Thinking about Mentorship

As this last day or two might suggest, I have finally started to settle in after a few weeks of travel. It’s not only been busy on the Reclaim Hosting front, per usual, but the intensity around Reclaim Arcade is ramping up. That project deserves its own blog post and then some, but suffice to say we are just two months away from our projected opening date, and what little hair I have left is currently endangered ? It also takes me longer and longer to re-enter after a long stint away. My manic depression is particularly unstable when I find myself away from home for extended periods of time, so I have to pay more attention to that reality given it is one of the few hiccups I’ve consistently run into in an otherwise peaceful and balanced season of my life. But once I get back on the blog I know things are starting to settle down a bit, which makes me happy. Also, extended weekend getaways to Alto Adige for hiking and snowboarding never hurts my outlook on things either.

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Scenes from Val di Funes

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But I digress. I’ve been trying to actually write about my experience at the OE Global conference in Milan this past November, which was awesome for catching with friends old and new. I always relish the time I get to spend listening to Tom Woodward talk about the what he’s doing, and the site he created to share the tiny teaching tools he cranks out for VCU for his workshop is an absolute goldmine that I should have shared much sooner. 

Alas, world enough and time, but this post is testament it’s never too late. It was also awesome to catch up with my Swedish connection Jörg Pareigis who co-presented with Tom, it’s like we were back in Karlstadt having fika! Another highlight was sitting in on a session alongside Tom, Anne-Marie Scott, and Terry Greene listening to Jim Luke talk about the commons—it is a compelling framework for trying to make sense of open. But something I have been coming back to again and again is something Brian Lamb said while we were jumping from bar to bar trying to figure out a way to get one more last call before last call. Brian is always good at making me chew on things for a while, and during our far-ranging discussion about edtech (because whenever we are together we spend some fun time kicking the tires on that lemon) the idea of mentorship came up. In particular, and I am paraphrasing from an unreliable memory here, the question around whether or not folks of a certain age are doing the work of mentoring a new generation of edtechs.

It’s always hard for me to think of myself as “of certain age” (to quote Antonella) but I know, in retrospect, how crucial folks like D’Arcy Norman, Brian Lamb, Martha Burtis, Andy Rush, Zach Davis, Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, Jerry Slezak, Gardner Campbell, Jon Udell, Alan Levine, Mike Caulfield, Tom Woodward and Matt Gold to name just a few that helped mentor me as I got started in edtech. All those folks were crucial in their own way in helping me get a better sense of the field and what was (and was not) important. I remember arrogantly poking fun at blogging to Matt Gold in 2004, only to be an avid blogger myself in 2005. Or in 2004 when Zach Davis told me to read Stephen Downes’s blog if I wanted to get a sense of the field in order to get hired as an Instructional Technology Fellow at CUNY. Zach and Luke also got me up and running with my first WordPress site for a faculty member in 2004/2005 at Hunter College. Then there was Mikhail who helped me figure out photoshop and video compression as we played the roles of blogfathers in early 2005. Or how D’Arcy Norman showed me how to blog about WordPress through his blogging about Drupal. Or the way in which Martha modeled working with faculty and truly theorizing the value of a toolbox like cPanel for edtech. Or when Brian himself linked to a post I wrote on the Abject during the early days of the bava which helped me realize the field was not simply limited to a physical office on a campus in Virginia. Woodward was simply up for anything remotely fun and that was awesome. Or when Gardner said just about anything. I could do this all day because, in fact, I enjoy doing it because the folks who got me excited about the possibilities of edtech changed my life, and I really love them for that. 

So, the question that Brian asked at a bar in Milan has stuck with me. What am I doing to get the next generation of edtechs equally excited about the field—warts and all. I think ds106 was good moment for that given I think I was briefly a mentor to Tim, but he quickly outshined me in every element of the job so I had to, in turn, become his mentee so I could learn how Domain of One’s Own might actually be created. It’s only gotten worse since then ? But, I want to believe that Tim and I have tried to play this role with the folks at Reclaim Hosting, but before Brian raised the question I am not sure I was all that intentional about it. My logic being I have so many real and readily apparent faults that playing the role of mentor to anyone would be a fraud. I still believe this, but I also think it’s time to be more intentional with not only my learning but also my sharing and championing of folks coming up in the field. I can only play the hits for so long, right Brian? ? So anyway, this month will try and be a return to form of featuring and championing some of the folks that have inspired me, in particular Lauren and Meredith at Reclaim Hosting, and even before that as students at UMW—they have ruled for near on 7 or 8 years in and out of the classroom. And more recently Lauren Heywood’s unbelievable awesome work with Coventry Learn—it has been a big inspiration for our own rethinking of DoOO at Reclaim Hosting, and I can’t thank her enough for being so generous with her work!

So, anyway, thanks Brian for continuing to push me to get over myself and look at the bigger picture, how can edtech be all bad if it brought you into my life you crazy bastard?! Don’t answer that anyone!

Intentional Learning at Reclaim Hosting: Back to the bava Basics or, Blogging about WordPress

A blog title so long it might as well be a tweet….but it’s not, it’s a god-damned BLOG! I’M BLOGGING, HOLD ALL MY CALLS!!!

Feel the burn, THE BLOG BURN! 

So, I got that out of the way, but it is a reflection of how fired up I am these days. Let me start by saying that Reclaim Hosting has been pretty awesome. Meredith has stepped into the role of Support Manager brilliantly, and Lauren continues to rule as Director of Operations, add to that our part-time support hire last Spring, Chris Blankenship, who has become the systems administrator Tim and I have been dreaming of! And just a few short months ago we got lucky enough to bring on Gordon Hawley has come to us with decades of support experience in the field and has fit-in seamlessly and proved to be an immediate win. What’s more, we recently hired soon-to-be UMW alum Kathryn Hartraft on a part-time basis, and she is proving why UMW’s Digital Knowledge Center is ground zero for recruiting fresh Reclaim talent. I am not gonna lie, the gritty and grounded UMW students have been an absolute boon to Reclaim Hosting since the beginning, and I am feeling ever more confident that they can run the ship without Tim and I—they are that good! 

It’s been rewarding to see the team congeal so well over the past two months, and I think that has given all of us room to start becoming more pro-active about filling in gaps we have in our collective knowledge. Out of which the idea of a more intentional learning program at Reclaim has emerged. The idea is simple: we take a topic for an entire month and recommend various readings and tasks around that theme, and folks are then expected to explore it and then narrate their learning on their blog. For example, in January we focused on migrations (a chore I have become all too familiar with these days) and this month has been dedicated to file and directory structures in cPanel. In fact, last night we had our first meeting with the entire team in a long while in order to reflect upon and wrap-up February’s learning, while at the same time introducing the next month’s topic. Meredith brilliantly wrapped up the month on file structures with a discussion around what we learned in the first hour, and I introduced the coming topic for March: all things WordPress! 

As usual I was ill-prepared for anything formal, so I basically tried to reinforce the fact that despite the haterz, WordPress still rulez! And while it only powers 35% of all sites on the web, that figure is closer to 90% of Reclaim Hosting’s users. So being familiar with the ins-and-outs of WordPress is a must for our team. It doesn’t hurt that I cut my teeth on WordPress and it has been very, very good to me over the years. I often think beyond marrying Antonella or teaming up with Tim as a business partner, choosing WordPress over Drupal was the best decision I ever made ? What’s more, I spent many, many years on this blog trying to get folks in higher ed to take it seriously as a viable alternative to the LMS. In fact, bavatuesdays was one of WordPress’s earliest and most passionate promoters, and as is often the case I wasn’t wrong ?

So, I am fired up because the month of March on bavatuesdays will be a kind of homecoming for some WordPress blogging that I’ve not done in earnest for near on 7 or 8 years. In many ways WordPress has become invisible for me; it is the air I breath. That said, I do recognize I’m becoming a bit rusty when it come to seemingly endless possibilities of hacking it to do your will, but that’s why I still read bionicteaching and the cogdog religiously. So, the Reclaim Hosting team will be blogging about WordPress throughout the month of March, and if you are so inclined blog along with us and share it at the #reclaimWP tag on Twitter and/or drop your feed in the comments below and use that tag so I can pull them into our main site aggregator.