The Credit She Never Gets

Earlier today I posted a quick video about using the ds106 assignments repository to create engagement in an online learning experience. To be clear there are many things that go into such an experience, but I’ve found the ds106 assignment repository has allowed me to re-think ds106 over the last year and a half. The ability to syndicate filtered assignment posts, rate the difficulty level,  relate tutorials, and create new assignments puts the course in the unique position to allow students to shape the experience. The simple act that has proven powerful, fun, and created a sense of community.

The current state of the assignment repository came out of an experimental model Martha Burtis has been iterating on since December 2010. It’s pretty amazing because that was the beginning of the idea of ds106 as open architecture, a space that others can build sites onto, like Alan Levine’s Remix site, Tim Owens’ Daily Create, and Linda McKenna and Rachel McGuirk’s Inspire site.

What’s more, when you think about MOOCs, and ds106 more specifically—which isn’t all that MOOCy—Martha is rarely mentioned. Credit is a tricky thing, and I think Martha would be the last person to really care about all that. That said, she was in Spring 2011 building and teaching an open online course that would be massive in its conception 🙂

Soon after I became director of DTLT I’ve depended on Martha for advice, guidance, and direction—and she regularly abides. She shares her vast experience freely despite the fact she doesn’t get credit for her work as director of DTLT from 2006 to 2008, her seminal role in ds106 (she made the Summer of Oblivion; I failed the Magic MacGuffin), her deft WordPress coding skills, and her strategic acumen that has kept DTLT relevant and on the edge for years she refuses to be phased. She’s been the organizational and strategic mind running DTLT , and her leadership has been all too often overlooked. So here is a little know secret about the truth on the ground here at DTLT: Martha Burtis is the brains of the organization.

Just the other day while we were figuring out how to help UMW’s current Quality Enhancement Plan (a.k.a. QEP) figure out why they were going to pay a contractor way too much money to transform pre-packaged content in to three online modules (not sure how this idea emerged) covering speaking, writing, and library search skills respectively. The pre-fabricated modules would have a definitive lifespan, there would be no space for iteration, and it would ultimately be resources wasted. Within 10 minutes Martha adeptly refocused the conversation to experimenting with a publishing platform. And rather than rushing to get everything done as soon as possible, we test out one or two individual “lessons” online to see what works. Once we learn how faculty use this in their curriculum, and what would be most useful going forward we’ll make recommendations for developing a platform over the Summer. Hopefully that will be something we can build out from WordPress or MediaWiki or some other similar application, adding to the open ecosystem of options. That’s exactly how you want to run a meeting like this. This is the best possible outcome: experimentation, iteration, and open. Thanks to Martha (and Jerry after her) DTLT has been doing that for years, but this is only just a little of the credit she never gets. I guess we have to start somewhere.

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13 Responses to The Credit She Never Gets

  1. All hail Martha! For her killer (literally) acting skills, for her ginsu knife WordPress coding awesomeness, and from what I can see from afar her endless energy to help chariot the glorious ride called DTLT.

  2. Martha has had a profound affect on my work at UMW. She puts me in my place when I need it, and she supports me whenever I turn to her. Her mind is capable of quickly analyzing the needs of a situation, and then articulating a solution in record time. I have learned more from Martha than from any one person at UMW. Martha is a Mary Washington grad, by the way, and if there ever were a cover story for the alumni magazine, she’s it.

  3. Laura says:

    Yay, Martha! I’m a better person for knowing and working with her.

  4. Andy Rush says:

    I would think that all of this is making Martha slightly uncomfortable, but it all needs to be said. Martha has been a pillar of DTLT for quite a while (I was quite glad to get her back after of brief hiatus in Montana). We all share the vision of what DTLT should be, but there is no one who can articulate that vision better. Martha is genius.

  5. Mikhail says:

    Bow down before Martha!

  6. Boone says:

    Hooray for Martha!

  7. Jerry says:

    I could not agree more. Better than all this though, I can call her my friend.

  8. Ben says:

    Besides the wonderful words that you’ve written in honor of Martha, for whom I’m eternally grateful for the tinkering behind ds106 (you rock Martha!), I think there’s something else here that bears a bit more digging. Why is it that so many large companies and organizations (non-profits and educational institutions included) are content to “farm out” the tinkering, resource, and experimentation? Isn’t that what the university should be supporting? If you haven’t done the tinkering yourself, do you really understand what you have on yours hands, or further more, do you even realize “it” when you have it?

    What’s the point of education, if you’re not going to try to understand a problem first, then tackle it? Three cheers for Martha for exploring where the university should have!

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  10. Gardner says:

    Yes, to all of the above. As far as I’m concerned, Martha Burtis is a champion through and through. Thanks for this post, Jim.

    The day Martha contacted me, way back in 2004, to ask if there were any openings in DTLT–well, that was a great day, for all of us. My thanks to Chip German, as ever, for helping to make Martha’s hiring a reality.

    One day I’ll tell you all about Martha, John Donne, and a name in the window…. Stay tuned.

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