My Last Google Wave Post

Damn Google Wave, I hardly knew you. After all the hype it is now gone. Google canned Wave about two years after they first showed it off to cheers. I recall watching the demo while on vacation and being blown away. The pieces that were shown were literally transformative in their execution. Too bad people just didn’t get it in a mainstream sort of way. Not that I really did after I finally got into the developers’ sandbox. If I am honest, I haven’t even logged into Wave in the last six months. It never made its way into my workflow and it never solved any sort of problem for me.

At the end of the day it failed to fill any sort of void for most people and I think that has to do with the fact that it wasn’t built to fill a void. It was built to be transformative and mind blowing. I am convinced that aspects of Wave will make their way into Google Docs, Sites, Gmail, and their other properties — you know, the tools that were built to do specific things. Imagine Docs with a Wave like panel that allowed teams to dialogue in real language while co-authoring something. That’s a feature I could use right now.

I am actually really impressed that Google killed it so quickly (and sad) … sort of restored my faith in the fact that they release stuff as beta and in this case saw it just wasn’t happening. I need to eat a little crow at how much attention I paid to it in its pre-release days, telling everyone how much this was going to change things. In the end it did a ton of stuff, just not for a ton of people. Again, seems amazing to me that Google could just kill it. Maybe that is the transformative lesson to learn here?

My Pre-Blog Challenge

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the long-term value of this space since my six year post last month. The thing I have been thinking about is how to bring “pre-blog” work back to life within the context of today, but with the original content of yesterday. I know that sounds really odd, but as I have been thinking about how killer it is to have six years worth of writing and sharing available in this space I have come to the conclusion that I have neglected things from the years prior to that.

My friend and colleague, Scott McDonald, and I are constantly talking about how important it is for us to become curators of our own content — sort of like personal librarians. Not really to expose the work more widely, but to have it in a way that it is organized and managed. With all this in mind I recently went through a couple of boxes of 3.5″ floppies left over from middle school, high school, and college to see if anything is still living. What I found was disappointing in that very few of the disks were still readable … to my point, I let all that go away. What I did harvest I tried to make sense of and organize in new digital archives.

Stack of Floppies

Yesterday, Brad Kozlek and I were talking about some of these ideas and I mentioned that I might start putting some old content here to work it into this space. I want to find a way to bring it into the larger story this space tells about me … and that story certainly started well before my first post here in 2004.

So, with that in mind, the month of August will be my Pre-Blog Challenge month where I will attempt to get as much old stuff in here as I can. At the moment, I am using the category PreBlog to organize all of it. I am also dating back to the original date that the files themselves have on them … so my archives now stretch back into the 1990s … I am hoping to find some even older items as time goes by (I might even have to retype some stuff). My only rule is that I cannot edit the content (as much as I might want to) and have to let it simply hang out as it was when written. I’ve already discovered some interesting things about myself by reading my own words 15 years later. I am also sure as I go along some of what I post won’t be text, but might include old video, pictures, or audio. Who knows. Anyone else doing something like this and want to join in my new one something a day challenge?

Six Years

It seems sort of amazing that today is the six year anniversary of this blog space. Amazing because that is such a short time … I always honestly feel like I’ve been here for a heck of a lot longer. I started publishing with “modern” blog software using Blogger back on 7/28/2004 and have been writing mostly in one place since. I’ve been through Blogger, WordPress, and am currently enjoying TypePad to manage my writing and posting. Funny thing is that 2004 wasn’t my first trip around the blogging track, but it marks the time I started to take the idea of managing my own content seriously.

Prior to 2004 I was publishing online in lots of ways and places, scattering my content into spaces that I had no real control over. I set up blogging-like tools as early as 1998 when I first got to Penn State using UserLand Frontier. At the time it wasn’t blogging per se, but I was using a toolset that I built on the Frontier framework that allowed me to do two things with relative ease for the time — automate creating updates for my projects and to create eLearning course materials with the push of a few buttons. I remember showing it to people and most folks looked at me like I was crazy … they were all using Claris HomePage (or something like that to create visual layouts) and pushing them via FTP to webspace. I had been through the rise of the early days of HTML first hand rolling everything (remember hand coding image maps?), then moving into WYSIWYG tools, and finally arriving at the notion that the content was so much more important than the layout. A lesson I still have trouble sharing with people.

This space has represented quite a bit to me over the last six years. It has given me an online time machine that I can get in to see what I was thinking about and working on in the recent past. It has given me an outboard brain to store thoughts, images, and conversation starters unlike any paper notebook ever has. Most importantly it has given me a place to practice my writing with an audience in mind. The notion that when I type here I have the power to publish, share, and engage the Internet is still an amazing feeling. I don’t write as much as I used to and I know I have a very small readership compared to many others, but the notion that what I say here has the power to reach any corner of the unfiltered web is astonishing to me.

The last six years have moved quickly and the web has grown into the ideas I first learned about by reading the Cluetrain Manifesto. I am proud of this space even though it could be viewed as a relatively insignificant contribution to the larger conversation happening all over the Internet at any given time. It is my space and that is all that matters.

The emergence of Twitter and Facebook has challenged and changed the way I write, what I write about, and where I do my sharing. But even in today’s one-button hyper connected web, I know there is a void that is filled with this space. I haven’t been as active here for lots of reasons, but I find myself constantly thinking about writing here and for the most part that is almost as important as actually doing the writing. This blog has taught me how to engage myself in an internal dialogue before I write, it has taught me how to think about engaging people in online conversations, and it has made me a much better communicator. I believe this blog has helped me grow in my career in some very serious ways and I certainly believe it has helped me grow as a person. This space has helped me take more risks — and those risks are calculated and reflected upon in deeper ways because of this space.

At the end of the day this space was started as a place for me to better understand the emergence of the read/write web and it just clicked with me. Many of the initiatives I have pressed forward the last several years are a projection of my own growth through the use of personal publishing platform for expression, reflection, and engagement. I hope the Internet keeps changing and I keep taking advantage of it as a platform to help track my own growth.

Hacking Pedagogy

Christoper Long and I were invited to be part of this year’s Learning Design Summer Camp at Penn State. The presentation topic that was proposed to us was strong in and of itself, but when we got together to really flesh it out we thought we would try something that modeled the ideas we really wanted to cultivate in the PSU learning design community. Both of us were very fond of the work done in the Hacking the Academy project at George Mason and wanted to explore how our own community could be part of a much larger initiative. When we really worked to explore our thinking, the Hacking Pedagogy concept was born. Although there is risk in depending on the community to collaborate with us in this endeavor, we felt the only way to truly model what a cooperative learning event could look like was to take that risk.

To move from a teaching practice centered on the pure dissemination of content from teacher to student to one rooted in truly cooperative practice should be the new ideal for us as a teaching and learning community. Our goal is to provide a kind of field guide that is cooperatively developed and edited over time so that we as a community of educators can draw upon the wisdom of this group. Over the next two weeks, culminating with a cooperative session at the Learning Design Summer Camp, we will ask you (the Internet) to share with us evidence that education can be transformed, that it can be designed to empower a shared sense of ownership among participants, that it can be improved when learning spaces are made into genuine learning communities.

We know this evidence exists across both the Penn State and social web. We know this because we read, listen, watch, and engage with it each and every day as we do our work. What we feel it lacks is a center of gravity that serves to coalesce it into a working resource that can be continually mined, edited, added to, and utilized to guide new forms of teaching, learning, and design practice. The recognition that we as a community have more to offer than each of us can contribute individually will guide our cooperative session at Summer Camp.

The content of this series will be created collaboratively in an attempt to perform the dynamic, open and responsive pedagogical practices for which it advocates. Such an approach recognizes the intimate, reciprocal relationship between theory and practice, process and product, student and teacher. The very processes by which the texts, podcasts, videos, and images brought together here are gathered, culled, edited, revised, discussed and disseminated afford us an educational opportunity. Our product itself will be a compelling expression of the power of cooperative pedagogy.

How to Collaborate

It is really easy to be a part of this … we are simply asking you to lend us your content by tagging it with the tag psuhack across the social web or with the #psuhack on twitter. We will spend time looking through the submissions and see if we can identify a handful of overarching themes around which we can organize our content. At Summer Camp we will present the themes and introduce you to the loosely curated artifacts so that we can hopefully come to a shared vision of how to organize our publication. It is our hope that during Summer Camp you not only think critically about how this can impact your work, but consider adding new submissions live during the session.

Again, our goal is to both model the emergence of a cooperative learning environment and to create a living “field guide” that can serve as an ongoing form of inspiration as we go forward with our work. Even now, you can start to see the Hacking Pedagogy contributions flowing in by visiting the PSU Voices page. We talked a bit about it on Posted on Categories Learning Design Summer CampLeave a comment

Workflow

I find myself obsessed with the notion of workflow these days. The word comes up so often in my day to day conversations that I am starting wonder about myself. I am obsessed with workflow because thinking about the steps it takes to do simple tasks can save countless amounts of time throughout the day. Several of my colleagues and I are always talking about the workflows related to things we do all the time — things like posting content online, sharing links with other people, annotating sites for later use, and on and on. Most of the workflow questions I ask myself are related to getting things done, creating and consuming content, and preserving things for later us.The iPad forces one to think more about workflow because by nature it is a single task device. I find that quite liberating, but when an App just doesn’t support the appropriate workflow it is doomed in my eyes.

The notion of supporting workflow demands a series of posts, but for now let me share a very frustrating workflow issues I face. It is a drop dead simple one … When using Reeder for the iPad you cannot add a subscription as far as I can tell. That drives me crazy. I discover new sites from the sites I am a already subscribed to and there doesn’t seem to be a way to add the discovered space with a single tap. That sucks. I can share it across every social network on the planet, but if I want to add it to my personal repository I need to leave the App.

Reeder is the best feed reader I use on any platform but without that feature I am left underwhelmed. How hard can that be?

The iPad Makes Me Better

I am now over two months into my life with my iPad and I think I have found the places it works best for me. I did use it almost non-stop for a month as a laptop replacement and found that it came close to filling that space. I say close because it didn’t manage my google docs well and it still doesn’t … that just means I use it for very different things than my laptop. I will continue to say that I actually really like that it isn’t a laptop replacement because it lets me get away from all that stuff after work and on weekends. I actually have found that the iPad makes me a better parent — that is so jacked up to write and read, but I am sticking by it.

I have now figured how to slot the iPad into my overall workflow and every single day I discover a new App that seems to make me really happy. They aren’t really making me more productive, but I have to say I really don’t care. The iPad is filling a different space for me than one built around productivity (and I like that). I leave my laptop at work all week, only bringing it home on the weekends (and that is really for those “just in case” moments if all hell breaks free). I use the iPad to do everything during the week while at home — email is killer, the web is amazing, playing casual games is a joy, reading books from iBooks and Amazon is perfect, and just not having the opportunity to do it all is such a treat.

And let me say it again that it gets better each day. Why? Because the App Store lets me find stuff that actually helps me do things better. I hate to say it but Reeder is the best google reader client I have ever used — even better than actually just using google reader! I say that “I hate to say it” because I have now purchased three of them … I bought it tonight after my friend and colleague, Brad Kozlek mentioned it in a post. The iPad invites me in, but pushes me out of the world of work on weekends. And that makes me a better person — I am convinced of that.

Locked Doors to Openness

Something I have been struggling with lately is the continuum of open to closed in lots of contexts. So much of the conversation in the tech blogosphere is all about Apple and the App Store/iPad/iPod/iPhone lock in. It is a conversation that if taken on its own I am completely disinterested in. I bought in years ago and that is that. The App eco-system and the perceived heavy hand of Apple in the approval process does not interest me in the least. It is, however, in this conversation that I am trying to pay more attention to where I am in my own career and thinking.

I read a great post that John Gruber pointed to yesterday by Neven Mrgan titled, “The Walled Garden.” Again this post dealt with the App Store, but I think it has some serious implications for thought about the field of education technology and the way we are working within our institutions to radically open up education. It sort of caught me off guard how aligned some of my thinking is around this topic … and in many ways I find myself standing on the other side of a divide I thought I’d crossed.

Aren’t the benefits of a closed, carefully managed garden clearly visible? The experience is controlled, so it tells a story – one which may not emerge from a democratic, anything-goes process (or do you think this sort of slow and deliberate story would emerge in a busy American city in the year 2010?) Charging for admission means that the place can be maintained, improved, and marketed. There are downsides to this, of course — maybe the management makes boneheaded decisions now and then. Maybe you think that vine maple would look better a little to the left — maybe you’re even right.

via mrgan.tumblr.com

Even in my teaching I struggle with open versus closed and I am growing tired of the “versus” in that conversation. Some things are better closed and managed by the few — not all parts of my open class are democratic and I wouldn’t apologize for that, but for some reason I feel like I need to say I am sorry in other contexts for not being totally open. I know there are times my students feel they know better than I … and many times I know they are right.

In my work, I am being pushed at my institution to take a broader view of the landscape and that is forcing me to see perspectives that I am afraid are not widely held ideals of many of my peers (many of whom I count as mentors and friends) from across higher education. I spent the better part of the last 10 years pressing on the idea that “open wins, period” and lately I am finding that there are times when closed is as much a winner.

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via Shirley Buxton

I try to manage my own organization as openly as possible, but things are shifting under my feet. I recently did something I never thought I would do — I created a private blog space that only my staff can get to. Just the thought of that makes me cringe, but that is exactly what I did. I was finding that I was unable to share things that were in process openly as it was constantly being picked up and shared as gospel. As much as I enjoy seeing our work get recognized by the likes of our own Daily Collegian, Onward State, and the Chronicle of Higher Education the overhead of managing the fallout from it has worn on me. It isn’t a coincidence that I have stopped writing as much about my work openly … my work has changed and so has emerged a greater need to keep it guarded. So a private blog was born so I could once again be open with my own staff — it sounds crazy … I needed a closed space so I could be open. There is that gradient thing again.

I am chairing a committee charged with investigating the pedagogical affordances of various course management systems and that as well has me questioning some of my beliefs about it all. I have been a very loud opponent of the CMS in the past and I still don’t use our University-wide CMS in my own teaching, but through the work I am doing with a very smart group from across our Institution I am seeing it all in a new light. Why am I so damn embarrassed to admit that I do believe the CMS is an important part of what we do? I think these tools should be in place and more and more I see them as the access point to all of the innovative stuff we do outside the CMS — why not turn the place that nearly everyone uses into a portal into the Blogs at Penn State, our iTunes U dashboards, and perhaps even google services in the future? If my goal is to drive adoption of these types of (open) platforms I have needed to get beyond the “CMS is evil” stance and embrace it. Again, I need to pass through a closed space to arrive at opportunities for openness.

All of this is is interesting to me and I wonder what it means to where my work fits into the larger landscape of higher education. I have built much of the success of my organizations on being open, honest, and transparent. I want to continue to live in that space, but more and more I see value in some layers of control. I know we will continue to innovate and I know we’ll continue to share, but as the ideas of openness continue to spread I am seeing how closed is truly a part of the conversation. At the end of the day I do recognize the need for doors into wide open spaces — even in that realization I see the ridiculous contradictions. If the doors are locked, how does everyone get in? Maybe the open space on the other side isn’t locked? Not all fences enclose a whole area … what if the door is just the easy way for many of us to walk in and share out? I don’t know.