Why Reclaim Hosting is important

possibly Jim and Tim at work running Reclaim Hosting. Or some other guys.
Edtech (and tech in general) is largely hostile to humans. It has evolved to try to lock people in so that data about them can be sold and resold. This is why Reclaim Hosting is so important – Jim nails it with a mini-manifesto for the company:

Tim and I aren’t “businessmen” (though I joke about it), we’re edtechs who have an intimate understanding of higher ed. We have a strong sense of where technology and teaching converge in interesting ways, and remain committed to augmenting what we’ve helped build at UMW and share it far and wide.

We don’t advertise. We don’t use our interface to play psychological games. We don’t hate-sell through fear and uncertainty as so many in the web hosting world do. We don’t and won’t take VC funding. We won’t be bought, which means we won’t sell you out. And while we do have the best service and cheapest prices around, more than anything we have an ethos that is rooted in the vision of helping people understand how the web works and use that knowledge to return teaching and learning to the scale of the individual—the only way it can be done right. That is what education is, and that is what we are all about.

(emphasis mine) – look for any other edtech company that makes a strong statement for its users. Few and far between. I’ve been happily hosting all of my own stuff with Reclaim Hosting since day 1. Best hosting ever, paired with some really fantastic people running the show.

the most important edtech advancements

Jim wrote about his thoughts on the most important advancements in educational technology. I think he’s onto something – the exact tech isn’t important. Nor are the logos on the shiny things we build and/or buy. My personal stance is that we’ve seen 2 major changes on our campus – neither of which are directly related to specific technologies.

  1. Human-scale technologies
  2. Distributed, coordinated, domain-specific community support

The first shift is nothing new – it’s also not constant or consistent. It’s about individualized ownership/control/access to technologies. Some new tools are cheap enough that people grab their own copies – even gasp without asking permission, or even notifying anyone. Some tools are good enough that The University grabs a few copies and hands them out more freely for people to do stuff. I’ve seen people do things with creating online resources for their courses that was simply not possible even a few years ago – and even if technically possible, involved the need to spin up projects, find funding, management, designers, etc…. Now, an instructor can sit at her computer and create really good resources for her courses, on her own, without needing to ask permission. And students can do the same. That’s a fantastic shift.

We’ve been doing things in my group to help with that – we’re setting up a Faculty Design Studio, to give people a place to come work with higher-end tools. We’re ramping up a “tech lending library”, so people can sign stuff out, without needing to go through Project Management or funding requests. Want to play with a GoPro camera to record something for your course? Go for it. Need a tripod, microphone, camcorder, lights? Sure thing. Keeping technology available at human scale is important. It’s more than Enterprise Platforms and [Learning|Research|Administration] Management Systems.

We’re also changing how institutional programs are being run. Our Instructional Skills Workshops involve participants recording themselves presenting or facilitating. In the Olden Days™, that involved a big video cart, with microphones, cameras, mixing boards, DVD recorders, CRT monitors, etc… and was a Big Deal to set up. Now, we have a set of Swivl robot camera mounts, some iPod Touch handheld video recorders, and a tripod. Done. Videos get uploaded to Vimeo1, and it’s all faster, easier, and better than what we did before. And instructors are signing the Swivls out to do similar things for their own courses. Great stuff.

The second shift is probably the more important one, though. Distributed, coordinated communities of practice to support instructors who are designing their courses and integrating learning technologies. We’ve moved from a centralized model – where everyone had to come to The Big Department In The Middle™ to get “help” to fix their courses. That wasn’t great for a few reasons – it can’t scale, without dozens of staff members in TBDitM™ – but also, it positions the support for technology integration as some Other. Something bolted on by other people outside of an instructor’s faculty or department. Something foreign, extra, separate. Superficial.

communities of practice across campus

The community of practice shifts the support model into being native in each faculty and department. With domain-specific understanding of the pedagogies used in each context, and of the activities that make up the learning experience. And of the technologies that enable, enhance and extend these activities. We had this, informally, before – but isolated pockets of in-context support were not able to benefit from what people had learned or tried in other contexts. So, intentionally designing the central portion of the support community as a coordination hub to enable people across campus – NOT as a “come to us in The Middle and we’ll fix your stuff”, but as “hey – let’s come together to learn about what we’re all doing, and how we can share that to make it all sustainable and meaningful for everyone.”

That’s where the magic is. Coincidentally, I’m currently looking to hire the person who will act as our coordinator/collaborator/cruise-director for this distributed community of practice.

  1. until we eventually get a campus video platform set up – 4 years and counting on that… []

reclaim open

Audrey Watters and Jim Groom were at the MIT Media Lab with Philipp Schmidt and others for a hackathon. Sounds like it was a pretty incredible couple of days.

The video below captures some of the discussion. So much goodness in it. We haven’t lost the open web. We can (continue to) choose to build it. Yes, there are silos and commodifcation and icky corporate stuff that would be easy to rail against, but what if we just let go of that and (continue to) build the web we want and need? Yeah. Let’s (continue to) do that… That’s what Boone’s Project Reclaim is all about. That’s what I do on a tiny, insignificant, human scale. That’s why I publish my own stuff here – I’ve built this site up exactly how I want it, to support my ability to be as open as I choose, without relying on others to enable (or decide not to) me.

It’s not about protesting against silos or corporate activity streams. Freedom means people get to choose how they manage their digital artifacts (including delegation of that responsibility to third parties). It’s about doing what I think is right, and feeling good about that. That’s all I can do.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what UMW does with their Domain of One’s Own project – and hoping to do more of that kind of thing here on our campus. Some pretty amazing things can happen if you enable and encourage individual students and instructors to build their own stuff…

Reclaim Open Learning – Not Anti-MOOC. But pro open. from Jöran und Konsorten on Vimeo.