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).


  1. Isn’t it amazing to ponder how people have scaffolded our growth? What a great reflective exercise, as well as a gracious gesture. Thinking of you, Laura.

    1. There's the power of Latin word roots in English: grateful, grace, gracious... it's all about the GRATIA. And Spanish makes it easy: gracias! :-)

  2. Thanks for including me in your list, Laura. You are among the people with which I've had many connections first online so long I cannot see the vanishing point where it first began... so it was Feed2JS. eh?

    I'm impressed with the hub of influence that has been OU. I so remember the eLearning Queen but did not know she was a Sooner. Rob too (who thankfully I got to finally meet last Jin at the Domains conference) I recall was in Oklahoma but forgot it was OU. I was glad last year I got a chance to visit campus and see the Galileo exhibit, and now I know that's the craft of another long time web head.

    You've been a force of creativity/inspiration for teaching online, and doing it so well from a distance that know one would know. Thanks for all you did, do, and will do.

    1. OF COURSE you had to be on that list, Alan! I can still remember discovering Feed2JS and playing with all the customization features to make it work just right.
      And it was fun to think about what was going on at OU back then: Kerry, Dave, and I have stayed all this time; Rob left, but he is back in Oklahoma now with his new company; Susan left, and came back, so she and I are both teaching online for OU now (yeah!), and Randy has his game company. I'm guessing we all got a big boost in our own way from the synergies in Norman back in the day... and now you have been to Norman too! Thanks to Adam and his fabulous new crew of digital shakers-and-movers. :-)

  3. Laura, will you allow me to multiply the graces here? Thank you for sharing! As someone who still doesn't quite *get* the RSS thing (though I greatly admire the blog feed you've set up for the Reflective Writing Club), it was refreshing to read about how it took you a while to really *get it* and integrate it in a meaningful way. There is hope for me yet.

    1. Oh, yes, exactly, Rachel -- I thought about while writing the post. What if I had not been sharing office space with Dave at that time? What if Rob and I had hadn't that random conversation about feeds in the LMS? There is so much serendipity in all of this, and I believe in the power of serendipity. You just never know when things are going to happen exactly! :-)

  4. Laura, As I said in one of my posts -- everything I know came from someone else. And that's why it is so important to share, and do as you have -- thanked those who have been so important in our lives. [#etmooc / #clmooc]. And thank you for always popping in with an idea or solution. ~ Sheri

    1. YES: all learning is connected learning... and the Internet has multiplied our possible connections beyond anything I dreamed of, sitting at home alone and reading reading reading as a child. I knew I could learn from the authors of my favorite books... and now I can share tweets with some of my favorite authors, in addition to reading their books. I still get such a thrill ever time a writer or artist replies or retweets: fan girl moment! We are digitally connected. #ConnectedLearning FTW. :-)


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