The Personal in Indie

Against my better judgement, I’ve been temporarily expatriated from my heavily guarded mountain compound in Italy to slum amongst the Trump loving scum in the U.S. God I hate this country! But enough about the King, let’s talk Indie Ed”-“Tech. This past weekend a bunch of folks descended upon Davidson College to talk about a series of ideas and possibilities that have been percolating in the field of educational technology for a few years now. Special thanks to Adam Croom and Kristen Eshleman for making it all possible through adroitly organizing and focusing our time together.

2016/366/79 Best Binary Literary Tattoos in the Universe

There is a lot to talk about, and luckily many people have already done it far better than I can, so let me take you through a brief review of the event literature thus far. In terms of primary resources, Audrey Watter’s talk“I Love My Label”  which kicked-off the event was phenomenal—I will return to it at the end of this post—but that’s an awesome starting point.


Kin Lane  followed Audrey with a workshop on APIs, and the site he created at “The Personal API and Indie Ed”-“Tech” is a veritable treasure trove of resources about how APIs inform the discussion of Indie.


Alan Levine wrote the first reflective post on the event because he’s the last of the Bloghicans, and it was cool to see how Kin and Audrey’s indie magic has begun to get the dog inspired—the blog wags the tail.

Adam Croom at the Mic

Adam Croom was next up with a 3-part opus on the event, highlighting the ways Audrey and Kin framed Indie Ed”-“Tech, the all-day Design Sprint, and finally a post on futures and funding. If Adam Croom’s blog hasn’t become a staple for you yet, I can only wonder why. The work he and his team have done at Oklahoma with OU Create is quickly becoming the stuff of Ed”-“Tech legend. UMW may have invented Domain of One’s Own, but OU is perfecting it. Wanna know what one flavor of indie ed”-“tech looks like? Just take a peek at their group, empowering a community, highlighting the awesome work, pounding the pavement, doing class visits, touring the campus, and bringing the good word to the people. The proof is always in the work. An indie ed”-“tech spends her life getting into tense situations.

Tim Klapdor framed the encounter as the beginnings of a journey to explore the protean idea of Indie Ed”-“Tech, the becoming of a creative, exploratory process from which a culture may emerge and grow—an opportunity the MOOCs never got because they quickly became an over-hyped silver bullet to solve the world’s problems. Klapdor’s idea that “Indie Ed-tech is infrastructure that supports scholarly agency and autonomy” is brilliantly stated, and he goes on a bit of a tear from there:

Indie represents an alternative vision for how technology might operate in education. The Indie mindset challenges and changes the existing power distribution and dynamics that are often at the heart of the issues we face. It emphasises networked rather than centralised practices and the relationships built through collaboration and cooperation. It empower users by allowing for greater choice, diversity and individual representation and expression.

Those vegemite sandwiches are no joke!

But that’s not all, no, that’s not all! There’s more, and this time the reflections come from a grad student in Education at BYU Olga Belikov, whom I first met 5 years ago on #ds106radio thanks to Bryan Jackson (as an aside, his recent post on Taylor Swift songs rules). So, a high school senior from Vancouver in 2011 is now researching and writing about indie edtech—how awesome. She wrote two posts, one about Audrey’s “I Love My Label” keynote and another about Kin’s Personal API workshop, read both. Pull quote:

Indie Ed-Tech to me is about equity, about accessibility. It’s about working against the institutional culture that precludes those who want to learn from doing so by limiting their access to knowledge.


Technology isn’t an industry disruptor in education, it enable networks that we could never have dreamed up before. My romance with ed-tech began with my experiences that led me to see the capacity that technology has to create connected learning environments. We have that capacity to create distributed knowledge networks and indie ed-tech can enable these networks. Even within an intimate gathering of few individuals at Davidson, I was able to see my pre-existing learning networks clash and grow.

I’m getting verklempt over here.

And then that hack Watters was at it again, not only did she lay down the gospel, but she resurfaced for a homily in her post on the weekend framing what Indie Ed”-“Tech need not be:

Ed-tech need not be exploitative. Ed-tech need not be extractive. Ed-tech need not be punitive. Ed-tech need not be surveillance. Ed-tech need not assume that the student is a cheat. Ed-tech need not assume that the student has a deficit. Ed-tech need not assume that learning can be measured or managed. Ed-tech need not scale.

And last post I have read was by Tim Owens’ reflections on the weekend.

In The Time I Got My Coffee, I Bet Tim Owens Answered Three Helpdesk Tickets

You can play to an audience of your peers in a living room and that in and of itself can be its own reward. We need not have stages filled with passionate fans, it’s perfectly acceptable to build small, tight-knit communities that are personal and intimate.


I’d hoped that whatever we imagined possible we could make equitable and accessible by resisting an urge to have it be any one big thing. A modular approach to Indie Ed-Tech is, in my eyes, absolutely necessary.


Questions remain about sources of funding for innovation, but personally I’m less concerned about that than a deeper drive to continue building a powerful community that can contribute to this space in greater ways. This event reinforced for me that the conversations we’re having are absolutely relevant.

Those Reclaim Hosting people are smart!

The Great Tom Woodward

I think that’s my recap of the literature thus far, but this post is already too long so let me try and be brief with my own take aways from the weekend. An Indie Ed”-“Tech anything as well as the API to go along with it has to be personal. And I mean this in the Tom Woodward sense of the word, which is Alabamese for weird. If whatever you are doing doesn’t get you excited, it’s probably not all that personal. Tom Woodward’s Insta Snoop
is for me a model of the personal API. Insta Snoop looks “at Snoop Dogg’s Instagram followers and plot their change very 10 minutes.”


Tom grabbed the data from Snoop’s Instagram and mapped it to a Google Spreadsheet to map the scale of celebrity social media follow rates. This is a fascinating form of data/digital literacy, it is intensely purpose, and it makes APIs and data interesting. It’s a riff, or a song, or a story. It’s playful and thoughtful at once. It gets us away from coming up with a spec to define a thing. That will and should happen, but if we start there we are doomed.

The other point that really blew my mind this weekend was Audrey’s reframing of the whole idea of “personalized learning” as an algorithm to make everything the same was nothing short of masterful recasting of the current data-driven nightmare in ed”-“tech to challenge the idea of personalized being sold presently:

Like all sorts of industries, music and education alike are now supposed to bow to the new insights discoverable thanks to “big data.” Algorithms and analytics will “personalize” our world, we’re told. The problem, of course, is that the algorithms and the analytics also make everything sound the same. That’s the business: a neoliberal mirage around “choice.” Standardization. A familiar and managed image. Profiled. Labeled.

Her whole riff on how the music industry, and by analogy education, is pushing towards creating and predicting some imaginary “perfect song” effectively demonstrates how our obsession with data is removing any sense of personalization from the experience.  I particularly love the poles of personal between Tom’s Insta Snoop and Audrey’s Insta Hit. Both strike me as so sharp, so creative, so insightful, and so full of desire to stop the madness.


I stole all of the above pictures from both Tom Woodward and Alan Levine’s Flickr streams unless otherwise noted 🙂

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One Response to The Personal in Indie

  1. Kin Lane says:

    Do you have a tower on your mountain top? I want a tower. 😉

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