Category Archives: Uncategorized

Name that film…

Has it ever happened to you that you saw a film, perhaps decades ago, that stuck in your head yet you don’t know its name and can’t seem to track it down? Well, I’ve got one for you (especially if you are a British sci-fi fan) that has been driving me absolutely bonkers.

I know it is British. I believe it is a “made for TV” single episode (but possibly a two-parter) that aired sometime between 1995 and 2005. It was of good quality so I am guessing either a BCC or Channel 4 production.

The plot is about a software mogul who has become extremely rich developing an operating system for embedded computing devices, e.g. devices that control home heating systems, refrigerators, automobiles, etc. The twist is that the mogul has placed a beneficent virus in each copy of the software that creates an emergent massive artificial intelligence once enough devices with network access come online.

That’s about all I’ve got. I am 99% sure I didn’t dream this up but actually saw it on the telly whilst visiting my inlaws in Wales sometime in that time period. I would be extremely grateful to know what the name of this film/miniseries was, as I seem to recall it was quite compelling viewing and ahead of its time.

On Creativity

I just recently finished Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema. I picked it up for my 13 year old son for Christmas, but as he still hadn’t read it yet, I decided I would. It was a wonderful read, I highly recommend it to both young and old. I loved it not only because it’s a tale rippingly told, but because it helped me to further clarify some of my own thoughts on culture, ownership and creativity. And while it is guilty (as am I) of maybe overstating some arguments about the prevalence of remix culture, it does so, as do I, because of the inflexible and, frankly, plain incorrect views about the nature of intellectual “property” put forth by industry incumbents that require strenuous resistance and reform.

Anyways, my enjoyment of the book would have gone largely unremarked, but yesterday a tweet from the great folks at Common Craft  brought it back to mind.

Now I understand that the purpose of that 2 minute video is to explain the current status of plagiarism and as such isn’t the place for nuanced discussion about the principles underlying it. And I don’t really want to make this post about the video; it’s fine for what it is. But it did bring to mind the following long passage from the book, which is the kind of conversations I want to expose kids to so that “empowering” them in regards to intellectual property, copyright, ideas of originality, sourcing and citation don’t become equated with “simply accepting and complying with the status quo.” Because that status quo hasn’t always been the case. And while it may be the advent of new technologies that are causing that status quo to be challenged, the actual assumptions about property, originality, individuality, culture and ownership underlying the status quo have ALWAYS been worth questioning.

“All this high and mighty talk about ‘creativity,’ what’s it get you? You’re nicking stuff off other people and calling it your own. I don’t have any problem with that, but at least call it what it is: good, honest thieving.”

Something burst in me. I got to my feet and pointed at him. “Jem, chum, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, mate. You might know more about jail than I do, but you haven’t a clue when it comes to creativity.” This was something I’d thought about a lot. It was something I cared about. I couldn’t believe that my old pal and mentor didn’t understand it, but I was going to explain it to him, wipe that smirk right off his mug. “Look, let’s think about what creativity is, all right?”

He snorted. “This could take a couple of months.”

“No,” I said. “No, it only takes a long time because there are so many people who would like to come up with a definition of creativity that includes everything they do and nothing anyone else does. But if we’re being honest, it’s easy to define creativity: it’s doing something that isn’t obvious.”

Everyone was looking at me. I stuck my chin out.

“That’s it?” Jem said. “That’s creativity? ‘Doing something that isn’t obvious?’ You’ve had too much coffee, chum. That’s the daftest thing I ever heard.”

I shook my head. “Only because you haven’t thought about it at all. Take the film I just made with Rabid Dog. All that footage of Scot Colford, from dozens of films, and all that footage of monsters, from dozens more. If I handed you any of those films, there’s nothing obvious about them that says, ‘You could combine this in some exact way with all those other films and make a new one.’ That idea came from me. I created it. It wasn’t lying around, waiting to be picked up like a bunch of pebbles on the beach. It was something that didn’t exist until I made it, and probably wouldn’t have existed unless I did. That’s what ‘to create’ means: to make something new.”

Jem opened his mouth, then shut it. He got a thoughtful look. 26 was grinning at me. Cora was looking at me with some of the old big-brother adoration I hadn’t seen for years and years. I felt a hundred feet tall.

At last, Jem nodded. “Okay, fine. But all that means is that there’s lots of different kinds of creativity. Look, I like your film just fine, but you’ve got to admit there’s something different about making a film out of other peoples’ films and getting a camera out and making your own film.”

I could feel my head wanting to shake as soon as Jem started to talk, but I restrained myself and made myself wait for him to finish. “Sure, it’s different — but when you say, ‘making your own film,’ you really mean that the way I make films is less creative, that they’re not my own, right?”

He looked down. “I didn’t say that, but yeah, okay, that’s what I think.”

“I understand,” I said, making myself be calm, even though he was only saying the thing I feared myself. “But look at it this way. Once there weren’t any films, right? Then someone invented the film. He was creative, right? In some way, every film that’s been made since isn’t really creative because the people who made them didn’t invent films at the same time.”

He shook his head. “You’re playing word games. Inventing films isn’t the same as making films.”

“But someone made the first film. And then someone made the first film with two cameras. The first film that was edited. The first film that had sound. The first color film. The first comedy. The first monster film. The first porno film. The first film with a surprise ending. Jem, films are only about a hundred years old. There are people alive today who are older than any of those ideas. It’s not like they’re ancient inventions — they’re not fire or the wheel or anything. They were created by people whose names we know.”

“You don’t know their names,” Jem said, grinning. I could tell I was getting through to him.

Cora laughed like a drain. “Trent doesn’t know anything unless he can google it. But I do. The novel was invented by Cervantes five hundred years ago: Don Quixote. And the detective story was invented in 1844 by Poe: The Purloined Letter. A fella named Hugo Gernsback came up with science fiction, except he called it scientifiction.”

I nodded at her, said, “Thanks –”

But she cut me off. “There’s only one problem, Trent: The novel was also invented by Murasaki Shikibu, half-way around the world, hundreds of years earlier. Mary Shelley wrote science fiction long before Hugo Gernsback: Frankenstein was written in 1817. And so on. The film camera had about five different inventors, all working on their own. The problem with your theory is that these creators are creating something that comes out of their heads and doesn’t exist anywhere else, but again and again, all through history, lots of things are invented by lots of people, over and over again. It’s more like there are ideas out there in the universe, waiting for us to discover them, and if one person doesn’t manage to make an idea popular, someone else will. So when you say that if you don’t create something, no one will, well, you’re probably not right.”

“Wait, what? That’s rubbish. When I make a film, it comes out of my imagination. No one else is going to think up the same stuff as me.”

“Now you sound like me,” Jem said, and rubbed his hands together.

Cora patted my hand. “It’s okay, it’s just like you said. Everyone wants a definition of creativity that makes what they do into something special and what everyone else does into nothing special. But the fact is, we’re all creative. We come up with weird and interesting ideas all the time. The biggest difference between ‘creators’ isn’t their imagination — it’s how hard they work. Ideas are easy. Doing stuff is hard. There’s probably a million geezers out there who love Scot Colford films, but none of them can be arsed to make something fantastic out of them, the way you do. The fact is, creativity is cheap, hard work is hard, and everyone wants to think his ideas are precious unique snowflakes, but ideas are like assholes, we’ve all got ‘em.”

– Cory Doctor, Pirate Cinema, pages 206-209, Tor Teen Books October 2012 edition

So…what’s next?

[Dear Reader, this is a long post, and a somewhat selfish one, in which I think out loud about the kinds of projects I’d love to work on, in part to get clear myself, in part in the hopes of attracting some leads. You are entirely forgiven for skipping it, though I do hope that buried in here are some gems that you yourself are free to run with if you feel so inspired. I promise to return to regularly scheduled blogging after this. – SWL]


It’s been about a month now since I left BCcampus. It’s been a hugely restorative time, spent writing, reading (both the long overdue “The Whale and the Reactor” and the more recent “I am a Strange Loop“), recuperating and being with my family. And while it was impossible not to ponder a little about my future, by and large I managed to spend the month not worrying about a new job, which was a satisfying accomplishment.

But time has come to turn my attention to the question everyone seemed eager to ask me upon learning I had left BCcampus – “So, what’s next?” Because while this change was a long time coming, I must admit I am without a specific plan (this is the 3rd time I’ve left a position not knowing exactly what was next and so far it’s worked out well – let’s hope the streak holds!)

Blue Skies

I’ve got a number of ideas for ventures, both for profit and non-commercial, that I am exploring, but I will leave those aside for the moment. While I do plan to write about them at some point, I need more time to get parts of them in motion. For now I’ll focus on what to me would be “blue sky” projects/positions I’d love to have a go at in the space I’ve been focused on for the last 20 years, which broadly speaking has been post-secondary education, educational technology and knowledge management. I’ve grouped these into 3 rough themes, “Teaching,” “The Networked University,” and “21st Century Literacies.”


I have had the great fortune to teach in the past, but it’s been too long, and I miss it. In the past the teaching I did was often focused on technology training. I still have a lot to give in that area and would embrace any position that allowed for it, but I also hope to “move up the stack” a bit, as it were, to focus on some issues above the basic use of tools.

There are two “courses” which I am working on outlines and readings for which I would be incredibly excited to teach, because I think both of them have the potential to expose learners to ideas they are not currently encountering and I have yet to see many examples of them out there in the wild.

Network Thinking

The first I am calling “Network Thinking.” Far from being a technical course, it is instead aimed at people from pretty much any discipline other than computing (& sociology) and is an effort to help people understand the magnitude (and type) of changes that occur when the network comes-a-calling in their field. Whether it be in education, medicine, government, businesses of many types, etc, I believe we are still at the point of trying to fit networks into old conceptual models, and in so doing are misunderstanding the size of the disruption they represent, and also misunderstanding their strengths and weaknesses. I do think each specific discipline and sector has differences, ones I wouldn’t want to elide, and hopefully we will see more and more domain specific courses and curriculum addressing these issues. But for now it feels like there is some real potential here.

Philosophy for Programmers

The second one I am calling “Philosophy for Programmers” and while it IS aimed at technical people, it is not at all meant to be a technology course. Developers make all sorts of choices that have deeply interesting philosophical implications (and heritages) when they create applications, and this course would start to explore the background of some of these choices, and possibly other ways to address them. To take but one example – what are the implications to inclusion and exclusion of modelling users via “personas”?  The idea is simply to help technical people become more aware of the implications of the choices they make in how the technology will then shape what it means to be human. The hope is that it will help influence developers to be more reflective and less reductive in the choices they make.

In both these cases I’ve started to collect readings and create outlines (though neither feel like they are quite “ready to go.”) In addition to these, there are many other areas which I know I have the experience and expertise to teach:

  • open education / open textbooks
  • copyright / intellectual property
  • assessing open source maturity
  • evaluating technologies
  • emerging technologies and their impact on education
  • personal learning networks / network learning
  • loosely coupled teaching and learning
  • interoperability in ed tech
  • learning content management strategies and technologies

The Networked University

In an effort to stimulate some employment leads I’m putting the cart a little before the horse here, as my next major series of posts will explore the idea of the Networked University and what it means to create “semipermeable membranes” as a response to the permeating flows of the network. So you’ll have to wait a bit for the full explanation of why I think the following projects and approaches represent an important part of the future (though if you are a regular reader of this blog the reasons are likely already well understood.)

University as hackerspace / libraries and makerspaces

I certainly can claim no ownership of this idea as there are now some great examples out there – Joss Winn wrote an early piece that inspires me; one of my nominations for Open Ed 2012 keynotes was Beth Kolko of the University of Washington for her pioneering work on Hackademia; there’s a blog dedicated to all things Maker and Librarian; and even my local university, UVic, has started a Maker Lab in the Humanities.  This is a trend I hope we will see more of and I would love to be involved with – not only do I think it represents a new turn, as I’ll describe more in my upcoming series I think innovations like this have a real chance of bridging silos, be they between disciplines, experts and “non-experts,” or “town and gown” that will be crucial for institutions remaining relevant to their local communities.

Reputation systems in higher ed; badges, credentialing, formal and informal education

Another area which is already well underway, though I don’t know the extent to higher ed is actually exploring it versus simply resting on their existing credential models. That said, I think they need to, both for the opportunity it represents (to acknowledge prior learning, convert informal credits to formal ones, etc) and for the threat (of people by-passing the increasingly expensive formal option by building up portfolio-based online reputations. The fear I have though is that this isn’t particularly a technology or pedagogy problem but one of business models, and I’m not sure the “owner” of this process (the registrar’s office and others) necessarily see the threat or will be able to adapt to meet the potential.

Interweaving institutional resources and open network learning – wikipedia/library mashup service

For those regular readers, this theme will be familiar – that rather than treat it as the enemy, we should start to envision ways in which students’ searching wikipedia can become a gateway to more scholarly resources.  The first reference I can find in my blog to some of  the underlying ideas was in 2006, which I expanded on in my 2007 Open Ed demonstrator, and more specifically in this 2010 post on annotating wikipedia with OPAC resources. It wasn’t until a conversation with Joel Duffin from Open Tapestry at Open Ed 2010 that they way to implement this at scale for an institution became clear – via proxies and page re-writing. Put simply – I know we can build a system (and hope to demo a prototype soon) that will dynamically annotate any wikipedia page with links into an institutions library catalog to books and articles on that topic. This is but one way in which we can bring our institutions resource back to the forefront for students, and the converse is also true – that we can highlight scholarly resources and educational materials, on the fly, to learners outside the institution with little effort.

21st Century Literacies

Finally, in terms of “blue sky” work, there are (at least) two sets of literacies (and skills) I would love the chance to work on

Expanding digital literacies

Even if we were to just stick with the current list of digital literacies that have been proposed over the last few years, we have more than enough work helping learners, at all levels, improve on these. But as I’ll argue in an upcoming post (tentatively titled “What the digital literacy crowd can learn from makers and pirates”) we don’t go nearly far enough in helping learners cope with the onslaught of technologies (and their accompanying social issues) they face.

Mindfulness in education

This is a topic dear to my heart. I have absolutely no idea how I might get involved with this, yet deep down feel that if there is one change I could help bring about in the world that could make the most difference, it would be to work on getting mindfulness practices (completely agnostic mind you, and very much scientifically grounded) into schools, especially the K-12 system where I think it has the most chance to have a profound effect, but even in higher ed, where it has lots of affinity with study skills and learner success. I only came to serious mindfulness practice myself in the last 5 years, and I WISH someone had encouraged me along this path when I was much younger. Especially in our increasingly distracted, hyper-rational and technologized world, there has never been a more important time to help develop mindfulness.


If any of these resonate with you, if you can see ways in which they might benefit your institution (or indeed ways to move them forward outside of conventional institutions) I would love to hear from you.


What I know I can already do

Still, it’s not always “blue sky.” In addition to the above, there are a whole lot of things I know I can do (and like to do) because I’ve done them before and done them well. You can see my resume for the full blow by blow, but here’s a highlight of the areas of expertise, competencies and technical skills I bring to my work:

Areas of Expertise
Core Competencies
Technical Skills
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Copyright and Open Licensing
  • Open Textbooks
  • Open Strategy
  • Educational Technology tools & architectures
  • Learning Content Management strategies & technologies
  • Personal Learning Networks & loosely coupled teaching
  • Knowledge Management tools & strategies
  • New models of network learning & collaboration
  • Emerging technology & software maturity models
  • Sustainable and Appropriate Technology and Computing
  • Project Management
  • Software assessment
  • Business Modelling, Systems Analysis & requirements gathering
  • Public Speaking
  • Writing
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Critical & analytical thinking
  • Facilitating large scale decision making processes
  • Integration & synthesis of multiple complex inputs
  • Innovating
  • Web Development (HTML5/CSS/Javascript)
  • PHP / MySQL
  • XML / XSLT
  • Application deployment & administration on a wide variety of platforms including
    • WordPress
    • Drupal
    • Mediawiki
    • Moodle
    • Equella
  • Linux
  • Apache

If you think there’s a way my expertise and skills can server a need your organization has, I would love to hear from you so please feel free to contact me, either via this form or at And if you got all the way to the end of this post – thanks! – SWL

Important Article on Free Culture and Sexism

I noted this on twitter this morning but it felt important enough to flag it here too. This is a good (though not great) article on an important issue – the fact that “despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is skewed.”

I don’t doubt on an empirical basis that the author’s statement is accurate, that even compared to the gender balance in technical fields in general, free culture has a gender imbalance. The author identifies 3 potential causes:

(a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing;

(b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people; and,

(c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.

I’m not particularly sure what to say about (a) other than it seems true. Both (b) and (c) resonate with me because I have been on both ends of these (and they are not always just about gender; “difficult people” and the ideology of freedom and openness can end up marginalizing people for non-gender reasons to. This is something I have been wrestling with for years under the term “the welcoming heart”, cf

Yet both (b) and (c) strike me as issues that can (slowly) be addressed. What I often struggle with though (and this is what I kept tripping up in a session with the HASTAC folks at Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival in 2010, where I WAS that ‘difficult person,’ something I wrote about in “Free & Learning in Barcelona“) is the extent to which one can expand inclusivity and address this problem through structural changes (be they in software, process, governance, policies, etc) versus the extent to which this is a question of consciousness raising and behaviour change that individuals need to engage in.

I don’t mean to set these up as binary choices (though I realize I just have) as clearly to me both are need, and can, happen together. And maybe that is indeed the answer; that each person who can see the issue starts to do their bit, at the level they are able to act at, be it by speaking up, changing their own behaviour, changing a policy, writing code that helps surface the issue, etc., which then help set up virtuous cycles that slowly start to shift this (having just finished Douglas Hofstadter’s “I am a Strange Loop” I am having a hard time not seeing everything in terms of loops now ;-). Does that seem right to you?

Like I keep telling you – I’m a SLOW learner (but have patience, I too may get there some day.) – SWL

New Home for PLE Diagrams

I am in the midst of writing a rather long post reflecting on what the collection of PLE diagrams I started back in 2008 can tell us about both PLEs and how people conceptualize them.

But as I started it, I realized that looking at the diagrams on the wiki page was a bit frustrating, as there was no simple way to tag them and categorize them. So this weekend I experimented with moving the collection into an actual image gallery database. You can see it at

I would love some feedback from you all – is this a better solution than the original wikispaces page? Worse? I tried to preserve the ability for people to upload their own diagrams to the server, and this new solution also adds the ability to tag the images and leave comments on them. Please do tell me what you think in the comments below.

I will leave both up for a while and if I decide to move this permanently to this new gallery site will redirect traffic from the old wikispace here.

All I want for Christmas…

UPDATE – on December 21st, 2012 it was announced that had preserved all of these texts. Read more here.


…is for you to buy a single Flatworld Knowledge textbook, before December 31. And then share it with the rest of the world.

About a month ago news made the rounds that as of January 1st 2013, Flatworld Knowlege had decided to remove free access from their “open” textbooks. This was accompanied by much gnashing of teeth and raising of fists at how FWK had played fast and loose with either the terms “open” or “free” in the past. All of which I agree with.

But then…nothing. As if we were helpless in the face of someone diminishing the Commons. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening. All of FWK’s books are currently published on their site under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. This means that, even with the restrictions, both legal and technical, that they imposed, these books were in the Creative Commons. But because of the technical restrictions FWK placed on the books (they are not at public URLs but behind logins; the content is not easily copyable unless you pay for it) after the gate comes down on December 31 and the licenses removed (because surely they will) unless copies of them are made outside of these walls, they will have effectively been removed from the Commons.

My own efforts to date have been to port web-native versions of 4 books onto the Pressbooks platform (to be clear, this was done ENTIRELY outside of my previous role at BCcampus and on my own pressbooks sites.) They have not gone live yet because one of the things needed for pressbooks to really cook as an open textbook platform is custom book styles and a CSS-driven print engine, which will allow these ported books to come really close to their original.The nice thing about this is that I did this for free (with the exception of the time I volunteered.) I used the free web versions and some handy harvesting tricks (which I’m happy to share) to get the web content off their servers and onto another.

But sadly, time is running out. There are only 17 days before this content becomes lost to the Commons. Thus I urge you to purchase one copy of any of the textbooks on their server and then share it. Sadly, you’ll need to buy the $34.95 version to get the downloadable PDF. The cheaper version is still just the web version which would still need to be harvested.

Buy the one you think is the best or will serve students the most. Or coordinate with others – I have created a sheet of all the FWK textbooks and their status in being placed back in the commons. If you do buy a copy, place a note here (anonymously if you like) that you have. Ideally between all of us, we can cover as much of the catalogue as possible. Also note I am perfectly happy to act as the host for your copy if that is something you feel uncomfortable doing. Email/tweet/comment to me if you want to take up this option.


But why you ask? Don’t the licenses themselves mean that schools who charge tuition will not be able to have their students use this free copies?

Firstly, following David Wiley’s argument, I too feel this is non-sense. Paying tuition is NOT the same as charging for a book, and so it is entirely possible that these can still be used at NO cost by students in formal courses.In addition, unless we actually have opportunities to challenge that FUD, we won’t know if it’s true or not, and keeping these books in the Commons preserves this opportunity.

But on top of that, the whole point (in my eyes) of “open education” is that it is not just about formal learning or formal learners – there is a world of people without access to formal learning opportunities who can still benefit from the Commons.

The other argument I know is “yeah, but if we just download PDFs, all we’re doing is adding static content to the Commons – how un-exciting/un-pedagogically sound is that?” To which I’d say three things

  • PDFs don’t always have to stay PDFs – as I plan to write on in an upcoming piece, being able to decompose or shift previously locked media formats is one of the new digital literacies I think we can learn from the Pirates (arrr!)
  • systems like Evident Point’s ActiveTextbook allow students and instructors to upload an existing PDF and then annotate, discuss and customize it in useful ways, meaning maybe PDFs aren’t the dead end they’ve always seemed like
  • we do the best with what we have – do you have a better idea?

This is not about punishing FlatWorld Knowledge. As cheesy as I think there decision is, it’s their right to make it. All I am trying to do is exercise the rights we currently have to preserve material already in the commons.

So what I’m asking for Christmas is for people in my network and those who care preserving the commons is to take this small step to do so.


Leaving BCcampus

Today was my last day with BCcampus. To some people this may seem like an abrupt ending, but to those who know me well, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been there for 8 years. Done a lot of stuff over the years, some of which even helped. Learned lots. But a change needed to happen, both for me, and for them. With #opened12 put to bed and Open Textbooks just starting to gear up, the timing was opportune.

For me, the change is more than just one of switching jobs, which is why I’m pleased for a few months respite, through the holiday season and into the new year, to help get my head right, get back on the mat sitting, back to writing, and get me focused a lot more intentionally on what I can give and how I can serve.

So after a little break, I look forward to exploring new ideas on here with you about what this can look like, for me, for you. For now, I’ll turn and face the strange

#OpenEd12 – It’s all over now

…well not quite for me. Reports still to write. Emails to send. Accounts to reconcile. Yada yada. Still, I wanted to get down a few reflections while it is fresh for me. I’m sad to say that, unsurprisingly, what stands out for me aren’t the formal sessions, as much effort as these take to organize, because as the organizer I barely got to attend any at all (I think 2 complete ones for the entire conference.) I am making my way slowly back through the archives to catch a few I knew I wanted to see, but what I want to reflect on are some of the things we tried to accomplish at #opened12 that I hope reflect a slightly innovative attitude.

Radio Libre audio-casts

In 2009 we video-cast all of the sessions using tech we rented and a team of UBC volunteers. It went over well, but ultimately cost around $6000 all in. In the interim, the living experiment that is #ds106 had taken off, and so we decided to go back to the future and do audio-only broadcasts/recordings for all the breakout rooms. (We did professionally video the 3 keynotes at a cost of around $2500.)

A ragtag band of #ds106-heads, led by mad genius Grant “Dr. Funkenstein” Potter, were able to stream all of the sessions using only iPhones, the Papaya icecast client, and some server wizardry I will not attempt to explain (but which Grant mentioned was donated because of his ongoing beta-testing relationship with the developers.)

We’re still in the midst of getting all of the archived audio onto the conference site (soon, right Grant?) but what I am so proud about is not only that we did this on a relative shoestring, but that it was a bunch of volunteers embodying a DIY ethos I was hoping could infuse this conference (and indeed “open ed” as a whole.)

The Unconference Room / Vancouver Hack Space demos

Keeping with that DIY spirit, we wanted to try once again to get an unconference space happening. We had tried in 2009 but with what felt like only a modicum of success. This years’ felt much more successful, partly because it gave a physical space to those who had pitched Remixathon sessions, but mainly, in my experience, because of the anchor tenants, a bunch of gifted volunteers from the Vancouver Hack Space. They came with a bunch of engaging hands-on projects for people to try (hopefully you got a chance to build a circuit!) but also a really enlightened and deep educational philosophy, won not through years of graduate studies in education but by running a grassroots, working hackspace. (I shouldn’t sell them short though – all three of the guys I talked to also had lots of formal education experience as both learners and teachers.) Indeed, the most valuable conversations I had personally at the conference were with this bunch, as we discussed various ways to inter-twingle the formal and informal worlds of learning without lessening the powers of either. For a small sample of these rich conversations, check out Grant’s interview with the VHS guys, where they discuss key lessons they’ve learned setting up a hackspace (and which seem imminently applicable to other communities trying to form.)

The Remixathon

The remixathon was an odd duck, yet I think it proved a success despite not reaching its original aim. The initial thought was to have folks submit content and run a contest during the conference for the best remix. We did get a bunch of submissions, ran an initial (spottily attended) virtual kickoff, and distributed the content via the USB keys we gave away as conference schwag. And then…nothing happened. Except, that’s wrong. Lots of things happened, just not what we expected. A number of the submissions to the remixathon were workshop oriented – the Communicate OER folks came out in force to help people learn to edit wikipedia articles, Chris Pegler from the OU workshopped her survey materials, and the Connexions/OERPub folks did extensive usability testing on their new OER Editor. So far from being a flop, the “remixathon” transformed into a series of lightweight, hands-on workshops. I heard from a number of folks that they appreciated this, and I hope next years’ organizers might consider a similar track but formally recognizing the importance of getting “hands on.”

The #opened12 #jamcamp

When we initially met in January as a team to start planning #opened12, the idea of doing a cruise for the social event erupted spontaneously from at least 2 or 3 of the meeting attendees, and was quickly met with consensus – many of us choose to live on the West Coast of Canada because of its natural beauty, and there’s no better way to show it off than by sea. It was nary a hop-skip-and-a-jump from there to “well how about we do a jam on the boat?”

I don’t get to take any credit for what happened next – that all goes to Grant Potter and Jason Toal, band managers and roadies extraordinaire. And of course, the band, made up of one conference “Godfather,” two keynotes, and a whole lot of other talented players. And of course, all of the attendees, who instead of doing a famous No-Fun City Shoegaze got their boogie on (and likely could have gone on for hours – sorry we had to dock folks!)

So What?

This would all sound like so much self-congratulatory back-slapping except – I really didn’t do any of this stuff. What I’m so proud about is that people came together, worked as a team, participated, had fun, engaged. I had this big grin on my face the entire conference NOT because I felt self-satisified, but because I was overcome with joy at all of the connections and conversations I was seeing unfold in front of me, some between people I truly love, others between people I don’t even know.

It did take a lot of effort, and I appreciate all the kudos from folks. But that wasn’t the point in writing this post. The reason I put so much effort into this is because I cared about it; cared about doing a good job for David and Brian, both of whom I feel I owe a great deal, and cared about trying to do something even a slight bit different. And trust me, this wasn’t even a 1/4 of what Brian and I have cooked up over the years of brainstorming what our perfect event might look like (you’re lucky, we couldn’t get permits for half of it!)

So now it’s all over ‘cept the crying. I am left trying to figure out what’s next. I know I can’t live at a fevered pitch 100% of the time, but neither can I punch a clock. Over the next few months I hope to explore in more depth how these little things we tried might look when enacted not in a conference but as a reimagining of the spaces of school/work/play,of  the formal and the informal, of the organizational and the networked, and the local and the global in which I hope to play.

But for now, as The Lizard King once sang “When the music’s over, turn out the lights”

Automagic Map of #opened12 Attendees

As registration filled up for OpenEd 2012, I began to wonder where people were coming from, and what kind of representation we were getting across the globe.

Step 1 – Geocoding the Attending Organizations

When people registered, we did not collect physical address info, just names, email addresses and organization names. Still, I thought, that has to be enough, right?

I knew that using a query like would return CSV values for that location, yet I couldn’t think of a simple way to turn an entire list of organization names into a map (this was one of those “I’m bored in this meeting and want to do something in 5 minutes” exercises.)

Enter the network to the rescue, mainly in the form of Tony Hirst (who I knew would know the answer) and Alec Couros. Tony pointed me to a post he had written earlier this year that highlighted the Google doc function =ImportData. By using that function and concatenating the Google Maps API query string with the placename/organization name I already had, it really was simple to get all of the organizations geocoded to then place them on a map.

Two caveats

  1. Google spreadsheets limit the use of the =ImportData function to 50 times per workbook, not sheet, so with around 170 distinct names to geocode, there was a bit of futzing around to put these in different workbooks, run the function, then copy/paste the resulting geocodes into a master sheet.
  2. Automatic geocoding based on organization is not an exact science – using the names exactly as entered in the registration forms did result in 140 good addresses out of 170, but the rest either returned no results, or else in a few cases bad results – BCcampus, the organization I work for, was placed somewhere in the Straights of Tawain! Still, that’s about an 82% success rate with no effort, and the resulting ones were easily fixed by replacing the org name with either a city name or specific address.

Step 2 – Mapping these coordinates

Once you have the resulting sheet of organization names and longitude & latitude data from the first step, the next step is fairly easy. I had stumbled upon Google Fusion Tables myself, an experimental feature aimed at combining datasets and visualizing them in new ways.  Tony mentioned these would handle my data automatically, and sure enough it did, importing the existing Google spreadsheet with one click, and with another turning it into a map.

But I actually ended up going with another approach suggested by Alec Couros, MapAList. MapAList is a 3rd party service that also works off of Google documents, and a simple wizard allows you to select your spreadsheet, worksheet and values you want to map and generates a map along with nice html embed code to use. I think either way works fine, I just ended up liking this one as Fusion’s URLs confused me and I ended up sharing one on twitter that pointed to the unvisualized data.

Below is the resulting map. The big learning here for me – the power of the =ImportData function. Without something like this, you end up having to write some code (not complicated code, but code nonetheless) that steps through your list, generates a http request for each one to the API end point, receives the resulting response, parses the response and compiles the outputs into some format you can use. This is not a super complicated program, but 95% of end users aren’t going to do this. But the above approach seems really feasible, and given the availability of HTTP based APIs that return CSV or JSON, opens up a huge realm of data to non-programmers who can still handle a spreadsheet (which, as you’ll recall, was the home computer’s first killer app.) – SWL

Ed Tech Reading Group?

I’m just finishing up Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants” (I highly recommend it!) which led me to ask on twitter if anyone else who had read it wanted to connect to discuss it.

"The Kids Reading Together" - CC Attribution Share Alike Some rights reserved by Valerie Everett I didn’t get much of a response but I’m not giving up, and I thought I’d float the idea of a semi-formal “reading group” here to see if I got any takers. I know this seems pretty old school, and certainly if it was just a question of finding anyone else in the world who had read a book I’d just finished that would be simple to do, but context matters. Even if the reading group ended up being comprised of myself and one other person with some shared context, that would be a great step forward from reading some of these books on my own.

And while I called it an “ed tech” reading group in the title, I mean this in a VERY broad sense. My personal practice as an educational technologist is informed by many different perspectives – critical theories of technology, cognitive science, non-dualism and integral studies, emergence and the new science, and various approaches to critical pedagogy too. Part of the fun of forming a group like this is figuring out what to read together – those lists are by no means the only things I am interested in reading with others, but if you see something in one of them you are interested in tackling, let me know.

I don’t read very quickly these days. Or rather – I read so many different things at once that I don’t end up finishing them very quickly. Partly I’m hoping that doing readings as a group can help a bit with this, but I’m also no reading group fascist – we’re all working adults with lots of responsibilities, but if you find that reading, especially in topics slightly outside your field, helps inform your practice, then I’d love to head from you. I don’t have any firm idea on what form this group might take – a couple of google hangout chats? A group blog? We won’t know until we start. Drop me a line, either email or preferably in the comments below, if this seems like it might be of interest. – SWL