How to abide

a small hut in a green forest

CC licensed flickr image (BY-NC) shared by SOI Toronto Centres

One of the (many) reasons I write here so infrequently is the time it takes me to sort out what I am actually thinking enough for it to make sense when I try to compose it.

Here goes an attempt to capture a few things I have been mulling since my exploration of a domain of my won last spring. First, let me say that I went into the project (buying domain, installing the obligatory WordPress instance, editing, ‘beautifying’ the site to the best of my ability) with an open mind – and fully expecting to be smitten and fall in love at some point and at long last ‘get’ the point of why some people I deeply regard and respect think a domain of one’s own is such a big deal and an essential ingredient to the enactment of one’s digital self.

May I now point out how much editing I have done since that first flurry born of a course requirement I was completing at the time? Wanna guess? How much?

Have you seen me share it anywhere? Have I invited you to take a look?

Well, here’s how much: None, zip, nada, zero, nary a minute have I spent there.

I did not, in fact, fall in love. I cannot even begin to tell you how very NOT in love I am with the whole thing. I can’t even muster up a minimal ‘like’ for the process. (When I finish my program of study in the spring, I will probably initiate divorce proceedings for a permanent severance). Fast forward to more recent weeks….when the site has been hit by spam.

Guess what??

I don’t want to have to keep killing spam comments….does not interest me in the least. In fact, I would rather kill the site than the comments one-by-one….then I won’t be bothered with anymore craptastic emails: ‘Hey, Sandi (my name is Cindy), I totally agree what a great point you made I love your site wow how did you make it this post was just in time for me I can’t tell you how important your work is’. I know this is quite mild and mundane compared to the sort of spam some people get.  I suppose I should count my blessings. And before you tell me all the wonderful ways I can protect my site from spam, let me stop you and say: I don’t want to learn that. I have no interest whatsoever in developing that skill. I don’t want to learn it on my own. I don’t want to learn it in the open. I don’t want to learn it in a classroom….not interested. Okay?

This all brings me right back to some things I have tried to say here before about how I question the ‘one-size-domain-of-one’s-own-fits-all’ idea as a starting point for web creative expression, engagement and participation. With all due respect, I do entirely support the idea of ‘open’ and I have most certainly been the beneficiary of what is shared as a result of that ideal. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the online relationships I have been fortunate to build are some of the most meaningful of my entire professional experience (which is rather long as the years tick by). However…I think the whole ethos of open web-participation/habitation and engagement is predicated upon the assumption that individuation must happen precisely because networks (and singular nodes within them) can and do vary – immensely. So, saying that everyone ought to purchase and inhabit web real-estate as a pre-or co-requisite to ‘being’ on the web just does not ring true for me. Saying there is only one pathway to digital habitation ‘truth’ and creative expression is like saying that all artists ought to paint. We know that is not true. There are as many ways to inhabit digital space as there are people. Owning and sustaining that habitation in the form of staked out turf…is just not all there is. And guilt should not be meted out if one chooses to abide and engage in different (but certainly no less worthy) ways.

Honestly, sometimes it does feel a little dichotomous, as Lisa Lane expresses here: http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/2012/09/the-unhelpful-dichotomy/

Those who can, own a domain and populate it as their primary means of expression and participation on the web (and are the cool kids). Those who can’t (or won’t or don’t choose to) are just not (as)cool. She expresses a great deal of what I have been thinking for a long while about why some of my colleagues hesitate where digital participation is concerned. I am reminded after re-reading her thoughtful post that I live my work life quite literally immersed in all kinds of technology. Many (most) of my colleagues do not…and do not want to.  And for good reason. They are part of that ‘cautious majority’ Lisa talks about.

Which brings me to a final point I want to try to make: I would like to see more patience, acknowledgement of and tolerance for variation. I would like to see more encouragement of exploration – even tentative. Don’t want to buy/own/sustain your own domain? Fine. Find your own method of creation, expression, participation, habitation…and be welcome while you do. Not a fan of blogging? Fine again. Join in conversations in spaces and ways that feel right to and for you. Just can’t get Twitter? Okay. Where CAN you digitally connect? May I show you a few things that work for me…and you feel free to try what might be interesting to you.

I am going to stop here. I am feeling this growing into another post about the digital abide. I need to let that simmer a little more. If you made it to the end here, I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me.

A domain of my own – Part 3 – ‘…here there be dragons’ or how do we make sure everyone knows a dragon slayer??

sandcastle dragon consuming a person with a shovel

CC Licensed flickr image (BY) shared by user topgold

I stink at blogging. My later spring semester was CRAZY busy with a swirl of major grant-writing (we won’t know the result of which until the fall), a visit from our accrediting body, taking a course, teaching a course…One big writing thing ended and another began. I am just now coming up for air. What is below is/was another in my post series on my domain adventure. I still want to get these thoughts down….so am posting this albeit late.

Okay, I know that quote (in the title) is a stretch…but I am referring to the notes at the margins of the old world maps where the ‘known world’ ended…and that is precisely where I have been with moving along my site development. (Don’t worry kids, I know some dragon slayers so all is not lost! More on that later…)  ;-)

What has happened since we last chatted? Well, let’s see. I have a fresh new WordPress install as the overlay to my site. I am building in there (as I mentioned in my last post). I struggled some with naming conventions and file paths and such (and I am certain I have made mistakes in this part already-but learning by making mistakes is a good thing). The WordPress part has been – well – okay, I’ll admit it, even good fun. I lost track of time experimenting with various themes I might select and install that say ‘me’. I have built-out my page structure for the site I need at least for now. And…yes, I am understanding that if I had done this (managed my own doman and all) – from the beginning – (…choose any beginning here: beginning of my work in IT, beginning of my latest ed tech related grad work, at the beginning of DS106 last year….) the task would not be quite so unnerving now. Which brings me to the primary theme for this post:

Part of the whole reason I am trying to capture my swirl of thoughts about this as I go…is that I think  there is something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT at the heart of a personal cyberinfrastructure than the domain of one’s own part (first time writing/saying this outloud, but I have had this ‘gut’ level feeling about it for a while…). There. I’ve said it. (And I must preface what I am about to ATTEMPT to write with the very clear and explicit acknowledgement that this is still an epiphany-in-progress. Read it as such). So, …right now today, I don’t think that a PCI is the only pathway to that central essence.

Now that I got that off my chest, let me attempt to explain. I want to point to some especially relevant excerpts from Gardner (Campbell)’s essay (A Personal Cyberinfrastructure) that get to some of what I am thinking. Here’s the first nugget:

“Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Student’s would frame, curate, share, and direct their own ‘engagement streams’ throughout the learning environment…students would …develop the tools for even richer and more effective metacognition…” (my emphasis added).

True all of that….but especially the part about students shaping their OWN cognition and learning…..So here’s where I (think I) differ about a personal cyberinfrastructure. I believe there are MANY ways to nurture that personal shaping of learning… and to support it. Of course, encouraging curation through a personal domain is ONE way, but I am not convinced that it is THE (one and only true) way. Mike Wesch put it this way in the comment stream on the Chronicle piece about him back in February (A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working):

 “My main point is that participatory teaching methods simply will not work if they do not begin with a deep bond between teacher and student. Importantly, this bond must be built through mutual respect, care, and an ongoing effort to know and understand one another.

Still with me? So, I believe the most important element in distilling down teaching and learning  to the most atomic is the resides in the relationship-that ‘deep bond’. Maybe the nexus that allows for the expression of this bond is around the co-creation  and understanding of cyber-artifacts. But that can’t always and won’t always be the only way the bond can be made evident. I tried to explain this in a post I wrote last spring. I am convinced of it now more than ever. At the heart of the cyberinfrastructure is the connection it is likely to engender. The conception of that connection is that teacher student deep bond. Okay, enough on that. I have to let this ‘sit’ now that I am trying to actually write it. One more thing about the PCI:

I still work with and encounter people every day – faculty AND students – who have no idea about the kind of learning possible through the ‘networks’ many of us (in ed tech) live in and take for granted. Some are even fearful of it. I am here trying the PCI to see where it might take me. I want to experience it …fully (and I have way far to go before I can say I am there)…to see if my theories about the deep bonds are correct. That’s where the dragon-slayers come in. I can tell you that without Tim Owens at  Hippie Hosting, I would have abandoned this whole thing pretty early on-because of the dragons.

IF PCIs are to work, learners need support.
(Gardner says that here:

“To provide students the guidance they need to reach these goals, faculty and staff must be willing to lead by example — to demonstrate and discuss, as fellow learners, how they have created and connected their own personal cyberinfrastructures.”

and here:

“Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal cyberinfrastructures”

Here’s that bond thing again – learners need SOMEONE to help them along the way. Everyone will need their own dragon slayer. They will need some way to construct at least a beginning understanding. Some learners will be able to assume responsibility for this after just a little help. They will ‘get’ that curation thing and run with it. Others will require much longer and more support.  Now, do Tim and I have a deep bond?  Not exactly…except the one that you get when you live ‘in the network’ and you become known around by/with/amongst others of like mind. The ‘bond’ is with the network and because we are both part of it – slightly different nodes, for sure – we ARE  ‘bonded’.

I am not even sure any of this makes any sense to anyone other than me….but there, I have TRIED to write it. And here’s what my site looks like right now: http://cindyjennings.net/udl/ 

A domain of my own – Step 2

It took a while, but back for the next step in acquiring and setting up a domain of my own (more on that later).

First a little background. I mentioned last post about the grad course I am taking. In this course we are studying universal design for learning and accessibilty – focused heavily on accessibility in web design. I am not a web designer. I learned some very basic html in an earlier course – a year and a half ago. I look at pages of code and feel woozy. I do not have a good grasp of site and file structure and semantic markup. I have much work to do to study, understand and learn it.  I do know some basic requirements for accessibility on the web: images need alt text, pages need clear organization provided by level headers, folks need options to be able to use a site without a keyboard – like skipping navigation- think: “How does a screenreader see my site?” The HOW to do all of that is what I am learning.

Now, back to my domain/host/site:

Thanks to advice from Tim Owens (whose comments, and emails have helped me get this far!) I have a domain pointed to Hippie Hosting (see last post). Easy enough. (And I am admitting that if I can do this…anyone can – including faculty and students).
So far so good.

But…here’s where the rub comes. I am looking at the dashboard feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. So, back to studying how to give my work some bones before I move ahead. I know that WordPress offers many/most of the accessibility tools I mentioned above, so I am leaning toward a fresh install of that as container for my remaining course tasks this semester. I’ll be collecting (a somewhat ‘meta’ approach) and creating (a few) tools for faculty in higher education to create accessible learning materials online and for the classroom. I’ll share it here when it is finally up and running.

And to close this post, I want to point out how long it took me to get from buying the domain to actually getting it to the host (see how long it is between these posts???)….which just further illustrates why I have not wanted to take this path for so long. MUCH stuff has intervened…I am not able to work on this every day. Time goes by, I spend tons of time catching back up to where I left off last time I looked….

Oh well. The way things are.

On to Step 3 – Setting up a site and putting stuff in it (and making it accessible in the process). ;-)

A domain of my own…

Where to start?

I hope with this first post to document my own process of jumping into the ‘personal cyberinfrastructure’ waters – reluctantly so, but jumping in nonetheless.

Here is some background:
I am currently enrolled in and slowly making my way through an MSEdTech program where I now need to purchase a domain to accomplish certain course and program-related tasks. I have taken one course last fall where my first fledgling attempts at html and such were completed. This spring I have new assignments and challenges and am determined to expand my learning and document the process for myself along the way.

Why blog it?
Why indeed.
Well, I have been lurking around the magnetic and magical ds106 offering by Jim Groom at UMW ever since last year when it started. I’ll spare the details of how I was already following the works several of those involved.

Here’s the point. Where I live and work and teach, the prospect of ‘scaling’ (for lack of a better word) a process like owning and maintaining one’s own digital identity and learning and work via domain ownership and all that goes with it is…well…daunting. While potentially powerful (and much as I regard highly and respect those involved in shepherding this idea), I am not entirely convinced that this is the path for everyone (sorry Gardner). I am not a total tech novice, but these are new and perilous waters for me. Just reading posts by folks fighting off recent hack-attacks makes me want to RUN in the opposite direction. I have no time or interest in learning THAT part of this process.

But, I’ll stick with it – precisely because of the regard and respect I have for those who have gone before me to make this work.  I am …taking the plunge. Precisely because I want to EXPERIENCE it …to see how it works and how I might show it to others as a result of my own tentative steps.

Here is where I am now:

Imagine my delight to learn about Hippie Hosting over at Tim Owens’ blog (A domain of one’s own: rebooted) – a hosting co-op being offered up by folks involved with ds106. This is where I plan to leap. Heck, I might even move THIS blog over there.

But wait. How?

I have begun. I have purchased the domain name. What next? (And about now a whole lot of ds106 students are laughing at me).

Well…I have more work to do to thoroughly understand what comes next.
That will be my next post.

After EDUCAUSE 2011

I’ll open with the obligatory reminder that what follows are my own thoughts about my participation in the EDUCAUSE 2011 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia last week. The thoughts are mine and not grounded in any data other than my own opinions …and they do not reflect those of anyone else other than me. I should probably also note (for those who may not have attended a conference as massive as #EDU11) that…well…the conference is massive. I am just telling a little of my observations from my small corner of it – my take-aways.

What there was a lot of?

Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles – Numerous sessions focused on mobile devices and their #nextbestthingsinceslicedbread and #theywillchangetheworldofeducationasweknowit uses. Some were led by vendors, some by educators. A lot of people are thinking about mobiles and ‘mobile learning’ (whatever that is). The promise (as I understand it) is learning anytime anywhere (or as I heard it put at least once ‘all the time everywhere’…).

Really?

I get some of that – ability to look up factoids at a moment’s notice. I wonder about how that should be positioned alongside opportunity for deep attention : “…How can the considerable benefits of deep attention be cultivated in a generation of students who prefer high levels of stimulation and have low thresholds for boredom? How should the physical layout of educational environments be re-thought? With the trend toward hyper attention already evident in colleges and universities, these issues are becoming urgent concerns…” Katherine Hayles (2008) Will/can deep attention happen with mobile devices…or should we even be thinking/concerned about that? Is there an app for that?

Analytics, analytics, analytics – Same as for mobiles…much conversation about. I’ll confess I did not choose to attend sessions on either of these (mobiles or analytics). So I won’t say much about it. I am just observing that there is a good deal of conversation about analytics. I worry that in the fervor to analyze that narratives are not being included in the mix. I’ll say a bit more about that below.

Clouds of virtualization…Not going to even try.

What do I wish there had been more of?

I wish there was more conversation about the essences of things that technology can do…the ‘why’ part – especially in education. Sure, I love shiny new packages as much as the next person, but it is my opinion (fwiw) that until we explore the deep underpinnings of the RELATIONAL nature of education and the role technology has to play in that we won’t ‘get it’ at all. Okay, so maybe there were sessions where essences were shared…maybe I did not choose wisely. It is just my general impression that we continue to get lost in the bells and whistles, pointing and clicking and touching…and in the process miss the why. I wrote about some of this back in April. I won’t repeat myself more.

Along similar lines, I’d like to hear more about capturing the narratives of user experience. It is again my general impression that narratives of experience are mostly missing from analytics discussions. I’ll point to this wonderful exemplary work shared this week by Jon Becker at his Educational Insanity blog a work he calls The Best Dissertation Ever: Rethinking Girls. Stop reading….go over there and look. Read it. THIS is the kind of ‘essential’ work I mean when I say we need to be attending to… and capturing… this sort of narrative about the difference technology added to the educational encounter can and does make. Dr. Hughes-Decatur opens by noting that the paper is “…a compellation of what could be, of what is possible.” Indeed. I want to be clear here. The formatting is novel and interesting and structures our consumption of the work…but it is the essences that are captured that are so very powerful. We need similar works about teaching and learning with technology.

Which brings me to the next thing I wish I would see/hear more of in our ed-tech conferences: and that is the importance of ‘design’ thinking. Surely we all get that design affects use and consumption and interaction. And design of the educational experience – and I mean here the learning environment in the very broadest sense including not only the tangibles and materials and manipulatives – but also the how we (we=teacher and learner in community with one another) ARE WITH each other in the learning space and encounter…all of it…as well as the goodness of technology fit in a design. Thoughtful technology inclusion should be carefully considered. Use mobile devices if they fit into a thoughtful educational design….not because using a mobile device is the shiny trendy thing to do and everybody else is doing and if we don’t we are behind. Ask students to write in a blog – if that fits well into a good instructional design. Thoughtful, mindful design gets at those essences I mentioned above.

Okay, this is getting WAY longer than I intended. So, what was the best part of the conference for me? Predictably, it was the people. You know, the opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with friends that happens between the ‘official’ sessions you go to a conference to hear? I met Twitter friends irl for the first time…always so very much fun. I visited with old friends.

Conversations are always the best part, aren’t they?

Old habits die hard, and new ones? Well…

Words 'the Habit' in reverse on a glass entryway

CC Licensed (Attribution) flickr image shared by brendan-c

This week I am thinking about habits. You know – that ‘old habits die hard’ thing? We have the option here at my workplace to elect a ‘summer hours’ schedule: 4 10-hour days to yield an ‘extra’ day off each week. The option started back in May. I didn’t begin my change-over until a couple of weeks in (waiting for my household to stabilize from the reintegration of the 2 kids home from college – complete with the graduation festivities of one of them – a whole ‘nother story of habits).  

Wow, have I ever struggled to reach a new level of habituation in my morning routine. Trying to leave home and arrive at the office an hour earlier than I usually do has proven to be much more of a challenge than I ever imagined it would be (we won’t even talk about how long the afternoons stretch out with the staying the added afternoon time).  

I think the issue is altering my habits. I strive for healthy/positive/green/mindful habits every day. (I enjoy Leo Babauta’szenhabits blog on the subject of habits). I get up early enough to crank out the exercise routine (because if I don’t ride that obnoxious stationary bike early, it just won’t happen). Then there is the struggle to make myself at least presentable (increasingly challenging as the yeas advance)/do the day’s measure of laundry/plan dinner/make breakfasts/pack lunches/check my calendar for anything that might require something from home, etc. All this before I can ever leave the house. Whew, I am tired just thinking about it. So, think about backing all of that up to make it possible to arrive an hour earlier than I was a week ago.  

Yes gentle reader; there is a point to this story. As I was feeling triumphant one morning at arriving in my office 10 minutes EARLY (at 7:20 a.m.);  I thought about what it means to faculty colleagues to alter teaching habits they have formed and practiced for years unchanging. That point alone explains why thoughtfully embracing and integrating a technology into the mix (for whatever reason)– until that use becomes a habit – can be quite a challenge. Learning what the new habit will mean and making it familiar is no small feat. How technology can change ways of learning and ways of knowing and ways of being is not a trivial thing.  

I appreciate that I have been allowed a bit of latitude to find the new equilibrium I need to make this new schedule work this week. I’ll need some planning to make it work all summer. And so it is with learning and integrating a new technology – think. It takes time to make it work and the transition might be rocky until the new becomes an actual habit 

Okay, before you slam be about how very much more complicated decisions and adoptions of technology are, and that maybe thinking of use as a habit a bit too simplistic – I get that. I am just thinking I need to be a little more patient and understanding as I stand by to help. 

“Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”  Mark Twain

Game changing or missing the boat?

This week’s EDUCAUSE Mobile Computing 5-Day Sprint (…and what a creative event this is!) is yet another in a growing list of things I have bumped into lately that have me thinking for a few weeks now about teaching and learning and higher education (including but not limited to the role of technology)– what’s important, what’s not, what this is REALLY all about.

Back in January I read about the release of ‘Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa described as a ‘must-read-most-important-book-on-higher-education-written-in-recent-years’ (at least according to Richard Vedder over at the Chronicle). I’ll admit I have not read the book…only reviews. I can’t critique methodology or quality of the evidence that might be presented to support the assertions the authors make. But the review and descriptions have me thinking – a lot – about narratives of declining rigor and detached and disinterested students and faculty who do anything to win the beauty contest that is on many campuses the student evaluation process; including but not limited to grade inflation. Really?

I have had a search column running in my twitter desktop app all semester following the DS106 phenomenon. (If you have not looked in there, you should. What a creative and powerful model of ‘collaborative learning’ – disparaged by some as a weak sister to individual effort and thought and study…).

One of the assignments for DS106 included this talk from my good colleague Gardner Campbell: ‘No Digital Facelifts’.

Take a break and listen – really listen….to Gardner’s passion for what he is telling us.  There is so much in there it is difficult to distill down into one or two most important points, but suffice it to say that the thoughts in that presentation lead me back to a book by Parker Palmer: To Know as we are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. I have a whole set of blog posts brewing about my current re-reading of this book and its alignment with my observations of DS106 and Gardner’s ideas, but some things stick out right now in the context I am describing. Okay, full disclosure here. I greatly admire the work of Parker Palmer. I have for a while now. To say his books have been transformational for me and my teaching practice would be an understatement. I am going to borrow some quotes from To Know as We are Known that I think are of critical importance to conversations about teaching and learning….most especially where we talk about lack of rigor, or ‘game changing’ technology like mobile devices or whatever. Here they are:

  • “…what good teachers have always known – is that real learning does not happen until students are brought into relationship with the teacher, and with each other, and with the subject. We cannot learn deeply and well until a community of learning is created in the classroom.”
  • “We do not learn best by memorizing facts about the subject. Because reality is communal, we learn best by interacting with it…good teachers bring students into living communion with the subjects they teach.”
  • “…the practice of intellectual rigor in the classroom requires an ethos of trust and acceptance. Intellectual rigor depends on things like honest dissent and the willingness to change our minds, things that will not happen if the ‘soft’ values of community are lacking.”

Fast forward to this week and following the tweet stream from the #EDUsprint hashtag. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE this week-long immersion in a topic idea. And a whole lot of great conversation is going on. But I can’t help feeling that it is yet another cause celeb: that if you aren’t doing mobile stuff on your campus you are missing the boat because everybody’s doing it and students have these devices and so we should be using them and …on and on…

Yes gentle reader, I am coming (albeit slowly) to a point. Here it is. The ‘truth’ here that is easily missed is the relational nature of teaching, and learning, and knowing, and ‘education’ in general. The absolute crux of the matter is that ability of a teacher to create safe places and relations with learners where the kind of deep consideration of the subject – whatever it is – can happen. The one and only point for using technology – mobile, collaborative, social, whatever – at all and ever is the extent to which it helps to accomplish that relation-building. Yes, mobile devices might be the latest possible tool for facilitating that process. But observe: Appreciate the passion with which Gardner speaks about his ideas for teaching and learning. He has been described by some as ‘electric’. Think of what it would be like to be a student in his class. Think he works to build relationships with students and the subject matter they consider together? How about with colleagues? And how about DS106? What’s important there? Was it the tools the distributed community used/played-with? Nope. Again, it was the incredible learning community Jim Groom and other course builders created and nurtured. Gardner and Jim are master teachers. Not measured by usual pedigree or traditional academic accomplishments (although they both have plenty of those). It is because of the gifted way in which they bring learners into relation with each other and with the subject matter they consider. Is there rigor? Very high expectations in fact. Is technology affordance brought to bear? In very novel ways – but focused on the relationships….with the subjects/ideas and with fellow learners.

So to me the point is not what standardized tests say students don’t learn, or whether we are catching the wave of the latest trend – like mobile devices. It is well said in today’s video installment for the Mobile Computing Sprint, by Shelli Fowler  from Virginia Tech (at about 1:47):

“…Pedagogy’s still the driver…we need to help faculty get comfortable in their teaching self with learners and all these devices…”

Until we are all comfortable with our teaching selves – and our ‘situated-ness’ between and amongst students, our disciplinary contexts and whatever devices are in question at the moment, none of the rest of this stuff matters – at all.