Resignation

It’s official, I have resigned my position at University of Mary Washington, and will be going full-time at Reclaim Hosting. It’s almost surreal, and I follow in the footsteps of the great Tim Owens—-whose hard work these last six months has made it all possible. And while I reference the opening sequence of The Prisoner above in honor of #prisoner106, my resignation was neither premature nor acrimonious, and it won’t be immediate. I will be working through September at UMW to ensure a smooth transition. What’s more, one couldn’t have asked for a better situation over the 1o years I’ve been at UMW. I had amazing colleagues in DTLT, a remarkable level of autonomy, and the best faculty and students you could imagine. I think the work I’ve done at UMW speaks for itself, and I leave feeling I was part of a group that truly made the campus a better place to teach and learn. There can be no greater professional satisfaction than that in this line of work.

As to why, it’s pretty simple and I alluded to it in an earlier post. I’ve been longing to explore some of the exciting work Tim and I have been doing with Reclaim Hosting and this is my chance. We’ve been growing Reclaim slowly but surely for almost two years now, and it’s at a point where we can both devote our full attention to what’s next. I’m looking forward to working more closely with Tim on a daily basis because he has been an unbelievable source of inspiration for me these last four years. I would follow him and his edtech work to the ends of the earth. I learn a ton from working alongside him, and I want that to be my full time job. What’s more, I  think we complement each others skills quite well: he’s awesome and I can promote awesome pretty well :)

I’ll be transitioning most of my attention on this blog to exploring the work we’re doing with Reclaim, while at the same time working through what will certainly prove an amicable, but deeply emotional, breakup with UMW (that’s the real reason I need three months to transition :) ). I love that school! It has provided me countless opportunities to explore and experiment as part of my day job since 2005. While I am thrilled with the future prospects Reclaim provides, I will remain forever grateful to everyone at UMW—it’s truly a remarkable community of committed, talented, and generally awesome people. It’s been an honor to serve in your ranks for the last decade.

UMW Domains a Win for Open

Audrey Watters has been on an all-out tear over at Hack Education as she wraps up the year in edtech. Few, if any, in the field are sharper, more concise, and resolutely independent of the institutional and corporate entanglements that pervade this space. I’ll echo so many others who have recognized how unbelievably important her voice is as a result. That said, working independently, speaking freely, and calling out so many on their nonsense doesn’t always pay the rent, so to help ameliorate this UMW’s DTLT would like to provide a standing offer of a job for Audrey when she finally decides to settle down ;)

Until then, I totally support her writing things like what follows when ennumerating the many “wins for open” in her recent post  Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Battle for ‘Open’:”

University of Mary Washington’s “Domain of One’s Own” initiative (one of the very best things in ed-tech right now) has been picked up by other universities, including Emory and Davidson. Also, in addition to the Domain of One’s Own project, we saw efforts to “Reclaim Your Domain” and to Reclaim Hosting.

I know I’m biased, but I have to agree with Audrey 100% that Domain of One’s Own and its Reclaim tributaries are amongst the best things happening in edtech right now. And while I may have let myself get overly excited at the prospect of building on these initiatives independently over the next year as a Shuttleworth fellow, especially since I recently found out that won’t be happening, it doesn’t dull my enthusiasm in the least. Shuttleworth would have provided some nice start-up funds and a certain amount of geographical freedom for my family and I, but in the end that’s all it would have provided. The idea is still there, the people interested are still awesome, and the rejection by Shuttleworth just makes me that much more determined to make it all work.

I’ve had some time over the last week to consider what my plan will be for the coming year, and I’m doubling down on what we’re doing at UMW with Domain of One’s Own. We already have the infrastructure, the institutional support, and an amazing community of faculty, staff, and students. I’ve let myself get pulled in way too many directions this last semester between the idea of becoming a Shuttleworth fellow, entertaining  job offers, and negotiating structural shifts at UMW. That’s my fault, and I take full blame for the fractured attention to my work. But hope springs eternal, and it’s high time I put all of the distractions aside and start focusing all my energy on Domain of One’s Own. It’s what I want to do anyway, and I’m realizing I don’t need a fellowship or new surroundings for it to seem fresh. My work at UMW is not yet done, it’s time to recognize that and get locked in again!

But first I have to enjoy the next three weeks in Italy.

DTLT Today: Episode 104, UMW’s Domain of One’s Own

Note: At two points in the above video (roughly at 12 minutes and 22 minutes) there’s cacophonous feedback when we go to the shot of the laptop. Andy picks it up and fixes it soon after the 22 minute mark. I’ll be editing this out sometime soon, apologies in the meantime. Those clips with heavy feedback loop have been edited out.

After a year and a half hiatus DTLT Today is finally back in action with episode 104. Even better, we had the whole old gold crew together (i.e. Martha Burtis, Andy Rush, Tim Owens, and myself) to talk about the Domain of One’s Own project we’re kicking off this Fall for 1000 freshman.

I pushed for this episode because I was blown away by how streamlined Tim Owens and Martha Burtis had engineered the sign-up using the client management software WHMCS. It’s extremely slick; a two step process that gives students and faculty alike their own domain and web hosting immediately. What’s more, the domain propagates in less than 10 minutes. It’s amazing to see how cleanly and professionally this project has come along. Martha and Tim talk a bit about their setup process in the above episode, which I find nothing short of fascinating, particularly the bafflement of the WHMCS community forums when they were inquiring how to give domains away for free and prevent anyone from buying anything else. A new kind of client software! :)

Given all our success we got a little cocky (royal we, it’s all TIM OWENS!) and decided to open a parallel project up to any interested teachers and faculty over at Reclaim Hosting. Over the next two weeks we are going to be knee deep in support documentation and videos for Domain of One’s Own, and what struck me today is that we can easily run this project in terms of support with an eye to the open web. Not unlike ds106, we can focus and build the project for our immediate community, but at the same time open it up to a larger community for anyone interested. Fact is, we aren’t duplicating efforts, we would be doing this stuff anyway. After Tim figured out how to make the process so smooth to clone such a model was simple, we just needed some money to float the server and software cost for an academic year, and thanks to the Shuttleworth Foundation flash grant I received (thanks to David Wiley) we could do it.

Another thing that struck me as we were doing DTLT Today yesterday was that we could also plan every Monday afternoon throughout the Fall semester on doing an episode of DTLT Today focused on getting people familiar with CPanel, installing open source applications, setting up aggregator blogs, etc. Seems to me we would be killing two birds with one stone, supporting the local students, staff and faculty at UMW as well as any interested teachers/faculty from any interested school, college, and/or university (hell, you don’t even have to be part of any of them). Initially this was the same reason we opened up ds106, because folks wanted to know how to manage their own web host, access their databases, setup subdomains, customize open source applications, and much more.

Even cooler, we can make it so that any interested faculty can control and manage their students accounts. They can set them up with domains, access their CPanels, and generally work with them if they are having issues. It gives the students their own space and gets them familiar with the possibilities of open source web-based applications while at the same time giving the faculty the ability to help them as they get started. I love this idea!

At lunch yesterday Tim referred to this model as “distributed ed tech” that we can all do if we simply point our work a bit more towards a community beyond our campus. What’s more, you have to provide a shared object of attention and invite people in so you can have a wider community. But not at the expense of the local, but rather to augment what’s happening locally, which has been proven to be the case with ds106.

I know firsthand there are a lot awesome people who not only could use some focused help with managing web hosting for themselves, as well as a community, but also would bring a mojo to community engagement that is remarkable. I am referring particularly to Todd Conaway’s post “Owning and Sharing: Like Buying a Coke” wherein he illustrates the various cultural issues that are wide spread across higher ed (anything from financial woes to limited human resources to despotic IT departments to a general institution bureaucracy and malaise) that such a community of distributed edtech might help a lot of people overcome for a real, compelling change in their local cultures. We’re all doing what we are doing anyway, it’s now time to just point it outwards a bit so that we can start sharing resources, working smarter, and build the cross-campus, inter-institutional connections our schools, colleges and universities seem to do everything in their power to prevent.

Gulou or, Public Scholarship in the Digital Age

Gulou ScreenshotThis post is long overdue, and if I hadn’t checked out for a couple of months in April and May it would have been blogged on the bava a lot earlier. In fact, it’s criminal it hasn’t been broadcast more widely around the UMW community because the fact that Sue Fernsebner, a Chinese history scholar and faculty member in the History department at UMW, has a blog that has become a spotlight page for news on Tumblr is a kind of a big deal. Sue lays out the whole phenomenon far better than I ever could in this post. I love the way she ponders the implications of her blog being featured alongside major Mass Media Outlets for news:

It’s now introduced there alongside established media (Reuters, LA Times, CNN, USA Today, etc.) and also accompanies other, less traditional but equally popular sites for news consumption (e.g. The Daily Show) on the same page.

I’m just beginning to ponder the implications. What does it mean that an individual’s site—one person’s own, simple Tumblr—is beside the site of a news agency like, say, Reuters, a major news organization founded in 1851 (and now owned by The Thompson Corporation)? More immediately, at least for a scholar of China and Asian Studies, what does it mean that a microblogging, pop media site such as Tumblr is interested in featuring stories from that region at its top-most news page?

I love this! And if I might be so bold to try and answer some of these questions, I would argue it represents a new era of the scholar. I was first introduced to the idea of the public scholar back in the late 90s when I was at the CUNY Grad Center. The definition I heard was that a public scholar was an academic  who might give a few public lectures  a year and/or  write an article or column for a well-known, popular magazine. Morris Dickstein and Luke Menand (both big names in the field working in the English department at the Grad Center at the time) are considered public scholars as such, but it seemed to me that their scope was only public in a rarified , NY intellectual cultural frame. I don’t mean this as a criticism—I’m a huge fan of Dickstein’s—as much as a basis for some of the limitations of the idea of a public scholar in the academy before the web.

What happens when a scholar from UMW,  a small public liberal arts university all too often overlooked when it comes to scholarship, can turn a simple, free resource sharing site on Tumblr into a featured, popular news site read by tens of thousands of people daily? That’s pretty mind blowing to me, and given how cool and awesome Sue is (I mean she’s pioneering animated GIFs as film analysis in her Chinese film class!) it couldn’t have happened to a better person. We have had an amazing group of fellows in the Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative this past Spring, and while Sue’s work with Tumblr pre-dates that initiative, but still I would like to claim her as the poster child for Domain of One’s Own. But, in the end, that might turn into a faculty cage match given how many faculty stepped up their game to Crouching Tiger levels of awesome! ;) I love featuring faculty work, it has been too long since I have, maybe it’s time to start featuring just what all those amazing faculty fellows did as part of the Domain of one’s Own initiative.

GIF Submission from Sue Fernsebner’s Chinese History through Film