Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

Tim Carmody, posting on, about Dan Cohen’s “Back to the Blog” post.

…blogging either needs its own mechanisms of ambient humanity — which it’s had, in the form of links, trackbacks, conversations, even (gulp) comments, all of which replicated at least a fraction of the buzz that social media has — or it needs a kind of escape velocity to break that gravitational pull. Gravity or speed. Or a hybrid of both.

Source: Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

We’ve seen another way. It’s possible, and we know that because it worked for years, at internet scale. But the mechanisms of ambient humanity in the Big Silos won because most people really don’t care about the infrastructure. People just want to feel connected to people, and there was less friction in the silos – at the cost of giving up and/or losing control.

There are absolutely parallels in edtech. Instructors and students largely interact with each other online via the institutional learning management system, rather than richer distributed venues designed for each individual context. Or, rather, some courses use those interesting non-sanctioned venues anyway, because they suit their needs, but without the blessing of the institution and at risk – both personal and institutional.

Student data (names, emails, ID numbers, grades, etc) needs to be tightly managed by the institution for very good reasons – we can’t violate the privacy of our students, either through active leaks or from passive breaches due to data becoming siphoned off into other tools without our control. I get that we need to control the data. But we’re also setting up a mirror of the social-media-to-corporate-silo model, which has been shown to be harmful in so many ways.

So. How to support the decentralized needs of an incredibly diverse and interesting ecosystem of communities, while protecting sensitive personal information, without stifling the interesting and creative activities that are possible when students and instructors have more control over their own environments?

Road trip to the end of the world

Arizona is an amazing place. Driving south from Strawberry, we passed through about a dozen distinct biomes, and ended up in a landscape that would be at home in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

The drive left some quality time for mobile playlisting…

And winding up in Winslow, arizona, where it appeared as though we formed a Conga line of tourists waiting to be photographed next to a statue commemorating some obscure song by a no-name indie band.

All part of Old Route 66…

And then, back through the Crazy Cavalcade of Ecosystem Biomes on the way back to the northern highlands, through spatterings of snow.

Finally, winding up at THAT Brewery in Strawberry, where Alan is some kind of Internet bigwig or something.

volumetric video of a (jazz) performance

For my PhD research, I’ve been bouncing ideas around for how to volumetrically capture a performance or classroom session in 3D, and then layer on additional contextual data (interactions between participants, connections, info from dramaturgy, info from SoTL, etc.).

This NEBULA experimental jazz video by Marcin Nowrotek kind of gets at some of what’s in my head. Imagine this, showing a group of students collaborating in an active learning session, and instead of notes/percussion visualizations, some kind of representation of how they are interacting etc… Also, since it’s all in 3D, imagine being able to interact with the recording in 3D using fancy goggles.

Thanks to BoingBoing for the link!

notes on setting up a podcast in 2018

I hadn’t published a podcast since 2005, back when podcasting meant “automating downloads of audio files to an iPod because there’s no internet connection when you’re mobile” and not “any kind of media, and nobody even remembers what an iPod is anymore, and why on earth wouldn’t you have an internet connection all the time?”

Anyway. I’d assumed the passing decade would have meant audio production tools and podcast publication tools would have matured significantly since the good old days. Nope. Audio editing still basically sucks. Audacity works, but is destructive and fussy and a pain sometimes. GarageBand is so horribly designed for actually editing audio that it’s worse than Audacity. There are other editing tools, but they all seem to suck in various ways. Where’s the simple, non-destructive, easy audio editing tool that lets you remove noise and make the audio sound good? iMovie does it well for video. Where’s the audio version of that? I want my hovercraft.

For publishing the podcast itself. Holy. There’s third-party solutions like Libsyn etc. but they require you keep your eggs in their basket. I’m not about to do that – I learned that lesson long ago. For self-hosted podcast publishing, it looks like PodLove for WordPress is about it. It’s close, but requires you to have FTP access to a directory, so I can’t run it on UCalgaryBlogs. So. I’m self-hosting my podcast here on my own blog. It works.

Then, there’s submitting it to the iTunes podcast directory, so people can find it. There’s a validator, but it was barfing on my feed. It complained that my server couldn’t handle “HEAD requests”, which, of course, it can. So I figured one of my caching or security plugins was helpfully blocking the byte requests. Yup. Disabled WordFence, and the iTunes podcast feed validator worked. I’m a bit nervous about having to turn off WordFence, though…

It’s been awhile. Nothing much has changed. Weird.

Introducing the new look for D2L at UCalgary

We’re getting ready to roll out the new “Daylight” interface for D2L, which will go live on May 4, 2018. The biggest benefit is a responsive design, which will make the experience on mobile devices much, much better. And, it will also make it more usable through screen readers and other accessibility devices. Also, it’s very shiny.

I’ve given versions of this intro many times in committee meetings, and it’s time to have a quick video version so we can just email people a link. So, after spending a few minutes in our beautiful new audio booth, and a couple of hours messing around with Camtasia

This (or a less cringeworthy version of it) will likely get posted as an embedded video in a News item on our main D2L server sometime before May 4, so all people who use D2L will get to see the new interface before it becomes active.

OER at the University of Calgary

The Pilot Project was announced in March 2017 at UCalgary Open Education Week, with the call for proposals being released in July 2017. Workshops were held for academic staff interested in obtaining an OER grant. In late August 2017, the UCalgary OER research assistant was hired and committee met and decided on the ten pilot project grant recipients. A list of the recipients and details of their projects can be found here. The project runs until June 30, 2018.

Source: OER at the University of Calgary | UCalgary OER

We’ve been running our Open Educational Resources pilot project for 6 months now, and have a diverse group of profs and students building OERs for 10 courses in a wide range of disciplines. Funds for these pilot projects were provided by our Provost, through our Vice Provost Teaching and Learning. University-funded projects that will reach many students in the next few months.

The cool thing is there are 10 other projects (or more?) that happened outside of the pilot project. Some with Alberta OER funding, some with funding from elsewhere. So, 20 OER projects at one university, building resources to improve learning and reduce costs for students. Love it. Can’t wait to see the UCalgary OER   showcase as part of Open Education Week 2018. A lot has happened in a year!

The Tyranny of Convenience – The New York Times

A good article by Tim Wu in the New York Times, on the effects of convenience.

Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable.


Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.

(Extend that line of thought to Twitter/Facebook vs. individually owned websites distributed across the internet as a heterogeneous and diverse culture of sharing and interacting…)


We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. When you can skip the line and buy concert tickets on your phone, waiting in line to vote in an election is irritating.


Source: The Tyranny of Convenience – The New York Times


This is why blogging largely died out (Alan pointed out in the comments that blogging has definitely not died out, and that there are still bajillions of active blogs. Which is awesome. But it still feels different now, to my curmudgeonish self) , replaced with tweeting. This is why RSS largely died out, (also, not so much actually dying out…) replaced with algorithmic activity streams. Because it’s easier to just numbly follow a stream. This has huge implications on how we interact with each other, and how we formalize our thoughts. It’s a race to the bottom, to the easiest possible form.

On living without social media

Well, mostly. I’ve been mostly without Twitter for a couple of months now. I haven’t had a Facebook account for much longer than that. I stopped Instagramming when Facebook bought them. I’ve deleted the Twitter apps from my devices, and now if I want to check in I have to use the browser. Not having notifications or easy launching of a stream adds a bit of friction. I also have 2-factor authentication enabled, and logout after checking in, so dropping into twitter is deliberately kind of a pain in the ass. I only post to Twitter via auto-tweeting from my blog when I post here.

What I’ve noticed recently is that I’m also living without the hot-take. I don’t feel like I need to post my cleverest reaction to everything, nor am I interested in everyone else’s cleverest reactions to everything. I find I’m thinking with less snark. I’m being less sarcastic in general. And I think that has something to do with withdrawing from the hot-take snark-and-sarcasm streams on social media.

I read more. I follow more people via RSS1, and I’m really digging NewsBlur as a feed aggregator/reader.

Where my day previously was basically “constantly check twitter. Put the phone down. Pick it up. Forget why. Check twitter. Repeat. All. Day. Long.” It’s now “check email, check feeds in NewsBlur, check the Times to see if Agent Orange has done something dangerously stupid, check Reddit to see interesting things in the subs I subscribe to. Done.”

That last part, “Done.”, is huge. My entire online checkin might take me 10 minutes. Maybe twice a day. And then I can be done with The Internet™ and walk away and do more interesting things. I am no longer concerned about Being Right on the Internet™, nor of correcting Those Who Are Wrong on the Internet™. Or feeding (or avoiding) the sociopathological trolls2. Who cares? Life is way too short to spend time worrying about that kind of nonsense.


  1. and wish more people were publishing interesting and thoughtful things on blogs or whatever, rather than tweeting into the wind []
  2. eg. this guy, among others []

decommissioning a campus wiki is the longest-running learning technology platform at the University of Calgary – I launched it back in December 2004, and it’s been chugging along for over 13 years. It’s a teenager. Generations old, in internet time.

It started with a blank copy of Mediawiki, and an edit button. Over 13 years, 1,871 pages were created (for everything from faculties and departments, to collaboratively published articles for student projects to resources for organizing courses and programs). 71,393 edits were made (many of those were reverting spam attacks, however).

But, it’s time to put the wiki out to pasture. The activity over the last decade has been tapering off, and now edits are few and far between. The time for this campus wiki has passed.

Although it was used quite heavily in the early days, the wiki has stayed as a project supported and managed by myself. Which obviously isn’t sustainable (even though that horribly irresponsible hosting service has outlasted every other platform hosted by the university for academic use… is a close second – I launched the first iteration of that service as back in March 2005!)

So. I’ve made a static copy of the wiki, and will be decommissioning the PHP/MySQL “live” version. I’ll leave the static copy up until the internet is no longer a thing, but without the overhead of managing a server, updating software, and scanning for vulnerabilities and spam.

we’re hiring – learning technologies specialist

I’m looking to add another member to the Learning Technologies Group in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and learning. It’s part of a really amazing team, and will involve consulting with instructors, providing advanced technical and pedagogical support for the integration of learning technologies, and the development of resources and programs to support the work of the team.

It’s a limited-term position, and we’re looking to hire quickly. If you know someone who would be awesome for this, please share the posting with them. If you are someone who would be awesome for this, please apply!

What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party – The New York Times

A tragedy is like a fault line. A life is split into a before and an after, and most of the time, the before was better. Few people will let you admit that out loud.

Source: What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party – The New York Times

That bit resonated. Actually, the whole article resonated a bit more than I’m comfortable with. Small talk becomes a bit like navigating a mental minefield. “How are you?” is either answered with a gentle lie, or with the truth. The gentle lie is what people are usually asking for, and, frankly, is what I usually want to say anyway. The truth is brutal and scary and life-altering and nuanced and exhausting. “I’m fine. How are you?”

Birdcage liners – Joel on Software

Algorithms, tuned not to help readers but to help advertisers. Intermittent reinforcement tuned to maximize engagement/addiction. This is some scary shit, but it’s the web in 2018. We can do better.

But whereas Twitter sort of stumbled upon addictiveness through the weird 140-character limit, Facebook mixed a new, super-potent active ingredient into their feed called Machine Learning. They basically said, “look, we are not going to show everybody every post,” and they used the new Midas-style power of machine learning and set it in the direction of getting people even more hyper-addicted to the feed. The only thing the ML algorithm was told to care about was addiction, or, as they called it, engagement. They had a big ol’ growth team that was trying different experiments and a raw algorithm that was deciding what to show everybody and the only thing it cared about was getting you to come back constantly.

Source: Birdcage liners – Joel on Software

And now, Facebook has seen the light! Its former executives are lining up to denounce the horrible things that Facebook has done. Zuckerberg is now pivoting away from algorithmic news (because hey that’s evil) toward algorithmic posts-from-friends.

Good news! Except that won’t help. It will only tighten the feedback loop and prop up the bubble. If you’re more likely to see things from your friends, you’re less likely to see things serendipitously. You only see what you agree with. Therefore everyone agrees with you. Bubble intensifies

Certificates (and badges) in university teaching and learning

This is a program we launched in Fall 2017, to coordinate programming offered by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning for graduate students who are interested in developing expertise in university teaching and learning.

It’s run on the platform built by my team (go, team!), as well as D2L courses for online content and discussion. As grad students work through the program, they earn badges for completing a set of workshops or sessions in an area of focus:

(My team works with our Learning and Instructional Design team to offer sessions in the Learning Spaces & Digital Pedagogies badge.)

If a grad student works through all of the badges over a year or 2, they earn the full certificate, which is a recognized credential. It’s a great, low-stakes way to scaffold grad students as they build expertise in teaching as part of their career as students at UCalgary.

The narrative of teaching development in higher education is often “nobody ever thinks of grad students. ever!”. Here’s an example of what happens when a university values teaching, and an entire Institute mobilizes to develop robust and sustained programming for graduate students to develop into great teachers.

Next, instructors and faculty members…


How do we Indigenize post-secondary curriculum? | UToday | University of Calgary

We’ve been learning more about Indigenizing the university, and how we might approach that as an Institute. This article by Gabrielle Lindstrom is a great overview.

Indigenous pedagogy, which refers to a way of teaching using Indigenous educational principles, is grounded in creating, fostering and sustaining good relationships between student and teacher. Teaching moments are found in the human-to-human interactions which are reciprocal — my students understand that I have certain knowledge and experience they can learn from and I understand that I, too, can learn from my students.


Rather than compromising excellence, Indigenous epistemology, therefore, offers students the opportunity to strive for their full potential without compromising their human dignity or those of other cultures.

Fantastic. Indigenization is as much about shifting the power structure as it is about learning the history.

Source: How do we Indigenize post-secondary curriculum? | UToday | University of Calgary