Tag Archives: love-mongering

Syndication and dead-easy open content reuse

Structured Serendipity
Structured Serendipity shared CC by Giulia Forsythe

Sometimes encouraging developments sneak up on you. I’ve done my share of hand-wringing lately about the apparently dwindling fortunes of syndication. But a few very promising items have pulsed through my trailing-edge feedreader lately.

From Gardner Campbell, this nugget of recursive wisdom:

Web syndication really does think about the web as a vast database, and each site on the web as potentially a dynamic, curated representation or slice of that database. But the database is itself constantly refreshed because the web that feeds the database of the web is the web of human curiosity, expression, and meaning-making.

Also, I’ll be following the impressive and exciting work by David Wiley and Bill Fitzgerald on transclusion and syndication that motivates the Candela WordPress work, and the super-cool wiki federated reuse thinking and building from Michael Caulfield. These are all welcome reminders that the state of the field is not as dire as I sometimes tend to think.

I thought I’d share an example of out-of-the-box syndication and transclusion that’s being adopted more or less spontaneously by students here at Thompson Rivers University. We have been slowly rolling out our own instance of MediaWiki, with a small but growing cohort of early adopters that includes a course on legal perspectives. This is an interesting group, there are a large number of students divided into more than twenty groups to develop public pages analyzing historic Canadian cases from a variety of legal schools of thought. It’s been fascinating to see how some groups have put more effort than others to understand what the system can do in terms of presenting their work with things like layout commands, and to observe how particularly effective techniques are noticed and re-adopted by other groups as the semester proceeds.

One very cool feature of MediaWiki that the students have discovered and are using relates to syndication. If you look at this page, you will see the students have used an image of Ronald Dworkin to enhance their text. If you click through to the image, you will see that it is drawn from the Wikimedia Commons, and the TRU wiki media file has remarkably detailed metadata outlining where the image came from, the licensing of the image, and where else on the TRU wiki the image is being used. In other words, pretty exemplary reuse of a public knowledge resource.

What’s exciting is how easy it was for the students to do this. If you go to the source media file page on the Wikimedia Commons, you’ll see a number of reuse links on the sidebar. If you click “Use this file on a wiki”, you are provided with the basic MediaWiki markup, ready to use on your own page. In this case – [[File:RonaldDworkin.jpg|thumb|RonaldDworkin]]

What’s so cool is that once you add this code to our page, MediaWiki InstantCommons then adds this file into the TRU wiki’s media library, so the file is only downloaded from the Commons once, and there is a local copy with our own metadata and usage tracking on our system. (FYI, there is also a WordPress plugin with similar functionality.)

And again, this was functionality that students more or less figured out on their own, and a technique most of the Legal Perspectives groups are using to incorporate copyright-compliant images into their public work. The Wikimedia Commons is one of the most impressive sources of open media available to us, and with projects like this to harvest more high-quality learning media for the Commons, its future seems bright.

Open tools, open media, and syndication. Observable open content reuse in the TRU student population. Nice to end the week with some love-mongering for once.

Grooving on an essential open educator

Words fail me when I try to capture the depth of my admiration for Grant Potter. A creative and profoundly thoughtful educator. A brilliant technologist, tinkerer, hauler of bootstraps. A webhead of the highest and most ethical order. An astonishing and versatile musician. An ambassador of almost every form of Canadiana worth feeling proud of. A riotous and abiding jokester. A stomper of terra. A generous and gregarious soul. That doesn’t even begin to cover it…

So I was thrilled to see that Grant is being recognised by his home institution at the University of Northern British Columbia, and will be delivering this year’s Robert W. Tait Annual Lecture on Implementing Teaching Excellence at UNBC. The talk is this Friday, January 10th at 2:00 PM PST. It is being livestreamed at https://bluejeans.com/405228030/browser I’m looking forward to hosting a little viewing party here at TRU.

More on the talk Grant will be doing:

“Connections, Community and Open Educational Practice”

The term “open”, in traditional terms means, positively, being open to ideas, experience, evidence, argument, discussion, persuasion, method and reason. In a more contemporary way, it has meant shared, free of copyright, or with a copyright model that allows sharing, it has meant collaborative and free to modify, and/or distribute. In educational institutions the idea of “open” starts with two things: visibility and persistence. What you do must be visible, with no constraints. And some part of it must produce artifacts that are persistent – they can be found over time. But to me open also implies a philosophy or value system – a belief that having activity out in the open yields multiple positive benefits and a commitment to continually work on becoming more accessible and inclusive. The people I know who continue to experiment with open learning and open resources have this philosophy as their underlying motivation: society benefits from sharing ideas and data but there remains a good deal of work to be done to find ways to put this vision into operation. This presentation will explore innovative, impactful examples of open educational practice and pathways to adoption for educators.

I wanted to finish up this post with an artefact of prime Potter. But what? There’s the ongoing wonder of DS106 Radio. His jaw-dropping short intro video he did for the first open iteration of DS106, “Until that Moment”. His fantastic talk at UMW Faculty Academy on “Tinkering, Learning, and The Adjacent Possible”.

Instead, I thought I would share one of the peak moments of my life, one of many that I owe to Grant. This video was shot on the Open Ed 2012 Conference jam, on a boat somewhere off the coast of Vancouver. It’s one of the participatory musical miracles for which Grant has been the ringleader over the years. And I always thought this clip (filmed so well by Novak Rogic) captured some sort of truth about open educational experiences for me. This particular group of musicians had never played together before, and maybe it’s a little too obvious that this song had never been rehearsed. David Wiley has said “content is infrastructure” in open ed, and here the “content” (the old song “Money”) is the shared knowledge that allows the band to improvise together with a sense of purpose and direction. But really, what makes this happen is energy and attitude. Watch Grant in this video, in it he embodies all the attributes of a stellar open educator. When Gardner Campbell calls out “Money” as the next song (I remember thinking at that moment with confusion that he meant the Pink Floyd song, and wondering how the hell we were going to pull that off), Grant adds that wonderful affirmative energy of his, and away we go. Throughout the song, besides demonstrating his considerable skills, he is actively watching and listening to the other musicians, and with his body language plays an invaluable role in holding the whole crazy thing together.

Can’t wait to hear Grant’s talk this Friday. And here’s to heaps more Potter-style adventures in the months and years ahead.

Everyday open learning so unremarkable that it amazes me


Happened to look in on a blog for a course on Philosophy and Pop Culture at TRU. Saw a post that I thought was remarkable for a couple reasons.

A student had just posted some fresh reflections, though the course was over. He wrote: “I know that I no longer need to create new posts, but it seemed like this is the perfect place to post my current thoughts.”

This in itself is remarkable, though not so unusual. I suppose some would find it trite to observe this would rarely occur in an LMS, even if the student was not locked out of the course environment as a matter of university policy at course’s end. Here, even in a shared course blog on an institutional WordPress install, this student felt a stake in this space, understood that it was a place for continued reflection and growth.

The student was exploring, in part, his ongoing responses to Andrew Wildman’s graphic novel Horizon. Educational bloggers will not be so surprised to see that Wildman offered a comment on the blog in response. Again, would that happen in an LMS?  If mediums communicate messages, this exchange illustrates that the student’s thoughts and words have value. The student is not merely engaging in a simulation of intellectual discourse, but taking their thoughts into the world.

I couldn’t resist Tweeting this exchange when I saw it. Which again, not so surprisingly elicited yet another comment from the most thoughtful and engaged commenter I have ever known.

These sorts of things happen all the time over on UMW Blogs, but we are still building out our infrastructure and culture of open online learning here at TRU. I hope these stories become commonplace here soon.

Another common manifestation of open learning went down in my personal network yesterday. That it happened without really seeming all that remarkable at the time is hitting me as amazing right now. (Was there something in those brownies I just ate?)


I’m doing a little bit of preparation for next Monday’s VideoCamp here at TRU. Since I am an utter neophyte at video work (thankfully we have a cohort of other facilitators lined up), the only “teaching” I might do is work through Popcorn Maker with any participants who just want a simple tool for basic augmentation and remixing of online video. I remembered that Clint Lalonde had organized workshops using Popcorn, and then remembered that I am lazy and shameless, so I fired Clint a Twitter DM asking if there were any tutorials he would recommend.

Because Clint is a better open educator than me, he responded publicly in case his pointer would be of use to somebody else.

Then he widened the scope.

An aforementioned open educational hero caught wind of the discussion and interjected with important cautions that probably saved me and the VideoCamp participants some pain…

…and also shared a cool use case.

Chris Lott brought another vital contributor into the discussion, …

…and wasn’t I happy to make Christen’s acquaintance:

Popcorn HTML5 framework? I didn’t even know what that was. Whoa.

Then some more of the people Clint flagged earlier started to chime in:

Among the tutorials these exchanges turned up was this brilliant overview from Miriam Posner. Licensed CC, so I think I will incorporate it into the VideoCamp site. I thought should give Miriam a huzzah and a heads-up on my intention to pilfer (she’s cool with it), and was not entirely surprised to see that CogDog had beat me to the comments field.

Again, these things happen all the time in open online learning circles. But I still get asked “how do you find the time to engage social media”? It repays the time investment so many times over — in this case with great resources, pointers to new experts for me to follow, and a reminder that I am part of a collaborative community full of generous and gifted people. So before I dive into the VideoCamp site to build on all these wonderful contributions, I thought I would take a moment to celebrate just how amazingly unremarkable these sorts of interactions can be.