Open Network Learning at Royal Roads University

Next week I begin teaching a course in the Royal Roads MA in Learning & Technology (MALAT) program. The opportunity to teach in the program came up via George Veletsianos and the MALAT program head Elizabeth Childs.

This is a course that George usually teaches in the MALAT program, but George (and Elizabeth) are currently busy developing a new MALAT program at RRU.

Last week, I had the chance to see the new program when I attended a 2 day session at RRU with other associate faculty from both the MALAT program and the wider School of Education.

The new MALAT program at RRU is intriguing. Really intriguing. Theoretical foundations for the program emphasize open pedagogy and network learning.

Over the past 5 years, there has been extensive consultations with various stakeholder groups. The results are a graduate level education program that feels innovative, contemporary, and grounded in the reality of what it takes to learn in a digital, networked enabled world.

It’s a bold vision. Students in the program will take an active and participatory role with the wider education community. They will openly blog (on a newly set up WordPress network at Royal Roads) and develop a social media presence, using both of these tools as pedagogical springboards to take a deep dive into the world of open, networked learning.

Not to dismiss my own experiences as a MALAT grad and the program at the time I was a student (yes, I have all kinds of tendrils intertwined with RRU and this particular program), but there is a small part of me that is slightly remorseful that the timing for a program like this wasn’t quite right 8 years ago when I enrolled as a student. Blogging, using social media, developing a professional network, and using social media tools as personal learning tools is how I operate.

Needless to say, I am smitten with the vision for the program.

What has jazzed me the most in the days since the retreat is that my thinking has been re-energized. I have been jolted back to some of the past work I did on network learning and informal learning, much of which went into my Masters thesis. Things I haven’t thought or written about in years. I realize that I miss having the time and space that a graduate program provides to really think about this stuff; about how the Internet has changed the nature of informal learning, and how important it is to prepare learners with the skills and knowledge to truly become life-long learners.

I see it everyday in my kids as they digitally manouver between formal and informal learning situations. They follow their own interests and passions via YouTube videos and online courses. Beside the regular social stuff that teens and pre-teens do with friends, they do video hangouts with their friends to complete homework assignments. They get daily mobile prompts on their phones to complete micro-French lessons, and stay playfully motivated to keep ahead of their uncle on the leaderboard. They collaborate on school projects with their peers using web-based tools, conducting research online.

These are the types of learning activities I see pedagogically reflected in the new MALAT program that excites me. And I feel lucky to be part of the ride.

Photo: Open Teaching – Thinning the Walls – Revision #2 by Alec Couros CC-BY-NC-SA

Fall projects

I’ve got a busy fall on the go with some new initiatives and projects keeping me busy.

EdTech Demos

This is a new educational technology initiative here at BCcampus, designed to help expose the system to some new ideas and educational technologies. These are free 30-60 minute virtual  demonstrations done about once a month.  So far I’ve done 3 of these demo sessions (Canvas, FieldPress, H5P) and I’ve been very happy at the response and attendance from the post-sec system.

One of the goals I have is to try to make some space for open source educational technologies as these are often interesting projects that don’t have the marketing or promotional budgets of a commercial edtech company. But there will be a mix of commercial and open source, big and small to try to get a nice flavour of what is happening in the edtech space. I have 2 more schedule for this fall, one with D2L Brightspace on Learning Analytics at the end of October, and another with in late November.

I’ve put together an email notification system that people can sign up for to get notified when these demos happen. I am shooting for about one per month.  I’m also looking for suggestions of edtech that you would like to see a demo of.

Guide on the Side Sandbox

I’m also coordinating a sandbox project with a group of academic librarians from aroun d the BC post-sec system for an open source application called Guide on the Side. Guide on the Side is an open source app developed by the University of Arizona to create guided tours of websites and web applications. We are just in the process of installing the software and forming our community. This sandbox project will run for the next 6 months as we test out the software. I am trying to put together some edtech evaluation frameworks (SAML, RAIT, etc) to use as a guide for evaluating the software. I imagine I’ll end up cobbling a few of these together to come up with a framework that works for what we want our sandbox projects to do.  We’ll be releasing our findings in the spring.


I’ll be heading to EDUCAUSE in Anaheim at the end of the month. The last time I was at EDUCAUSE was in 2007 where I first met Bryan Alexander and learned about this new thing called Twitter. I don’t know if this one will be as memorable (Twitter became kind of a big deal in my life), but I am looking forward to attending.

I am in a bit of session overload right now as I plan to attend and put together my schedule. I forgot just how massive this thing is. Holy session overload! One time slot I am looking at has 53 concurrent sessions. Even when I filter from 7 to 3 streams, I still have 25 options. This one looks most relevant for how I feel at this moment.


As I have written about before, I am intrigued by a few new technologies and ways of thinking about edtech that have been coming out of EDUCAUSE, specifically the idea of Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and applications like CASA. These are the sessions I’ll be attending, along with some more on personalized and adaptive learning which I feel I have a good conceptual understanding of, but have yet to get a good grasp on some of the more practical applications of these technologies.

Privacy Impact Assessment & WordPress Projects

One of the other projects I have on my plate for this fall is some Privacy Impact Assessment work for the BC OpenEdTech Collaborative. We had a very productive meeting of our WordPress group where one of the barriers identified by the group was the lack of clarity about data sovereignty and privacy with the technical solutions we are looking at (EduCloud, Docker, and WordPress itself).

While we do have a FIPPA compliant hosting service in EduCloud, that is just one (albeit significant) piece of the FIPPA puzzle. But there may be other privacy considerations when it comes to using WordPress. For example, a plugin may potential disclose personal information to a server outside of Canada.

Since privacy and FIPPA (within the context of educational technology) is part of my wheelhouse, I’ve taken on coordinating a Privacy Impact Assessment for an EduCloud based WordPress project.  Since a privacy impact assessment is something that is done on an initiative and not just the technology used as part of the initiative, I’ll be taking a fairly in-depth look at one of our applications of WordPress and using it to construct a Privacy Impact Assessment report that can then (hopefully) be used as a template for other initiatives using similar, but slightly different technologies. I have an idea of how to do this in my head, but haven’t yet fully formed how to execute it yet.

Other stuff

There are a number of other projects I have on the go right now (including a big one with BCNET and UBC developing an onboarding process for institutions who wish to join the provincial Kaltura shared service), and participating on the SCETUG steering committee. But these are likely the ones I’ll be blogging about over the coming months.

Oh, and something unrelated to my work with BCcampus – I’ll be spending some time prepping to teach in the new year at Royal Roads University in the Learning & Technology program. The course (normally taught by George Veletsianos) is  LRNT505: Community Building Processes for Online Learning Environments, and I am thrilled to be able to get into a (virtual) classroom and work with students. Being that I have been out of an institution for the past 4 years, I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity to jump back into an institution as a faculty member & work directly with students.

Working with Sandstorm

I’ve been making an attempt to kick the tires more with Sandstorm in preparation of our upcoming workshop at the Festival of Learning.


Snapshot of my Sandstorm grain dashboard

Small pieces, loosely joined is what Sandstorm is all about. Sandstorm is the stitching that joins the small pieces, providing a common authentication and security framework to a patchwork quilt of open source applications.

So far I’ve tested out about half a dozen of the 50+ applications within the Sandstorm eco-system trying to use them in my day to day work. Etherpad (the collaborative document editor that is a scaled down version of Google Docs) and Frameadate (a handy meeting scheduler alternative to Doodle) have been the most useful. I’ve also played around with Ethercalc (spreadsheet), Quick Survey (survey tool), Hacker Slides (presentation tool that uses Markdown), OpenNode BB (forums), GitLab (Git repo), Rocket Chat (Slack alternative), and mucked around a bit with the WordPress port in Sandstorm.

My general observation is that the applications that work well within the Sandstorm environment are small, discrete and focused where you can create a single instance of the application (called a grain in the Sandstorm world). Things like a single document or meeting invitation. Tools like Etherpad, Ethercalc, Quick Polls, Hacker Slides and Frameadate are the type of applications that Sandstorm does well in that you create a document, share with others to collaborate and contribute to, and then move on.

I tend to think of these tools as being somewhat disposable. Once a discrete task is done, it’s done. The survey is finished, the meeting dates are picked, the document has been edited and completed. Get in, do your work, get out.

As you can see from my screenshot, I’ve got a lot of Etherpad instance on the go, working on collaborative documents with different users. There is no folder scheme in Sandstorm, or way to organize these multiple instances so I can imagine over time as you create more and more documents, the user interface could become quite cluttered. I’m just starting to get to the tipping point where I’d like to be able to put some structure around the different applications I have going. Maybe organizing by project I am working on and grouping all the related apps I am using with a single project in a single folder or some other visual organizational metaphor. But haven’t seen a way to do that yet.

More complicated applications seem to have more limitations. WordPress, for example, is not the full featured version of WordPress that you would get at or if you installed it yourself. Installing plugins and themes means uploading a zip file instead of connecting to the remote WordPress plugin repo. Publishing is static, meaning whenever you add new content you have to rebuild the site.

Rocket Chat (a nice open source Slack-like application) also has a limitation with the mobile app. Rocket Chat works quite well if you are logged into Sandstorm, but  the mobile application cannot connect through Sandstorm, which limits its usefulness.

These are not dealbreakers, but really just the things you learn while sandboxing and experimenting with new technology – seeing what the tool does well and where the limitations are.

Image: Blue Sky by leg0fenris CC-BY-NC-ND

Create embeddable HTML5 content with H5P

Been playing around this morning with a series of tools called H5P.  H5P is a plugin for Drupal, Moodle and WordPress that allows you to create a number of different interactive HTML5 media types. Things like interactive videos, quizzes, timelines and presentations.

I’ve only had a chance to play with the plugin for a few minutes this morning, but got it working and was able to create some basic interactive content, adding a branching overlay to a YouTube video that runs from the 2 to 12 second mark. Choose an option from the screen and jump to a different point in the YouTube video. I also created a simple interactive question.

While I created these using the H5P plugin I installed on another WordPress site, the H5P plugin gives others the ability to take some embed code and post the content that I created on their site, giving other people the chance to use the same content. So, here is that same interactive quiz question that I created on my testing site now embedded here using the H5P embed code.

With the interactive video example, I am actually embedding an embedded YouTube video with the overlays that I created using H5P. Meta-embed.

There is also an option to assign an open license to the interactions I create at the time I create them, and make it possible for people to download the source file.

One thing I can see off the bat is that there are a lot of content type options with this tool. There are about 30 different content types, each with numerous options so this 10 minute quick look hardly does justice to the possibilities or options. But I like where this is going and it certainly merits a deeper dive into the tool.

H5P is an open source project and community being lead by National Digital Learning Arena (NDLA) in Norway. NDLA is a publicly funded project which aims to offer a complete, free and open learning portal for all subjects in the Norwegian high school level.

More to come as I dig deeper into this tool and plugin.

A BC HigherEd WordPress Community

South of the border, I am watching the WP in Higher Ed community growing, and it strikes me that there may be an appetite for  something similar to happen in BC.

WordPress has deep roots in the BC post-sec system, and there is a lot of WordPress use currently happening.  There are UBC blogs and UNBC blogs, WordPress course development happening at JIBC, eportfolio work at Capilano (who invoked both The Bava and Novak Rogic in their site credits and at their recent presentation at the BCNET Conference). When I was at Camosun College, I set up a WordPress instance that is still being used by faculty. There is the fantastic PressBooks goodness Brad is whipping up here at BCcampus to support the open textbook project, and the work at TRU being done by Brian Lamb and Alan Levine.


I suspect this is the tip of the WordPress iceberg & there are many more pockets of use in higher ed in BC.

I’m hoping to start finding those pockets of WordPress use in the system in the hope of bringing together those who are using (and want to use) WordPress into some kind of community/network of practice.

I’ve set up a form to gather information from folks in the BC post-sec system who are using, or are interested in, connecting with others across the province using WordPress.

I have to stress that this is very preliminary groundwork on my part to gauge if there is enough interest in the province to bring together some kind of more formalized community and/or network. What this community/network will look like, what we work on, how we connect, where we find value is something that should be driven by the community, so if the shape/structure, feel of this community is a bit vague right now, that’s intentional.  But from my view, I can see areas where it makes sense to come together, collaborate, find shared commonalities and potential opportunities that could benefit all.

If you know someone in the BC post-sec world who is using WordPress, please let them know about this opportunity. I hope that we can get a good mix of people from both the technology and the pedagogy sides of the house to come together and participate.

Image: edupunkin by Tom Woodward CC-BY-NC