DEDTECH: GMU’s Nada Dabbagh on Integrating PLEs into a Graduate Seminar


In this video I sat down with George Mason University professor Nada Dabbagh to discuss her vision for integrating personal learning environments into her graduate seminar EDIT 802: Cognition and Technology. Nada is having the students in this course setup a domain and web hosting so that they can manage and control their own learning space and more. In this video we spend some time talking about her reasons for having them create their own learning environements that they control is important.

After that, we jump into the actual environement her students will be working within to provide them with an overview of cPanel, the web hosting management space they will be using. From there we discuss the difference between using subdirectories versus subdomains for installing open source applications like WordPress, as well as the importance of keeping track of all the passwords for the wide array of applications they will be managing.

This video is not only a resource for Nada’s students, but also frames out some good questions around what a domain and web hosting are, as well as providing some metaphors to help you conceptualize the difference. Additionally, the video works through the idea of giving a complete beginner a sense of how this space might be useful as a teaching and learning tool.

What I love about this video, as well as the Howard Rheingold series I have been working on, is that faculty are willing to broadly share their thinking around how the building the technical environment for their course informs the pedgogy, and vice versa. These are some early experiments in what I hope becomes a more extensive series of talking with faculty and technologits about the process they go through when imagining a course. It would be cool to start getting down a format wherein we can talk with particular educators and technologists about nhow they approaches a particular class and why. Such stuff might be pretty useful for other instructors and technologists who want to get a sense of how the process of designing and customizing learning spaces beyond the LMS works.

Building with Howard: Creating an Open Source Learning Environment Pt 3

This is part 3 of a series Howard Rheingold and I have been working on to demonstrate out the open how to create a learning environment using open source tools like WordPress, MediaWiki, and more. go here for all the videos so far. The idea behind this series is to get faculty and students interested in how they might fashion their own learning environments in a web hosting environment using their own domains. The first fifteen minutes of this video focuses on Howard’s approach to assessment in his Social Media Issues course, which will be experimenting with contract grading. From there we explored a few things in regards to the open source framework we are building.

  • Finding and installing WordPress themes
  • Integrating signins between WordPress and MediaWiki
  • Just how clunky MediaWiki still is after all these years
  • Customizing menus in WordPress
  • Uploading header images and changing the background color in WordPress Themes

The point about how clunky MediaWiki remaisn was the source of a broader mini-rant about how long we have been using these tools, but how difficult some absic things remains. Integrating signups between MediaWiki and WordPress is still a major pain in the ass six years on—the WPAUTH extension for MediaWiki that I’ve been using since 2007 remains the gold standard. Also, to change the logo in my MediaWiki install I need to FTP in and change code in localsettings.php file—WTF?!

I truly would like to see a robust platform like MediaWiki become a lot more ubiquitous in the teaching and learning space, but an application that makes simple administrative necessities that difficult will not be an options for your average user. Also, why haven’t we made some of this stuff easier? And this goes for syndication as well. My thoery is because we’ve wasted too much time chasing the next platform that will sovle our problems and finally truly disrupt education—in other words,  most technologists are fools and zombies.

Building with Howard: Creating an Open Source Learning Environment Pt 2

This is part two of a series Howard Rheingold and I are working on wherein we’re openly building the framework for his Social Media Issues course using a variety of open source tools, plugins, themes, extensions, etc. This is really a blast for me because I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of a one-off open source learning environment like this since 2007 or 2008 (although ds106 was exactly this in 2011, but I gotta a lot of help). I’m really loving the work with Howard to build out his course site, and once again explore for myself what’s possible with tools like WordPress and MediaWiki. In fact, the whole idea around ds106, Domain of One’s Own, Reclaim Hosting, etc., is that you dig into stuff like this and have a community of support to help you. A huge reason why folks wouldn’t even consider this option is that it’s way too onerous to do alone, but we may just solve that by working on this stuff as a community. Open and distributed edtech—you have a problem, we can help you fix it! We’re DEDtech! Anyway, that’s the dream.

As for this episode, Howard and I spent some time in the beginning on the WHYs. Why have your students blog openly? Why have them take control of their digital domain? Why build these aggregated spaces? What has been the biggest treat about pairing up with Howard is that he makes me explain some of the assumptions I’ve been carrying around for years. I’ve been pushing syndication of student blogs into course hubs at UMW for six or seven years now. We’ve been using the FeedWordPress plugin for five or six of them. This stuff is like water to us, and while others might be waking up to it recently—it’s been part of our edtech DNA at UMW for a while. So having Howard have me try and actually explain why a faculty member might want to do this is awesome. What’s more, as we go through these sessions it’s a real conversation between two people who are negotiating what the course framework might look like. The coolest part is we’re sharing it in hopes that others get some ideas, frame their own questions, and potentially work through a similar model. I feel like I am doing the best kind of instructional technology again: exploratory, customized frameworks that scale to the size of a single professor—a hub that reflects the personality of a course, but refuses to subsume the students within it. This is the kind of instructional technology that truly rocks—LMSs still suck!

After the WHYs, we covered a few customizations to his WordPress hub such as adding a widget for the Twitter conversation around his #comm182 course hashtag. Thanks to Tim Owens, I recommended the native widget from Twitter that actually works well. Just go to Your Twitter settings–>widgets and you have all sorts of options.

Twitter Widget

After that we discussed how to create custom menus in WordPress to organize pages on the course hub. What’s more, the links option in custom menus is a very useful feature that I think a ton of faculty will find appealing for loosely integrating a range of external sites into one central hub. We flirted with the idea of themes, but we’ll be spending more time in the next episode—which is Tuesday, August 20th btw—talking about the myriad possibilities in that department. About half way through we installed a MediaWiki and went over the affordances of that technology. I particularly liked our discussion about wikis because we actually went back-and-forth about what he may or may not need. I don’t recommend MediaWiki lightly because it can be a real pain in the ass, at the same time it is powerful and every time I set one up for a class I see the immense possibilities all over again. That said, when I soon realize I have to edit a localsettings.php file to get a attractive icon for branding a new wiki some of that luster is lost. Truly a love hate relationship.

I’ve demonstrated some basic editing for MediaWiki that we have document for the course here, and I am working on a broader HowTo wiki page for this class that I’m expecting other folks who want to do a course like this might use, copy, or customize for their own course. I’ll be talking about integrating WordPress and MediaWiki more tightly in the next episode, as well as the possibilities with plugins like Wiki Embed—which I think is awesome. I also found this cool MediaWiki extension I hadn’t seen before that enables seamless Poem formatting, which is a complete nightmare in WordPress. Who knew? I’ll highlight all these MediaWiki extensions, integration, and WordPress themes and more in the next episode. Until then, stay syndicated baby!

Reclaim Hosting is Live

appboxLast October Tim Owens and I were coming back from a presentation about Domain of One’s Own at a symposium on digital publication, research, and writing at Emory University when we realized the work we’re framing out for Domain of One’s Own might have broader applications well beyond UMW. Yesterday Reclaim Hosting went live, and it’s exactly what Tim and I were talking about on that train ride back to Fredericksburg ten months ago. Reclaim Hosting affords teachers, faculty, students, and institutions all over the world the ability to quickly setup a domain and web hosting account within the context of a larger educational community. In fact, I think Audrey Watter’s reference to Domain of One’s Own as one of the edtech start-ups of 2012 was somewhat prescient and generative, because she helped us see that the work we’re doing has a broader field of influence then we first realized.

I’m really excited by the idea that a community of educators and students can start collaborating the possibilities of  managing and experimenting with an open source toolbox. In many ways, the series I am working on with Howard Rheingold right now is a sign of some of the larger possibilities for doing open, distributed edtech. That said, this could not have been done without the help of a number of people in the community who stepped up and loaned us the money to cover the domain costs as we get started. The number of people that expressed interest in Reclaim Hosting was daunting, and we needed to be sure we could cover the demand.

In particular, Mike Caulfield loaned us the lion’s share of the money so far to cover the upfront costs of domains as we get started, without him we couldn’t open this as quickly as we have. But Mike was not alone in his faith in this project, we’ve raised over $12,000 thanks to Paul Bond,  Boone Gorges, Brian Lamb, Jeff McCLurkenMariana Funes, John Maxwell, Grant Potter, Jess Rigelhaupt, Jonathan Worth, and Christina Hendricks. You all rule! If this craziness works you get free hosting #4life :) Also, if you are reading this and can spare to loan us a few bucks sometime over the next week or two we would be much obliged. Now, let’s get this learning party started!

 

Building with Howard: Creating a Learning Environment with Open Source Tools Pt 1

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Howard Rheingold—at least virtually—and go through the process of setting up a course hub using WordPress. The above video is the first part of a series in which we will work through building a learning environment using open source tools on a LAMP environment. This video focused on creating the central hub for Howard’s course Social Media Issues that he’ll be teaching this fall.  O ver the course of the conversation Howard and I covered how to 1) install WordPress using on your web server, 2) post content, 3) search, add, and activate plugins (in this case FeedWordPress), 4) add widgets, and 5) change the theme.

Howard’s interested in creating a dynamic course environment wherein students can establish and control their own online presence and have their work syndicated into a central course hub (not unlike the environments Alan Levine has been building recently for universities like Harvard ). By installing and activating the FeedWordPress plugin, we effectively enable the ability to add the URL of students’ sites (assuming they have an RSS feed) so that their posts can be fed into a central aggregation point for the class to view and comment upon each others work.

What’s more, this WordPress hub will have a series of pages that contain various information about the class, such as an about page, a  syllabus page, an FAQ, etc. It can include or link to social media conversations happening on the open web. For examples, you can embed a conversation from Twitter happening around a hashtag into the sidebar link out to class Tumblr, etc.

At the same time, the WordPress blog hub is just one facet of the course. We’ll be doing another episode tomorrow afternoon in which we plan on covering a few more of the affordances of  the hub and then moving on to integrating a wiki into the course environment. We’ll be demonstrating the open source application MediaWiki (which powers Wikipedia), and I imagine we’ll have a full session given it can be a lot more painstaking that WordPress.

I’m excited about this video series because it really brings me back to instructional technology work I was doing  in earnest at UMW back in 2006 and 2007. We were experimenting wildly with open source tools to see what kind of environments we could create for the campus community. This experimentation ultimately led to UMW Blogs and then ds106, and while these examples forced UMW to starting wrestling with questions of scale, the fact remains just about anyone can access and start experimenting with a wide array of web applications for the price of lunch.

I love that Howard is ready and willing to sit down and think through his course with me over the next couple of weeks.  This is distributed edtech at its very best, and hopefully sharing the process of building this course site will both inspire and help others to experiment as well.

We’re Live!

Over the past few weeks we've seen an outpouring of support and interest in Reclaim Hosting. We're excited to finally launch and announce that signups are open. If you are running a course that would benefit from having your students get a domain of their own and web hosting, point them to http://reclaimhosting.com to sign up. If you wish to cover the fee for students you register for an account here and submit a support ticket to us with the number of domains you will need and we'll be happy to generate an invoice for you. 

In addition to launching Reclaim Hosting we want to focus the next few months not only on building a great system to provide educators and students with web hosting, but also on building a community of people in the field who are doing this. We can all learn from each other and support each other in this exciting adventure. To that end we have build the Reclaim Hosting community, a forum where you can get advice and help, offer tips and tricks, and post about pretty much anything you're doing with Reclaim Hosting. Be sure to also follow the hashtag #reclaim on Twitter, and we'll be publishing weekly videos and screencasts to help the community further. We're also continually building out the Knowledgebase and if you're written a tutorial for your class feel free to share it with the community and we'll add it there! 

This is by far the most exciting thing we've ever done and we're stoked you want to be a part of it. Let's make the myths together.

Jim Groom and Tim Owens

Reclaim Hosting has a new branding logo

Thanks to Michael Branson Smith, my partner Tim Owens and I  are really sharpening our brand appeal over at Reclaim Hosting.  I think this venture is gonna work! That said, we still need your money (it’s just a short-term loan!) to fund this project! Come on, don’t some rich folks out there wanna help us get this thing off the ground so we can get One Domain per Child (ODPC) off the ground?