Beyond the LMS


As the Australian delegate, on behalf of the whole continent I say Thanks for Having Me.


This is the context of my institution.


These are our campus locations.


For size and comparison – here’s an overlay of the US.

And I live and work from Wagga Wagga, one of our main campuses.


What I wanted to do today was talk about the Learning Management System, or more importantly what might come after it. But before we get to that I wanted to start with a look at the current state of play.


Over the last decade the LMS has become synonymous with online learning. The LMS has become the default. To many it defines what online leaning looks like, what’s possible and what it’s limitations are.


An element of control is baked into a centralised system. It’s one of its distinct features, but it has some significant side effects. One is an embedded power dynamic that prioritises institutional needs over students, which often reinforces didactic teaching methods where teaching is delivered from a central point.


It’s for that very reason that a key trait of the LMS is a lack of user Autonomy and Agency. Teachers and students lack any real ability to self-govern or to act on their own.


From a central space all can be observed, monitored and tracked. This surveillance is often marketed as “analytics”, and while it may indeed be able to offer some meaningful data it does so at the expense of dialogue and perhaps more importantly permission.


I’d suggest we have reached peak LMS. It has achieved saturation in the market so that is little growth left. For institutions we are now all beholden to innovation being provided to us by vendors and unable to offer substantially different products or services. When everything begins to look and feel the same the return for having an LMS will begin to diminish. Instead of being of value it starts to be a hinderance. If our goal is to create a distinctive curricula and learning experience, then the LMS simply can’t provide that.


There’s a lot of discussion around the concept of the Next Generation Learning Environment. It’s being touted as the solution to the current woes around the LMS.


I am however quite skeptical. You see it’s the same centralised model, with the same inherent problems, the same structures, the same limitations. Sure it’ll be better, faster, stronger – but it won’t change anything.


It won’t create change where it’s needed. It won’t change the visions of what Online Learning looks like.


I’d suggest that the LMS, the default, acts as a container for our thinking. Just like a vessel does with liquid – it shapes the contents. It shapes the performance and what we can imagine is possible. The container provides hard edges, limitations which define how and what we think and do.


So that’s the LMS, but what about our current practices in online learning?


One of the underlying problem is that online learning hasn’t yet adapted to the medium – the web. We’ve simply sought to recreate the physical classroom in the online space. This is what we do with any new medium – radio replicated the theatre, television replicated radio, the early web replicated print. What has happened in the online learning space is a continuation of the trednd – initially it tends to copy the old one, but over time it develops its own distinct form and function.


But online learning has yet to go through that phase. There are examples on the fringes – Downes, Siemens and Cormier’s work on connectivist and rhizomatic learning for example. But for the most part online learning is still an attempt to replicated the Physical Classroom in the medium of the web.


The fact that the biggest LMS company is called “Blackboard” is not a coincidence. Current online learning is an attempt to simply replicate classroom practice. It doesn’t embrace the web. It doesn’t seek to utilise the medium, instead it walls it all off and out.


The LMS also enforces arbitrary Time Boxes which have a profound impact on learning. Access tends to be limited to a session – 6 months – and then students are locked out. Despite the fact that they paid for the learning that occurred there – students no longer have access to the discussions, wikis or content that lives in the LMS. This Time Boxing effectively forces students to start from scratch every session – their profiles, their identity, their network gone. And there’s no way to come back. They can’t return after the fact – to revise, reread, rediscover – it reenforces this concept of learning as a linear processes, all done in step, together and at the same time.


This creates what I’ve called Learning on Rails. Similar to the style of video games where you are immersed in a realistic environment, but have no free movement to explore, simply to complete each task, one after the other. Online Learning tends to consist of linear tasks. Navigating information and working through content is done not as an exploration to hypertext document – but as a series of Next buttons.


So what could the future look like?


If we were looking at the medium itself, what is unique about it? How could we model pedagogies that utilise those traits and features?


Over the past two years working on developing a vision for what online learning could and should be. Based on the large body of educational research that exists, the aim has been to pull together a cohesive model that establishes clear elements to aide the design, development and delivery of online courses.


This is the online Learning model that we developed for CSU. We identified these key elements as part of a curriculum that encourages and enables engagement to occur.


We have also developed the Online Learning Exchange. There you will find a more extensive description of the model. We have also developed up a range of strategies that can be used to help implement the model into courses and used in the design, development and delivery process. The Mixer is a tool to map out practices and how intense their adoption is, the aim to understand that there could and should be variations in the levels depending on the subject and discipline area. It also may help diagnose issues and help direct the design process. The applications area provides case studies and how the model might be adapted over a course, tying in delivery methods and techniques as well as tying in assessments.


This body of work is aimed at moving the university – the largest provider of distance education – into a new way of doing things. It’s a realisation that the while the correspondence model of education works, it has significant inherent problems too. Going online had provided us and many others with a cheaper and easier way, but it also provides an opportunity to rethink what and how we do things.


What our work on the online learning model has uncovered are large gaps between what we want to be able to achieve pedagogically and what the technology, primarily the LMS, is actually capable of.

… but ..


At the moment the LMS is necessary in many cases. It provides a backbone and integrations with administrative functions.


There are issues to do with scale and operations that a Domains program isn’t ready to handle or set up to do. The practical perspective is that if we want to do away with the LMS – then we have to develop a viable alternative.


So let’s look at one way of getting there.


The alternative to the centralised systems, and what I think is the key to changing and transforming what online learning looks like, is moving to a distributed system. The Internet is a Distributed system. It’s success comes from that underlying infrastructure – one that is shared and open. Designed to be more resilient to breakdowns and less vulnerable to attack it also acts to distribute power so it is less abused and better reflects needs of all stakeholders, especially the small and weak.


It’s for this reason that the internet has become a place where emergence happens, fostering more innovation and discovery because people are empowered to do so. They have autonomy and agency within this structure and the ability to carve out and create their own personal and virtual spaces to share.


Domains themselves are a distributed system. They provide each individual a space for autonomous creativity and expression.


They embody these key elements that we want online learning to look like.


But Domains are really only the infrastructure. They provide a mechanism to get things done, but not the method to do achieve it. We have to build – something on top of that solid infrastructure.


My personal journey has been very much focussed on how can we replace the LMS. A couple of years ago a started thinking about how could we do this. What would it look like. And I started with – MYOS. What if we created something like an operating system where we can run our all of our own apps.


And while I think its a sound idea – the reality is that this is too big a task. Recreating applications is a hell of a lot of work, but increasingly we don’t need to do anymore. The main reason is the rise of the API.


Application Programming Interfaces provide a way for different systems and applications to interact with each other. They can share data, send messages to each other and trigger routines to provide different inputs and outputs. APIs are how apps talk to each other. They’ve been part of large applications for a long time but were locked away in the source code. Today though more and more applications are running on the web – and have opened up their APIs. This means developers can link up services – you can cross post social


Last year at the Indie EdTech meetup we started discussing this idea of the Personal API. And having got to spent some time with and listening to Kin Lane I started to realise that you don’t need to run all your own apps. You just need a way to be in control and to coordinate different service and get them to talk to each other. This way if you want to use Dropbox for storage or Amazon S3 – that’s fine. If you want to WordPress or Known – that’s cool too. Utilising a variety of existing web service is actually preferable to building your own, because then it is personal – it’s up to you as an individual to make choices. In this world Agency and Autonomy are baked in.


Utilising APIs at an individual level takes this concept of the web – small pieces loosely joined – and makes it a much more serious proposition. As an individual all these “life bits” are connected – to me. And if I can programmatically control those bit – how they connect and interact, then all of a sudden we have a very new and very powerful tool. At the same time if we utilise existing systems/application then we also have something thats very light weight in terms of development.


So my idea is to develop up a Distributed Learning System. A structured way of utilising a range of technologies to configure a viable alternative to the LMS.


Combining these three key elements we can create a truly Distributed Learning System.


Utilising Domains as the Infrastructre, Applications for functionality and APIs to connect everything together and allow data to pushed and pulled throughout the system.


In this system each student and staff member would have their own System running on their Domain – A Node. Nodes would act as their own entity. They would act as federated points – able to act autonomously but designed so they allow for connections to be made.


And Nodes would connect to Hubs. These could represent subjects or courses – but are much more flexible than that. They could be set up for projects, research, committees and collaboration. Hubs define relationships between Nodes – they allow an agreed set of rules to be developed and define the nature of the relationship – What data will be shared, who with and for how long.


Hubs establish relationships and conventions that allow aggregation and sharing to occur between nodes.


They allow content to be moved around, communication to occur, assessments to be submitted and feedback to be shared.


This map provides a way of understanding how the different components of the system all fit together. The Node acts to manage the Personal side of the equation – connecting apps together and features that are part of the Domains infrastructure.

At the same time the Hubs link together institutional systems and data with those of the nodes. They establish a handshake agreement between parties to ensure that the relationship is negoatiated, data isn’t simply made available and vacuumed up by the institution.


But this isn’t a one-to-one relationship – this is multiple nodes connected. Moving data between students and teachers


Students and teachers would interact with their own node – not the LMS or another site. Their Node. Messages from the hub could be displayed, communications sent back and forth, content would be federated so that students could read, annotate and interact with their materials that they would main them forever. All the tools we currently use for learning would all still work – but in a way that is shaped by the student, and with them having access and choice.


The radical of this that students would be able to take their learning with them wherever they please – and for as long as they please. They wouldn’t be chained or confined by the institutions any more. We could start to see this concept of lifelong learning actually be supported by the technology. Students would retain copies of their learning and they would be able to use it how they wish. Creating eportfolios, showreels, blog posts – reusing and repurposing their learning.


At the moment Domain of Ones Own relies on co-opting open source applications to achieve certain needs. Blogging tools like WordPress have become powerful tools in the hands of skilled artisans, but outside of those few individuals have we gone much further than simply blogging? But what if we used those applications the infrastructure of Domain of Ones Own to develop tools specifically for learning?


I still refer to this post from Andrew Rikard when thinking about domains and students. One way of the thinking of the Distributed Learning System is to provide a way to unbudle the students learning from their domain and digital identity. By using APIs we can be more focussed on who and how we share content. And in doing to it not only provides a safe space for students to work in – and still engage with the web, but to do it on their terms, while maintaining their authority and avoiding turning domains into the next checkbox assessment.


The real potential of the DLS is the development of new applications and tools. To utilise the latest technologies and the open nature of the web and software to create new applications that focus on learning, on a pedagogy of the web. We develop methods of learning that are of the web, and are based on discovery, exploration, creativity and reflection.


At the moment there are some fantastic innovations happening out there – over this conference we’ve been introduced to just some of them. But we’re dealing with blips at the moment. To improve and make a difference to online learning and perhaps education as a whole, we have to work to share our knowledge and experiences. We also need to make it easy to adopt them. To learn from one another and our experiences. By creating a system, and while that word may scare some people, it’s really just a way of working, we could share more easily. APIs provide a way that we could share, adopt and adapt new developments more easily – between users and institutions. Having some commonality would provide some cohesion


Moving into the future – if we want to develop and deliver a truly distinctive curricula and learning experience. One that I think would produce the kind of graduates that would thrive in the future. A distributed learning system radically changes the possibilities and provides a way to really develop self directed learner. Providing students with a level of autonomy and agency that is simply not possible within in the LMS and centralised systems, they will develop the skills to manage and define their own learning in a life long way.

If you have comments, questions or ideas – let me know. I’d love to hear them and bounce ideas around.

from Heart | Soul | Machine


The Digital Revolution Will Not Be Powerpointed (nor MOOCed)

I’m not a MOOC completer. I am zero for life.

My longest duration has been maybe 2 weeks, and more typically, much less.

I am not denying that others get value of them and develop rich connective experiences. But I find the recipe structure and the activity behind a login as lifeless as the job of observing paint drying. Why must all courses be so– “course-y”?

Perhaps one day I will meet the right one. One exception that has been pointed out to me is ModPo or Modern Poetry that seems to defy the bore factor and exists in parts outside the MOOC box. I think that’s the one I stayed in the longest.

Maybe I am just a crappy student.

Kate Bowles told me about The Active Citizen in the Digital Age; she said the NovoEd platform was worthwhile for it’s use of small groups.

I was truly interested, I swear! After co-teaching an open course (not a MOOC) with Mia Zamora in Networked Narratives where we had students engage in issues and use tools on the web to communicate, express, network… well I thought I could learn more for the next time.

The course is offered by Stanford, you know the place where some believe MOOCs were invented (Canadians get no respect).

There is a highly polished intro video with the two profs [at Stanford], starting with the flyover of the Stanford Campus, moving upbeat music, and voiceovers over photos of people [Not at Stanford] doing activism.

And then it’s the structure. Little modules. Sequenced logically. Start with 3 objectives. Watch a video of people telling me stuff I can read. An article to read. An assignment to say something in a forum.

And here we go, the assignment for week 1:

What are the actions you take today in the three sectors of democracy (politics, the marketplace and civil society) to achieve impact in the issues you care about?

You have three options for submission. (1) Create a Powerpoint with images, or (2) record a brief video of up to 3 minutes, or (3) write a few paragraphs that tells us about your actions in the three sectors.

Okay, I did jump on the Powerpoint, especially because for week 2 they were shared as examples of quality work.


Please show me one place in the world people are exercising their activism online using freaking Powerpoint.

The assignment for week 2 is to form teams. And write a Mission Statement for our team.

Few phrases launch me more deeply into a coma than “mission statement” — those iceberg lettuce word salads where every ounce of humanity is squeezed out, swept away.

At the same time I am not keeping up with the MOOC, I am deeply engrossed in reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas with her direct experience participating in the Mexican Zapatista uprisings in, Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, and the protests in her home country of Turkey in Gezi Park.

I have yet to read of any of these efforts starting with people crafting a mission statement, certainly not the 140journos group in Turkey:

These young people had indeed thought about the project one day and started it the nest. The details of what they wanted to do were vague; turn social media into a platform for journalism, break the censorship they knew dominated mass media, and become intermediaries for the public. They did not know what the result would be, or that it would turn out to play a crucial role. With all the digital technologies at their disposal, they could start building, and ask questions later.

Well maybe once they checked off their course objectives. On a rubric.

The revolution will not be Powerpointed.

modified the text from “#nowplaying Gil Scott-Heron The Revolution Will Not Be Televised #LP” flickr photo by nworbleahcim shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I find most courses, also academic presentations ignore the basic tenants of film and storytelling to lead strong, to hook people in, and to take them on a story shape of a journey where the end is not revealed at the start.

We are living right now in a momentous, disturbing, maybe even social destructive time of upheaval; how can you not lead with what is going on all around us? There is activism and suppression happening every day, but instead, lead with more or less on the three sectors of democracy.

And this is an example of teaching on the web, using that beautiful HTTP protocal as simply a delivery mechanism. Keep stuff behind the login. Do not venture out and use the platforms and media where digital activism is happening.


I am most certainly being judgemental, but I cannot be part of such a cloistered, bubbled experience. I cannot see any relevance to what is happening right now in this *****ed up world.

In Networked Narratives we did not make civic activism an overt goal, in fact we wanted to have our students create web media and narratives, alternative truths, exploring/creating identity, having open networked experiences, so that, when their awareness get more awakened, they have some tools and skills at hands to do something. More than creating memes and gifs and twitter bots for the laughs, but for a purpose. Their purpose.

We’d never do group mission statements. We’d do hashtags. We’d define a meme image to represent us. We’d develop code language for covert communication on open channels.

We had no budget beyond Mia’s role as a professor and the meager amounts I get for being adjunct. I splurged $35 on a vanity domain and hosted it on my own Reclaim Hosting account. We used free open blogs, annotation tools, media tools. Our “high end” video production was using Google Hangouts to record and my own goofy editing in iMovie.

Our students created memes, gifs, explored bots, learned code ciphers, annotated readings, they visited narrative experts in their place of creativity and conversed on issues with others in Mexico, Vermont, Australia, and Egypt. Our course videos were ‘hacked’ by mysterious entities who turned out to be interested in our fate. We more or less ran TeachProv every week. Students created alternative personalities, gave them voice with twitter bots, explored problems of the Pepsi ad and Slacktivism.

I’m by means trying to say our course is any better. I am not sure we really “taught” anyone the underpinning theory of activism. But what we did exists and lives in the open web, not just on it, not hidden behind a login. We did this in the places where digital activism happens.

We did stuff. And it was not Powerpoint. Not mission statements.

The digital Revolution, it will not be Powerpointed, and you will not understand it inside the glass bubble of a MOOC.

Extra Extra

This video was generated by Sarah Honeychurch out of the pile of words in this post with Lumen 5

Featured Image: Generic screenshot of Powerpoint editor with a little bit of re-writing the template placeholders. Very questionable rights to attribute. Do I stretch the invocation of fair use (remix for parody) or just go WTFPL?

The post “The Digital Revolution Will Not Be Powerpointed (nor MOOCed)” was originally pulled like taffy through a needle’s eye at CogDogBlog ( on May 22, 2017.

from CogDogBlog

Can Higher Ed Help Save the Web?

Big news. 🙂

#Antigonish2 is in the New Horizons column of this issue of EDUCAUSE Review, replete with Jetsons & French Revolution references.

The article is part of a series on whether and how higher education can help save the participatory web. It’s a call for institutions to consider how we can contribute to a less polarized society, online and off.

Check it out here:

Share early, share often. 😉 And big thanks to Mike Caulfield for the invitation to share the project with the EDUCAUSE audience.

from Antigonish 2.0

Recent & Upcoming Conversations on Open & Networked Learning

open network

If you are in the field of open and networked learning, you are likely going through a process of exploring the place of open philosophies and networked/participatory practices in the current political environment, and deciding where your place is in all of this. Thankfully, there have been a lot of spaces for us to discuss these questions together, such as the #OER17 conference which took place in London with the theme “The Politics of Open”. The conference may be over, but there have been several virtual events continuing the conversation, such as the Virtually Connecting Missed Conversation Towards Openness, led by Christian Friedrich and Kate Green and an OpenEdSIG follow-up webinar organized by Teresa MacKinnon.

More recently, this Monday, I led a conversation among several open practitioners and advocates discussing the meaning of open pedagogy. Watch recording below (or read the storify by Robert Schuwer, and some crowd-curated select quotes from blogs Twitter and the hangout itself):

This conversation was sparked by controversy over David Wiley’s initial blogpost (he has since revised his view) on what open pedagogy is, as part of the #YearOfOpen invited posts. I invited a group of people to this hangout (the ones who were able to join were Catherine Cronin, Mike Caulfield, Robin DeRosa, Susan Huggins, David Kernohan, Sheila MacNeill, Tannis Morgan, Viv Rolfe, Sukaina Walji and David Wiley), but I also invited others to participate in the conversation in the week ahead by blogging and tweeting, and I curated those posts here (still going). During the hangout itself, there were around 50 viewers, many of them Tweeting along. It was among the most honest and humble conversations I had ever been part of, as those in the hangout repeatedly showed openness to listening to perspectives different from their own, and found commonalities even as we all challenged each other on our differences. So much that was written throughout the week and of course work of years before influenced many of us in this discussion.

If you are interested in conversations like these, I have listed below several upcoming events where you are likely to find more of them. There are too many insights from this hangout to mention here, but two threads that interest me personally are the angle of looking at openness in education as a means to a social justice goal (see Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani’s upcoming Institute track on this at Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Vancouver) and the power of openness to transform participatory learning via online networks (see the track I am co-facilitating with Kate Bowles on this at Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Fredericksburg) – as I said during the hangout and several people tweeted, you can’t license relationships you develop online. I was also interested in the idea of bringing up the learner, and how use of the term “pedagogy” centers on teachers, giving all power to teachers, whereas open educational practices are more inclusive and anyone (learner, teacher, researcher, faculty developer, you name in it) can feel included. This came out in the hangout but also in some blogposts prior to it. So it is exciting to know that the theme of OER18 will center on learners!

Another interesting conversation, related to networked learning is Bonnie Stewart’s recent blogpost (with insightful comment thread) about an epiphany she had in the middle of a keynote, where she writes, “digital identity, as a practice, operates counter to the collaboration and cooperation that need to be part of digital citizenship.”

She expands:

“We’re algorithmically manipulated. We’re surveilled. We’re encouraged to speak rather than listen. We’re stuck engaging in visibility strategies, whether we admit it or not, in order simply to be acknowledged and seen within a social or professional space.

Our digital identities do not – and at the level of technological affordances and inherent structure, cannot – create a commons that is actually a healthy pro-social space.”

I won’t try to summarize the rest of her argument here, but I will recommend the comment thread, and say that it feels like if Foucault or bell hooks blogged, I wish they would have done it like Bonnie Stewart, letting us into the thought process behind the theorizing. Check out Bonnie’s work on developing digital literacies through her Antigonish 2 project – she is also teaching a digital literacies track at Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Vancouver.

The #OpenLearning17 MOOC has just ended, but the resources and blogposts live on, and the Creative Commons Global Summit is just starting. Here is more of what I look forward to in 2017/2018.

Upcoming events you may find of interest include:

1. Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute

This year there is one in Vancouver in July (with tracks on Open Pedagogy and Social Justice led by Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani ; Digital literacies led by Bonnie Stewart ; and Writing about Teaching led by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel) and one in Fredericksburg in August (with tracks on Domain of One’s Own led by Martha Burtis, Critical Instructional Design led by Amy Collier and Amy Slay, Networked Learning and Intercultural Collaboration led by Kate Bowles and myself, and Introduction to Critical Digital Pedagogy led by Chris Friend and Jesse Stommel). Early bird registration closes May 1st. Register for Vancouver here and Fredericksburg here

2. OpenEd17

This year it is coming up in October in Anaheim, California, and has the theme Sharing, Gratitude and Hope, which resonates so much with how I am feeling now about my PLN and how they make learning possible for me in ways unimaginable 20 years ago. Also a good conference location for families. Just sayin’ 🙂 Conference sub-themes include

  • Collaborations in Support of Open Education

  • Critiques of OER and Open Education

  • Increasing Hope through Open Education (I love this one)

  • Issues at the Intersection of Open and Analytics

  • Open Education in Developing Countries

  • Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Practices

  • The Meaning of Open

  • The Politics of Open

3. OER18

This is all the way in April 2018, and the call is still open to contribute to organizing the conference, but we know these are the themes co-chairs Viv Rolfe and David Kernohan have challenged us to consider:

  • How can open practice and research support learner success?

  • How does Open Education foster learner diversity and support inclusivity?

  • What skills do learners need and develop in experiencing open learning?

  • Politics in action – (following up from #OER17) – what are your latest initiatives in support of learning and growth?

  • How is OER learning from, and contributing to other open activities, e.g. open science, open source, open data, open access etc?

  • Wildcard – what do we need to include? What have we ignored?

4. Creative Commons Global Summit #CCSummit

And for immediate gratification, the Creative Commons Global Summit #CCSummit is happening April 28-30 and if you couldn’t make it, we’re doing several Virtually Connecting hallway conversations with the likes of Cable Green, Laura Hilliger, Doug Belshaw, Clint Lalonde, Ashe Dryden, Lisette Kalshoven, Regina Gong and more! Schedule and signup form here.

What are some exciting professional development opportunities on open and networked learning? Tell us in the comments!

[“Open Wires” flickr photo by opensourceway shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license]

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from ProfHacker

Why I’m not using Twitter next month

TL;DR I’m spending time experimenting with and exploring Mastodon during the month of May. You can connect with me at

Back in 2011, when I’d just discovered Open Badges, I led a semester of learning on the concept. Sometimes it’s not enough to play around the edges; you have to jump in with two feet to understand what something’s about. That immersion confirmed my initial thoughts, and I’ve spent the last six years evangelising and advocating for digital credentials based on that particular open standard.

The same was true back in 2007 when I joined Twitter. I thought that this was something revolutionary, something that could not only change the way that professional development was done in schools (I was a classroom teacher at the time) but literally change the world. Unlike Open Badges, of course, Twitter is backed by a for-profit company that floated on the stock exchange a few years ago. It’s a ‘free’ service that requires on advertising to provide shareholder value.

It was easy to forget all that in the early days, as we were giddy with excitement, connecting with like-minded people around the world. Pre-IPO, Twitter seemed like the good guys, being seen as a key tool in people organising to overthrow repressive regimes. In those days, it was easy to use one of a number of Twitter clients, and to route your traffic around the world to avoid censorship. Now, not so much.

Last week, via Hacker News, I came across 8values, a 60-question quiz in the mould of Political Compass. My results are below:

Libertarian Socialism

While I’m aware that this isn’t the most rigorous of ‘tests’, it did set me off on an interesting path. As you can see at the top right of my results, I came out as favouring Libertarian Socialism. I was surprised, as libertarianism is something I usually explicitly argue against.

I decided to do some digging.

The Wikipedia article for Libertarian Socialism is pretty fascinating and, as you’d expect from that site, sends you off on all kinds of tangents via the numerous links in the text. Given that I had an upcoming transatlantic flight coming up, I decided to make use of Wikipedia’s Book Creator. Within five minutes, I had a 500-page PDF on everything from anarcho-syndicalism to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

To cut a long story short, my current thinking is that Mutualism seems to best describe my thinking. I’m re-reading Proudhon’s What is Property?. He’s a little naive in places, I think, but I like his style.

Anyway, this is all to say that we need to re-decentralise the Web. I wrote a few years ago about the dangers of newsfeeds that are algorithmically-curated by advertising-fuelled multinational tech companies. What we need to do is quickly replace our reliance on the likes of Facebook and Twitter before politicians think that direct digital democracy through these platforms would be a good idea.

Ethical Design

So I’m experimenting with Mastodon. It’s not radically different from Twitter in terms of look and feel, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s important. The above image from Aral Balkan outlines his approach to ‘ethical design’ — an approach ensures things look good, but also respects us as human beings.

Decentralised systems based on open standards are really our only hope against Venture Capital-backed ‘software with shareholders’. After all, any promising new startups that aren’t decentralised tend to get gobbled-up by the supermassive incumbents (see WhatsApp, Instagram). But to get to scale — which is important in this case, not for shareholder value, but for viability and network effects — people have to use these new platforms.

So that’s what I’m doing. During May, a month when my Twitter timeline will be full of UK General Election nonesense, I’m using Mastodon. The only things I’ll be posting to Twitter are links to things I’ve written. If you’d like to join me, head here, choose an ‘instance’ (I’m on and sign up. You can then add me: As in the early days of Twitter, one of the easiest ways to find good people to follow is to find ‘nodes’. I’ve found Anil Dash (@anildash) to a good starting point.

I look forward to seeing you there. It’s a learning experience for me, but I’m happy to answer any questions below!

Header image CC BY Eric Fischer


Higher Education in the Disinformation Age

This was what I said this evening at a panel at the University of Mary Washington as part of its Presidential Inauguration Week. The panel was titled "Higher Education in the Disinformation Age: Can America’s public liberal arts universities restore critical thinking and civility in public discourse?" The other panelists included Steve Farnsworth (University of Mary Washington), Sara Cobb (George Mason University), and Julian Hayter (University of Richmond). I only had ten minutes, so my remarks really only scratch the surface.

In February 2014, I happened to catch a couple of venture capitalists complaining about journalism on Twitter. (Honestly, you could probably pick any month or year and find the same.) “When you know about a situation, you often realize journalists don’t know that much,” one tweeted. “When you don’t know anything, you assume they’re right.” Another VC responded, “there’s a name for this and I think Murray Gell-Mann came up with it but I’m sick today and too lazy to search for it.” A journalist helpfully weighed in: “Michael Crichton called it the ”Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect," providing a link to a blog with an excerpt in which Crichton explains the concept.

Apologies for quoting Crichton at length:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story – and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

I remember, at the time, appreciating parts of this observation. Or at least, I too have often felt frustrated with the reporting I read on education and technology – topics I like to think I know something about. But I hope we can see how these assertions that we shouldn’t read and shouldn’t trust newspapers are dangerous – or at the very least, how these assertions might have contributed to our current misinformation “crisis.” And I’d add too – and perhaps this can be part of our discussion – that how we’ve typically thought about or taught “information literacy” or “media literacy” has seemingly done little to help us out of this mess.

This isn’t just about Michael Crichton’s dismissal of journalism (and I’ll get to why he’s such a problematic figure here in a minute.) It’s the President. “Forget the press,” he said during the campaign. “Read the Internet.” It’s the digital technology industry – including those venture capitalists in my opening anecdote – which has invested in narratives and literally invested in products designed to “disrupt” if not destroy “traditional media.” Facebook. Twitter. Automattic (the developer of the blogging software WordPress). Despite the promises that these sorts of tools would “democratize” information, that the “blogosphere” and later social media would provide an important corrective to the failures of “mainstream journalism,” we find ourselves instead in a world in which institutions and experts are no longer trustworthy.

And yet, all sorts of dis- and misinformation – on the Internet and (to be fair) on TV – is believed. And it’s believed in part because it’s not in print and not from experts or academics or certain journalists.

I wanted to share this Michael Crichton story for a number of reasons. As I was preparing my remarks, I faced a couple of challenges. First, I couldn’t remember where or when I’d seen these tweets, although I was certain I’d first heard about the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect from venture capitalists on Twitter. Searching for old tweets – verifying Twitter itself as a source – is not easy. Twitter’s search function offers us to “See what’s happening right now.” The architecture of the platform is not designed as a historical record or source.

I guess these tweets were the conversation I saw – I spent a lot of time looking through old VC tweets from 2013 and 2014 – although my memory tells me it was Tim O’Reilly, a different venture capitalist, who’d mentioned the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect and had caught my eye.

When and if you do find an old tweet you’re looking for – as a scholar, perhaps, or as a journalist – it is stripped from its context within the Twitter timeline, within the user’s stream of tweets. What was happening on February 28, 2014 that prompted venture capitalist Dave Pell to complain about journalism? I couldn’t really divine.

In this exchange, we have a series of other Internet-based information claims. Journalist Mathew Ingram links to a blog post to explain the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, but if you click, you’ll find all of the links in that particular post are dead, including the one that goes to “The Official Site of Michael Crichton.” If you google “Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect,” the top search result is Goodreads, a book review site owned by Amazon. The excerpt there doesn’t give a date or a source or a link to Crichton’s commentary.

The Internet doesn’t magically surface “the truth.” Its infrastructure can quite readily obscure things. You have to understand how to look for information online, and you have to have some domain expertise (or know someone with domain expertise) so you can actually verify things.

The “Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect” comes from a talk titled “Why Speculate?” that Crichton gave in 2002 at the International Leadership Forum, a think tank run by the now-dormant Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. You can google this stuff, of course. Or maybe you know it. Maybe this is all, to borrow from Crichton “some subject you know well.”

Maybe you’re familiar with Crichton too, or more likely you’ve heard his name – a best-selling author; medically trained, but never formally licensed to practice medicine; creator of the TV show ER; writer and director of the movie Westworld (the one with Yul Brenner); and author of many novels including Jurassic Park, The Andromedia Strain, Disclosure, and State of Fear. After the publication of Disclosure, Crichton was accused of being anti-feminist; after the publication of State of Fear, he sealed his status as one of the leading skeptics of global climate change.

And this is all part of the message of that talk in which he argues for the existence of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. Journalism, Crichton contends, is almost entirely speculation. Sunday talk shows, speculation. Global climate change, speculation. “False fears.” Crichton blames the end of fact-checking on the praise for Susan Faludi’s feminist book Backlash. He blames academia, particularly post-modernism: “most areas of intellectual life have discovered the virtues of speculation. In academia, speculation is usually dignified as theory.”

This was 2002 – Crichton doesn’t blame the Internet. He doesn’t blame the Web. He doesn’t blame Facebook. He blames MSNBC. He blames The New York Times.

2002 – A year before Judith Miller’s now discredited reporting on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq appeared in that very newspaper.

In the past 15 years, I wonder if that the “amnesia effect” has worn off in some troubling rather than liberatory ways. Increasingly we trust very little that the media says. Last year, Gallup found Americans’ trust in the media had dropped to the lowest level in polling history. The media, as Crichton and others contend, is all speculation. “Fake news.”

But it’s not just the media. We face a crisis in all our information institutions – journalism and higher education, in particular. Expertise is now utterly suspect. We mistrust (print) journalists – “the mainstream media,” whatever that means; we mistrust academics; we mistrust scientists.

We still trust some stories sometimes. Importantly, we trust what confirms our pre-existing beliefs. Perhaps we can call this the Michael Crichton Ego Effect. We have designated ourselves as experts-of-sorts whenever we confront the news. We know better than journalists, because of course we do. (This effect applies most readily to men.)

The Internet has made it particularly easy for us to confirm our beliefs and our so-called expertise. Digital technologists (and venture capitalists) promised this would be a good thing for knowledge-building; it appears, instead, to be incredibly destructive. And that’s the challenge for journalism, sure. It’s the challenge for universities. It’s the challenge for democracy.

from Hack Education

Mac emulation in a web page ↦

The Internet Archive is now offering old Mac operating systems and apps, which run in emulation in a web page. The entire Mac emulator runs in JavaScript.

Now people searching for a half-remembered old Mac program may be able to click on a search result, click the start button at the top of the page, and use the program. It’s testament to how powerful today’s computers and software technologies have gotten. This is an important part of history, and now it’s available for everyone to see and use.

[Read on Six Colors.]

from Six Colors

Using WhatsApp as a Private Store for your Documents and Notes

WhatsApp is a perfect messaging app for staying in touch with friends and family. It is super-fast, works on nearly all phones (including desktop computers) and Facebook has no plans to charge WhatsApp users.

You have been using WhatsApp primarily for text messaging and calling but there are a couple of other interesting uses for WhatsApp that will help boost the utility value of this app even further. Other than communicating with the external world, you can also use WhatsApp to:

  1. Capture and save ideas, notes, voice memos, scanned documents and everything else in you own private storage space that is accessible from everywhere.
  2. Quickly transfer web links, documents, screenshots, and other files between your computer and phone without having to sign-up for another service.



The idea is simple. You create a new virtual contact inside WhatsApp and, everything that you wish to capture privately, you can just share it with this virtual contact.

It is not possible to send WhatsApp messages to your own number but there’s a simple hack to get around this problem. Create a new WhatsApp group with just a single participant – you. Here’s how:

  1. Open WhatsApp on your phone and create a new group.
  2. Add any contact from your address book to this group. Give your group a name and save.
  3. Now go to the group in WhatsApp, tap the subject to view the list of participants.
  4. Tap and hold the lone participant in this list and remove them from the group.

That’s it. What you now have a private store in WhatsApp that is visible only to you and accessible from the web (desktop) and your mobile phone.

If you wish to transfer a document from computer to phone, open on the computer, send the file to this group and it will instantly become available on your phone. There’s search built-in so you can easily find messages by keyword later.

Thank you Sidin Vadukut (blog, books, twitter) for this useful tip.

from Digital Inspiration Technology Blog

DIAGRAM Center Provides Guidance on Accessible Images

April 11, 2017


DIAGRAM Center Provides Guidance on Accessible Images

Here at ProfHacker we’ve written several posts over the years about accessibility of digital resources for all people, including people with disabilities. Right now, my campus is engaged in a 3-year plan to get all of our digital pedagogical resources to adhere to federal regulations regarding accessibility. One issue that has been the subject of many conversations is the use of images and how best to make them accessible while still fulfilling their function in teaching.

I’m a big fan of WebAIM’s user-friendly explanation of using alternative text with images. However, while searching online for additional information or examples related to this topic, I came across a new-to-me resource: the DIAGRAM Center website, an initiative of the non-profit Benetech and other partners. The DIAGRAM (Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) Center site has a number of substantial sections:

  • Making Images Accessible: “[R]esources developed by the DIAGRAM Center to help content creators provide image descriptions.”

  • 3D Printing, Tactiles and Haptics: “New technologies for creating tactiles and tactile experiences [to convey] spatial information”

  • Accessible Math: “[M]ultiple ways for students to interact with math content, including equations, graphs, and other notation.”

  • Born Accessible Publishing: “[R]esources to help publishers and the myriad of other new, digital content creators understand the basics of how to make content born accessible”

  • Research projects: Descriptions of several different DIAGRAM Center research projects with links to examples, demos, and further information.

I strongly recommend the information and tools available in the “Making Images Accessible” section of the site if you’re want to better understand how to make accessible the images you use in your teaching (and / or share electronically with your students). In particular, the “Poet image description tool” can walk you through a series of questions to help you determine what you need to do to make a particular image accessible, and it can — so they say — facilitate crowd sourcing the description of images. And if you’re looking for detailed guidelines about a variety of different kinds of images — Venn diagrams, flow charts, bar graphs, scatter plots, maps, etc. — then you’ll want to consult these “Image Description Guidelines.”

All in all, this site is a very impressive project.

How about you? What are your favorite resources that help you make your materials accessible? Please share in the comments.

[“bokeh” by katinalynn is licensed under CC BY]

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from ProfHacker

The Role Of The University In Our World

I had come across Your College Degree is Worthless as part of my regular monitoring of the API space, which is a story I see regularly from the startup community, partly due to my relative position to my partner in crime Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) and her Hack Education work. It is a story startup like to tell when they are selling technology fueled solutions they see as a replacement to the college degree, in this case, the author is developing a startup based on selling apprenticeships with other startups. I’m linking to the story and startup not because I support them, but because it provides a great example of the corrosive effects that startup culture has become.

Shortly after reading this story I went to Oxford in the UK to speak with the Oxford Dictionaries API, and while in Oxford I walked around several of the schools there. While experiencing Christ Church and Magdalen colleges this story came to mind, and I spent time thinking deeply of the hubris and delusion of tech culture. Imagine believing that an internship at a startup is more valuable than a college degree and that higher educational institutions should be dismantled and replaced with startup culture–we have created quite a magical echo chamber.

I get it, you think the startup experience is amazing, and everyone should do it. You see academia as an exclusive group. A party maybe you were never fully invited to. Also, you smell opportunity, selling folks what you see as an alternative. But, you are missing so much. How can an apprenticeship at a startup every replace studying literature at a university, and immersing yourself in, well, learning? What a hollow, empty world to live in where running a business would ever replace literature, philosophy, art, and other meaningful aspects of being human.

While in the UK I had the pleasure of taking my 16-year-old daughter with me, and I took her with me to Oxford that day. It isn’t a school she’d be applying to, but we also visited Edinburgh University on the trip, which might actually make it on her list of schools she’ll be applying to in a year or so. I think about the experience my daughter would have at startups vs the experience she would have in a university environment. I want my daughter to be successful, but this doesn’t just mean making money, it also involves be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted in her life. Something that a university environment would contribute to, but I shudder to think about in the volatile, male-dominated, "meritocracy" of startup culture.

I do not have a university degree. Hell, I do not even have a high school diploma. I have no allegiance to any academic institution, but I completely respect what they do, and refuse to take for granted what they have done for our world. Sure, higher educational institutions have their problems, but so does startup culture. It troubles me that so many would be willing to support the concept of a university degree being worthless, willfully dismissing what a university degree has done for so many on the planet. It leaves me seeing startup culture as some sort of virus being unleashed on almost every sector of our society today.

I know. I know. Not all startups. Yes. Just like not all men. Just like not all white men. But have you ever taken the time to actually step back from your startup aspirations, let the effects of the kool-aid fade, and thought about life beyond technology and making money? There are so many other aspects of life that make it worth living, something that universities have played a significant role in. Maybe we could spend more time thinking about the positive role startups should play, and not the dismantling of good things, simply so you can profit frsellinging their replacement.

from Kin Lane