Hooking up the tow rope, still not outta the ditch

Reading Martin Weller’s reflections on a decade of stellar ed tech bloggery

Blogs were like little beacons shining across the globe that would splutter in to life and look for fellow signals to respond to. I fell in with the North American and UK ed tech blogging crowd. And this is why I think blogging resonates with me – I generally like bloggers. I don’t like all bloggers and I don’t dislike non-bloggers, but there is something about the approach to blogging – the informal use of language, the sense of fun, the support, willingness to try new things and the personal, social element that appeals to me.

…resonated with me for reasons beyond Martin’s clear and important observation. In many ways, I still define my place in ed tech primarily as a blogger. But for reasons that are obvious to anyone that still reads this blog, that’s an increasingly hollow claim.

I have my reasons for stepping back, some of them perhaps reasonable, others more ridiculous. But the absence of Abject in my life has felt more pressing in recent weeks. I’m in the home stretch of a highly stimulating and rewarding European tour: with stops in Edinburgh, Leicester, Bristol, Coventry, Amsterdam and now Trento. And at every point I’ve been reminded that it is blogging that has made this trip possible, and enhanced the experience in every respect. It has laid the foundation for my network, and provided the means for engaging an ongoing conversation that I find enriching and endlessly enjoyable.

I have quite a few posts in varying degrees of development in my drafts folder, and a few topics marinating in my rapidly dissolving mind. But where to begin… I remember David Kernohan telling me I should just start by listing a few of the posts that are sitting on the launch pad, and wait for ignition… So, in no particular order, and no expectations of coherence or completion…



This trip started with the OER16 conference, which featured strong sessions, excellent overall planning, and so many of my favourite people together in a highly appealing setting. Pat Lockley’s video “The Plight of OER” (and some tangential conversations that resulted) has me thinking about the not-entirely-clear relationship between funding and open education. If I write this up, I might also loop in last year’s Open Ed Conference in Vancouver, and the subsequent event we had at TRU (it was a fun one).

(Speaking of TRU, I need to do a much better job of blogging about what is going on in Kamloops. We are collectively developing an increasingly dynamic environment that I am proud to be part of. Man, I haven’t even blogged about CogDog’s Fellowship last year! That’s a goal I’m setting for myself when I get back.)

Among the things I learned when visiting the UK, during an altogether delightful visit with David, Viv and Spike was a little background on the Mellotron. Watching this video from 1965 gives me ecstatic chills. I had to make GIF:


The second week over here was mostly spent at Coventry University. Jim Groom and myself were invited by the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL) as Visiting Fellows for a few days. It was a huge gas to meet a wide range of faculty and technology types in a variety of contexts. We did a series of loosely-structured workshops, and we left our hosts with a Reclaim domain and space, as well as a Sandstorm-powered playspace installed on a UK dataserver. Lots of fantastic conversations, and it was hard not to be inspired and amazed by the overall vibe at Coventry U and the DMLL in particular, which strikes me as a very special place. Jim and I had one of those moments that literally stopped us in our tracks at the end of the first day. 5:30 PM, getting ready to leave the Lab, and realizing the place was jammed with students working and thinking with incredible drive and dedication. I had to catch my breath.

Our time at Coventry culminated in the event “Lost in Disruption? Reclaiming Innovation” (PDF link to event poster), which derived its theme from an EDUCAUSE Review article Jim and I wrote two years ago. An article, needless to say, that I never blogged about. Jim and I, along with Fiona Harvey and Jacqui Speculand, were honoured to deliver keynotes. I entitled my own talk “Ed tech isn’t dead, it just smells funny”. And I think my next blog post will try to describe what I talked about, as it more or less sums up my thoughts and activities in the field these days. It was a great day, and I cannot thank Daniel Villar-Onrubia (who I first met during a magical zemos98 festival experience in 2009) enough for inviting us to participate — and of course, many thanks to everyone who played a role, it was truly a memorable event.

It was during our time in Coventry that Jim declared me incompetent to manage my own affairs and appointed himself as my 24 hour traveling therapist. His methods are unorthodox, and certainly unethical. I am not making progress, I am experiencing alarming regression on every front. Yet I am powerless to resist… and there are benefits to round-the-clock treatment — I can see why Brian Wilson did it.

After leaving Coventry, Jim and I made a quick unplanned pitstop in Amsterdam (which one of us enjoyed), and retreated to his Italian Vineyard Mountain Fortress. This chapter is still being written. But suffice it to say that I’m being very well hosted (above is the view from my guestroom), and that Jim’s boasts of his La Bava Vida are wholly grounded in reality.

Some more posts I need to write:

Over the past few months, the Open Ed Tech Collaborative in British Columbia has gotten some traction. Clint Lalonde has written up an overview of our purpose and goals on the BCcampus site. Grant Potter has absolutely been on fire for us, building a shared Sandstorm space, and doing some promising stuff provisioning applications including WordPress in Docker containers. We are installing our stuff on an instance of EduCloud that is managed by TRU IT Services, so we are in a position to employ robust cloud services in ways that comply with British Columbia’s privacy laws. Perhaps most exciting to me is the sense that we are getting close to building sharable open ed tech infrastructure and tools that will make a whole new kind of collaboration possible.


One of the things I am looking forward to sharing more of are SPLOTs. This is something that emerged during CogDog’s Fellowship at TRU. I was whining about how difficult it seemed to be to get new users of open tools to just get sharing, how the technology seemed to keep throwing up barriers. There were also the issues around collecting and storing student information, even if it was just an email address for creating an authoring account. Alan recalled some of the great work that Tom Woodward had been doing that evaded these dilemmas, and then man… did that dog hunt. Alan has built a few applications that he calls SPLOTs, but really, a SPLOT can be anything. It just needs to do two things: make things as easy as possible on the user, and not require the user to provide personal information.

We have been rolling out SPLOTs for a wide range of test cases in a number of schools, and so far the results have been very encouraging. They are easy to set-up, easy to learn, and very easy to support. You may not want to use the SPLOTs that Alan has built so far, you may even not want to use the word SPLOT… But I really hope more ed techs will think of ways to provide the simplest possible tools, ones that do not require user information.

One notable use of a SPLOT was the use of The Writer for a TRU course entitled Lawyering in the 21st Century, led by Professor Katie Sykes. I want to write a post about this course because it invites the students into critical engagement with legal studies, and to propose alternative approaches to the problems of providing legal services today. I have been wondering what an analogue course addressing ed tech would be… How do we ensure that ed tech is exploring and addressing the relevant challenges?


Speaking of the relevance of ed tech… I used George Siemens’ post “Adios Ed Tech. Hola something else.”, to kick off my talk at Coventry to illustrate what I see as a pervasive sense of angst in our field. Ever since I read this post (and the comments it provoked) last September, it has vexed and annoyed me in ways that I cannot quite come to grips with… I need to work that out.


I haven’t blogged about the experiences of working with UDG Agora, a collaboration between the Justice Institute of BC and the University of Guadalajara. This was a mindblowing time on so many levels… Wonderful collaborators, participants, context…  and I am very proud of the work that resulted. The tricky part about trying to reflect on this episode is trying to make sense of the overwhelming flood of incredible and fun memories it prompts.


After building a career out of mostly avoiding and actively denigrating the learning management system… for more than a year I have unaccountably found myself coordinating Moodle planning and support at TRU. I have always been told that if I seriously got to know what an LMS was all about I would come to accept its essential role in contemporary higher education and maybe even learn to appreciate it. That has not proven to be the case. I accept that the community at TRU is not prepared for a cold turkey withdrawal of the LMS. I am determined to make the best of the situation. But I am more than ever convinced that the effect of these systems has been and will be catastrophic to the culture of online learning. I suppose I should blog more about that sometime.


I have done a few workshops on the use of animated GIF’s for learning (I pronounce it “GIF”, BTW…), and am hoping to step that up in the future. Most of the GIFs in this post are taken from Ken Freedman’s WFMU playlists. While I did blog about a visit to Ken and WFMU shortly after it happened, I did not blog that I had a ten minute conversation with him about his love and use of GIFs, and captured it on video. Nor did I blog about my small role in helping Ken prank his co-host Andy Breckman on a classic episode of Seven Second Delay. What has happened to me when I cannot even bring myself to blog my greatest satisfactions?

I could go on… But I hope that will be enough not-blogging to keep the Abject rumbling until I am back in Canada next week.

16 thoughts on “Hooking up the tow rope, still not outta the ditch

  1. In which Innovator Lamb jumps the shark on blogging about blogging to blogging about what he’s not blogging.

    As unsolicited advice, leave the backlog of posts in the rear view mirror, and pick it up going forward.

    Regardless, you are the king of the weirdest and most appropriate GIFs. Get yourself a badge.

      1. Nope. Thought I was pulling the line from an early Delillo book on advertising and corporate world.

        But the memory is fuzzier and fuzzier these days.

        1. Sheesh. I like to think of myself as a denizen of early DeLillo. I guess I have a lot of growing up to do.

  2. I am finding it interesting how a few people have responded to the video, pondering if we have a “big OER” and a “little OER” crowd.

    By big, I probably mean “major”, and by little I mean “indie”.

    But that was a lie, so perhaps I mean “funded” and “self-funded”, or maybe “professional” and “hobbyist”

    then again “Paid” and “Paying” feels a better distinction

    1. I’m afraid my thoughts on funding right at this moment are even more simplistic than when we spoke about it. I really am regressing.

  3. Don Lamb de Aguirre: I, the wrath of Blog, will post about my own posts and with them I’ll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen. Or something.

  4. Brian, I’m so glad I checked out your blog, it’s fantastic! Our synchronistic run-in in Save On today was exactly what I needed — just write about what we’re passionate about and things unfold as they may. I’m reading about ‘presence’ right now (Amy Cuddy) and so much of that is about putting our genuine selves out there; your writing, your GIFs, your style… it all screams “Brian!”, which means you know how to nail some great presence. Keep up the flow, it’s apparent you enjoy blogging! And by the way, get out there for a salt float, I think you’d like it 😉 It may not be transcendent, but…

    1. Nicole, as I told you in Save-On (note: all the best meta-blogging conversations happen in grocery aisles) your fantastic and real new blog (http://normalizingnicole.com/) was energizing for me to come across. I’m so pleased to see a new voice blogging, and knowing you am certain you will continue to crush it.

      And yeah, I gotta try out the tank.

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