ds106: What have you done for me philately?

Okay, I am in The Village in the post office as the philatelist and I decided to take a closer look at how stamps are created. I was blown away by Zazzle and other programs where you can upload images and actually create stamps! These are accepted by the US Post Office! I have many questions: can I make a porno stamp? a Hitler stamp? an ISUL stamp? Who screens these things? How did that person get stuck doing that job? Can I violate my own HIPAA rights and make stamps of my teeth x-rays? But enough of that: Questions are a burden to others. Now, I still need to make stamps for local delivery here in The Village because we do not accept in-coming or out going foreign mail. But in the mean time, I created this actual, useable stamp at Zazzle:


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Prisoner106: The First Week

MISC PHOTOS_0015This week we are focusing on three episodes: “The Arrival,” “Free for All,” and “Dance of the Dead.” I love the episode “The Arrival” – I think McGoohan’s performance is electric: he is manic, brutal, pacing back and forth in his “cage” like a wild animal. And when he is calmer he falls into this menacing cynical attitude and that eccentric vocal delivery of his. I am paying particular attention to the use of technology is this round of viewing (my fourth or fifth). Technology is certainly not a neutral force in this series. Technology is used for control and to limit. It is used to monitor, track and observe. I think it represents power in this series so it is import to watch who has access to technology and who doesn’t. It is useful to compare the dystopian attitude to technology in The Prisoner to the utopian attitude in Star Trek. Star Trek sees a world where all the problems have been solved by technology: medicine, economics, and world peace. The world of The Prisoner sees technology as something more sinister: ubiquitous observation through closed-circuit television, media as a two-way proposition (the television and radio is monitoring the users, much like Facebook), and Rover (the drones of The Village?) manage and corral the population. Technology is also used in the hospital for brainwashing and torture. I think the implication being that the more we separate ourselves, or distance ourselves from one another using technology as an agent, the easier it is for ethical relations (medical ethics) to evaporate. This is particularly apparent in “Dance of the Dead” where a doctor is using technology to torture No. 6.

The episode “Free for All” is interesting because it is one that seems completely dedicated to press and politics. I think it is important because the questions of cooperation and complicity pop up throughout the series. No. 6 seems to subversive intentions by agreeing to run for office against No. 2, but all of that is thwarted by the sheepish behavior of the crowd and undone by the press only willing to report what they want to hear. I read in “The Official Prisoner Companion: The Only Guide to the Most Original and Innovative TV series of All Time” by White & Ali* that this was McGoohan’s favorite episode and reflected his personal politics. A popular essay that I have seen reproduced in underground newspapers and radical publications (radical used to be a good word) was Sartre’s “Elections: a trap for fools” where Sartre talks about the limiting nature of a democracy that you are “allowed” to have. We have choices but who decides what those choices are?

In “Dance of the Dead” the transistor radio is a piece of technology that connects him to the outside world. I like that it is never really clear what is being said on that radio. There is a faint sentence towards that can be made out just before he turns it off where one can hear: “Only through pain can tomorrow be ensured.” (Note: In the 60s, everyone I knew had a little radio or pocket transistor AM/FM with a monophonic earphone. It was not as common as cell phone are now but quite common.)

I am also interested in propaganda and how easily we are brainwashed by even the most inane mottos. I will be doing a post on the signage in the village later.

I am paying attention to the sounds that technology makes in The Prisoner to see what cues and leitmotifs might be arising in those however brief bits when we are confronted with automation (doors, interactive maps, etc.).

Someone did a freeze frame on the interactive map and found that it contains no 7’s!

I have been watching the episodes with my wife who is younger than I and has very little patience with some of the more “far out” aspects of 60s culture. The surrealism/expressionist tropes: the midgets, clowns, and lava lamps of “The Prisoner” and other shows like “The Avengers” seems to annoy her. “Reality” for her generation is never in quotation marks and is less fluid than it was in the 60s. (Despite how much it sparkled in the 70s!)

*This book has been on my shelves for years!

Created using the free Village font. Saved in ...

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Summer with the Village People


How cool is it that we get identity cards here! And they only cost two units!

I have decided to take a summer job in The Village as a resident Philatelest in the Post Office. I am not sure how long I will be here. I was told that it might be 8 weeks but that it could be much longer or much shorter depending on what kind of “information” I was willing to help them out with. I like being helpful; everyone does right? I am hoping to offer some stamps to my fellow Villagers as my artistic skills increase in DS 106. Be seeing you.


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The Return of the BBS


English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think there are some interesting parallels between what is happing with “Reclaim Hosting” and the BBSs of the late 80s. I have not been this excited about the possibilities of technology in the colleges since the BBS days. (BBS is a computer Bulletin Board System that users dialed into via a telephone modem.) Reclaim Hosting has the DIY, the inventiveness, and mildly paranoid enthusiasm that harkens back to the late 80s “cyberculture” when people talked at great length about cyberculture (think coke, espresso, and mirrorshades). Reclaim Hosting is an internet hosting service (and with amazing service it is), that gives you a cPanel, and a 100 free tools to build your own commercial-free domain where you control your information and how it is used. This is meant to help you get out from under Google and Facebook. Why? Well one example is Facebook and its “frictionless sharing” – I can’t think of a worse euphemism for getting screwed. Supposedly, frictionless sharing is “sharing that occurs without any additional effort required, for example, if a scholar is gathering resources for her own research, then using a social bookmarking tool is an effective tool for her as well as making the list public.” And I get that but, but that implies a voluntary act on the part of the user. Facebook will tell folks what you are reading, watching, and listening to whether you like it or not. You could go in and adjust security settings but it should default to private. I am in Facebook because my family and friends are in there. Eventually there will be a solution to this because if I know my internet models, they will tinker with Facebook little by little until it is virtually un-useable. But when one is in the middle of being frictionlessly shared, one can’t imagine how that could possibly happen. This is how I used to think about BuReclaimASCIIlletin Board Systems. I never thought I would be networking with people and computers without a phone. That was, for some, the whole point of hacking: one needed to access a computer bulletin board system across the country but could not afford the long distance charges the phone company would charge for that access. So it was very important to either figure out a way to circumvent that charge or to redirect it to an account that wasn’t yours (preferably a corporate account). Another path was to find backdoors to systems that allowed one to access BBS’s from one another. In other words, I could log into a local library BBS and use it to access one in France. BBS systems were slow, expensive, and time-consuming: it took you a while to figure out that the board you were on was a front for illegal software distribution (warez) or porn. But there were some amazing communities out there. I had a free account on the WELL for years – I think that is where I first ran into Howard Rheingold there and he is still out there making connection and building communities. According to Wikipedia, estimated there were 60,000 BBS systems serving 17 million users in the US alone in 1994. There were virtual worlds (text based), role-playing games, BBS based literature conferences, social BBSs of everykind, religious themed BBSs; hackers, crackers, coders, phone phreaks all had BBSs dedicated. I participated in a number of them and managed to access many through Telnet and a local college libraries out-of-the-box implementation of Sirsi-Dynix. I remember when the internet was just coming online and people were telling me about this great coming revolution. I didn’t buy it: why would I access the internet to read a magazine when I could get the same information by logging into a bulletin board and downloading the same information as a Hypercard stack?

The whole vibe around Reclaim Hosting, and the founders’ Jim Groom and Tim Owen’s course DS 106, will make you nostalgic for pirate radio and BBS culture because that is basically what it is – the course even has its own internet radio station. It is a MOOC in the truest sense of the word, not in the corporate watch-a-vid-take-a-test sense: DS 106 utilizes a wide range of technologies to help students create assignments, connect with one another, and learn together.

But it is not the 80s – there is some very serious and interesting work to be done. The idea is that individuals (like students, remember that they are individuals too), can claim a domain name, host that domain, install tools such as WordPress, and then link that blog to their course, instructor, and fellow students. A few years back, I was still teaching dev ed English at the community college level and I thought this was not ready for primetime. I few years went by and I tried it again and it was a LOT easier to do. I had not gotten more tech savvy or smarter – the tools were just easier to use. I moved my blog to my new hosting through Reclaim Hosting. In my work as an instructional designer and Director of Academic Technology, I need to help my institution get out of the old box that is the LMS, use collaborative tools to build collaborative learning, create student-owned authentic assessment through shared portfolios, and prepare students for succeeding in a networked world. There is a connectivist, open pedagogy that many of us are still working on and with that will tie all of these ideas and tools together. These are exciting times indeed!

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CSU Summer Institute: on usefulness and benefit

Calligraphy by Gia-Fu Feng, from the cover of ...

Calligraphy by Gia-Fu Feng, from the cover of the book Tao-Te-Ching (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
– from the “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu (Gia Fu Feng, trans. )

I am at the CSU Course Redesign with Technology, Summer Institute in Rancho Cordova, CA. I finished up a dozen cyber and real errands and finally got out to dinner around 7.30. At dinner, I ran into other faculty and administrators leaving to go back to the hotel and one of our instructors from Humboldt State sat down with me to chat about learning management systems (I think Canvas might have been mentioned), programming and what not, and he said something I really liked hearing: he said that all the best work takes place in break-out sessions and here. And by “here” he meant, the informal gathering in restaurants. I completely get that. There is a huge and ambitious agenda at this event (and it is working so far!), but I get that it is really only a framework, a facilitation of connections. But in order to create that space for informal connections, we still need the clay and the spokes. I think the meetings that we are in really help shape how we make those connections. If you hear something you like, great, you have found partners and allies; if you hear something that rubs you the wrong way, then lets have that conversation too. Respecting the space and allowing for those connections is an important part of these meetings. It is as important as anything else that any one person has to say.

As instructors,  we need to remember that – respecting the space students need to learn. In the classroom, we have to attend to the rhythms of the students: sometimes the silence after you ask a question isn’t ignorance, it can be a student finding the courage to speak. Also, we need to allow for sufficient time for the students to talk with one another, to confer, to process new knowledge by hearing it in the words of their peers. But as we know, creating that seemingly haphazard, accidental space, takes careful thought and planning.

I like what is happening at the institute this summer and along with our faculty, I appreciate the chance to process and make connections. And my reading list is expanding!

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Art History on the Internet: a virtual walkabout

Blue Rigi, painting by J. M. W. Turner

Blue Rigi, painting by J. M. W. Turner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sent an image in Facebook to my dear sister Erin this morning. She is a great appreciator of art and a budding artist herself. The image was of one of those gorgeous Turners that seems so simple at first, and then slowly begins to say or reveal so much, and the next thing you know, an hour is gone. And then Erin messaged something very interesting “There is so much art in the world to view. Would love to go on a ‘walkabout’ to see as much as I can in my life time.” And I am all for that, what a walkabout that would be. According to the Urban Dictionary, a walkabout is “a spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…” I am a huge supporter of museums and experiencing art live. I have traveled a lot just to visit particular paintings or galleries. I like to be with a painting. I also like being with a painting with others. When I can, I even photograph others looking at art. I also like going to artist studios and openings. There are some paintings that you can only really experience in person, like Rothko’s enigmatic canvases.

I look forward to traveling with my sister one day (Berlin? Venice Bianale? We’ll see…), but in the meantime, there are some great sites on the web that take advantage of the latest in high resolution photography and scanning. A virtual art walkabout could include:

  • Smarthistory: These are videos that typically include the painting and two art historians discussing the work.
  • Google Cultural Institute: This is an essential site. It includes virtual walk-throughs of museums and extremely high resolution scans of paintings. The images are as good as going to the museum wearing magnifying glasses (which I recommend – x2.0 reading glasses). I could spend a long weekend here alone!
  • Getty Virtual Library: The Getty Museum has made their back catalog of art books freely available to the public as html or as .pdfs for reading on mobile devices like iPads.
  • Artcyclopedia: This is a searchable index of over 9000 artists listed, 2,900 art sites indexed, with more than 160,000 links. Useful articles and reviews that do a good job of covering modern art. Artcyclopedia allows you to browse artists by nationality as well for the global perspective.
  • Web Gallery of Art: “The Web Gallery of Art is a virtual museum and searchable database of Western (European) fine arts of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism periods (1000-1900), currently containing over 36.800 reproductions. Artist biographies, commentaries, guided tours, period music, catalogue, free postcard and mobile services are provided.”
  • Art History Resources on the Web: Despite the old school interface, this site has links to many current exhibits at museums. I was really surprised that this has remained so relevant. When you look up an artist, period or region, you will find links to museums, galleries and exhibits.

Additionally, individual museums can do a fantastic job of using the internet for education and out-reach such as the Metropolitan, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Louvre.

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What is Open Pedagogy?

I am really enjoying the “Teaching with WordPress Course.” It is beginning with the question “what is open pedagogy? I appreciate this. I kind of expected a course on setting up WordPress as an alternative to the LMS but we start (and rightly so) with the question of pedagogy – we are keeping this about teaching and learning. So what is “open pedagogy”? It is not really defined yet. David Wiley said that “open pedagogy” include:

  • Teaching and learning practices that are possible with you adopt OER but are impossible when you adopt traditionally copyrighted materials
  • Use of OER
  • Student work in the open: create and share their work

The Challenge: “…we need at least 15 – 20 more examples before we can have a substantive conversation about open pedagogy.”

This course hopes to provide more examples to help work out the definition. Right now I have this idea that I have participated in a number of courses that utilized an open pedagogy (DS106, CCK08, etc.) but getting a clear idea of what exactly makes those courses open will be an important part of moving forward. We have the opportunity to help shape this definition in this course.

In the discussion of Open Pedagogy, there is a matrix of openness that I think needs more fleshing out with more categories. They expressed a problem with using the word “effective” – I think that the words “engaging” or “interactive” could be used in its place. Maybe the matrix could also rank materials by the relative openness of the licenses going from public domain, through the creative commons licenses and then commercial standard copyright.

The matrix could examine degrees of openness with assignments – I love Wiley’s term “disposable assignments” – ones where the students are all doing to the same one, the teacher is the only one that reads them, and then they go in the trash. The matrix can measure degrees of openness between “learning centered design” and “teaching centered design” that could include “student choice,” “reflective practice,” “flexible,” “real world application” and I would include “collaborative.”  I understand that the current matrix is meant to be used in a brainstorming activity, but I find the idea of measuring openness intriguing.

Week 1 recap

It’s been a great start to Teaching with WordPress from our perspective. Here’s a brief summary of this week’s activity on the blog hub and Twitter discussion:

Please feel free to add your own summary – tag a post with twpweek1 (see all posts with this tag on our Week 1 discussions page), comment on this page (if you prefer) and (if you like) engage in a personal reflection.

Let’s keep the interactions going in comments on blogs, on Twitter, and here on our site as we move into week 2 soon!


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The Prisoner – My Arrival

Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner

Opening and closing sequences of The Prisoner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Summer DS106 course theme is “The Prisoner.” There is a blog and a twitter feed on the “class.” I have a long relationship with The Prisoner. I watched the series on Public Television in the mid Seventies when I was a teenager. The series, starring Patrick McGoohan, is about a secret agent who resigns. He is then kidnapped and taken to an island where he is expected to not leave and provide information about why he resigned. The island is a prison disguised as a holiday resort, much like our modern internet. This series has everything: secret agents, key punch computers, surveillance, mistrust, paranoia, anti-authoritarianism, a vicious weather balloon, and lava lamps. The political metaphors and the personal anarcho-libertarianism represented by The Prisoner resonated well for teenagers in the 70s fresh out of the Nixon years and Vietnam. Bill Liddle taught a class on the Prisoner at Texas State University and he describes the series as an examination of “the struggles between society’s need to organize and control individuals, and the individual’s need to understand his or her environment to exercise personal autonomy.” I think these issues are particularly pertinent to our time because of all the questions that come up over the control of information in the internet era. In fact, I met my best friend, another catastrophically bored teenager, over a few games of chess. I noticed after a few weeks that he ended conversations abruptly with “Be seeing you!” We found that we shared a love for chess and the rebellious spirit and the metaphorical world of the Prisoner. We thought of our selves as fellow prisoners ever after.

Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene fro...

Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, in a scene from the episode “Free for All”, appears on the cover of the first continuation novel based upon the series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My blog generally focuses on education and technology, but also wanders into the humanities because I find most of those specialist distinctions less useful in discovering how things became what they are today. In my experience, scientists and social scientists who lack the historical or a broad humanities background get a lot of things wrong. Looking at psychology, epistemology, or pedagogy through the lens of art can provide an accuracy that more literal approaches can miss. And The Prisoner, leaps head first into a sea of metaphor, and depending on your perspective, may or may not ever come up for air. I find the series a great companion to Marcuse (how to co-opt revolutions) and McLuhan (technology shaping us and the power of sloganeering).

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with h...

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with his statement that the traditional, book-oriented intellectuals had become irrelevant for the formulation of cultural rules in the electronic age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now for a few happy accidents: a few months back, my wife, knowing that I am a huge fan, insisted that I buy the box set of The Prisoner at a used book store. It is A&E’s The Complete Prisoner DVD Mega-Set (not the best video quality but it was inexpensive). Some months later, I found out that the Summer DS106 was going to be based on the Prisoner. DS 106 is the University of Mary Washington’s Digital Storytelling 106 inaugurated by Jim Groom (who also recently mysteriously resigned!). So this summer, I am hoping to connect with others as I go through the series, and connect the series to current thinking on technology and psychology.

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Towards a Connectivist ePortfolio

English: This is Juniper Hall at Humboldt Stat...

English: This is Juniper Hall at Humboldt State University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am reviewing eportfolio systems and processes for faculty at Humboldt State University, and I am concerned with how little has changed in this field over the last ten years. There are some good ideas out there around assessment and reflective practice, but the technology seems to waver between program management tools that are completely user-hostile to website building tools that wind up being little more than a silo or repository. The worst ones are the ones that are included with an LMS that seem to disappear after the student leaves school. And yet, so much is happening in technology and education that should be shaping this method of assessment and the tools around it. For instance, Connectivism, the basic learning theory of networked knowledge, web 2.0 (as old as that is), and social media seem to be largely absent from learning design and assessment in the eportfolio world. There are some nods to it in some packages, like a few that let student import a Twitter feed. But social media is being treated like just another artifact or piece of content. Social media applied to the assessment of eportfolios can measure student engagement. Student engagement, which has been shown to be the key factor in student success in online courses, is not assessed or evaluated in current eportfolio systems.

I have been interested in eportfolios since the mid-90s when I became interested in online teaching and learning. ePortfolios solve a lot of problems: authentic assessment, for instance. Courses are plagued with rote memorization, multiple choice tests, canned essay assignments with no connection to previous learning – assessments that actually undermine learning. The faculty who rely the most on high-stakes testing are, for very good reasons, the ones most concerned with student cheating. ePortfolios do away with these issues because the student is part of the decision making process as to what is assessed and how. When eportfolio assessment is done right, the student is also negotiating with the instructor how the portfolio should be evaluated.

One of the benefits of an eportfolio is that it can be a tool for professional development and life-long learning. Faculty will often speak of portfolios as static objects that contain artifacts of learning. I think that a Connectivist portfolio is one that is created in such a way that it becomes obvious to an evaluator how the student created knowledge in the networks in which the eportfolio is not just a static silo but a dynamic node. The kinds of questions we can ask of a connectivist portfolio are:

  • Does the student network with the other students?
  • Is there any evidence of peer engagement?
  • Is there any evidence of engagement with subject matter experts?
  • Does the portfolio link to other networks?
  • Does the student seek feedback from others?
  • Is there evidence of peer evaluation?

Each one of these questions can be unpacked differently according to the tools used, the subjects that are being learned or taught. Reflective practice and writing learning reflections are important pieces of a portfolio – that is a connection with the self in learning – but the portfolio can also reflect the wider network where learning takes place.

What kind of rubric would be use to evaluate a Connectivist portfolio?

I am interested in what you think would be good questions to ask for assessing a Connectivist portfolio. Comment below or find me on Twitter “@geoffcain

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Siemens and Downes on “Preparing for the Digital University”

Stephen Downes speaking at D2L09.

Stephen Downes speaking at D2L09. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some great week-end reading in the edu world, I recommend George Siemens et al.’s “Preparing for the Digital University: a review of the history, and current state of distance, blended, and online learning” which I first read about in Downes blog where he gave his first take on the study. This was followed by this Twitter exchange. George Siemens countered with “On Research and Academic Diversity” and this was also met with a more in-depth critique by Stephen Downes in his followed-up with “Research and Evidence” where he discusses problems with the research in depth. The study and exchanges are important reading because I think they speak to this time as a critical moment in the history of online learning. The debates we are having today about open education and the role of the commercial sector and traditional education are going to shape what happens in education for the next twenty years. We should never be comfortable in the field of education. Our discussions and debates should be as rigorous as anything that you will find in Physics or Medicine.

I understand a lot of Downes frustrations with the state of education research. I get annoyed with the constant use of studies that have such small sample sizes. I use surveys and research in my work as a Director of Academic Technology and I would never make a decision, much less a generalization on a sample size of 30 subjects. The last survey of our students I conducted had a response rate of 1700 out of 9000 which nearly accounted for every student that had recently taken an online class. I work very closely with our Office of Institutional Research. Not that I really care, but the irony is that work like this would be ignored by traditional journals because I am sure we are considered “alt-ac” for not having the right credentials.

I am also concerned about the historical perspective and lack of non-traditional academics and practitioners missing from this study, but I think I understand a little of how that works. What happened and continues to happen around Connectivist MOOCs and open education in general in the last 10 years is revolutionary. We have an unprecedented opportunity to open education up to more people around the world than ever before and solve real world problems. But to do that through traditional education paths, one would have to participate in everything that stands in the way of change. Traditional educational

English: George Siemens, David A. Wiley, and M...

English: George Siemens, David A. Wiley, and Michael Wesch at TEDxNYED. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

paths, including exclusive institutions like tenure and traditional edu publishing are not going to promote the changes needed. Downes says that some of the conclusions of the report are “empty and obvious” (such as the need for instructional design for student engagement) and that is because we have been discussing that for years in practitioner spaces and blogs – it is not real, of course, unless it is tied to a traditional study, not matter how strong or weak that study might be. And the academic/corporate “studies are not even asking question relevant to education – they tend to focus on “sustainability” and growth. In other words: money. There is a corporate narrative about what MOOCs are and how they got that way that is well rewarded by corporations and traditional education institutions.

Discussions like this are important for the academic community. The attitude of “why can’t we all just get along?” has no place in the academic community: validity of arguments come from questioning and the constant, rigorous challenge of debate. I have an enormous amount of respect for Siemens and Downes: their past collaborations have brought forth some of the most innovative thinking and practices in online education, and I expect nothing less from a critical debate between the two.

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