Hugo Screencast Demo

Some people1 have asked me how Hugo works for publishing my site. It’s working great for my needs, and although it still needs some command-line work, it’s simple enough to learn it.

I’m a newcomer to Hugo, so there is probably a better way to set it up and run things, but this works for me so far.


  1. OK. It was 2. 2 people have asked. But maybe more are curious about how Hugo works, and it might be handy to have a record of this as a snapshot of blogging in 2020… ↩︎

Combining Section Feeds and Filtering the Homepage in Hugo

I’ve been setting up my website, and had things working pretty much exactly how I want them. But, I’d been struggling with how to properly separate content on the website while combining content in the main site feed. The main reason is to be able to have things like /reflections to separate week-in-review reflection posts without overwhelming the homepage with weekly posts that would make all other content that I post on less than a weekly cadence be lost in the noise.

It’s a pattern I’ve used for years - writing the Ephemerator plugin for WordPress to filter categories such as Asides or Photos from the homepage while still allowing all content into the main site feed so people don’t have to jump through hoops to subscribe to multiple feeds if they want to follow various types of content. Who would bother to do that? Not me.

In Hugo, the home.xml feed (that is used to generate /index.xml in the published site) is set to include the same content as the homepage. This is configured through the website’s config.toml file:

[params]
    # determine which sections are displayed on the homepage
    mainSections = ["posts", "podcast", "notes"]

I realized I could create my own paramater, and then use that to control the behaviour of the main feed. So, I copied the mainSections line, and pasted that immediately below it to add a new parameter to control the feed separately:

[params]
    # determine which sections are displayed on the homepage
    mainSections = ["posts", "podcast", "notes"]
    
    # determine which sections are included in the main site feed (in addition to their own separate section feeds, as usual)
    mainFeedSections = ["posts", "podcast", "photos", "notes", "reflections"]

So now I have a new parameter, mainFeedSections, that I can use to define the sections to include in the main RSS feed, separate from the parameter that controls the sections to include on the homepage.

I have a custom home.xml file in my site, separate from the default and the one provided by the theme (so I can change themes without breaking functionality), at: layouts/home.xml. It has a line that filters items to include only those in params.mainSections (as defined in config.toml, shown above): (in my home.xml file, it’s at line 15)

     {{ range first 15 (where .Site.RegularPages "Section" "in" site.Params.mainSections) }}
    <item>
      <title>{{ .Title }}</title>

A trivial modification, changes my line 15 to:

     {{ range first 15 (where .Site.RegularPages "Section" "in" site.Params.mainFeedSections) }}
    <item>
      <title>{{ .Title }}</title>

And now I’ve completely reproduced my Ephemerator WordPress plugin, without having to write any code. Tweaking a couple of text files that are used at runtime to generate the website.

hugo  rss  blog 

Joining the TRU Digital Detox program

I’m following Brian’s lead, and signing up for the TRU Digital Detox program that will run throughout January 2020. I’m not sure my health plan covers the cost of a full rehab, so this will hopefully serve to help nudge me toward thinking about my relationship with online technologies.

Brenna Clarke Gray has been setting up some really interesting work in her new role at TRU (and, really, the whole TRU Open Learning team is doing some seriously awesome work). I’m looking forward to learning more from them throughout the detox.

TRU Detox

Moving beyond the LMS as platform of content consumption

I’ve had the opportunity to work with leaders from various faculties, to develop work plans for developing communication/support, inventory, and procedures that are involved in providing and integrating learning technologies into courses. There are a few themes that keep coming up (paraphrased):

  1. we need to be led by pedagogy, not technology
  2. our tools shape what we do with them
  3. campus platforms are designed for the institution, not the people within
  4. our processes for requesting/implementing new tools can be prohibitive and stifling

Looking at Brightspace, our campus LMS1 is automatically available for use by every course, in every faculty. If a course exists in Peoplesoft, the instructor is able to activate a course site in Brightspace and use it for whatever they need. The courses are customized slightly for each faculty (some navigation tweaks, some default content, maybe some grade schemas…). The instructor then builds the course - adding course content, setting up discussion boards, gradebook, assignments.2 Then, typically on the first week of the semester, the instructor activates the course and students can access it.

What struck us in the last Learning Technologies Advisory Committee meeting was how completely instructor-centric that process is. Students are primarily users of the LMS as consumers of content. They can review pages/documents uploaded by an instructor. They can respond to discussion board threads. They can read announcements (and possibly respond to Activity Feed posts). They can upload assignments. They can view their grades. Yes, there’s a blog tool in Brightspace, but… woof. It’s… how do you say… not good.

Students are only able to contribute to the course site in response to a prompt by the instructor. As part of a transaction.

Read this prompt, and respond in this way.

Students can get creative about how they apply the tools - but the only really unscripted contribution that is visible to other students is in the discussion board. They can use the Insert Stuff™ tool to include various things in their discussion board posts - images, videos, files, etc. which gives lots of flexibility - but they’re still stuck with a transactional response to a prompt from the instructor.

Students can’t edit course content. They can’t build a module of the course together, or collaborate on a page. They could use something like Office365 or Google Docs to collaborate on a single document - but that’s outside the context of the course. We hear from instructors all the time that they are frustrated that they can’t just toss the keys to the students to let them build content together within the course site.

What if students spent the semester gathering samples in a pinterest-ish class website?

CPSC683 class blog Computer Science 683 Information Visualization - class blog

What if multiple cohorts of students over several semesters and years worked together to build a wiki to help teach about energy? Energy Education wiki Energy Education wiki

Back to the paraphrased themes:

Our course sites are largely defined by the technology - it’s easy to upload content, so that’s what happens. Word docs. Powerpoints. PDFs. Uploaded for access - and this is a great thing. I would have loved to have had this as an undergrad. But the problem is that is where things, largely, end. Content uploaded. Done. Moving on.

Our technology shapes what our students do as part of their learning. If it sets up their interaction as responding to a prompt through a transaction, that’s an entirely different type of engagement than co-developing resources together. How can we better design and configure our tools - including Brightspace - to be more focused on pedagogy rather than institutional efficiencies? This will be a focus for me in 2020.

Our platforms streamline institutional proceses - and they have to, in order to be able to handle the sheer scale of what happens at a university - but that streamlining also dehumanizes the platforms. Yes, there are small ways to rehumanize, such as changing the banner image for a course, or changing the layout used within a course site. But that’s nowhere near the level of individual autonomy that we find outside the LMS on the wild internet. Which is why people - instructors and students - naturally seek ways to do things outside the LMS.

Which brings us to the processes for requesting new tools and evaluating existing tools - if the LMS is the institutional platform, designed to streamline institutional processes and enable online courses at scale - how can we as a university better enable instructors and students to spin up their own tools in ways that are supported by the institution? How can we make it easy to use pedagogically interesting tools, in a way that doesn’t push a burden onto the instructors and students who need to use them? Things like making them review the security model of a tool, or the data provenance, or contracts and licensing, or setting up authentication. Or - preparing the tool in such a way to not be exposing anyone to increased liability for things like copyright, or academic audits, or figuring out how to respond to FOIP requests. Without good processes in place, people are forced to stay within the LMS out of fear (of increased workload, of liability, of things not working, of lack of support…). Or, they feel forced to stay outside the LMS so they have more flexibility and control over the experience.

There are some really interesting examples of this working - OpenETC is truly amazing - a small team, on a shoestring, launches a provincial platform to support individuals in using a variety of interesting learning technologies. Reclaim Hosting and Domains of Ones Own are fantastic - and have been running at scale for years now. WestGrid and Compute Canada provide access to some tools such as Jupyter Notebooks for academic use - and that model could be expanded.

This is going to be a major focus of my work throughout 2020, as I get to lead the Processes Working Group as part of our campus Learning Technologies Advisory Committee.


  1. even with a campus LMS, there are still pockets across campus that use different learning management systems for various reasons. We still have Moodle, WeBWork, Canvas, and a few others in various niches… ↩︎

  2. To be fair - that’s exactly what we’ve asked from D2L and expected from Brightspace. When we launched in back in 2013, we were solving the “Blackboard is going away and we need to replace it with something better” problem. Which we did. And Brightspace has been a really solid platform. But - that initial problem solving approach meant we implemented it in a different way than if we had taken a step back and started from pedagogy and vision and community and design. ↩︎

work 

2019 media log

I didn’t really track my media consumption in 2019 - most of this was pulled together from watch history in various platforms, and from memory. So, likely huge gaps in there. My non-work reading was pretty sci-fi focused - I need to branch out a bit there, maybe after book 9 of Expanse comes out…

Anyway. Here’s most of the media I consumed in 2019.


Movies

In theatre1

  • Joker2
  • Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker34

On demand

  • Captain Marvel
  • Avengers Endgame3
  • John Wick 3: Parabellum

Netflix

  • FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
  • The Hangover
  • The Hangover: Part II
  • Going in Style
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • Murder Mystery
  • The Great Hack
  • Between Two Ferns: The Movie
  • El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Amazon

  • Shutter Island

TV5

  • John Wick
  • John Wick 2
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien 3
  • Prometheus
  • Alien Covenant
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Apocalypse Now
  • The Matrix 1-36
  • Star Wars 1-66

Books

Work

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High - Kerry Patterson et al.
  • Radical Candor - Kim Scott

Not-work

  • Brief Answers to the Big Questions - Stephen Hawking
  • Everything Change, Volume II
  • The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu
  • Robert Charles Wilson
    • Spin
    • Axis
  • James SA Corey
    • Cibola Burn
    • Nemesis Games
    • Babylon’s Ashes
    • Persepolis Rising
    • Tiamat’s Wrath
    • Auberon
  • Exhalation - Ted Chiang

TV5

Netflix

  • Travelers (season 3)
  • Conan Without Borders
  • Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable7
  • One Strange Rock
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Sick Note (season 1)
  • Santa Clarita Diet (seasons 1-3)
  • Stranger Things (season 3)
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (2019)8
  • Orange Is the New Black (season 7)
  • The Good Place (seasons 2-3)9
  • Living with Yourself (season 1)
  • The Office (misc episodes - mostly because The Boy™ is on his 9th binge of the show…)
  • My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman (season 2)8
  • Grace and Frankie (seasons 1-5)
  • Lost in Space (season 2)

Amazon

  • The Expanse (seasons 1-4) - easily one of the best sci fi shows ever made for tv.
  • American Gods (season 1 and a bit of 2)10
  • The Tick (seasons 1-2)
  • The Grand Tour (some misc episodes)

Apple TV+11

  • For All Mankind
  • See
  • The Morning Show

sci-fi channel

  • Star Trek: Discovery (season 2)

HBO12

  • Westworld (season 2)
  • Chernobyl
  • Game of Thrones313
  • Band of Brothers14

AMC

  • Walking Dead15

  1. I didn’t get to be in theatres much this year - chemo makes it less attractive to be sitting in a crowded room with a hundred strangers coughing and breathing the same air and hoping my immune system doesn’t bork… ↩︎

  2. We saw this as a family on opening night. Amazing. It was an ugly, ugly movie, but it needs to be watched. We all sat in stunned silence for a few minutes at the end. Not a movie you enjoy, but it was incredibly powerful. Joaqin Phoenix deserves an oscar for this. ↩︎

  3. it was a thing. it’s over. for now. ↩︎

  4. interesting, how every planet has breathable atmosphere with no respiration gear needed. and how does a planet somehow being stuck in the middle of an obstacle course even work? and the bad guys somehow need a navigation tower to even know which way is up, but the good guys just go full throttle with no problems. and every species somehow looks like a person or a horse in a suit - no diversity in body plans, chemistry, sensory organs. and where were the factories for making the star destroyers, or the cities to house the workers, or the supply chain management logistics centres or the garbage dump. etc. etc. ↩︎

  5. I didn’t document any of this, so live tv is mostly missing. Lots of reality tv stuff in there because that’s what you watch so you can spend time with your person. Lots of filler crap that’s watched only as background noise while doing other things. ↩︎

  6. portions of, anyway - I always seem to watch, but never actually watch and have it on as background and never actually finish watching ↩︎

  7. I’m definitely not a fan - she’s just so insufferable and mean at times - but with a smile so haha funny - but this was interesting. ↩︎

  8. I’m so impressed by their interviews - they obviously enjoy what they’re doing. But they get a little full of themselves and talk way more than they should. Shut up and let the guests talk already. ↩︎

  9. I need to catch up on this one. Such a good show, and funny. Well written. Great acting. Actual thinking about philosophy in a way that makes it just invisible. ↩︎

  10. I gave up on this one. It was just too relentlessly brutal and self-congratulatory. Interesting, but another one that felt like grinding XP. There is no prize for finishing that side quest. ↩︎

  11. I had to replace my old macbook air for work, and my new laptop came with 1 year of AppleTV+ subscription. I’ve been really impressed by the shows so far. I may have to replace my old AppleTV (which is no longer compatible with AppleTV+) to watch AppleTV+ on my TV without having to hook my laptop up via HDMI because the HDMI output from the AppleTV+ app on my iPad seems flakey. ↩︎

  12. I cancelled our HBO subscription after GOT ended. Not out of protest, but good lord we pay a lot for cable tv and I need to trim that. ↩︎

  13. This was a trainwreck, but I had to watch it to the end. What a waste. Nothing mattered. Which could have been an interesting message, given how many lead characters were killed throughout the series to show nobody is safe. But to end it with literally nothing in the entire show mattering? Just the chaos ladder and people riding it out. Stupid. Even worse than the stupid ending to Battlestar Galactica. ↩︎

  14. I usually watch as much of this as I can fit in when they air it around Remembrance Day. ↩︎

  15. another train wreck that I gave up on somewhere. Just so boring and monotonous and into itself. Watching this feels like grinding XP in some stupid game that wasn’t fun to begin with, but somehow has you stuck doing monotonous chores for some unknown reason because you can’t just stop, can you? yes. you can. I did. another colossal waste. ↩︎

movies  tv  books  media 

On 2019 and looking forward to 2020

2019 was a year for the record books. Looking back, it was basically a constant stream of life-altering challenges (many of which were profoundly unbloggable), but we got through everything and are thriving as we go into 2020.

Looking back at 2019…

Ringing the bell after finishing chemoI went through chemo. But, I made it through and am now stronger than I’ve been in years. And, when it does come back, I know that we have a plan in place and that it works. Hopefully, we won’t have to test that for another 5-10 years.

I turned 50. Which, given what I went through for the whole chemo thing, is pretty fracking fantastic. Hopefully, I’ve got another good couple of decades left in me.

My small but mighty team continues to do amazing work, punching well above their weight. Almost all of my work this year has been literally unbloggable. Manager stuff that has confidentiality implications. Manager stuff that is not confirmed yet and so therefore can’t be shared publicly. And much of my manager-ing has been administer-ing rather than leader-ing this year, which is really just uninteresting as blog source material. I completed the ULead University of Calgary leadership development program (after washing out of the last few sessions due to the chemo thing, and completing make-up assignments by the end of the year). I learned so much about myself, about leadership as opposed to management, and I learned from an amazing cohort of leaders from across the university.

We launched the YuJa video platform and integrated it with D2L. In the first semester, we already have over 330 courses and 2,300 people using it. Amazing. And Curriculum Links launched campus-wide, and has already been used to facilitate curriculum reviews in 3 different faculties.

Although paused for medical leave, I continued thinking about the PhD and am planning to kickstart it in the new year. I started working with a couple of other grad students to share preparations for candidacy, and am really looking forward to working more closely with them and getting reconnected to the ILab as well.

back on the hill after being out of action for a couple of yearsAfter being largely inactive for a couple of years as I bottomed out on that whole no-hemoglobin thing, I started being more active again and it felt great. I went skiing, and didn’t feel like my lungs were going to collapse or my legs were full of cement. Sure, I was sore and tired, but only because I’m old and out of shape, not because cancer is literally sucking the energy out of me. That’s pretty awesome. Looking forward to getting back out to the mountains more this winter, and getting back on the bike in the spring.

My family is doing great, although we’ve had a series of challenges with aging parents and hospitalizations and house-selling and moving-into-long-term-care. They’re thriving now, and are together. It’s been a rough year. Hoping 2020 has less excitement on that front.

I rebuilt my blog after moving it from WordPress to Hugo, and am feeling pretty happy about how it’s set up now. I really dig having a blog that is just a bunch of text files, doing editing in an actual text editor (yay, BBEdit!), and not having to worry about server-side stuff. No updates. Nothing. Just write, run my little “Blog Publish.command” app, and hey presto it’s done. I’m not sure how much more active I will be in blogging, but I hope to be sharing more. I have no idea how many people still read this thing, or which posts are most-read.

Looking forward to 2020…

2020! My god. That’s a made-up science fiction year from some speculative future. And yet, here we are. 2020. One fifth of the way through the 21st Century.

One thing I’ve realized is that I lack clarity of purpose - a personal mission statement, if you will. I’ve kind of been running on cruise control, doing things that need doing and being productive but not necessarily building toward a vision of something that is important to me. I really think this lack of personal clarity is a big part of why I feel like I’m struggling, that my work doesn’t matter, that I’m not making a difference, etc. One of the few projects I’ll be working on over the break is to develop some form of personal mission statement that I will use to drive my work (and to re-energize my PhD work). A huge part of this is feeling like I’m bogged down in the administrator-y parts of being a manager, and I will be working hard to shift toward a focus on leader-y bits of the role.

I’m co-chairing (with our awesome Vice Provost Teaching & Learning) our new university-wide Learning Technologies Advisory Committee - a group of leaders from across the university, coming together to identify ways to develop and implement a cohesive and sustainable strategy for the use of digital learning technologies by our community members. We just formed a set of working groups to start the actual work, and I’m hoping to blog a bunch about that work in the new year. This committee and the working groups is what was missing from the initial Strategic Framework for Learning Technologies developed back in 2013 by the campus Learning Technologies Task Force. Now that it’s in place, I’m super optimistic about the things we’ll be able to do together, and to start to build some momentum and vision - and leadership - as a community.

We have a bunch of projects in the works for 2020 - including a rebuild of the elearn.ucalgary.ca online learning support website, to make it more relevant to pedagogical considerations rather than being predominantly tech how-to recipes. Lots of ideas for showcasing what effective online learning looks like - feels like - and why it matters, in addition to providing the basic info to help people be effective in their work.

My role as “Business Lead” for online learning technologies will be a focus this year - developing processes and guiding policy to make sure people have access to effective tools and that we’re focused on pedagogy and the learning experience first.

I’ll be sticking close to home again this year. Although I’m healthy enough to travel, our provincial austerity budget1 basically means no travel for staff members2. So, I’ll be focussing on local events like our annual conference, possibly hosting a D2L regional community event in 2020, and exploring online conference hosting/participation more.

I will be reading a lot more this year, especially with my PhD candidacy coming up (hopefully by summer 2020) and putting together the core reading list. Likely 30 or so books and manuscripts to go through before prepping for candidacy itself. Also, I’ve ordered a copy of Cow Country and am looking forward to some lighter reading over the holiday break. For fiction, I’ve been plowing through the Expanse novels (and am looking forward to the 9th and final book being released soon).

So. I have a feeling that 2020 will be an epic year. Hopefully for an entirely different set of reasons than what defined 2019 as the most epic year so far. I also have a feeling that things will come out of the blue and make any detailed plans go PFFFFFFFT, so I’ll need to stay nimble in order to adapt.


  1. and an austerity budget at home, as a result of a surprise 5-figure income tax bill due to an audit and reclassification of a huge portion of J’s income over the last few years. so, disposable income this year will be scarce. ↩︎

  2. austerity also means I had to cancel things like our campus GitHub subscription, our WPMU Premium subscription, cell phone coverage, and a bunch of other things to reduce costs. And going into the fifth (sixth?) year of a provincially mandated salary freeze for management staff at the university - but at least we now get 9 personal leave days in 2020 in addition to normal vacation days, as compensation… ↩︎

On Responses to Instructure's Value

Instructure, the company that makes/hosts the Canvas LMS, recently announced an intent to sell to a private equity firm for about $2B. That’s a lot of money.

I don’t care about the business of edtech. I don’t care if a company buys another company, or what their reasons are. I care about how technologies are used to improve the learning experience for students. The business of edtech is a means to that end. But…

George Siemens1 responded with something that made me scratch my head:

I don’t see it (the value) the longer I follow this thread. There is a fair bit of “what if” and “they could”. But nothing substantive. Nothing that would make a PE firm drop $2b. I think they bought software. Not data.

Folks that watch the edtech business space have been writing about the business side of things. Folks that write about edtech and data and privacy and business have been talking about this for years.

Ian Linkletter wrote a great twitter thread on what may have been a driving factor for the sale in response to George’s tweet - and how it’s likely significantly about gaining access to the data.

The way I see it, as a non-business finance type person, there are a few things going on.

A private equity firm just committed $2B to acquire a company. That company might give them value in a few ways:

  1. assets
  2. business

canvas

Assets

The stuff that makes up Instructure. I’m spitballing, as a complete outsider with no skin in the game. But this is likely made of a few things:

Brand - Canvas is still the new shiny in the learning management space. Its brand is probably worth a fortune to Instructure. But the brand is basically “we’re not Blackboard”. What’s the value of the brand to a private equity firm? Are they going to be licensing it? Maybe.

Intellectual property - this could include patents (but a quick look on Instructure’s website doesn’t list a huge patent portfolio so if they have patents they’re not bragging about it).

Software - they build an LMS, and maybe Johnny Bravo wanted to buy that. That’s complicated, since Canvas is nominally open source. Or “open source”, since the product they sell is essentially a fork of an open source project. So the value of Instructure’s software would be the delta between what someone would get “for free” by just adopting the originating open source project, and what Instructure has added by packaging/polishing/integrating/etc. That’s definitely got some value, but I’d bet I could spin up a company to do that for something considerably less than $2B. The software may make up a chunk of the value to the buyer. I’m guessing not a whole lot, though, given PE will be needing ROI and an exit strategy. If a private equity firm wants to give me $1B, I’ll be happy to build a new LMS based on the open source version of Canvas. Call me.2

Physical property - maybe Instructure owns a building or has long term leases for key strategic buildings? Possible. Worth any part of $2B? Unlikely.

People - maybe Bravo took a step back and said “boy howdy, the organization itself - we NEED it.” Maybe it’s the leadership team? Maybe the development staff? IT department? People are the heart of an organization. I’m guessing a private equity firm isn’t in the business of throwing a huge chunk of cash for heart.

Data - This is the big one. It’s what distinguishes Instructure from everyone else. They have made a strategic priority to amass what they claim is the largest database of information about students in the world.

Ian linked to a tweet posted by Sean Emory back in August:

Instructure CFO spoke today. $INST

He mentioned that they have the LARGEST database of student activity in the world. That they have over 1 TRILLION records of student activities.

They are using this to create value for students and universities with privacy at center.

A trillion points of data, about a significant chunk of all active and recently-graduated students in USA, and a bunch of data about students elsewhere. I mean. Golly. That’s a lot of data. Instructure launched their data collection project as a means to “create value for students” while respecting privacy. That’s cool. But privacy and intentions kind of go out the window with an acquisition. Unless they plan to detonate their datacentre upon finalizing the sale, that data is a huge target for the purchaser. Worth $2B? To have a list of 35% of all students in North America? Not a stretch to see a company pay $2B just for that.

Business

The business of edtech is built on relationships with client organizations. It’s a hard thing to get into, but as Instructure has shown in the last decade, not impossible. But the value of those relationships and the contracts that formalize them are incredibly significant. I’d be surprised if a private equity firm was trying to buy into existing relationships with postsecondary institutions etc.

ROI for Bravo?

So. From an outsider’s perspective, there are only a few parts of Instructure that might make sense to a private equity firm:

  1. Software
  2. Data
  3. Contracts

Of those, only data - that massive largest-in-the-world database of information about 35% of active students in North America - would justify anything close to $2B. I think saying “golly I don’t know why someone would value this data” seems a bit disingenuous.

My take

The data has value, but not directly. It has value in building their platform to take advantage of it. So, Bravo likely isn’t interested in the data per se. There would be crowds of people with pitchforks and torches if they tried to repurpose data in a way that violated privacy of students. I hope.

I don’t think Bravo is going for any of those - the ROI just isn’t there for a $2B buy-in. That would be a colossal waste of that much money, if they were trying to profit directly from software, data or contracts.

They’re not going to be liquidating the company or breaking it apart to sell bits off. I think they’re betting on the company’s roadmap and there are things that will require not being a publicly-traded company. I think Bravo has an exit strategy in place, and that they’re planning on supporting Instructure through some work that would be seen as unprofitable to shareholders who are looking for immediate returns. Bravo is betting on a long game, and Instructure is likely going to be investing heavily in R&D and possibly acquisitions as they try to capture more of the market with Canvas and try to take on the corporate market with Bridge. I’d bet Bravo is looking for a return after, say, 5 years of development. They’re looking to try to grow the LMS pie, and try to take a bigger piece of it.


Updates

Kin Lane posted a breakdown of his understanding of the Canvas API and underlaying data model, and implications for the value of the data (perhaps going beyond direct monetization of the data):

This is why Ed-Tech is such a valuable industry. You get to groom and harvest the future consumer profiles each year. You also get to train your machine learning models based upon the behavior of consumers as they are growing, develping, and then ultimately becoming adults. If you can’t see the value that exists here and you don’t believe a private equity firm will cash in on the value that is present, I’m guessing “you don’t know how all this works”, or at least in denial about how it all works. I am guessing you fully know how this all works, you just don’t want everyone to know you know. Startups equipped with APIs make for an amazing virtual data mining vehicle that can penetrate our higher education institutions, and embed themselves into the lives of faculty and students–this is by design. All of this may have began with a strong belief in serving the student and schools with the best possible LMS, but there is nothing preventing this platform from being used to exploit schools and students in the future.

Jim Luke looks at it from an economist’s perspective:

So is Instructure worth $2b? We’ll find out if and when TB sells it. My guess is yes, TB will definitely flip this in a few years for substantial profit, assuming the bottom doesn’t totally drop out of the LMS market. (a small but real possibility).

and

Yes, Instructure has had decent growth numbers (not sterling by SV standards, but good) in recent years. But finance is all about how are you going to top that going forward. Finance doesn’t look back. Truth is, Instructure or any of the LMS’s are going to have a hard time finding big new sources of revenue. There just isn’t much left in the higher ed budget for their stuff. Even the data analytics for learning part has failed to take off revenue wise. That’s why data mining for AI/Algorithms, monetizing the data to non-education folks, is so tempting.

Yes, any of these LMS firms, or publishers for that matter, could have had decent solid, satble, modestly profitable businesses that were mature. But that’s not how finance capitalism works. Instructure isn’t an education tech company anymore. It’s just a software company and data processing service that happens to get its data from college and university students. It will likely be managed that way.


  1. George helped to define Learning Analytics as a field of scholarship several years ago. He knows a lot about learning analytics and the research about analyzing and using that data. ↩︎

  2. I’ve built 2 learning management systems in the corporate space. It might be interesting to build another, with 20 years of learning and experience incorporated… ↩︎

On Blockchain Disrupting Higher Education

Martin Weller wrote a response to The Chronicle’s (paywalled) piece by Richard DeMillo on blockchain disrupting education. Martin’s right in pointing out that many of the hoped-for disruptions are actually possible using existing technologies and practices (eportfolios, badges, etc.) without “disruption” needed. Martin has written about disruption before.

Blockchain will certainly be used in higher education. It will transform how some things are designed and run. In the same way that relational databases have - Moodle (or even MOOCs 1) wouldn’t have been possible without MySQL. Blackboard wouldn’t have been possible without Oracle (or whatever SQL engine it runs on). Relational databases transformed how courses were offered by higher education institutions, without disrupting the institutions themselves.

Stephen Downes has been doing some really interesting work on using blockchain to track course completion for MOOC participants. It’s still super-early days, and it’s analogous to having to write your own database application to store grades in a course - but as the underlaying technologies evolve, that will become simpler.

I look at blockchain2 as essentially a distributed database. Yes, it’s much more complicated than that, but at a high level, it’s a way to store information in a way that doesn’t “belong” on any single computer, in a way that can be accessed - and the value can be trusted3 - from anywhere. That sounds particularly useful for distributed computing, or things like supply chain management, or (parts of) higher education.

Will it disrupt higher ed? I don’t think so. Will it transform how some services are run? Absolutely. It’s something we need to be exploring, but not as a “let’s redesign what a university even is, man!” kind of way.


  1. Sebastian Thrun may have some thoughts on how the whole MOOC disruption of higher education worked out. At last count, there were significantly more than 10 institutions of higher learning left. ↩︎

  2. as someone who has no skin in the game - I’ve been following blockchain and the related cryptocurrency stuff, but haven’t jumped in myself. I once tried crunching bitcoin back when they were cheap and easy and could be done on el-cheapo computers without requiring the energy output of a small country to do so, but I gave up before getting any results… ↩︎

  3. “trusted” as in “that’s the value that was originally stored and it hasn’t been altered” rather than “that’s the truth”. They’re separate concepts. ↩︎

Resources for evaluating learning technologies

Our Learning Technologies Advisory Committee met last week to start to brainstorm what the current issues on campus are, with respect to learning technologies. One of the key themes was a need to systematically evaluate learning technologies to make sure we understand what people need to do, and how the tools/supports/resources can best meet those needs. After the meeting, I was asked to pull together some links to resources that can be used to help evaluate learning technologies from an instructor/admin and student perspective.

For Instructors/Administrators:

For Students:

For Institutions/Communities:


UPDATE:

I’ll continue updating this post as I gather more resources.

work 

On moving my blog to Hugo

After finally deciding to throw caution to the wind and move my webstuff back into a static format, this website finally landed on Hugo. I did an initial migration from WordPress to Jekyll, which looked really promising but took waaaaay too long to generate the 2,800+ posts for this site (taking almost 45 minutes?). Hugo runs as a native application, and runs MUCH faster. Generating the entire site currently takes less than 5 seconds, then uploading it to the server via rsync takes only a little longer.

Why I wanted to move:

  • I was really really tired of managing performance issues with WordPress.
  • Future-proofing. Static files will probably work forever, but a version of WordPress that relies on a version of MySQL and a version of PHP and updating versions of plugins and themes and a version of JQuery and a version of who knows what is just a ball of trouble waiting to happen. Static site generators will still have issues, but once the site is published it should just work. Leaving someone to inherit a slowly-crumbling tech stack just to keep content online felt like more risk than it’s worth.

As I migrated to Hugo, a bunch of issues came up.

  1. The theme I used seemed to want to generate an RSS file including every single post. So, it was over 6MB, and kind of blew up any RSS readers that grabbed the file before I realized what had happened and figured out how to override that strange behaviour. The RSS feed now includes 15 posts.
  2. Search! One of the big reasons for having a blog rather than just a notebook somewhere is that it’s searchable. But without WordPress providing search, what to do? Easy. DuckDuckGo has an embeddable site search, and is now included at the bottom of every page.
  3. URL permalinks - I had to do some minor tweaking to the permalink structure so posts generated by Hugo match the URLs that had been published by WordPress over the last decade and a half or so. Search results should now match up with where pages are expected.
  4. I keep my documents in the iCloud-managed Documents folder. Which is great, but when Hugo generated the thousands of text files that make up this site, the public directory apparently started to freak iCloud sync out. I had one build where index.html files got duplicated - were they collisions with iCloud sync? I’ve now told it to build the website into /tmp/public and will upload those files onto the webserver rather than keeping the output in the iCloud-synced Documents directory. Keeping the source and config files there should be enough for portability.
  5. rsync uploads - the site gets uploaded to the same directory that my website has lived for many years. So there’s a lot of stuff there that isn’t managed by Hugo (and wasn’t managed by WordPress previously). So, I need to be careful not to use the –delete flag and accidentally delete a bunch of older static files.
  6. Authoring new posts - having the web UI for WordPress was nice, being able to just edit something on the fly and be done with it. Now, I need to create a markdown file, make sure the frontmatter metadata is correct, edit the file, put it in the right folder, run hugo build, then rsync. It’s definitely not as smooth of an editing process - but that, I’m hoping, will be either a good thing (forcing me to slow down and be more intentional about how I write), or at least not so painful that I wind up looking to move to something else…
  7. Footnotes. I’d been using a WordPress plugin to convert ((double brackets)) to footnotes. Now they’re just regular text, which is silly. I need to figure out how to replicate that functionality.
  8. Media management - it was super easy to add images to a WordPress post. I need to get used to a different workflow, and the lack of mobile publishing ((which didn’t really work reliably for posting images anyway, so maybe that’s no big loss)).
  9. Embeds - the WordPress oembed feature is pretty handy. Now all youtube etc. content in existing posts is just a raw URL to the media, rather than an auto-embedded media player. There must be a way to reproduce that functionality, even if it’s just a script that pre-processes raw URLs and converts them to the embed version.
  10. Comments. I could enable Disqus. Not sure if I want to do that.

So. Now, source and config files are in my ~/Documents/Blog/hugo directory and editable on any computer I use (or via the iCloud web interface). Output is generated by Hugo running on my laptop, and saved into /tmp/public, and then uploaded via rsync to my Reclaim Hosting webspace at ~/public_html.

My plan is to get the configuration set up smoothly enough that I can just double-click an icon on my Mac and it’ll build the entire site and rsync it to the server without any intervention needed, in only a few seconds.

I think I have it mostly working as intended now. I’ll be working to tweak the layout of the site a bit, to replicate the Pages from the old WordPress site. Or not. It’s a fresh start. Ish.

hugo  blog