Just another hole-in-the-wall

Image credit: omphale44‘s “Puerto Rico- Old San Juan Fortress Wall”

I’m on the plane back from three days in beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I figured I’d try and capture it before it slips away—something which unfortunately happened with OpenEd 09. As I already noted here, I was invited down to San Juan by Antonio Vantaggiato and Doribel Rodriguez of the Universidad de Sagrado Corazòn (a.k.a. USC) to talk about the veritable WPMu Syndication Bus (which I have been riding shamelessly from conference to conference recently—but more on that anon) along with Mario Núñez of UPR Mayaguez.

Mario’s discussion was centered on a powerful metaphor framed around Dr. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole-in-the-Wall” experiment in impoverished neighborhoods throughout India (you can here Dr. Mitra talking about this during his Ted Talk here). He framed the power of this experiment and then examined how educational blogging communities like UPR Mayaguez’s Edublogs RUM, UBC Blogs, PSU Blogs, Blogs@Baruch, etc., are all “Holes in the Institutional Wall,” ways of not only peering into what’s happening at these schools making their walls far more porous, but also emphasizing the power of these platforms to provide the occasion for discovery, interaction, and sharing.

What was clear from the short PBS Frontline documentary (ironically PBS is doing their video with Real Media Player–not so open and accessible) about Mitra’s experiment in India that Mario showed had Mitra articulating two basic conditions for self-organized and passionate learning in the case of the “Hole-in-the-Wall” experiment: 1) Access to the computer has to be entirely free and open, and 2) there can be no restrictions or limitations on what kids are allowed to do with the computer provided. Sounds relatively simple, but in many ways it is absolutely antithetical to how we think about computers and learning with in our schools currently. And our ideas of conditions, regulations, filters, and moralizing about the horrors of the internet may be at the very heart of what is sucking the blood of passion out of our own institutional conceptions of technology and learning. It reminds me of Tom Woodward’s phenomenal post on learning and serendipity, which frames this issue far better than I can here. In short, I cannot stress enough how important Mario’s vision of a future world that is premised on free and open access continues to both inspire and push my thinking beyond the little, more oblique experiments I find myself chasing down endless rabbit holes.

What’s more, the faculty and students at the USC are not only excited and ready for the implications of Mario’s message, but they are an outstanding ground that is being organized and focused by the remarkable stewardship of Antonio and Doribel. These two make a wonderful team, and it is more than apparent as soon as you arrive at USC, just how much they have done for the community at this university. They’ve brought in wide range of speakers to engage the community on a wide range of issues that are emerging with the new web.  They have also design and cultivate spaces on campus were these conversations and re-imagining of the possibilities can happen for this community. They are spurring a community of thought that represents all that is best about the university. And I can only begin to articulate just how wonderful it feels to be treated like a member of their family throughout my stay, these are world class people who not only have a vision for their community, but have the energy and passion to make it happen.

And that energy becomes more than apparent when you spend a little bit of time in the STEMmED headquarters at USC, it was filled with students who were sharing, playing, and wondering. And like m trips to UBC over the last two years or so, Antonio and Doribel have brought together a cadre of students like Fredo, Hector del Manzano, and Giancarlo who are excited about the possibilities, and more than up to the task of turning the STEMmED Blogs project into a vibrant online publishing platform for the USC community, and beyond.  It reminds me a lot of sitting down with Andre Malan two years ago and shooting these ideas back and forth and coming away as excited as I’d ever been about the possibilities of the bus, no matter what form it takes.

Which leads me to the highlight of the trip for me in many ways (besides spending the evening with Doribel and her husband Jamie—who were amazing hosts, cooks, and lay claim to a full-fledged rain forest in their back yard—what a sight!) was being invited by Antonio to speak to the students in his New Digital Media course for an hour about the design and conception of the syndication bus we are running at UMW Blogs. I really enjoyed myself for that hour, and truly felt swept away by thinking about this stuff with a group of students who seemed genuinely interested in what we’re doing with UMW Blogs. It was really a joy, and I can’t thank Antonio enough for giving me the opportunity. The idea of the classroom may be continually changing, but there is always something special about stepping back in the ring after an extended absence. The students hey are blogging for this course, and when they brought up their blog I was a bit surprised to find Alan’s post feature the original EDUPUNK himself, and to hear them laugh at the picture was awesome because it reminded me of the whole spirit of the thing when it first got rolling.

I bitch and moan a lot, and I shoot my mouth of about UMW Blgos weighing me down or hating edtech, but when I stop and think for a second after the experience I had in San Juan these last three days, I am reminded just how lucky I am that I enjoy this stuff so much, and I also have to remember that it won’t last and the ideas are only as good as the people behind them, and the people I have come into contact with over the last four years have been some of the best I’ve yet to meet during my life. What’s more, I’ve been pretty good at promoting the promise of WPMu, syndication, giving students and faculty their own space, making them stewards of their online identities, etc. But I was reminded by Antonio  this past week just how much this is all born out of the culture of UMW right now, and particularly Chip German, Gardner Campbell, Martha Burtis, Jerry Slezak, Andy Rush (actually, not Andy cause I am still mad at him for loving Bionic teaching more than the bava), Patrick Murray-John, and Lisa Ames, all of who are all making this stuff congeal and have been laying the foundation for years before “the Reverend” even arrived on the scene.

I tried to take  pains in my OpenEd 2009 talk “The Design of Openness” to talk about how the syndication bus was always already a shared, collaborative project amongst many people over many years, but because I yell so loud and so often it’s often mistakenly framed as somehow my idea. It isn’t, it’s simply a way of thinking about this stuff that many people are constantly championing, and the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) at UMW is fortunate enough to have one of the most focused, innovative, and complementary group of people working together to make what we’re doing that much more accessible to anyone who is interested.  I’ve been standing on the shoulders of so many people this last year, but I want to particularly acknowledge how much of this work is germane to the group I’m a just a small part of, the unique contributions of everyone at DTLT in partnership with the  faculty and students at UMW is what makes so many of our ideas and experiments materialize on a daily basis.  UMW’s model for partnering with a wide range of faculty and investing in instructional technology personnel, rather than systems, is unparalleled in my opinion—and I believe the dividends it’s paying is readily apparent.  Why don’t more schools realize this? Maybe because the business model of higher ed doesn’t value people, it values cheap labor and benefit free systems over flesh and blood thinkers? Perhaps, but it’s no surprise to me that Antonio understands the value of this, and it seems to be exactly what he is trying to foster at USC, and the same thing os true of what Mario is doing at UPR Mayaguez.

So, here is to Antonio, Doribel, and all the students and faculty at Sagrado, who are currently embarking on a syndication bus experiment in STEMmEd Blogs in order to take another brick out of the wall, an open up a hole into the community of thought at USC.

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3 Responses to Just another hole-in-the-wall

  1. Hey, it was a pleasure having you, it was fun and I hope to see you again sometime! Thanks for coming, I as well as everyone else really appreciate it!

  2. Hey Jim, I know it is kind of late for posting this comment now but it was a pleasure having you at our class. The little conference you gave us was really interesting. I didn’t know we can do so much with so little. Now question that I have for you – do you think in the near future there will be an application in which we all can create one log-in for everything: banks, blogs, e-mail, instant messaging? or will there be security issues to do that?

    Glad you enjoyed your stay at Nuestra Isla del Encanto! Take care.

  3. Reverend says:


    Never too late, and thanks for the comment, I had a blast in Puerto Rico. As for the single sign-on across all one;s services, there are some attempts at this like things with OpenID, which works with a number of services like Yahoo, Flickr, WordPress, etc. But I wonder when and if it will integrate with banking and the like. All the attempts thus far seem to have some buy in, but not across the board. The real solution would be to allow each person to host and control their own identity/authentication concerns across all their spaces. It isn’t the case yet, and this would take some imagining beyond my small mind—but I think it is the way forward, and it integrates beautifully with the idea of a richer, more personalized digital identity. And more importantly, you need to control that space, not the various services we use.

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