In a world completely possessed by the human mind

My Dad spent 20 years teaching math for trades prep at a community college. So when the geriatric neurologist asked, “what is 100 minus 7?” and he answered “97”, I knew something was not right.

My Dad loves math. As a mason, he lived and breathed applied math constructing and building impressive stone and brick structures to within a fraction of an inch.

I wasn’t at the appointment. My sister relayed the results of the cognitive quiz to close family members via Facebook Messenger. That in itself was its own source of cognitive dissonance for me. What fresh hell was going to await me in my Facebook feed when the algorithms mined this trove of personal information?

“Where are you?”

“At the doctor.”

“In what city?”

“Saskatoon.”

“In what province?”

Silence.

A week later I am driving my father and his girlfriend through the scrubby brushland of northern Saskatchewan. The part of the province where the prairies give way to the trees. The liminal forest. We drive past the remains of a small prairie hamlet; a single lonely grain elevator surrounded by a handful of mostly abandoned pre-war houses. Like most small prairie outposts in Saskatchewan, a cemetery marks the past of what was a once vibrant farming community. It is the cemetery where my grandfather is buried.

“Dad, do you mind if we stop at Grandpa’s grave?”

“Sure.”

I pull the truck over and get out at the small cemetery containing a few dozen markers memorials and headstones. The grasshoppers pop like popcorn around my feet as I walk to where my grandfathers grave is. I look at the headstone.

I have one incredibly vivid memory of my grandfather passing away in 1974. I am sitting in my Dad’s lap in a chair in the living room of our house in Regina. I am snuggled into my Dad, his arms wrapped around me. He is crying. It is the first time I recall seeing my Dad cry. The next time I would have that vivid a memory of my Dad crying would be almost 40 years later when my Mom passed away.

“Dad, when did grandpa die?”

“Oh, must be 14 or 15 years ago now”

I think I misheard. He must have said 40 or 50 years ago, right?

“When?”

“I think it was 14 years ago.”

14. I heard it that time, clear as a bell.

His dementia has yet to be diagnosed. We’re in the stages of that now. There is clearly something happening.

I saw signs he was slipping when I was visiting him in Thunder Bay in the spring, but my Dad, like most Dads I suspect, has his share of odd and idiosyncratic behaviors and I, playing the antagonists part in a Harry Chapin song, glossed over what should have not been glossed over. I got irritated when I should have been concerned by his repeated questions of when I was coming and when I was going.

My sister saw it earlier. She raised a warning last fall. “He’s not the same,” she said. “He’s vacant. Not really here.” But I dismissed it as Dad being Dad.

But this is not about my sister, or even my Dad really. Those stories are theirs to tell and I have likely probably told too much. You get the wider context. What I need to do here is tell my story and how this is affecting me. Because the events of this summer have been affecting me and I need a way to process what I am feeling. The way I have done that in the past is through blogging. Writing. To find support. To commiserate. To connect. To process. To document.

To remember.

I have always blogged as a way to remember. My mind is a tricky place. Memories get hazy fast.

Which is the psychological mind-fuck going on in my head right now.

Is this my future?

Speaking to relatives, there is some evidence that my grandfather also suffered from some form of dementia in a time when it was silent and unknown. It was just called getting old. And now my Dad. It’s hard to ignore the fact that a family history increases your risks.

Already I question whether what I sense in myself is psychosomatic or real. I forget things. My grasp of language, especially speaking to people, is halting. Hesitant. I sometimes blank and struggle to find the right word. My writing has become….less clear. I find myself withdrawing more, hesitant to take on things that are new or messy or complicated. I have felt my work slip, often feeling overwhelmed and stuck with where to start. Caught in the inertia of disorganization.

Is this happening to me?

Maybe it is the zeitgeist as I witness the minds of heroes of my generation conspire against them. I don’t know. I am sure that has something to do with it. What I do know for sure is that I have an appointment to see my own doctor in hopes of quelling the voices inside my own head. Hopefully to calm my own sense of anxiety.

In the meantime, the hard work begins with my father to ensure that he gets the care and support he needs. It feels like the start of a new chapter.

Photo by darkday CC-BY

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 screen shots. 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. Now, I had drunk the network learning kool-aid a few years earlier, but 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 sometime 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.

Email is the new RSS (or a factotum is born)

My ongoing project this year is to establish a new professional digital identity for myself. EdTechFactotum.com will become the hub of my professional life.  I’ve also set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page where I’ll be writing and posting about EdTech, open education, online & blended learning, and the like.

While this site will remain, it will begin to morph over the next while to become a more personal space and a place to talk about things not necessarily related to educational technology, open education or teaching & learning.

I like that word – factotum – as it is an apt description of how I see myself. A generalist & a jack of all trades. The word makes me smile, too, because it reminds me of a real Jack – Jack Black. Yeah, that Jack Black, star of one of the most underrated movies about education ever made School of Rock.

No seriously. School of Rock has some great messages about education. Project-based learning, passion-based learning, collaboration, teamwork, authentic learning & assessment – it’s all there in School of Rock. It is no coincidence that Black’s characters name is Dewey, a smart nod from a scriptwriter in the know. The grade grubber in the movie, Summer, referred to herself as the class factotum and that term has stuck with me. So, while I admit that the term factotum does have an air about it, know that I got it from a Jack Black movie.

Anyway, the title of this post. Maybe it is because RSS isn’t a mainstream thing anymore , but I have been noticing a big increase in the use of good old fashioned email newsletters. While I still rock the RSS, some of the best content seems to be coming to me from email newsletters, so I am going to give a weekly newsletter a go.

I think what I like about the email newsletters is that they offer curated links with commentary. This last part is important as it provides a view and context around why the content is important. People like Stephen Downes and Doug Belshaw do this really well, and it is a skill that I want to work on. I read a lot, but don’t often take the time to explicitly summarize and contextualize what I am reading. So, I am hoping that a weekly curated newsletter may be the way to help me better understand the content I read.

To help constrain the newsletter, I am limiting the newsletter to 3 articles each week. I am not sure what day of the week to publish. For now, I am going to start with Friday mornings and see how that goes. I am using TinyLetter as the mail client. (changed this. it’s now self-hosted) You can sign up at EdTech Factotum.

I’ll likely set up a blog there as well. I had been experimenting with GRAV, but think I was trying to force GRAV to do something that it wasn’t really made to do, so have put that on hold for now, opting instead for a simple HTML5UP CC licensed landing page that I mucked around with. Good for now.

I also had some fun playing with Canva, coming up with a logo design. It’s a fun tool for quickly creating interesting images and graphics.

While I was at CC Global, there was a photographer named Sebastiaan ter Burg who captured a nice shot of me that I will likely be using as my avatar (I’ll reserve little Clint for my personal stuff).

I don’t know if I’ll stick with all of these, but it has been fun playing around with some new tools as I continue to work on developing a separate professional digital identity.

Okay, off to set up issue #1 of the EdTech Factotum newsletter, on the way Friday.

Sharing some stuff from my open EdTech road show

I’ve been on the road doing some talks and workshops this spring, and this blog post is more of a way for me to aggregate the various bits of media that has resulted over the past few months. Dumping stuff to my outboard brain.

Piloting Open Learning – Sandbox Collaborative podcast

My colleague Amanda Coolidge and I were guests on the Sandbox ColLABorative podcast with Brian Fleming, Deputy Director of the ColLABorative at Southern New Hampshire University. I met Brian at EDUCAUSE last fall and he invited us to take part as guests on the podcast, where we talked about the BC Open Textbook Project and the BC Open EdTech Collaborative and the work of BCcampus more generally. Podcast and transcript (nice!)

Open Technology: The Third Pillar of Open Education – Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Rajiv invited me to speak at KPU on open technologies. This was a completely new talk for me, picking up on some of the streams of my work over the past year on open technologies, privacy, student data. The talk is still rough and needs to be refined and I am grateful that I had a patient audience. But this is a theme that I hope to be able to speak more about in the future. Here are the slides

And the video (not often I have a talk captured, so grateful to Meg Goodine at KPU for putting their new Kaltura server to work).

BCNET Conference

BCNET is an annual higher ed IT conference here in BC. Think of it as a regional EDUCAUSE. I did three talks at BCNET. One was an operational talk with BCNET on the Kaltura Shared Service. The other two were in partnership with BC institutions.

NGDLE: From Monolithic to Disaggregation was a talk/facilitated discussion I did with Marianne Schroeder of UBC and Maureen Wideman of UFV. This is another theme of my work for the past year – exploring the changing role of the LMS and what kinds of potential opportunities and challenges institutions are facing as the LMS changes and evolves from the single learning technology, to be a central technology that others integrate with. I had some fun with the slide for this, as you’ll see, drawing comparisons of the LMS to a Swiss Army Knife.

The second presentation was with Scott Robarts and Auralea Mahood of Capilano University where they spent some time talking about their eportfolio project, built on WordPress. My piece was to come in at the end and talk about some of the other projects happening around BC built on WordPress at TRU and RRU, and again promote the work of Brian, Tannis and Grant and the BC EdTech Collaborative.

Creative Commons Global Summit 2017

So grateful to have been able to attend this event (thank you Creative Commons). I didn’t present, but was part of a Virtually Connecting session with Doug Belshaw, Laura Hilliger, Terry Greene, Alan Levine & Helen De Waard talking about co-op’s. I’ll have some separate posts about the summit and co-op’s in near future. For now, here’s the Virtual Connecting session.

Digital Pedagogy Network Symposium

The talk I never gave at the SFU/UVic Digital Pedagogy Network Symposium on open tools, open pedagogy (I had to miss my time slot waiting for a plumber at home). I’ll share the slides here anyway.

Building an Open Textbook

I did make it for the second day of the symposium where Amanda Coolidge and I facilitated a 2 hour workshop on building an open textbook where I did a deep dive into some of the early research about open textbooks, drawing on 2 blog posts I wrote about pedagogical features of textbooks (here and here.

It’s not only data I am shuffling

It feels like a long overdue digital spring cleaning. About a month ago, I made the decision to migrate a bunch of websites that I host (including this one) off of US servers and onto Canadian servers.

Overall, the move went well but not without a few hiccups, as you might expect as you move from a platform that you have used for over a dozen years.

I had a reseller account with Hostgator, which meant I had access to WHM, which is a step above cPanel (for those of you who have worked at reclaiming or hosting your own sites). At one time, I had a stable of about 30 web properties that I managed, including sites for external clients, so a reseller account made sense.

This isn’t the case anymore. The sites I still have are either my own, or pro bono ones I host and maintain for side projects I am involved in, like my kids school PAC’s or sports teams they are involved in. So, a reseller account was overkill and expensive, especially with the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars being what it is. Economically, it made sense to move.

But it also made sense just for my own digital comfort. Hosting in the US has always made me feel uncomfortable, although (as has been proven many times over) it doesn’t matter where you post digital data – those with power and know how can find, get and use any piece of information that they want.

Hosting data on a Canadian server vs a US server in a post-Snowden world almost feels more like a symbolic act than one that offers any real protection of data. Still, there are laws in my province and country that have been put in place to ostensibly protect our security and privacy. Not that I have sensitive data that I am trying to hide, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Privacy and Free Speech by Clint Lalonde is a modified image released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. The original image is SnowdenDAY - Brasília (DF) by Mídia NINJA CC-BY-NC-SA. This modified version has been cropped and the quote box and quote has been added.

Privacy and Free Speech by Clint Lalonde is a modified image released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. The original image is SnowdenDAY – Brasília (DF) by Mídia NINJA CC-BY-NC-SA. This modified version has been cropped and the quote box and quote has been added.

The other nice thing about repatriating my sites is that I can actually support a local business in my hometown. After being with Hostgator in the US for a dozen years, I have now moved back to a local company called Islandhosting. Before moving to Hostgator in 2004, I had hosted a number of sites with Islandhosting and was a happy customer. The only reason I left in 2004 for Hostgator was because, at that time, Islandhosting didn’t have options available for me to effectively manage numerous domains. Hostgator did and so I moved. But things have changed and I now have access to tools like Installatron and add-on domain management with Islandhosting that they did not have in 2004.

Context Collapse

In addition to the technical migration, I have also been feeling this need to attempt to detangle my digital personal and professional lives. Context collapse (PDF) is real and I am increasingly feeling the need to carve out more private, personal spaces on social media, as I hinted at back in January and (I realize as I re-read my own post with subtext) September.

Closing up when you have operated openly for most of your career is a difficult thing to even think about. For over a decade now, I have tried to present myself as a real person online in all the different SM I inhabit. Those of you who follow me in multiple spaces hopefully get the same view of me on Twitter, Facebook, and here on this blog.

But choosing to attach my name to everything I do means something different in 2017 than it did in 2007. So many contexts have changed, from where I am in my career, to my family, to social media in general. I have had instances where the things I do in my personal life affect my professional life to the point where people have felt it appropriate to threaten my employer over my actions as a private citizen. I realize this is far from the abuse I have seen hurled at others I know who have public profiles closely tied to their private life. But still, not easy to deal with.

At this point, I don’t know if I can even detangle my personal and professional digital identities, but I want to try. Context collapse, while real, can be managed. This year, you’ll likely hear about these detangling attempts as I put some walls up around some gardens.

The biggest walled garden: Facebook

Facebook seems like the best place to start as that is where I seem to experience the most context collapse.

I have started by setting up a public Facebook page that will be nothing but content associated with my professional life. This is where I will be sharing my work related stuff – open education, education technology, my work with BCcampus or teaching with Royal Roads. That stuff all goes here.

To go along with that, I’ll begin tightening up my Facebook profile. Some of you whom I am connected with professionally I will likely suggest connecting via that page. I am going to be fairly ruthless with Facebook and limit it to family and very close friends. Please don’t be offended if you and I are no longer connected via my personal FB account. It’s me, not you.

There will likely be other changes in the future. This blog. I expect there will be changes here, but not sure what those will be yet. Likely another site. Twitter? Geez, who knows.

But I don’t know if it will make a difference. Can I ever take this space back and post stuff as me without there being context collapse? Can I have a public open voice online that doesn’t bleed over into my professional life? Do I even want that?

I always have to remind people that I am not an academic. Really, I am support staff. I don’t have the same reasons for participating in public spaces that academics and researchers do. The benefits and constraints are different. The context is different.

So maybe this is where I start. Why do I participate on social media as me? Why do I blog as me?  The answer these days isn’t as obvious as it used to be.