A #25YearsOfEdTech blog post about blogging

If you want to do a true deep dive immersion into a book, produce the audio version of it.

I have loved producing the audio version of 25 Years of Ed Tech. As I edit the submissions from all the narrators and hear the chapters many times over through the course of editing them, I am conscious that this is exactly the opposite of the type of reading I do on a day to day basis, which tends to focus on quantity over quality. Scan and move on.

This project has given me an excuse to slow down and really pay attention to the details and to what it is each of the readers chooses to emphasize through their reading of the book.

But the piece of this project I am most enjoying is the one that I have had very little to do with, and that is Laura Pasquini’s companion podcast Between the Chapters. Laura has been brilliant at pulling this podcast together. Finding great guests and guiding the conversations in a kind of book club discussion of each week’s chapter.

This week, I had the chance to be a guest on Between the Chapters to talk about Chapter 10: 2003 Blogs with Bonnie Stewart.

I actually asked Laura if I could be part of this convo because, when she said that Bonnie would be her guest, I wanted the opportunity to connect with Bonnie as our roots in blogging are very similar. Before we blogged about education or digital identity, we both were blogging about being parents. That is where I first got to know Bonnie, virtually, and I thought this would be a way to talk about why blogging was so important in those early days around 2003-2006.

The pre-Facebook & Twitter days.

A time when blogs were the place where you connected with others and built relationships. Digital but often strengthened through IRL events and connections like conferences. The essence of those early days of blogging (even though I maybe didn’t realize it quite as much at the time as I do today) was about using the web to develop relationships. This was pretty profound for some of us who were moving from a place where the web was a place we went to in order to find information. The web was now a place we used to build relationships, and blogs played a crucial role in that.

Here is this week’s episode.

 

The new Pressbooks directory includes H5P search

The new Pressbooks directory has officially launched. I had a chance to see demos of this earlier this summer and was very impressed with the work that Pressbooks has done in creating a federated search across the Pressbooks EDU eco-system.

One of the features I want to make sure gets noticed is that, not only can you search for open textbooks and books in the directory, but also H5P activities. This is a massive boost to the H5P ecosystem as it now provides another central point to begin to find H5P activities that can potentially be reused (the others I know of are the eCampus Ontario H5P Studio site and the soon to be released (93% done) H5P OER Hub).

However, unlike the other repos of H5P content, the nice thing about the Pressbooks Directory H5P search is that it allows you to see the context that the H5P activity was used in. As we know from Wiley’s Reusability Paradox, the effectiveness of a reusable object relies on the context it is used in (along with an open license) and this new search helps provide some of that context by locating H5P content within an existing resource, giveng educators the ability to reuse not only the H5P interactive but also reuse the context (aka the book content) that wraps around that H5P activity. You get to see how others intended to use the resource and what learning it was meant to support.

For example, this H5P interactive video activity from An Interactive Introduction to Organismal and Molecular Biology on its own doesn’t mean all that much.

However, when you see it within the context of the entire page it comes from, you get a better and clearer sense as to the purpose of the H5P activity and can reuse as much of that surrounding chapter for context to make that H5P activity a much more effective learning object in your own context. Super useful.

Coming back to Pressbooks (the company), I cannot stress how valuable a contribution to the open education ecosystem this directory is, and Pressbooks deserves huge kudos for the work that they have done. At a time when we see plenty of examples of bad faith actors in the edtech space and can point to examples of corporate openwashing, Pressbooks has time and time again demonstrated that you can build a sustainable company by being both a partner and a contributor to the open education ecosystem. There are not many companies that I have worked with over the years that have consistently demonstrated such a deep commitment to the core values of open education as Pressbooks and other companies would do well to learn by their example on how to become an invaluable member of the open education community.

 

Hosting Studio20 using OBS with Zoom

This week I hosted the 3 day BCcampus online event Studio20: Engaging Learners Online. The workshop was designed to push the boundaries of what can be done in a synchronous online environment and to inspire educators to think differently about facilitating online, focusing on three themes, Vision, Voice and Active Learning.

I had a few roles for the event.

First, we asked the participants to do quite a bit of creating (images, audio) over the three days and we wanted to have a central place where people could share their creations. Sounds like the perfect use of a SPLOT. So, I set up a Studio20 SPLOT on the OpenETC to act as a resource collector for people during Studio20 activities and created a short 60 second video on how to SPLOT, co-produced with my 13 year old son who helped me with a few finer points of DaVinci Resolve to edit the final product.

It worked perfectly and it didn’t take long for it to begin to fill with contributions from participants.

My main role for the conference, however, was to act as the host and M/C for the event and in keeping with the theme of experimentation I wanted to experiment with doing something different with Zoom.

Earlier this spring, I spruced up my work from home setup, purchasing a green screen, a good mic, and an external webcam that was a bit better quality than my built in webcam. Seeing some of the work that Ken Bauer was doing with his TechEdTips, I began experimenting with an open source platform called OBS – Open Broadcast System – as a way to add some more visual appeal to my weekly course videos (here’s an early example of a weekly course update video I did for my RRU course)

Even though OBS is made for live streaming, you can record MP4 videos with it as well and that was primarily how I was using it in the spring as I didn’t feel super comfortable with the tech to use it in a live stream session. But by the time Studio20 came along I was feeling comfortable enough with the tech to use it as my video source for live streaming.

The advantage of using OBS as your video source should become apparent once you watch the video below, but in a nutshell it gives you so much more control over what you share on the screen, and, once you get comfortable enough, you can create different scenes and seamlessly switch between these different scenes during a live synchronous session. And, as Alan Levine points out in his recent post on using OBS for his hosting role for the recent OEGlobal conference;

Well, anyone using Zoom can attest to the fumbling around needed to do screen sharing. And to compound thing, when you screen share, you end up in some kind of disconnected space because you do not see the full zoom interface.

OBS gives you much more control over the video and screen sharing experience, and allows you to add on a few extras like on screen timers (Zoom, honestly, why is this simple yet powerful tool not a thing in your platform?)

One of the other reasons I wanted to use OBS was that, as a virtual host, one of your roles is to help keep participants oriented and progressing through the event, and you often provide the instructions needed for people to help orient themselves to what is happening. I hoped that by providing a different visual look it would provide a small visual signal to participants that my role in the event was different than the other participants. That when this distinct looking video feed came on the screen it was to provide an important piece of information about the event; announcing breaks, introducing sessions, that kind of stuff. So, I wanted to look a bit different in order to gather participants attention to keep them oriented.

Here’s a behind the green screen glimpse of what I put together in OBS for Studio20.

 

In the video I mention using Powerpoint in Reading mode to give you more control over the slides and prevent it from taking over your whole desktop. This is only for Windows users, but Alan Levine found a similar workaround for Mac users.

To use OBS in Zoom, you need to add a virtual camera plugin to OBS (UPDATE: Tim Owens has posted a comment on Alan’s post that the virtual camera source is now available by default for Windows users so you may not have to install it separately) . Like WordPress, OBS is open source and there is a robust developer and user community creating extensions, plugin and tutorials, and one of the plugins you need to add to OBS to get it working in Zoom is theĀ  virtual camera OBS plugin that turns OBS into a virtual camera in Zoom. Once you have it installed, OBS appears as a camera source in Zoom.

screenshot of Zoom showing location of OBS Virtual Camera under Zoom camera settings

Once that is setup and you click “start Virtual Camera” in OBS, whenever scene you are running on OBS will appear in Zoom as your video feed.

When I am running OBS with multiple scenes, I like to run it in Studio mode, which gives me 2 different scene windows. On the right is the Program, or Live, screen. Whatever scene is loaded on the Program side is the one that is live in OBS. On the left is a Preview screen where I can preload the next scene I want to switch to. Between the two screens is the Transition button that allows me to make the Preview scene live. This way I can see ahead of time what scene I want to switch to.

Here is a screenshot of OBS running & the different areas I use. Click for a larger image.

Screenshot of OBS showing different regions of the OBS interface

While this all seems complicated, when you are running an actual event it was not more complicated to switch between scenes than it is to switch between slides in a Powerpoint presentation. Click the pre-built scene and it appears in the Preview. Click transition and it is live.

In my next post I’ll touch on how I built the scenes in OBS. Alan also has a very good post that walks you through the process.

 

On the Historical Amnesia of Ed Tech #25YearsOfEdTech

Today marks the start of the audio podcast version of 25 Years of Ed Tech, a project I have been working on for the past 6 months or so. If you are interested in the origin story behind the podcast & accompanying series Between the Chapters, there is a show coming later this week where I talk about the project with Laura Pasquini and Martin Weller. I’ll link to it here when it’s released. What I am hoping to do with this post is to encourage you to contribute your voice to the conversation by blogging or tweeting your own observations about the chapters as we progress using the hashtag is #25YearsOfEdTech.

The historical amnesia of ed tech is a timely title for the introduction of the book given that it feels like we are experiencing that amnesia again. During the COVID spring pivot, education technologists with a specialization in online learning were struggling to make their experienced voices heard as the move to emergency remote learning happened. A good example was the rush to immediately procure services like virtual proctoring without critical considerations of Pandora’s box of privacy these platforms unleashed. Or the rush to embrace synchronous platforms and turn all learning into high bandwidth chomping virtual lecture sessions without consideration for the types of digital divide inequities this would introduce for learners. Educational technologists have seen these issues before, albeit perhaps not at the scale or pace of the spring, and were well-positioned to help for those who listened.

Education technology (as a professional field or academic sub-discipline take your pick) is a relatively new field. You can map the rise of ed tech with the rise of networked technologies in general. As networked technologies have moved from the fringes of society to the mainstream they have become more commonplace in teaching & learning practice. Indeed, the field is so new that Martin notes many of the experienced practitioners in the field have arrived in ed tech from other disciplines (pg. 4) and, as a result, we may lack the “shared set of concepts or history” (pg. 4) that acts as the historical grounding for most fields, which forms part of his rationale for writing a book on the history of ed tech (and Martin is quick to caveat that this is “a” and not “the” definitive history).

That said, while we are a relatively new field, you can easily argue that there have been educational technology thinkers going back to the earliest days of education. Whomever first saw the affordances of slate and chalk as a learning tool was thinking like an educational technologist. I sometimes wonder if that person was put into a position of a change agent for slate and chalk-based educational reform, like their digital ed tech counterparts decades later were. Although I imagine they were lucky enough to avoid getting tagged with job titles like Lead Slate Evangelist and Top Chaulk Guru for the Wonderful Chalk Company and writing puff pieces in One Room Schoolhouse Daily on how their new chalk and slate system increased learning engagement among students by 48% through exciting new chalkification pedagogy.

Which brings me to one of the changes I have witnessed in our field that Martin touches on in his introduction. Many of the ed tech’s I know who have worked in the field for the past 25 years have seen their role change from being that technology evangelist (I still wear the emotional scars after going on about blogs to a colleague who effectively shut me up with a loud and dismissive “BLAH, BLAH, BLAHGS!”) to being much less enthusiastic and far more critical about the role of technology in education. We may have begun as technology enthusiasts embracing much of the early ethos of the web (OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY FTW! THE INTERNET IS A DEMOCRATIZING FORCE FOR GOOD! KNOWLEDGE WILL NOW BE FREE AND ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE! DISRUPTION! TED TALKS! KAHN ACADEMY!) but who now understand that things are not that simple and….good. That technology is, in the words of Neil Postman, “…both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.”

My own journey on the ed tech history path reflects this shift from evangelist to critic and maps closely to Martin’s experiences so the book does resonate with me. But I am also aware that, like Martin, I am a person of a certain type; a white, middle-aged, heterosexual male, educated, employed, and a product of all that privilege has brought with it. And when I first began embracing the web ethos of openness and transparency in the early 2000’s, I did so unaware of just how much that privilege allowed me to do so. Today, I’m not quite as evangelical.

That said, there are still reasons to be optimistic about technologies’ role in education. My optimism is mostly rooted in small, human-scale ed tech as opposed to massive at scale ed tech these days. Technologies that amplify human qualities and place human beings at the centre of the learning process, not remove or obfuscate humanity through scale. For example, last week a group of students in my RRU course brought a guest speaker into class via Collaborate for a robust Q&A session on privacy, data and ed tech ethics, something that would have been virtually impossible for students to do 25 years ago. There is still good to be found in ed tech in 2020.

Here’s the book intro, read by Martin.

 

Ed Tech Vox Populi

Here’s what I am working on.

A serialized audio version of Martin Wellers’ book 25 Years of Ed Tech featuring volunteer contributions from 25 different people in education, edtech, open education.

Martin doesn’t know this, but he planted the seeds of this project with me long before he published the book. Each year, Martin writes a blog post recapping the books he reads and I have always been in awe of his prodigious annual book consumption; 93+ last year! I am lucky if I get through 2.

I asked Martin how he managed to do this. His secret? Audiobooks. So on his recommendation, I decided to give the format a try and discovered 3 things;

  1. It makes a big difference in how quickly I can get through a book. I am still nowhere near 100 like Martin, but am seeing a big uptick in the amount of reading I am doing.
  2. I really enjoy the format. I mean, the full cast version of American Gods by Neil Gaiman? Epic. Many of you know I used to have a radio career so have an affinity for audio, despite getting burned out by doing it for a living. Honestly, the old “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” axiom doesn’t really fly with me. But….well, another post.
  3. It has really expanded the physical spaces I read/listen in. Run on the treadmill? In goes the audiobook. Walk Tanner? In goes an audiobook. No longer is my book reading limited to the 5 minutes in bed before I fall assleep, which used to be the case.

Thanks to Martin, I’m hooked and a fan of the format now, too.

So, when his book was nearing the final stages of being (openly) published by Athabasca Press, I thought, “Well, for the huge fan of audiobooks that Martin is, his own book isn’t available as an audiobook. That’s a shame.”

Wait a sec. I have a radio background. I’ve done audio work before. I wonder how much work it would be to do an audiobook version of it? Hmmmm…..

Light. Bulb.

I emailed Martin and said, “Hey, I have an idea….” To which he immediately sent me a PDF advanced copy of the book so I could test out how much effort might be involved with creating an audio version of the book.

But then I thought, “You know, I am not the only person with audio experience in my network. There are a ton of wonderful educators who do podcasts. I wonder if they might want to participate?”

So I started sending out some exploratory messages to people in my network whom I thought might be interested in taking part. And before I knew it, I had 25 people lined up each to read a chapter. I am sure I could have easily got 25 more to participate with the enthusiastic response I had (and I am sorry to the dozens of other people whom I had on my list to contact, but ran out of chapters).

I was also trying to be mindful of ensuring that we had a diversity of voices participating. And by voices, I mean that in the literal sense of the word as the overall narrative voice is, of course, Martin’s. It is his book and these are his words, which makes it an odd sort of thing when you are asking people to read someone else’s words in something so intimate as their own voice.

Maha Bali was the first to notice this. Shortly after she test read her chapter she emailed to tell me that she felt the urge to want to comment on the contents of her chapter. However, we are adhering closely to the No Derivatives restriction on the book (more on this in a moment), so our readings need to be word for word of the original. But it was Maha who first tossed out the idea that maybe there could be some way to have a discussion about each chapter that was separate from the audio version of the book.

And into the project comes Laura

Laura Pasquini was also someone I had asked to participate, knowing that she was an active podcaster. She picked up on Maha’s comments.

“Hey Clint. What do you think about doing a podcast that is kind of like a book club where we could invite people to discuss the chapters? Oh, and by the way, I have a pro account for Transistor and I would be happy to host the podcast and can take care of setting up all the feeds and such for syndication.”

Um….yes please!

So the plan is to release the book as a serialized podcast with one chapter released every Monday read by a different volunteer narrator and then release a second podcast on Thursday which is the discussion of the chapter. I am gathering the book chapters and Laura is producing the supplemental podcast. Both will be pushed out on the same feed. It will soon be available via the podcast tool of your choice, but for now, if you know how to manually set up a podcast subscription you can use this RSS feed.

Open Win

I alluded to the copyright license earlier, but want to hit on it here explicitly as the open license that Martin and Athabasca Press have released his book under (CC-BY-NC-ND) plays an incredibly important role in making a project like this possible, and the possibility lies in a nuanced detail of the Creative Commons license that may not be obvious when you see a -ND restriction.

At first blush, many might think that the -ND clause would restrict this type of activity from happening. However, what we are doing in this project is something called format-shifting – moving from print to audio, one format to another. We are being very careful not to alter the actual words in the book which would then start to veer into adaptation/derivative territory.

But format-shifting is allowed even with an -ND license. All Creative Commons licenses allow format-shifting. So while it may seem like the -ND is restrictive, it is still flexible enough to allow us to redo the book in audio form and redistribute as a weekly podcast without having to ask for permission ahead of time*, which illustrates the value that ANY CC license can bring to a piece of content vs. an All Rights Reserved copyright.

I should also note that the artwork we are using by Bryan Mathers is also CC licensed, as is the bg music for the podcast. Open wins all around.

The launch date is November 4th and you can see a full list of all the wonderful people who are participating on the podcast website. Martin has also written about the project.

* side note: even though CC licenses don’t require asking for permission, I do like to keep people in the loop when their stuff is involved and I have been in regular contact with Athabasca Press & Martin and they have been very supportive.