I’ve previously written about the learning design workflow that I’ve worked out for TWU. In short, we need a highly streamlined process (because we don’t have the staff to manage a complex process) that is forkable and version controlled and which results in portable and relatively simple markdown files that can be deployed in a wide variety of environments.
GitHub allows us to meet all of those requirements, but with the caveat that the GH interface for composing content is less-than-intuitive, especially for anyone not accustomed to it.
That’s where GitBook came into the picture. GitBook is a git-based service that has a nice simple WYSIWYG editing interface and it’s built for composing text, rather than code. Further, GB connects easily to GH repositories for backup as well as project management tools.
What we’ve found though is that GB seems to have a difficult time with large files and, for some reason, leads to inconsistent results, especially when displaying tables or nested lists.
These glitchy things can be worked around, but work-arounds tend to lead to more workarounds, and eventually you get to the point that the costs of using free software are too great. Too much time. Too much frustration. Too many steps between design and front-end experience.
So, it was time for a better solution.
One of the solutions that I discovered in looking for ways to connect github with WordPress (our front end) is a plugin called ‘WordPress – GutHub Sync’ (WPGHS). Sounded promising, but at the time, I didn’t like the fact that it was a sync, not embedding GH content into WP. This would mean that changes made in WP would be reflected in GH.
As I was looking for a simple way to both replace GitBook and avoid MS Werd, I realized that the WordPress interface is pretty easy to figure out, and with WPGHS, changes in WP can be sent to GH. Now that sync looks like a much better idea. Now we can compose in the WP editor and sync directly to GH which serves as a backup, a forkable, version-controlled repository, and project management system.
Next post will be an overview of the process of setting up a new repo and connecting to WP.
opening education by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
From Topic 2 of the EdX course Engagement in a time of Polarization.
IDEAS: Gilliard and Tufekci both talk about polarization and its profit element. Polarization depends on binaries, on us/them or black/white thinking.
Are there aspects of polarization that are useful? What do these (potential) benefits cost at a societal level? Discuss.
From Gilliard‘s article:
Polarization is by design, for profit.
If polarization wasn’t useful, it likely wouldn’t be used so effectively for profit. The more important question may be ‘for whom is polarization useful?’. Like Stephen argues (and Gilliard as well), polarization has been with us for a very long time. I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to argue that every conflict, from playground squabbles to armed global conflicts, is a result of some sort of polarization, and without some sort of reconciliation, leads to further polarization in a rather vicious circle. However, as I learned in this course (I can’t remember which video), polarization has a specific definition beyond ‘strong disagreement’.
Polarization actually prevents rational discourse as the two poles of common knowledge move further apart. When there is no common basis of knowledge or understanding, building bridges of reconciliation becomes more and more difficult.
Working from this more precise understanding of polarization, I would argue that there are few noble uses for polarization. For Facebook to intentionally polarize society may serve their profit motive, but the resultant loss of rational discourse among people with opposing viewpoints is too great a cost.
opening education by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
For Barlow, it was chopping wood and carrying water. Paying attention to the little things. For me, it was shopping this evening.
I recently moved from a rather small town in the interior of BC where everything was within about a 5-10 minute drive of where I lived. Now, I’m living in a spot that is both highly urbanized, but also a bit of a food desert. There are very few grocery shopping options close to where we are living. As a result, we’ve started ordering our groceries online from a store that is relatively close to my employment and I stop by on the way home and pick up my order. It is fantastically convenient and I don’t have to spend my time wandering the aisles in search of that thing that doesn’t seem to exist in a store that may very well have everything else.
To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with the convenience of it all because I recognize that I am in a position of privilege to begin with and those who are doing my shopping are likely paying for my convenience in some way. I’ve asked a few of the people who bring my groceries out how they like the setup and they have all been pretty ‘meh’ about the whole thing. They are almost all women and they range in age from teens to middle-aged (fairly typical for grocery clerks around here).
Earlier this evening, as I was picking up my order, the clerk who brought out my groceries was a college-aged woman who was likely working part time while she attended school in the area. I asked her what she thought of the job and she indicated that she was super busy all the time but didn’t really like it when people complained about the service. She told a story of a recent customer who couldn’t figure out why the store was out of a particular item and didn’t understand why the clerk wouldn’t go back into the store to find the item, despite the fact that the clerk was clearly busy and simply couldn’t do that without disrupting service to several waiting customers.
This particular customer then went out of her way to leave a poor review of the clerk’s ‘performance’ with the shift supervisor.
I was both aghast that someone would be anything but grateful to have a personal shopper for $3, not have to leave their car, not have to wait in line and be in and out of the parking lot in about 10 minutes. It clearly impacted this young woman to have a person complain about her service and I went out of my way to show her my gratitude and wish her a good evening. I hope it helped.
All that to say, that I think that, like bell hooks said, it is in the little things that we need to pay attention, to care for people, even random encounters. We never know who is carrying too much of a burden.
I fear that the technology that I so appreciate for its ability to connect me with people across the world while I sit on my living room couch also has the ability to sow mistrust, and to promote unthinking, shallow caricaturization of ‘others’.
opening education by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
H folks, I’ll be participating in an important discussion about engagement in an age of polarization on the #engagemooc hashtag on Twitter. Everyone is welcome to join, but to my friends in the conversation, hello from BC!
I made a charcuterie board over the holidays.
Actually, I started out wanting to make a cutting board. An end grain cutting board. Inspired by this one. But it turned out so good looking that I’m calling it a charcuterie board.
First up, a shot of the finished product.
My dad has been a wood-wizard for a long time and he has a whole mess of scraps lying around the shop, including these pieces of (l-r) birch, walnut, mahogany, and purple heart. I figured these four species would provide some good contrast to create an interesting design.
First step was to rip each board into strips. The purple heart was the shortest I had, so I cut the longer boards down to match, about 50 cm. I ripped the resulting boards into various widths, between about 2 and 5 cm wide.
Here are all the strips cut to size and arranged into what I thought might be a nice order for my cutting board. This was also shortly after I discovered that I had enough strips for 5 or 6 cutting boards. Cool.
Since my dad’s planer is 33 cm wide, I measured things out and discovered that I could get 6 boards between about 30 and 33 cm wide.
Seemed like a good idea to do a test run with one board before making the same mistake with all of them right off the bat. Here is the first one set up for the first round of gluing. The middle strip is walnut, and everything else in this one is birch.
The more bilateral assymetry you set up here, the more noticeable the pattern will be.
Once the strips were set up, I rotated each of them 90 degrees, and applied the glue.
Notice the third strip from the left? Too rough, so I planed it down a little. Here it is glued up and ready to cure in clamps.
Next morning, I used a nice sharp chisel to scrape the glue bits off before sending it through the planer.
Next step was to cut the glued and planed plank across the grain and into strips.
Cutting 13 strips cost me about 3 mm per cut due to the width of the blade, so the final result was quite a lot shorter than the original. Here are the strips oriented with the end grain up. You can see in this image that there was some chipping in the walnut that led to gaps, so we decided to change blades on the table saw to a narrower blade with more teeth.
To create the pattern, you need to rotate every other strip 180 degrees, as below.
Now, it’s time to go through the same gluing, clamping, chiseling, and planing steps as previous. The main difference is that you need to add a couple of sacrificial strips on either end, otherwise, the planer will cause major chipping on the ends. It’s also important to note that planers will have a much harder time cutting the end grain, so take it slow.
Here’s a shot of the glued and clamped board along with the sacrificial strips on either end. Next time, I’ll make sure that the sacrificial strips are closer to the same height as the board.
After planing, it’s time to cut off the sacrificial strips, trim up the edges so that they are square and then rout the edges. I used a plain quarter-round bit to smooth all the edges.
Once the edges are rounded, it is time to haul out the orbital sander. I started with 100 grit, but that was too slow to get rid of the lines left by the planer (now fixed), so I dropped down to 80 to do the first pass. Then I used 180, then 240 grit to get a nice smooth finish.
The final step is to finish the board. I used Clapham’s Salad Bowl Finish, which is a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. The finish waterproofs the board.
I figure it looks too nice to use as a cutting board, so it’s been dubbed a charcuterie board.
My offering for this year’s 12 Apps of Christmas shindig hosted by eTUG is Canva.
What is it? What can it do?
Canva is a free (with a Pro upgrade available) mobile and web app (iOS for a while and Android just in the last few days) that allows those of us who are maybe less artistically sophisticated or experienced than others in our community to create really nice graphics for web and print. Canva does this by providing a boatload of pre-designed templates that users can then edit with their own text and graphics.
Canva provides thousands of free images, shapes, fonts, icons, and graphics and also allows you to upload your own images. The app also provides premium content items for $1 each. I have been using Canva for multiple years and have never purchased a premium item. This is one app where the free version is robust enough that you can use it and not feel terribly deprived.
How it works.
You can download the app for your iOS or Android device from the appropriate store, sign up for an account, and start creating! I appreciate how simple Canva makes the whole process.
Launch the app and log in
Pick a template
These are Instagram templates, all sized perfectly for an Instagram post (800x800px). The top two have a ‘1’ and a ‘2’ in the bottom right corner indicating that those designs as you see them contain 1 and 2 premium elements respectively. Choosing the first option will show you which item will cost you $1. In this case (most cases) it is the background photo as indicated by the cross-hatched watermark. Don’t worry though, because you can upload your own image, replace this one, and you can use the rest of the elements as they are.
Edit your creation.
Again, Canva does an excellent job of making both the app and the web interface extremely easy to use, with guiding bubbles along the way. Some people may need more guiding bubbles than others.
You can add elements to the template by clicking the ‘+’ in the bottom right corner. Notice that the image below doesn’t have the cross-hatched watermark, meaning this design is free.
Share your work!
When you click the ‘Share’ link in the top right corner, Canva will put its magic web ferrets to work…
…and provide you with a set of sharing options, including downloads. I don’t have screenshots of the Android experience as it is very new and I don’t have access to an Android device.
Teaching with Canva
Canva is going to disrupt higher education as we know it!
Oh how I wish I had access to Canva when I was going through my entire educational career. As someone who has a difficult time accurately drawing stick figures and dreaded colouring assignments (even the Anatomy Coloring Book in my undergrad), any help that I can get in the ‘making-it-look-like-I-know-what-I’m-doing’ department of graphic design is most welcome!
While there are likely many assignments that could be done specifically in Canva, my approach would likely start with showing my higher ed (or K-12) students that Canva is a thing and how to use it, then tell them that if they want to use Canva to create graphics for any assignment, they are welcome and encouraged to do so.
Some assignments might be:
- creating featured images for blog posts
- illustrating ideas and concepts
- telling visual stories with a photo collage
- summarizing complex data in an infographic (that template is available on the web app, not mobile)
To practice and get yourself started with Canva, go download the app and sign up, then create a social media graphic (you pick the template) that you can share to encourage a new (or old) teacher and share it on the hashtag #12Apps!
I was privileged to be able to present at the ICDE World Conference for Online Learning earlier today. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t be there in person, but my friend and colleague, Ken Monroe from TRU was on the ground to manage the bulk of the logistics of the presentation. I had 10 minutes in a 50-minute session shared with 3 other presenters, so there wasn’t any time to fiddle-faddle around.
Knowing that the default information projector is PowerPoint but that there are far cooler tools available, made me want to try something a little different this time around.
One of the things with PPT is that your slides are a static resource after the presentation, and it is generally useless to have a list of bullet points (even if they are animated) in a file somewhere. Fortunately, @cogdog exists; not only the site, but also the guy who barks and growls on that site. Alan is one of the most generous people on the web, and one of his gifts to us is SPLOTpoint; an alternative to the one from Redmond.
SPLOTpoint (based on the SPLOT idea) is a modified WordPress theme (Intergalactic) set up to create a click-through site for you to host your presentation. Remember that thing with PowerPoint, about it being a static resource after you are done? Well, SPLOTpoint allows you to create an open repository of all your presentations that anyone can access both during and after your spiel, and they can leave comments, ask questions, seek clarification, and share their own ideas because the whole thing is just another WordPress site.
Alan has made SPLOTpoint open and super easy to install on your own site, at least if you roll your own WP install. It’s not going to work on wordpress.com. Just head over to the repo on Github and click the green ‘Clone or download’ button to download the .zip, then upload it to your theme folder or use the automatic theme installer to upload. You’ll have to ensure that you have the Intergalactic theme installed before you activate SPLOTpoint because SPLOTpoint is a child theme of Intergalactic. From there, you create your presentation in a more bloggy format than a typical PPT slide deck, and you can style your site with huge header pics with text below, or just use the header pics as your complete slide and off you go.
Alan’s GitHub repo includes detailed instructions for getting the theme set up, so I encourage you to do so. It is worth noting that if you are reading this and you have a site at create.twu.ca, SPLOTpoint is installed and ready to go!
I did encounter one difficulty, predictably about 45 mins before I was set to present. I made a small edit to one of my slides, saved it, and went back to check that everything still worked (always check!), and something had borked. When I tried to navigate to that particular slide, the presentation went back to the homepage of the site. Obviously, this wouldn’t do for a presentation that had to run smoothly with such limited time. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the URL or with the sort order of the slides. Updating, logging out, and other such things that sometimes reorient the web ferrets didn’t work.
Knowing that there was a reason that this was happening, I decided to change one of the variables just to see what would happen. Changing the sort order would be silly, because that would ruin the flow of the presentation, so I decided to change the name of the slide and the URL. I don’t know which one of those things worked (oops…confounding variables going uncontrolled), but it did.
All in all, I’m really pleased with SPLOTpoint as I now have a super easy way to share my presentation that doesn’t require me to upload it to SlideShare, I can display it as it was intended to be displayed, I can link to it from my other domains, and I can update it as needed.
I’m a little more than a year into this gig at TWU and feel that I’ve accomplished some important things, though not without some significant assistance along the way.
My first major priority was to upgrade our LMS from Moodle 1.9 (released in 2007; shelved in 2010 IIRC) that we have been running as is since we installed and customized it a decade ago. The thing with customizing Moodle is that you don’t get to keep those customizations if you want to upgrade.
It didn’t make sense at all to upgrade our current system on our own current servers, so we decided to sign on with the EduCloud service offered through BCNET. This is a great deal where our Moodle instance is hosted on UBC servers and is managed by TRU. We provide tier 1 support for our users and tier 2 support comes through TRU.
For a relatively small school like TWU, this frees up a lot of energy and capital for us.
I am the first login recorded on the server at 8:45 am Monday, March 22, 2017 and as of September 1, 2017, all new courses are being offered in Moodle 3.1, and the transition has been pretty nice so far.
We did two major rounds of faculty training in preparation for the move. The first was in May and June and we had a modest turnout of faculty who wanted to get a head start over the summer. This was good to see, but the trouble was that we hadn’t fully provisioned faculty accounts yet, so we created 30 sample accounts and 30 sample courses for faculty to sign in and go through the motions of backing up their course from 1.9 and restoring it into 3.1.
Surprisingly, this backup/restore between the two systems was pretty painless. The only real trouble we had was courses above our 256MB upload limit (usually courses with hundreds of MB of PDFs…). To work around this, we could either run the backup without the course files, or run it in several stages.
We created all the Fall 2017 courses on June 21, then provisioned faculty accounts and enrolled them into their courses on June 26. Notably, this was a manual enrolment process using a CSV file upload, as we were still thinking through the details of how to automate user creation and enrolments.
July was predicatably slow with a few training sessions for individual faculty and departments, but most people are pretty scarce during July and into the first couple weeks of August.
On August 17, we enrolled all students into their courses using the same CSV upload that we used for faculty. This would become a bit of a problem in the first couple weeks of September. More on that later.
Our decision to run a manual upload was driven primarily by the need to get students into their courses by the time faculty were due back on campus in mid-August. At the time, we didn’t yet know how we were going to manage automating enrolments, and i was getting a little nervous.
Next day, August 18, we had a working database pulling data from Jenzabar and feeding it into the Moodle (forgive my non-computer-sciency descriptions). Awesome! Wow! Now we had a process that could update enrolments twice a day. Students who dropped courses would be pulled from Moodle and those who added courses would be added a tthe next sync. Or so we thought…
The last two weeks of August were a blur of training, welcome back events, retreats, eclipse watching, training, and more training. In all, by the time the first all-faculty meeting was held, about 80% of attendees indicated that they had been to at least one training session!
Classes started on September 7 and we started to realize the implications of having had enrolled students both manually and through the database. Every student had two enrolments in each course. Some students, those who dropped a course after Aug 17 had only one enrolment (manual). Others who registered after Aug 17 had only the DB enrolment. The trouble was that the DB enrolment process wasn’t changing the manual enrolments, so course lists in Moodle didn’t match Jenzabar and students weren’t seeing courses disappear from their own course overview after they dropped.
Then the Office of the Registrar discovered that waitlisted students still had access to courses. That one was solved when we discovered a typo in a script. But it led to further aggravation of the problem of not being able to remove manually enrolled students in a bulk process.
So it was a few days of ‘hemming’ and ‘hawing’ until we decided to identify all of the students enrolled in courses with only a manual enrolment and to suspend their enrolment in those courses. Worked like a charm. Actually, better than a charm. Charms don’t work well with tech.
All in all, inside 6 months of signing into a fresh install of Moodle, we had all new courses launched for Fall 2017, as well as all users in their proper courses.
I call that a win.
I’m currently on a short retreat/vacation with my wife (or I was when I wrote this) and had the opportunity to get out and about for a walk in the woods. Being the end of March, the spring thaw is in full stride and so the sights and sounds of spring are plentiful. While the green hue of the first grass and leaves is still buried under snow, the sound of runoff is everywhere.
On my way back up the hill to our little cabin, I stopped to record some of those runoff sounds and ended up recording in four different places with four very different sounds. Then I got back and was ready to show off my compositions, and realized that the ‘failed to upload’ warning that I got meant that the clips were gone.
So, I turned cellular data on for the app and headed back out. This time I was going downhill and I noticed the pattern more clearly than before. When I recorded just outside our cabin, the sound of the water is faint and almost lost in the sound of the breeze, but as I got further down the mountain, the sounds became much louder, more varied, and dependent upon the local conditions.
It occurred to me that this is why David Wiley talks about the importance of downstream effects when resources are openly licensed.
Initially, my little contribution to the commons is easily drowned out by irrelevant and external forces, but as it is joined to other similar contributions, together, they make more of an impact. As more and more contributions are added to the commons, they become a more cohesive stream and a more powerful force in the world.
Every once in a while, on their way down stream, they go over a sharp incline and their combined effects become even more profound. But notice that if it had only been my one little contribution, it would have quickly been soaked into the ground or evaporated. It is really when other people begin to contribute their own ideas to mine that the magic begins to happen.
Each obstacle or different local condition creates a different sound. The waterfall is a higher pitch and a more frenzied sound than where the water runs deeper through a narrow passage. And the sound is more muted but still loud and clearly recognizable when the little stream runs under a snowbank.
Open resources are much the same. The open license allows for localization, meaning that individual faculty are free to adjust the resource as they see fit, creating a slightly different, and better-for-them resource than existed before.
Word has gotten around that I’m proposing changes.
That could be the end and enough to strike fear in the heart of any introverted educational technologist. But last night, I was invited to speak to the faculty of the program which is up for review and revision. Some of them are worried, and I certainly don’t blame them for that. But I do think that the concerns being voiced, while valid, are not fatal to what I hope to do.
Changing a teaching and learning paradigm is not something that happens overnight unless that is something that is built in to a teacher’s practice. Keeping up is a lot easier than catching up.
I recognize that I’m proposing a model of online teaching and learning that is quite different from a traditional ‘online’ model that grew out of either a f2f or a correspondence model. But I do think that the difficulty in changing will be overshadowed by the benefits gained by rethinking how we invite students to engage with the program.
But, if we are going to be different; if we are going to become leaders in the field; if we are going to have broad impact, we need to do things differently.
The two primary concerns voiced today were around privacy and digital literacy.
I used an example of a student’s response to a discussion question in Moodle. The response was detailed, well-articulated, properly cited, connected to an authentic problem, and exactly what should be expected of a graduate student in an online course. I asked if it would have been appropriate for that response to have been shared on the public web. The answer to that was a rather emphatic ‘No!’.
The reason for that response was that the student was an international student writing about a former employer ‘back home’ and if the post was public on the web, the student could have been in significant trouble with the government, including being disallowed from returning home.
It’s hard to argue with the severity of those possible consequences. So I didn’t. I acknowledged them as real and relevant. However, should such a clear case example of the consequences of students working on the open web stop us from allowing it? I don’t think so.
One thing that became clear in the ensuing conversation was that we must not require students to do their work in the open, and I agree whole-heartedly. But we don’t need to require students to do that in order to see the benefits of working in the open. It was pointed out that this was a ‘fringe’ example, and not the norm with our students.
What we can do, instead of requiring certain modes of interaction, is to invite participation that is more open, in situations where doing so is appropriate. And that leads directly to the other concern, digital literacy.
Our students are studying and practicing leadership as they work towards an MA in Leadership. At times, the content of the classes can be intensely personal or confidential, and if students are required to participate in the open, they could be at significant risk of breaching confidentiality. However, what I suggested is that that shouldn’t lead us to avoid the web at all costs, but that we need to be intentional about giving our students the digital skills, awareness, and discernment to be able to interact in a connected world.
Predictably, Audrey Wattters says it better than I
Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one’s domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.
Knowing how the web works seems to me to be foundational to being able to interact with discernment and wisdom on the web. And to quote Papert again
The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.
You could also say that every time we make a decision that affects students, we remove an opportunity for students to learn. If we say that all students’ work must be protected by a login because some students’ work might put them at risk deprives the majority of students of the ‘pleasure and benefit of discovery’. It deprives them of the pleasure and benefit of exercising agency over ‘their work, their data, their identity online’. It also deprives the vulnerable students of honing their skills in protecting themselves online, which may be even more important than protecting those who are not vulnerable.
In advocating for open practices, it is critical that we are inviting participation, not mandating specific requirements and practices. By inviting participation, we are respecting each individual’s right to either participate in the open or not. We invite them to participate on their terms, not ours. It means that we design our platforms and learning environments to include as many as possible, and not exclude.
It means we need to do things differently.