3000km in 2007

I did it. I managed to ride my bike 3000km (so far) in 2007. Last year, I rode about 1500km. I estimated I might ride 2000-2500km this year. But this morning, after dropping Evan off at school, I pulled the bike out and rode along the Bow River Pathway. I’ve now ridden over 3000km this year, and hope to do even more in 2008.

3000km

The year’s riding started while on Maui, when I rode about 60 miles down Haleakala – starting at over 10,000′ and descending to near sea level. As I rode through the year, it’s like a switch got thrown – I wasn’t making myself ride my bike to work, it was just how I got around. I didn’t have to give it much thought. And, because I was riding on my commute, I was making far more time for exercise than I could have otherwise (with a family at home that needs attention as well) – but because I have to spend time getting to and from work, it was really simple to just convert that into some great exercise. I wound up losing almost 20 pounds of flab without really trying, and without paying any attention to what I was eating.

The season’s almost over for the year (never thought I’d be thinking the season wasn’t officially over at the end of November!) and I know I’m going to miss it during the deep winter months. I’ll try to ride earlier in the season – maybe starting in March 2008? All I need is a pair of waterproof riding pants, and I’m good to ride through the spring rainy season…

Northern (Voice) Reflections

Update: Added photos from my Flickr set from Northern Voice.

I've been meaning to make the time to put together some reflections on Northern Voice 2007 before the memories start to do that thing that memories do. Life intervened, and so here I am, almost a week afterward, trying to remember with as much clarity as I can muster, the defining moments of NV2007 (for me).

First, the openness and generosity of the Lamb/McPhee family continually blows me away. I had the pleasure of imposing on them while I was staying in Vancouver, and I truly felt (feel) like I'm a member of the family. As H. put it "You're a Lamb boy, but you're slow because you like the Stampeders."

East Hastings 1I spent much of Wednesday in a meeting hosted by the Donat Group, where participants in the Social Learning shared hosting project affiliated with BCCampus were planning the next steps. It was interesting, but I have to wonder if a shared hosting model is really necessary. The recurring theme from the leaders at Northern Voice is that decentralized, individually controlled personal publishing trumps institutional endeavors every time. I wonder what would happen if the energy was put into finding a way to make that happen, rather than hand-holding institutions. Maybe that's a necessary first step to bring them into the era of social software, but it's not the target destination. I hope I don't get punted from the project for saying this, either…

Ceviche FixinsThursday was spent hanging out at Brian's place, planning sessions for MooseCamp. Brian and I tossed some ideas around for our "Mashups for Non Programmers" session (lead by Scott, with Chris Lott, Brian and myself). Brian and I had an idea that would have been cool to show – how to display a social network visually, on the fly? I spent too much time chasing that idea down the rabbit hole, then brought myself back and settled for making a mashup circa 1997 – a Northern Voice Zeitgeist using iframes and meta refresh to show a control panel view of the conference at a glance. The zeitgeist displays the most recent posts tagged with "nv07" via Technorati, a slideshow of NV07 images via Flickr, and a live java applet displaying the realtime IRC channel (the IRC channel has since been removed, because it's rather quiet after the conference).

Mashups for Non Programmers 1Friday – MooseCamp. After finding our way to UBC and locating the Forestry building, we meet up with our co-conspirators for the Mashups session. We're up first thing, so we head to the room to set up. I go first, and spend some time showing Yahoo! Pipes. It pretty much embodies the "non-programmers" angle on how to do things. No code. No files to manage. Just point, click, fill in some blanks. It was working great, until I got to the third pipe to demo, when Pipes took an abrupt faceplant into the pavement. It must have hurt, because he didn't get up again. Next! Scott recovered for me, and showed some great mashups he's working on using non-Pipes applications. It went pretty well, until some of those apps started to fall over. [maybe this was a precurser of Moose Fever?] Brian then gave his vision for AggRSSive, which was compelling and entertaining (as he always is). Chris was last up to bat, but hit the ball the farthest with his in-the-trenches use of mashups (using Ning, etc…). Man, did I ever take the easy way out by focussing on Pipes. Doh. From the feedback I heard after the session, many of the attendees actually appreciated the fact that applications fell over on us, and that we were able to recover and keep moving. That's one thing you just have to do when dealing with online apps (especially those hosted by third parties). This was a really fun session. I'm humbled by the energy and effort put forth by my compatriots.

Jim Groom - More than just a blogAlso at MooseCamp, I got to co-present a session with Jim Groom called "More than just a blog" – we were showing things you can do with "blog" applications that aren't just cat diaries. This was a really fun session, especially the discussion at the end, when we devolved into WordPress vs. Drupal cutdowns. Good times. 🙂

Following that was the PhotoCamp session. It didn't have the same groovy vibe that it had last year, where it was basically just a flowing 2-hour conversation. This year was a series of mini-presentations with questions thrown in. Still a great session, but not the mind blowing experience of last year.

Ceviche at Casa del LambFriday night – to the Lamb/McPhee homestead for a Ceviche eating festival. A whole bunch of edu-folk (and many non-edu-folk) hung out, ate, drank and were merry. I got to hang out with Jim Groom and Chris Lott for the first time (aside from our sessions that day). It's really surprising just how genuine their blogs are, because it definitely felt like I already knew both of them. We ended up talking into the wee hours, coming back to the EduGlu concept several times over the evening (thanks to prodding from Jim). WHAT! IS! EDUGLUUUUUUU! – I just realized: I'm likely blending Thursday and Friday evenings. Jim, Scott and Chris came over after the Pre-Conference Gala and we had some great conversations (and beer). Similar pattern repeated on Friday evening. Blurr…

Saturday – Northern Voice (proper). Keynote by Anil Dash from SixApart. The dude works a Lessigian presentation pretty well. There were lots of cliches in the presentation, but some great lines, like "a date stamp is a social contract… that there will be more content to come"

Chris Lott during Social Software for Learning EnvironmentsOur "Social Software for Learning Environments" session went really well. Brian moderated, attempting to hold us to our scheduled presentation times. I rushed through showing a few sites we've set up here at UCalgary – various Drupal sites for online and blended learning communities. I was basically showing institutional approaches. Jon got up and showed the individual approaches he's been using successfully in his classes, including an example where a student was critiquing a book and the author responded with a very well thought out and deep comment. That's something that likely wouldn't happen in an institutional solution (but I could be wrong). Sylvia showed the SCoPE online community, and talked about some of the back-end things they're working on. Chris followed up with a demo of his work at UAF.

Kris Krug - photography session - 9The Photography session of the more formal conference day ironically turned into the freeform discussion hangout that last year's MooseCamp/PhotoCamp session was. Kris masterfully led a discussion that wandered around topics such as workflow, composition, camera gear, lighting, using flash and diffusers, etc… One of the best sessions of the conference. Except for when Scoble had to keep piping up because we weren't talking about him enough. Jeez, Scoble. Isn't it enough to sit in the front row, shoving your monopod in front of the projector, but you have to throw your 2 cents in on every. single. question?

I was trying to take a fair number of photographs during the conference, especially during the sessions I was involved with. I came out with about 70 photos worth keeping, and of those there are a few I'm actually pretty proud of. It's also funny how my memory seems to work best when jogged by a photograph. I'll forget about something almost completely, then after seeing a photo of a session, I'll remember every detail.

Then there's the dreaded Moose Fever. I wasn't spared. I'm just shaking the last of it now (hopefully). We must find Patient Zero, and apply the Atomic Wedgie of Doom.

After last year's conference, the conversations kept ringing around in my head for weeks afterward, helping me to shape my thinking and pound out some ideas for things to do this year. I'm feeling the same effect this year, but I'm hoping I can actually implement some of the ideas this time. It's always surreal to see my blogroll come to life and operate in realtime. It's so much more effective to be having these discussions over ceviche and beer…

Update: I forgot to mention a couple of important things. First, it was definitely obvious that Alan wasn't there. Several people asked me where he was, and his energy was missed. Also, the Northern Voice session on wikis by Stewart Mader and John Willinsky was a good one. Stewart talked about how his book was authored in a wiki (ala Dan Gilmore), and John talked about how his education students are using wikis to collaborate on lesson plans, and how he's created a very impressive workflow as part of his curriculum (roles are assigned, and some students contribute content while others contrubute community moderation and "making sense and linking" the content). Very cool stuff, that.

Update: Added photos from my Flickr set from Northern Voice.

I’ve been meaning to make the time to put together some reflections on Northern Voice 2007 before the memories start to do that thing that memories do. Life intervened, and so here I am, almost a week afterward, trying to remember with as much clarity as I can muster, the defining moments of NV2007 (for me).

First, the openness and generosity of the Lamb/McPhee family continually blows me away. I had the pleasure of imposing on them while I was staying in Vancouver, and I truly felt (feel) like I’m a member of the family. As H. put it “You’re a Lamb boy, but you’re slow because you like the Stampeders.”

East Hastings 1I spent much of Wednesday in a meeting hosted by the Donat Group, where participants in the Social Learning shared hosting project affiliated with BCCampus were planning the next steps. It was interesting, but I have to wonder if a shared hosting model is really necessary. The recurring theme from the leaders at Northern Voice is that decentralized, individually controlled personal publishing trumps institutional endeavors every time. I wonder what would happen if the energy was put into finding a way to make that happen, rather than hand-holding institutions. Maybe that’s a necessary first step to bring them into the era of social software, but it’s not the target destination. I hope I don’t get punted from the project for saying this, either…

Ceviche FixinsThursday was spent hanging out at Brian’s place, planning sessions for MooseCamp. Brian and I tossed some ideas around for our “Mashups for Non Programmers” session (lead by Scott, with Chris Lott, Brian and myself). Brian and I had an idea that would have been cool to show – how to display a social network visually, on the fly? I spent too much time chasing that idea down the rabbit hole, then brought myself back and settled for making a mashup circa 1997 – a Northern Voice Zeitgeist using iframes and meta refresh to show a control panel view of the conference at a glance. The zeitgeist displays the most recent posts tagged with “nv07” via Technorati, a slideshow of NV07 images via Flickr, and a live java applet displaying the realtime IRC channel (the IRC channel has since been removed, because it’s rather quiet after the conference).

Mashups for Non Programmers 1Friday – MooseCamp. After finding our way to UBC and locating the Forestry building, we meet up with our co-conspirators for the Mashups session. We’re up first thing, so we head to the room to set up. I go first, and spend some time showing Yahoo! Pipes. It pretty much embodies the “non-programmers” angle on how to do things. No code. No files to manage. Just point, click, fill in some blanks. It was working great, until I got to the third pipe to demo, when Pipes took an abrupt faceplant into the pavement. It must have hurt, because he didn’t get up again. Next! Scott recovered for me, and showed some great mashups he’s working on using non-Pipes applications. It went pretty well, until some of those apps started to fall over. [maybe this was a precurser of Moose Fever?] Brian then gave his vision for AggRSSive, which was compelling and entertaining (as he always is). Chris was last up to bat, but hit the ball the farthest with his in-the-trenches use of mashups (using Ning, etc…). Man, did I ever take the easy way out by focussing on Pipes. Doh. From the feedback I heard after the session, many of the attendees actually appreciated the fact that applications fell over on us, and that we were able to recover and keep moving. That’s one thing you just have to do when dealing with online apps (especially those hosted by third parties). This was a really fun session. I’m humbled by the energy and effort put forth by my compatriots.

Jim Groom - More than just a blogAlso at MooseCamp, I got to co-present a session with Jim Groom called “More than just a blog” – we were showing things you can do with “blog” applications that aren’t just cat diaries. This was a really fun session, especially the discussion at the end, when we devolved into WordPress vs. Drupal cutdowns. Good times. 🙂

Following that was the PhotoCamp session. It didn’t have the same groovy vibe that it had last year, where it was basically just a flowing 2-hour conversation. This year was a series of mini-presentations with questions thrown in. Still a great session, but not the mind blowing experience of last year.

Ceviche at Casa del LambFriday night – to the Lamb/McPhee homestead for a Ceviche eating festival. A whole bunch of edu-folk (and many non-edu-folk) hung out, ate, drank and were merry. I got to hang out with Jim Groom and Chris Lott for the first time (aside from our sessions that day). It’s really surprising just how genuine their blogs are, because it definitely felt like I already knew both of them. We ended up talking into the wee hours, coming back to the EduGlu concept several times over the evening (thanks to prodding from Jim). WHAT! IS! EDUGLUUUUUUU! – I just realized: I’m likely blending Thursday and Friday evenings. Jim, Scott and Chris came over after the Pre-Conference Gala and we had some great conversations (and beer). Similar pattern repeated on Friday evening. Blurr…

Saturday – Northern Voice (proper). Keynote by Anil Dash from SixApart. The dude works a Lessigian presentation pretty well. There were lots of cliches in the presentation, but some great lines, like “a date stamp is a social contract… that there will be more content to come”

Chris Lott during Social Software for Learning EnvironmentsOur “Social Software for Learning Environments” session went really well. Brian moderated, attempting to hold us to our scheduled presentation times. I rushed through showing a few sites we’ve set up here at UCalgary – various Drupal sites for online and blended learning communities. I was basically showing institutional approaches. Jon got up and showed the individual approaches he’s been using successfully in his classes, including an example where a student was critiquing a book and the author responded with a very well thought out and deep comment. That’s something that likely wouldn’t happen in an institutional solution (but I could be wrong). Sylvia showed the SCoPE online community, and talked about some of the back-end things they’re working on. Chris followed up with a demo of his work at UAF.

Kris Krug - photography session - 9The Photography session of the more formal conference day ironically turned into the freeform discussion hangout that last year’s MooseCamp/PhotoCamp session was. Kris masterfully led a discussion that wandered around topics such as workflow, composition, camera gear, lighting, using flash and diffusers, etc… One of the best sessions of the conference. Except for when Scoble had to keep piping up because we weren’t talking about him enough. Jeez, Scoble. Isn’t it enough to sit in the front row, shoving your monopod in front of the projector, but you have to throw your 2 cents in on every. single. question?

I was trying to take a fair number of photographs during the conference, especially during the sessions I was involved with. I came out with about 70 photos worth keeping, and of those there are a few I’m actually pretty proud of. It’s also funny how my memory seems to work best when jogged by a photograph. I’ll forget about something almost completely, then after seeing a photo of a session, I’ll remember every detail.

Then there’s the dreaded Moose Fever. I wasn’t spared. I’m just shaking the last of it now (hopefully). We must find Patient Zero, and apply the Atomic Wedgie of Doom.

After last year’s conference, the conversations kept ringing around in my head for weeks afterward, helping me to shape my thinking and pound out some ideas for things to do this year. I’m feeling the same effect this year, but I’m hoping I can actually implement some of the ideas this time. It’s always surreal to see my blogroll come to life and operate in realtime. It’s so much more effective to be having these discussions over ceviche and beer…

Update: I forgot to mention a couple of important things. First, it was definitely obvious that Alan wasn’t there. Several people asked me where he was, and his energy was missed. Also, the Northern Voice session on wikis by Stewart Mader and John Willinsky was a good one. Stewart talked about how his book was authored in a wiki (ala Dan Gilmore), and John talked about how his education students are using wikis to collaborate on lesson plans, and how he’s created a very impressive workflow as part of his curriculum (roles are assigned, and some students contribute content while others contrubute community moderation and “making sense and linking” the content). Very cool stuff, that.

My Photo on a Magazine Cover

Last month, while on vacation at a lakeside cabin in BC, I received an email asking permission to use one of my photos on Flickr for a magazine cover. “uh, sure? it’s creative commons, so have at ‘er. Can I have a copy?”

I got my copy today. Is that ever cool. It’s for a petroleum industry magazine “The Negotiator” (sounds like a movie starring Clive Owen or the like), and lo and behold, right on the front cover, is my photograph:

My Photo on a Magazine Cover

It’s not the first time one of my photos has been used in something like that – I’ve got one in the GifTRAP game, and one in a book about colours and shapes, but it’s still pretty cool to see one of my photos on a magazine cover!

Last month, while on vacation at a lakeside cabin in BC, I received an email asking permission to use one of my photos on Flickr for a magazine cover. “uh, sure? it’s creative commons, so have at ‘er. Can I have a copy?”

I got my copy today. Is that ever cool. It’s for a petroleum industry magazine “The Negotiator” (sounds like a movie starring Clive Owen or the like), and lo and behold, right on the front cover, is my photograph:

My Photo on a Magazine Cover

It’s not the first time one of my photos has been used in something like that – I’ve got one in the GifTRAP game, and one in a book about colours and shapes, but it’s still pretty cool to see one of my photos on a magazine cover!

Teaching & Learning Centre website now powered by Drupal

We just launched the new website for the Teaching & Learning Centre at The University of Calgary. It's been a long time in the making, with heavy use of themes, custom CCK content types, events, signups, views, and a bunch of other Drupal modules and tricks. King worked his usual magic in putting together the CSS for our theme, which uses the same HTML templates as the official www.ucalgary.ca site.

The new site should make it much easier for us to keep content up to date. We're also planning some potentially cool community features for down the road a bit, once the dust starts to settle after The Big Website Launch.

Also, it's currently running on our aging PowerMac Quicksilver dual 1GHz G4 server, so is a bit slower than it should be. We'll be moving it to a shiny new-ish XServe ASAP.

TLC Website in DrupalTLC Website in Drupal

We just launched the new website for the Teaching & Learning Centre at The University of Calgary. It’s been a long time in the making, with heavy use of themes, custom CCK content types, events, signups, views, and a bunch of other Drupal modules and tricks. King worked his usual magic in putting together the CSS for our theme, which uses the same HTML templates as the official www.ucalgary.ca site.

The new site should make it much easier for us to keep content up to date. We’re also planning some potentially cool community features for down the road a bit, once the dust starts to settle after The Big Website Launch.

Also, it’s currently running on our aging PowerMac Quicksilver dual 1GHz G4 server, so is a bit slower than it should be. We’ll be moving it to a shiny new-ish XServe ASAP.

TLC Website in DrupalTLC Website in Drupal

Craig E. Nelson on Fostering Critical Thinking

IMG_3324.JPGI had the pleasure of attending a presentation/workshop by Craig E. Nelson this morning. The Teaching & Learning Centre hosted the event, which brought faculty members from the various sides of campus together to discuss critical thinking and implications on pedagogy.

It was a really interesting session, with Craig telling stories and modelling effective use of the strategies and activities he was talking about (and getting us to talk about). My takeaway points from the session:

  1. there are no broken students, only broken pedagogies
  2. successful students are the ones who can adapt to repair broken pedagogies for themselves (spontanously forming study groups, connections, etc…)
  3. “shut up and allow for processing time” – give students a chance to move stuff from short-term to long-term memory. simple 2 minute pauses and asking questions may be enough to start this.
  4. “bulemic learning” – binge/purge of stuff, leading to mental starvation
  5. an educator’s job is to educate students, not sort/filter them. The goal is not to enforce the bell curve, it is to maximize grade inflation through effective teaching and learning.

I was there (primarily) to take photographs. I’ve been wanting to record the activities of the TLC for awhile now, and finally just started doing something about it. This was the first “real” event I’ve photographed, so I’m sure I was doing many things awkwardly. But, the end result is something I’m at least not disappointed in. I learned some things:

  • for an indoor event, get a long, fast lens. the kit lens won’t cut it. I used the zoom lens from our old D30 on my XT body, with ISO cranked up to 1600. Even at that, the aperture was too small to get decent shots. Fast, long lens is required. Something like this one would do nicely.
  • get a big CF card. Or two. Or three. I was using my 1GB card, so left it in JPEG/fine mode. It would have been better to be shooting in RAW so I could adjust white balance properly later. I was afraid of filling up the card too soon, so reverted to JPEG.
  • plan shots ahead of time. I was able to get some of the “best” shots by picturing in my head where Craig would have to be standing/looking, and where I’d have to be, in order to take advantage of (or reduce the effect of) background items in the room. It didn’t always work out, but thinking ahead would help reduce background distractions like the overhead projector…
  • try not to distract. I found I was being extremely self conscious of the shutter noise, afraid I was distracting the other participants, or affecting the audio being recorded for the session. I refused to use the flash, because I didn’t want the paparazzi effect. Work to find the happy medium between getting the shot and not being noticed.
  • I overplanned. I brought in my monopod (which broke on the way in this morning. crap.) I brought 2 batteries. I brought the extra lens from the office’s D30, as well as my XT’s kit lens. I brought lens cleaning cloth and brush. I brought battery charger. I brought vertical grip. I ended up not using the monopod, nor the vertical grip. But they were there just in case.

I wound up taking almost a hundred photos. Many were unusable due to the slow lens producing blurry or excessively grainy images. The survivors are available in a Flickr album.

IMG_3324.JPGI had the pleasure of attending a presentation/workshop by Craig E. Nelson this morning. The Teaching & Learning Centre hosted the event, which brought faculty members from the various sides of campus together to discuss critical thinking and implications on pedagogy.

It was a really interesting session, with Craig telling stories and modelling effective use of the strategies and activities he was talking about (and getting us to talk about). My takeaway points from the session:

  1. there are no broken students, only broken pedagogies
  2. successful students are the ones who can adapt to repair broken pedagogies for themselves (spontanously forming study groups, connections, etc…)
  3. “shut up and allow for processing time” – give students a chance to move stuff from short-term to long-term memory. simple 2 minute pauses and asking questions may be enough to start this.
  4. “bulemic learning” – binge/purge of stuff, leading to mental starvation
  5. an educator’s job is to educate students, not sort/filter them. The goal is not to enforce the bell curve, it is to maximize grade inflation through effective teaching and learning.

I was there (primarily) to take photographs. I’ve been wanting to record the activities of the TLC for awhile now, and finally just started doing something about it. This was the first “real” event I’ve photographed, so I’m sure I was doing many things awkwardly. But, the end result is something I’m at least not disappointed in. I learned some things:

  • for an indoor event, get a long, fast lens. the kit lens won’t cut it. I used the zoom lens from our old D30 on my XT body, with ISO cranked up to 1600. Even at that, the aperture was too small to get decent shots. Fast, long lens is required. Something like this one would do nicely.
  • get a big CF card. Or two. Or three. I was using my 1GB card, so left it in JPEG/fine mode. It would have been better to be shooting in RAW so I could adjust white balance properly later. I was afraid of filling up the card too soon, so reverted to JPEG.
  • plan shots ahead of time. I was able to get some of the “best” shots by picturing in my head where Craig would have to be standing/looking, and where I’d have to be, in order to take advantage of (or reduce the effect of) background items in the room. It didn’t always work out, but thinking ahead would help reduce background distractions like the overhead projector…
  • try not to distract. I found I was being extremely self conscious of the shutter noise, afraid I was distracting the other participants, or affecting the audio being recorded for the session. I refused to use the flash, because I didn’t want the paparazzi effect. Work to find the happy medium between getting the shot and not being noticed.
  • I overplanned. I brought in my monopod (which broke on the way in this morning. crap.) I brought 2 batteries. I brought the extra lens from the office’s D30, as well as my XT’s kit lens. I brought lens cleaning cloth and brush. I brought battery charger. I brought vertical grip. I ended up not using the monopod, nor the vertical grip. But they were there just in case.

I wound up taking almost a hundred photos. Many were unusable due to the slow lens producing blurry or excessively grainy images. The survivors are available in a Flickr album.

University of Calgary selects Drupal as “official” content management system

I hinted at this in a previous post, but it wasn't "official" yet so I didn't provide any details. It's now official. The University of Calgary just finished the official CMS selection process, including input from ~140 web folks on campus and 6 presentations on 6 different CMS options. I was asked to present on Drupal, drawing on what we've done on some projects, and how it might fit into a larger community and workflow on campus.

The technical committee recommended Drupal last week (followed by Joomla – the only 2 solutions recommended were open source!), and the CMS group (including our IT department) approved that recommendation this week. The Teaching & Learning Centre abstained from voting to avoid any appearance of pushing one solution over the others.

So, over the next few weeks, our IT department will be getting up to speed on hosting Drupal. I'll be working with them to transfer information about our experiences in the Teaching & Learning Centre, and they'll merge that with their enterprise plan.

The short term goal is to provide an easy and effective way for faculties and departments to manage their websites without needing geeks in-house. If they can view a web page and use MS Word, they have the skills to maintain a website with Drupal.

Since this is now an officially supported CMS on campus, our IT department will be setting up servers, providing tech support, and keeping the gears meshed. The TLC will likely be providing project-specific support, and perhaps more general pedagogical guidance (what to do with it, what not to do with it, how to use it to enhance blended learning, etc…)

The longer term goal is to take advantage of some of the more social/community-oriented features, and open it up to individuals on campus. No timeline on that part of the plan at the moment, though, but that has me more excited than migrating the quasi-static websites into a CMS.

There are even longer term (and much grander) plans being discussed, but I won't mention details except to say that this could be a very big thing, both on campus, and for Drupal.

We've also begun investigating how Drupal may play a part in the U of C's podcasting (and larger digital media sharing) strategies. Ideally, we'd have a combination of iTunesU, Blackboard and Drupal, each playing to their respective strengths.

I've ranted about the IT department before, but I have to give them full props now. They went the extra mile to support an open source solution, when commercial packages might have caused them less grief (but also provided less flexibility and control). Sometimes the good guys do come out ahead…

I hinted at this in a previous post, but it wasn't "official" yet so I didn't provide any details. It's now official. The University of Calgary just finished the official CMS selection process, including input from ~140 web folks on campus and 6 presentations on 6 different CMS options. I was asked to present on Drupal, drawing on what we've done on some projects, and how it might fit into a larger community and workflow on campus.

The technical committee recommended Drupal last week (followed by Joomla – the only 2 solutions recommended were open source!), and the CMS group (including our IT department) approved that recommendation this week. The Teaching & Learning Centre abstained from voting to avoid any appearance of pushing one solution over the others.

So, over the next few weeks, our IT department will be getting up to speed on hosting Drupal. I'll be working with them to transfer information about our experiences in the Teaching & Learning Centre, and they'll merge that with their enterprise plan.

The short term goal is to provide an easy and effective way for faculties and departments to manage their websites without needing geeks in-house. If they can view a web page and use MS Word, they have the skills to maintain a website with Drupal.

Since this is now an officially supported CMS on campus, our IT department will be setting up servers, providing tech support, and keeping the gears meshed. The TLC will likely be providing project-specific support, and perhaps more general pedagogical guidance (what to do with it, what not to do with it, how to use it to enhance blended learning, etc…)

The longer term goal is to take advantage of some of the more social/community-oriented features, and open it up to individuals on campus. No timeline on that part of the plan at the moment, though, but that has me more excited than migrating the quasi-static websites into a CMS.

There are even longer term (and much grander) plans being discussed, but I won't mention details except to say that this could be a very big thing, both on campus, and for Drupal.

We've also begun investigating how Drupal may play a part in the U of C's podcasting (and larger digital media sharing) strategies. Ideally, we'd have a combination of iTunesU, Blackboard and Drupal, each playing to their respective strengths.

I've ranted about the IT department before, but I have to give them full props now. They went the extra mile to support an open source solution, when commercial packages might have caused them less grief (but also provided less flexibility and control). Sometimes the good guys do come out ahead…

ETUG Social Software Workshop Debriefing

Our session this morning went really well. I think we were able to walk the line between force-feeding the participants with the relentless firehose of super-cool social software stuff, and having a fun interactive session that served as a solid starting point for people wanting to play with Web 2.0 toys.

The session was completely full, with Harry quietly jamming to the groovy vibes of Sesame Street. It was pretty cool having Harry in the session, and he was good enough to let Keira participate.

I think that Brian and I got into a pretty decent flow, and wound up demonstrating some cool apps and concepts, with participants doing as much hands-on activity as possible (tagging, blogging, playing with Flickr and Flickrlilli, etc…) SocialLearning.ca was used as a concrete example of social software, a tagging and blogging platform, and as a "client" app for a 3rd party tool (receiving photos from Flickr).

It was a blast, as always, riding on Brian's coat tails. I've got to find a way to invite him to UCalgary, assuming Keira is forgiving enough to let Brian keep travelling…

Our session this morning went really well. I think we were able to walk the line between force-feeding the participants with the relentless firehose of super-cool social software stuff, and having a fun interactive session that served as a solid starting point for people wanting to play with Web 2.0 toys.

The session was completely full, with Harry quietly jamming to the groovy vibes of Sesame Street. It was pretty cool having Harry in the session, and he was good enough to let Keira participate.

I think that Brian and I got into a pretty decent flow, and wound up demonstrating some cool apps and concepts, with participants doing as much hands-on activity as possible (tagging, blogging, playing with Flickr and Flickrlilli, etc…) SocialLearning.ca was used as a concrete example of social software, a tagging and blogging platform, and as a "client" app for a 3rd party tool (receiving photos from Flickr).

It was a blast, as always, riding on Brian's coat tails. I've got to find a way to invite him to UCalgary, assuming Keira is forgiving enough to let Brian keep travelling…

ADETA Interface 2006

Dave, Patty and I spent 2 (and a bit) glorious days in beautiful downtown Lethbridge for the ADETA Interface 2006 conference. It was my first time to Lethbridge (aside from a blur seen from a speeding car that didn’t leave the highway, back when I was a kid). We wound up spending some time exploring, hiking, and wandering around town (and the U of L campus).

The Interface conference was different than any other conference I’ve been to. It was much homier, with all of the attendees appearing to know each other already. This was my first Interface, so although I knew many of the names, I didn’t recognize many faces.

I’m not going to blog much about the conference – it’s a distance ed. conference, so I’ll assume it’s all available online somewhere. I did write a page of notes during one of the keynotes – not about the keynote, but to capture some of my thoughts about didacticism and risk aversion, using my “inside voice” rather that just blogging it out loud. I’ll filter and self censor, and if any of it survives, will make a future blog post about it.

I did take a whole bunch of photos of Lethbridge and the U of L campus. It’s a very beautiful place – with a deep gorge cut through the middle of the city by the Old Man River. The world’s longest and highest train trestle bridge dominates any view of the river. I’ll post a pano taken from the U of L, overlooking the entire valley – including, of course, the train bridge.
DSCF3548.JPG

There are more photos in my Interface 2006 album.

Dave, Patty and I spent 2 (and a bit) glorious days in beautiful downtown Lethbridge for the ADETA Interface 2006 conference. It was my first time to Lethbridge (aside from a blur seen from a speeding car that didn’t leave the highway, back when I was a kid). We wound up spending some time exploring, hiking, and wandering around town (and the U of L campus).

The Interface conference was different than any other conference I’ve been to. It was much homier, with all of the attendees appearing to know each other already. This was my first Interface, so although I knew many of the names, I didn’t recognize many faces.

I’m not going to blog much about the conference – it’s a distance ed. conference, so I’ll assume it’s all available online somewhere. I did write a page of notes during one of the keynotes – not about the keynote, but to capture some of my thoughts about didacticism and risk aversion, using my “inside voice” rather that just blogging it out loud. I’ll filter and self censor, and if any of it survives, will make a future blog post about it.

I did take a whole bunch of photos of Lethbridge and the U of L campus. It’s a very beautiful place – with a deep gorge cut through the middle of the city by the Old Man River. The world’s longest and highest train trestle bridge dominates any view of the river. I’ll post a pano taken from the U of L, overlooking the entire valley – including, of course, the train bridge.
DSCF3548.JPG

There are more photos in my Interface 2006 album.

Intro to Podcasting Session Recording

We were able to record that Intro to Podcasting presentation I gave on Wednesday, and the video has been processed and compressed. The audio is a bit wonky because the microphones were fixed and all turned on – and I wasn’t wearing a lapel mic so I get hard to hear as I wander around the front of the room. Next time, I’ll wear a lapel mic, and warn everyone that all of the microphones are on all the time to avoid the paper rustling and desk drumming that got picked up.

Thanks to King for working his video compression ninja skillz on the rough VHS source. He pumped out a small (iPod) and larger (computer playable) version.

We were able to record that Intro to Podcasting presentation I gave on Wednesday, and the video has been processed and compressed. The audio is a bit wonky because the microphones were fixed and all turned on – and I wasn’t wearing a lapel mic so I get hard to hear as I wander around the front of the room. Next time, I’ll wear a lapel mic, and warn everyone that all of the microphones are on all the time to avoid the paper rustling and desk drumming that got picked up.

Thanks to King for working his video compression ninja skillz on the rough VHS source. He pumped out a small (iPod) and larger (computer playable) version.

Intro to Podcasting

(more formats available here)

BCEdOnline UnKeynote Debriefing

I’m sitting in the airport in Vancouver (and later on the plane coming home) and wanted to capture some of the thoughts I have about how the keynote went. I’m absolutely exhausted, so I’m not sure how coherent this is going to be, but it’s important to get this down before it’s glossed over and starts to fade away.

Some context – this was my first keynote as presenter (well, co-presenter), so I was a bit intimidated by that. I’ve been part of (and have given) presentations to very large groups, but never as Keynote Presenter™. Our ideas about what the keynote should be about all revolved around topics involving individual autonomy and control of content and learning, of ownership, and of thinking critically about the nature of relationships between students and teachers, as well as with institutions. Education vs. learning. Individual vs. institutional. Some potentially radical and non-traditional keynote topics, which would be completely unsuited to a conventional powerpoint chalk-and-talk presentation.

We had been joking about going into the keynote unprepared – I think mostly to mask nervousness about taking such a big risk with a “keynote” session. The three of us have been tossing around ideas and spit-balling what we’d like to do in the session for a couple of weeks – hoping to generate a level of discomfort and disorientation in the attendees – that this session belongs to them, not us. That learning belongs to the individual, not the institution. That they are in control of what they do, as are their students.

It was easily the scariest and highest “risk” sessions I’ve ever been involved in. We all knew going in that there was a real chance of some pretty dramatic “failure” if the people in the audience didn’t engage.

The first 20 minutes of the session were sheer torture (ironically, amplified by the fact that the microphones Just Didn’t Work™). We started by coming off the stage to emphasize that the session wasn’t “ours”. We all had wireless microphones, and were trying to wander, to solicit some form of involvement. We set up a web-based chat room to serve as a back channel, and left that on the Big Screen to help direct the session (I’ll come back to that later).

At first, every single attendee looked freaked out, uncomfortable, and wondering what the hell was going on. Why wasn’t there a powerpoint on the screen? Why are these jokers just wandering around? What’s going on? This is the lamest thing I’ve ever seen! What are they DOING? What a waste of time…

After the initial uncomfortableness wore off a little, people started to get into it. Certainly not everyone. The feeling of discomfort in the room was pretty tangible. I wound up subconsciously moving back closer to the stage to provide a semblance of a traditional keynote, I suppose trying to put people a bit at ease. Or, it might have been to put myself at ease.

This was by far the riskiest thing I’ve ever done professionally. I parachuted into Vancouver, and attempted to lead/herd 500(?) strangers into some form of guided anarchy. I was so far outside of my comfort zone it wasn’t even funny, fighting the urge to just bolt from the room. What the hell were we thinking?

And then it felt like it started to gel, at least for a portion of the audience. Some extremely interesting points were raised, and answered by responses from other attendees. We shifted to more of a Phil Donohue role, running with the microphones to people who wanted to speak up. Not everyone got engaged, but enough to drive the conversation forward.

For the last quarter of the session, we started to get some momentum. Questions and responses started to pile up, and I stopped hogging the microphone as much. If we’d had an extra 15 minutes, I think most people would have reached a level of comfort with what was going on so they would have gotten more out of the session. It didn’t hurt that everyone stayed seated for the iPod door prize draws.

The web chat back channel served an invaluable purpose. People were able to anonymously put “huh?”, or “what are they TALKING about?”, or “talk about GLU!” comments (etc…) up on the big screen, helping to guide the session. I think that open back channel helped to save the session, as it helped us get a better feel for what the Audience was going through. I’ll be keeping an archive of that chat transcript available to serve as reference later.

One thing I realized is that it is extremely hard to read an audience that size. A small group is easy to read. You can make eye contact. You can hear comments, rustling, shifting. You can see attention diverting. But in a room with several hundred people, it is hard to get a feel for what is going on. Even when someone was talking, it was quite hard to spot them in the sea of attendees.

So, what are the lessons learned from this?

  • Open, anonymous back channels are insanely important to helping to keep a finger on the pulse of a Large Audience. The anonymity is important because people don’t have to worry about offending by saying something’s gone off the tracks, or is boring, or just by suggesting a topic without having to be put on the spot with a microphone shoved in their face. Having a working wireless network, and an audience with capable laptops, definitely helped here. But not everyone had a laptop. This works out something like “clickers” on steroids, and could be a useful strategy for other presentations, or in the classroom in general.
  • The audience was too large for this kind of activity. Even half the size would have been better. This was approximately the same activity we’d run at both the Social Software Salon and Edublogger Hootenanny, but those events had participant counts around 12-ish and 50-ish, respectively. I hold those previous events as the best sessions I’ve ever been involved with, and am extremely proud of what we were able to do. That chemistry just didn’t happen during this keynote. Perhaps the audience-is-the-presentation model doesn’t scale to 300-500 people? More thought needed on this…
  • Defining a narrower topic or series of topics is important. We’d set up the wiki page, but failed to fall back on it when the audience wasn’t engaging – we were perhaps overcommitted to drawing the audience out? Back to the Salon and Hootenanny – both had (comparatively) narrow topics well defined ahead of time. We’d tried to do that with the wiki page, but didn’t successfully fall back on it when things didn’t move forward fast enough.

In the final conclusion, I felt the session was both a success and a failure. I personally rated it at 5/10. Stephen gave it a 6/10. That’s not great. I’m not used to that. But, I think that it’s actually a good thing. I’d been staying inside my comfort zone way too long. It’s crucial to stretch out and try new things. Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Worst case scenario, we modeled some risk-taking behaviour for the attendees, and survived the experience. Best case scenario, some of the attendees will have walked away with the seeds of some important new ideas waiting to germinate sometime in the future. No way to track that, though.

Am I going to be a little gun-shy about doing a session like this again? Probably. I’ll have to put some thought into how to ensure the session remains useful and interesting for everyone. It’s not acceptable to just push forward, knowing that half the audience is not with you (or, you’re not with them).

After the session, we schlepped our exhausted carcasses across the street to a hole-in-the-wall pub for debriefing. The discussion that Stephen, Brian and myself had there over a few brews was worth the trip and the risk all by itself. I’ve been needing that discussion for a long time, and am feeling a renewed sense of energy that I hope will last for a while. I think I will benefit a lot from learning about Stephen’s walkabout, as well as Brian’s thoughts and feedback. Thanks for that. You are both true friends, in every sense.

Update: Added podcast link to the audio recorded by Stephen.

I’m sitting in the airport in Vancouver (and later on the plane coming home) and wanted to capture some of the thoughts I have about how the keynote went. I’m absolutely exhausted, so I’m not sure how coherent this is going to be, but it’s important to get this down before it’s glossed over and starts to fade away.

Some context – this was my first keynote as presenter (well, co-presenter), so I was a bit intimidated by that. I’ve been part of (and have given) presentations to very large groups, but never as Keynote Presenter™. Our ideas about what the keynote should be about all revolved around topics involving individual autonomy and control of content and learning, of ownership, and of thinking critically about the nature of relationships between students and teachers, as well as with institutions. Education vs. learning. Individual vs. institutional. Some potentially radical and non-traditional keynote topics, which would be completely unsuited to a conventional powerpoint chalk-and-talk presentation.

We had been joking about going into the keynote unprepared – I think mostly to mask nervousness about taking such a big risk with a “keynote” session. The three of us have been tossing around ideas and spit-balling what we’d like to do in the session for a couple of weeks – hoping to generate a level of discomfort and disorientation in the attendees – that this session belongs to them, not us. That learning belongs to the individual, not the institution. That they are in control of what they do, as are their students.

It was easily the scariest and highest “risk” sessions I’ve ever been involved in. We all knew going in that there was a real chance of some pretty dramatic “failure” if the people in the audience didn’t engage.

The first 20 minutes of the session were sheer torture (ironically, amplified by the fact that the microphones Just Didn’t Work™). We started by coming off the stage to emphasize that the session wasn’t “ours”. We all had wireless microphones, and were trying to wander, to solicit some form of involvement. We set up a web-based chat room to serve as a back channel, and left that on the Big Screen to help direct the session (I’ll come back to that later).

At first, every single attendee looked freaked out, uncomfortable, and wondering what the hell was going on. Why wasn’t there a powerpoint on the screen? Why are these jokers just wandering around? What’s going on? This is the lamest thing I’ve ever seen! What are they DOING? What a waste of time…

After the initial uncomfortableness wore off a little, people started to get into it. Certainly not everyone. The feeling of discomfort in the room was pretty tangible. I wound up subconsciously moving back closer to the stage to provide a semblance of a traditional keynote, I suppose trying to put people a bit at ease. Or, it might have been to put myself at ease.

This was by far the riskiest thing I’ve ever done professionally. I parachuted into Vancouver, and attempted to lead/herd 500(?) strangers into some form of guided anarchy. I was so far outside of my comfort zone it wasn’t even funny, fighting the urge to just bolt from the room. What the hell were we thinking?

And then it felt like it started to gel, at least for a portion of the audience. Some extremely interesting points were raised, and answered by responses from other attendees. We shifted to more of a Phil Donohue role, running with the microphones to people who wanted to speak up. Not everyone got engaged, but enough to drive the conversation forward.

For the last quarter of the session, we started to get some momentum. Questions and responses started to pile up, and I stopped hogging the microphone as much. If we’d had an extra 15 minutes, I think most people would have reached a level of comfort with what was going on so they would have gotten more out of the session. It didn’t hurt that everyone stayed seated for the iPod door prize draws.

The web chat back channel served an invaluable purpose. People were able to anonymously put “huh?”, or “what are they TALKING about?”, or “talk about GLU!” comments (etc…) up on the big screen, helping to guide the session. I think that open back channel helped to save the session, as it helped us get a better feel for what the Audience was going through. I’ll be keeping an archive of that chat transcript available to serve as reference later.

One thing I realized is that it is extremely hard to read an audience that size. A small group is easy to read. You can make eye contact. You can hear comments, rustling, shifting. You can see attention diverting. But in a room with several hundred people, it is hard to get a feel for what is going on. Even when someone was talking, it was quite hard to spot them in the sea of attendees.

So, what are the lessons learned from this?

  • Open, anonymous back channels are insanely important to helping to keep a finger on the pulse of a Large Audience. The anonymity is important because people don’t have to worry about offending by saying something’s gone off the tracks, or is boring, or just by suggesting a topic without having to be put on the spot with a microphone shoved in their face. Having a working wireless network, and an audience with capable laptops, definitely helped here. But not everyone had a laptop. This works out something like “clickers” on steroids, and could be a useful strategy for other presentations, or in the classroom in general.
  • The audience was too large for this kind of activity. Even half the size would have been better. This was approximately the same activity we’d run at both the Social Software Salon and Edublogger Hootenanny, but those events had participant counts around 12-ish and 50-ish, respectively. I hold those previous events as the best sessions I’ve ever been involved with, and am extremely proud of what we were able to do. That chemistry just didn’t happen during this keynote. Perhaps the audience-is-the-presentation model doesn’t scale to 300-500 people? More thought needed on this…
  • Defining a narrower topic or series of topics is important. We’d set up the wiki page, but failed to fall back on it when the audience wasn’t engaging – we were perhaps overcommitted to drawing the audience out? Back to the Salon and Hootenanny – both had (comparatively) narrow topics well defined ahead of time. We’d tried to do that with the wiki page, but didn’t successfully fall back on it when things didn’t move forward fast enough.

In the final conclusion, I felt the session was both a success and a failure. I personally rated it at 5/10. Stephen gave it a 6/10. That’s not great. I’m not used to that. But, I think that it’s actually a good thing. I’d been staying inside my comfort zone way too long. It’s crucial to stretch out and try new things. Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Worst case scenario, we modeled some risk-taking behaviour for the attendees, and survived the experience. Best case scenario, some of the attendees will have walked away with the seeds of some important new ideas waiting to germinate sometime in the future. No way to track that, though.

Am I going to be a little gun-shy about doing a session like this again? Probably. I’ll have to put some thought into how to ensure the session remains useful and interesting for everyone. It’s not acceptable to just push forward, knowing that half the audience is not with you (or, you’re not with them).

After the session, we schlepped our exhausted carcasses across the street to a hole-in-the-wall pub for debriefing. The discussion that Stephen, Brian and myself had there over a few brews was worth the trip and the risk all by itself. I’ve been needing that discussion for a long time, and am feeling a renewed sense of energy that I hope will last for a while. I think I will benefit a lot from learning about Stephen’s walkabout, as well as Brian’s thoughts and feedback. Thanks for that. You are both true friends, in every sense.

Update: Added a link to the audio recorded by Stephen.