Provision Me?


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk
I have never been the Devil’s advocate but occasionally I play him on the Internet. This started as a comment on Jim’s post so reading that might make this make some sort of sense.

There are no halcyon1 days of yore.

I keep thinking the LMS is symptomatic. It helps solve obscure problems like -How can I grade my class of 300+ students? It helps mechanize a process we’ve increasingly commodified, packaged, and scaled.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Melissa Gruntkosky

The institution can, and probably should, focus on providing more than the LMS but there’s a big part of me that says it doesn’t matter. If tilde spaces were given now, they’d be mainly barren. The problem is not the centrally provide space. I don’t need the institution and I don’t buy into the dependency model that seems to be part of that assumption. In fact, I need an institution far less than I would have in the mid 90s. If I want a tilde space, I can go get one and I can do far more on it than HTML. Stack Overflow is a magical fountain of answers. If you want to do something, simply go do it. Be a clueless wanderer. We (USA, North America, the world?) have an intellectual obesity epidemic because people sit around waiting to be given/told/instructed . . . The mentality is I can’t do that. I haven’t been trained. The social accepted context that you are static until acted upon by some higher power.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Joel Franusic2

The fact is you can. Really. Almost inevitably I haven’t done any of the things I do until I’ve done them. Sure, I stagger and stall (occasionally fall) but I both research and ask for help. “Sure, you can do that.” is one of the most disempowering things a person can say. Other people don’t have superpowers. I am not a unique snowflake. You could do it. You don’t have to wait to be trained. You are not a seal.

The problem, at its core, isn’t lack of institutional support for open web resources, it’s a mentality issue- it’s a lack of interest in doing interesting3 things, or lack of confidence, or lack of imagination, or lack of understanding about what is interesting, or lack of time/energy to do interesting things, or fear of anything/everything, or a hundred other things.

The DoOO project doesn’t interest me in terms of resource provisioning- that’s just reselling a commonly purchasable product. It’s interesting because of the integration into courses at scale and then the intentional building of interrelationships between those courses. It’s interesting because of the ideas and communal aspects, the rethinking of possibilities. I don’t know, but I don’t think the fact that UMW is (re)providing the resources matters at all.

I’d say that the reason the tilde spaces were interesting is because they didn’t have real institutional level attention. It was an odd space, inhabited by odd people, and only viewed by other odd people. Once that attention was given, when those spaces were seen as important, then the wheels of policy, consistency, marketing, and other millstones start to grind away.

Numbers aren’t the answer but I have to imagine there are immensely more people (students and profs) doing far more powerful and interesting things which have a far broader audience and impact online than there ever were in the mid 90s.


1 Kingfishers. I didn’t not know that.

2 That’s a statement of empowerment because neither is anyone else. You can do anything they can do.

3 It’s my blog, I’ll define interesting as I choose.

Comments on this post

  1. Jim Groom said on March 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Tom,

    I think you are kinda skirting over what it is we do as instructional technologists, we use these spaces to turn people onto the mentality that anything is possible on the web. It’s kinda simple. The domain/web hosting is one amazing way in, and hearkening back to the tilde spaces provides me (and by extension them) with an earlier, historical corrollary. I don’t pretend its perfect, and I guess such analogies break down when I push too hard on the LMS, but we both know how fun that is. Hard to resist.

    I’m not pretending the web was once pure and is now spoiled—though there is some space to argue it has far fewer public, green spaces. And it’s in those green spaces provided by us at a public institution that is where I’m interested in DoOO. Sure I am interested in the aggregation, but I am also—unlike you—very interested in these trailing edge commodity web hosting spaces we provide. It’s what got me started in edtech. I had no idea of its potential, but over the course of two years and support from Zach Davis I got hooked. And when I came to UWm almost a decade ago it’s what got us all excited about open edtech. I want other people at UMW to get hooked on this as well because that is pure and good. And guess what, adminsitration lvoes it, supports it, and understands we are framing a culture of web literacy.

    We have the unique opportunity, based on this space you can get anywhere, to get a broad swath of people at UMW excited about some of the building blocks of the web. You have no idea how amazing it is to be training faculty and students on CPanel rather than simply WordPress via UMW Blogs. It’s a whole layer of edtech abstraction of the web that does feel like 1995—I think that’s where you might be missing my point. As an edtech, and that’s from where I work, I’m doing the literacy and sharing of the web that got lost with a decade of the LMS for so many faculty, and a surprisng amount of students.

    The search for historical analogies is what helps me imagine alongside them. Like I already said, I don’t intend them to be perfect, but it is my responsibility to try and make the institution I work for that much better through the indivdual people I support. And we are doing it here at UMW at scale, and DoOO is a huge part of this. I guess you can liken the uninitiated to seals, but I think that’s a bit unfair. Folks at UMW have a 4/4 load and ton of other shit to do, the fact that we can seed UMW Domains with more than 70 faculty and staff and 600 students suggests that sparking that interest is happening and is transformative for our culture that make community.umwdomains.com that much more golden. We do hand holding, and I am all right with that—in fact those are the ones I work hardest with because there are a million other facotrs tell them why this is hard. I want to dispell that.

    Simple fact is, if you expect everyone to have that interest we assign to ourselves when coming to this stuff, then why would we be hired at all? It’s my job, and getting people excited and impassioned is what I do best. Why would that ever be a problem 😉

    Did I ever tell you I love you for playing the devil on the internet? More seriously, I really appreciate the pushback, and I am enjying the blog conversations happening around this topic. I am trying hard to work all this stuff into a series of talks that try and frame why this stuff is important, and like you I absolutely agree the gold is in the cross-fertilization of the ideas and communal aspects through courses and beyond.

    • Tom Woodward said on March 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      Fundamentally, I don’t like the rationale that the reason people aren’t doing x, y, or z is because some higher power didn’t give them a, b, or c.

      For clarity, despite Andy’s tweet, my focus really is not on DoOO. I like the idea. I’m happy you’re doing it. I think it’s useful and good in a number of ways. I just think the benefit is far more on the integration with courses and joint consideration and that the space provisioning is just not as important. The University should help rather than hinder and that’s a good thing. Clearly, that’s me standing over here thinking that.

      Secondly, I do not skirt. I have always had a conflicted relationship with the idea of instructional technologists. The goal of the position should be obsolescence as quickly as possible. I find it depressing we still exist.

      I guess my simple argument would be that people get what they want and use. The Academy got the LMS. Professors got the textbook (Now with multimedia!!) The USA got Facebook, McDonalds, and reality TV. You can’t always get what you want but you can get the homogenized result of thousands of surveys as interpreted by a marketer and driven by profit.

      Historically, I can’t see University provided accounts as “public green spaces” when students are paying tuition and are kicked off the spaces as soon as that cash flow stops and faculty are removed when they no longer work for the university. They are at best government subsidized apartments. (And I thought you started off blogging on WP.com for Miles?) Likewise, I see GeoCities as green but in an attempt-to-profit-off-user-created-content kind of $green$ (Build all the houses you want on this leased land!). It just took companies a while to figure out how to do that efficiently. Public green spaces would be actual communal space that are permanently available.

      I don’t think I’m uninterested in online communities and tools (although I’d have to get you to define “trailing edge commodity web hosting spaces”). I’m just more interested in why people don’t just do things. If you want a website, do it. They’re cheap. Sure, it’d be great if you had a whole cadre of people in your physical space thinking this through with you but you aren’t dependent on that. Do it anyway. No one I’ve ever run into conflates (I know you like that word.) the LMS with the Internet. The problem is more around the idea that many people might conflate the LMS and the MOOC video/quiz revolution with education.

      I don’t think I’m likening anyone to seals. I’m actually saying the opposite. No one is a seal. You don’t need training that is top down. You can find your own way using the diverse things and people that are of and on the web. I understand time and work pressures. Work load is hard to compare. I know I started this when starting teaching at an alternative school, working nights, having my first child, getting my teaching license, coaching basketball etc. etc. When people want to do something, time seems to be of far less concern. I think you’re defending the wrong things. What I find troubling at scale is that there is a pretty ingrained mentality in k12 and higher ed and probably our culture that you need a guide, a mentor, an approved tool, a best practice, a rubric, a definition, a class, a training, a box, a bucket, a heuristic, a whatever before you do.

      What I see happen in just about every situation is that any decent change is temporary and closely associated with a few people. If a few of those people tire, retire, or move on then it takes almost no time to revert to state. That’s noise, not change. It’s not enough for me.

      I don’t want to be needed. I love talking to smart people who have thought a lot about topics but I don’t need them to tell me what I want to know or what to do. I don’t need to be trained. If we did education right then all of this would be very different, far more independent, and driven by the people.

      In closing, I now think this comment is longer than most of my blog posts. I love you. I’m glad you’re doing DoOO. I have all positive thoughts about it. I don’t know why our jobs exist, why anyone gets to tell me what I should learn, why I have to pay to prove I know something, and why we can’t just get moving.

      • Jim Groom said on March 8, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        I guess the only thing I can say after almost nine years at UMW, with a short interrugnum, is that it takes time to build something special. What’s more, it will always be fragile, and things can always revert to shit, didn’t you share with me the fact that after something 72 hours with the power grid being down around the country that the nation would slip into complete chaos? We are always on the verge of slipping into darkness, but the pockets of light is what we make when we are with a locked-in group of folks that believe their is something to the connected brains that institutions can foster. I think that’s what institutions still can do well if they have the right people at the right time come together and believe. Funny that your comment seems far more idealistic than I’ve ever been about what’s possible—I believe people need infrastructure and support and I think that has been either cut or mismanaged institutionally, I want to work on bring back the sweetness and light of that possibility.

        Although, at this point I am rambling. I just think framing a space to say this stuff is possible and we want to help is not the same as saying just do it yourself. You are conflating something there, and I do like that word 😉 This a form of invitation and shared object of attention with domain of one’s own that helps focus that community—and we are finding the value of that is crucial. What’s more, students are recognizing this is a platform for their work within the context of the broader university community—and they like that. They want to be connected and read.

        OK, but I’ll shutup now. I’ve lost my original idea and started to float like I so often do.

        • Tom Woodward said on March 10, 2014 at 9:02 am

          I do agree the world would turn to chaos but probably in a shorter time span BUT I think that’s because “we” made it this way. This is purest idealism (what could be) and cynicism (what is) on my part and paradoxically I am on the extreme end of both. I really think people ought not revert to state absent a carrot/stick/cheerleader/mentor/teacher/guide/sage/yogi/laws/government/religion. I think we drive children from (relative) independence towards reliance on outside structures. I see it happen although I think it’s important to look at what progress people make when they feel like doing something vs. the intense support needed when they don’t.

          If anyone is derailing things, it’s me. I think y’all are doing the right thing in saying this is exciting and we’ll help you do it. I’m not advocating not helping people who want to do things. My focus is on why more people don’t want to do things of their own volition at scale w/in the places that are supposed to be cultivating that kind of passionate pursuit of possibilities. I don’t want to have to convince people that they are free and passionate about things and that possibilities are the air we breathe. It’s far beyond “It’s a bag of gold.” I think I’m at the place where I’m more like “You are a magical fount of endless possibilities.” but I shouldn’t have to tell you that. You should be telling me that. That idea should drive you from the get go.

          Maybe I’m megalomaniacal but I feel that way. It doesn’t mean I operate in a vacuum and don’t seek help and talk to people who are better at certain things than me. I do. All the time. It does mean that I don’t need an invitation, prodding or cajoling. I act without carrot or stick. It does mean I often need to reign in my ideas rather than being forced to have them or have them given to me. Granted this is all colored by my own possible self-delusion, mad egotism, or other psycho-social ills yet unfathomed. And when I say things like this to people, they tend to shrug and say things about outliers or being atypical. I don’t think that needs to be true. That’s why I included the “you are not a unique snowflake” quote in the original post. Not that I’m overly thrilled with what I’ve done but I believe what I can do anyone else can do. At the same time, saying my path is the right path indicates there is a right path and that’s probably wrong (“I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad.“). There’s lots of room for gray. I may even believe that black and white positions are totally theoretical- like absolute zero– they are fictitious states. Everything is just a variation of gray.

          How’s that for a rambling, incoherent mess of non-actionable belief statements?

  2. Andy Rush said on March 8, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    It was a golden opportunity to call you the devil. More seriously, EVERYTHING needs pushback. Actually, DoOO should be uninteresting in 2014. It is less about provisioning for the reasons you stated, but what’s interesting is the identity aspects and then the interactions that happen within and around that identity. This conversation is a necessary one to have right along side what Jim is talking about. ALL of this needs to be said, or rather shouted (in a Bava keynote sort of way). Oh and did I mention I love both of you?

    • Tom Woodward said on March 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      There is a reason I find crucified squirrels.

  3. Tim Owens said on March 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Your point about the ability to just do things today without any institutional support is not wrong. Of course students and faculty have every means available to them to fire up spaces like this, experiment wildly, break open their preconceived notions of what those spaces are and can provide. And you’re also right that’s it’s a mentality thing. Facebook isn’t cool until the majority of my friends have left Myspace for it. Blogging isn’t useful until I start to be surrounded by folks doing it asking interesting questions and seeing a place for my voice.

    I’m not willing to agree with the endgame of an ITS as obsolescence simply because life isn’t that simple and never will be. If we want to treat the world in a perfect vacuum sure but there has always been and always will be an opportunity for education to guide and encourage students (and hell, even faculty) in their learning. To argue people should just do this stuff on their own seems to long for a digital native rhetoric that I know you don’t advocate for. The fact is there is a place for mentorship and modeling here that I think can get lost. DS106 required folks to get hosting and domains well before there was any institutional support. Most students dropped them as soon as the course is over. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m far more interested in the few students who saw a difference having that space made. The ones that use it as a stepping stone to build their own digital identity far beyond the objectives of a particular course.

    Where I think the institutional support thing is useful is removing obstacles and barriers to entry. We pinch ourselves regularly that we can fire up domains, install Omeka, and have a room full of students building an online exhibit in less than 20 minutes during a demo. Faculty that would normally balk at the idea of pushing for this in their class are seeing the technology demystified and I think that’s a great thing. We’re helping students and faculty begin to see that this stuff isn’t as difficult as they actually thought it is (and we’re helping the administration understand it’s not as expensive either). If we can break down that barrier we can move on to showing them why it’s useful and have some really important conversations but we have to break down the first wall before we get anywhere. I think that mentality problem you identify is correct, but I think we’re actually addressing that head on.

    • Tom Woodward said on March 9, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      My comments aren’t focused on UMW. Like I’ve said before I think y’all are doing the best stuff in the system we have. I just wonder about the system more fundamentally and I see the need for treatment as indicative of a more fundamentally problematic cultural core.

      I feel that the system (fairly broadly defined as education and replicate in educational support) we set up fundamentally undermines independence and self-efficacy while increasing dependency on magical sages who tend to become so focused in their respective fields that their fields narrow to tunnels. I don’t think my desire to see the end of a system that seems to build passivity with regard to learning reflects a simplistic view of life in a vacuum (perfect or otherwise). I see this stuff as symptomatic and I see most of our efforts as treating symptoms rather than ever looking at root causes. While I recognize the difficulty of that, I think it’s important to keep in mind the core issues while doing the best we can with what is.

      The IT support I see at scale spends huge amounts of time trying to convince people to do something/use something/rethink something (much like teachers try to convince people their content is worth learning). Most of that focus and energy is spent trying to guide and encourage faculty/students who tend not to be particularly interested or who are outright resistant. There are obviously lots of reasons- not enough something, too much something else, often both. All done with good intent and I’d argue demonstrably little change considering the amount of people, energy, money, and time dedicated to this. There are major beliefs about our educational system that people believe, that are engraved in our broader culture, that I am far less sure of.

      I long mainly for freedom rather than digital natives. I’d take a “digital native” if I found one. I’m not against digital natives as a goal. Contrary to what you wrote, I’d love hordes of digital natives. My problem with the concept is that people believe “digital natives” are somehow popping up at scale because we have lots of wifi and devices. Clearly, that’s not the case. What people call digital natives tend to be people who think more comprehensively and openly about the possibilities that exist and then use them in powerful ways. Those people have always existed even thought the technology has continued to shift. I think at scale formalized education lessens the chance of this kind of open thinking happening more than it helps.

      I’m not against interesting conversations between people who know more about different things but I dislike the subservience inherent in words like “mentorship”. For me, it reeks of so many things I dislike. Why not just have interesting friends?

      I understand why you say there’s nothing wrong with most students dropping their domains after the course. The domain doesn’t matter if the thinking has changed. If the thinking and the domain usage are entwined then it probably does matter. The whole point of the course is, I imagine, to change as many students as possible. What’s hard is figuring out why anything works when it works because in the end the goal is to get as many people thinking as you can (especially per input of time/energy).

      I wonder why technology is seen as mystical and expensive by people who probably spend a chunk of time at least surrounded by it, if not immersed in it? It doesn’t make sense. The fact that that mindset needs correcting drives me to causation rather than treatment.

      • Tim Owens said on March 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

        I get that you’re not focused on UMW and the issues you raise look to larger societal problems and the “institution” as a whole. Personally I bring it back to where I live and breathe this stuff hence my own examples and understanding. I’m not going to waste time worrying about what could be if we disrupted the entire educational complex. There are too many factors outside of my purview for why education operates the way it does and often they make little sense. Rather than retreat to the hills I’m going to keep pushing forward in the ways that I can.

        Technology is seen as mystical because that’s an easy wall to put up. It’s disengagement by excuse. It’s a habitual response from some folks (the “oh technology *hates* me” crowd) that serves to shut down the conversation. It’s the easy way out. Every human has there moments where they want the easy way out. Part of education is pushing against that. Continually stretching people outside of their comfort zone (maybe not applicable in all situations as an ethos but I think it fits). I think there’s plenty of room for expert voices there to guide, despite your dismissal of that idea as subservient. I also recognize none of this is one-size-fits-all.

        I hope you’ll keep writing about this stuff because I think it’s useful and I’d love to hear more.

  4. Tom said on March 10, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I don’t think it’s binary. I’m not suggesting retreat to hills (although I consider prepper bunkers at times for other reasons) or cessation of current efforts. I said something to that effect earlier. I believe it’s worth thinking about what kind of system creates the mindset I feel we end up with- a mass of people you have to convince to want to be free (and by saying that I have to say if they reject all the stuff I believe, so be it). It’s my definition of freedom and it’s beyond an educational system which is reflecting cultural norms and certainly far beyond educational technology. I don’t know why people want to put up walls. Why shut down conversations? I don’t think you need a monolithic system to force stretching through an elaborate system of carrots and sticks. I’m not saying that’s all that occurs within education but feel it’s a major element.

    For clarity, I didn’t dismiss expert voices and/or the idea of helping people (the onus of helping being on their choice to do something- not the “let’s help the savages” mentality). I reacted against the language of subservience that I see in words like mentor and the teacher/student power structure which is further echoed throughout our society. I don’t need to elevate someone above me to learn from them. In arrogance perhaps, I feel I bring an equal amount to the table although maybe in different knowledge. I also realize that a lot of people who like that- to yield power to someone who knows the answers and can tell them what to do. I learn from lots of people (and amalgamations of people)- you, Gardner, Jim, Alan, my kids, Stack Overflow (to name a few) but I find the whole mentor/mentee thing to be a one sided structure that implies an imbalance that I hope doesn’t exists or feel shouldn’t exist. I realize people say stuff like “I learn just as much from students . . . ” and other flavors of that statement but to me it feels condescending and almost colonial in nature. The fact that “the teacher” can/does force them to do things against their will starts in an uncomfortable place for me. All anyone can tell me is what worked for them/what makes sense to them or maybe what seems to have worked for others. I struggle with this in raising my own children as it is against just about everything. Hopefully, I end up in some sort of middle ground where they have enough savvy to live in this society but don’t accept any of it at face value and that includes challenging all the things I say (including challenging that they should challenge the things I say). There are far happier paths in life. I sometimes wish I could “go along to get along” but it’s antithetical to my nature and I don’t really want to change or I would.

    The “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” quote seems to be entirely constructed but comes close to what I think although I’d state it something like “When you feel strongly about doing something, you’ll find the people and resources to do it.” It seems the focus of education ought to be built around considering how to leave that motivation intact and provide time and space for people to develop rather than forcing knowledge acquisition based on the belief that X knows best. At the same time, I recognize the utter futility of that belief.

    I actually thought the opposite of your closing- that I’m wasting people’s time and energy with this kind of blathering and that my pursuit of clarity here is both boring and futile. That did not stop me from writing all this mainly because I don’t think I’m making myself clear and I like to be understood. I appreciate the time and effort you’ve devoted to this fruitless endeavor.

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