image of person being recorded by video camera

this old learning community

Early this year, it became apparent that, as faculty were figuring out what it meant to create a flexible learning environment, many would turn to media development as a place to begin a whole series of DIY experiments in “transformation.” That meant, despite the prevailing atmosphere of competition and confusion, we, as a community of learning designers, technologists and media producers (who are accustomed to fee for service arrangements) needed to bring our collective skills to the table and figure out how to support a community needing consultation, curated/crafted resources, and inspiration. We felt like we were standing on quicksand and we needed a branch – that was the birth of the DIY Media Learning Community.

Learning communities aren’t really anything new. We have a long tradition of coming together and learning from each other – guilds as far back as the Middle Ages brought members together to exchange ideas and best practices of the day. Today’s learning networks mean that we can leverage online spaces for collaborations without the burdens of time and distance. But effective learning networks also require shifts in thinking. In a dated but succinct summary of this shift, authors Angehrn and Gibbert offer up:

The main shifts involved in the emergence of LNs are from

bureaucracies to networks,
training and development to learning, and
competitive to collaborative thinking.

Read more: Learning Networks – INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, Shift from Bureaucracies to Networks, Shift from Training and Development to Learning – Knowledge, Value, Lns, and Collaboration – JRank Articles

So, we decided to meet monthly in order to do three things:

  • exchange news
  • share something to get feedback on
  • create something together

We created a wiki space where we could easily collaborate on content for feeding into a website – which I created the structure for over the winter break. And we are creating in the open – so that anyone can re-use what we develop/curate.

People show up. Every month. People contribute content to the wiki (some people – this is still a bit of a hard sell). People are taking on roles (running focus groups to get feedback on the resources we are creating, trying out various tools and approaches for creating learning resources for different purposes and writing about the process). Boundaries between traditional roles and turf is breaking down just a smidge. And, it seems like there is less of an air of competition and more an intention of collaboration. People seem OK with a website that is “in development” – building as we go.

Navigating the politics of collaboration with senior management – more on that sometime later. Spoiler alert: when boundaries break down, everything shifts and new value propositions may need to be articulated.

Image of website elements

Websites I like

Image of website elements

a graph of potentially coherent 2 made at: websitesasgraphs

Recently, my colleague Zack Lee and I have been collaborating on a couple of website design projects. These are design by committee projects and (since we work with such engaged and smart people) it is not nearly as painful as it sounds.

A couple of strategies that have worked well so far:

  • consider the motivations of your prospective users – identify as many questions as you can like “what is this about”, “where can I get help?”, etc. etc.
  • cluster motivations until you come up with some themes – which may end up as your main content areas.
  • get clear about what you are offering – services,programs, etc.
  • lead with examples – always helpful to give people a gist of what your site is about.

And, find some inspiration. Here are a few sites you might find inspiring for different reasons:

Sosweet Creative: Simple, clear, aesthetically pleasing design around a theme.

This Changed My Practice: Great example of collaborative content creation – examples up front and an innovative approach to gage impact (using polls).

Mind check: Just a cool, novel approach to navigation.

A List Apart: nothing new here – just a great site with engaging posts about design (if you like to read).

Resource Management Framework

or small pieces thoughtfully joined.  Whether you choose an open resource management framework (like the one my colleagues Novak, Brian and I described at ETUG 2010) or a closed CMS, you’ll likely want to consider workflow – how to author and update in one place and syndicate to many, how to aggregate and join small pieces together to make a coherent whole – depending on your needs and context and how to do all of this on a shoestring budget.  We talked about WordPressMU and Mediawiki as the platforms – joined together (thoughtfully) by the small pieces.

For us, the small pieces consist of:

  • namespaces
  • subpages
  • dynamic page lists
  • embed code

Our wiki page gives the gist of the presentation: Resource Management Framework

And (for a few not so subtle collage references) you can check out these slides on Slideshare

Recently, I’ve put together some supporting screencasts on Screenr  (specific to a recent project using namespaces). You can get a sense of the project shaping up on UBCWiki Learning Commons namespace.


  • there was much interest among the participants in our ETUG session for this approach to content management – bottom line though is openness.  The more protections and locks on content editing you want in place – the higher the cost in making this work. The discussion about open content editing is a thorny one.
  • we are still arguing about the cost of maintaining namespaces subpages (which are sometimes locked for editing among a small group of users)
  • we have some partners in the Library and Faculty of Arts who are trying out this approach in the context of some of their resource development projects.  It will be very interesting to see how these projects unfold over the coming months and what sorts of issues crop up.
  • policies around wiki use (page creation, deletion, etc) needs attention and (ultimately) user contribution to make this work. Some recent issues have brought this to a head.

So, lots of work in progress on this front. Glad to be a part of it!

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Cell phones, ipods and knowing when to quit…



Apparently, some UBC profs are getting sick of competing with cell phones and electronic devices in their classes. The proposed solution? Block wireless access in the classroom!  What? In my mind, this is like using a taser to solve a conflict.  What happened to discussion? Negotiation? Talking about the problem?

At Syracruse University, one such frustrated prof decided to stop teaching when students are texting. This sparked some interesting discussion among the readers of Inside Higher Ed. and (I’m sure) among his colleagues and students.  Maybe this wasn’t the most mature way to handle the problem, but I’m sure he wasn’t the first to feel this way.

I agree that the indiscriminate use of cell phones and other gadgets seems to have led to an epidemic of rudeness that is hard to fathom sometimes. I’ve witnessed genuinely kind and socially responsible people cross that line more than once in meetings and even during conversations and I’ve felt the sting of being on the receiving end of the rude behavior. Am I that boring? Was it something I said? Are you just not interested?

The problem is that we don’t talk about it, examine the consequences or draw our own lines when it comes to using these tools in situations where others are involved. And I can almost here the collective cry the “multi-tasking” is an important and necessary behavior.  I don’t buy it.  Multi-tasking (to the level that we seem to find acceptable these days) is freying us, wearing us down and (probably, in some way) leading to the downfall of civilization (OK, maybe that was an overstatement).  Besides, we’ve always multi-tasked to some extent, or day dreamed or doodled. But when you pull out your cell to text your friend or colleague in the middle of a lecture, or  you subject your fellow bus-riders or grocery line standers to a raging conversation about a wall post gone wrong on Facebook – you’ve crossed a line. Your departure from caring about the people around you has become obvious and (in that sense) it’s just plain rude.

Digital Tattoo: What’s Yours?

UBC's Digital Tattoo Project


Digital Tattoo: What’s Yours? I’m really happy to say that I had a hand in the learning design for this project and it’s near completion now.  It’s a self-guided tutorial, built in WordPress with a focus on digital literacy (at least a beginning).  And the work of the students on this project was nothing short of amazing – especially considering they came in pretty new to the whole concept of digital literacy!

A bog shout out to: Seth Tee (design work and WP “tweaker”), Andre Malan, Liana Popa and Elizabeth Walker (content authors) and colleague Sheryl Adam (UBC Librarian, project lead and an awesome guide).  Thanks to Novak Rogic (web visionary), Brian Lamb (for spreading the word), Margot Bell (student supporter extraordinaire) and our whole project team (C.J., Carol and company) for providing the bones to this piece and the sharp eye to the details (thanks Ramona)!

If you’re interested in the learning design piece, here are the broad strokes:

  • various pathways to get started with the tutorial: based on current behavior (self assessment); following the design of the site OR clicking on a topic of interest.
  • each topic uses guiding questions, case study (or videoclip), key considerations and self assessment questions
  • progress through the tutorial is tracked as self assessment questions are completed.
  • polls are related to each topic and are included for fun and to offer a low stakes way to participate

So, please, have a look…leave your comments, share a useful link….

all for now