Independent Teaching Networks

In the wake of my announcement that I’ll be going full time with Reclaim Hosting, more than a few folks wondered whether I’ll be teaching in the future. This came as both a surprise and honor. I build my teaching around the things I am interested in, and I have been fortunate enough that UMW has let me try this on numerous occasions over the years with various partners.

Howard Rheingold commented, “You are going to jones for students. I know that I am.” And David Kernohan echoed a similar idea:

I can’t see I world where I don’t do teaching either. In fact, of the list of classes I want to teach, only one of them (the Library of Congress Movie MOOC) would really depend on being at UMW (or at least in the area) for the full imagined effect—though it could definitely still be done. The others, like the seminar about Italy during the Years of Lead, a course exploring Domain of One’s Own, a refresher on Zombies and Copyright, or a fullblown cultural hist0ry of Sharks are still very much in my future.


In fact, with the work I’ve been doing with Zach Whalen on the Console Living Room,  I started thinking the the 1980s course I talked about co-teaching with Dr. Garcia in that list post could be even more pointed than a whole decade. What if we had a course about a 16 weeks of a single year*, say the Spring or Fall of 1984 or 1985. What’s more, it would never happen in anything resembling a classroom. Rather it unfolds as a 16 week media experience of television, radio, cinema, etc. in a living room across roughly those same 16 weeks 30 years earlier. The idea was inspired by the broadcasting of 1980s TV Michael Branson Smith setup in the UMW Console last month.

Animated GIF from Atari 5200 ad thanks to Zach Whalen!
So, rather than having a course where you talk about 1980s culture. You setup a framework (or a living room) that over the course of 16 weeks recreates a culture across the axis of television, radio, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, vinyl records, books, magazines, etc. Students (or anyone else in the community) could come into that living room and grab from a library of VHS tapes, video games, cassette tapes, books, records, magazines, etc. and experience those various bits of culture. What’s more, they could watch TV across numerous networks and/or tune into radio across various stations. And they would blog and reflect on those various moments they experience, and the cultural assumptions of the moment. They could go there to watch together, do it alone, or explore and share back new elements of media from that moment. In fact, Zach and I have started the the initial TV programming of the TV portion at least.

This could be reinforced and framed by various readings from that year focusing on broadcast TV, radio, video games, etc. I am planning on doing research this summer around history of network and independent Television stations in light of the rise of Cable TV during the 1980s—not to mention the explosion of VCRs. I’m intrigued by that idea, and that could be one whole part of this class that isn’t taught, but experienced in a way other than a classroom. I love this idea. It’s exhibit meets classroom, and I wouldn’t necessarily need to be there to “program” it.

I can’t imagine I’ll stop having ideas like this, and you can teach classes like this anywhere. In fact, there has got to be a department out there somewhere who might see the opportunity of bringing in various folks to teach courses with an eye towards the long, diverse, and complex history of media and edtech.  I’ve had an amazing experience teaching with folks like Martha Burtis, Alan Levine, Paul Bond, and Maggie Stough. And I want to teach with more and more people. I want to teach a course on radio with GNA Garcia, Noise Professor, and Grant Potter. A course 0n 80s cinema with Mikhail Gershovich, Scott Leslie and Martin Weller. A course on the technology of poetry with Chris Lott. A course on the history of edtech with Brian LambAudrey Watters and Mike Caulfield. A course on the history of the internet with Alan Levine and Howard Rheingold. A course on Digital identity with Bon Stewart. A combined #Rhizo106 with Dave Cormier. A course on gothic tech with Bryan Alexander and Audrey Watters —and that’s just spitballing it. These are all courses that could be done without me, and if I thought a bit longer I could come up with 50 more. Teaching is just plain fun for me.

That said, it helps (at least for me) to have a specific group of students at a school who are taking it for credit for consistency and focus, but that could parallel an open and online presence fairly easily. I guess all this is to say I think this move to Reclaim Hosting may very well free me up to teach even more through a “ds106 network” of sorts, and I’ll be doing just that this summer with prisoner106, and again this Fall as a “silent partner” for Tales from ds106 with Paul Bond at UMW. Hell, I might even be teaching for UMW still if it makes sense, and I’ll hopefully try out some of these courses. But there is no reason to wait on any one institution or MOOC provider warehouse, we should be doing this as our own independent teaching network of awesome. Cause that’s what we are, and the teaching is one way to both enjoy it and push ourselves to think more deeply about what we are doing. Bryan Alexander said it better than me:

…we independents should form an alliance. Or a cult, a secret society, a union, a triad.


*Years ago Larry Hanley was talking about focusing a distributed course across several countries on one specific year, I think it was 1977.


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.

Interminably Looped

Lately I find myself in in the unfortunate position of being nostalgic for my own thinking, perhaps a sign I’m in need of a change. Last year I had a conversation with the great Vanessa Gennarelli about ds106 and community building. I’m both surprised and thrilled that ds106 remains fascinating to folks, and I never get tired talking about it. That said, I have less and less to do with its magic every passing day. The above clip is a snippet from that conversation culled and interminably looped by the indefatigable Mariana Funes,  This bit was fodder for a longer post by Mariana about teaching happening in the comments. She sums up her pedagogical philosophy as follows:

This semester has made it clear that I am just not interested in the kind of teaching that does not allow me to converse meaningfully with all my students and allows my students to converse with each other and with me.

Amen. And it aligns quite well with how I aspire to teach ds106, although I sometimes fall quite short—such as this past semester when I didn’t comment, interact, converse, and get to know the students nearly as well as I would have liked. That’s my loss. They did a very good job getting to know each other, despite my lack this go around.

But it reminded me of a general sense I have these days that I’m further and further away from the things that get me excited. I’m more a middle manager than anything else, and that is starting to wear thin for me. I have lost all interest in managing people, and my creative and intellectual work is starting to suffer. I’m part of an amazing independent web hosting company that  Tim Owens and I have built over the last two years, but I rarely talk about it on the bava? Why?

Because I feel somehow it’s not right. Despite the fact the work we do at Reclaim Hosting further promotes the work we’ve done (and still do) at UMW, crossing the streams pushes into “murky” territory. I need to feel free to blog the way I want to. In fact, I’ve spent most of this year between two worlds. Imagining the possibilities of the one, while trying to manage the reality of the other. It’s been unfair to both, so I am coming to a moment when I need to make a decision.

I’ve been at UMW for near on a decade now. So much of my edtech identity is tied up with Mary Wash, and my professional relationships run far and deep on campus. My work at UMW has been the result of countless explorations and experiments with faculty partners. We’ve been given space, if not resources, that have enabled so many of cool things to thrive. Whether or not that was always intentional is another question, but it happened nonetheless, and the trace of what was is the “post facto evidence of relationships happening in time and space.” But time goes on, and as much as I love my proclivity for nostalgia, I’m at my best getting excited for what’s to come. Dreaming about the adjacent possible, and pushing for another way. It’s hightime to reclaim my future :)

Decentering Syndication or, a Push Away from RSS

Yesterday Steve Covello tweeted a post at my way.

I was prepared  to read about a premium suite of plugins that I could buy for the privilege, but was pleasantly surprised to find Chris Knowles’s post “How to Publish to Multiple WordPress Sites from a Single Install” to be a thoughtful, clear, and  beautifully documented articulation of how the spoke/hub model for pushing content from one site out to another works more generally in Content Management Systems, but for the purposes of his example in WordPress in particular.

452_oseAt first I was interested in this post to start showing faculty and students alike how they can use their WordPress sites to push content out to a number of different social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., but still keep their own version of everything they publish. That, for example, is one relatively simple and powerful reason to use such a spoke and hub model, you are the hub that pushes content out to the various spaces around the web you want it to appear.

But as we got talking in DTLT about this model at 9:30 this morning, it started to get much more interesting. In particular, the plugin that is pushing ones posts, images, videos, etc. in WordPress to all these different sites (what I’ll affectionately called “the pusher”) is Push Syndication  Syndicate out [Update: Tim and Martha tried Push Syndication but couldn;t get it to work so went with a similar plugin Syndicate Out]. One way to think about this plugin is it is does the absolute opposite thing then FeedWordPress, rather then pulling RSS feeds in, it uses XML-RPC to  push content out. So, as Marx did to Hegel, DTLT is doing to distributed course blogs—we’re standing syndication on its head :) Rather than insisting on making the course the hub as has been the case with ds106 (and scores of courses sites on UMW Blogs over the years), why not decentralize the syndication and allow each of the sites to push their content to the hub. Same effect, jut a different approach.

But why? What are the benefits? 1)  it is techncially inline with the ethos of giving the students more control over their work; they can control the syndication in this regard because “the pusher” plugin is installed on their blog. 2) It is far simpler than FeedWordPress for faculty to get up and running with—you don’t have to ask faculty to load in tens of feed URLs for the syndication engine to work. 3) It’s immediate, with XML-RPC, there is no wait for the post to show up. Publishing on the course hub is immediate. 4) It allows for both students and faculty alike to become a hub or a spoke. When I was at the Reclaim Open hackathon at the MIT Media Lab in April Kin Lane was conceptualizing the Reclaim Your Domain around this idea. 5) Less load on the server CPU pulling 100s feeds as weas the case in ds106, in this model you decenter that to a distributd push. 6) The whole process can be automated to some great degree on both the Reclaim Hosting and the Domain of One’s Own server thanks to Installatron. Tim Owens did a mock-up of what this might look like for students and faculty alike.



When going through the process of installing a WordPress site in Installatron (pictured above), we can actually build in a dropdown list of courses that you want to publish to from your own site. Martha Burtis, who has been working on the idea of packaging WordPress plugins suites  in Installatron already, is seeing if we can’t get the Syndicate Out plugin to not only get automatically installed and activiated on the student (or spoke) blog, but also identify the hub it will be publishing to based on the dropdown selction. If a student or faculty member choses to create a course on the fly by selecting that option and then naming it accordingly, it will immediately populate in the dropdown along with  a unique identifier. Instantaneously it will allow others to subscribe to it seamlessly. All of this with no mention of RSS! EDUGLU heresy, and I love it!

Thinking out loud here, what Howard Rheingold labored through for his Social Media Issues site, which admittedly is awesome, could be accomplished at the server level with next to no overhead. This is the in-a-box that we actually need to make synidcation course practical in highered. It is a bit hazy here for me (as much of it is right now), but I  think we can manage copy all the login information from the student blogs into the hub at the level of Installatron by grabbing their username and password and copying them to the hub database.  In other words, every student and faculty in such an environment becomes a spoke and/or hub, the idea of the motherblog becomes deprecated  and we start to move toward a more decentered approach wherein each learner can control what syndicates where.

And this is just the beginning, this model would also allow students with a Domain of One’s Own blog at UMW to use the Syndicate Out plugin to seamlessly send their posts out to any UMW Blogs blog they’re an author of. We tried it out today, and it’s absolutely seamless. You can see the spoke post here and the hub republishing on here. So cool.

We still have a lot to figure out with all this, but as we were talking about it today we started recognizing the fact that Domain of One’s Own has already given way to Reclaim Hosting, Installatron plugins and theme packages, and now a whole new way of approaching spoke/hub syndication models for courses. And I firmly believe this is just the beginning of a whole new level of re-conceptualization, experimentation, and innovation—we’re just now realizing that Domain of One’s Own is more than just giving everyone a domain, WordPress blog, portfolio site, etc.— it’s quickly beginning to feel like a  paradigm shift for what’s possible when it comes to digital publishing at UMW and beyond. It’s actually kinda hard to explain just how exciting it is to go to work these days—my head is constantly buzzing, it’s almost hard to think, no less concentrate, on anything else. DTLT is in the zone right now….

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