My Internet. One Course at a Time.

I sit in my spare time these days searching my mind for sites to visit. I hit The Verge, NYT, and maybe a couple of other places that are familiar to me regularly. I still spend more time every morning browsing my RSS feeds via Feedly then I do resolving any random URLs. I only go to facebook once, maybe twice, a day and when I do I am really only interested in my lookback so I can see what I was doing a handful of years ago or to see a forgotten picture of one of my children doing something cute. I could look at my Photos library or Flickr to get the same, but it is an excuse to hit what has become the new AOL of the web for me … facebook.

I recall sitting in the audience at the Berkman@10 event at Harvard many years ago listening to Jonathan Zittran say something really interesting at the time — “the web has no main menu.” That resonated deeply with me as I spent my early years navigating floppy disk and CD-ROM based applications with main menus that delivered a pre-designed collection of content. These fixed text applications then magically morphed into online services like Prodigy and AOL that still placed a main menu on the early Internet. It was pretty amazing though … a keyword could get you to encyclopedia entries, travel information, weather, and even soap opera summaries of the week. It was huge and it was really small. When the Internet really happened, I was struck by the open architecture of the Web and my ability to explore all that this new place had to offer. Discovering new websites that people were building and curating was pretty awe inspiring. It was huge … and it was really small.

Today I feel like I spend more time sitting and thinking about where to go online then I do enjoying the destination. I feel the web has devolved into a main menu driven experience for so many of us, only this time the content behind the choices is being delivered to enhance a revenue opportunity. Facebook is a main menu on the web. It is a filtered gateway that seems to have sucked the joy out of creating new and interesting open content online. We aimlessly share, like, and repost without a whole lot of insight of the origins of the content and certainly without the creative thought to make it interesting outside of a main menu driven space that is hand delivered to us all.

Tonight I was thinking about my days teaching various classes and why I always insist on using a course blog as the hub of the teaching and learning experience. I think I know why based on that reflection tonight — for the duration of the semester I get to create the Internet I love. I get to ask my students to write and reflect upon things that make for joyous online reading. Maybe the Internet hasn’t gotten worse and there is a chance that I have simply moved on from what it has to offer. Perhaps that has everything to do with the idea that when I am part of a learning community I fall in love with the collective intelligence produced by that community in an online space. An online space that we co-own, co-create, and co-engage in. I think I still like the Internet, I just think I have gotten spoiled by the Internet we create when we are part of a community. Facebook is no longer a community in that sense to me. We aren’t co-creators as much as we a co-consumers of their corporate interests. The Internet I love is the product of a community, not a corporation with a “designed in a lab” main menu that guides me to selections.

I like our Internet. We just need more of it.

Can We Return to Blogging?

I was early to the blogging revolution. I was inspired by the dawn of Web 2.0 in the early 2000’s that empowered people to write and create in their own spaces. I’ve done the rounds —, typepad, wordpress, drupal. I’ve explored, mastered, and published in all of them. I’ve launched enterprise blogging platforms at three different Universities that allowed and encouraged the open publishing of content by all members of those communities. I see blogs as personal content management systems, portfolios, connecting points as nodes on a global network, and as personal time machines.

I was also a very early adopter and promoter of social media tools. I sat in a conference room in a San Fransisco start up office called Odeo while one of its founders told me, as I was trying to negotiate a deal with Penn State, that they were pivoting away from podcasting to focus on the side project that would become twitter. I invited the first class of students at Penn State to join Facebook. I was all in on social media … all the while I remained enamored by the power of blogs.

I loved that blogs were personal and that people were using them to build strong communities … I would routinely write a post in the morning only to be engaged in long comment threads with people I cared about (but didn’t actually know in real life) all day long. It was authentic and it was powerful. Then the community, along with me, moved. People moved to Facebook and the length of posts and the associated attention spans dwindled until it was difficult to measure with meaning. I still wrote posts, but with less frequency. My community of bloggers still existed, but I had less time for their long form writing and I backed away from the blogosphere. I think I made a big mistake. Some of my friends were right, “likes” don’t really matter.

It isn’t just me noticing this. Our adopted communities, contained in social networks, have been exposed as a breeding ground for bots, fake accounts, and pushers of false information. “Social” has succeeded in demolishing the original promise of Web 2.0. I always said, “communities self correct” when questioned about the read/write web. Well, here we are and we need to self correct. We need to find a new path forward and I am committed to returning to the open web as a way to do my part. I think it is time for something new. Something that isn’t “free” in the way we have come to expect from Facebook. I think we need to all reinvest in journalism. I think we all need to reinvest in creating content that is published in our domains. I think it is time RSS is the glue that binds the Internet. I think it is time to reclaim our identity. I’d like to think we can do that.

I read a great piece at the Washington Post today about the death of the Mommy blog community. It made me think back to the amazing days of when we were all writing under domains we decided upon. We were writing the content that helped each of our communities. My wife’s community was the Mommy blogosphere, mine was educational technology. Both of us created deep connections and very real friendships. I read it today via a link on Facebook that my wife shared and the comments on her post were filled with names I recall her talking about daily. It was pretty awesome, but I wanted to so badly to go and visit those blogs and comment there. We need to figure this out, or the Internet and its promise will be further diminished. This quote pretty much sums it up for me …

The death of the mom blog has something to do with shifts in how people consume and create on the Internet. Blogging on the whole has fizzled as audiences and writers have moved to other platforms.

Those “other platforms” are ready for their swan song. They’ve done enough damage and they have no real reason to fix it. Their shareholders aren’t interested in them doing so. The greatness of the social movements spanned by twitter years ago have been overwritten. It might be time to just write a couple of blog posts.

I Really Wanted a HomePod for Christmas

The device I really was looking forward to getting for Christmas was a new Apple HomePod smart speaker. I wanted it even though we have already invested in the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. When I say that we have invested in the Echo smart speakers, what I really mean is that we’ve spent money on few devices that let us do things like turn on lights, set timers, and play music out of an annoyingly poor sounding speaker. We really bought them to do stuff and they introduced us to the whole idea of just saying the name of a song or artist and getting instant gratification, even if the sound was inferior to what we have historically been accustomed to. I wanted the HomePod because it could do the smart home stuff, but is targeted as a “real” speaker and I have been missing real speakers since we moved to Chicago two and half years ago.

We’ve always had great speakers in our homes because we value listening to music. With the new place, there just hasn’t been a place, or frankly a desire, to put out real speakers connected to a real stereo. The Echo completely reinforced the idea for my wife and I that we did not want the complexity of a physical stereo system in the main part of our home. I also was not interested in spending tons of money on hiding systems in closets, getting in-wall speakers, and managing it all with multi-room gear. That just feels so last generation, especially now that I can simply say, “Alexa, play some Nora Jones” and it just happens. The problem is with the Echo it sounds less than satisfying when it magically starts playing.

Enter the HomePod. Apple promised it by Christmas and I had visions of pairing two to make a stereo front stage in the family room … yes, at $350 per speaker I wasn’t looking forward to the cost, but I’ve paid more for speakers in the past. I was ready to go and then they delayed it until sometime in early 2018.

I have been toying with the idea of entering into the world of Sonos for years. Ever since a great friend of ours showed it to me years ago in State College I was really intrigued, but I never pulled the trigger. It seemed limiting having to control it from your phone and the streaming services weren’t quite there, so I watched from the sideline. When Sonos and Amazon announced that there was a growing number of integrations between the Echo and what could be played via voice control I started to really do my research. At the end of the day, I dropped $300 on two Songs Play 1 speakers so they are paired as a stereo set and I couldn’t be happier. I have an Echo Dot in the family room that can voice control playback on the Sonos speakers and they sound very good. I compared them across the line and found the Play 1 to be better suited to what we needed (and was easier on the wallet) than getting the larger Play models.

The reality is that while Amazon is now one of the largest installed base of speaker manufacturers in the World, their speakers sort of stink at being speakers. Apple had a great opportunity to steal some thunder from Amazon this Holiday season and they let that opportunity slip by while Amazon sold tens of millions of Echos of all flavors (especially the Dot). Now that Sonos has integrated Echo into its new, One speaker, there is a very high quality smart speaker on the market from an audio company. Have I mentioned that Google has a couple of nice products as well? I am upset I couldn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas, but I am very happy with my Sonos setup. It leaves me wondering if there will be a chance for Apple to catch up in this space? I will be hard pressed to go back and buy a HomePod now, but I have learned over the last few years to not bet against Apple. Right now I am more likely to expand my Sonos collection than spend on the HomePod. Time will tell and your milage may vary when it comes to Sonos, Echo, Google, and eventually the HomePod … it is an interesting space to be watching at the moment and it sounds like it is just getting started.

Thoughts on Teaching #CDT450

I promised myself I’d write. I did, but just not enough … at least not here. I wrote and posted a lot over at the course site for CDT450: Disruptive Technologies, but that isn’t the kind of writing I planned to do along side the course in a more reflective mode. I think I only did that twice.

I want to try and capture my thoughts on the experience before it becomes even harder to grasp — in short it was an exceptional semester, with an exceptional group of students, that taught me an exceptional amount about how to be a better human, teacher, colleague, and leader. I say that without hesitation. I told my wife last night that in many ways teaching this semester made me much better at my job (that is a self reflection based on only my own data). If I unpack that thought a bit I would say that having to juggle the rigor of my day job with preparing a three hour class each week for 15 weeks pushed me in so many different ways. I had to find ways to say no to some things more effectively so I could focus on the most critical things happening around me. I had to learn new approaches to learning content to teach to brilliant and very challenging students — I’ve not taught alone since maybe 2005, so carrying this load by myself was simply the biggest challenge of the semester. I had to figure out how to take on a presidential project with potentially huge implications to the campus under very tight time constraints while still managing to run DoIT, meet the expectations of my vice presidential role, and craft an engaging learning experience. To say that I grew by leaps and bounds along with my students this semester would be an utter understatement.

The course, as I’ve shared before, is framed around three primary themes — community, identity, and design. This was based on the experiences I had co-teaching this course with my long time friend and colleague, Dr. Scott McDonald at Penn State. Going it alone made me rethink a lot of it as we were always able to lean on each others strengths, so this was a very different course in many ways. I won’t go into details, as it would be easy to track our week by week progression by again visiting the course site. I will say this, there were so many unexpected surprises along the way that I thought I would list the ones that stood out the most.

Week One

The first day of a college class is usually a very basic thing — hand out the syllabus, review the course outline, get to know the professor, and do some basic introductions. Not in this week one! Sure we did the basics, but after listening to an episode of the podcast, Reply All the day before class I redesigned what we would do the night before. The episode called, “The Writing on the Wall” is described by the show’s creators the following way, “Yik Yak is an app that allows users to communicate anonymously with anyone within a 10-mile radius. At Colgate University in upstate New York, the anonymity brought out a particularly vicious strain of racism that shook the school.” What that episode so magically (and tragically) did was mash all three of our themes into a very relevant and difficult story. While it effectively brought community, identity, and design into focus — all while introducing the concept of disruptive technologies — it also created the surprising undertone of “race” as an ongoing theme to be continually revisited. Class was over at 6 … we all headed out after 6:40.

Oh, and they got iPads that they had to write about.

Week Five

This was the first Synthesis week, where they got to take over the class and lead the discussion. I purposefully gave them very little instruction so they could be as creative in their overview of our first theme, community. There were only two teams, but the way they crafted their respective synthesis was truly quite amazing. The two teams unintentionally played off each other during their time creating a whole that was most certainly greater than its parts. We noted a theme emerge — we never end at 6.

I asked at the end of class if we had turned into a community … the quick first response from a student, “we did today.”

Week 6

This is the week we moved onto our second theme identity. I asked them to create videos with their iPads and post them to the course blog … some of them were quite amazing. This was a week that we ourselves were disrupted by a snow day as classes were cancelled. That didn’t stop us. Google Hangout to the rescue — can you believe all of the students showed up for this voluntary snow day virtual class. There is a lesson in this for campus — if the network is running, classes (in some shape or form) can go on.

Week 9

As we worked our way through the identity theme another spike in our conversations about race emerged. This time brought on by the Martese Johnson beating at UVA. During that week I posted a link to an interesting site designed and published by students at UVA that one of my students reacted to in their own blog post that I shared with my community on Facebook. Things got crazy from there …

Two Penn State colleagues joined class that day. One, Sam Richards, via Hangout as his 750 student Race Relations class filed into Thomas 100 on the PSU campus to talk about race in America. The other, Curt Marshall who drove from State College, PA to Stony Brook, NY to join class face to face. What an experience for the students. Sam is known to be one of America’s 101 most dangerous academics and a great instigator and communicator. Curt is the Multicultural Affairs and Recruitment Director for the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture and is one of the brightest and most articulate people I know. It was a humbling day and one that I don’t think any of us will forget.

Week 12

By this time we were fully engaged with our final theme, design. The students were working through their Design Challenge creations via the Human Centered Design approach we utilized. They were envisioning an app for the iPad that didn’t exist that was focused on improving the student experience. An evening or two before class I noticed that Stony Brook Alumni Association had highlighted a recent alum who was now an app developer, so I took the chance and sent him a direct message introducing him to our class. He got back to me a little bit later after reading the class blog and decided he would come to class and talk to the students about app design first hand. It was a killer experience for us all … I think Eric really enjoyed it. I wonder if he realizes how much he inspired the students that day?

Weeks 13-15

The last three weeks of class were so brilliant I can’t single any one out. We did paper prototyping to bring app ideas to life, shared so many incredibly insightful ideas, wrote some amazing reflections, read some killer articles, and I got to watch as the two teams put a bow on the entire semester with two unbelievable final synthesis presentations. They brought the three themes together through the lenses of technology, the iPad as a positive disruptive force in higher education, and emerged on the other side as a group that is much more critically tuned to the potential affordances of the technologies we typically take for granted every single day. Their final reflections were amazing and I can’t tell you what a profound experience teaching at Stony Brook was for me in the Spring of 2015. Two pull quotes from final student reflections touched me deeply …

I can say that this has been one of the most remarkable class experiences I’ve had and I am very sad to see it coming to an end.

I’m actually a lot sadder to be writing this post than I expected to be. This class is hands down the most memorable and stimulating class that I have ever taken.

I felt the same way.

Snow Day Disruption

I’ve just about had it with snow … no, check that — I have had it! Thursdays are the days that I get to teach and I really love it. I’ve been sick all week and when I woke up around 4 this morning I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get through the day, regardless of the snow. I rescheduled my morning meetings and planned on resting until class time. When we cancelled classes later in the morning I figured it was a lost week.

What is disappointing is that last week we had such an amazing class as the groups did their first round of synthesis presentations, focusing on the ideas of disruptive technologies seen through the lens of our first theme of community. Truly an exceptional experience and one that pulled the class together into the early stages of our own community of practice.

So when the snow and my health threatened to cancel class we took matters into our own hands and disrupted the snow day by using Google Hangout to do a check in and a preview of the next couple of weeks. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly better than not having any time together at all. We did have a few moments of meaningful discussion about Library space, McLuhan, and how technology like Hangouts can be a decent tool for connecting communities.


Reflection on Day One of #CDT450

Yesterday was the first day of CDT450: Disruptive Technologies. I ended up with eight students in the class … not the 20 I was hoping for, but actually the number works out really well. It is a bit early to tell, but from the interaction the first evening this is a great group of students. There was real discussion right from the get go, so that is encouraging. I was uneasy walking in yesterday for lots of reasons, but I think the primary one is that I haven’t taught alone since 2005 — and that was a 100 level course that I had taught at least a half dozen times. This is a very different animal as I have only ever tried to tackle a course like this with a co-instructor. This course was the brain child of my friend and colleague, Dr. Scott McDonald and I. We always liked the pairing of an administrator and an academic. It created a real interesting dynamic for us and the students. Now it is just me and that is a bit daunting. The crazy thing is Scott is teaching the course this semester at Penn State with two of my other friends and colleagues so I get to follow along.

We ended up packing the three hours — we even went over by 10 minutes. You can take a look at what we did at the course blog, but what you can’t see is the engagement and interaction. I think the most interesting and complicated conversation came after listening to an episode of the podcast, Reply All from Gimlet Media. This episode dealt with the very real and very ugly racism that exploded at Colgate on Yik Yak. After listening to that podcast we had an incredible deep dive into looking at the story through the lens of our core themes — identity, community, and design.


Listening to the students recognize how identity is shaped and created through the use of technology was fascinating … as was their ability to grasp the nuances of the Colgate community reaction. I think the one aspect that pulled it together was the realization Yik Yak by nature is implicitly designed to be an anonymous social network — intentionally stripping identity from an individual. Additionally it is built to only let you really engage with members of a local community because of its location based approach. A truly terrible story, but one that allowed the class to really get an early handle on the interplay of our three themes.

The students all got iPads as a part of the experience. They will be doing an “Occupy Technology” project in which I am asking them to use and reflect on the iPad as a tool within the learning eco-system this semester. I hope to use what I learn to better inform decisions going forward with the use and adoption of mobile devices for our campus. as always a big piece of the course is happening in the open on our course site, so follow along there or on Twitter with the hashtag #CDT450 … all in all, it was a very good start.

Vía Cole W. Camplese

Teaching (and Learning)

In one week I will be teaching Disruptive Technologies for the first time at Stony Brook. My enrollment is lower than I had hoped and that has me a little concerned about how I will have to rethink my course design. I was reminded yesterday to embrace the lower than expected enrollment and to not wish for the alternative — too many students. I suppose that is true, but my design is predicated on teams and only having enough students for form two of them has made me question a few things. I think I have made the right kinds of changes so far to manage it. We’ll see.

Setting that aside I am extraordinarily excited to get back in the classroom for the first time since the Spring of 2012 when I co-taught Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning with my very good friend and colleague, Dr. Scott McDonald at Penn State. Back then it was a graduate seminar that was a popular offering in our College of Education. If I’m honest, teaching it alone without Scott to lean on also has me nervous. In a lot of ways making myself nervous is part of the thrill of teaching in the first place. So again, we’ll see.

I get a lot strange looks when I tell people on campus that I am choosing to teach at all … most people tell me I am crazy. That is probably true given my time constraints, but when I look at the fact that my boss, President Stanley, is teaching this semester I think I can make time to make it work. When people ask me why I do it, the answers have been the same for years — I love it and I learn so much by doing it.

I learn how the tools we provide for faculty really work. I learn how our classrooms really support instruction. I learn where our administrative tools are falling short and exceeding expectations. I learn about how our students see the services we provide. I learn from the readings we do. I learn as we form into a learning community. I learn about all the things that I have long forgotten about how hard it really is to be a college student. I just learn.

An interesting twist this semester is that a member of my senior leadership team is taking the class as a student. When he told me I looked at him like he was crazy — I mean the guy finished his undergrad and has an MBA, so he clearly doesn’t need the credits. What he told me made me smile — he wants to learn. He wants to learn from what we do in class, but in so many other ways he wants to learn about what it feels like to be a students at Stony Brook and have to interact with all the systems our students have to interact with to be a student. His team builds the administrative information systems that support things like bursar functions, HR functions, registrar functions, and all the systems that really make a Unviersity work. He wants to know how his audiences feel … I liked that answer.

He and I just want to learn. And that is what I love about this whole thing — teaching to learn.

Vía Cole W. Camplese

A Year of SB You

It was about this time last year that we rolled out SB You on campus. I have tried to keep a bit of a pulse on the service and overall utilization. While I have been a little disappointed in how broadly the service has been adopted to support teaching and learning, I am very excited by both the numbers I do see and the potential I think a platform like this affords. I have been trying to track the number of sites and users throughout the year each month (admittedly I have missed a couple). The growth is impressive — especially since we have not focused a lot of energy on blogging at the course level or for broader portfolio use. And yes, some of the sites are demo spaces or have been abandoned, but the growth has been solid. Check it out … in a year we’ve gone from zero sites and users to 726 sites and 2,634 users! We always see a spike at the start of new semesters, so I expect these numbers to really grow in the next few weeks.

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I have found some really good examples of SB You sites by lots of people and it would be cool for us to expose those on a regular basis. I think bringing various examples to life would show how diverse a platform it really is. I love how Campus Recreation and Healthier U have really embraced SB You as a platform, for example. I also really enjoy search the whole service for various terms and see waht people all across Stony Brook think about a specific topic … here is a linked search for the word, “technology.” That is pretty cool and there are lots of ways terms and tag searches can be used to discover what people are talking about across the Stony Brook blogosphere on SB You.

I’d love to hear from users of SB You about what we could do to make the platform more useful and for ideas on how to better promote it. At the end of the day, I think platforms like this can and should power easy digital expression, broader acceptance of public scholarship, sites for clubs, organizations, and groups, and so much more.

Vía Cole W. Camplese