Communication is oxygen: Collaborative Indie Ed-tech

Too often, education technologies are developed that position students as objects of education, a reflection no doubt of how traditional educational practices also view students. Education technologies do things to students, rather than foster student agency. If we are to challenge what “school” should look like, we must also challenge what “ed-tech” does as well. What sorts of technologies can and should we build to give students more control? What sorts of technologies can offer students the power to “own” their learning — their data, their content, their digital profiles, and their domain?

Source: Claim Your Domain

Technology will not find its place in the classroom until we move away from the remediation, surveillance, behaviorism, and deficit ideology of mainstream ed-tech and embrace instead an indie ed-tech based on open and accessible collaboration.

All of us, professionals as well as laymen, must consciously break the habits we bring to thinking about the computer. Computation is in its infancy. It is hard to think about computers of the future without projecting onto them the properties and the limitations of those we think we know today. And nowhere is this more true than in imagining how computers can enter the world of education. It is not true to say that the image of a child’s relationship with a computer I shall develop here goes far beyond what is common in today’s schools. My image does not go beyond: It goes in the opposite direction.

In many schools today, the phrase “computer-aided instruction” means making the computer teach the child. One might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.

Source: Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

‘Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.’

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

Don’t mistake that common platform for a locked-down, top-down LMS. Don’t mistake it for shrinkwrap, cargo cult culture bought from a corporation whose business model is the deficit model. We’re not talking ed-tech, we’re talking indie ed-tech.

Indie Ed-tech is infrastructure that supports scholarly agency and autonomy.

Source: A Journey to discover what is Indie Ed-tech | Heart | Soul | Machine

For his part, in that Stanford talk, Jim Groom pointed to 80s indie punk as a source of inspiration for indie ed-tech. “Why 1980s indie punk?” Groom explains,

First and foremost because I dig it. But secondly it provides an interesting parallel for what we might consider Indie Edtech. Indie punk represents a staunchly independent, iconoclastic, and DIY approach to music which encompasses many of the principles we aspired to when creating open, accessible networks for teaching and learning at [the University of Mary Washington]. Make it open source, cheap, and true alternatives [sic] to the pre-packaged learning management systems that had hijacked innovation.

The LMS is our major record label. Prepackaged software. A prepackaged sound.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

If we don’t like ‘the system’ of ed-tech, we should create one of our own.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

Yes, let’s create a system of our own. Let’s create a system in touch with equity literacy, structural ideology, the social model for minds and bodies, and inclusive , passion-based, student-directed learning that uses the real-world tools of tech workers and STEAM collaborators. Our operating language is the social model, and our common platforms are the web and the collaborative commons.

“Indie ed-tech” – what we’re gathered here to talk about over the next few days – is inherently ideological as it seeks to challenge much of how we’ve come to see (and perhaps even acquiesce to) a certain vision for the future of education technology. An industry vision. An institutionalized vision. Indie ed-tech invokes some of the potential that was seen in the earliest Web technologies, before things were carved up into corporate properties and well-known Internet brands: that is, the ability to share information globally, not just among researchers, scientists, and scholars within academic institutions or its disciplines, but among all of us – those working inside and outside of powerful institutions, working across disciplines, working from the margins, recognizing the contributions of those who have not necessarily been certified – by school, by society – as experts. Distributed knowledge networks, rather than centralized information repositories. “Small pieces, loosely joined.”

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web — not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments — through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

We have internalized the pre-packaged sound. We have internalized LMS thinking, surveillance, and deficit model capitalism. We have internalized the monsters.

There are monsters because there is a lack of care and an absence of justice in the work we do in education and education technology.

Source: The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

Let’s confront that lack and that absence by surrendering the safety of our internal LMS and entering the margins.  Let’s get structuralget socialget equity literate, and build an indie ed-tech that confronts injustice instead of amplifying it.

We roil at the limitations and oppressive qualities of the LMS. But the problem here is not the LMS—it is that, despite our best efforts at creating other platforms, we still think through our own internal LMS. The problem is that whether we are using Blackboard or teaching in Canvas or building a Domains project, we are most likely not doing thinking that is liberative enough.

The point is not just about platform. The point is about praxis.

the LMS is an outlook, a standpoint, a conviction. Like it or not, it is in our blood as a product of our privilege and our educations. It is not a cage we put students in as much as it is an artificial playground over which we can be masters. It is, in fact, a learning space, but not for the content we put there; rather it is a space of enculturation into an oppressive educative model which each of us has born the weight of, and into which we each believe, to varying degrees, students should be baptized. The same is true of the classroom, the academy, the professional conference. These are spaces we understand, where we are not marginal, but where we can invite the marginal to participate, to become not-marginal. And this invitation to the middle is an act we say is elevating, is doing good.

There are multitudes of voices that we won’t hear because we do not feel safe in their spaces, on the margins. And safe, for educators, usually means expert, superior, capable, competent. When we enter the margins from our roosts in academe, we suffer the surrender of our confidence. In the face of what might be being created in the spaces we don’t occupy, our knees wobble.

By offering a room, we make ourselves the lessors. By making space, we claim space. “These are your walls,” we say. “These are your walls that I’ve given you. These are your walls to hang upon them what you would like. I have made them of plaster and drywall. I have painted them. I have put in the studs and I have raised high the roofbeams. But truly, this is yours. I have made you a space where you can be who you want to be.”

We need to design learning where there is no option for oppression.

Source: If bell hooks Made an LMS: a Praxis of Liberation and Domain of One’s Own

There are other considerations as well. How does this tool represent a politics of oppression—the surrender of privacy, data, authorship, authority, agency, as well as issues of representation, equity, access? Who owns the tool and what are their goals? How is the production of this tool funded? What influence does the maker of this tool have on culture more broadly writ? What labor is rewarded and what labor is erased? What is the relationship between this tool and the administration of the institution? Who must use this tool and who is trained to use this tool, and is that labor compensated? These are all important questions to ask, and the answers may play a role in the adoption of any given tool in a classroom or learning environment.

But in many cases, and especially with the LMS, adoption comes regardless of consent. In only a minority of situations are faculty and students part of the discussion around the purchase of an LMS for an institution. In those situations, we must abide by the use of the LMS; however, that doesn’t mean we must acquiesce to its politics or its pedagogy. In order to intervene, then, we must step back and rather than learn the tool, analyze the tool.

When we do that with the LMS, we find that its primary operation is the acquisition of data, and the conflation of that data with student performance, engagement, and teaching success.

Source: Reading the LMS against the Backdrop of Critical Pedagogy, Part One – OFFICE OF DIGITAL LEARNING

How do we make this indie ed-tech?

Something like this:

The Basics of Open Technology

Albemarle County SchoolsSeven Pathways uses open technology informed by toolbelt theory and universal design for learning. Their Basics of Open Technology is a good primer on how to do tech in the classroom right. This is compatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and structural ideology.

Within all this, “technology” — meaning contemporary information and communications technology — is essential, as are all other kinds of tools. And that technology needs to be open and under student control, or it becomes a limitation instead of a key to the world.

Source: “Personalized Learning” is an expression of teacher and school power, just like “Project-Based…

The promise of contemporary technology lives in what these tools can do that previous learning and educational technologies could not — they are open, connected, individualizable, and flexible. But if your school adopts these new technologies without adopting the policies and practices that take advantage of these differences, you have likely defeated your students before you’ve even begun.

  • Student Control
  • An Abundance of Tools
  • Accessibility
  • Access Everywhere
  • BYOD and an Open Network
  • Talk to Parents
  • Worry About Behavior, Not Technology
  • Spend Wisely
  • Trust in Children and Childhood

Their philosophy emphasizes assistive tech and helping kids find their voice through technology.

No student will have mechanical limitations in access to either information or communication — whether through disability, inability at this moment, or even just discomfort. Learning is our goal, and we make it accessible.

Source: The Basics of Open Technology | Edutopia

No child within the Albemarle County Public Schools should need a label or prescription in order to access the tools of learning or environments they need. Within the constraints of other laws (in particular, copyright) we will offer alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies to provide access for all learners to acquire lifelong learning competencies and the knowledge and skills specified in curricular standards. We will create classroom cultures that fully embrace differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs and capabilities. We will apply contemporary learning science to create accessible entry points for all students in our learning environments; and which support students in learning how to make technology choices to overcome disabilities and inabilities, and to leverage preferences and capabilities.

Source: Seven Pathways

This open tech philosophy is especially powerful in the culture of passion-based maker learning and student-created context that Albemarle is building.

Follow superintendent Pam Moran and technology innovation director Ira Socol on Twitter, and read their blogs.

And check out their educational technology plan.

The Open Schoolhouse

Charlie Reisinger (@charlie3) is a good resource on the open schoolhouse, open learning, service learning, 1:1 laptop programs, student help desks, and WordPress in education. In his school district, Penn Manor, student IT apprentices write code, write documentation, image laptops, and provide helpdesk support. Their code and docs are open source and available on GitHub.

Here are some videos on Penn Manor’s approach to the open schoolhouse.

Mr. Reisinger poses the vitally important question, “Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”

His book  The Open Schoolhouse is out now. Here are some excerpts.

Locked-down technology is a symptom of an education system designed for student compliance and defined by the incessant measurement of learning. A factory-like school system values what a student has purportedly learned on a linear path, as demonstrated by a standardized test score. Technology device restraints and restrictions lock students on the assessment assembly line, at the cost of a child’s curiosity and intellectual freedom.

Source: How leveraging open source solutions helps give students in-demand skills | Opensource.com

Given unfettered permission to revise, remix, and redistribute curriculum material, teachers are trusted to become active agents in the creation of high-quality learning materials.

At Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Linux and open source software are the foundations for more than 4000 student laptops, classroom computers, and district servers. We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going open source in both the server room and the classroom.

To #GoOpenSource means more than simple cost savings for underfunded schools. Like openly-licensed education material, open source values invite collaborative and participatory learning. When a school culture honors learning by doing, students become active agents in their education, and they contribute to the school community in innovative new ways.

Source:  Schools that #GoOpen should #GoOpenSource

I think of Moodle and WordPress as fraternal twins. Passionate and ingenious founders with ardent beliefs in free and open source software created both software platforms. Global communities of programmers, designers, and end users drive the development of both platforms. They use similar web technologies (LAMP), and subscribe to principles of simplicity and ease of use. They are credited with creating, and disrupting, entire industries. And they made dramatic impacts on our students, teachers, and staff.

There is also a deeper ethical problem: reliance on closed source proprietary software teaches students a lesson of dependence on secret technology they are powerless to examine, study, share, and improve upon. If the social mission of schools is to amplify student potential, disseminate knowledge, and prepare students to have an impact on the world, then schools have a duty to help kids be free thinkers and self-reliant architects of their futures.

We believe this act of human collaboration across an open platform is essential to individual growth and our collective future.

The destructive confluence of decimated school budgets, neurotically locked-down technology, and lockstep assessment mandates is taking a toll on progressive educators—and disempowering students.

Without a course rubric, curriculum, or end-of-unit test, they created software destined to impact 1,725 of their peers, and eliminate hundreds of staff hours typically wasted on manually sorting and scheduling students into sessions.

What if our classrooms pushed aside lecture and standard curriculum, and reorganized as a community of practitioners working toward a common goal? What if every high school junior worked just like a journalist or technologist?

The flat-world technology revolution asks us to rethink our notion of what it means to be educated and literate in the 21st Century. However, one traditional skill remains unchanged: the ability to artfully and effectively self-express through writing. Blogs, reports, essays, and Tweets; writing across multiple modalities is learning made visual–and a full keyboard is still the most efficient tool to hone this skill.

Schools, it seems, are holding computer policies upside down. They shackle incredible, open-ended learning technology in digital chains. An air of distrust hangs over the device and the student. The practice cripples learning and students’ autonomy. Repressive computer device management policies crush learner agency and intellectual freedom.

What I love so much about open source philosophy, and what I strive to replicate on the help desk, is the participatory, inclusive environment where traditional power structures dissolve and students are empowered to act, contribute, express, learn, and think. Together as a team, students and staff shape the world around them. Once we stop treating students like data banks waiting for downloads, once we trust students as equal partners in their education, and once we empower students to contribute to their school community, the open schoolhouse emerges.

Source: Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students. Kindle Edition.

For more selections from the book, see here.

Hacker Ethos

Technology isn’t an industry, it’s a method of transforming the culture and economics of existing systems and institutions.

Source: 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech – Humane Tech – Medium

Hacker modes of social organization are entering more and more organizations. Agile teams, distributed collaboration, and the hacker ethos of flexible improvisation and rapid iteration are useful literacy for the modern world. The ed-tech cronyism of the past decade–driven by greed, assessment, bad metrics, and algorithmic cruelty–is a culture ill-suited to collaboration. Software eats industries and networks eat geography, bringing collaborative hacker culture along with them. Education’s turn is now. Software matters. If you’re going to get eaten by software, choose indie ed-tech over corporatist ed-tech and deficit model greed. Engage with the digital commons, and educate for massive software-driven change. While navigating a society-transforming wave of automation, fluency in hacker ethos, distributed collaboration, and loosely coupled, tightly aligned teams will be helpful.

In fact, a core element of the hacker ethos is the belief that being open to possibilities and embracing uncertainty is necessary for the actual future to unfold in positive ways. Or as computing pioneer Alan Kay put it, inventing the future is easier than predicting it.

Source: Towards a Mass Flourishing

In our Tale of Two Computers, the parent is a four-century-old computer whose basic architecture was laid down in the zero-sum mercantile age. It runs on paperware, credentialism, and exhaustive territorial claims that completely carve up the world with strongly regulated boundaries. Its structure is based on hierarchically arranged container-like organizations, ranging from families to nations. In this order of things, there is no natural place for a free frontier. Ideally, there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. It is a computer designed for stability, within which innovation is a bug rather than a feature.

We’ll call this planet-scale computer the geographic world.

The child is a young, half-century old computer whose basic architecture was laid down during the Cold War. It runs on software, the hacker ethos, and soft networks that wire up the planet in ever-richer, non-exclusive, non-zero-sum ways. Its structure is based on streams like Twitter: open, non-hierarchical flows of real-time information from multiple overlapping networks. In this order of things, everything from banal household gadgets to space probes becomes part of a frontier for ceaseless innovation through bricolage. It is a computer designed for rapid, disorderly and serendipitous evolution, within which innovation, far from being a bug, is the primary feature.

We’ll call this planet-scale computer the networked world.

The networked world is not new. It is at least as old as the oldest trade routes, which have been spreading subversive ideas alongside valuable commodities throughout history. What is new is its growing ability to dominate the geographic world. The story of software eating the world is the also the story of networks eating geography.

There are two major subplots to this story. The first subplot is about bits dominating atoms. The second subplot is about the rise of a new culture of problem-solving.

Source: A Tale of Two Computers

So here we go. Toward a new hacker ethic. So, the approach in which programmers acknowledge that programming is in some sense about leaving something out is opposed to the Hands-On Imperative as expressed by Levy. Programs aren’t models of the world constructed from scratch but takes on the world, carefully carved out of reality. It’s a subtle but important difference. In the “programming is forgetting” model, the world can’t debugged. But what you can do is recognize and be explicit about your own point of view and the assumptions that you bring to the situation.

So, the term “hacker” still has high value in tech culture. And it’s a privilege…if somebody calls you a hacker that’s kind of like a compliment. It’s a privilege to be able to be called a hacker, and it’s reserved for the highest few. And to be honest, I personally could take or leave the term. I’m not claiming to be a hacker or to speak on behalf of hackers. But what I want to do is I want to foster a technology culture in which a high value is placed on understanding and being explicit about your biases about what you’re leaving out, so that computers are used to bring out the richness of the world instead of forcibly overwriting it.

So to that end I’m proposing a new hacker ethic. Of course proposing a closed set of rules for virtuous behavior would go against the very philosophy I’m trying to advance, so my ethic instead takes the form of questions that every hacker should ask themselves while they’re making programs and machines. So here they are.

Instead of saying access to computers should be unlimited and total, we should ask “Who gets to use what I make? Who am I leaving out? How does what I make facilitate or hinder access?”

Instead of saying all information should be free, we could ask “What data am I using? Whose labor produced it and what biases and assumptions are built into it? Why choose this particular phenomenon for digitization or transcription? And what do the data leave out?”

Instead of saying mistrust authority, promote decentralization, we should ask “What systems of authority am I enacting through what I make? What systems of support do I rely on? How does what I make support other people?”

And instead of saying hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position, we should ask “What kind of community am I assuming? What community do I invite through what I make? How are my own personal values reflected in what I make?”

So you might have noticed that there were two final points-the two last points of Levy’s hacker ethics that I left alone, and those are these: You can create art and beauty on a computer. Computers can change your life for the better. I think if there’s anything to be rescued from hacker culture it’s these two sentences. These two sentences are the reason that I’m a computer programmer and that I’m a teacher in the first place. And I believe them and I know you believe them, and that’s why we’re here together today. Thank you.

Source: Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic – Allison Parrish | Open Transcripts

Teams

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’

Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

Google, in other words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Source: Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

To build 21st Century learning from the ground up, we look to see how companies like Google, Spotify, and GE build their innovative cultures. Their secret to innovation? Agile. Where focused teams unleash creativity, adapt through fast learning cycles, and iterate towards success.

Agile Classrooms self-organizes its own learning, uses visual accountability structures, and are immersed in reflective feedback. It is a structured learning environment that restores the freedom to teach and learn. Where students reclaim responsibility for their own learning and teachers shift into facilitators and coaches.

Source: Agile Classrooms

For more on teams, see my posts on Agile and Scrum in EducationProjects, Teams, and Psychological Safety, Affinity Groups, Psychological Safety, and Inclusion, and Building Creative Culture.

Team Communication

My company uses Slack & hundreds of WordPress blogs running P2 to communicate & collaborate. Our three level communication stack is sympathetic to anxiety and imposter syndrome and informed by neurodiversity. We’ve been iterating on this for over a decade, and I think we get some things right. You can take an idea from small audiences to global audiences with feedback and encouragement along the way.

For an example of using Slack for team chat, join the WordPress Slack. It’s open to anyone in the world. Come look around and lurk as the software running 30% of the web is built.

In my school I’ve piloted the use of Slack within the Mathematics Department. Primarily we use it for sharing teaching resources. We have a channel for each of the year groups, so that teachers can join the channels for the classes they teach. Another really helpful use we’ve found is for discussion around marking tests. We are often doing these separately at home, and it’s good to be able to chat about the mark scheme and post photos of student answers that we are unsure how to mark.

One of the concerns other teachers have about using a tool like Slack for collaboration is that it’s just another place to check. That concern is legitimate: unless using two different tools offers significant advantages, it’s inconvenient to have to use them in parallel. However, in my experience, collaboration within a subject department is distinct enough from whole-school email that a division between the two isn’t disruptive, and as I’ve argued above, Slack is a significantly more powerful tool for effective collaboration.

While I think Slack works best in teams that work together day to day, it’s interesting to think about how it might work on a whole-school level, and whether it could completely replace email. There are big companies which use Slack, so it does scale to that level. At the high school level, it would need to be organised around subject departments, and since each subject would probably require multiple channels, there would probably have to be some oversight to ensure there was a consistent naming scheme for channels, among other things.

Alternatives to email are becoming widespread in the corporate and charity sector2, and it’s about time that schools started experimenting with some of these tools as well. Teaching is a profession where effective collaboration is not always a given, but in my experience sharing ideas and resources with other teachers is one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.

Source: Slack for Teacher Collaboration – PolyMaths

See P2 in action on the sites at make.wordpress.org. P2 can be used to build psychologically safe and deliberate social spaces in schools that bring safety to the serendipity.

One idea that I came upon via Doug Belshaw on the TIDE Podcast is to use the P2 Theme within WordPress (Houston in Edublogs) to create a personalised social media space. Unlike the usual blogging themes, which rely on navigating the dashboard and drafting posts, P2 constrains the process to being able to quickly text and tag. My thought was that students could then share canonical links to their work or other interesting ideas, similar to Twitter. It also provides a safe space to learn about social media and explore. Although spaces like Edmodo and Google Classroom offer a similar functionality, neither allows users to organise their posts or have any sort of ownership over their content.

Source: Creating a Deliberate Social Media Space for Students in School – Read Write Respond

An open source alternative to Slack used by some districts is Mattermost. Penn Manor moved to Mattermost in 2016. Mattermost derives is name from the importance of communication.

Communication is oxygen. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity.

The results were remarkable. The employees who had used the tool became 31% more likely to find coworkers with expertise relevant to meeting job goals. Those employees also became 88% more likely to accurately identify who could put them in contact with the right experts. They made these gains by observing what their coworkers talked about on Jive-n and with whom. The group that had no access to the tool showed no improvement on either measure over the same period.

These tools can promote employee collaboration and knowledge sharing across silos. They can help employees make faster decisions, develop more innovative ideas for products and services, and become more engaged in their work and their companies.

Over the past two decades organizations have sought some of these benefits through knowledge management databases, but with limited success. That’s because determining who has expertise and understanding the context in which it was created are important parts of knowledge sharing. Databases do not provide that type of information and connection. Social tools do.

But we have found that companies that try to “go social,” as many of them call it, often fall into four traps. Here we’ll look at those traps and share recommendations for capitalizing on the promise of social tools.

Source: What Managers Need to Know About Slack, Yammer, and Chatter

By their very nature, channels increase transparency — and I like to say that with a big asterisk, because transparency is often defined, in the business context, as bosses and leaders being more forthcoming. In this case, we literally define transparency as the opposite of opacity: People can actually see what’s going on in different departments and working groups in a way they couldn’t with email, because emails are addressed to individuals, or mainly received individually.

Take the process of closing a deal as an example. It’s incredibly complex and involves a lot of participants, from sales to legal to engineering. When I wanted an update on how work with Oracle was coming along, which is one of our biggest accounts, I didn’t have to ask anyone. I just went into the dedicated #accounts-oracle channel and I could see everything that’s been happening.

Channels have opened my eyes to the importance of alignment and clarity for people. Now someone in engineering who may not be involved with the account on a daily basis, but might be working on a feature that’s blocking a customer deployment, can go into a channel and get context behind requests and understand the potential impact of their actions. They’re not just getting a message into their inbox, dropped from the top.

The nature of an organization is that it produces a lot of information. Depending on the organization’s size, the volume of information can increase by orders of magnitude — from 10 to 100 to 100,000 times more. But you don’t have to read all of it. It’s not being pumped into an inbox. With Slack, you have choice. There are channels you can elect to join or view as you see fit. We give people tools, like notification settings and comprehensive controls, so they manage what they need to see.

Source: Channeling the inevitable: Slack and the future of work | The Official Slack Blog

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapier employees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency. At Basecamp, there are no all-hands or town hall meetings. All updates, decisions, and subsequent discussions are posted publicly to the entire company. For companies, this is pretty bold. It’s like having a Facebook wall with all your friends chiming in on your questionable decisions of the distant past that you can’t erase. But the beauty is that there is now a body of written decisions and discussions that serves as a rich and permanent artifact of institutional knowledge, accessible to anyone in the company. Documenting major decisions in writing depoliticizes access to information.

Source: Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics | TechCrunch

Blogging, Domain of One’s Own, and WordPress

If I had a desert island EdTech, it would be blogging, and that is not just in a nostalgic sense. No other educational technology has continued to develop, as the proliferation of WordPress sites attests, and also remain so full of potential. I’ve waxed lyrical about academic blogging many times before, but for almost every ed tech that comes along, I find myself thinking that a blog version would be better: e-portfolios, VLEs, MOOCs, OERs, social networks. Sometimes it’s like Jim Groom and Alan Levine have taken over my brain, and I don’t even mind. I still harbour dreams of making students effective bloggers will be a prime aspect of graduateness. Nothing develops and anchors your online identity quite like a blog.

Source: 25 Years of EdTech – 2003: Blogs – The Ed Techie 

Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one’s domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.

As originally conceived at the Virginia liberal arts university, the Domains initiative provides students and faculty with their own Web domain. It isn’t simply a blog or a bit of Web space and storage at the school’s dot-edu, but their own domain – the dot com (or dot net, etc) of the student’s choosing. The school facilitates the purchase of the domain; it helps with installation of WordPress and other open source software; it offers both technical and instructional support; and it hosts the site until graduation when domain ownership is transferred to the student.

And then – contrary to what happens at most schools, where a student’s work exists only inside a learning management system and cannot be accessed once the semester is over – the domain and all its content are the student’s to take with them. It is, after all, their education, their intellectual development, their work.

But there remains this notion, deeply embedded in Domain of One’s Own, that it is important to have one’s own space in order to develop one’s ideas and one’s craft. It’s important that learners have control over their work – their content and their data. In a 2009 article that served as a philosophical grounding of sorts for the initiative, Gardner Campbell, then a professor at Baylor University, called for a “personal cyberinfrastructure” where students:

not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments…. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own ‘engagement streams’ throughout the learning environment.

The importance of giving students responsibility for their own domain cannot be overstated. This can be a way to track growth and demonstrate new learning over the course of a student’s school career – something that they themselves can reflect upon, not simply grades and assignments that are locked away in a proprietary system controlled by the school.

Source: The Web We Need to Give Students – BRIGHT Magazine

WordPress (disclosure: I helped make it) is open and free, including the freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0). It’s part of my company’s communication stackNewark is a large school district using WordPress for internal and external communication. @camworld of SchoolPresser built and manages the 70+ WP sites at the Newark district. This podcast talks to him about moving Newark over to WordPress. He gets into nuts and bolts and case study, including cost model.

See his talk on WordPress for Schools at WordCamp Raleigh (slides).

Glow is a service for to all schools & education establishments across Scotland.

Glow gives access to a number of different web services.

One of these services is Glow Blogs which runs on WordPress.

All teachers and pupils in Scotland can have access to #GlowBlogs via a Single signon via RMUNIFY (shibboleth)

Glow Blogs are currently used for School Websites, Class Blogs, Project Blogs, Trips, Libraries, eportfolios. Blogs By Learners, Blogs for Learners (Resources, revision ect), collaborations, aggregations.

Source: Word Press for Weans 2018 #pressedconf18

There are thousands of so-called widgets, plugins and themes that are just as important for a one-person blogger than the world’s largest publishers. Gartner’s recent pace-layered application strategy shows that organisations can accelerate their innovation by choosing an array of systems that support business requirements on long-, medium- and short-term timescales.

Systems that maximise connectivity between the pace layers offer organisations competitive advantage. WordPress’ ubiquity has driven it to enjoy a rich ecosystem of connectivity and integration, something that the baked-in WordPress REST API now extends that connectivity infinitely. This is why things will accelerate in 2017.

Source: How WordPress Ate The Internet in 2016… And The World in 2017

High school, college, and sometimes even middle school students help make WordPress. Shipping to an authentic audience is powerful and life-changing.

wordpress-download-counter
WordPress 4.7 has been downloaded 28,901,206 times

Backchannels

Written communication is the great social equalizer.”

Ditch That Textbook provides examples of how to use blogs and team chat in the classroom. Chapter 3, Use Technology to Defeat Insecurity, offers good insight into the neurodiversity friendliness of backchannels, something familiar to tech workers.

A backchannel is a separate, often text-based, discussion students engage in while they’re receiving information via a lecture, a movie, a television show, or a PowerPoint presentation. Students use a digital device to participate in a behind-the-scenes chat so as not to disturb others trying to listen.

Backchannels provide the perfect outlet for students who have something to say but refuse to open up in class discussions. When everyone participates in the conversation, no one feels singled out. As a result, inhibitions about sharing decrease and the courage to speak up increases. Plus, when everyone types at once, the teacher spends less time calling on students one by one.

Source: Ditch That Textbook

Both kids at school and adults at work, regardless of neurotype, benefit from backchannels. “This kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Backchannels especially support autistic people. “Online communication for autistics has been compared to sign language for the deaf. Online, we are able to participate as equals. Our disability is often invisible and we are treated like humans. It provides much needed human contact otherwise denied us.” “Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic. We need online interaction.” “Thin slice studies showed that people prejudge us harshly in just micro-seconds of seeing or hearing us (though we fare better than neurotypical subjects when people only see our written words).

Written communication is the great social equalizer.” It allowed me to participate and be a part of things bigger than myselfAs I reflect on my life and career in light of a mid-life autism diagnosis, I realize how much I was driven by the desire and need for written communication. I became an engineer who helped build the infrastructure that would allow me to socialize with the written rather than the spoken word. Consciously and unconsciously, I helped create technologies and culture that suited my neurotype.

Phones are very stressful. ‘Call if you have a problem’ is an inaccessible gauntlet for me and many others. If you work with neurodivergent kids, keep in mind that their parents are likely neurodivergent too. Most of the autistic parents “you encounter will not be diagnosed, and may indeed be oblivious to their own social and communication difficulties. By making your systems and processes more adapted to the needs of autistic mothers, you will be supporting not only undiagnosed mothers (and fathers) but other adults with additional needs.

Bring the backchannel forward. Embrace the equalizer. Backchannels accommodate neurological pluralism while fostering the serendipity of networks. Backchannels are vital parts of the internal networks that allow us to tap into not just “a diversity of voices, but a diversity and divergence of thinking and ideas.” Build such networks in your school with indie ed-tech. Look to distributed work for ways to integrate backchannels into education and workplace cultures.

Source: Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.

 I personally believe that the backchannel is the greatest unharnessed resource that we as educators have available to us. It does not threaten me nor bother me that you learned as much if not more from the backchannel the other night — in fact, it makes me feel great that I facilitated the connection.

Source: Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Backchannels and Microblogging Streams

And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Source: SpeEdChange: Bringing the “Back Channel” Forward

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Remember this if you start to fear your Autistic child is spending too much time interacting with others online and not enough time interacting with others face-to-face.  Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic.  We need online interaction and this meta-study demonstrates exactly why that is the case.

I couldn’t help wondering, since the study showed the durability of first impressions and the positive response to the written words of Autistics, with all visual and auditory cues removed, could we mitigate childhood bullying in any way by having a class of students meet first online, in text, and form their first impressions of one another in that format before ever meeting face-to-face?

Getting online was revolutionary and may have saved my life.

The difference between offline and online communication could not have been more dramatic.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autism and the Burden of Social Reciprocity

For the last few years, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve been surrounded by people who, when asked a question, immediately bring out a digital device and look it up. The conferences that I’ve attended have backchannels as a given. Tweeting, blogging, Wikipedia-ing… these are all just what we do.

I have become a “bad student.” I can no longer wander an art museum without asking a bazillion questions that the docent doesn’t know or won’t answer or desperately wanting access to information that goes beyond what’s on the brochure (like did you know that Rafael died from having too much sex!?!?!). I can’t pay attention in a lecture without looking up relevant content. And, in my world, every meeting and talk is enhanced through a backchannel of communication.

Source: danah boyd | I want my cyborg life

IT Culture

To accommodate continuous communication, collaboration and iteration, change the culture of IT acquisition & digital services. Consult the 18F & USDS playbooks.

The goal was simple: burst the stereotypical beltway bubble and expose government employees and bureaucratic workflows to mainstream technology thinking.

Source: The difference between 18F and USDS – Ben Balter

Members of Congress of all stripes and party affiliations are embracing the game-changing promise of better government technology shipped by the modern approach employed by hundreds of hardworking people serving their country at 18F and USDS. Same goes for the career bureaucracy, to varying degrees. And it appears that, at least under oath and the klieg lights, the private-sector vendor community grudgingly does too.

The culture change 18F and USDS embody is starting to take hold, challenging the mindset of entrenched for-profit IT vendors, attacking the billions wasted each year on busted IT, and putting the status quo on notice.

Source: Doing IT Right: Congressional Oversight of President Obama’s Signature Tech Teams – Medium

I was in a meeting once where someone said, “How long will it take to fix that?” One person, who’d been at the company for years, said, “Three months.” A new person, who’d just come from a world of rapidly provisioned cloud microservices, said, “Three minutes.” They were both correct. That’s how change enters into this world. Slowly at first, then on the front page of Hacker News.

Source: What is code? Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.

Adopting the USDS and 18F playbooks will inoculate against ed-tech cronyism.

Schools do continue to turn away from the iPad as the tablet hasn’t proven to be quite as revolutionary as some predicted. Surprise, surprise. But the rationale for choosing a certain type of computing device is almost always about testing, not about any other benefit the device might offer teaching and learning.

But this notion of an “OS War” shouldn’t be too quickly dismissed. “Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google Are Fighting a War for the Classroom,” Edutechnica wrote in June, with a look at how many colleges have adopted their competing “pseudo-LMSes.” The “war” extends beyond the productivity suite of tech tools and it extends beyond operating system in the classroom. It’s about building brand allegiance with students and/as workers, and it’s about building data profiles to sell ads and other products.

The LMS, of course, needn’t be a permanent line item in schools’ budgets. And its supposed primacy might actually overlook that there’s a great deal of “shadow” technology utilized by instructors who eschew the official LMS for something they find better suited to their classroom needs and goals.

The learning management system is a piece of “enterprise” software after all. That is, it’s built and bought to satisfy the needs of the institution rather than the needs of individual. Purchasing an LMS – or more correctly, signing a contract to license an LMS – requires its own enterprise-level bureaucracy.

I’ve argued elsewhere that education technology serves as a “Trojan horse” of sorts, carrying with it into public institutions the practices, politics, and a culture of private business and the ideology of Silicon Valley.

Of course, what drives the programming on Sesame Street now isn’t education research; it’s market research. It isn’t “equity” as in social justice; it’s “equity” as in the financial stake a VC takes in a company.

And that’s what “the business of education technology” gets us.

Source: The Business of Education Technology

There is a gap developing between the business users of enterprise applications and the IT professionals charged with providing these applications. The business leaders are looking for modern, easy-to-use applications that can be quickly deployed to solve a specific problem or respond to a market opportunity. Meanwhile, the IT organization is typically working toward a strategic goal of standardizing on a limited set of comprehensive application suites in order to minimize integration issues, maximize security and reduce IT costs. These competing goals often lead to strategic misalignment.

Business users often complain that, no matter what they ask for, IT tells them either that they have to use the functionality in the existing application portfolio or that they have to wait until the current multiyear rollout is finished before the problem can be addressed. In today’s dynamic business climate, with constantly changing business models and users who are fully aware of the power of technology, this is simply an unacceptable answer.

Organizations must establish a new strategy for business applications that responds to the desire of the business to use technology to establish sustainable differentiation and drive innovative new processes, while providing a secure and cost-effective environment to support core business processes.

Source: Accelerating Innovation by Adopting a Pace-Layered Application Strategy

Writing in the Age of Distributed Collaboration

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. It is a place for moving around blocks and tinkering with parts. It is a place to explore my mind and write it the way I want it to read. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Text editors are extensions of mind that facilitate thinking.

At my company, we say “communication is oxygen”. Most of that oxygen is writing. So far this week, we’ve written 99,786 Slack messages, 1,749 P2 posts, and 5,070 P2 comments using our three level communication flow.

iterate-communicate-make-happy.png
We Iterate, We Communicate, We Make People Happy
Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 8.06.01 AM.png
793 Slack channels, 441 P2 blogs, 4,628 Zoom video chats

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

Literacy in North America has historically been focused on reading, not writing; consumption, not production.

while many parents worked hard to ensure their children were regular readers, they rarely pushed them to become regular writers.

We are now a global culture of avid writers.

As Brandt notes, reading and writing have become blended: “People read in order to generate writing; we read from the posture of the writer; we write to other people who write.” Or as Francesca Coppa, a professor who studies the enormous fan fiction community, explains to me, “It’s like the Bloomsbury Group in the early twentieth century, where everybody is a writer and everybody is an audience. They were all writers who were reading each other’s stuff, and then writing about that, too.”

So how is all this writing changing our cognitive behavior?

• • • For one, it can help clarify our thinking. Professional writers have long described the way that the act of writing forces them to distill their vague notions into clear ideas. By putting half-formed thoughts on the page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them much more objectively. This is why writers often find that it’s only when they start writing that they figure out what they want to say.

Poets famously report this sensation. “I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind,” Cecil Day-Lewis wrote of his poetic compositions. “If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

Culturally, we revere the Rodin ideal— the belief that genius breakthroughs come from our gray matter alone. The physicist Richard Feynman once got into an argument about this with the historian Charles Weiner. Feynman understood the extended mind; he knew that writing his equations and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no, Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process.

Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.

The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience.

When you write something online— whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post— you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously. Audiences clarify the mind even more.

Blogging forces you to write down your arguments and assumptions. This is the single biggest reason to do it, and I think it alone makes it worth it. You have a lot of opinions. I’m sure some of them you hold strongly.

When you move from your head to “paper,” a lot of the hand-waveyness goes away and you are left to really defend your position to yourself.

But studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more.

When asked to write for a real audience of students in another country, students write essays that are substantially longer and have better organization and content than when they’re writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki— a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words— college students snap to attention, writing more formally and including more sources to back up their work.

“Often they’re handing in these short essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up to two a.m. honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience— the Wikipedia community— was quite gimlet eyed and critical.

Once thinking is public, connections take over.

Source: Thompson, Clive (2013-09-12). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (p. 50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Iterate Together; do_action

do_action events bring non-profits and open source communities together to build and improve websites. Let’s do the same for school districts. Students, teachers, and tech workers iterating and learning together as they build the infrastructure for oxygen.

http://doaction.org/

Privacy

Living Privately. — Building and maintaining a sense of what to show in each social environment. — Discovering and creating new environments in which we can show more of ourselves. — Assessing where you can grow new parts of yourself which aren’t (yet) for public display.

Source: On Privacy – Human Systems – Medium

For practical advice without the FUD, consult the Smart Girl’s Guide to Online Privacy,  by @violetblue, this piece on sex ed, and this overview on privacy and passwords.

Neurodiversity, The Social Model of Disability,  Structural Ideology, Intersectionality, Equity Literacy, and Humane Tech

All of this must be informed by neurodiversitythe social model of disabilitystructural ideology, and restorative practices. Champion agency, transparency, and inclusion. Resist deficit ideology and compliance culture. Humanize flow in the systems we inhabit. Use these heuristics when building systems and culture:

With software eating the world, we must make it humane.

Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world”, but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world.

Source: There is no “technology industry” – Humane Tech – Medium

Software didn’t eat the world: it bent the world to fit the values of people who make software.

Those ideas and insights about how to treat people, how to listen to customers (and to communities), and how to be thoughtful and responsible in creating technology were even more important than anything we built into our software. They were the first steps to trying to fix what we could now think of as “Big Bugs”. Little bugs were mistakes in the software. Big Bugs are when we exacerbate (or cause!) major problems in society.

Source: Software Matters in the World – Fog Creek Software – Medium

The inequalities that I’ve chronicled above – income inequality, wealth inequality, information inequality – have been part of our education system for generations, and these are now being hard-coded into our education technologies. This is apparent in every topic in every article I’ve written in this years’ year-end series: for-profit higher education, surveillance in the classroom, and so on.

These inequalities are apparent in the longstanding biases that are found in standardized testing, for example, often proxies for “are you rich?” and “are you white?” and “are you male?”

My own concerns about the direction of education technology cannot be separated from my concerns with digital technologies more broadly. I’ve written repeatedly about the ideologies of Silicon Valley: neoliberalism, libertarianism, imperialism, late stage capitalism. These ideologies permeate education technology too, as often the same investors and same entrepreneurs and the same engineers are involved.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and Inequality

Ban Laptop Bans

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