Giant machine with small man

IdeaX Proposal – Tiny Targeted Tools

Image from page 98 of “Illustrated catalogue and general description of improved machine tools for working metal” (1899) flickr photo by Internet Archive Book Images shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons) I submitted to one of our regional instructional developer organization (Instructional Development ?Educational Alliance Exchange)1 this AM. We’ll see if it gets accepted but given my recent reflection on things that seem to have worked in Rampages, the chunk I left out that’s built in Google, Jim’s recent post from Australia, and Alan and Brian‘s continued SPLOT work . . . it seemed like a nice chance to spread this particular word to a VA audience. I also find that articulating concepts like this for other audiences helps me better articulate why I think this work is important. I can’t just say “SPLOT” and have my six friends understand what I’m going to talk about. There’s a place for that.2 The Proposal There is a tendency to make or buy tools that try do everything. As a result we end up with a massive tool that does most things poorly and few things well. Learning goals get obscured by the increasing complexity involved in navigating the compromises inherent in the omni-tool. It’s not focused on a particular discipline or kind of thinking. While generic tools have their place, […]

What is Rampages.us? Part One

I’m going to be attempting to explain what rampages.us is to a group on Tuesday. I’ve been struggling with a more digestible version of this for some time. While true, saying “Whatever you want it to be,” isn’t what people want to hear. Giving people something more concrete to think through what the site can do makes sense. These categories, however blurry and overlapping, provide some entries to additional thoughts and will likely help me organize my brain around this a bit better. Outside eyes are helpful so if you see stuff I’m missing or explaining poorly please throw me a comment here or on Twitter. While some of the details are specific to our version, I think the general arguments might be of use to others. If you end up doing that (or have already done it), throw me a link as I’d love to see how other people do this. Technically Speaking Rampages.us is a large WordPress multisite installation started roughly three years ago. Our community currently has over 24,000 sites and 22,000 members. WordPress is an open source platform which runs a huge portion (~30%) of today’s Internet and is the most popular CMS in the world. That matters for a variety of reasons. WordPress is free. This dramatically lowers barriers to access for our students while […]

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Community- Technically Speaking

Playing “Mah-Jong” at the Clubhouse of the Century Village Retirement Community. flickr photo by The U.S. National Archives shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons) Marie has nice post summarizing the Georgetown Community presentation at Domains. And nowEvelyn’s post reminded me to write a post on a site instead of just in my head. The title of the presentation ‘Just a Community Organizer’ is a nod to the fact that community is hard to do. It can be hard technically but it’s often even more difficult on the human side. As Evelyn brought up . . . community is not created by the technical ability to bring content together. There are lots of ways this can succeed technically but fail socially–> The stuff is there but no one cares. At the same time, technology failures can prevent community from forming where you have all the other factors–> People want to see what’s going on but can’t find and interact with the stuff they want in reasonable ways. There’s also the idea that people might not know what they want to see (or how they want to see it) until it’s given as an option or scaffolded into as an action. Can we present content in ways that are novel and interesting that inspires curiosity and interaction? You can’t do that […]

WP API Feed Reader POC

Image from page 96 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873) flickr photo by Internet Archive Book Images shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons) I’ve talked to a number of people a number of times about seeing faculty using Feed WordPress to syndicate content to a motherblog when they’d really be better served by using a feed reader like Feedly.1 Feed WordPress is great and very useful but if you don’t want to archive the content or take advantage of some of the more advanced options (auto-categorizing, auto-tagging, doing stuff with author pages etc.) then it usually is a bit more hassle than it’s worth. I thought it’d be pretty easy to build a little custom page to display a series feeds from sites in one place. It took me a bit to get it straight but it wasn’t too bad. This example loads 10 sites fairly quickly. I’m currently just showing the source site’s URL and the 5 most recent posts with titles and dates. It’d be easy enough to add other stuff – excerpt, full post content, featured image etc. It’d also be pretty easy to pass the URLs to the page from a Google Spreadsheet which I’ll probably do in the near future. See the Pen wp json api multi fetch by Tom (@twwoodward) on CodePen. 1 Obligatory […]

iPad Robot Redemption

I freely admit to having mocked iPad robots on more than one occasion. My experience with them has largely been awkward encounters at conferences where they felt more like curiosities1 than anything with real purpose or impact.2 But . . . we recently ended up in a scenario where a student in Molly’s Artfulness class was going to be unable to attend class for a lengthy period of time. She was considering dropping the class. The next class was a dance-focused class run by Jill Ware where movement and being in the space was particularly important. All this came out in an informal conversation with Molly. As a semi-joke, I said now was the time to use the iPad robot . . . and not only did we do it but it ended up working really well. You can see some of the interactions playing out below. I think it was a fundamentally different experience than merely watching. In this particular scenario I think that the iPad robot really made a remarkable difference in terms of interaction on the part of the student driving and the students interacting with the robot/student.3 It also looks like a fundamentally different experience for both the driver of the iPad robot and the students in the class. It’d be a fun thing on which […]

More Than a Bunch of Stuff – Argumentative & Experiential History Sites

In working with students in the Digital History course, we’ve repeatedly bumped up against the idea that it’s harder to make a cohesive argument on the Internet (vs a traditional paper) or that constructing a web-based exhibition abdicates controls you have in physical space. There are frequent examples of archives referenced in the texts (Valley of the Shadow for instance) but for various reasons (age, limited time/space/knowledge) there aren’t many decent examples of constructing a multimedia argument or experiential/immersive examples. So here’s an attempt to show some sites that are far more than a-bunch-of-stuff-on-the-Internet and some elements that help them do that. Kennedy/Oswald It’s a bit heavy on the parallax for my taste but it’s a pretty direct parallel to a museum exhibit. It sets out to parallel the lives of Kennedy and Oswald reinforcing that parallel with visual metaphors (split screen transitions, similar images etc.) to reinforce that concept. There is a main text-based storyline, music to reinforce a certain mood,1 and the ability to see supporting elements by clicking on various items. The movement through the site is very guided. The links are kept within the site and remain contextualized rather than leading to other sites. The ancillary materials are a mixed bag of audio, images, video, and mixed media. Digital primary source materials are used throughout to […]

WordPress/Google Spreadsheet Chimera Community

flickr photo shared by NASA on The Commons with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons) Many professors don’t want students having to go into the backend of WordPress. Imagine also that you’re dealing with many hundreds of students and don’t want the hassle of people asking you about password resets or any other attendant drama. You’re willing to give up some things in return for as much simplicity as possible. You’ve got a few options for front-end editors. Gravity Forms is one I use all the time but it doesn’t give you the full WP editor which is pretty handy if you’re asking students to write posts of any complexity. AccessPress Anonymous Post Pro Forms is another option that I used on this project. It’s worth checking out and I think there’s a free version as well. Alan and Brian’s SPLOT tools are also worth checking out if your actions fit into those patterns consistently. That helps address one problem but it opens up a few other issues. We’ve got lots of students and lots of individual sections. How do we group them into courses or teams? How do we aggregate individual student’s work to their own page if they aren’t authors (in the WordPress sense)? Can we do that without drama? After a few false starts, I think this works […]

Portfolio Work – Interweaving the Personal API

I know. The title is pure click-bait. That’s part of why this blog is so wildly popular.1 I’ve been building a new portfolio site2 and I think some of this is kind of interesting even if it sounds boring. There are a few different goals in play. One challenge is to create a site that stays up to date with minimal work on my end. It’s a parallel of the small-pieces-loosely-joined mentality. I want tiny-actions-over-time (from the aforementioned small pieces) rather than widely-spaced-herculean efforts. I’m also trying to make sure that it fits in well with my current workflow and that I’m capturing the work I do elsewhere in ways that make sense. Another focus is to keep any work highly portable. I’ve had to re-enter data a number of times as I’ve migrated and I don’t want to do that any more. That’s going to be made possible mainly through some new API options and by working on my API/JSON, JavaScript skills. I’ll probably have to do chunks of it over anyway but I like to pretend I wont. I’ve got a ways to go but I’ve made some decent progress. The basic template/visuals are handled by Bootstrap. I’ve also got some simple Angular views, Timeline JS, JSON from Google sheets, WordPress WP Rest API v2, and Pinboard’s API. […]

Thinking About Digital Literacy

I was asked to speak at the VCU School of Education’s Teaching Literacy in a Digital World Conference this past Saturday. I’ve haven’t spent much time thinking about “digital literacy” in the past few years. It’s been somewhat mashed together with other terms that overlap like- digital fluency, computational thinking, etc. – and like those terms there’s not much agreement on what it is. I glanced at a few definitions prior to making this but didn’t really stick with one. When Dr. Leila Christenbury started the conference she referenced the “find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet” definition of digital literacy so I added that while I waited and it makes as good a framework as anything else. A chunk of the presentation is on GitHub here¬†or you can fork it here. I opted to do the presentation with reveal.js and on GitHub mainly because I need to be expanding my own competencies (digital and otherwise). I struck the “differently” portion because I wanted to orient things more towards the idea of doing things and didn’t want people getting caught up in the nuances of whether it was really “different.” This was an attempt to connect with the audience. I believed they were mainly k12 teachers or faculty in the School of Ed (who […]

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Field Botany Changed the World

Two pretty telling student quotes from the video1 above. “I was real excited that our blog is now an example for anyone. If you want to look up high bush clover you can look on one of our blogs and find our pictures.” “I think that knowing that the blog and the material would be accessible to anyone made the idea of putting it out there made the idea more exciting in some way but also I put more thought into it for that reason.” The Field Botany blog ended up with 3,675 posts from 27 students. That’s some pretty serious output. That content will remain accessible and the site can evolve2 with each iteration of the course. Two rather simple questions stay in my head lately. How can we have students do more than stairmaster work? – I’ve never cared for burning calories just to burn calories. I’d rather go somewhere. Even running in a circle is better than running in place. I can’t stop thinking about how much time and energy go into things that neither the student nor the teacher want. Since we can aggregate and archive student work, how does that change what we ask students to do? Student work can be valuable. It can add value in the context of other student work. It can […]