Bryan Ollendyke talks ELMS, Web Components, HAX, and more

Last Friday I invited Bryan Ollendyke on to discuss some of his work.* I actually had an agenda for this conversation, and that might be why it came in at over 2 hours long. I wanted to try and map the chronology and development of the interesting edtech work Bryan and his team have been doing at Penn State University since 2007. I love stories with a beginning, middle and end, and I wanted to try and craft something like that for this discussion. And frankly, I think it was fairly successful. 

Bryan’s work arc is very interesting to me because I think he is traveling a path professionally that I deeply relate to: he started with Drupal in 2007, started contributing open source code, built out ELMS in 2009, imagined a next generation LMS with the ELMS Network in 2011-2012, re-imagined the whole project and abstracted out the editor (HAX) as a headless web authoring experience using web components roughly 5 years later, and is now building a CMS on top of this work that is one of the few prototypes of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE), what has up and until now been more an idea than anything resembling a reality.† It’s an evolving narrative for sure, but I think there is so much to be learned from it.  The value of open source, the power of a locked-in group of edtech true believers, the long struggle through various technological approaches, and the importance of remaining open to what’s next. Bryan is a joy to talk to, and he has no shortage of things to say or opinions, which I love. That said I do not expect anyone has two hours to spare so let me highlight two riffs from the talk. One is Bryan definition of web components,  which I think is really clear and useful if you are new to the concept at it starts at 37 minutes into the following audio.

The other moment I recommend is at 1 hour and 35 minutes (1:35:00) when Bryan starts talking about the future of edtech and explains what a shift to the NGDLE could mean more broadly for education in terms of liberating higher ed technologies from vendor lock-in. The idea being that containerization allows for the ability to abstract the web beyond any one technology tool so that you can release options across a diverse set of environments. It’s all still a bit abstract, at least for me as I slouch towards Bethlehem, but there is a sense of a future in what Bryan is articulating here. 

In fact, Bryan’s mention of Duke University’s Kits sent me back to that project, and through my research I found Jolie Tingen’s post from 2017 when she talks about her time at the uAPI conference sponsored by BYU. It’s interesting because Jolie is the product manager of Kits at Duke, and she talks about going to uAPI with Michael Greene and quickly this lattice of coincidence is not so coincidental—the next generation of edtechs are working on a next generation learning environment and it is pretty awesome. What’s more, the centrality of a fairly small, highly technical unconference like uAPI has been seminal in the emergence of these alternative futures, and I can not speak highly enough about the work happening at BYU under the leadership of Phil Windley and the now CIO of Utah Valley University Kelly Flanagan. The amazing work at BYU around thinking through APIs early on will prove to be some of the quietest, but more important, thinking around the architects of the future for universities more broadly. I think next year’s event might be focused around what it means to communicate the emerging field of edtech for folks who can begin to translate it to and for their communities. uAPI is in need of a bigger tent for more folks to jump on the bus.

There is a movement afoot and it could be really interesting for all kinds of reasons, and Bryan has been one of the most strident, committed voices about a world after the monolithic LMS.

*I originally was planning to cross-cast to ds106radio, but that was an epic fail, much like my Kraftwerk cross-cast yesterday.  

†Another example of the NGDLE in practice is Duke University’s Kits.

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