noise and find the signal. I feel much more comfortable finding those people who have articulated a vision that matches mine – who have found the words to say what I am thinking and (more importantly) what I am feeling (I am an INFJ after all), and then saying “Yes! I want to follow you! I want to help you reach that vision.” I want to be part of your wolf pack (again, minus the crazy).

Like my radio days, there is something about being the leader that doesn’t quite align with how I see myself. But I know there are people in my organization who are looking for me to be that, and I am beginning to see that I need to spend some more time figuring out how to reach some sort of stasis with what people expect of me (and, more importantly, what I am beginning to expect of myself), and who I feel I am. It is a state of cognitive dissonance that I want to resolve because there are things I want to do and achieve that will require a level of leadership in my organization to make happen.

It is a learning opportunity, one that will require some courage and probably take me away from some of the things that I love to do in order to achieve the things I want to do. But the first step is recognizing the gap. Now to work at filling it.

Image: Take me to your leader by Zaykowski used under Creative Commons license.

 

Love and hate are beasts and the one you feed is the one that grows

The region I live in asking some pretty hard questions these days about cyberbullying in the wake of the story of a 15 year old Port Coquitlam girl named Amanda Todd who took her own life after being bullied.

This has reminded me of a wonderful video project put together by high school students at GP Vanier school in Courtenay, BC and BC poet Shane Koyzcan. It deserves to be seen widely in light of recent events.

This video was created for Pink Shirt Day in Canada.

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.

 

A Culture of Innovation

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post from Jim Groom that really resonated and inspired me (as Jim’s posts often do). This particular post started off talking about 3D printing, but then morphed into a post about the numerous innovative projects that have popped out of the creative brains at DTLT over the years. And then the killer bit for me was the last paragraph:

Fact is, if you start chronicling the work we’ve been doing just through the 7 Things series, you start to see a pattern of serial innovation and exploration that not only has success in the research and development stages, but often takes root and becomes part and parcel of  the larger academic culture on campus—which for me is the real trick. But Innovation doesn’t just magically appear, it is born of a culture of freedom, a space that encourages open experimentation, failure (which we have a lot of too), and a shared sense of purpose—a common value system that we are all working towards to make the future of education as accessible and equitably distributed as possible, while at the same time maintaining the humane and interpersonal dimension of learning that makes the whole enterprise meaningful—serial innovation is a mission not a happy accident.

Serial innovation is a mission not a happy accident.

This video from the Division of Teaching and Learning Technology at U Mary Washington takes that paragraph to the next level.

A Culture of Innovation from umwnewmedia on Vimeo.

I WANT THIS so bad for my unit. I want us to dig out of the daily grind to be able to get to the point where we are doing serial innovation. Focusing on the things that are important. Convincing others to come along for the ride. Inspire the people I work with to become as passionate about learning and technology as Jim and his people are.

As someone who works in a similar unit with a similar mandate at a higher ed institution, I find the DTLT approach inspirational, and love how there is such buy-in at the institution for the common vision. As I said in my comment to Jim’s post, the tension between innovation and sustainability is one I constantly battle with. And while innovation is a word that looks good on a mission and values statements, if it isn’t backed up with the things Jim and his colleagues talk about – culture, failure, play, willingness to take risks – it remains locked away as words on statements.

A culture of innovation. This is my goal.

 

Show us what you learned

June is conference season, and this year we had a number of people attending regional conferences here in BC. Many of my colleagues in the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Royal Roads attended ETUG in Vancouver, and I attended IT4BC.

My Director, Mary Burgess, had a great idea. As she sat at her computer composing a long email to the unti to debrief them on what she had learned at ETUG,  she decided to bring us all together face to face and have an all department session, which she called ‘Show Us What You Learned”.

My colleague Donna Dowling sharing what she learned at ETUG

What a fantastic idea. Yesterday morning, 20 people from my department gathered together and had the session.

Mary started the session by throwing out the question, “who has something to share?” A whack of us threw our hands in the air, Mary put the names on the whiteboard and, for the next 90 minutes, had a show and tell filling in our colleagues on what we learned. We threw out websites and links, talked about reference and resource materials we discovered, played with some new tools, and found out about some new technologies.

I really enjoyed the session. We have a big department, and it is not often we get together as a group and have these kind of informal sessions where we just talk and learn from each other. The loose atmosphere and camaraderie, seeing my colleagues engaged in something other than day to day operations. I loved being able to get a glimpse of  the kinds of things that my colleagues chose to amplify and bring back to the larger group. It gives me an idea of what resonates and inspires them.

It also makes me grateful to conference organizers that plan ahead to archive their events, including ways to archive the Twitter backchannel, like ETUG did with their Storify summary.

So, I am curious. How do your colleagues share information you bring back from conferences? Do you have a similar type of event with your colleagues? How do you report back what you learned?

 

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.

 

Frog in a pot

frog in a pot 1

As I was reading Electronics and the Dim Future of the University by Eli M. Noam I couldn’t help but feel I had stumbled upon a very prescient academic. This article resonates just as strongly today as it did when it was written in 1995.

First, before I start cherry picking quotes from the article, let me say that I am not someone who relishes the fact that higher education may be in trouble. I’m not an anarchist or revolutionary who believes the system must break down in order for something new and better to rise from the ashes.  I passionately believe there is an enormous amount of societal value in having strong, publicly funded institutions of higher learning like universities and colleges. Which is maybe why I react the way I do to what I see happening in the webscape. It both exhilarates and terrifies me.

The question is not whether universities are important to society, to knowledge or to their members — they are — but rather whether the economic foundation of the present system can be maintained and sustained in the face of the changed flow of information brought about by electronic communications. It is not research and teaching that will be under pressure — they will be more important than ever — but rather their instructional setting, the university system.

I am sure there are other academics who thought like Noam in the early days of the web, but as I read his 1995 article, I was struck by how many of his points have appeared, or are appearing, on the 2012 learning landscape.

 If alternative instructional technologies and credentialing systems can be devised, there will be a migration away from classic campus-based higher education. The tools for alternatives could be video servers with stored lectures by outstanding scholars, electronic access to interactive reading materials and study exercises, electronic interactivity with faculty and teaching assistants, hypertextbooks and new forms of experiencing knowledge, video- and computer-conferencing, and language translation programs.

Hmmm, Kahn Academy? YouTube EDU? Flat Earth Knowledge? Open courses?

A curriculum, once created, could be offered electronically not just to hundreds of students nearby but to tens of thousands around the world.

MOOC’s? University of the People? P2PU? Saylor?

In any event, the ultimate providers of an electronic curriculum will not be universities (they will merely break the ice) but rather commercial firms.

Udemy? UdacityCode Academy? Straightline?

Today’s students, if they seek prestigious jobs or entry-restricted professions, usually have no choice other than to attend university. However, this is a weak and mostly legal reed for universities to lean on, and is only as strong as their gatekeeper control over accreditation and over the public’s acceptance of alternative credentials. When this hold weakens, we may well have in the future a “McGraw-Hill University” awarding degrees or certificates, just as today some companies offer in-house degree programs. If these programs are valued by employers and society for the quality of admitted students, the knowledge students gain and the requirements that students must pass to graduate, they will be able to compete with many traditional universities, yet without bearing the substantial overhead of physical institutions.

Open Badges? Instructor certification?

Now, granted, I haven’t lived in this world of academia as long as many of you (okay all 3 of you) who are reading this, and I might be suffering from a case of — (oh dammit, what is the word – that term that refers to each generation feeling like they are the generation that is living on the cusp of some GREAT CHANGE)….anyway, you get the idea.

Or maybe I am not far fetched in thinking that the world of higher ed is on the cusp of a shakeup. That we have reached some kind of tipping point. Or, as John Naughton notes in The Guardian article that led me to Noam’s article and inspired this post…

Some things have happened recently that make one think that perhaps the water might be reaching boiling point for traditional universities.

Photo credit: Frog in a pot 1 by jronaldlee. Used under Creative Commons license.

 

The Information Diet

We all feel it. How do we keep up with this mountain of information gushing towards us each and everyday?

Hundreds of posts sitting unread in Google Reader, our PLN sharing dozens of shiny new links on Twitter & FB, forum posts, a new edition of your favorite journal published – the firehose goes on and on.

It’s that feeling that Alexandra Samuel refers to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Shirky says it’s caused not by information overload, but filter failure, and the ability to manage this flow of information (or cognitive load management) is one of the essential skills future knowledge workers will need to succeed. So, just like the food we put into our body, we need to be critical and discerning with the kind of food we put into our brains.

This food metaphor forms the interesting premise of a new book by Clay Johnson called The Information Diet, which I have just begun reading (the physical book is due out early in the new year, Kindle version is available now).

What I like about the tact of Johnson is that it is not simply a rant against technology and social media, but instead is a much more holistic and, in my opinion, realistic view of information consumption. This balanced view is reflected in a recent blog post by Johnson on Facebook & Twitter.

It turns out that networks like Facebook and Twitter are perfect for consuming your socially proximate information. They’re not bad for an information diet, they’re critical to having a balanced one. But only if you use these tools smartly and proactively — by eliminating cruft, and consuming deliberately from these sources. Granted, spending the day on Facebook is not great for your information diet. But eating bowl after bowl of fiber-one cereal is probably not great for your food diet either.

Sure Twitter and Facebook are no substitute for being physically present with your loved ones, and having meaningful social interactions with them. But as long as you are deliberate about both (there are some great tips in the book about this) then you can use these tools to your advantage. So let’s not dismiss the tools because they’re technical, or out of some kind of strange generational preference. The problem is rarely in the medium itself and usually in either the habits of the user, or the system that supports it.

Reading this reminded me of the excellent Stillness in Motion session at this fall’s ETUG workshop, which I found immensely refreshing  and inspiring. Facilitated by Ross Laird of Kwantlen University, Brian Williams of  DIYDharma and  Scott Leslie  of  BCcampus, the session focused on how to be mindful about the ways in which we interact with technology.

Since that session, I have found myself asking a very simple question whenever I fire up my computer: what is it that I want to do right now? And I’ve found that asking this one simple question has made me much more productive when I get on. It brings my purpose front and centre, and I find I am less likely to get distracted down a rabbit hole when I take that brief moment to really clarify what it is I want to do before I mindlessly plug in.

Sure, I still find myself with a few dozen tabs open in my various browsers, email client up and running with constant notifications coming in, Tweetdeck firing away in the corner on my second monitor, but it is a start. And at least I find I am getting that one thing done that I wanted to get done.

I hope that The Information Diet will help me find a few more nuggets like that to make me a more concious information consumer.

 

From Google Reader to Kindle via klip.me

I’ve had my Kindle for about a year now, and love it. It is one of the pieces of technology I own that makes me happy every time I use it, for a whole whack of reasons.

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicLike Chad Skelton, I’ve found myself using it more and more for reading things other than books using the Kindle personal document service. If you are not familiar with the service, each Kindle comes with an email address that I can email documents to as attachments. These are then converted to the native Kindle format for reading on my Kindle. Excellent for when I have a PDF or long Word document to read.

Shortly after I began using my Kindle, I discovered a service called klip.me, which is a handy little bookmarklet/browser add-on that let’s me send webpages to my Kindle, stripping out most of the crud (ad’s, distractions, etc) giving me a nicely formatted Kindle document. I’ve had the add-on running for the past 6 months or so. It has turned my Kindle into more than just an ebook reader and is the primary reason I use my Kindle each and every day.

Last week, Chad had a very interesting post about Instapaper that got me thinking.  Instapaper has a service that allows you to email articles directly from Google Reader to your Kindle. So, I went to see if klip.me had a similar service and, lo and behold, it does. Even better, I can set up an automatic delivery schedule right to my Kindle via my Kindle personal documents account. Sweet.

What this means is that now every morning at 5am, klip.me crawls my GReader account, aggregates the latest 50 posts, and delivers them directly to my Kindle. For the past week I have been waking up with a nice, tidy personal newspaper delivered right to my Kindle in time for breakfast. Wonderfully convenient.

klip.me also has a service that will send my calendar and a weather forecast to my Kindle, but so far I have resisted these services. I want to keep my Kindle as a reading/consumption device &  don’t want it to be an all purpose device (that’s what a tablet is for). But to have a service that sends me articles from GReader to my Kindle? Awesome!

And a note to klip.me – I’d happily pay for this service to ensure it sticks around. Please, tell me how I can give you money because it isn’t obvious on your site.