On Friday I got the chance to sit down with a few folks at University of Washington, Bothell who are exploring ways to build community online while working on the open web. Todd Conaway—who is working with this group to “scale to small”—has been reaching out to folks in his network to see if they would share their epiphanies in and around open education. Todd and I met through ds106 so it was a logical starting point for a shared epiphany, but as I was thinking through what led me to ds106 I went deeper down the rabbit hole of RSS and syndication, which in many ways was the true epiphany.
An extra special surprise was seeing Chris Lott amongst the participants in this session. Chris has played a gigantic role in my own education around the web and edtech over the last 15 years, so in many ways the experience I was recounting was at least partially shared. His amazing Motley Reads, early understanding of microblogging (hence the rise of Twitter and Tumblr), the many brilliant, lost blog posts (oh to be his blog’s Edwin Muir), and brilliant newsletters, etc. The list goes on and on. Chris is a true hero of edtech for me even if he might cringe at the very idea.
So, having him there was amazing, but the only problem was no one asks me to speak anymore, so when they do I can’t seem to stop 🙂 But I did try and recount the lore around Eduglu and some of the ideas that I was working towards that resulted in the collaborative projects like UMW Blogs, ds106, and Domain of One’s Own, but there were also many more smaller projects along the way like Reading Capital. It’s all of a piece in my mind, and so much of it was born from the promise of syndication, even well after those feed-shaped embers were smoldering. In fact, centrality of RSS and the lore of Eduglu hit me the morning before my chat, so I reached out to Brian Lamb for a more precise history of Eduglu, which he provided in DM, but not in time for my talk cause he seems to value his sleep, which was disappointing 🙂 But Brian is my favorite historian of edtech’s secret histories, and he did share some specifics that are much better than what I suggest in my chat:
EduGlu was a riff off of a tool called SuprGlu – which would mesh a blog, Flickr and delicious feed into a portal, and an aggregated feed. Downes had something called Edu_RSS – which was an aggregator of a bunch of RSS feeds. For the MERLOT conference he created a site that filtered “MERLOT” references and then he embedded the output into a pirated MERLOT page. EduGlu was the effort to take these sorts of things to create integration for courses – loosely joining the small pieces.
The small pieces loosely joined was a huge part of that push, and the idea of syndicating folks into a sense of community was the epiphany I needed, and it was in Vancouver, Canada that I finally saw that light at Northern Voice 2007. But there were many people thinking through this well before then, Brian Lamb has a post from 2005 where he talks about an aggRSSive feed cocktail of technologies to get at the Eduglu formula. And D’Arcy Norman wrote quite a bit about Eduglu on his blog, particularly this “Clarification on Eduglu” that is really useful for sussing out what it was and where some of the ideas had come from. I dare say it sucked more than a few rattled edtech’s down the syndication drain, The promise of RSS truly felt like a radical alternative when I started to find my legs in the field, and it was the route I would travel because I had some amazing Canadian mentors—I’ve never regretted that choice.*
So, this chat was my attempt to communicate some of the excitement of that moment—warts and all—as well as touch on the fact that something similar is kind of happening with video for me right now (hence the reference to Jitsi and PeerTube at the very beginning and end). But the best minute or two of the whole session was when Chris Lott talked a bit about third spaces and the morphing nature of media literacy towards the end of the chat, which I have clipped and highlighted below because it is awesome:
It is also worth noting that Jane Van Galen, an original Bothel band of merry pranksters, came to this session and shared some of the amazing work she did with here Media Literacies course after attending a Connected Courses event with Alan Levine at UC Irvine several years ago. It is quite cool to see these ideas still percolating, and the underlying vision of syndication and aggregation is still very much at the heart of what we are trying to imagine when it comes to community at Domains schools, so in many ways it has never left—and I’m still excited to see what we can dream up with TV and radio to create small, localized communities much like Todd is doing at Bothell. Avanti!
*Special thanks to Brian Lamb for providing so many of these links and providing the back story I failed to mention with any detail in this chat, so think of this blog post as an attempt to set the record straight a bit for the folks who were part of this chat.