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

Wiki.ucalgary.ca 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… UCalgaryBlogs.ca is a close second – I launched the first iteration of that service as weblogs.ucalgary.ca 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 badges.ucalgary.ca 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

adjusting my social media diet

For once, I’m not deleting anything. But, I’ve been struck by how

a) bad algorithmic news feeds are at actually getting what I want and need, and

b) how horribly distracting and time-sucking they are.

Companies – and we’re well past the rubicon of DIY internet hippie utopia – it’s companies all the way down now – have no reason to make their algorithms work better for me (or other humans). Their algorithms weren’t designed for that – their only reason for existing is to generate advertising revenue for the company, and to maximize that at all costs.

Cool. But I don’t have to use their crap. So, I’ve logged out of Twitter on every device I use. It’s no longer in my pocket, or on my desk, or anywhere else convenient. I won’t be deleting my account, but the only way I’ll be posting to Twitter will be through my blog. And I won’t be able to follow along, or check out the awesome hashtags or trending tweeters or whatever.

But! It’s 2018! How will you function? How will you stay part of communities?

I’m not going anywhere. RSS is still a thing – compare the noisy flashing algorithmic stream pushed at us by social media companies, with this:

A place where algorithms (if they’re in there at all) work to help me, not to pad anyone’s B2B enterprise advertising ponzi endeavour.

And. It’s a place where I can be done, close it, and move on with my day.

Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can’t you put it down? – The Globe and Mail

The article isn’t as hyperbolic as I was braced for, and connects the recent spate of Facebook billionaires lamenting that they just discovered that Facebook may not be the best thing for people or society (but thanks for the $billions).

I’m not about to say that having supercomputers in our pockets, wirelessly connected to the sum of published human knowledge and to every other pocket-supercomputer, is anything but an incredible boon for humanity. But, the way that capitalism and advertising revenue combined with algorithmic distribution to maximize “engagement” and tie into the feedback loop to boost ad revenue and then tweak algorithms and then boost ad revenue etc. etc. ad nauseum? Yeah. That might need a little work.

To ensure that our eyes remain firmly glued to our screens, our smartphones – and the digital worlds they connect us to – internet giants have become little virtuosos of persuasion, cajoling us into checking them again and again – and for longer than we intend. Average users look at their phones about 150 times a day, according to some estimates, and about twice as often as they think they do, according to a 2015 study by British psychologists.

Add it all up and North American users spend somewhere between three and five hours a day looking at their smartphones. As the New York University marketing professor Adam Alter points out, that means over the course of an average lifetime, most of us will spend about seven years immersed in our portable computers.

Source: Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy. So why can’t you put it down? – The Globe and Mail

The Looming Digital Meltdown – The New York Times

Zeynep Tufekci, in the NYTimes:

Modern computing security is like a flimsy house that needs to be fundamentally rebuilt. In recent years, we have suffered small collapses here and there, and made superficial fixes in response. There has been no real accountability for the companies at fault, even when the failures were a foreseeable result of underinvestment in security or substandard practices rather than an outdated trade-off of performance for security.

Source: The Looming Digital Meltdown – The New York Times

Her butler metaphor is great, too.

Testing podcast hosting – hello, world!

A test podcast episode, chock full of interesting hello-worldly goodness. Likely, to self destruct once I see how this PodLove plugin works… Looks like the “episode” content type behaves nicely on my site, bypassing the “ephemerator” plugin, and presenting a handy web player. Nice.

2017 in review

This won’t be a big mopey retrospective, but I thought it would be useful to document some of the major things that happened this year. It’s been a doozy. In roughly chronological order…

  • My team continued to be awesome. I’m so fortunate to be a part of such a diverse, thoughtful, and insanely productive team.
  • The Taylor Institute hosted the 2017 University of Calgary Conference on Post-secondary Learning and Teaching. I hosted the Ignite sessions. It was fun. We’ll be doing that again.
  • I was co-author of an article about using a humanoid robot to teach people to assemble mechanical gearboxes, published in ACM HAI 2017.
  • We launched an OER pilot program at the UofC. 10 small grants were given out, to help 10 instructors find, adapt, adopt, or create open educational resources in their courses. We deliberately selected courses with a broad range of disciplines and levels – everything from large first-year courses all the way up to small senior grad courses. We’ll be using what we learn through the pilot to make decisions about how we can support open education (and OERs) more broadly as a university.
  • I got some health news.
  • We wrapped up the first round of EDU strategic planning process, as documented in the department’s ePortfolio.
  • I finished the coursework portion of my PhD program with a 4.0 GPA. Go figure. Now for the easy part. Candidacy, research, dissertation and defence. *cough* The coursework was an amazing experience – working on everything from connecting research methods in performing arts to SoTL, to programming a humanoid robot to reproduce a recorded performance, to playing with data and information visualization.
  • We’re about to launch a new “Learning Technologies Advisory Group”, which will make it much easier to make recommendations for how the learning technologies and platforms offered by the UofC can be adapted and enhanced to make the teaching and learning experiences better.
  • Probably a bunch of other stuff that I’m forgetting at the moment. It was a big year.

Chopped Design: Learning Edition | Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Adapted from the popular Food Network game show, four teams will battle it out, generating innovative learning designs in real time before the audience and a panel of judges. Course by course, teams are “chopped” until one remains. The challenge? Teams have only minutes to plan amazing student learning experiences with a basket of mystery ingredients. Then at the sound of the buzzer, they head to the chopping block to face our panel of expert judges: Leslie Reid (Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning), Nancy Chick (TI Academic Director and University Chair of Teaching and Learning) and Richard Sigurdson (Dean, Faculty of Arts). On the chopping blockEach team is a dynamic combination of University leadership and TI staff. Come cheer them on!

Source: Chopped Design: Learning Edition | Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

I’ll be doing my best Alton Brown impersonation, as host for the event. We had a blast doing this at the Werklund IDEAS conference this year, but this one will be at a whole new level…