WordCampEd: Permanent Revolution

Image Credit: WordPress Revolution by Tom Woodward

Note: All images not otherwise noted come from Gowtham’s stream from WordCampEd

The inaugural WordCampEd in DC has come and gone, and it was a total blast to be a part of this unconference. Hats off to Dave Lester for organizing this event, which was a huge success and is already being reproduced around North America. I plan on making the Vancouver event, which dovetails nicely with Northern Voice this year (good thinking D’Arcy), and I hope there’s a WordCampEd in NYC sometime soon so I have an excuse to go home 🙂

One of the key issues for me about such an event is the balancing of the application with the very serious issues we face as educators and educational institutions when it comes to the radically changing nature of publishing more generally. That is why it was such a pleasure to meet Cole Camplese and Brad Kozlek from Penn State University at this WordPress-centered event. Cole runs one of the most impressive instructional technology groups around, and his and Brad’s work with PSU Blogs (which runs on Movable Type) is unbelievable. Speaking with Cole helped me focus even more on what is key—as so many of his blog posts already have—the most important aspect of what we do is conceptual and needs to be supported by a platform of openness, regardless of the application, that makes the possibilities for sharing resources easy, transparent, flexible, and continuous….the permanent revolution! Cole is a foremost mind in this field, and after speaking with him on Saturday I now know first-hand why—he is insanely attuned to the instructional technology space and its crucial intersection with the changing state of publishing at large. Just hearing him talk about how the work the New York Times is doing to relate readers to one another can be imagined for a university blogging system is exciting to say the least. He is doing phenomenal stuff at a school with 80,000+ students and has integrated his platform at all levels of the IT organization, which in my mind answers any and all questions about whether this stuff scales. Sure it does, if you have the right kind of visionary thinkers involved in the administration, and PSU (along with UBC) is a “City Upon a Hill” when it comes to this. I look forward to an ongoing relationship with Cole and his group, UMW needs to learn from their incorporation of innovation into the daily work they do, for it has been continually mind blowing.

The morning sessions were nicely distributed. Jeremy Boggs presentation framed how to think of a single blog space as a way to re-imagine a course site using plugins such as ScholarPress Coureswre and WPBook. Jeff McClurken framed a whole bunch of the work (links here) he is doing with WordPress in his courses, and reflected quite pwoerfully on how it is changing his conceptualization of how he approaches teaching and learning with his students more generally—amazing stuff. Jane Wells from Automattic presented on the new layout and features of WordPress 2.7—which looks to pretty impressive—and I have to say Jane is herself quite passionate about the educational space and the impact an application like WordPress can make on it. And i have to say it was both a pleasure and relief to speak with her about how irrational educational folks can sometimes be 😉 Finally, Rob Pongsajapan from Georgetown’s CNDLS framed the road for universities to actually get up and running with WordPress Multi-User in his presentation, which was an important talk that lead to some great conversation afterwards about Ponies and the like.

And then there was the reverend! 🙂 I spent a good amount of time leading up to this presentation working with Tom Woodward, who is far too patient and indulgent with his genius, on ideas.  We came up with a full-on sermon in the preacher’s regalia, dressing up as Thomas Jefferson to deliver the EDUPUNK “Declaration of Independence,” and even a BavaMan superhero with the appropriate black tights and silver cape. But, when push came to shove, I just didn’t have the time and energy to make it as crazy as we both knew it should have been, it was my fourth presentation in three weeks and I was running out of stamina. Nonetheless, we holed up on Friday night and Tom painstakingly listened to my ideas and helped me build something I am proud of, and I really can’t over-emphasize how key Tom Woodward has become to my thinking and creative process over the last 10 months. He is an amazing collaborator, friend, and thinker, and I value his help tremendously, which he gives far too freely. In many ways, this presentation reflects his thinking as much as it does mine—yet I take responsibility for all its problems, irrationality, and inconsistencies given my last minute approach. One thing that I learned from this presentation is that a good idea, and a philosophical trace is really all you need. It’s easier for me to talk about ideas extemporaneously than try and work with a script. I wrote up much of what I talked about for WordCampEd, and tried to stay to the script at moments to be sure I didn’t go over my time or jettison on one of my unwieldy tangents. The downside of this was that the script also was responsible for a bit of its uneven delivery, I freely admit and apologize for that, but thinking about the very act of presenting and performing is a great learning experience I have had the good fortune to experiment with recently.  Moreover, it was a really rewarding presentation for me because I think it starts to marry the ideas of the “Permament Revolution” I am imagining in regards to Jefferson’s thinking with Brian Lamb’s framing of Radical Reuse. I think these two conceptual approaches work really well together, and I will be pursuing these ideas with more vigor over the next couple of months.

OK, but enough of that, below is an embedded version of my slides (which should have notes) and below that is my presentation script. The audio has arrived (thanks Jerry) and video will be coming shortly thanks to George Brett. Also, I want to thank everyone for the encouragement with what is kind of a departure for me into a bit more of a radical logic. To quote Luke Waltzer, who was quoting Saul Alinsky, I find myself intentionally “rubbing raw the sores of discontent” in the educational realm. For as Luke notes, “when a system is unjust or broken, you must put as much pressure as possible upon it to reveal and proclaim its inadequacies.” Exactly, our system is broke in relationship to the moment we live in and we have to face it and put pressure on that fact to effect some radical change in institutions that are laboring under several generations of doing business that are increasingly outmoded and have reached a point of crisis!

Download “Permanent Revolution” presentation at WordCampEd, Nov 22, 2008

Slides (I have a whole bunch of CC attribution to give, and will be doing that shortly–sorry 🙁 )

Script (this is not necessarily how the presentation went, and there are some real differences between what I said and what I wrote, but the way the two relate is very interesting to me right now):

Permanent Revolution: Jefferson’s idea of the permanent revolution from John Adams series on HBO

Can we relate to this idea today? In fact I think it is germane to what we are currently undergoing when it comes to the intersection of teaching, learning, and technology.

LMS and the question of generational Edtech

Our moment might be characterized by the inconsistent, continuous, and ever-changing flow/nature of publishing. We live at a time where the ability to share one’s ideas with the world at large is unprecedented. How can this not have a dramatic effect not only on the existing archive (and I really do feel bad for any living or future historians), but the way in which we learn, for learning at its core is an exchange, is a means of sharing information freely that (when internalized, reflected upon, and re-worked) might even be understood as knowledge.

Yet, our moment is also chimerical, and it may very well be dangerous to stand here and talk about a single technology. For at the rate of change and innovation our culture is currently undergoing in relationship to technology. We can only truly speak of “the moment” when we refer to technology because we really can’t entirely fathom what’s next, we can hint at it, prophesize, and imagine—but that is all very difficult and limiting if we were simply focusing on an application like WordPress. Yet, such a task becomes easier if we together are dreaming of the future in terms of teaching and learning, while playing with the tools we currently have at our disposal.

WordPress as an application is an important metaphor for this particular moment in publishing. We can think of the WP community as kind of a revolutionary movement that is by no means unified or organized, but rather consists of a larger number of disparate splinter groups: you have your plugin developers theme developers, forum helpers, evangelists, etc. All of whom have individually and collectively developed an application that is increasingly making it trivial for anyone to publish and syndicate text, images, audio, video, and dynamic media of all kinds to the world. Moreover, everyone who publishes now has a personal archive of their work which can be searched an discovered easily with tools like Google. The fact is that the culture surrounding publishing has radically changed in the last 5 years, and one group it impacts dramatically is educators. In many ways their understanding of the very institutions they work within is changing before their eyes, questions about how information is created, interacted with, and disseminated have never been more rich for the re-thinking.

But Why revolutionary? Why this terminology? (I’m channeling my good friend and mentor Gardner Campbell here.)  Why am I such an inciteful son-of-bitch (incite not insight), well because educational institutions have for too long been under the boot of fear.

We are afraid of the new paradigms for publishing, and have let the administrators, lawyers and legislators beat us into a kind of cowardly submission.

Take for example the University system of Tennessee’s recent implementation of a $10 million P2P filtering system….

Or K-12 school like No. VA example that are going to whitelists, they’ve gotten so over the top that they no longer filter sites, but exclude everything by default! How insane is this?

Quote Henry Jenkins here.

But lest we lose hope, there are spaces of resistance. In fact, we are “occupying” one now. The open source project Zotero, developed by GMU’s Center for History and New Media, has recently been accused or “reverse engineering” Thompson Reuters’ Endnote product, and rather than cowering at the claim that a university could “steal” a formatting style, they challenged this preposterous accusation, which are an example of the culture of fear that accompanies a moment of radical change and openness like the one we are currently within.

So, using WordPress as the operating metaphor of revolution here, how do we share our fearlessness? How do we impact this moment for good! Well, here is one example that is particularly near and dear to my heart right now. That highlights the symbiotic relationship between the revolutionary philosophy and the technology.

UMW Blogs –> Longwood Blogs example. What it costs, what it enables, and why it is key!

If it is a real revolution it spreads, when you touch, it is ready to explode, and I felt that recently at Longwood University.

The hardest part of a permanent revolution is sustaining it! And that is what WordCampEd is all about. I applaud David Lester for organizing this event, and applaud each and everyone of you for coming here today and being part of a change that is desperately needed in both K-12 and higher ed.

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5 Responses to WordCampEd: Permanent Revolution

  1. Pingback: WordCamp Ed » Blog Archive » Permanent Revolution at WordCampEd

  2. Cole says:

    Jim … the presentation was excellent and really struck a chord. I know Brad and I spent nearly the entire trip back discussing your ideas. It helped us think about what we are all doing in a new way.

    Thanks for the over-the-top kind words. What I love about playing in this space is that so many people share what they are doing and are happy to just give away great thinking. I loved your example of spinning up another entire University’s blog project in about an hour. The ability to “give it away” is what so many of us love about working in higher education.

    Great preso and an absolute honor to get to meet you in person. Really looking forward to hanging out in Orlando for ELI!

  3. Brad says:

    Thanks for the shout out. I really dug your presentation, both in substance and style. The stuff you are doing with umwblogs is spectacular and I hope not just an inspiration to me, but to many out there.

  4. Tom says:

    I am happy to have known The Jim Groom when he was but a mere mortal.

    In all seriousness, I’m glad to see you getting the recognition you deserve. There’s so much useless crap going on in education. It makes me happy to see you doing real things that matter and being not just open but wide open in terms of sharing how and more importantly why you’d want to do this.

    The costumes would have been fun but would have distracted from the message without really adding anything (other than flash and comedy) so it was a good thing that you ended up doing what you did. It was a great presentation with the right blend of philosophy backed by concrete examples. You are a passionate, passionate man to be sure.

    Working through things with you is always fun and interesting, even though I have to play the role of the heavy. As recompense I will happily take a 20% royalty on all future BavaMan™, EduPunk™ or The Jim Groom™ merchandise sold.

  5. Pingback: Blunt Force Presentation Trauma » CogDogBlog

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