Baby Snarf

This is a ridiculous thing. It came into my head the other day and it amused at least a few of my children . . . once I explained what Snarf was.

I plan to make ridiculous things more often. I initially had it up on SoundCloud but they took it down after a few hours as a copyright violation. Rather than fighting them about what my rights are, I’m just putting it up on my own site.

Then I couldn’t find a decent1 Snarf gif on Giphy so I made one of those too. Nothing fancy in either case but this is the kind of useless, amusing things that I really like about digital media and the Internet. Consider it the opposite of surveillance capitalism.

The character Snarf from Thundercats rubbing its hands.

Baby Snarf

This is a ridiculous thing. It came into my head the other day and it amused at least a few of my children . . . once I explained what Snarf was.

I plan to make ridiculous things more often. I initially had it up on SoundCloud but they took it down after a few hours as a copyright violation. Rather than fighting them about what my rights are, I’m just putting it up on my own site.

Then I couldn’t find a decent1 Snarf gif on Giphy so I made one of those too. Nothing fancy in either case but this is the kind of useless, amusing things that I really like about digital media and the Internet. Consider it the opposite of surveillance capitalism.

The character Snarf from Thundercats rubbing its hands.

SPLOTbox With More Configurable Media Variety

As alluded to last week, some expansions have come to the SPLOTbox media collector theme for WordPress.

It made sense to add support for image-type media, making the SPLOTbox perhaps a bit broader than TRU Collector. This was relatively easy, so a SPLOTbox site can accept uploads of images (JPG, PNG, GIF), or add them by direct link to a URL, but also through autoembed of flickr.

And built in support is baked in for MixCloud (audio), Giphy (you know what they offer, right?), plus Slideshare and Speakerdeck (presentations).

All of these are in play, and you can see examples on the demo site at http://splot.ca/box

And this all works if you want a Big Box of All Kinds of Media. But I thought there might be use cases where a site should just accept certain types of media, say for curating videos, or maybe just audio.

So as of now (or 30 minutes ago), the theme options includes checkboxes to designate the media sites that are supported via URL:

Options screen for Media supported Bu URL, checked are flickr, giphy, mixcloud, soundcloud, TED Talk video, vimeo, and YouTube.
You can now choose which media sites are supported by SPLOTbox.

These are then reflected on the front end share form as the list of sites supported (and if URLs for unsupported ones are entered, you see an error message).

Changing the theme options lists only the ones checked as supported (note Metacafe appears because this site runs an extra experimental plugin to extend support to more sites, this remains to be published as a plugin as it is pretty crude now).

If you update a site, there is a small chance on first load none will be checked, I’ve yet to isolate the use cases where this happens. This just means you have to check the ones you want to enable.

There also have been simplications on many of the SPLOTs to reduce the reliance on code in page templates for generating a link to a random item. I was able to pull that out into the general code (this is part of a secret SPLOT project I will hint at below) (that’s for any human that might be reading this) (hi human).

What I had done on many of my themes is to have a WordPress page template named page-random.php that was merely code.

// set arguments for WP_Query on published posts to get 1 at random
$args = array(
    'post_type' => $ptype,
    'post_status' => 'publish',
    'posts_per_page' => 1,
    'orderby' => 'rand'
);

// It's time! Go someplace random
$my_random_post = new WP_Query ( $args );

while ( $my_random_post->have_posts () ) {
  $my_random_post->the_post ();
  
  // redirect to the random post
  wp_redirect ( get_permalink () );
  exit;
}

This means to generate a URL for random content at a site located at http://somesite.fuzzy/, a Page is created with a URL slug of random and then http://somesite.fuzzy/random does the redirect work.

But this is all done in theme code now! Magic? Nah. The first part is registering a query parameter that the site can accept, like ?random=1

// -----  add allowable url parameters
add_filter('query_vars', 'splotbox_queryvars' );

function splotbox_queryvars( $qvars ) {
	$qvars[] = 'random'; // flag for random generator
	return $qvars;
}

Then we need to add a rewrite rule for /random to be picked in a URL:

// -----  rewrite rules for licensed pretty urls
add_action('init', 'splotbox_rewrite_rules', 10, 0); 
      
function splotbox_rewrite_rules() {
	// let's go random
	add_rewrite_rule('random/?$', 'index.php?random=1', 'top');	
}

And now we can handle the logic that was in the template in the theme functions:

add_action('template_redirect','splotbox_random_template');

 function splotbox_random_template() {
   if ( get_query_var('random') == 1 ) {
		 // set arguments for WP_Query on published posts to get 1 at random
		$args = array(
			'post_type' => 'post',
			'post_status' => 'publish',
			'posts_per_page' => 1,
			'orderby' => 'rand'
		);

		// It's time! Go someplace random
		$my_random_post = new WP_Query ( $args );

		while ( $my_random_post->have_posts () ) {
		  $my_random_post->the_post ();
  
		  // redirect to the random post
		  wp_redirect ( get_permalink () );
		  exit;
		}  
   }
 }

Why is this a big deal? Well it’s not. But I am working through what might be a major leap for SPLOTkind… it means pulling all of the functionality out of a theme template… and into a yet to be fully fleshed out plugin. It means a major amount of re-coding the SPLOT logic, but if it works, it could mean the SPLOT functionality could be independent of theme.

That’s a lot of maybes for now, but so far the work is progressing well.

This new version of SPLOTbox is been tested on a few of my sites, but I could certainly stand for anyone out there to give it a go on your own site – get the latest version at https://github.com/cogdog/splotbox

Maybe you will see colored muffin tins.


Featured Image: Modified by adding SPLOTbox theme image to Muffin Tin Monday – Sweets & Treats lunch flickr photo by anotherlunch.com shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Never Dad-less

There’s no preparation I had as a kid for thinking of a Father’s Day without Dad around, prepping his barbecue for grilled steak even on his own day. I had no world without thinking of him in it.

Then you grow up, supposedly.

That photo was on the last birthday I celebrated with Dad, it taking place in the hospital in May, 2001. Two months after seeing a doctor about bad stomach pain, we learned it was invasive cancer around all his organs. Nothing could be done.

Eighteen years ago.

Even then he sported his self described “shit-eating grin.”

I need to work on my own version of that.

As I mull over what we’d talk about now. He’d want to know about life in Canada, he’d say how happy he is that I found Cori. We’d talk about the landscaping we are doing, he’s share his own yard adventures. He’d mention reading my blog. He read every single post I wrote. That’s what Dads like him do.

So I just try to listen for the echoes of his voice, his laugh. His quiet gentleness, his always being there Dad-ness.

That’s why it was extra special to have a visit from Cori’s Dad, Albert, today, we got to show him and Cori’s mom all the crazy things we are doing to our yard, turning it from a suburban expanse of boring lawn grass into an oasis of trees and native shrubs.

Albert is beyond legendary, his grace, can do attitude, things he overcame, and the way he gave everything for his family is a level of Dad-ness we can all aim for.

One is never Dad-less and one always can strive for a higher level of Dad-ness.

This I know.


Featured Image: Last Birthday with Dad, May 2001, in the Fort Myers Hospital.

Weekly Web Harvest for 2019-06-09

Chasing the Course Arc: Storied Workshop for Kenyon College

After engaging with a group of high energy faculty/staff at Kenyon College last week, the answer for the Campbell Consortium may just be… “maybe”.

The question was set up as Seeking Answers: Can a Narrative Tie a Course Together? Whether there is such an organization as the Campbell Consortium is beside the point… or is the point… or is pointless.

Okay, I’ve done nothing in two paragraphs to initiate this story, I jumped right into the “ordeal” stage.

Late last year, Joe Murphy asked me about designing a summer workshop at Kenyon. They have had strong support under a Digital Storytelling Initiative. Joe relayed that they have done the personal video story approach, and the web 2.0 approach, and a few more that are in line of my spate of DS sessions- tools and creativity. I sense Joe was looking or something different- like the Courses as Stories podcast I had done with Bonnie Stachowiak.

Joe recruited a great group of faculty to sign up for this experience, from a cross section of subject areas- History, Biology, International student support, Library, Neuroscience, Education, Women’s and Gender Studies, Russian film & literature, and Dance.

This question, can the idea of finding something to drive a course beyond the schedule/syllabus, what I’ve used in DS106, the You Show, (2014-2015 at Thompson Rivers University) Networked Narratives (2017-2019 at Kean University), be spun into other subject areas? Mine were ones where a backstory was introduced, and my co-teachers and I played characters in it, tied by short weekly episodic, low budget production videos. You have to be nutty to do that much extra work.

Besides the subject matter, what can tie a course together?

Based on the comments of the earlier blog post as well as conversations with my nearby storytelling expert (my wife, Cori whose thesis was a deep study of storying real experiences alongside students) the idea of suggesting a class built around a fictional narrative looked narrow. And I like others may think of “narrative” as being fiction, when it is, as Gardner Campbell reminded me, was more broadly a word for arrangement.

So I built in spaces to talk about other ways to “tie” a course together, what was more important was framing in the storytelling concept of an ‘arc’ for the experience. This could be a large Big Question; a theme, a long term project.

It was a brilliant conversation with Cori on a scenic drive (that was to the Great Sand Hills, right?) where she suggested even making the workshop itself have a narrative. Hence the opening video sent to participants ahead of time, where I introduced the “Campbell Consortium”.

My idea for the workshop was not to come with answers, or magic tech, but questions. We would tease out the idea as well as do media making activities aimed at playing out metaphors and themes that could operate along side their thinking of possible arcs in their own courses.

Ah, there was one more wrinkle I put in there, and credit Joe and his colleague Ashley for being willing to do this… I was not there in person.

What?

You see, with my move to Canada last year, my travel status was uncertain into late Spring, and even though I did get my permanent resident card, I am currently without a US Passport (I had to mail it away for renewal, hoping it returns here soon).

We gave thought to surprising them, but that seemed a bit of a blindside, so we let them the circumstances before the workshop, leaving an exit door if it bothered anyone. They all showed up.

So I was present via video screen, not all that different from the ways last year I taught Networked Narratives and a MA Thesis seminar at Kean. We had a two camera set up in the small conference room, one on the back where the room mic could pick up all audio, and portable “Alan on a Stick” camera, an ipad mounted on a tripod on wheels. This meant they could move it around so I could see who was talking.

Joe set me up with a domain to hang my materials, I had him give me a WordPress multisite, and I pulled out the usual bag of web tricks.

A main site… for general info, agendas at https://storied.kenyoncip.org/

Web site for workshop with title Can a theme or narrative art tie an entire course together?

I also set up a DS106 style activity bank for media creating tasks, a TRU Collector SPLOT for image sharing, and a TRU Writer SPLOT site for participants to write up their ideas as of the end of the workshop.

The days were set up as:

Day 1: Exploring the Narrative Thread – overview of storytelling, more detail on the shape of stories (you know that means the Kurt Vonnegut video). We had a play with the new Epic Heroes card game created by Keegan Long-Wheeler and the rest of the Monomyth Online crew.

They got very engaged in discussion here, and they all wanted to keep their cards (or get a set). They added pictures of their cards and their responses to the Collector site.

Two images of faculty sharing their cards and talking
My view of the room during the Epic Heroes card game

In the afternoon, they picked and choose Image activities from the Make Bank (many borrows from DS106 and NetNarr) — Joe suggested good chunks of hands on creative time (no need to convince me).

One piece I added was inviting participants to contribute to an open Google Doc for the sessions, as one place for shared note taking (see Doc 1 and Doc 2).

Day 2 was The Thematic Thread, an alternative for those who did not feel like a narrative/fictional approach was a good fit, this was looking at thematic/topical ways of course tying. We had a great conversation about non-disposable assignments (with some well deserved pushback on the way I had framed it). There seemed to be good resonance with the Wikieducator type projects and a desire to look more closely at how those work. We also had a nice set of demos/conversations with 4 other Kenyon faculty who shared their approaches of using storytelling, semester long projects, and media making.

For the media making on day two, I set them up with some audio making activities.

Day 3 was aimed more at asking them to develop their evolving idea into some kind of “pitch” to make for some visitors, plus some video/animation type media activities. For the close of the workshop I had invited colleagues to come in via Hangout (thanks Gardner, Ed, Mia) as reps of the Campbell Consortium to give feedback to ideas pitched by participants (these were added to a “Pitch” site).

Yes I could not resist calling this session… Arc Tank (yes, I ripped off my own ripped off idea of Thesis Tank)

Words ARC TANK superimposed on a shape of Kurt Vonneguts shape of story curve, all atop a shimmering underwater view of a place sharks might swim
Pitching to the Arc Tank

For all the atypical workshopness I threw at them, they did not bend or fold. Many stayed in the room working through lunch, and I’m pleased to see the collection of ideas they wrote up. Any feedback you might have would be most welcome:

I did not see a significant taking up of the narrative arc approach. It’s a bit zany to do, is it? My tentative conclusion is that it’s pretty far out there, and likely best suited for the storytelling/media making courses that I have done before. But I’m not giving up on others taking that route.

Mainly I hope the idea of an arc can at least work as a means of thinking of a course more of an experience, a happening, than 16 weeks of assignments leading to an exam and roll the credits.

I sure appreciate Joe being willing to go along with this crazy workshop idea.

We are still waiting to hear back from the Campbell Consortium…


Featured Image:

More Ways to Plug Into SPLOTbox

In a media making workshop I ran last week (overdue for the blog queue), I found it both reassuring to see how participants took to sharing media created in a TRU Collector SPLOT powered site and also saw some shortcomes that led to some useful code rabbit holing this weekend.

On issue was when we moved on to audio activities, I had no place ready for them to share their work (SoundCloud was suggested, but we had wariness on creating new accounts, and as a colleague noted, they seem to be going out of business for the last 4 years).

In a quick thought, I just sent them to a demo site for the SPLOTbox theme. This is a SPLOT WordPress theme that creates a site where audio and video content can be shared by link (for ones natively embeddable in WordPress) or uploads of audio files (video is problematic for the web player and for file size).

It reminded me that there seemed no reason that a media jukebox could not also include images. So I tinkered to add the ability to add images (JPG, PNG, GIF) as uploads or by direct links to images on the web as URLs.

But while in there, I added as well a feature to include flickr photos by URL to the page that contains them. And while looking at the list of content WordPress can natively embed by just a URL, I noticed that they added Speaker Deck for presentations (l have stopped using Slideshare as it’s heavily encrusted with LinkedIn paw prints).

(Oddly enough they still do not list giphy as being supported by embed via URL but I have been doing it for a while).

This means rather than fishing for an embed code in Speaker Deck, I can put a plain text URL on a new line in WordPress, like https://speakerdeck.com/cogdog/i-deal-in-stories and have it automatically embedded (hmm see some funky truncation in my theme, sigh)

Cough.

So I have added both Slideshare (why not) and Speaker Deck to the sites supported in SPLOTbox, as well as Mixcloud for music.

I’m still testing and cleaning up, but you can see it in action on the test SPLOT at http://splot.ca/box the last few items are a bunch of tests.

Currently the theme supports media as URLs from Adobe Spark Pages/Videos, Flickr, Giphy, Internet Archive, Mixcloud, Slideshare, Soundcloud, Speaker Deck, TED Talks, Vimeo, YouTube plus uploads or links to audio and image media of types .mp3 .m4a .ogg .jpg .png .gif.

This offers more plugs into a SPLOTbox site, but on a drive today, mulling this over, I am thinking it would be even better for a site owner to decided how many of these to offer- e.g. if I was building a site of just YouTube curated content, or only things from the Internet Archive, I could set these as theme options.

That is likely coming soon.

One more new feature is the SPLOTbox theme adds a search form to the top navigation (suggestion) by Daniel Villar-Onrubia):

Finding cats in a SPLOT? SPLOTbox theme will soon have an integrated search box on the menu bar

These features need a bit more testing, but hope to update the repo site soon. Give the new media features a try at http://splot.ca/box


Featured image: by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

Weekly Web Harvest for 2019-06-02

ANTH 101 – A Deeper Dive

Michael Wesch - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME

It’s been a good while since I had the pleasure of working with Mike Wesch and Ryan Klataske on ANTH 101. I revisited the course recently to write a letter of support for an award submission for online courses. I am posting an extended version of that letter below because I think it paints a path with online courses that is rarely followed but is, nonetheless, replicable and worth considering.

Bigger Picture?

I see ANTH101 as a path forward that makes me hopeful in an online space that seems increasingly depressing.1 You have two races currently in online learning. There is a race to be the cheapest and easiest place to enroll.2 This article on Liberty “University” paints that picture pretty well. This world will be like the fast food industry in many ways. How uniform can we make things? How automated? What’s the least we can pay the fewest humans? The only path to profit will be through ridiculous scale. There will be very little difference between these providers. They will use LMS products that are very similar while following very similar online course rubrics and probably (poorly) paying many of the same adjunct/itinerant online course faculty. Additional sadness will occur when the same OPM is creating content, marketing etc. for multiple universities for the same courses and programs.3 There will be increasing overlap as course, LMS, and textbook become one thing you buy (as a student or an institution). The differences will grow ever smaller. Scale will need to increase ever more.4

Then there is the prestige battle. That’s obviously trickier as restricting access to the Harvards of the world is what makes them prestigious.5 The media here will likely be high dollar. They’ll do TED-Talkish-Dineyfied-Edutainment™. Read what colleges are paying to develop these courses. It is insane. They’ll likely try to sell off badges and certificates to try to get at the scale they need to make it profitable without becoming less exclusive. You see that happening with Coursera and Ed X MOOCs. Exclusivity for the masses! Do not worry. The brand will be protected. Order will be preserved. We’ll resell these courses to other Universities.6 US News & World Reports will still tell us what the best education is.7

With all that at least partially vented, let’s look at what ANTH 101 does differently.

ANTH 101

The core message of ANTH 101 is that you have to “live your way to a new way of thinking.” In life, and especially in online courses, it’s easy to do what has been done before. It’s easy to take the safe road. Textbook publishers and LMS vendors have built the content and tools that expeditiously serve the established patterns. Those goals have been pretty low–counting discussion board responses and automatically grading quizzes as students plod along well-trod paths. Standardized tools and standardized content result in standardized experiences. ANTH 101 breaks those expectations and sets a new path for possibilities with patterns and tools that are broadly applicable, replicable, and focused on engaging students.

ANTH 101 doesn’t just take on the most difficult aspects of online learning; it actually turns these difficulties into features that improve the entire experience. It is the ability to take seemingly opposing forces and unite them in a way that is more powerful than the two parts that makes ANTH 101 a course worthy of admiration and emulation.

The idea that an online course needs to live in a single online space is a popular myth. ANTH 101 leverages a variety of tools and platforms to make a cohesive experience that is powerful and compelling because these different tools do different things well. The efficacy with which these things are blended together with a large and diverse student body (not to mention an external faculty) is proof that this can be done and it can be done well.

The main site (anth101.com) acts as the central hub for a number of tools and platforms. This site is built in WordPress which enables Professor Wesch and others to create, edit, and publish multimedia content without a high degree of technical overhead while still maintaining the ability to create a website with impressive aesthetic polish. The course doesn’t feel like a mundane LMS course–it feels and behaves like the kind of website students would visit without the coercion of grades.

A large portion of student content creation is done in Instagram. Using this tool helps deal with a number of significant problems. In a class with large numbers of authors creating multimedia content based on due dates you get large but short pulses of resource demands. Those peaks in demand are followed by longer valleys where you don’t need nearly that much server power. It becomes more difficult to predict the level of resources you’ll need when you open the course to the public. This drives up expenses and increases technical overhead. By passing the media creation and storage to Instagram, ANTH 101 can be hosted on a very low-cost server. Additionally, Instagram is a tool and community that most of the students are familiar with already. This lowers support needs with the additional advantage of being able to use Instagram’s support team when technical issues do arise. Using a familiar tool that is associated with a student’s life outside education also helps reinforce the theme that this experience is about making changes in how you live and perceive things outside of a single course. ANTH 101 is about the real world and it uses the tools you use in that world.

One of the more important features of the ANTH 101 is the attention to detail. One place that’s especially obvious is in the course is how the work has been framed. They are not assignments but challenges. Shifting the language from the outset helps change how students perceive the work they’re doing for the course. Assignments are things forced on you by outside actors. Challenges are heroic things you take up of your own volition. Each challenge is designed to cover particular learning objectives as one would expect, but the challenge is also meant to create media that other students would be interested in experiencing. These challenges are the kind of content that invite curiosity and investigation. As such, student work becomes an integral part of the course.  Previous exemplary student responses to these challenges are highlighted to help set high expectations. Students actively read and comment on each other’s content increasing their own exposure to a variety of anthropological concepts while also binding them together more deeply as a community. The fact that ANTH 101 students continue to participate and communicate long after the course is over is one of the strongest possible indicators of the success of this course.

ANTH 101 is a large-enrollment class with hundreds of students taking the course at Kansas State each semester both online and in person. Additionally, the course is open to faculty and students at other universities.  Large numbers of students from multiple universities taking a general education class results in extraordinary diversity. Students come to this class with a variety of life experiences, widely varying educational backgrounds, and vastly different reasons for taking the course. That diversity is incorporated into the course as an affordance rather than an obstacle. Student perspectives change because they are exposed to and interact with so many differing viewpoints.

While ANTH 101 is a large community it uses hashtags in Instagram to create communities at various scales so that all participants can find connections and inspiration. There is the main course tag #anth101 which lets students and faculty see any challenge from across the entire community. This scale may not be optimal for community building but the sheer volume of content helps creates energy and enthusiasm. Students see and participate in a community beyond their individual course and see perspectives that are different than their own. There are also challenge-specific hashtags like #anth101challenge3 which focus the content to that one challenge. Seeing students from all over the world doing the same challenge changes how students perceive their own work and helps reinforce thematic elements of the course. Smaller communities led by teaching assistants or outside faculty have their own hashtags like #anth204hedges. This allows for the creation of smaller more tightly knit communities. On a pragmatic level, the combination of challenge hashtags and community hashtags makes it easy for teaching assistants to stay on top of student participation.

The role of content in this course is powerful and innovative in a number of ways. The videos that Professor Wesch creates establish his social presence while also teaching the content. There is a continuous juxtaposition of his life with the larger frame of anthropology. The tandem progression of getting to know your professor and getting to know anthropology is a powerful narrative.  The student work follows this pattern. Students get to know themselves and their environment while gaining larger anthropological understanding. Students also get to see their professor as a person who is not only actively participating in the challenges he asks of them but who is also engaging in the same risks and adventures. Group cohesion is continually reinforced when students see and comment on one another’s work throughout the class.

This content also embodies the principles of the class as Wesch captures his own mistakes, documents his fears, and “lives his way into a different way of thinking.” These adventures are often very physical–like when he learns to do a handstand or to play an instrument–but are captured and reflected on digitally. Once again, we have two seeming opposites–the digital and the physical–being used to create something greater than the two parts.

ANTH 101 provides media in a myriad of formats. The course content exists online in a mixture of text, audio, and video. It’s also accompanied by a digital textbook that can be accessed for free or printed out for a small fee. An interactive digital textbook is available through Top Hat which includes self-grading quizzes and interactive elements.

There is no question that Professor Wesch is a talented creator of all kinds of multimedia. That requires a great deal of skill and commitment. But Professor Wesch also does a remarkable job of using publicly available media to reinforce conceptual messages and support students technically. For instance, in Challenge One – Talking to Strangers, media from popular culture is leveraged in a number of important ways. First, the challenge itself has been a popular challenge on social media. There are strong examples out there and it’s likely a number of students have seen them. That helps set a higher bar for what the students are going to produce while making the concept more approachable because of its familiarity. Because the concept is popular, Wesch can then choose from a variety of sophisticated media that has already been created to provide conceptual and technical support for students. You can see that clearly in the conceptual framing given to this challenge in the Humans of New York video and in the Big Talk video. Five Tips for Better Street Photography hits the other end of the spectrum by providing technical advice for this type of photography. Students get the advantage of powerful and engaging media featuring perspectives from outside academia while Wesch is able to incorporate sophisticated multimedia from subject matter experts without incurring additional cost. This blending of course content and “real world” content is a vital aspect of the course.

What ANTH 101 does is create an experience that leverages the digital to do more in the physical. It embodies the values of the discipline of anthropology in the challenges and the tools that comprise the course. The faculty of ANTH 101 live the experience with their students. Most impressive of all, the course continues to evolve. It would have been easy to stop when the course was successful. That didn’t happen. The course itself follows the model and continues to “live itself” into something better, something larger, and more powerful with each semester.

The Biggest Picture?

Given this was a letter of support, I didn’t get into concerns with Instagram8 and data privacy. That is something I worry about but one I worry about with Blackboard and Google and everything else we use with students.9 I don’t know how we deal with scale or create certain levels of technological sophistication without investing time/people/cash in a way that doesn’t seem to be happening these days. We seem to have let this lie for a long time and we are now so reliant on “free” services I don’t know what the path back looks like.

I also wonder if Mike could create something like this without such a blend of skills and interests. I don’t think you can hand off the creation/consideration of media and tool(s) to someone else and create a course like this. That’s just not how it works. If I’m right that would mean we need faculty who are more involved with the media and tools of online in addition to their discipline. They don’t have to be programmers but we can’t opt them out of the process the way many people are encouraging for online courses. The venn diagram of knowledge that is teaching, tools, and discipline should overlap significantly for all the people involved. That’s not an easy or popular argument. Those people aren’t cheap or easy to replace.

Long term, I also wonder about the University itself. If we’re teaching online courses and the students are not interacting in substantive and intentional ways with other students in other courses (within and outside their particular program) then what purpose is the larger University construct serving? Why wouldn’t you cut out the University as a middleman that adds little value while increasing costs? It would seem a short step for OPMs to begin getting accredited. From there the idea of gathering super star faculty that they could pay like tutors in South Korea seems equally plausible.

The window for higher ed to do some good things is closing. The path to a future does not lie in creating more of what already exists. The path to a successful restaurant does not lie in reselling pre-packaged food and hoping branding wins the day. We have lots of talented people but if we’re not aspiring to things worth their effort why would they stick around? If online higher education can’t make being part of a large community an exciting and beautiful thing, why bother with the overhead?


1 I will be your faithful Mumen Rider on this journey but only if you’re watching the original series with subtitles.

2 Now with 24hr a day rolling admission and a free phone shaped like a graduation hat! Operators, naturally, are standing by.

3 Online professional masters degrees are so hot right now.

via GIPHY

4 Do our current visa issues with China impact online education? New markets must be found! Can we educate pets online?

5 9 million people applied . . . we didn’t let anyone in. How exclusive is that?

6Many of these investors, of course, hope to make money on MOOCs, most likely not by selling the courses directly to students, but by renting them to small schools that then pair the outsourced lectures with proctored tests and, in some cases, group discussions and extra assignments.

7 Which is worse though, the rater or the desperate ratees?

8 I’m also frustrated with their API changes which broke a really nice aspect of the course. We have no recourse there.

9 What information does the school’s internet provider have?

Weekly Web Harvest for 2019-05-26