Co-claiming and Gathering Together – Developing Read Write Collect

Chris Aldrich on developing a better web

A reflection on developing a site building upon the ideas of the #IndieWeb to bring together all my disparate pieces around the web in one place.


Just when I thought I had enough sites, I decided to create another one. A feed that could be used in a platform like Micro.blog. My intent this time was to create a space where I could reclaim my pieces on the web. In part I was inspired by Tom Woodward’s API driven portfolio, as well as Alan Levine’s concept of co-claiming.

I was also interested in exploring the possibility of WordPress beyond the standard post format and the implications that this has with the choice of themes. Associated with this, I wondered if there was a possibility of automating the sharing of content created elsewhere, such as videos and images.

I started the site by creating three key categories: participation, posts and creations. Each offering the potential to be broken down further.

Participation

My first step was to focus on presentations and publications. This involved transferring my various slides, resources and publications from a single page on my main blog to separate posts. The focus on one page worked in the beginning, but started to become busy as more and more items were added, even if I added Page Jumps.

My next step was to capture the various references and contributions on the web. Similar to what Audrey Watters does with her ‘In the News’ posts. These extracts include:

Although I am still thinking about how I could visually present all these posts to tell a clearer story, as Tom Woodward and Ian O’Byrne have done, I think splitting them into individual posts is more functional. It also means that when I present I can link to resources that might be kept on an event page, rather than continually update a particular blog post all the time.

Posts

When I started Read Write Collect, I wondered about creating a feed of all my posts, whether it be on social media, my Wikity site, contributions to other blogs and posts from this blog. I also wanted to somehow automate this process.

I started by dragging in content from sites that I was no longer using. For example, a few years ago, I created an instance of Known for shorter, incomplete thoughts and ideas. It was framed around the question of ‘what if’? I decided to import this content.

I also decided to make a copy of my two newsletters (Read Write Respond and eLearn Updates) posted in third-party sites, such as Tiny Letter and Global2. I was not sure whether to publish these or to keep them private. However, I made them public and maybe will stop using those other spaces when I have worked out a clear workflow.

In regards to other content spread around the web, such as my Diigo bookmarks and Wikity cards, I have yet to work out how I will manage these pieces. I started exploring Zapier and some built-in solutions, but have since fallen back to IFTTT. I am mindful though of depending on third-party solutions.

For the posts on this site, I have yet to find a workflow I am happy with. In part, I am unsure what Post Kind I should use – Article or Bookmark – and how I would structure each post. I guess I could close the comments and provide a summary, this is something Doug Belshaw does when sharing his DML Central articles, but I am not sure how I would do this for all my 400+ posts, especially as writing extracts has only been a new addition to my process.

It feels that the further I have dived into the site, the more my priorities changed. I began to explore other aspects of the #IndieWeb. I had installed the plugin when I set the site up, something I had done with this site and had therefore done out of habit. However, I started to wonder what else I could do. My desire to automate was replaced by an interest in control over my presence. This led me to start replying to posts from my blog. Although it can be argued that this process involves more effort, it has resulted in me being more mindful of the comments that I leave. This is something Chris Aldrich touches upon in his introduction to the IndieWeb.

Many in the IndieWeb community have found that they post more interesting and thoughtful pieces of content when they’re doing it on their own site rather than the “throw away” content they used to post to sites like Twitter. They feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in what they’re posting about and this can have a profound effect on the future of the internet and its level of civility.

It also touches on Audrey Watters’ call for a more ethical (and equitable) practice in her rethinking of comments:

It’s perfectly acceptable to say to someone who wants to comment on a blog post, “Respond on your own site. Link to me. But I am under no obligation to host your thoughts in my domain.”

I would like to think that as there is more take-up of the microformats standards that things like this will become more of the norm as further generations take it up.

Creations

The other pieces that I wanted to collect together were my various creations on the web, whether they be images, videos and audio. I have tinkered with posting to Flickr before with another Known instance, but gave up when it seemed to break. I think that this was as much frustration at the workflow as it was lack of perseverance. I therefore wonder about co-claiming by posting to Flickr and then collecting a weekly or even monthly summary on my own site. I know that this is something Tom Woodward does. As with my bookmarks, I am currently tinkering with IFTTT for this, but would like my own solution in the long run.

Like Flickr, I find publishing to YouTube an easier solution in regards to the few videos that I have. One of my interests was exploring the possibility to generate posts for older videos. Although IFTTT will create a post for videos just published, I was after an automated workflow that might go back through a channel and produce a post for each video. I found a plugin that said it would do it, but I have not managed to get it to do anything so am sceptical about purchasing the premium version. I also tested out posting via RSS, but this failed to embed the content.

In addition to images and video, I have been a long contributor to other people’s podcasts, but never really found the time and space to do my own. I was therefore taken by the idea of microcasting. The intent behind microcasting is that recordings are meant to be short recordings with minimal production. I have therefore taken to recording with Voxer and posting the MP3 in a post. I also syndicate this to Huffduffer so that others can listen as a podcast.


So that is my new site so far. In my next iteration, I am interested in investigating ‘Post Kinds to further to document other elements, such as what I am listening to and reading, especially in regards to long reads. This may replace my Awesome Tables, especially if they start charging. I am also interested in capturing more of my creations, such as my Instagram posts and gifs shared at Giphy. I am not sure if that constitutes a ‘commitment‘, but it is at least a start.

So what about you? What is something you are working on at the moment? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions for my new space? As always, comments welcome.


Also posted on IndieNews


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Why Would You? – Using Questions to Extend Understanding

Quote from a post by David Culberhouse exploring a series of ‘what if’ questions

If we are to have an influence upon the education of tomorrow, then we need to better understand today. This post explores strategies for getting to the heart of the matter.


Why would you? It is such an interesting question. I was asked this recently and it really left me thinking. More often than not, it calls upon the anxiety about making the right choice and implies that there is always one to be made. I feel that thinking about those things that such a question provokes can provide a useful insight into our beliefs and bias.

For example, why would you set homework? Why would you post work on a blog? Why would you deliver professional development collaboratively? Why would you do group work during a professional development session? Why would you open a school in the middle of business hub? Although for some such questions are clear, this is not the case for all.

Thinking about the Modern Learning Canvas, ‘why would you’ questions capture the pedagogical beliefs that are the foundation for understanding the intent and purpose of school. They also help illuminate the roles and strategies used in the classroom. This is all useful in helping to design education for tomorrow.

So what about you? What questions help you reflect upon your values and beliefs? As always, comments welcome.


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Communication Takes Two – 2017 in Review

Communication takes two, a reflection on my goals

A reflection on my inquiry into communication this year and all of the lessons learnt along the way.


It is again that time of year when we stop and reflect. This year I chose ‘communication’ as my one word to focus on throughout. It was a word that stemmed in part from a review in my workplace, with our focus being on working with a wide range of stakeholders to support transformation and change. I therefore identified the following possibilities:

  • Clarity – sometimes messages and meaning can get lost in their delivery, the challenge is when to add more or keep it short.
  • Consistency – whether responding via email or working with someone in person, it is important to be consistent in regards to the way things are done.
  • Collaboration – it can be easy to focus on the job at hand and the person that you maybe working with, however it is important to remember that it often takes a team and think about ways to keep everyone abreast.
  • Context – so much of communication is about adjusting to the moment, it is important to change pitch or approach depending on the circumstance.
  • Transparency – sometimes the key to communication is the culture that it is built upon, this though is often built upon other actions and activities.

My first approach was to focus on the technical side of things. This involved:

What I learnt with each of these initiatives is that even when you work collaboratively in developing and refining a particular approach, if other stakeholders do not feel there is a problem or that there is benefit to be gained then it can all be to no avail. Unlike Mark Zuckerburg, I feel that technology alone will not solve all of our ills. Change involves people

This focus on human element relates to the question of why communicate in the first place. One of the things that became more and more apparent as the year has passed is that it is not necessarily the technology that is lacking, but the intent and understanding behind what is actually being communicated. These dialogues discussions often involves multiple parties. Seth Godin captures this succinctly, explaining that:

It takes two to be understood. Not just speaking clearly, but speaking in a way that you can be understood.

What then is important in regards to support and change is creating the conditions within which people can be heard. Dave Cormier recently reflected on grappling with this situation too:

Technology projects everywhere tend to cross over different departments and responsibilities. Lawrie Phipps told me that this is called “matrix decision making”. Where a project reports up through multiple decision makers who may or may not have similar ideas of how to get a particular problem solved. Imagine 6 people sitting around a table all reporting to six different directors. It’s a common problem, and we had it.

I really related to this. The challenge of being understood is identifying the context at hand and starting there. Something I picked up from coaching. Although the message shared maybe the same in shape and content, the story used to convey it always changes. Everyone and every school has something important to them and I have found it important to tie conversations to that. Although this is not always easy, i guess this is the art of education.


I must admit that when I started in my current position I was frustrated by the processes associated with getting everything checked and signed off. Yet as time has gone by, I recognise how important this is with the complexities associated with stakeholders and communication. Although I still believe in the importance of autonomy and agency, I think that in a large organisation this involves taking initiative to instigate various actions, not in making rash decisions.

So what about you? How have you gone this year? Have you any tips associated with transformation and change? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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When Automation Goes Awry

Off-shoring leads to automation

The future may well involve automation, but the path to getting there is not so clear.


In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford suggests that:

As technology advances, we can expect that more and more of the routine tasks now performed by offshore workers will eventually be handled entirely by machines

His point is that offshoring is often a precursor to automation. It can be easy to see such conclusions as linear, straight lines with an inevitable end. However, I have had an experience over the last few weeks which highlights where we are at and where we still have to go.

The scenario in question involved changing to a SIM only contract as my plan with a handset had finished. My first step was to go into the telecommunication’s store. This is what I have always done. So I waited for near on half an hour in their newly designed space, with couches and screens everywhere, only to discover that they just sell products. If I wanted to change my plan then I would have to go online.

So I went online to my provider and looked around my account information. I could find how to add a range of useless services that would incur an additional.monthly fee, but was unclear how to adjust my plan.

Confused, I called the helpline. I followed the automated triage process. Got through to someone who said that they could not help me, explaining that they would put me through to someone who could. After waiting for thirty minutes, I hung up, fearing that I had been forgotten, and called the number again. This time i got someone who asked a few more questions to ascertain my situation, only to inform me that I had to go online if I wanted to change my plan.

So with fresh eyes I returned to the website. The more I clicked around, the more I bumped into the option to chat with somebody. I have had mixed results with this in the past. I was once told by a chat operator that global roaming had been added to my account only to discover once overseas that I had no connectivity. I clicked the button.

It opened a new screen and indicated that somebody would be with me soon. So I went back to searching the web and checking back every few seconds. I must have missed the notification and noticed that the operator had said hello, asking how they could help. I quickly punched in a “hello” back and then typed a second message outlining my situation. The messages were pushed through to the chat stream. I waited a minute only for an automated message to appear saying that the session would be ending due to my failure to respond.

I therefore opened a new chat window and went through the whole process again. This time I was more vigilant. A name finally appeared. I explained my situation. They verified my existence. We went around in circles, seemingly asking the same question over and over. Eventually it was ascertained that I wanted to change my plan. The operator shared a link to the plans. Once I identified which plan I was interested in, I was informed that I would be put through to someone from marketing. Ironically, while I waited the operator asked me who I was with for my internet. As if they did not already know from the 30+ cookies associated with their site. I politely explained that, with the quality of service provided, I would not be moving my internet to them. I received another token apology for more experience.

I was finally forwarded to a new operator. We spent another five minutes with civilities and again verifying who I was. After again clarifying what I was after, the operator explained that I needed to follow the steps on the page with the plan. I began clicking through. Even though the main page indicated that the plans were for those currently with Optus or coming from elsewhere, all the questions implied that it was designed for new users, especially the delivery of a new SIM. I asked Operator No.2 a few questions. They had no idea what I was talking about. This confused me, surely they would have a page for them to use in order to walk me through the process? Frustrated with the time I was taking, obviously throwing out the statistics, I was passed onto a third operator.

By this stage i had spent an hour trying to work things out, having spent an hour before that putting my children to bed. I explained that the situation was ridiculous. I questioned the fact that they continue rolling over phone plan which include a monthly handset charge even after the handset has been paid off (I know, buy the handset outright). All I got was the usual canned response. I ended up deciding to fill the form associated with the change of plan in to the best of my ability. It all seemed to be complete and my friendly operator clarified a few random questions until I gave up assuming everything was done.

I received an email indicating that the contract had been processed. I was unsure what was going to happen next as there was a mention of a shipping time for the new SIM card, even though I already had a SIM card. I decided to wait and see, unable to get a clear answer from the chat operator. However, I was surprised when I received an email and text message (just to make sure) requesting that I ring them.

I called back. After waiting 30 minutes, I hung up as i had work to do. I then called back at another time. I waited an 1:15 to speak with an operator. Only to find out that they were having trouble loading my file as the computer crashed or something. After waiting for another five minutes I was asked for my information to verify who I was and I was done. Even though I had provided this online, apparently they could not process the application until I had given this information verbally.


I recognise that the future will be automated. However, I am sceptical that it will be seamless transition. I wonder if what is lost in this rush to get everyone to go online is why automate in the first place? So often it is taughted as an improvement in efficiencies, but in the case of the telecommunications company, it seemed to be focused on profit. Surely this is why they allow plans to keep on rolling over once they have finished (I know someone who forgot to reassess for five years). I can imagine a number of ways that automation could be good for customer service, the same way bots and other forms of artificial intelligence are used in platforms like Slack. This could include letting you know when your plan is coming to an end, converting you to a different plan or reminding you when your bill is due. To be fair, I could probably create sone of these myself and maybe that is where the future lies.

So what about you? Have you had any interesting experiences with automation? As always, comments welcome.


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Is This the End of School as we Know It?

Are schools on the cusp of change? Will all jobs be transformed by 2030? And what is change anyway?


In the recent Google Education on Air conference, Jan Owens discovered that the biggest lesson learnt looking ahead to 2030 is that every job will be transformed. It would be easy to just add this as another Countrafabulist predictions. However, it raises wider questions associated with transformation and our role within it all.

During a discussion on the Modern Learners podcast, Bruce Dixon discussed the notion of ‘the end of school as we know it’. He shared an exercise where teachers are given three options to choose from in regards to the current state of education:

  • We are seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We are not seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We should be seeing the end of school as we know it

To me this touches on Audrey Watters’ discussion of the invented history associated with the Prussian origins of (American) education. In time we manage to bend the past into a linear narrative. One where all roads lead to innovation.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

If I had to choose one response it would be that we are seeing the end of school as we know it. However, I also feel that this is that wrong question. Whether we like it or not, the world changes each and every day. For example, smartphones have had an impact on schools whether we allow them in the classroom or not.

Another way of looking at change is using Raymond Williams’ historical model where he differentiates between emergence, dominant, residual.

We can find terms which recognize not only ‘stages’ and ‘variations’ but the internal dynamic relations of any actual process. We have certainly still to speak of the ‘dominant’ and the ‘effective’, and in these senses of the hegemonic. But we find that we have also to speak, and indeed with further differentiation of each, of the ‘residual’ and the ’emergent’, which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the ‘dominant’.

There is a constant flow of meanings, values, practices and relationships, where even if a certain aspect were to remain ‘dominant’, it cannot inoculate itself from new influences.

As I discussed previously, much is learnt as things are pushed to breaking point. The question is not whether we are seeing the end of school as we know it, but how do we want school (and society) to change for tomorrow? Gert Biesta uses a quote from Jacques Derrida which makes this point clear,

To live, by definition, is not something one learns.

Our focus therefore should be what education do we want and collectively work towards that.

So what about you? What is your choice? Is this the end of school as we know it? As always comments welcome, even better when they are from your own space.


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The Music of 2017 in Review, or The Year I Discovered Jack Antonoff

A reflection on the artists and albums that represented the soundtrack of 2017.


Music is important to who I am. Although I listen to a lot of podcasts, books and converse with people via Voxer, it is still music that I fall back on. Here then are some of the albums and artists that have caught my attention this year:

LCD Soundsystem

But out of the little rooms and onto the streets
> You’ve lost your internet and we’ve lost our memory
> We had a paper trail that led to our secrets
> But embarrassing pictures have now all been deleted
> By versions of selves that we thought were the best ones
> ‘Till versions of versions of others repeating
> Come laughing at everything we thought was important
> While still making mistakes that you thought you had learned

tonite

I have a habit of hearing a particular song and writing off an artist’s oeuvre based on it. I did it with ‘Over and Over’ by Hot Chip until I discovered Grizzly Bear’s cover of Boy from School, I also did it with ‘Daft Punk Are Playing at My House’ by LCD Soundsystem. It was only after a different me returned to the music with new ears that I realised what I had been missing. With LCD Soundsystem, it was James Murphy’s production of Arcade Fire’s Reflector that had me reviewing my assumptions. However, it was not until american dream that I finally dived in.

I came upon american dreams via Austin Kleon’s newsletter. My first impression was that the long flowing bleeps and beats seem to float on by. However, on repeated listens the seemingly careless tweaks seem to take on shape. You started to realise that what felt like a jam was very purposeful, especially in regards to the lyrical content. I had a similar experience with Radiohead, in particular, Kid A. Some music takes time.

Lorde

In my head, I play a supercut of us
All the magic we gave off
All the love we had and lost
And in my head
The visions never stop
These ribbons wrap me up
But when I reach for you
There’s just a supercut

Supercut

Earlier this year, my family and I spent two weeks in New Zealand. During that time, ‘Green Light’ had just been released and was on high rotation. The song and subsequent album are intriguing. I feel that it is ironic pop – if that is even a genre – in that it has many of the ingredients of popular music, whether it be four to the floor beats or lush layers, juxtaposed with unapologetic angst and honesty of someone reflecting on life at 19. This comes out in Lorde’s dissection of ‘Sober’ on the Song Exploder podcast.

The more I listen to the album the more I am baffled about what exactly draws me in. 19 year old me has long gone, yet there is still something that hooks me. I wonder if it is Jack Antonoff’s production, but I also think that it is rawness of the lyrics as well. In an interview, Antonoff describes Lorde as the Bjork and Kate Bush of our time. I guess we will see.

Arcade Fire

Well you’ve got one choice, maybe two
You can leave with me or I’ll go with you
I know you haven’t even met me yet
But you’re gonna love me baby when you get to know me

Chemistry

Another ironic album is Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. A fist pumping critique of fist pumping. It is one of those albums that has all the lyricals hooks and riffs to mindlessly sing and dance along too at an outdoor festival only, yet when you stop and look and listen, the music feels like a critique of that, instead calling for some kind of awakening and realisation of the world that we are creating.

Along with The National’s dark Sleep Well Beast and LCD Soundsystem’s american dream, if feels like these albums offer an intentional comment on the current climate. Having said this, I also find it interesting to listen to something like The Bleachers’ Gone Now from a political perspective. For at the end of the day, everything is ideological, or as Jack Antonoff suggests “music is a mini documentary of that moment“.

Ryan Adams

Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it

Clean

I am always intrigued by automation. Earlier this year I was driving back home across town and decided to put on some random driving playlist that Google made me. A few songs in this track started playing. It felt familiar, yet I had never heard it. The song was Ryan Adam’s cover of Wildest Dreams. I can only assume that Google thought I would like it based on both of my daughter’s obsession with Shake It Off. Well Google was right, I loved the whole album.

I remember watching an interview in which Adams explains how he chose to cover Wonderwall to annoy an ex. This album though seems more purposeful. A case of Bruce Springsteen meets The Smiths, Adams brings something different out with his reimagining of the songs. It was also fascinating a few months later, listening to Taylor Swift’s original album and comparing the two. Felt like comparing a book and movie adaptation, where you feel as if they are both capturing a particular tangent, yet neither quite captures the full circle.

Reuben Stone

Another plane, another train
I’m checking in and checking out again

Push to the Limit

This year, my daughters and I have regularly ventured into the city on the weekend in an effort to get out and about. This usually involves visiting one of the many parks or buying dumplings and donuts at the market, but it has also come to include listening to the many buskers that fill the streets. Some artists that come to mind are Amber Isles and their ability to fill.the sound of a full band even with the makeshift drum kit, as well as Gareth Wiecko and his layered piano concertos. However, the major highlight was Reuban Stone.

A self proclaimed samplologist, Stone builds songs from scratch, beginning with the beats, then layering this with various instruments, including vocals. Although his recorded material is good, his performances are something to be experienced. He manages to adjust to drag out tracks without feeling at all tedious or repetative. It seems mandatory to have a looper when busking these days, however Stone takes it to a new level.


So what about you? What music has caught your attention this year? What albums and artists have you had on high rotation? Like my discovery of all things Jack Antonoff, is there something that seems to tie your year together? As always, comments welcome.


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