Sunday, February 25, 2018


Instead of writing about un-plugging from the Internet as per the #CCCWrite prompt, I want to write about un-driving. Un-plugging from the car motor.

Being plugged into the Internet is how I read and listen to music and have conversations with friends and learn learn learn. It's all good. Cars: not so good. They do get you from here to there, but with nothing but stress (for me) along the way. I just do not like being in a car. I love public transportation. Trains. Buses. But best of all: sidewalks.

So right now, one of the best things going on in my life is that I do not have to get in a car. I have not been in a car for over a month! I'm in Austin, caring for my dad who is on hospice (end stages of lung cancer), and he lives downtown. So, this is one of the worst times of my life... but one of the things keeping me sane is that I don't have to get in a car. Zero car. All walk.

Groceries? I walk to the Target on the UT campus. It's a tiny Target, but that's fine; it does have a tiny grocery store, with almost everything we need, and for what's not on the shelves, they will special order anything Target carries and deliver it to the store for free. Butter-pecan-flavored Ensure? Yep! They can get that, and my dad is happy.

Pharmacy? There's a tiny CVS in the Target, or a bigger CVS up the street. Random stuff in the middle of the night? The 7-11 is open 24/7.

And even more important: WALKING FOR SANITY. I can walk to the capitol; it's lovely (this is the side I approach it from):

I always make sure to salute the pioneer woman (I like the way her sculpted dress is always blowing in the wind):

The UT campus itself is a pleasure to walk (my dad's in a condo literally across the street from campus):

I only expected to be here some days, maybe a couple of weeks, not a couple of months (as it now appears), so I am very lucky that I was wearing my all-time favorite pair of walking shoes when I arrived:

So, it is unplugging FROM THE CAR that is keeping me sane right now.

Being able to walk places was so great for my dad until he got sick, and being able to walk instead of drive is the key to my sanity at the moment. It's a practical thing. And a spiritual thing.

And yes, I sing along with Girish and all my other favorite kirtan singers while I walk, even when there are people around. The unofficial motto of this city is "Keep Austin Weird," and I figure that my out-loud kirtan contributes to the good weirdness. Feel free to sing along to the video if you want! :-)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My Beautiful Graduate Seminar OMG What Did I Just Do? Mistake

Inspired by Michelle's impromptu video for this week's #CCCWrite post, I made a Flipgrid. If you want to give Flipgrid a try, here's the topic: Beautiful Mistakes. Feel free to add your video... and then you can embed it in your blog if you want too!

Here's how to embed in a blog:
1. Click on your video at Flipgrid (here's mine for example).
2. Click the share icon in the top right (the paper airplane; at least, I think that is what it is).
3. Choose embed.
4. Copy the code, and paste it into the HTML VIEW at your blog. I also change the width to 100% so that it will fill my post space but not run off the sides.

One of the things I really like about Flipgrid is how the videos can appear in blogs too!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

CCCWrite + LoveLearning: Thank you, tech people!

After a long and in some ways unbearable week (my dad is very ill), I was so glad to get up this morning to find two delightful blogging prompts offering me an escape from my dismal now: there is the #CCCWrite prompt from Michelle about digital tools in our professional lives, and also a #LoveLearning prompt from the Canvas Community crew for Valentine's Day about thanking folks who have fostered our love of learning.

I'm going to combine those into one post here, so instead of reflecting on the digital shift in my professional life in terms of the technology itself, I want to remember some of the people who, very early on in my digital life, helped me to get started. I now take for granted that I am constantly depending on others to propel me forward (WE ALL NEED HELP), but back when I was first getting started, I was stuck in the "aloneness" that was so typical of academic life back before all these new ways of connecting and sharing became available to us on the Internet. So, here are seven  people (lucky number seven!) from my very early days to whom I am extremely grateful:

The anonymous Berkeley IT person. Yes, this is terrible to say, but I cannot tell you the name of the IT man at UC Berkeley who led a workshop in what must have been October 1998, teaching a room full of us newbies how to use Netscape Composer to publish a webpage in our teeny-tiny webspace at ~socrates on the Berkeley computer system. That afternoon changed my life. It was a Friday afternoon, and I went home to my apartment on Shattuck and Delaware where I stayed up all night and most of the next night publishing ... webpages. My life has not been the same since!

Susan Smith-Nash, a.k.a. elearning queen. Also back in what must have been 2001, I had my first experience with a fully online class, teaching an online humanities course developed by Susan Smith-Nash, who was at that time building amazing new online programs for the College of Liberal Studies at OU. I am very lucky that she built her courses as lovely websites for students to use and explore, with students pursuing their own research interests in creative ways. At that time I didn't appreciate how remarkable that was, and my whole trajectory as an online teacher is very much based on my good fortune in starting out with an open / open-ended approach.

Dave Hoecker. In what must have been early 2002, I was working in the IT department at the University of Oklahoma, and Dave Hoecker, web genius extraordinaire, was going around the office telling anybody who would listen about something called RSS. I will confess that I didn't get it: what was the point of this exactly...? And I can still remember the conversation very vividly because I really did not get it but at the same time Dave's enthusiasm was overwhelming. I realized it had to be important, even though I didn't even understand what it would be used for. And here we are in 2018, where RSS is the magic pixie dust that makes my online classes hum happily along. #RSSForever

Rob Reynolds. My boss in OU IT was the remarkable Rob Reynolds, and I also remember a conversation we had related to RSS that has stayed with me all these years. This conversation was actually after Rob had left IT to start a company that was building an LMS, so it must have been around 2002 or 2003, and he was trying out some ideas, one of which was to have an RSS aggregator in addition to email in the LMS. And much to my shame I have to confess that I remember saying to him, "But why not just email?" OMG: can you believe I really said that??? I am now one of the great foes of email and a believer in feeds of all kinds... but I knew that if Rob was wanting to move beyond email to RSS, there really MUST be something important here. If it was something that both Dave and Rob were thinking, then I had to keep thinking about that too until I got it. Now: I get it!

Alan Levine. I first connected with Alan Levine through a tool he built way way way back in the day called Feed2JS, which took RSS content and rendered it in HTML by means of a javascript which you could easily add to any webpage. Because, yes, once I figured out the power of RSS, I wanted to use it everywhere, and Feed2JS was a perfect tool for my purposes. Of, course now I know Alan as a guru of DS106 goodness and all kinds of other projects. But back in the day (WAY back in the day), he was the Feed2JS guy, and he made my webpages come to life!

Randy Hoyt. Inspired by Alan's Feed2JS I had learned the power of combining RSS with javascript... and I realized I wanted to do more with javascript content. What if instead of RSS content delivered by javascript, I could deliver content-based content via javascript? Why couldn't I put content in something like iCal and have it display, day by day, on a webpage via RSS...? That was the question I took to Randy Hoyt, a genius student programmer (who now designs... board games!), and thanks to Randy, that awkward idea I had about iCal and javascript turned into the amazing tool that he built (this must have been around 2003?) called, which is still going strong today: Randy figured out that we could use any HTML table to be the content source, and it could be date-based or randomized, with the content displayed anywhere javascripts are accepted online. Now it is 2018, and I still create new scripts every week with that tool, running all the randomized content in my classes that way, plus all the random content in my Canvas Widget Warehouse etc. etc. etc.

Kerry Magruder. And the reason I was even thinking about iCal at that time was because of Kerry Magruder, an Apple evangelist and open-content guru in the History of Science Collections at OU. When I first arrived at OU in 1999 and starting telling people about my interests, their immediate reaction was always: "Oh, you have to meet Kerry Magruder!" And they were right: already back in 1999, Kerry Magruder had a vision for open content on the Internet that was a thing of beauty. Now, almost 20 years later, you can see the results of his Herculean efforts at a whole constellation of websites that share the contents of OU's History of Science Collections with the world. The best place to start is probably Galileo's World, a year-long exhibit of beautiful science and beautiful art in both physical and digital forms: Kerry and I were also developing some fully online courses at the same time back in 2002, and many of the best features of my courses were ideas that I took from Kerry; to this day, I am so grateful that there is a lot of Kerry in the courses I teach.

Of course there are lots more people I could mention, but when I just let my mind wander over those early days, those are the faces and conversations and moments that remain most clear. Now in 2018, so many of the people who are helping me in my work are people I have never met in person but, as you can see from this list, back in the early days of the millennium I was very dependent on people I knew IRL, and I am so lucky that the University of Oklahoma had all those remarkable people who were my teachers. Yet it is also testimony to the power of blogs that Alan Levine, whom I knew as CogDogBlog, was a hugely important person in my learning even way back in the day. I hope I was bold enough to have left comments on Alan's blog back in the day to thank him for what he was doing... but luckily I have also had a chance to get to know Alan in other spaces and places since then to express my gratitude IRL.

But we can never says thanks enough, so I will say THANK YOU here to all these folks, and all the many others: I am so grateful for all that you have taught me about the amazing digital world we are building together!

Gratia gratiam parit.
Gratitude multiplies (= thanks give rise to thanks).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Week 2. Thoughts on NOT attending conferences

I am really looking forward to reading what others say in response to this #CCCWrite prompt... although I had to ponder for a few minutes whether it was even worth writing something because I am one of those people who does not get travel support from my school. And, as Michelle mentioned in the prompt, conferences are EXPENSIVE.

People talk about the "digital divide," and it is very real... and in the academic world, the "conference divide" is also very real. I know, because I'm on the other side of that divide.

Last summer, I paid out of pocket to attend a conference, and I was glad I did (I went to Domains2017 and met many good online friends in person for the first time ever!), but I could do that only because the conference organizers worked hard to keep the registration fee very low; it was just $199 (but then of course there was all the airfare and the always-expensive hotel; the whole thing cost a lot of money, or what was for me anyway a lot of money).

The other conference I really wanted to attend, InstructureCon, had astronomical (for me) costs for registration and for lodging; there was no way I could attend (early bird pricing for InstructureCon this summer, just the registration: $650... OMG!). People from my school do go to InstructureCon every year, but I am not one of them.

And that's what I want to write about here: my thoughts about NOT attending InstructureCon, thumbs up and thumbs down.

Thumbs UP: Power of Twitter. I am so so so so grateful to people who tweeted during presentations, especially Linda Lee (look at this fabulous stream of her #InstCon tweets). I am glad to say that there were a lot of people who tweeted during sessions, and some people were so kind as to ping me for items they knew I would be interested in (and there was a TON of stuff I was interested in). As my contribution to the conference remotely, I made an InstructureCon Twitter widget. Of course. An #InstCon Twitter Widget in Under 5 Minutes

Thumbs UP: Live Streaming. I was able to enjoy presentations by Josh Coates, Jared Stein, and some others thanks to the live streaming that was available. I blocked out time to do that, and it was time well spent. When I was watching the live streaming AND participating in Twitter convos at the same time (thank you, Phil Hill!) that was really fun.

Thumbs DOWN: Keynotes without streaming. Given that I was hugely interested in all three keynote speakers (Jewel! Sheena Iygenar! Scott Barry Kaufman!), not being able to watch streaming for those speakers was so frustrating. I repeat: SO FRUSTRATING. I guess when you negotiate with people who are on the speaker circuit, they make that a condition of presenting. But hey... remember books, people? Because I was not allowed to watch those keynote speakers, I opted to read books by all three of them. And so for the grand total of $35, I was able to learn far far far more than I would have learned from listening to them speak at the conference. These books are all excellent, with so much wisdom not just about teaching and learning but also about life. Highly recommended!
Jewel: Never Broken ($11.99)
Sheena Iyengar: The Art of Choosing ($9.99)
Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire: Wired to Create ($12.99)

Here's a slide from Scott Barry Kaufman's keynote:

Thumbs DOWN: Privileging face-to-face. I know the word privilege is being invoked in a lot of contexts, but that really is the right word for the problem here too. I don't just mean the economic privilege of being able to attend a very expensive conference; I mean the fact that people invest so much time and effort in that face-to-face event, while not investing time and effort in the kinds of interactions we can have online at the Canvas Community. Don't get me wrong: I love the Canvas Community, and I am so grateful (SO GRATEFUL) for the huge investment Instructure makes in the Community and the awesome team that Scott Dennis has put together. It is now one of the main places that I hang out online every day. But as someone who is very active there, I did not see much of a bump in Canvas Community activity during the conference or afterwards. Canvas is software for learning online, right? So it's a weird sort of irony: people are going to an expensive face-to-face conference to learn about Canvas (and by expensive I mean the expense of money AND time AND energy), while not taking full advantage of the online Canvas community.

Why is that........???

Those are sincere question marks, because it is something I do not understand. I totally had fun at the Domains conference, but the people I met there are people I do interact with online, many of them every day. So meeting them face-to-face was totally fun, yes, but it didn't really change our working relationship at all; the basis for our working relationship is our ongoing online connection.

With Canvas, though, I know that many Canvas users (and many InstructureCon conference-goers) do not participate in online learning networks, relying on face-to-face events on their campus and on conferences for their professional development. That is definitely the case at my school anyway, where PD is almost entirely about face-to-face workshops and conferences. What would it take to shift some of that time and effort from face-to-face to online learning...?

I personally see so many benefits to making that shift, and just for examples of how powerful it can be, here are links to post streams at this blog which reflect my past participation in some great networked learning online like Connected Learning (that was a hugely important experience for me!), Rhizo15, and HumanMOOC. And now the Reflective Writing Club!

And yeah, ultimately I am being selfish here... because I know I would be learning more and having even more fun online if more people were bringing their knowledge and experiences to the online space. We can connect up and share without expensive airline tickets and hotel reservations when we are learning together online. :-)