Supporting what I use 2016 edition

Ok, time for my annual supporting what I use post. For those of you who have followed my blog for the past few years, you’ll know this is an annual event around the holiday season where I encourage you to financially support the free and open tools & services you use to help keep them free & open.

This whole annual supporting what I use series of posts goes back to a blog post that George Siemens wrote in 2012 where he singled out the important work that Audrey Watters brings to the EdTech community; work that, unlike many of us, is not underwritten or supported by an institution or company. Audrey is an independent agent, making a living off her writing, speaking and related events. This year, I’ve gone back to supporting Audrey with an ongoing monthly contribution that can hopefully help her concentrate on publishing important pieces, like her annual top EdTech Trends of the Year posts (essential EdTech reading). I encourage you to do the same.

In addition to supporting Audrey’s independent work, I am renewing my commitment to Open Media for their work in advocating for internet rights and freedoms in Canada. And, as this past year has shown us so clearly, more work needs to be done in the area of critical digital and media literacy, which is why MediaSmarts is also getting a donation from me.

Which brings me to my last choice, which is a bit different this year in that it is a business.

I’ve subscribed to a daily newspaper.

I have done this for a couple of reasons. First, in reaction to the recent election in the US (built on the back of Brexit in the UK) and the war on truth we are facing. Propaganda and misinforamtion have always been a staples in politics, but these recent results have shown that now, more than ever, I need to step up and support organizations committed to fair and accurate journalism, and (for me) that means a daily newspaper.

And I am getting a physical copy delivered to my home. This is part of the second (and perhaps less obvious) reason I am subscribing to a daily paper. For my kids. I want to have newspapers in the house that they can pick up and read.

As my kids get older, I am finding I have increasingly less control over their digital environments, and have to rely on the critical media and digital literacy skills they are developing to make good decisions about the media they consume. In a digital household where our media choices are often highly individual based on the devices we each have in front of us, there is little chance for serendipitous happenstance for my kids to discover information outside of their mediated filter bubble. It is something I worry about with digital books, too. As much as I love reading books electronically, there is something about not having my collection public on the bookshelf within my own home that reduces the random discoverability of topics and subjects to the other people in my house. Sure, there are plenty of ways for me to make my digital collections known, but my kids aren’t really cruising past my Goodreads account on a daily basis on the way to the breakfast table like they do our family bookshelf.

When I was a kid living in northern Alberta, the daily Edmonton Journal subscription was a critical part of my media diet for the simple fact that it was just left lying around in the house. Same goes for the books on my family bookshelf. I often read things that were outside of my normal areas of interest simply because I had proximity to books that I would not have picked myself. So, I want to have a general daily newspaper lying around the house that they can just pick up and read to both widen their horizons, and to help understand what good journalism looks like.

If you are interested in seeing what I have supported in the past (to perhaps give you some ideas of your own), you can read my previous posts here, here and here.

Image: Newspapers by Alan Foster CC-BY-NC-ND



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.


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?


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.


A decade of EdTech blogging

On May 30th, 2017 this blog turned 10. A decade of blogging about education technology, open education and assorted bric a brac. This ol’ blog has hung out with me over the course of 3 jobs and a Masters degree.

It wasn’t my first. Geez, I had completely forgotten about that Make Your Own Media blog, from back in a time when the online alt-media label was a leftie commie hippie pinko thing. This hasn’t been my only one. At one time I had a regular little blog network up and running, talking about bikes, being a Dad and Canadian soccer. But this is the one that has stuck through the years and has professionally defined me.

WordPress was at version 1.2, although I think the first instance of the blog might have actually been on b2 or b2evolution.

Things looked a bit different then. Circa 2007.

Actually, not bad. But I was like a kid in a candy store, trying on different themes each day. This one I landed on for a long time (2008-2012).

And then had some fun switching again in 2012. Pretty sure that is Scott Baio.

My first post? Remember that viral video sensation A Fair(y) Use Tale? The subject of post #1 on May 30, 2007. If you go to that blog post, the DotSub video embedded there no longer works (this one does, though).

I imagine there are more than a few broken links in and among the 392 published posts. That’s 39.2 post per year. 3.26 post per month. About one per week for 10 years. That makes me feel good, although the one per week metric is likely skewed by the prolific output early on. Things have slowed over the years.

There are also 119 draft posts.

Top 10 posts (although, I only enabled the WordPress stats package 6 years ago, so likely skewed a bit to newer articles)

1. Remix, Mashups, Aggregation, Plagiarism oh my Nov 2012
2. Open is a noun, verb, adjective…and an attitude Oct 2012
3. The pedagogical features of a textbook March 2014
4. So, here’s the thing about the video in my Coursera course Sept 2012
5. Embedding Interactive Excel Spreadsheets in WordPress using OneDrive May 2015
6. View documents in the browser with Google Docs Viewer Sept 2009
7. The business of textbooks or why do students prefer print? Aug 2013
8. Zoom and Pan large images with Google map interface Jan 2009
9. Love and hate are beasts and the one you feed is the one that grows Oct 2012
10. On using OpenEd: an opportunity June 2015

You have left 1058 comments (thank you). Spammers have left 13,930 (thanks Akismet).

I could keep going on and on with numbers and screenshots. But those are only the tip of the iceberg about this blog.

Yes. Onto the qualitative.

It is pretty hard to fully grasp how important this blog has been in my professional life.

It began as a way to keep my technical skills up. As a web developer, I was interested in the technology and getting that to work. Setting up my own sites gave me a playground to test, try and learn. Having my own blog, maintaining my own digital identity and taking on the technical maintenance of a domain of my own helped me understand how the web works. I not only played with WordPress, but also cPanel, WHM, DNS settings and a whole host of other technologies that go into maintaining your own site. Yes, it has been frustrating and maddening at times, but I am a better technologist because of it. I gained numerous technical and digital literacy skills by being a participant and not merely a consumer of the web.

It also forced me to learn how to learn using the web as my primary resource. Google problems, find solutions, post in forums. When I had blog questions, you have often been the source of many of the answers.

It was thanks to my first stint at BCcampus from 2004-2006 where I worked with the fantastic Scott Leslie that I was introduced to the EdTech blogsphere inhabited by people like Scott, Brian Lamb, Sylvia Currie, Martin Weller, and D’arcy Norman. Here was a community that I wanted to join & I wanted to participate in. These people were talking and (more importantly) doing really interesting stuff, and blogging seemed to be the natural way to connect with them. This was still very early social media days. Twitter wasn’t really a thing yet. Blogs were where people connected.

In those early days, there weren’t many people reading this blog. There were few comments. Little traffic. But it felt good to have an outlet. To develop a voice. To feel connected to a wider edtech community.

In the fall of 2007, I had my first big a-ha blogging moment. I wrote a post about using Yahoo Pipes to create a D2L widget that pulled in numerous RSS feeds. That is when I discovered the (predominantly Canadian) D2L community as that post got shared and passed around. D2L noticed, and asked me to write an article in their newsletter. Professional win. In the years I was at Camosun, I wrote a few posts about D2L, including some on the infamous Blackboard lawsuit. It was those D2L posts that connected me to the D2L community.

When I started working at Royal Roads, I started writing quite a bit about Moodle and connected with the larger Moodle community.

In 2008, I got a first notice from Stephen Downes (via a blog post from Alan Levine). I was like – whaaaaa? I mean. It’s Stephen friggin Downes who has written a thing or two about blogging.  I had articles from my other blogs go viral (as viral as things could go in pre-social media days), but having your work noticed by someone you respect is a validating feeling, especially for someone who felt imposter syndrome at not having the same level of academic credentials as some of my peers. And that was a really fun Lamb mash to make.

It wasn’t my only encounter with EdTech mentors and thought leaders. A real network learning moment happened in 2009 as I was beginning my Masters program. I wrote a post fishing the network for ideas about what essential readings should be on my edtech reading list. I mentioned that one of our assigned books was Tony Bates & Gary Poole and was looking for more suggestions. Who responded? None other than the author of the textbook I was using, Tony Bates. Having someone who literally wrote the book about the field I was a student in respond to my blog post…well, that was pretty special. And illustrated what I still think is one of the most powerful reasons to have learners engage in open networked learning activities. Even though that first interaction was rather transactional, it did make me feel like I was becoming part of the profession – that I was beginning to connect with the peers in my field.

Things have changed in the blogging world in the decade since I began. In the early days, traffic came mostly from referral links – people commenting on their blog about something I had written on my blog. Even today, there is something extra special about writing something that moves someone else to respond and write their own post. To either validate, or push your thinking. It still happens, but not as often as it did a few years ago. Today, most traffic comes from Twitter or LinkedIn.

The act of blogging is also an act of meaning-making. To be able to take these disparate strands of ideas rolling around in your head and create something cohesive is an exercise in the creation of knowledge. Writing forces you to think. And writing in public forces you to think differently. Forces you to be clearer. There are times when a post may take me days even weeks to write. The topics can be a reason to research something deeper. I make a statement, then question myself – is what I wrote true, or just an assumption I have? I often get pulled into research, or down a rabbit hole and blog posts that may have started as one thing morph and take on a different life.

Responding to comments is also a meaning-making activity. While the affirmative validation is nice, I’ve found the ones that gently nudge and push back often help me dig deeper into what I’ve written, either questioning my own perspectives or working hard to validate and defend. You have helped clarify my thinking, probably more than you realize.

Writing this blog has helped me think long and hard about audience. Sometimes I write for a general audience, sometimes for an edtech audience, sometimes for the MOOC audience. Sometimes for the open education audience, and sometimes specifically for friends. Sometimes I write to show gratitude, give thanks and recognize good work and good people. Sometime I write for an audience interested in copyright and Creative Commons. And sometimes I just write for myself. Ok, I write a lot for myself. But rarely do I write something without someone in mind.

This blog has allowed me to promote ideas that are important to me, like the idea of supporting what you use and helping youth develop media and digital literacy skills. And has allowed me to be a bit silly and have some fun (somehow it usually involves something Alan is involved in).

I’m pretty sure this blog has gotten me hired at least once. And I used it as evidence of my work in EdTech for my application into a Masters program.

I guess the wider grand narrative is that this blog has been a central component to my professional digital identity for the past decade. But more importantly, this blog has connected me to a network and to numerous different communities with people who have progressed from commentators to collaborators, mentors to peers, from colleagues to friends. It has been my living proof that the internet is more than Perez Hilton and snark, bad YouTube comments and angry spew. This blog has connected me to much of the good of the internet. It has connected me to you.

Thanks for 10 years.

Note: This’ll be the last EdTech’ish post here. I’ll be moving much of my professional life to EdTech Factotum. This site will have more of some of the other stuff I used to blog about mentioned above. Likely some politics, a lot of soccer, parenting, media criticism and bikes. So, stick around if that is up your alley.  Still like to have you here. But if it is mostly EdTech, OpenEd, online learning and that stuff, EdTech Factotum is the spot to be. On Twitter, Facebook, weekly newsletter and, yes, blog.


Selling your CC licensed content isn't pointless. It's a sustainability model.

Picked up a Raspberry Pi for my son for Christmas and been searching for some projects to do over the holidays. I came across the Official Raspberry Pi Projects book and downloaded a Creative Commons licensed PDF copy of the book from the RPi site.

While downloading the book, I noticed that the Raspberry Pi Foundation (the non-profit charity that supports the development and use of the Raspberry Pi as a computing literacy tool) publishes a monthly magazine called MagPi, available in print and digital, also published with a CC-BY-NC-SA license. I popped over to the Google Play site to take a look at the app and was disappointed by the first 2 reviews of the app that I read.

payCCIt’s not pointless. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. What the Raspberry Pi Foundation is doing is an important piece of their organizational sustainability plan. When you purchase the app, you don’t buy the articles, you support the organization.

It reminded me of an observation that Paul Stacey from Creative Commons made about the writings of Joshua Farley and Ida Kubiszewski in the book Free Knowledge?—?Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery. Farley and Kubiszewski write,

Conventional economics typically assume that consumption provides utility and what we pay for the goods we consume is an objective measure of the utility they provide.

To which Paul replies:

I find this weird in so many ways. Let me highlight just one – consumption provides utility. Under this logic a tree has no utility unless it is cut down and “consumed”. I expect all of you question the logic of this. A tree can provide great utility without being consumed. It provides shade on a hot day, its leaves cleanse the air we breath, its branches provide homes for birds, its roots prevent erosion, and to many it is a thing of beauty. To assert that a tree has no utility if it is not consumed is, to me, a bizarre premise.

To assume that there is no value in paying for content that you can get for free reflects this “consumption provides utility” economic perspective. To the reviewers, purchasing the app has no utility for them since they can get the content elsewhere for free. They even go a step further and question the wisdom of others who might actually pay for the app. Why do that?

They’ve missed the point.

This is not a traditional utilitarian purchase where you exchange money for a thing. You are not actually buying a thing, but instead supporting the entire organization that keeps the thing going.

In order for this business model to work, however, we have to recognize that when we see an organization that both sells and gives away their stuff for free that this is an important piece of their business model at work, and a path to financial sustainability built on open licenses.  It is not a traditional transactional deal. You are not buying the stuff. You are supporting the entire system that makes the stuff possible. It is a difference that the 2 reviewers of the MagPi app have sadly missed.


BC Open Education Infrastructure

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, my role at BCcampus has undergone a bit of a focus shift back to supporting & researching educational technologies in BC with an emphasis on open source technologies. And there are some exciting things happening in BC that I am going to be a part of.

One of the projects that I have begun sinking my teeth into post-opened conference has been the work done by Grant Potter, Brian Lamb, Tannis Morgan and Valerie Irvine, the former BCNet open education working group. Once BCNet announced the end of the group, Mary Burgess and I talked about how BCcampus could provide support for the open education work this group is doing, and I’m very happy that I’ve been given some time & resources to support this group.

The main project on the go right now is (what I’ve called) the BC open education infrastructure project. This is basically the FIPPA compliant (hosted on EduCloud at UBC) Sandstorm instance that I wrote about a few weeks back. I’ve been able to get in and kick the tires a bit more and am able to see a few clear potential use cases for the technology.

In a nutshell, Sandstorm aims to make the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on your smartphone. One click installs of popular open source packages like EtherPad and WordPress direct from an app repository/store .

Sandstorm App Store

Screenshot of Sandstorm App Store

At a high level, here are some of the ways I think this could be useful to my work, and to the system as a whole. These are things that are driving me to work on this project.

  1. A simple way for an instructors to deploy open source applications. Instead of having to use the LMS, which may not have the tools you need or even like working with, or impose a pedagogical way of working that you don’t want, Sandstorm provides an app marketplace where instructors can pick and choose the tools they want to use with their students. Need a collaborative document editor? Hit a button and you’ve got an Etherpad instance set up. Need an instance of Git?  Discussion forums? Pick from a few different alternatives, install and share with students. And all the data stays on a locally hosted server under local control. No corporate data mining of students information. Unbundling the LMS.
  2. A system wide sandbox platform. This is my own use case, as one of the projects in my portfolio will be to revive a system wide sandbox process to allow people to experiment with open source edu focused applications. A BCcampus instance of Sandstorm might make it easier to manage that process.
  3. A way to distribute education related open source applications. I’ve been thinking of ways to get Pressbooks Textbooks into the hands of more people, and making a one button install of Pressbooks in something like Sandbox seems like a doable project. Get an instance of Pressbooks into the Sandstorm app store has the potential to get it in front of more eyes and deployed. There are other open source tools that are edu focused that I think could be included, like Candela, TAO, Open Embeddable Assessments, Omeka, and Scalar (to name just a few). I envision an edu section of the Sandstorm app store. It’s premature to be thinking this way, considering the relative newness of Sandstorm, but, this is why we experiment and play.
  4. A powerful tool for students to work with the tools that they want to work with. Give a class a Sandstorm instance and let them decide how they want to collaborate, communicate and work together using the apps in the toolbox.

This work is obviously heavily influenced by Jim Groom & Tim Owens Domain of Ones Own which is, at its heart, about autonomy and control; about giving people the ability to control their own data and their own digital identity. It is also about recognizing that technology is not neutral, and that the systems we set up within our institutions (looking at you LMS) impose a way of doing things that may not be the way that our faculty want to teach. We should, at the very least, try to provide systems that support technology enhanced pedagogical models outside of the narrow confines of the LMS.

But what really excites me about this project is the chance to work with some of the most forward thinking edtech people in the province. And that is putting a big spring in my step.


Is it Time for Canada to Implement A Unified Open Strategy for Higher Education?

Transcript of my talk at the UBC/SFU Open Access week forum on October 22, 2015

My perspective on the question is influenced by my work in open educational resources, especially the work I’ve been doing for the past 3 years as the Manager of Open Education at BCcampus, and working on the BC Open Textbook project; a multiyear project funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education to promote the use of Open Textbooks in the BC post-secondary system.

Open textbooks are a subset of Open Educational Resources.OER’s are openly licensed teaching resources, like videos, courses, textbooks and lesson plans. Most often these are licensed with Creative Commons licenses, which allow the resource to be freely copied, shared, modified and reused by educators without having to ask for permission from the original creators. The permission to copy and reuse is given ahead of time by the creator of the resource when they choose to license with a Creative Commons license.

So my perspective on the question “Is it time for Canada to implement a unified open strategy for Higher Education” emerges from this field of OER and the work I have done over the past number of years.  And the fact that I am framing my response as coming from a very specific open perspective tells me that, yes, having a unified national strategy on all things open is likely a good idea for the simple fact that it gets all the various strands of open – open access, open education, open source software, open pedagogy, open data –  in the same room. And any reason to bring people together to talk about their commonalities is a good thing.

However, we can’t assume that open is always a good thing. Facebook, for example, would like us to all to be open and share everything about us. But this desire by Facebook for us to be open is motivated by their business model. The more open we are, the more we share, the more Facebook can better target advertising at us. For Facebook, open is their business model. Is that a good thing?

We also cannot assume that there is a common  understanding of what open means in education… as MOOC’s have shown us. Many Massively Open Online Courses use the word “open” to mean “open registration”. However, to open educators involved in OER, Open also means openly licensed. And for those of you who have worked with, or taken course by a commercial MOOC provider like Coursera or Udacity know that these courses are not openly licensed for other educators to take the content and reuse.

But these are not arguments against a unified strategy. Indeed, a unified strategy for higher education could help to address these issues. To develop a collective voice to help define what it is that we mean by open, and call out openwashing when we see it. Rather than a multitude of diffused voices crying out, a single unified voice can carry weight. So, +1 for a unified approach.

On the other hand, perhaps there is more power in supporting a multitude of smaller voices. After all, the world we live is increasingly built on network models, and the nodes are full of a diversity of opinions, voices, and ways of being and doing that could get lost in a unified strategy approach. A unified approach is not alway an egalitarian approach, and a unified strategy would need to both acknowledge and respect the diversity of voices inherent in an increasingly network oriented world.

A unified open strategy would also have to tread carefully so that it isn’t viewed as a “top-down” approach to open. We have all likely experienced initiatives that have been perceived, correctly and incorrectly, as “top-down” and have likely failed for that very reason. So, the best unified strategy approach is one that acknowledges that real substantive change often comes from both directions, and rarely from one alone.

I know I am coming across a bit down on the idea of a unified open strategy, which I am not. A unified open strategy for higher ed is an admirable goal and one that would have great benefits, like providing a clear and purposeful focus, a single vision often needed to help coalesce support and make projects happen. And in many parts of the world, having a unified open strategy has given open educational resources a boost in profile and credibility.

For example, according to the 2014 State of the Commons report from Creative Commons, 14 countries around the world have made national commitments to open education and open educational resources. These commitments often originate with government in the form of policies driven by the simple rationale that publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. If we, the public, pay for something, then we should put into place measures that make that something as widely usable as possible and provide the maximum benefit to the public.

When it comes to higher education, many countries have it easier than Canada enacting unified strategies because in other countries post-secondary education is often a national responsibility. In Canada, the responsibility for post-secondary lies with the provinces, not the federal government.

Not that a federal government is the only place where unified strategies can happen. Provinces can work together on unified open strategies, as was the case in 2013 when the premiers of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed the tri-provincial Memorandum of Understanding on Open Educational Resources. This three year agreement signed under the New West partnership agreement, has provided projects like the Alberta OER project and the BC Open Textbook Project a collaborative framework to work together on open education initiatives. Recently, the province of Manitoba has launched an open textbook initiative, and we have worked closely with them to set up an open textbook repository and textbook review process with Manitoba faculty. These collaborative initiatives may not have happened if there was not a unified western Canadian framework to enable them.

So, despite opening my talk with some cautious concerns about developing a pan-Canadian unified open strategy, I ultimately agree that the time had come. Open education has been bubbling along for the past 20 years, slowly and consistently building a movement and momentum that is showing some real tangible benefits. The potentials are being realized. Open textbooks, for example, have saved students in British Columbia over a million dollars in textbook costs, and research into the learning outcomes of students using open textbooks vs publishers resources are showing encouraging results that students using open educational resources are doing, at least as well if not better in some cases, than students who use publishers resources in the class. We now need to build on the successes of the past 20 years and push to make open education the default, not the exception. A unified open strategy can help make that happen.


Week 18 Review

  • Attended & presented at BCNet in Vancouver this week (slides). BCNet is a large regional conference aimed at higher ed IT folks. I wasn’t sure how a presentation about open textbooks would go over considering the audience is mostly sys admins, IT helpdesk and CIO types, but a few showed up and seemed to be engaged with the presentation.
  • My attendance at BCNet prompted a blog post that wasn’t a week in review post, but an observation that the new “notice and notice” requirement of the Canadian Copyright Act that kicked into effect in January of this year is a bloody hassle for higher ed to deal with.
  • Also some excellent conversations in the backchannel around lack of diversity on stage at the conference exactly (1 of the 8 keynotes was a woman), and an off colour off the cuff remark made by the first day keynoter about Bruce Jenner. To his credit, he quickly realized how inappropriate his comment was and publicly apologized.
  • Love this random act of YouTube comment karma initiated by Tom Woodward after he stumbled upon a video I made 6 years ago to help show a student in my Masters program how to add a hanging indent to a WordPress blog post.
  • Started coordinating some work with U of Minnesota and Lumen on getting existing open textbook collections that are in the commons (like) into Pressbooks.
  • Work on OpenEd with David on proposals. Also started putting together list of potential roles for local organizing committee. Some of you may be hearing from me soon 🙂
  • On the OpenEd front, had a great lunch with Scott and Brian where I hijacked the convo asking them about the lessons they learned from previous Vancouver OpenEd conferences (2009/2012). Everytime I speak to these two I am again struck by how important they have been, and continue to be, to not only the local BC OpenEd community, but the larger OpenEd community. They have been in this a lot longer than I have and I always benefit from their perspective and advice.
  • A great, simple little initiative coming from  Kwantlen librarian Caroline Daniels. Kwantlen students use a lot of open textbooks, and some do like to order print copies from our print partner SFU just up the road from Kwantlen. Well, the books (while inexpensive) can be costly to ship via standard mail (around $10). There is already an existing courier system between higher ed institutions to facilitate inter-library loans where material can be requested by one library and shipped to another. Caroline contacted a librarian at SFU, who then contacted me about seeing if there was a way to leverage this existing courier service to remove shipping costs for physical versions of the books. Document Solutions at SFU (who do our printing) came on board and it looks like a process is now in place to ship books from SFU to Kwantlen via the inter-library loan system for free. Wonderful initiative from Caroline and Kwantlen to recognize this opportunity and act on it, and to SFU for being willing to facilitate the request.
  • Spoke with Alex Berland about his OER nurse educator project in Bangladesh.
  • Reading this week:
  • According to that stupid app I’m 68. Stupid app.
  • Kids school musical this week. The drama geek in me sure gets a kick out of watching them perform on stage.
What the person sitting behind the choir conductor sees

What the person sitting behind the choir conductor sees. Clint Lalonde


Week 14-15 In Review


Supporting the big bad mouse. I had to revoke my copy of No Logo at the gate.

Was on vacation with the family for most of last week and the early part of this week. Add in Easter. This summary covers 2 very compressed weeks.


  • Talked about Pressbooks TextBooks as part of a CCCOER presentation on OER authorng. Slides on Slideshare.
  • Prepping for upcoming presentations & workshops at BCNet & Thompson Rivers University.


  • Ministry update meeting.
  • Met with ROER4D project. They are kicking the tires with Pressbooks Textbook.
  • Took part in a Mozilla Community Education working group call with Emma.
  • Open textbook project meeting. Lots of planning for the upcoming Open Textbook Summit. We’re also planning on doing a special thank you event for our authors and adapters the night before.
  • Amanda and I met with CAST to talk how we can work together on accessibility.


  • Booked travel & accommodation to Kamloops for TRU faculty workshop in May, and Vancouver for BCNet (end of April) & ETUG (June).


  • Audrey Watters talk at Western Oregon, which lead me to Justin Reich’s article “Open Educational Resources Expand Educational Inequalities”. After reading the article and the research,  I don’t think the headline is accurate and unfairly throws OER’s under the bus.  Justin’s research isn’t at all about OER’s, but is actually about educational technology and (more specifically) the use of wiki’s as a teaching tool with his students.  A more appropriate title should be “educational technology expands educational inequalities”, not OER’s. In the comments, I found Justin does acknowledge that the headline is misleading, and that the original title of the article was “Will Free Benefit the Rich?” Not sure how OER got dragged into the mix, unless I am missing something in my reading of the research.
  • Open Ends? from Brian Lamb. Incidentally, the video of Brian and Alan’s presentation The Open Web at UVic a few weeks ago for Open Education Week is now available.
  • Finished We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Stumbled across this book (which heavily influenced both Orwell’s 1984 & Huxley’s Brave New World) after seeing an interview with Noam Chomsky where he mentioned it. Can’t believe I have never come across it before.
  • Started Martin Weller’s Battle for Open.
  • Data on Textbook Costs from Alex Usher. 1350 Canadian students interviewed on how much they spend on textbooks. The interesting tidbit for me wasn’t with how much they spend (although it is interesting), but instead that “Overall, two-thirds of students said that they bought all of their required textbooks” Meaning 1/3 of students try to get by in their courses without purchasing the required material. I am not sure if that includes illegally obtaining copies of their material, borrowing from friends or the library, or just plain going without.

Other stuff

  • Connected some BC Physics faculty with OpenStax, who are looking for contributors for their new Physics book.
  • Working on another iteration of the Exploring Open Education with the Commonwealth of Learning and BC Ministry of Education.
  • Registered a new Twitter account for the BC Open textbook project @BCOpenText. I wanted to use the phrase OpenEd, but it is proving problematic to use that phrase in Canada.. I’ll have more to say about this at some point in the future, but it absorbed some of my time this week.
  • Ordered the Noun Project commemorative Creative Commons shirt.

Week 40: Week in Review

Felt like a big week of meetings this week.

  • Initial meeting with a new open textbook author who I’ll be working with to develop an open textbook in the area of mental health training.
  • Meetings with OpenSchoolBC, Camosun College and the Ministry of Advanced Ed to clarify deliverables on an open textbook project in fundamental trades training.
  • Spent a morning doing some research on cost of textbooks for students taking introductory mining courses at various institutions in BC – suggested retail price: $108.55 for one of 9 first term courses in this mining program. Add in the $212 Chem book you need in this course and the $165.80 Math book for this one, and your first term costs for textbooks is already close to $500…for 1/3 of the 9 courses you need for your first term…of a four term program. You only have 33 more courses to buy books for (I didn’t go any further).
  • Fleshed out some ideas for possible Hewlett funding application with Mary, Amanda & Lauri.
  • Completed the course on research ethics so that I can work with Rajiv and Beck on the OER research hub project we are doing this fall in BC.
  • Wrote a blog post  about the recent U.S. government announcement supporting OER
  • Also wrote a blog post on the release of the first adapted textbooks as part of phase one of the open textbook project.
  • Left a fairly long response to Tony Bates post on working with PressBooks Textbooks with us. I do want to follow up on that comment at some point with a bigger post here about advocating for more technical developers in higher ed focused on teaching and learning applications (of which I have a sense there are very few).
  • Followed up on a lead from our Ministry and rediscovered 6 Adult Basic Education Math Textbooks in SOLR that Amanda has now added to the open textbook collection. Score!
  • Open Textbook Summit 2015 planning meeting – looks like we have settled on May 28/29 in Vancouver for the OTB Summit. Save the dates. More details coming on that as we flesh out the plans.
  • Met with our open textbook editors
  • Set dates for next offering of Adopting Open Textbooks online workshop – January 12-Feb 2, 2015. We’ll see if we can’t get some interest from Alberta and Sask for that one as part of our tri-provincial agreement on OER cooperation.
  • Turned 48.

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.


Thinking about a BC textbook booksprint/hackathon

Drupal Code Sprint

This week we have started talking about how we can make a BC textbook book sprint a reality in the spring of 2014. These are still very preliminary plans, but I’m very jazzed about the potential.

A book sprint is inspired by code sprints in the software development world where, in a very short time with a number of participants, something concrete is created. In the world of academic software development, I think of projects like the One Week, One Tool project out of George Mason University, which has given us tools like Anthologize and this years Serendip-o-matic  developed in an intense one week burst of coding frenzy. (aside: I am a big fanboy of the work of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason. They have built some wonderful digital tools over the years, including Zotero, which I really should have included in my support what you use post as it is a tool that I do use every day for my research).

In the textbook hacking space, there has been some great projects that we can draw inspiration from, including Siyavula in South Africa, the Utah Open Textbook project , the Finland hackathon that produced a math textbook in 3 days, and (over the past weekend), the Creative Commons supported textbook hackathon at the University of Otago in New Zealand that produced a first year media studies and communications textbook.

This last project is especially interesting for 2 reasons. One, we are looking for a media and communications handbook for our open textbook collection and even though this will be create with a New Zealand focus, there will probably be material in there that we can use as a starting point to create our own media studies and communication textbook.

Second, one of the goals of the event was to create a textbook book sprint cookbook; a guide for others to use who wish to do a similar event. I love serendipity. Needless to say, I am looking forward to getting my hands on that cookbook, and have to applaud the crew involved in the project for recognizing that capturing the process is just as important as the final result. Open FTW.

As I said, these are really early days in our planning, and one of the first pieces we need to figure out is whether we create something from scratch, or whether we modify an existing resource. While many of the examples so far have focused on creating something from scratch, I actually think there is great value in having a book sprint where we remix an existing resource instead of creating from scratch. Remixing works is still a foreign and uncomfortable idea with many challenges (both technical and cultural). A remix-a-thon might help us address some of those issues head on and develop some real and concrete tools that could empower and enable others to look at remix as a viable option.

We also have to figure out the right mix of people to be involved. Obviously there will be faculty (subject matter experts), but what kinds of resources will we need to support them? Technical support, developers, editors, designers And how do we begin to facilitate the work? It needs to be tightly focused to meet the tight deadline. What kind of pre-event work needs to be done so that by the time you get to the event everyone is prepped and ready to roll? These are all questions that we will need to answer in the coming weeks and months as we begin to flesh out this plan.

Photo: Drupal code sprint by Kathleen Murtagh used under a CC-BY license


How do you do Moodle upgrades at your institution?

Looking for a bit of feedback from the Moodle community with this post, so please add any comments. Actually, looking for feedback from any community that uses an LMS, not just Moodle.

We’re struggling a bit right now with an upgrade strategy for Moodle. Recently, Moodle has implemented a regular release schedule, releasing a new, major release twice a year (December/June) with minor releases 6 times a year. While I am a generally fan of the Agile “release early/release often” development philosophy, it is quickly becoming obvious that this is going to be operationally challenging to keep up. In my understanding of the release early/release often philosophy, the changes in each release are meant to be incremental improvements and not feature driven. The problem I am seeing with Moodle right now is that the changes are not incremental. Some of them are downright massive.

Our story is that we have just finished launching Moodle 2.1. We did not upgrade from Moodle 1.95 to 2.1, opting to have 2 learning platforms running to minimize disruption for the students as the two platforms are quite different. So, we have bit the bullet internally and are phasing in Moodle 2.1. New students in new programs are in 2.1, existing students finish their programs in 1.9.

The 2.1 project took us over a year to plan and deploy, partially because we had so heavily customized the 1.9 platform that it took a lot of code rewriting to make sure 2.1 would do what we wanted it to do. We went from over 400 customizations in Moodle 1.95 to less than 10 in Moodle 2.1. We abstracted those customizations and have now redeployed most as modules or plugins. All this was done in the hopes that future upgrades would be more nimble. There was (and still is) a weariness with doing “mega” upgrade projects that take over a year of intensive resources to plan and deploy. We wanted to be able to roll out quick updates a few times a year as close to the Moodle schedule as possible. That was the theory.

In practice this is much more difficult, mostly because the pace of change coming out of Moodle core development is massive. We have just launched 2.1, but now find ourselves 2 versions behind. By December with the release of 2.4, we will be 3.

Now, going from 2.1 to 2.2 will be pretty invisible for our end users as the changes are not that different, and don’t touch some of our customizations. But going to 2.3 means quite major changes at there are overhauls of some key features of the LMS that touch many of our users (navigation, a complete rewrite of assignments, new activity and file picker, key places where our users interact with the LMS). 2.4 looks to be bigger still, with the addition of team assignments, which is one of our key customizations. So, do we wait until 2.4 is out in December, setting our upgrade schedule back to the summer , or do we rewrite our team assignment customization to work with 2.3 knowing that it will be useless in the future? Our work becomes redundant next year.

All this is to say, even these dot upgrades (which we thought would be fairly minor and easy to keep up with) are becoming what we hoped they wouldn’t be – mega-upgrade projects. But now they happen yearly instead of every few years. We are looking ahead and trying to figure out, do we live in perpetual Moodle upgrade land to the point where we operationalize Moodle upgrades each year, or do we stop and sit where we are?

Technically, it takes massive resources for us to do these upgrades, primarily because customizations need to be examined and tested against the code changes. But we have good coders, and they can do the work. The bigger issue is prepping our users and supporting faculty through a constant change cycle. Now, change is good, but when you find yourself in a situation where you are expending huge resources to manage change well, you kinda go is it worth it?

We’re feeling a bit frustrated right now and find ourselves at a high level crossroads. Is this constant upgrade cycle becoming our new reality? It’s becoming obvious that we underestimated the changes each dot release of Moodle is bringing. We were expecting smaller, incremental changes that would have a fairly minor effect on our end users or customizations, not entire rewrites of core components or massive UI changes.

So, my question to you, if you have stuck with me this far (thank you) is how are you managing your Moodle upgrades with the new Moodle release schedule? Do you have regular upgrades scheduled, or is your strategy to sit and wait awhile?

Any insight into your situation and how you manage the upgrade cycle is appreciated.


An Amazing Story of Openness

More reading for my thesis lit review has uncovered a story that would fit nicely into Alan Levine’s growing collection of Amazing Stories of Openness; “personal stories that would not have been previously possible, enabled by open licensed materials and personal networks.”

This one involves Twitter, and comes from a research paper called How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work.

The open subscription feature in Twitter not only allows users to find interesting people to follow for exchange of information and thoughts, but may also help to establish valuable personal relationships for future collaborations. Tom told us an amazing story about such an experience. A while ago, he tweeted about a book that he was reading and liked a lot. Natasha, a social constructer, was reading the book at the similar period of time. She found Tom’s tweets about the book very interesting and they started following each other on Twitter. Natasha worked on a project with the Kenyan government working to pull Kenya people out of poverty through ICT. Several months later, Natasha sent Tom a message on Twitter asking whether she could talk with him to learn more about Tom’s company before her meeting with executives of the company about the Kenya project. After the meeting with Tom, Natasha invited him to the executive briefing and also invited him as a representative from the company working on the Kenya project. In Tom’s words:

“So, that’s the type of relationship that can be built simply through Twitter. I never knew Natasha, and haven’t been knowing anything about Kenya. She finds me because our common interests and developed a positive relationship that I am very proud of and very interested in continuing.”

Later in the paper, the researchers elaborate more on this relationship.

In the story that we have described previously about Natasha inviting Tom into her Kenya project, Tom told us that this collaboration opportunity not only came through a personal relationship built between him and Natasha, but also because she was able to get to know him from his Twitter updates.

“One of the things that I said to [Natasha] is that I am not an executive and I don’t have any related to executive pool. She said, yeah, I know, I have been watching you for 4 or 5 months now, I understand who you are and I understand your position, but I still want you to be part of this conversation because I know you understand [the technology]. She didn’t care whether or not I had any executive poll, she knew from following me on Twitter, what I was interested in and she knew how I could help her.

Would this type of opportunity come about for Tom BT (Before Twitter)? Perhaps, if Tom and Natasha were in fairly close proximity to each other, and had the opportunity to interact on a fairly regular basis in such a way that Tom could showcase his expertise in an area that Natasha was interested in. But the fact that Natasha was able to follow Tom’s work for such a long period of time, and observe, in such an unobtrusive, ambient way, the level of Tom’s abilities and understanding on a topic Natasha was interested in says to me that there is a different form of relationship building happening here. And, more importantly, a different measure of how we determine who the “experts” are who can provide us what we need when we need it.

Zhao, D., & Rosson, M. B. (2009). How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work. In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on Supporting group work (pp. 243-252). Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/1531674.1531710


Image editing and embedding content in WPMU 2.9

I finally got around to upgrading our WPMU instance to to 2.9 (2.9.2 to be exact) and playing with some of the new features. So far the image editing has been a bit of a disappointment, but the oEmbed feature is, quite simply, awesome. Somehow, embedding content in now even easier than before.

The new image editor has some basic image editing functionality. You can crop, resize or rotate a photo. I couldn’t get the crop working after working with it for the better part of an afternoon. At first, how to crop wasn’t fully intuitive to me and it wasn’t until I read this blog post that the (admittedly dim) light bulb went off. Oh, I have to hit the crop button again. D’oh. Then when I went to insert the cropped image into the post, the aspect ratio of the image got skewed as the cropped image took up the entire dimensions of the original image. I also couldn’t save the cropped image back to my media library, but as others have pointed out, these issues may have more to do with folder permissions and settings in my PHP libraries than with the WP image editor, so I’ll be taking a closer look at those as I play more with image editing.

One other little thing about the image editor – it seems to be available only when you first insert an image into a post. If you try to go back and edit the image after it has been instered, the editor doesn’t appear as an option in the pop-up. You have to delete the image from the post and reinsert the image to enable the editor again.

Okay, that aside, the oEmbed support is a killer feature, especially for someone who finds themself supporting novice users. Embedding content from another site has never been so easy. If you want to embed content from another oEmbed enabled site (and a number of the big ones like YouTube, Flickr, Scribd and are oEmbed capable), all you pretty well have to do is copy and paste the url of the content you want into the body of your post (make sure it is on it’s own line and not hyperlinked) and you are good to go. Good stuff.


Desire2Share Ning Group

Just a quick note that if you administer and/or support people who use Desire2Learn, Kyle Mackie at the University of Guelph has set up a new Ning group called Desire2Share. It’s a private group and if you want to join us, contact Kyle. His credentials are on the site.

This site is outside of the official Desire2Learn community and is independent of the company. Just a bit of peer to peer support for all of us using and supporting D2L. So far there are 20+ members from around North America.