TEDxYYC – TED comes to Calgary

I just heard about TEDxYYC – an independently organized TED-like event to be held right here in Calgary. This should be awesome. I can’t wait.


I have no idea how many people will be able to make it. From poking around on the internets, it sounds like it might be held in the Karo warehouse, with room for ~100 folks. Possibly on Jan. 22, 2010.

If there’s anything I can do to help get TEDxYYC off the ground, count me in.

WordCampEd: Vancouver

The WordCampEd Vancouver 2009 website was just moved from a PBWiki site to a shiny new WordPress site. It was odd not using WordPress to power the website for a WordPress-related event, but initially I thought it made more sense to just use a free, low-friction service like PBWiki.

But, now we’ve got a WordPress site, configured to behave kinda wiki-like. Anyone can login (either by creating an account or by using OpenID). Once logged in, you can edit any of the pages, including Sessions, Attendees, Logistics, etc… You can also create new pages (although new pages _may_ need to be “approved” before going live).

If the new site gives any grief, please let me know ASAP.

on being together

The 3 days in Saskatoon for TLt2008 were absolutely fantastic. It’s fun turning into “conference D’Arcy” – the side of me that is ever so slightly less antisocial and reclusive – the side that seems to show up at conferences. Not sure why that is, but it’s something I’ve noticed for years now. Maybe it’s the sense of being “away” – one part vacation, one part safe place to let loose.

I’ve had some of the most interesting, stimulating, and just plain fun conversations. All of which occurred off-site, while hanging out in neighbouring pubs, coffee shops, or just walking. I’m not going to list names because that makes it sound like some stupid elitist club, and what was so great about these conversations is that they were nothing like that. Newcomers. Academics. Lay-people. Teachers. Students. Geeks. It just didn’t matter. And it was awesome.

One of the highlights of the official conference portion had to be Brian Lamb’s live mashup. This was something that many of the conference attendees were likely to have never seen before – and I think a good chunk of the attendees didn’t realize that it was actually a live performance on stage, and not just a visualization. But, really, how many other conference presenters go the extra mile, bringing their own rented audio amp and even a cowbell on a stand? Hard. Core.

dj wiki drops beats

cratecowbell radio

After the mashup intro, Brian gave a great presentation on openness, sharing, and riffed on some pretty deep topics. He even pulled in Harry to help tug at the heart strings.

Rick Schwier gave a fantastic talk, sharing some wonderful advice and stories. Dean Shareski followed the theme with another fantastic talk called Share Everything, and managed to cover some of the ideology behind sharing while providing concrete and pragmatic examples and strategies.

George Siemens gave something like 14 presentations during the conference, citing some pretty profound neurological research studies in the process (I’m eagerly awaiting his pending publication of the Theory of the Universal Male Brain). He was extremely eloquent in describing the nature of connectedness, what connectivism could mean to education, and why networks (and Networks) matter.

George Siemens presenting - 2

As Scott Leslie noted on Flickr, George is another person who talks with his hands. He’s such a natural, engaging, and conversational speaker, and it is a joy to hear him share his stuff.

Stephen Downes blew some minds when he took the stage to talk about The Future. His presentation was amazing on so many levels – he was talking about futurism and predictions, but that’s not really what the presentation was about. It was about individuals taking control back. It was about not sitting passively, of crafting a future that you want, rather than waiting for The Future to be handed down to you. And he modeled some extremely engaging and brave presentation techniques – things that I am quite sure most of the people attending have never seen before.

stephen downes with the backchannel

He gave the big presentation screens to the audience. And not in some half-assed lame lip service manner. He quite literally gave control of the web page that was being displayed on the big screens to anyone with a web browser. He was running Edu_RSS, and was using a portion of the app that let people post any text (or HTML snippets) to be put into a queue to be displayed for 10 seconds in a large font on the big screen.

It’s something extremely profound. He’s not just talking about engaging the audience with scripted questions, or planting ringers in the crowd. He’s handing control over (or back) to the people. He had no idea what would be posted to the screens. Or if it would be relevant. Or interesting. Or even if anything would be posted at all.

Many of the posts were silly. Many were extremely silly. Many were questions, probing what Stephen was talking about. Many were providing additional or background information to support what was being said. But, even the silly ones were a valuable part of the presentation. Just the simple fact that a person could trivially post some text, even if only to add some comic relief, helps to show that letting go of control is not necessarily a bad, scary, or dangerous thing.

I’ve grabbed a snapshot of the backchannel to show what was going on. Each post was displayed alone on the big screen for 10 seconds before being replaced by the next.

But, even as great as the presentations were, as brave as the presenters, and as inspring as they were, my absolute favorite part of the conference is still the conversations that I was lucky enough to be a part of after school was let out for the day. Magical, fun stuff.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth saying again here. My face is still sore from smiling so much.

TLt, and great conferences in general, are not really about presentations or content. They are about being together. And we all need to do more of that.

Faculty Technology Days 2008

I was involved with two sessions at this year’s Faculty Technology Days conference on campus. The first one was a keynote panel on “Social Networking in the Academy” and the second was “Weblogs as Personal Repositories.”

Social Networking in the Academy

When we were planning the Social Networking panel, we realized that some of the faculty members might not be familiar with social networking, or with some of the aspects or implications of it, so we thought it would be a good idea to start the 2-hour panel session with a brief introduction to the topic so we were all on similar pages. Being the geek in the group, I volunteered to take that on. I wound up giving about a wiki-powered 25 minute intro to social networking (what it is, what it means, some samples, etc…).

This was followed by Paul showing some of the really cool stuff the library is doing with social networking (specifically, the Facebook groups for MacKimmie and Health Sciences libraries, and ad campaigns). Those librarians, I tell you. Always doing cool stuff to make their resources easily available to students and faculty…

Maria spoke about some of the issues she sees, specifically pertaining to compelling students to publish and engage in a highly commercialized and privacy-invasive environment. Maria also asked one of her grad students, Todd Andre, to join the panel, and it was great to hear some of the perspectives from the other side (as opposed to just making educated guesses).

After taking a few minutes for the participants to warm up, the session turned into a great discussion about social networking, covering a pretty broad range of topics. We talked about the geek stuff. We talked about intellectual property. Creepy Treehouse. Digital identity. Network as People. It was a really fun, interesting, and vibrant discussion. And we could have used another 2 hours because we had to wrap it up just as people were really getting into it.

Paul streamed the whole thing live via UStreamTV, and the video archive is still there.

Weblogs as Personal Repositories

It seems like every year, I get designated to “do a talk on blogging.” Usually, I try to focus on the reasons to do it – the network effects, contributing to the community, etc… This year, I decided to appeal to people’s sense of pragmatism. Blogging primarily as an outboard brain, for organizing and searching information that is important to you. And, secondarily, as a way to share information with others.

I think that was the right angle to take, but I’m not sure my implementation worked out very well. It’s still a pretty broad topic. I tried to do as much live demo as possible, showing concrete examples of how it works. I also created 2 blogs (one on WordPress.com and one on Blogger.com) to show what that looks like. The resources and links were all powered by a wiki page as well. Another form of outboard brain, but I used an institutional variation for this one.

I think the session went well. It wasn’t stellar, but I think people at the bare minimum got that blogging as an activity of documentation and organization can be an important way to manage the volume of information we have to deal with. If even one of them winds up starting a new blog, I’ll consider the session a success.

MooseCamp – WordPress and Your Problems Followup

During the MooseCamp session “WordPress and your problems” I promised to look into a few items that we were discussing, and report back to the group. I’ve finally made some time to dig around, and here’s the goods.

Nancy White asked some questions about tweaking her WordPress site, and they were all things that sounded really good, but that I didn’t know how to implement.

  1. Automatically tagging new posts on the WordPress site on del.icio.us – not sucking del.icio.us tags into WordPress, or listing latest sites tagged, but automatically bookmarking each new post (with categories and tags applied as in the WP post) in a way similar to the Twitter Tools plugin’s broadcasting of new posts. I haven’t found any way to do this, but am still looking.
  2. Hierarchical menu display – how to have expandable/collapsible menus within the WordPress site?
  3. Use del.icio.us as a source of tag autocompletion within WordPress? The idea is that there should be a canonical set of tags that a person can use for all of their tagging – blog, flickr, del.icio.us – and that it would be great if WordPress could use a person’s del.icio.us tags as the source for an autocompletion while tagging new blog posts within WordPress. I haven’t found anything that does this, but know a BUNCH of people would be smiling if something could be found.
  4. How to add a link to an external website as part of the main page menu structure? it’s possible to hack a theme to add links this way, but not in the middle of the menu. I’ve found the WordPress Menubar Plugin, which looks close, but am still wondering if there’s a more mainstream way to do this.

Reflections on Northern Voice 2008

I’m not going to post a conference recap, and others have beaten me to the punch with eloquent reflections on the event. It’s one of those things that sounds like fanaticism – the sense of wonder usually reserved for such things as the TED conference (aside: could you imagine going to that? how many toes would I gladly trade for a TED pass?) But, Northern Voice has become, or has always been, one of those events that help me form my own thinking, and helps to connect that with the awesome stuff that the really great minds (that I am lucky enough to be allowed to tag along with) are doing.

Jim hit the nail on the head, for me, in his description of the role of the Mythical Eduglu. It’s not about any particular implementation, or even about the concepts and strategies that make up EduGlu. The power of EduGlu, according to The Reverend, is as a Hitchcockian McGuffin. It’s a plot device that moves the story along, giving a sense of narrative focus and momentum.

And that, for me, is the real power of Northern Voice. It’s not about the conference (as cool as the conference is) and it’s not purely about the people (as amazing, cool, and open as the people are). Northern Voice is a McGuffin. And for 2 days or so, every year, we are able to work together to peer into the suitcase. That shared sense of purpose and momentum colours the entire event – the conference sessions, the openness of the people, and the emotional intensity of the whole thing.

So, if it takes the guise of a conference to push the story along, to have everyone from a stunningly broad range of backgrounds and perspectives come together as one, however briefly, I think it’s well worth being part of the experience.

aside: my wife’s family tree includes Alfred Hitchcock, so I like this McGuffin analogy on a bunch of levels

One thing that struck me, when reviewing the photos that I took during Northern Voice, was that the most powerful and meaningful ones weren’t taken during the sessions per se, but in the social gatherings. The magic of Northern Voice isn’t part of the conference itself, although it is definitely fed and inspired by the conference. The real magic is in the deeply intimate connections between the people who gather. And one of the amazing things about the particular group that I am so lucky to consider myself a part of – every one of this group met online first. Several only met IRL at the conference. And yet we are all friends, and there was no ramp-up time required, or introductions needed. We all knew each other, and were able to hit the ground running, as it were.

There is a bit of rabid fanboy that bubbles up within me before, during, and after the event. I can’t fracking believe I’m lucky enough to be able to hang out with these people, and to discuss in depth the things that really matter (and a bunch of stuff that’s just plain fun, too).

If I had to pick a single photograph that represents Northern Voice, it is this one because it somehow captures the energy, the intimacy, and the vibrancy of the conversations. The unreserved laughter of The Reverend. The energetic groove of Scott. Mikhail joining in as though we’ve known him for years – even though this was the first time most of us actually met him. And the piercing calm of Chris, the poet. In the warm, safe, inviting home offered to us by Brian and Keira.

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With that said, I am absolutely thrilled at how the entire Northern Voice 2008 photo set turned out. There’s something about the event that causes us all to draw on our strengths, playing our own instrument in the jam session. Mine just happened to be a camera 🙂

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The Moose is Loose

Northern Voice 2008 is now on the calendar – February 22-23, 2008 in Vancouver, at the UBC Main Campus at the palatial Forestry Sciences Building. This is the 4th annual event, and I’ve had the extreme pleasure to have attended each of the previous 3 years. It is my one must attend event for the year – if the only conference travel I get approved is for NV08, I’ll consider the year a success. I just filled in the official “Travel Approval Request” form, and should know if the U of C will sponsor my way in the next couple of weeks. If they pass, I’ll find another way. I’m going.

Digging through my Northern Voice photos, I realized something. This is a conference of hand-talking. That’s actually a pretty profound difference between this and many other conferences. When people are talking with hands, they aren’t rigidly stuck on a podium reading endless bullet points. They’re animated, engaged, passionate and interesting. As every single session has been. Well, with some (very) minor exceptions.

Mashups for Non Programmers 5Mashups for Non Programmers 7Mashups for Non Programmers 9John WillinskyJim Groom - More than just a blogMashups for Non Programmers 4Mashups for Non Programmers 13Stewart Mader
Kris Krug - photography session - 5Kris Krug - photography session - 6

Northern Voice has been like a nonstop, open social learning party for me, where I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to hang out with several of my personal heroes, and jam with a considerable chunk of my blogroll. It’s pushed me to work well outside of my normal comfort zone, trying new stuff and experimenting with things. If that’s not the goal of a conference, I don’t know what is. I am so absolutely looking forward to hanging out with the folks again this year, and seeing what we come up with for a session at the conference.

Ceviche at Casa del Lamb

Out of Print: session recap

Our Out of Print session went off pretty well (I think) this morning. Jim worked his usual Bavamagic, weaving early American history, WordPress, wikis, and student conversations into a pretty cool demo. Then, I showed some of the OpenContentDIY resource site, and rambled unexplicably for about 25 minutes. From what I remember, I either sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown, or somehow managed to touch on empowerment of students, open content and reuse as a moral imperative, communities (both in content and open source).

Some of the points that I was surprised to hear myself talking about were:

  • “flavours” of interaction imposed by various tools
  • although tools are relatively unimportant, the philosophies embodied within them subtly (and not so subtly) alters the nature of discourse
  • we need to honour and value the contributions of all participants – students add value to the conversation, so why should we lock their contributions behind a walled garden? Raving about John Willinsky’s “go public!” throwaway comment from Northern Voice 2007.
  • baby stepping from closed content, through walled gardens, and into the open. important to evangelize the importance of Going Public.
  • LOTS of great alternatives for tools (wordpress, openocw, drupal, etc…) – it’s more important to choose to be open, connected and social, than to worry about which tool(s) you use.
  • individual ownership of blogs is essential to meaningful conversations. Community/communal blog services lack individual “voice” in blogs – as opposed to more individual-focussed services like WordPress µ
  • likely a bunch of other stuff that’s blurry at the moment. hope it wasn’t blurry for the attendees…

During the presentation, Jim and I went off on some tangents that weren’t in the original plan. It felt like the tangents were much more important and interesting than the simple tech demo that was originally planned. I hope that’s what the attendees got. It was a bit strange for me – my thinking on the topic of Open Education and open content was shifting while I was talking. As I was speaking about this stuff, I could feel the thoughts coming together in my head. Thanks for the venue to cause that to happen!

After the presentation, I had the chance to talk with someone from Turkey (sorry! I’ve forgotten your name!) about the WordPress.com blockade in Turkey. I suggested she get in touch with Matt to see if there’s anything they can do together to move the blogs within Turkey’s borders so they can keep their communities going.

I also talked with Fred Mednick from Teachers without Borders. He’s looking for some help setting up some projects in Drupal – some pretty cool stuff that should help Make a Difference. If anyone can help Fred with some Drupal configuration and pimping-out, please let me/him know.

On content as infrastructure

Kananaskis - June 17 - 12David suggested in his opening comments yesterday that “content is infrastructure.” He was (I think) meaning to imply that content is an enabling platform, and that if a robust library of open content is available, that individuals and groups will be able to build new things from that library. Things that can’t be predicted by the librarians and publishers. Things that are evolutionary and revolutionary. I completely agree that having freely available and reusable content is an extremely important factor in promoting education and community programs, especially in regions without the resources to build all content from scratch.

But, the “content as infrastructure” analogy doesn’t sit well with me. Infrastructure is stuff like electricity, plumbing, roads and communication networks. Infrastructure’s value is that you don’t have to think about it – it’s Just There™, and is “always on”. You flick a switch, and don’t need or want to think about the electrical infrastructure that heats up the filament in the bulb. You flush the john, and don’t need or want to think about the water supply and sewage infrastructure. Hopefully, you won’t have to.

But – content is one thing that you need to think about. It can’t be pushed so far down the stack that it becomes a mindless and invisible component, akin to electricity. Content needs to be mindful, contextual, active, and interactive. It’s not just a series of bits to be transported via TCP/IP (which could be considered infrastructure) – it’s the context for a conversation.

Canadian eLearning 2007 Video Party: The Movie

Here’s the presentation, with the clips and selections Brian and I used during the welcoming reception for the Canadian eLearning 2007 conference on Tuesday. I wound up not recording audio during the presentation, so you’ll just have to imagine witty and entertaining banter and intros for each video. Brian was responsible for both the witty and entertaining portions of the presentation.

The video selections came to 48 minutes. We were given a 45 minute slot after the welcome reception supper meal. You do the math…

[flv:http://www.darcynorman.net/video/CanadianELearningVideoParty_320_240.flv 320 240]