Archiving ds106 docs

Part of moving ds106 to a new server is making sure you don’t leave a trail of dead links in your wake. With great classes come great responsibility 🙂 I think I have the caching issues and some of the kinks worked out after the move, but one think I did want to make sure wasn’t lost in the move was the ds106 wiki, also known as ds106 docs. It was used through 2014, and while it wasn’t a huge part of the class design, for quite a while we used it to for  tech tutorials, syllabi, and other assorted resources. For example, I forgot about the detailed tutorial I created for an animated series of Dead Zone trading cards:

Or the equally detailed Creating Animated GIFs with MPEG Streamclip and GIMP tutorial.

I understand these resources are not all that useful anymore, but the internet preservationist in me wants them to live on. There are other resources such as various syllabi for classes over the years, such for Alan Levine‘s and Martha Burtis‘s Camp Magic MacGuffin syllabus from Summer 2012, or the syllabus for the ds106 Zone in the Summer of 2013. What I noticed going through my early syllabi for ds106 is they were all the same, they just started riffing on a different theme as the years went by, but the core remained. And while that seems logical, I really didn’t remember simply copying and pasting the basics and then building the theme and the prompts of the class on the blog and through the assignments. So, all this to say keeping the wiki was part of the deal of moving the site off shared hosting.

One thing you realize when moving sites is the value of using subdomains versus subdirectories, let me explain. The MediaWiki instance was installed at ds106.us/wiki rather than wiki.ds106.us. That might have had more to do with the WordPress Multisite being subdomains and my not knowing how to resolve redirects, but if the wiki was installed in a subdomain it would still be live right now (which is probably a bad idea regardless). But given I moved everything in ds106.us and the wildcard subdomains to the Reclaim Cloud, I would not be able to run MediaWiki within a subdirectory of ds106. Whereas subdomain can always be pointed elsewhere, subdirectories lock you into the server you are pointing the root domain to.

So, realizing this I need to a) get the wiki up and running temporarily so that I could then use Site Sucker to get a full HTML-based file backup of the site. This is great for archiving and also ensures that the wiki will not go down as application versions change, modules break, or spammers find a way in.* As you can se from the Site Sucker screenshot above, there are files both in ds106.us/docs and ds106.us/wiki because we used the article path function in MediaWiki to have all articles resolves as ds106.us/docs as opposed to ds106.us/wiki, which explains why the root ds106.us folder has both /docs and /wiki and both have part of the HTML archived files.

Another thing I did before archiving the MediaWiki instance (which I also have a full backup of) was update it from 1.19.xx to 1.33.xx. I had to replace the MonoBook theme, turn off the locked-out module, and adjust some other errors as a result of the update, but I was happy and relieved that it worked after a couple of hours and MediaWiki was now running a supported version on PHP 7.3 no less. Part of me still loves the promise and possibility of MediaWiki, but after wrangling with the documentation and the code it was a good reminder why it was never sustainable-the interface and editing was never made any easier and versioning issues made long-term maintenance onerous.

And with that, I think the future-proofing of the ds106 infrastructure and trying to ensure there remains some link integrity is in pretty good shape. I’ll do another pass this weekend, and then terminate the shared hosting instance, and commit to the cloud!

________________________________________________

*While I was at it I took a flat-file back-up of all of ds106.us and got a database and file dump (as well as a full cPanel backup file) that currently live in DropBox. So, this is a note-to-self that I do have a full snapshot of the site from June 2020 when I go searching for it in the future.

Migrating ds106 to the Reclaim Cloud

If the migration of bavatuesdays was a relatively simple move to Reclaim Cloud, doing the same for ds106 was anything but. Five days after starting the move I finally was successful, but not before a visceral sense of anguish consumed my entire week. Obsession is not healthy, and at least half the pain was my own damn fault. If I would have taken the time to read Mika Epstein’s 2012 meticulous post about moving a pre-3.5 version of WordPress Multisite from blogs.dir to uploads/sites in its entirety, none of this would have ever happened.

I started the migration on Tuesday of last week, and I got everything over pretty cleanly on the first try. At first glance everything was pretty much working so I was thrilled. I was even confident enough to point DNS away from the low-tenant shared hosting server it had been residing on.*

The question might be asked, why move the ds106 sites to Reclaim Cloud at all?  First off, I thought it would be a good test for seeing how the new environment handles a WordPress Cluster that is running multisite with subdomains. What’s more, I was interested in finding out during our Reclaim Cloud beta exactly how many resources are consumed and how often the site needs to scale to meet resource demands. Not only to do a little stress-testing on our one-click WordPress Cluster, but also try and get insight into costs and pricing. All that said, Tim did warn me that I was diving into the deep end of the cloud given the number of moving parts ds106 has, but when have I ever listened to reason?

Like I said, everything seemed smooth at first. All pages and images on ds106.us were loading as expected, I was just having issues getting local images to load on subdomain sites like http://assignments.ds106.us or http://tdc.ds106.us. I figured this would be an easy fix, and started playing with the NGINX configuration given from experience I knew this was most likely a WordPress Multisite re-direct issue. WordPress Multisite was merged into WordPress core in version 3.0, when this happened older WordPress Multi-user instances (like ds106) were working off legacy code, one of the biggest differences is where images were uploaded and how they were masked in the URL. In WPMU images for sub sites were uploaded to wp-content/blogs.dir/siteID/files, and using .htaccess rules were re-written to show the URL as http://ds106.us/files/image1.jpg. After WordPress 3.0 was released, all new WordPress Multisite instances (no longer was it called multi-user) would be uploaded to wp-content/uploads/sites/siteID, and they they no longer mask, effectively including the entire URL, namely http://ds106.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/siteID/image1.jpg.

So, that’s a little history to explain why I assumed it was an issue with the .htaccess rules masking the subdomain URLs. In fact, in the end I was right about that part at least. But given ds106.us was moving from an apache server-based stack to one running NGINX, I made another assumption that the issue was with the NGINX redirects—and that’s where I was wrong and lost a ton of time. On the bright side, I learned more than a little about the nginx.conf file, and let me take a moment to document some of that below for ds106 infrastructure posterity. So, the .htaccess file is what Apache uses to control re-directs, and the those look something like this for a WordPress Multisite instance before 3.4.2:

# BEGIN WordPress
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]

# uploaded files
RewriteRule ^files/(.+) wp-includes/ms-files.php?file=$1 [L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^ - [L]
RewriteRule . index.php [L]
# END WordPress

In WordPress 3.5 the ms-files.php function was deprecated, and this was my entire problem, or so I believe. Here is a copy of the .htaccess file for WordPress Multisite after version 3.5:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]

# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin
RewriteRule ^wp-admin$ wp-admin/ [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^ - [L]
RewriteRule ^(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $1 [L]
RewriteRule ^(.*\.php)$ $1 [L]
RewriteRule . index.php [L]

No reference to ms-files.php at all. But (here is where I got confused cause I do not have the same comfort level with nginx.conf as I do .htaccess) in the nginx.conf file on the Reclaim Cloud server there is a separate subdom.conf file that deals with these re-directs like so:

    #WPMU Files
        location ~ ^/files/(.*)$ {
                try_files /wp-content/blogs.dir/$blogid/$uri /wp-includes/ms-files.php?file=$1 ;
                access_log off; log_not_found off;      expires max;
        }

    #WPMU x-sendfile to avoid php readfile()
    location ^~ /blogs.dir {
        internal;
        alias /var/www/example.com/htdocs/wp-content/blogs.dir;
        access_log off;     log_not_found off;      expires max;
    }

    #add some rules for static content expiry-headers here
}

[See more on nginx.conf files for WordPress here).]

Notice the reference to WPMU in the comments, not WPMS. But I checked the ds106.us instance on the apache server it was being migrated from and this line existed:

RewriteRule ^files/(.+) wp-includes/ms-files.php?file=$1 [L]

So ds106 was still trying to use ms-files.php even though it was deprecated long ago. While this is very much a legacy issue that comes with having a relatively complex site online for over 10 years, I’m still stumped as to why the domain masking and redirects for images on the subdomain sites worked cleanly on the Apache server but broke on the NGINX server (any insight there would be greatly appreciated). Regardless, they did and everything I tried to do to fix it (and I tried pretty much everything) was to no avail.

I hit this post on Stack Exchange that was exactly my problem fairly early on in my searches, but avoided doing it right away given I figured moving all uploads for subdomain  sites out of blog.dir into uploads/sites would be a last resort. But alas 3 days and 4 separate migrations of ds106 later—I finally capitulated and realized that Mika Epstein’s brilliant guide was the only solution I could find to get this site moved and working. On the bright side, this change should help future-proof ds106.us for the next 10 years 🙂

I really don’t have much to add to Mika’s post, but I will make note of some of the specific settings and commands I used along the way as a reminder when in another 10 years I forget I even did this.

I’ll use Martha Burtis‘s May 2011 ds106 course (SiteID 3) as an example of a subdomain migrated to capture the commands.

The following command moves the files for site with ID 3 (may11.ds106.us) into its new location at uploads/sites/3

mv ~/wp-content/blogs.dir/3 ~/wp-content/uploads/sites/

This command takes all the year and month-based files in 3/files/* and moves them up one level, effectively getting rid of the files directory level:

mv ~/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/files/* ~/wp-content/uploads/sites/3

At this point we use the WP-CLI tool do a find and replace of the database for all URLs referring to may11.ds106.us/files and replace them with may11.ds106.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/3:

wp --network --allow-root search-replace 'may11.ds106.us/files' 'may11.ds106.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/3'

The you do this 8 or 9 more times for each subdomain, this would obviously be very , very painful and need to be scripted for a much bigger site with many 10s, 100s or 1000s of sub sites.†

To move over all the files and the database I had to run two commands. The first was to sync files with the new server:

rsync -avz root@ds106.oldserver.com:/home/ds106/public_html/ /data/ROOT/

Rsync is is the best command ever and moves GBs and GBS of data in minutes.

The second command was importing the database, which is 1.5 GBs! I exported the database locally, then zipped it up and uploaded it to the database cluster container and then unzipped it and ran the database import tool, which takes a bit of time:

mysql -u user_name -p database_name < SQL_file_to_import

After that, I had to turn off ms_files_rewriting, the culprit behind all my issues. That command was provided in Mika’s post linked to above:

INSERT INTO `my_database`.`wp_sitemeta` (`meta_id`, `site_id`, `meta_key`, `meta_value`) VALUES (NULL, '1', 'ms_files_rewriting', '0');

You also need to add the following line to wp-config.php:

define( 'UPLOADBLOGSDIR', 'wp-content/uploads/sites' );

The only other thing I did for safe-keeping was create a quick plugin function based on Mika’s stupid_ms_files_rewriting to force the re-writing for any stragglers to the new URL:

function stupid_ms_files_rewriting() {
$url = '/wp-content/uploads/sites/' . get_current_blog_id();
define( 'BLOGUPLOADDIR', $url );
}
add_action('init','stupid_ms_files_rewriting');

I put that in mu-plugins, and the migrated ds106.us multisite install worked! There was some elation and relief this past Saturday when it finally worked. I was struggle-bussing all week as a result of this failed migration, but I am happy to say the Reclaim Cloud environment was not the issue, rather legacy WordPress file re-writes seemed to be the root cause of my problems.

I did have to also update some hardcoded image URLs in the assignment bank theme , but that was easy. The only thing left to do now is fix the ds106 MediaWIki instance and write that to HTML so I can preserve some of the early syllabi and other assorted resources. It was a bit of a beast, but I am very happy to report that ds106 is now on the Reclaim Cloud and receiving all the resources it deserves on-demand 🙂


*VIP1 was the most recent in a series of temporary homes given how resource intensive the site can be given the syndication hub it has become.

†I did all these changes on the Apache live site before moving them over (take a database back-up if you are living on the edge like me), and then used the following tool to link all the

Be Kind, Reclaim

Meredith, Lauren, and I are gearing up for the OER19 conference in Galway in a couple of weeks, a trip we are all looking very much forward to. In fact, I have a post due quite soon for the OER19 blog, which will hopefully explain why Reclaim feels such a strong sense of kinship with the folks that run the OER conference.*  Anyway, part of what we will be doing this year, unlike last, is actually sponsoring the conference as Reclaim Hosting as opposed to one of out satellite outfits like Reclaim Video or Reclaim Arcade. This is something I did not think we would ever do, but again that is fodder for the other posts I still need to write … dammit!

Anyway, the point of this post is to quickly highlight one of the several bits we will have on display at OER19 that highlights, at least for me, that so much of the work we have done over the years is cumulative. Both Lauren and Meredith are ds106 alumni (not to mention Internet Course survivors—remember TIC104?), so when we started planning the one-page we get for the OER19 program, we approached it as a group project. The idea was to transition from last year’s full blown Reclaim Video performance to a VHS-inspired theme for Reclaim Hosting. So we came up with the idea of using the VHS shelf theme to highlight ideas/themes somehow related to Reclaim Hosting, however loosely.

And while Meredith went through all this in her awesome post and project (more on that at the end of this post), I can’t resist repeating it all here cause I love it so much. It was a fairly simply decision given the organizing image for the conference was a play on E.T. So we used that as our  central VHS tape:

And then riffed on a whole bunch of ideas, such as Tim being inspired by the horror stories from schools supporting WordPress’s transition to Gutenberg :

And by quite basic Rorschachean take on SPLOTs:

At this point there always has to be a ds106 reference, so I just stole Martha Burtis‘s Time cover surrounding the Cult of #4life and turned it into a documentary ?

Lauren’s Domains19 VHS cover was on point highlight Ryan Seslow’s awesome artwork for the conference:

And then we simply took the cover of a VHS tape we own DEVO: the Men Who Make the Music to subtly point to our server naming conventions. 

And then we included Michael Branson Smith‘s original VHS cover for the Domains: Your Digital Identity video we premiered at OER18 last year:

And playing on our blank tape splash page for new accounts, we have a blank VHS tape cover with your very own domain name:

All of which is tied together by Reclaim’s newest slogan: Be Kind, Reclaim —can ya dig it? I knew that ya could!

Now, while we had the poster printed and ready to go for the OER19 program:

Meredith, pulling on her impressive ds106 chops, went the extra mile and as you can see in all the individual VHS tapes above systematically animated each and every one. So the final project that we will be looping on a monitor at the conference in Galway will look a bit like this:

Amazing, no? That is Reclaim Hosting at its very best: playful, creative, and going above and beyond. I could not be more thrilled with our marketing campaign for OER19 because like our Reclaim Hosting in general, we know who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. #4life


*But as things go, I need to first write another post to make that post make any sense in my mind. I wish blogging were simpler for me these day .

Back in the Burg

I’ve been back in the Burg for the last 10 days working from Reclaim’s HQ on a range of stuff. As a result the bava has been a bit quiet given the push to get as much done as possible in a relatively short time frame. I’ve been able to get some of my stuff out of storage on the first day of my return, which has been on focus of the trip. I’ve been going through boxes of toys, books, movies, and more which is always a fun past time for me. I’m figuring out how to get my stuff overseas in the next month os so, but until then I am using CoWork’s unclaimed spaces as a temporary waylay station. 

This rip-up brought to you by Civic TV

Paint it Black

We have also been working quite diligently on making Reclaim Video a reality, which has been quite a blast. I’ll post more on that soon, but we did a pretty intense carpet and tile rip as well as began painting the store, which Lauren blogged about earlier today. Watching the space come together has been a dream come true—I’ve pretty much wanted to run a VHS store since I was a pre-teen, so this is pretty exciting.

Pioneer DVL-700

I have also been doing some shopping for VHS tapes, laserdiscs, game consoles, and more. I went to Fat Kat Records 20 minutes south of here in Ladysmith and picked up a ton of mint laserdiscs as well as a mint Pioneer DVL700. I even tested it out with a showing of Red Dawn …. WOLVERINES!

Red Dawn Title

When the Mongols could see each other they had worked themselves up into a pretty good frenzy.

I’ve also been a regular at the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus in Culpepper, VA, which has been amazing. I got to see Sense and Sensibility, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Last Picture Show, and Lawrence of Arabia , all of them in glorious 35mm. I even missed a few gems like Guess Who’s coming to Dinner, A River Runs Through It, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen—world enough and time!

Packard Campus February Program

But that’s alright, there’s always March!

Packard Campus March Schedule

I was a little sad to learn that Culpepper’s 1938 State Theater had closed after only being re-opened for two years. There was a major funding drive to get investors help refurbish and re-open Culpepper’s movie house at the tune of $13 million dollars, It was an impressive remodeling to restore it to its original glory. I had the good fortune to see Independence Day there in 2014. But that was then, since it has gone defunct and just a few weeks ago it was auctioned to the highest bidder for $700,000.

I was also able to rekindle my ds106 roots with a quick stop by UMW yesterday to record a  video for The End 106 with the great Martha Burtis. She’s a genius.

 And later that afternoon I actually got back in the classroom after a long hiatus to talk to to an awesome group of students in Eddie Maloney’s graduate course Technology Innovation by Design, which is part of Georgetown’s new Masters program in Learning and Design. It was a thrill to talk to student who want to think critically about the future of educational design, and I’ll write more about my approach in a follow-up post. I do miss the classroom, it is always a lot of fun for me—but damn I tend to talk a lot.

Anyway, if nothing else, this post serves as a roadmap for all the posts I need to write after taking a bit of a hiatus from the blog in order to dig in a bit while here in the US. it’s been quite nice to work alongside Meredith, Lauren, and Tim in CoWork—it’s been a welcome change to reconnect in person with the awesome crew that makes Reclaim so damn good.

Reclaim’s Fantastic Four

Yesterday was a special day, Reclaim Hosting grew to four full-time employees with the hiring of Meredith Fierro. Four is the perfect number for a super group, wouldn’t you agree? Needless to say, the costumes are on order. Meredith worked as an intern in Spring, a part-time employee over the Summer, and as of yesterday we made it official. Meredith will be focusing on support, and she is already bringing some of that Digital Knowledge Center magic to Reclaim. Our timing was perfect given this Fall has been quite busy, but I believe we’re handling it like, well, spandex-clad super heroes.

Continue reading “Reclaim’s Fantastic Four”

Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds

This post has sat in draft for almost three weeks while I finished traveling and decompressing from a month on the road. Like Cogdog, I have been a tired blogger these days, but unlike Alan I haven’t always been able to push through it. But maybe that’s not all bad, because during that down time there have been a number of other posts about the event at Muhlenberg by the people who are making it happen! Blogging is everything, indeed!  I would encourage you to check those posts out, and thankfully Lora Taub-Pervizpour provided an awesome round-up post with links to many of them.

Continue reading “Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds”

Some Hosting Advice for Reclaim

Hosting Advice feature on Reclaim Hosting

A month or so ago Alexandra Leslie of Hosting Advice reached out to us to find out a bit about who we are (i.e. Reclaim Hosting) and how we got started. Turns out they got wind of this small, niche hosting company that predominantly serves educators and students, and they were intrigued. While I was traveling in the UK they published a feature blog post about Reclaim Hosting that recounts our story—and I have to say it was pretty cool to read it. I think we’ve been so deep in the day-to-day of running Reclaim that it’s easy to forget there is a pretty cool story arc developing around this work, and it includes a broad community of folks that want to take ed-tech back from the venture capitalists, data fascists, and boring ass learning management systems.  Continue reading "Some Hosting Advice for Reclaim"

Coffee and #ds106 at FredXchange

CYw1qiyWcAAUQyn I am back in Fredericksburg for a few days for some business and house cleaning. I head up to NYC on Tuesday, so it will be a fairly quick turn here, but it's always exhilarating to spend some quality time with my pardner Tim Owens. Yesterday was particularly eventful because we we're invited to talk at an Open Coffee Event hosted at the Foundry, the new co-working space  in Fredericksburg brought to you by the good people of the FredXchange. 12407529_203904386621759_989721171_n The story of how this came about is another bizarre testament to the wonder of the web. Libby O'Malley, one of the movers and shakers behind FredXchange, emailed me out of the blue a few weeks back asking me if I wanted to talk with the folks at the FredXchange about the venerable and righteously right ds106. She informed me that she had found out about that international gem through doing a google search for "Digital Marketing Degree," and ds106 was mentioned as a free alternative in an article that was a top-hit . I think it may have been this article, but I'm not sure. Look ma, no SEO!!! Crazy, I told her I am in Italy living like a pimp daddy in the old country, to which she suggested I come in via Google Chat. As much as I love the internet, I hate remote presentations. They can be done well, but the amount of work it takes to create the conditions of a good remote presentation versus simply being there is staggering. That said, I did know I would be in Freddy for a few days and threw that out and she agreed. I'm glad she did. 12547195_217760811892155_1759698265_n I have been in repose in my mountain villa in Italy mustering as much thought leader mojo as possible. It's hard work, and I don't recommend it for the faint of heart. Being a visionary is extremely demanding, especially in a country that is steeped in the hairy legacy of Lucio Battisti. But ed-tech pioneers persevere, and I knew it was time to get back on the road after 3 months of intensive meditation. And what did I do? I got nostalgic about the past---but I blame that on my new surroundings. More seriously, I hadn't presented for a few months, which is a good while for me. It felt good to talk about ds106. It just never gets old, and once I get going I feel as passionate about it as I did in 2011. It was pure in my heart. Tim and I didn't have a presentation prepared, or even a plan really. We talked briefly about an outline on the car ride over. Early days of the Bluehost experiment at UMW -> UMW Blogs -> ds106 -> Domain of One's Own -> Reclaim Hosting. It's interesting to look at that narrative progression and to see ds106 at the center of the story. I think that's pretty accurate. ds106 galvanized a community, brought Tim and I into contact, and reaffirmed that the Domain of One's Own experiment wasn't all that crazy at scale. I took the first 10-15 minutes talking about the Blue Host Experiment, UMW Blogs, and the beginnings of ds106, and Tim took the last 10-15 minutes talking ds106, Domain of One's Own, and Reclaim Hosting. 10413901_1645532262375051_656298805_n-1 It was quite fun, and I really enjoyed being back in front of a group of people talking about this stuff with Tim. One of the things about my work with Tim that is so rewarding is that we truly do have an amazing partnership. We agree on the fundamental principles undergirding Reclaim Hosting: fierce independence and freedom online! What's more, we push each other to keep going further. Tim has an insane standard for the quality of work and support that defines Reclaim, and every day I wake up knowing that it is the goal. When people come to Reclaim they get the best ed-tech support anywhere. Period. I stand by that statement. Try me, I dare you. It was awesome to be back in Fredericksburg hanging with Tim Owens sharing the work we've done thus far and planning for what's to come. In short, taking care of dot.bizness.

Lunch with the Torrances

During a discussion I had with a group of faculty this evening about managing their own domains, one professor asked how he might approach blogging in his film class. Because I can’t help myself, I immediately mentioned to GIFs as a way to capture and analyze specfic moments in a film. A way to pepper a textual analysis with the visual manna. I quickly introduced the Video to Gif tool on Imgur to demonstrate how simple this could be for him and his students. While screen sharing to a room full of faculty I was able to create and embed an animated GIF in less than 3 minutes. THAT is technological progress!

This simple GIF of Danny and Wendy enjoying a wholesome PB&J before all hell breaks loose was created from this Shining trailer on YouTube in seconds. More than anything, this example underscores a domain isn’t necessarily a neat, packaged solution to digital pedagogy, but rather the place you chronicle and archive frequent, free-wheeling jaunts all over the web. And the more GIFs the better.

The Un-education of a Technologist: From EDUPUNK to ds106

Below are the slides and a transcript of the text I planned to follow when I delivered my talk this morning at the EDEN Annual Conference in Barcelona. That said, I didn’t keep to the script because I get too excited and just ran with things. Let this be the record of what I wanted to say, not what I said

Into the Maelstrom

“Amidst the tumult, the academy appears oddly complacent. Open source technology, open access publication, open education have all had their successes, but none of these movements could fairly be described as having transformed practice. Models of publishing, reviewing and assessing research have not fundamentally changed. Innovation in teaching is at the margins, the essential structures of curriculum and assessment wholly unchanged. Educational technology, far from revolutionizing practice, seems primarily dedicated to perpetuating it: ‘clickers’ provide a sheen of interactivity in the cavernous lecture hall; ‘learning management systems’ promise to protect its users from the raging uncertainties of the digital chaos.” – http://unartist.wpmued.org/

 

This was the opening paragraph of an article Brian Lamb and I wrote for the Universities and Knowledge Societies Journal (RUSC) of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in April of 2009. We wrote most of it in late 2008, early 2009 and as the abstract notes in RUSC:

Two educational technologists and webloggers present a series of vignettes, contemplating the effects of modern networked communication on their practice. Recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom, they curate a collection of observations and manifestos emphasizing themes of personal publishing, spontaneous collaborations, learning on the open web, and syndication.

The line “recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom” is maybe one of my all time favorite research article abstracts ever Thank you RUSC! But one of the things that’s interesting as I return to this article almost seven years later (what is that in Web 2.0 tech years?) is how so many of the curated vignettes around personal spaces, the open web, spontaneous connections, distributed collaborations, and syndication still remain core to a vision of what a revolutionary publishing and pedagogical practice might look like on the web.

What’s more, I’m an optimist. I think we are getting closer and closer to realizing that vision, and thanks to folks like Audrey Watters we may even be getting somewhere with a more “synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom,” i.e. the ahistorical, techno-solutionism undergirding Silicon Valley is launching a full frontal assault on the education sector.

In fact, the vignettes we list in that paper are the building blocks of this talk which loosely traces the work I‘ve been doing since writing that paper in December of 2008.

The vignette about “A Space of One’s Own” is a take on a “Domain of One’s Own,” an idea we have been playing with at UMW since 2007 or 2008. Give every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, and make them the “sysadmin of their own education,” to quote Gardner Campbell. The idea of building a university’s technical framework around personal cyber infrastructures was really radical just seven years ago, and arguably still is. But we have evidence that is possible, and can be the basis of an entire curriculum around web literacy and fluency.

The over-wrought section on revolutionary syndication buses was the basis of how we would build the Digital Storytelling course at UMW ds106 (#4life). A course that built on the idea of a personal cyberinfrastructre by giving all students their own domain and web hosting, but re-wired the course space as something that bring all that work back together. But not as an example of a creepy treehouse like Facebook or your favorite LMS, but as a distributed network that modeled itself on the web.

And ds106 reinforced, at least for me, two other vignettes from that paper, namely “serendipitous collaboration chains” and “spontaneous connections.” As we noted Stephen Downes note:  “Who cares if a few universities exchange learning content among themselves (not that this really happens a lot anyway)?” The more interesting models is how various individuals and groups forge entirely new collaborations and spontaneous connections that form networks above and beyond the institutional vision of “sharing.” This is where MOOCs began to fall down as a centralized approach to sharing that strayed away from anything resembling the web.

Speaking of MOOCs, our vignette about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be one of the very first articles in an academic journal that says the “M” word. This was almost 3 years before the hype, and the logic undergirding MOOCs as they were laid out here was rather different. it wasn’t about marketing, colonial education, or efficiencies, it was about trying to understand how pedagogies of and for the web can be radically different.

EDUPUNK

This was all written and imagined during a moment when EDUPUNK was still a thing. Less than a year earlier Brian Lamb and I had began to articulate our dissatisfaction with how LMS companies like BlackBoard were making claims about being open and innovative when they had done nothing more than start to integrate a few basic practices that were predominant on the web rather badly into their LMS. It was insult to injury, because that company had done little to nothing in terms of innovating on their product for years. Again, with stridency and righteousness:

…if we reduce the conversation to technology, and not really think hard about technology as an instantiation of capital’s will to power, than anything resembling an EdTech movement towards a vision of liberation and relevance is lost. For within those ideas is not a technology, but a group of people, who argue, disagree, and bicker, but also believe that education is fundamentally about the exchange of ideas and possibilities of thinking the world anew again and again, it is not about a corporate mandate to compete—however inanely or nefariously—for market share and/or power. I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people.

-From “The Glass Bees” on bavatuesdays

The only moment either of us presented on EDUPUNK was when Brian Lamb delivered a really compelling talk of these very ideas back in 2010 right here in Barcelona at Zemos98.

EDUPUNK also became a victim of its own very mild success as an idea, and was soon a logic exercised when it comes to neocon logic of dismantling higher ed. Stuff I was very uncomfortable with, and ultimately had to right my Dear John letter in 2011 to an idea I was really smitten with:

DS106

But EDUPUNK and I never really split, we just changed its name to ds106. In the Spring of 2011 ds106 provided a beautiful the moment when so many of the ideas Brian and I were trying to wrap our heads around (personal spaces, spontaneous connections, serendipitous collaborations, syndication hubs, MOOCs, etc.) came together. But not so much as a synthetic theory, but as a practical application of how teaching and learning can be part and parcel of the web. How we can “descend into the Maelstrom” by studying the action of the whirlpool and cooperating with it—the quote from Malcolm McLuhan quoting Edgar Allen Poe that Brian Lamb used to frame the whole idea of working within the chaos.

But I am getting ahead of myself, what is ds106? Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington and elsewhere… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

ds106 opened up questions about infrastructure, architecture, student agency, pedagogy, and much more all at once. It wasn’t just about technology, it was about how the technology affords new ways for us to collaborate, share, and learn with and from one another.

One of its many great moments of this experiment came during the summer of 2011, during what is now referred to as the “Summer of Oblivion.”

“The idea was to have a daily radio/TV broadcast by Dr. Brian Oblivion (featured in the animate gif above), a character from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome who only ever appears as a mediated pedagogical presence on TV. The idea was to update this for 2011, and have this be an online, mediated pedagogical appearance only on the web. Effectively I took on an alternative teaching identity. I wanted to push myself in this course to not only experiment with and challenge some of the ideas we have about the role of the professor, online learning, and mediated communication…if I am not pushing myself to explore and be consumed by this media then it would run counter to the whole reason for the course in the first place. So, there it is, ds106: The Summer of Oblivion—but this analyzing is paralyzing, let’s play this dang thing!” from https://bavatuesdays.com/ds106-the-summer-of-oblivion/

And it looked something like this the first few days:

The course ran as an alternative reality in some ways, what Ray Land calls a “pedagogy of uncertainty.” By the end of the first week Dr. Oblivion went missing, the TA (jim Groom) came in and became a tyrant banishing students, and the class started to rebel. It was magic. Here is one of the student created videos about the upheaval of course power:

The idea of the class was about sense-making online, taking control of your digital presence, and imbuing a broader range of digital literacies and fluencies across tools, but more importantly managing one’s presence online.

Domain of One’s Own

This gave way to the Domain of One’s Own initiative at UMW that provides every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, providing a platform for a broader, institutional wide digital fluency toolkit, not to mention a sandbox for broader web-based exploration for everyone.

This took on a whole different level of thinking when I met up with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane at the Reclaim Hackathon at MIT sponsored by the DML. The ideas there continue to drive the work at UMW and beyond. Thinking in more focused ways about how we provide students and faculty a technical and curricular framework that provides more control over personal data. Ideas of University and personal APIs, virtualized server infrastructure, Docker, and much more. This is the beginning of what has become my new focus—Reclaiming. It’s also why I started with the demo. Based on the work we’ve done at UMW, my partner Tim Owens and I are working on a model that provides individuals, courses, departments, and/or universities with cheap, virtualized infrastructure to run this locally.  A way of decentralizing IT and edtech support. That’s Reclaim Hosting, and that’s the future!