Edtech and campus expansion

From our latest Comprehensive Institutional Plan:

There are two initiatives that have the potential to address our access issue and increase enrolment with strategic allocation of new resources. The first is the development of a learning technologies strategy that will include a focus on enabling and enhancing learning experiences through the integration of learning technologies, with the potential to create alternative instructional approaches that allow for a larger on- line presence and admissions (strategy will be developed by June 2014).

(Emphasis mine)

Our campus is already oversubscribed by something like 3,000 FTE, and we are needing to prepare for much higher enrolment as the city continues to grow1. There will be a much larger role for blended- and online learning as core parts of our academic programming.

So. My team is the “Technology Integration Group” of the Taylor Institute, which will be responsible for figuring much of this stuff out. Looks like we are going to have our hands full :-)

  1. the Plan mentions several times that Calgary is the fastest growing city in Canada, third largest municipality in the country, projected to hit 1.5M people by 2019 – we just crossed 1M a few years ago. []

Presentation Zen: More storytelling lessons from “Cosmos”

Why does a show about the universe produced in 1980 have such a strong pull on us today? It’s not because of the compelling communication style of Carl Sagan alone, although that is a small part of it. Nor is it because Sagan gave us information that most of us never had. The reason Cosmos endures is because the presentation of the original Cosmos series made it clear why what we were seeing and hearing mattered. Even if it was not always explicitly stated, the message was clear: This is important. This is remarkable. And you are a part of it.

via Presentation Zen: More storytelling lessons from “Cosmos”.

I wonder why MacFarlane and deGrasse Tyson didn’t just whip together a Prezi…

democratizing social control

What I’m afraid of is the society we already live in. Where people like you and me, if we stay inside the lines, can enjoy lives of comfort and relative ease, but God help anyone who is declared out of bounds. Those people will feel the full might of the high-tech modern state

via Our Comrade The Electron – Webstock Conference Talk by Maciej Ceclowski.

Where everything goes on a permanent record of some sort, the only dissent allowed involves which colour of avatar to select on Twitter.

filter bubbling

Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: How the new personalized web is changing what we read and how we think.

I (finally) started reading this on the flight to Toronto. Fascinating take on the whole you-are-the-product thing.

Just as the factory farming system that produces and delivers our food shapes what we eat, the dynamics of our media shape what information we consume. Now we’re quickly shifting toward a regimen chock-full of personally relevant information. And while that can be helpful, too much of a good thing can also cause real problems. Left to their own devices, personalization filters serve up a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas, amplifying our desire for things that are familiar and leaving us oblivious to the dangers lurking in the dark territory of the unknown.


The manifesto that helped launch the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the early nineties championed a “civilization of Mind in cyberspace” – a kind of worldwide metabrain. But personalized filters sever the synapses in that brain. Without knowing it, we may be giving ourselves a kind of global lobotomy instead.”

why I care about edtech

I’ve been in the edtech game for a long time. I started as a programmer in 1994, then moved into instructional design, and now am working with an amazing group of folks to integrate learning technologies into the practices of instructors and students.

But. Why?

I just came from a workshop that made it clear that many in the edtech field see innovation as something like “working out creative licensing deals with vendors and/or publishers.”

No. It isn’t.

Edtech is important because it can be transformative.


It can literally change the nature of the learning experience. It can shift people from consume mode, into collaborate and publish mode. It can knock down walls. Evaporate silos. Connect people across campus, across campuses, and across the globe.

None of that has anything to do with the lame excuses for “innovation” being described in the field of educational technology. Where brokering a 50% reduction in the cost of textbooks is an acceptable goal. If the textbook publishing model is broken – and it is demonstrably broken by any conceivable metric – the only acceptable goal is to either opt out of that model, or to toss a grenade into it.

This is akin to negotiating with a buggy salesman to get the best deal, when what we really need is a bicycle. Or a pair of shoes. Or a hovercraft. Or a factory.

Edtech is important not because of the tech, but because of the educational activities enabled by it. Which means that the licensing agreements seen as “innovative” are often necessary, but not sufficient.

This stuff is important because it can change the nature of the educational activities. It can make resources and people accessible to those who would not have had access otherwise. It can amplify the voices of people who would not have been heard otherwise. It can make what you do matter outside of your own isolated context.

And higher education is uniquely positioned in such a way as to lead the development and adoption of educational technology. It is in our mandate to create new knowledge, to disseminate this knowledge, and to share what we learn with as many people as possible. That is a truly awesome responsibility, and one that some would outsource to commercial entities.

To allow that to happen, to outsource educational innovation to commercial interests (or, really, to outsource it at all), is to shirk the responsibility that we have as members of institutions of higher education. It is our job to work in the interest of the public – the people that pay our bills – to build ways to share the research that we conduct, to enhance the learning of our students, and to make learning accessible to as many people as possible.

It is not our job to reorganize our institutions around managing and enforcing DRM that is designed to prop up companies who have built entire industries around bilking our students for every penny they can siphon out of them.

Our job is to provide the best possible learning experience to our students. Full stop. That’s it.

Now, if that happens to be best done through a commercial solution, then let’s do that. Let’s sign the best damned contracts we can sign.

But, there will be times. Many times. When that means going against the interests of commercial entities. To share what we have and do so freely and willingly, despite potentially reducing the direct profits of others. And so we shall. Our mandate is not to serve companies that profit from our students (or our taxpaying supporters). Our job is to provide the best damned experience to our students. That’s the guiding principal that should shape every decision, every project, every action. Is this the best thing for our students’ experience? If so, do it. If not? Don’t. It’s that simple.

Edtech is important because it is transformative. Because it has the potential to amplify (or mitigate) innovations across the field of higher education (and beyond). It is our responsibility to take this seriously, and to do what is best for our students above all else.

higher ed as a platform for innovation, collaboration, and read/write culture

Thought fodder for this morning. First, this from Jim Groom:

Oh, how far we have fallen! Just two decades later the LMS, not the web, has become where universities do most of their web-related work with students. University websites are little more than glorified admissions brochures. In a depressing twist of fate, higher ed has outsourced the most astounding innovation in communications history that was born on its campuses. Through a process that started in earnest during the late 1990s—roughly at the same time the dot.com market boom—universities moved to a market-driven corporate IT logic. Digital communications were understood as services, and the open web got lumped with email, intranets, and the LMS as a business application. Somewhere during this time the internet was confused with efficiency and the web was mistaken for an interactive fact sheet.

via BavaTuesdays – Innovation Lost

Follow that up with this from Jack Hylan:

We have moved from a Read/Write Culture to a Read/Consume and bicker culture. It is time for us to retake our creativity and expand upon our most wildest dreams. Stop consuming and start creating. That is the importance of the internet for future generations.

via Internet Stuff | A place on the internet for the internet.

I left a rambling comment on Jim’s post:

Absolutely. I got onto the internet in 1987, the semester I started a as a biology undergrad. I had to get a prof to sign a piece of paper saying that I was worthy of being granted access. I fooled him into signing it anyway. And everything – EVERYTHING – on the internet back the was on higher education servers, with a few governmental ones, and a handful of corporate. The internet, from my n00b undergrad perspective, was owned by SUNY, CUNY, Stanford, and UCalgary. (UCalgary, because that was how I got online via AIX terminals, and accessed the command-line tools to get to the others. SUNY and CUNY were the big Gopher servers back in the day, full of awesomeness).

Over the years, it got more crowded, and then the web hit and the shift to corporate holdings began.

I think we can push innovation from higher education again, by not caring about venture capital and the other nonsense that completely derailed the sense purposeful design and collaboration. It’s largely lip service now. Web 3.0 is all about collaboration! No. It isn’t. It’s about tricking users into creating accounts on your servers so you can sell the company to yahoo/Facebook/google and cash out. Real collaboration is building the tools and platforms together, not just posting our animated gifs on the same servers.

The reality check part of my brain is tingling, whispering something about nostalgia and revisionist history, but I’m ignoring that particular set of voices at the moment.

We can do this. Again. Still.


Also, I realize there is an insane amount of privilege that needs to be unpacked from my description of the early days. It was restricted to those who were worthy due to being able to be at a post-secondary institution, etc… The modern corporate internet is more readily accessible by everyone, so it’s definitely better in that sense. But I’m still not comfortable with delegation of real innovation to corporations who are mandated with leveraging us for profit. That’s diametrically opposed to the culture of the early days – and something we need to try to restore on some level.

I’ve been kind of working both sides of the fence for a few years not – pushing for real collaboration and innovation, while also trying to work from within the IT organization to infuse a sense of purpose and connection to why we’re doing this stuff in the first place. I think I’ve had varying levels of success at that, but it’s important to keep pushing.

scanning the family photo archives

I picked up a scanner a couple of months ago, and have been slowly scanning in old photos when I get a chance. A few batches in, and I’ve already done 451 photos. I’m viewing the activity as potentially rescuing family history from fading pieces of paper. I have no idea if JPEG files will still be readable in 100 years, but it’s worth a shot to try to preserve photos going back well over 100 years (the oldest photo is from before 1893).

Family archives

As I scan, I try to add as much metadata as I have – often it’s just a scrawl of a name on the back of the photo print. I’m struck by how metadata poor many of these photos are. I can’t even guess at what decade some of them were taken in. Some have a name or two provided, some a year, and some have a wealth of hand-written documentation. And the quality of the photos themselves – there are a handful that I’d describe as not bad. The vast majority are absolute crap, technically. Blurry, poorly exposed, and small – several of the older photos are only available as 1-square-inch prints – I’m guessing the cost of printing photos back in the 1920s-1940s made it prohibitive, but even when cranking up the resolution of the scans to 1200dpi, there’s just not a lot of image to work with.

Family archives 2

Some of the oldest photos, of my grandparents and my dad in his childhood, kind of blow me away. Especially, knowing that they’d likely be lost forever without being rescued. The only metadata available for many of the photos is inferred – either through association with other photos that have rudimentary data scribed on the back – or via automated tools like face recognition. It’s interesting to see names get pulled out of group photos, and to see photos of individual family members spanning over several decades.

Leonard norman photos

Contrast that with the almost 30,000 photos in my own family archive (with a few hundred more ready to be scanned in a couple of banker’s boxes in the basement). Most of those photos have at least some metadata, and everything in the last few years has buckets of automated data – location, time, etc… – assuming Aperture library and image files will be somehow readable in a few decades…


One of the things I had on my 1-year plan for The New Job™ was development of an “Open UCalgary” website, akin to the awesome work done by others1. At the last Teaching & Learning Committee meeting, we were sketching out a revised draft of a memo to faculty members, intended to showcase strategies to reduce costs to students. One of the items was about open education resources and the like, so I floated the idea of the website2. And, just like that, boom. Green light for the website. Which meant I had to throw something together pretty darned quickly, to be online in time for the memo to be finalized and sent out.

So. The early version of Open UCalgary is now online.

Screen Shot 2014 02 05 at 9 41 30 PM

It’s super basic at the moment, to serve as a starting point to refer folks to resources and projects available both on-campus and elsewhere. I’ll be building the website up over the next few months, and will be working to showcase the great stuff that’s going on at the UofC, as well as pulling in the inspiring and immediately applicable stuff that’s being done elsewhere.

And, this is just the first of many things I’ll be working on from my 1-year plan. Most of them involve blatantly ripping off the awesome stuff being done by folks I respect and admire3. It’s going to be a fun year!

  1. []

  2. frankly, it was either that, or just refer directly to the URLs in footnote 1 []
  3. and also Jim Groom []

on the new job

To start out the new year, I’m moving to a new position at the University of Calgary. I am now “Manager, Technology Integration Group” in the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. That’s a mouthful.

Taylor Institute West Rendering

Basically, I get to work with a great team, building tools to enhance teaching and learning, and supporting instructors and students to integrate these tools effectively. In many ways, it’s a formalization of the kinds of things I’ve been doing in various roles on campus, but with some truly amazing people to work with, and resources to dedicate to the task. The mandate is essentially: support the successful integration of appropriate technologies into teaching and learning, and work with instructors and researchers to build and extend tools to enhance the learning environment.

From the job profile:

  • Leadership: Within the vision for the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning and in consultation with the Director of Educational Development Unit of the Institute, demonstrate leadership in building leading-edge technology integration capacity across the university.
  • Technology Integration Practice and Scholarship: Demonstrate leadership and expertise in developing effective educational technology initiatives that support successful learning and teaching experiences at undergraduate and graduate levels, and across academic disciplines.
  • Administration /Management: Provide overall management of staff and affiliated faculty/staff/students, program development, and resources.
  • IT Strategy for the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning: Serve as a liaison between the Taylor Institute and IT leadership, providing support for strategic decision making and comprehensive planning.1

Sounds like fun to me! (of course, the details of the profile will be changing as we get up and running…)

Taylor Institute East Rendering

I’ll be able to share more information once it’s sunk in a bit and I find my footing. Although parts of this role will feel familiar, much of it is also new – it’s a much higher profile role than I’m used to, and will have much more official responsibility. I’ve taken on some high profile and responsibility tasks over the years, but this is the first time it’s been baked into my job profile. And the first time I’ve been part of a new $40M facility intended to radically change the culture of teaching and learning on campus, and to serve as a working research sandbox for innovation. That’s pretty exciting stuff.

The Taylor Institute is going to be a fantastic place to work – it’s starting off as a somewhat virtual organization, with the previous Teaching & Learning Centre forming the heart of it, but many new groups will be added. The construction of the new building makes a nice metaphor – currently, the building site is an empty patch of dirt, with the previous crumbling building removed and blueprints ready to be realized. It’s going to take a couple of years for the building to be completed, and we’re hoping to have the organizational side of the Institute up and running well beforehand, ready to move in.

Taylor Institute Construction

I’m super excited about being able to work with the awesome people in the Technology Integration Group, and the other groups within the new Taylor Institute – and working closely with great folks across campus. This is going to be a heck of a year, with (hopefully) many more to come.

Taylor Institute Blueprint

  1. this part is essentially my previous role on campus – IT Business Partner – which I will continue to do, within the scope of the Taylor Institute []

inflicting myself on the internet