25 Years of EdTech: 2008 – EDUPUNK!

Image of DaftPunk style EDUPUNK label.

I really appreciate Martin Weller allowing me to take the reins of his 25 Years of EdTech series for 2008. It was a leap of faith for him to agree, but I think he realized that sometimes ed-tech’s history has to be told from the vantage point of the radical. Consider this blog intervention akin to The People’s History of Ed-Tech. What’s more, the timing could not be more perfect. Not only does the Europe’s General Data Protection Rights (GDPR) legislation go into effect today (empowering folks to reclaim their online data), but May 25th 2018 also marks the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 blog post heard around the EdTech world: “The Glass Bees.” That’s right, this blog’s fifteen minutes of fame was the post that introduced the term EDUPUNK which was a play on EDUCAUSE that Brian Lamb and I dreamed up together over drinks in Brooklyn, a few days later and a late-night manic blog post led to a small ripple on the web to EDUPUNK being declared a neologism by Wired. 

The concept was pretty simple, take back the online spaces where teaching and learning happens from the dreary, florescent-lighted discussion boards of the Learning Management Systems (VLE for all you British geezers). Reclaim a sense of ownership and experimentation within educational technology and explore the possibilities—this was at the very beginning of the long trend of university IT departments wholesale outsourcing of everything from email (the beginning) to the LMS (just about done). One of the casualties of this era of institutional IT was that were very few options for experimenting with the new wave of Web 2.0 tools that were all the rage. It’s easy now to look back and discount the fervor around Web 2.0, but the options around personal publishing were exploding and most universities offered little beyond the LMS—which prompted companies like Blackboard to provide the “Next Generation” or learning tools like blogs and wikis that were little more than a re-styled discussion board. The publishing revolution truly was happening outside the university IT departments (and by extension educational institutions more generally) which prompted a subset of folks in ed-tech to cobble together alternatives, self-host open source applications, and generally provide a culture for edtech outside the mainstreamed LMS. In the end, EDUPUNK was ed-tech’s Web 2.0 culture war, which admittedly seems quaint after Gamergate. The web’s problems seem far more existential and complex ten years later, but a tributary of resistance in edtech might be found in that short-lived fervor around a divisive term that would be a brief glimpse into the issues that would come to define the field in 2018.

Where are they now?  Well there was an independent documentary created by Cogdog tracing the roots of this cultural missed opportunity—it should fill you in on all the sordid details:

Happy 10th birthday EDUPUNK! And big fan Weller, with all the smirking apologies an edtech punk can muster 🙂

Posted in 25yearsedtech, edupunk, fun | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Hosting Futures

Yesterday I was part of a call between Reclaim Hosting, Cloudron, and Bates College to talk about what piloting a mashup of LAMP and Docker-container based hosting might look like for Bates’s newest academic program Digital and Computational Studies (DCS). It’s a fascinating program, and description below gives you an idea of what this program is all about:

It is neither a computer science department, nor a data science program, nor media studies, nor a digital humanities program… but instead, a bit of all of these. DCS is charged with bringing academic computing to the full breadth of the liberal arts at Bates.

This means that we hope to develop a program that introduces students to the fundamentals of programming, but also provides computational/digital space for students, regardless of discipline, to discover the intersection of their course of study and the networked, computational world that field is now and forever steeped in.

I really dig this description, the idea of making the fundamentals of programming and computational thinking the foundation of an interdisciplinary program seems truly unique. I was asked by a college-age student in Berlin a couple of weeks back what I would recommend in terms of programs, and I have to say this one strikes me as a very interesting disciplinary approach to the digital world. The first of what’s soon to be a triumvirate of faculty, Matthew Jadud, has a Computer Science background and studies the behaviour of novice programmers, and this summer mathematician Carrie Diaz Eaton (who focuses on Mathematical Ecology) and long-time Davidson Domains champion and historian Anelise Shrout (focusing on nineteenth-century American History and Digital Humanities) will be joining the program’s faculty.

To support this new program, they’re looking for a unique approach to infrastructure. They want to provide everything from publishing software like WordPress to integrated development environments (IDE) like Amazon’s Cloud9 or Eclipse CHE—with various options and offerings in-between. While a LAMP environment can take care of publishing apps like WordPress, Omeka, Scalar, etc. web-based programming environments open up a whole new world, as do applications like Etherpad, Gitlab, Rocket.chat, etc. So, this is where working with Cloudron to integrate their supported applications through our current Domain of One’s Own setup would be awesome. It will require thinking through managing user permissions, but enabling container-based apps would significantly augment our current hosting options.

During this discussion Carrie Diaz Eaton shared the work she has been part of with QUBES: “a community of math and biology educators who share resources and methods for preparing students to tackle real, complex, biological problems.” QUBES is built on top of a project that came out of Purdue University called HUBzero, a service which provides focused community sites, course spaces, open educational resource sharing, and access to applications used heavily in the sciences, such as R, Latex, Jupyter Notebooks, etc. That last bit blew me away, HUBzero effectively allows faculty to setup a course space and provide their students access to open source tools for various kinds of scientific data analysis with software like R-Studio, NetLogo, Mesquite, etc.

While Carrie was talking I was reminded how firmly Reclaim Hosting is planted in the Digital Humanities community—which has been very awesome to us. But seeing QUBES and how many focused tools exist for the sciences that I have no clue about was a wake up call. The world seemed big again.. What’s more, realizing instances like QUBES run on top of HUBZero re-focused the discussion to disciplinary communities sharing resources for teaching and learning (the tools being one part of that equation) which pointed to a more vertically integrated stack for courses. HUBzero is effectively providing a very targeted LMS for particular courses that expose their students to a range of tools in order to do the work. HUBzero sets up the server environments and does all the integrations—and from what I can tell this is possible based on a foundation model that looks for other schools to join and help support the initiative. I’m not sure they also offer one-off hosting for such communities,  but that is something I’ll try and follow-up on.

In fact, there is most definitely a bunch I’m missing and/or misunderstanding about all of this, but after hearing Matt explain what they are looking for as part of their DCS program and seeing the work Carrie has already been apart of it struck me that these virtual, cloud-based hosted environments for web-based programming, data analysis, and publishing are already happening (Reclaim is just one of them), the question that interests me is which of them will be able to make the process of integrating these environments for a campus clean, easy, and elegant. It will be interesting to watch (and hopefully participate in) the shaping of this next generation of online hosted learning environments. And from what I have seen there will be no one ring to rule them all, but thoughtful integrations to make them seamlessly work together.

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Samson Would Have Laughed

Over a week ago Adam Croom reached out to Tim and I to help him make a game for Keegan Long-Wheeler, who is presently convalescing from brain surgery. We were asked to create a short video of us responding to a support ticket regarding Keegan’s blog not working, and if that may somehow be related to his recent hair loss as a result of the surgery.*  I was dragging my ass on this a bit, though as often happens in my Reclaimed life Tim was not.  He locked in and created his short video and the gauntlet had been thrown. It was a mini-masterpiece of sysadmin roleplaying. Not since the sysadmin from the 2001 heist film The Score, has sysadmin aping been this good:

Don’t believe me? take a minute of your life and see for yourself:

Tim left no stone unturned, he had everything: the glasses, the Mountain Dew, living in mom’s basement, and most of all that special sysadmin arrogance 🙂 After seeing his masterpiece I was actually relieved because I knew there was no way I could match it, no less top it (something I have gotten used to working with Tim), and I just played the hits—throwing in my youngest son for cute points:

Tommaso’s performance steals the show, and I’m pretty much a caricature of myself talking smack on OER,  a stretch as you can imagine.

Doing this short video was a blast, and you can play Adam’s game here. It does remind me of how much fun these videos can be. I used to do a lot more of this stuff, and with Reclaim Video I am hoping to return to more of this. I have a few ideas for some video projects in the works, and we are bringing Michael Branson Smith down to Fredericksburg next month to get this party started 🙂

*Although it’s not really hair loss when they shave it for a surgery—trust me, I know this much and his locks will grow back!

Posted in fun, video, YouTube | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Changing URLs in WordPress Database via Command Line

I am learning the art of a sysadmin is not so much knowing how to do something, but rather how to do something quicker via command line 🙂 I transferred a cPanel account the other day from one domain to a different domain, and I needed to update all the URLs across 3 or 4 different WordPress sites.  Traditional I would export the database, do a copy and paste in TextWrangler, then re-upload the SQL file. For four different WordPress sites that begins to get laborious. But then I remembered the trick Tim showed me when we were doing the UNLV migration a little while back. WordPress now has a command line interface (CLI) tool, and Tim showed me how to use it to do a find and replace on the database. You would need to be in the root directory of the WordPress site when running the following:

The above command would replace all instances of jimgroom.net in the WordPress database with jimgroom.com. I ran this command 4 times in about 5 seconds and more than 1000 URLs were instantly updated. It would have taken me 10-15 minutes minimum to exporting, find & replace, and then import the databases for 4 sites—and let’s face it, doing it in a few seconds firing off some command line code just makes me look more serious. Kinda like Timmmmyboy playing the sysdmin in Adam Croom’s Hair game 🙂

Posted in sysadmin, WordPress | 2 Comments

Reclaim’s VHS Splash

Bryan Mathers‘s developed a VHS splash page for Reclaim Hosting, and we really, really like it. I’ll let him explain the details, while I just revel in its beauty. I will note that the title on the VHS tape is automatically generated based on the domain someone signs up for, so before they install anything in the root of their domain, this is what they will see:

Who has more character than Reclaim Hosting, you ask? #NOBODY!!!!

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Bildungs Punk at Re:publica 18

I’ve been procrastinating this post because I have so much to say about my time at the Re:publica conference in Berlin almost two weeks ago, but that never works out well.* So, where to start? I think I’ll start with two quick recommendations.  I highly recommend danah boyd’s keynote “How and Algorithmic World can be Undermined” that opened day 1:

As well as Orit Halpern‘s “Resilient Speculation:”

They were both insightful and relevant, and I hope to return to both for a blog post. I am holding off because I have not watched boyd’s version of this talk at SXSWedu a couple of months earlier, and I wanted to given it came up in the Virtually Connecting session later that day (more on that soon). I also need to re-watch Halpern’s talk because there was a lot going on and I came in about 5 minutes after it started. They way she re-frames the term resilience to examine economics, environmental planning, and technology was quite wild, I found myself imagining turning her subject matter into a dystopian scifi novel (and even went as far as optioning the script in my daydream). I tried to sit through Chelsea Manning‘s fireside chat session, but the first twenty minutes were pretty terrible. There was no real direction for the conversation, and quickly everything turned into a kind of empty slogan around the times. Not sure where this broke down cause I was looking forward to it, but you can see it for yourself here and let me know how wrong I was:

After that I stole away to get some work done. During this time I kinda got a better sense of the venue and conference. Turns our Re:publica started as a blogging/Web 2.0 conference in 2007, which makes it a year younger than Northern Voice. In fact, Re:publica is probably a fairly accurate representation of what NV would have become if it remained a thing: namely a fullblown media conference where any relics advocating lower case b blogging have long since been disinvited. Which begs the question how I got in? —although my session turnout will certainly prevent them from making that mistake twice 🙂

In the afternoon of Day 1 I met up with Christian Friedrich—it was amazing to spend so much quality time with him, a real highlight of the trip—and we had a blast doing Virtually Connecting atop a garbage can. There were no real quiet spaces in Re:publica we could use, so we had to take to the mean streets of Berlin. Christian and I were basically reporting from the conference to give Joe Murphy, Terry Greene, Taskeen, and the OG VC herself Maha Bali a sense of what Re:publica was all about. It was a ranging conversation and this is where some issues folks had with boyd’s previous talk at SXSWedu came up. I just always seem to have fun when I do a Virtually Connecting session, and this one was no different. Christian and I made on good on-site team. After that I went back to the hotel and worked some more, went to see Infinity War, and crashed hard. The next day I got to connect with Jöran Muß Merholz and Philipp Schmidt for a meetup focusing on “10 Directions to Move Open Education Forward.” It was a fun session that about 20-30 people came to and we worked together in several groups discussing and building upon at the Capetown Open Declaration recommendations 10+ years later.

After that, I went back and worked on my presentation for the following day on Domain of One’s Own. I had no intention of talking about EDUPUNK at all, but when I woke up Friday I saw this tweet from someone who had been following the meetup the previous day:

I took it as a sign from the German gods 🙂 I immediately tweeted back and forth with the Bildungs Punks crew. And while Ines Bieler was not on site, I did get to meet Christine Skupsch:

The joy was all mine. We chatted about the idea of EDUPUNK† as they are iamgining it, and this groups is made-up of a distributed group of teachers that aggregate and share their ideas around technology in the classroom. It’s worth noting that there is a certain amount of excitement around the possibilities of educational technology in Germany  right now, part of the reason is they are basically starting from scratch. The long history of LMS/VLEs that dominated the landscape for the last two decades in the U.S. was not the case in Germany, rather they had very little in the way of edtech at all. I think that is where this sense of possibility comes from, and I personally appreciated looking on all this stuff through fresh eyes. That said, my talk was playing off this, and became a bit of a cautionary tale encouraging them to avoid the LMS path which leads to mediocrity and data collection.

So, given the EDUPUNK mug I woke up to, I had to re-work my talk a bit to incorporate EDUPUNK by focusing a bit on The Glass Bees and The Twenty Days of Turin, which opened up the door for me to return to some of the 70s scifi art I presented about in Australia. Which, in turn, will hopefully result in my trying to work on this talk a bit more for a presentation I’ll be giving at the MyData confernece in Helsinki come August because I think it could actually be good. But for now you are stuck with what was: 

Finally, I met some very cool people on day 3, including a young graduate student from Scotland named Tom Wallis, another graduate student (Iva Karabatic) who I will be interviewing about a domains project she started using a national domain space in Croatia—so cool, and finally (and insanely enough), during my post talk meetup a gentleman saw my name on a monitor and asked me, “Did you teach ds106 back in 2012?” Turns out it was Victor Ofoegbu who was running the open online course in Ghana!

It was a humble reminder for me how awesome this stuff can be. So, in summary, my time in Berlin at Re:publica 2018 was pretty awesome.

*Although, to be fair, the procrastination on this post has resulted in a kind of clearing of the blog decks on OER18 thoughts, random Twitter links, a good Reclaim Video post or two, some blogging reflections and more 🙂 So maybe it doesn’t work out for coherence of the Re:publica memories, but my blog numbers are definitely up!

†I am pretty sure they never heard about the other EDUPUNK (there goes my  case for Weller’s 25 years of EdTech :). Crazy, and it occurred to me that in just ten days EDUPUNK will turn 10 years old. 

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Wowee Zowee! A Pavement Server?

The migration email went out yesterday, so it’s official. We are retiring the Unwound shared hosting server after 2 and a half years of faithful service and will be migrating all accounts over to our newest server: Pavement. Sticking with the post-punk music scene of the 1990s, Pavement getting the nod was just a matter of time. Pavement is interesting to me because while they had a modicum of success with the song “Cut Your Hair” off their 1994 Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain album in the early 90s and could have easily signed to a major label, but they remained committed to small, independent record labels and their next album, Wowee Zowee, is considered their most bizarre and experimental. I love this bit from the Wikipedia article about the album framing why that might be:

Rolling Stone speculated that the relative success of their previous album [Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain] (having sold 169,000 copies by this time[citation needed]) was a reason for this album’s eclectic nature; the magazine’s review claimed Pavement were afraid of success. Stephen Malkmus refuted this, saying that while his judgment may have been clouded by excessive marijuana usage, the songs “sounded like hits” to him.[citation needed

As you can tell from the pull-quote above, citations are still needed—so be sure to fact-check this—but I love the idea of Malkmus saying they sounded like hits to him. It’s a brilliant retort, and frames beautifully the ridiculousness of chasing hits for success. That said, Pavement’s performance on The Tonight Show in 94 might be used to counter this argument given they don’t even seem to be trying, but honestly that has always been my experience when seeing them live 🙂

Pavement gets cited as one of the most influential bands of the 90s, and are probably the least popular band to have two albums highlighted in the top 25 of Rolling Stone‘s “100 Best Albums of the 90s.” Chances are most folks have heard of just about every other band on that list save Pavement, and their influence on the alternative music scene of the 21st century is everywhere apparent. But, if you ask were to ask the late Mark E. Smith of The Fall he would say: “it’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”* But it’s hard agree with Smith given how many awesome songs Pavement laid down, and below are just a few. Previously I would have implored you listen to them in a Pumpkin-free environment, but nothing gold can stay 🙂

And there are many more where those came from should you care to take the leap.

*After reading tone of Mark E. Smith’s final interviews before his death, it is nice to see he lost none of his spunk.

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The great Chris Lott (most recently of Katexic fame) shared a post with me titled “Small b blogging” by Tom Critchlow that had some pretty salient points about why you should blog. I’m gonna share a few below that resonated—but I highly recommend you read the entire post. He starts with the example of a couple of posts he wrote that had over 2000 and 1000 views respectively, which struck me cause I was like, “Really? That’s nothing.” And that was the point, it only seems like nothing because we have become enthralled by sheer numbers and scale and volume has become the only thing truly valued by networks like YouTube (“How many subscribers? How many views?”), Twitter (“How many followers?”), and Facebook/Instagram (“How many likes?”). It’s a race to the bottom. Critchlow defines his idea of small b blogging as a network designed on and for a personal scale: 

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

It’s interesting, and Critchlow nails my contempt for Medium and other “blog networks” when he explains the allure behind what he frames as big B blogging:

….much of what you read on the web is written for large audiences. Too much content on the web is designed for scale, for sharing, for gloss and finish. It’s mass media, whether it’s made by a media company or an individual acting like one. So when people think of blogging their natural reference point is create something that looks like the mass media they’re consuming. Content designed for pageviews and scale.

This is why it’s appealing to people writing on the web to get it in a prestigious publication, or place it somewhere with an in-built audience. i.e. Medium, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Company etc.

And for me that is the kicker, most folks treat their blog as if it were some kind of glossy headshot of their thinking, whereas the beauty and freedom of blogging was that it was by design a networked tool. Blogging provides a space to develop an online voice, connect with a particular network, and build a sense of identity online in conjunction with others working through a similar process. Scale in many ways became a distraction, one which was magnified to such a degree by the hype around MOOCs in edtech that anything less that 10s of thousands of “users,” “learners,” “participants,” followers,” etc. was tacitly considered somehow less than optimal for effective online learning. It was, and remains, a symptom of the capital-driven ethos of Silicon Valley that places all value on scale and numbers which is rooted in monetization—a reality that has infected edtech and helped to undermine the value and importance of forging an independent voice and intimate connections through what should be an independent media of expression. When scale is the endgame the whole process becomes bogged down in page views, followers, and likes rather than the freedom to explore and experiment with your ideas online. It’s a uniquely web-based version of Hell where the dominant form of communication online is a Medium think piece written by your friendly neighborhood thought leader.

In some ways Critchlow’s piece highlights the real value of the “back to the blog” moment that seems to be discussed here and there by folks. It provides an opportunity to re-direct some of the energy invested in the massive scale platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Medium, etc. and re-invest that labor on a personal scale. Because, in the end, small b blogging is as much about launching a full frontal assault on the armies of annoying thought leaders gentrifying the blogosphere as it is about self-expression, experimentation and deep connections. bavatuesdays is a “b” blog, after all 🙂

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Fellowship of the SPLOT

We are big fans of the SPLOT at Reclaim Hosting, and Alan Levine has been doing a ton of work developing and managing these tools over the last couple of years. Not so much because folks are paying him too, but because that’s who he is. He follows his interests and over-sized heart from fun project to funner project, living the life of a nomad edtech. Not so much “The Man Without a Name” as “The Man without an Institution”—but damn that creep can blog! I guess if you have a good enough blog you don’t need an institution 🙂

Anyway, Alan’s tireless work around SPLOTs is something we have wanted to build on top of at Reclaim for a while now. Specifically, we want to be able to package up SPLOTs as individual apps that someone can install with one click. Alan has been maintaining a number of SPLOTs on our demo server StateU that are available as variables on top of WordPress:


But when Alan joined us in Fredericksburg for our Workshop of One’s Own to talk SPLOTs in March, we made some headway on making each tool a stand-alone app that can be showcased in cPanel alongside WordPress, Omeka, etc.

Big Picture Calling Card SPLOT as its own application

And the idea is to try and get a series of these SPLOTs in cPanel dashboards across our shared hosting and institutional servers, not only to give folks access to these tools—although definitely that—but also in hopes people will see what’s possible and make their own SPLOTs that can in turn be shared back for others to use. In this way Reclaim could help provide a hub to distribute these “tiny teaching tools” (to misquote Tom Woodward). So, that’s the plan, and to buttress Alan’s efforts and hopefully make it more widely available to others we have started a year-long fellowship at Reclaim in order to support Alan’s work with SPLOTs for the next 12 months. And, as it will be no surprise to anyone who follows his blog, Alan has been bobbing blogging and weaving all kinds of SPLOT goodness.


The House that 106 Built

A post shared by Jim Groom (@jim.groom) on

Being able to support the efforts of independent edtechs like Alan Levine is exactly what Reclaim Hosting was born to do—it is, after all, the house that 106 built! And, hopefully, we can do more of just this kind of thing in the future.

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“Video Killed the Radio Star” at Reclaim Hosting

Lauren posted about this back in January when we first got the art because she is better than me, but Reclaim Hosting‘s site has undergone a subtle re-branding from vinyl to VHS. We launched the new art for our site back in April when we unveiled the Reclaim Video project at OER18. The idea is that the shelf is getting a bit more cluttered 🙂 Next to the vinyl you have those upstart VHS tapes demand some of the real estate. The new logo is a VHS tape, but if you look close enough, all the elements of the vinyl are still there, which was quite brilliant on Bryan Mathers part—surprise, surprise.

The tape is now replacing the record on the site, but the easter egg is still fully operational:

The art is pretty much inline with our aesthetic, so perhaps rebranding is too strong a characterization—but it does feel like a new look for me. I particularly like the way shared hosting packages are re-imagined:

Almost works better than the albums, and the single VHS tape with a blank label is something we still need to play with. Bryan worked on a tool that would basically right a URL on the label, something like this:

Or even better , this 🙂

So, when you create your site for the first time at Reclaim Hosting the splash page could be this VHS tape with your domain name 🙂 This might be something we need to return to sometime soon. As usual, I am completely enamored with Bryan Mathers handy work, and it is the collaboration that just keeps on giving.

Posted in art, reclaim, Reclaim Video | Tagged , , | 4 Comments