OurChatSpace OR What Mastodon could do for #HigherEd


What mastodon, and its probable #OurChatSpace spinoffs, could do for #highered

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Our disclaimer runs thusly – even if mastodon is not long for this world, something with similar affordances will/should play into #NGDLE. As a GNU variant, we hope that more platforms and DIY solutions emerge. Our optics are around building competencies for users in environments that (hopefully) add value to people looking to engage and build meaning with others. These pursuits are wrought with challenges, but we need to try and we need to find ways to keep the hate out. So here’s to hoping that there are some venues to rock out to in #highered. We have thrown out the #OurChatSpace idea to create dialogue.

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With the recent release of the code and guts (see what we did there Thanksgivingers?) of Mastodon into the open, we could be looking at a shift in some communication ecosystems in highered. As policy makers across the globe (*waves to #codesign16*) try to decipher what a NGDLE could look like, this is a timely release of what could shape out to be a robust communication and collaboration tool. Of the main elements that have and will make up a learning environment, Mastodon (or variant builds thereof) seems well suited for handling cross-community collaboration.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is Mastodon and why might it have such a huge effect?  Well, Mastodon “is a free, open-source social network server. A decentralized alternative to commercial platforms…mastodon.social is an instance of mastodon.” [https://mastodon.social/about] The Terms on the Mastodon site are from 2013 and speak to making users aware of how their data is being used. Looking at the open source code on Github, looks like it is an “alternative implementation of the GNU social project.” [https://gnu.io/social/about/] The man behind it is Eugen @Gargron from Germany (using this handle on Github, Twitter, and, Mastodon). A humble 691 followers on Twitter, his tweets do speak for themselves [https://twitter.com/Gargron]. It seems that a lot of the new action on Mastodon was sparked by this article http://www.dailydot.com/debug/mastodon-open-source-social-media/?tw=dd. And all of this is owed to that mythical oddball/free-thinker/open-advocate Richard Stallman.

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With our backgrounds as Instructional Designers/Technologists/Project Managers, we look at the following uses as potentially tremendously fruitful. These uses are based on the precepts that we can/will pull LDAP data from our college system. Pulling from this data daily (or several times daily), would help with consistency and integrity of the system. Assuming we can do this, the following uses are speculative, but very alluring if we can execute them in a manner similar to Tweetdeck to Hootsuite. Effectively what we are looking at is how to use columns in their most awesome ways. This would be an example of “low input, high impact” principle.

In course/cohort

Every current class a student is enrolled in would have its own column. Students would have the fully customizable/personalizable space to choose which columns are visible and their order. Replacing the discussion forums in a class, students would be able to engage with anyone in their courses, specific assignments by profs could use hashtags as filters. A potential great piece from this would be that past class rosters would be accessible. It would be “easy” to reach back to past classes and ask questions or share something influenced by previous ideas.

“Campus” notes

Every campus we’ve been on has newsletters of different types. In Mastodon you could use 500 characters (with links?) to share what’s happening that day or to promote events. If there’s a time sensitive event you could use this column.

School group/organization/hashtag spaces

This could be personalized and customizable. All of the groups and organizations you belonged to could be in one space. Or they could be separated with hashtags. Instead of managing dozens of emails from different spaces, they could be aggregated here. Depending on the power of your server, this could be very robust spaces.

Private/Public spaces

Institution wide one could be opted in to be able to privately direct message others. There should also be a way to bring public voices into the campus space. If you have an invited speaker, create a space for them to take questions both privately and publicly as well.

These are our initial thoughts. Please share yours in the comments or use #OurChatSpace :)

Hugs to you all!

(this piece was co-written with the lovely @sundilu)

wth ngdle? OR my first ideavomit


Using online learning environments while living and working in six different countries over the past 15-ish years has given me a unique lens or set of filters with which to engage in the JISC #codesign16 challenge. Working as a student, teacher, manager, and academic staff in these environments adds to the angles I will try to throw at the idea of a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (#ngdle). Before I jump into this, I want to warn you that there is pretty much NOTHING traditional about my background/views/feelings/approaches to education. I am the outlier of the outlier. That person from out of nowhere/anywhere that probably frustrates/excites you at times because you often have no idea how to predict they will engage. Also, this is the first in a series of posts to be collected someday as #IdeaVomits, so that should give you enough of a caveat to proceed.

So let’s start with prediction, because that is one of the most prevalent conversations at conferences. What will be the next (blah blah blah)? Where will we be in X years? How do we prepare our learners for careers that don’t exist yet? These are common enough questions, and probably need to be asked heading towards whatever answers institutions are looking for in the #ngdle.

For me, though, the most important questions center around the WHO-sphere of inquiry. If you are looking at an #ngdle and the people you have assembled have not worked in digital learning environments much, you are probably facing some challenges. As Donna Lanclos points out, we must avoid, “assessment as controlling process,” which is what much of education was and/or has become. As we guess our futures, we must avoid the problems of the past/present. We must include representatives from all contingents of campus(es). In doing so, as Peter Bryant protested, we MUST focus on the things that are evident in our future educations: “Social media! Participatory culture! Digital Citizenship!”

But what lenses and filters do we use to assess these things? How can we establish some type of common ground? For me, one of the most helpful frameworks for discussion has been Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework. A lot of conversations in education try to force solutions of a “obvious” or “complicated” nature, but if we really look at most learning landscapes, we know that most of our work is at least complicated, with most of it sitting in the complex realm. If we can at least accept what filters to start with, we can begin building something.


So there’s all of those things. And then there’s the complex/chaotic world(s) of the (net)work(s) of Audrey Watters. One of her most recent pieces parallels the use of weaponized pigeons (and other animals) to how we have created assessment systems for students. As we think about #ngdle we need to really think about this piece from Watters’:

“Education technology is not always loyal to institutions, of course; it’s not always loyal to democracy either; it’s not always loyal to learning or to teaching – to students or to teachers; but it’s always fiercely loyal to itself and its own rationale, to its own existence.”

Why do we even need a #ngdle? As many have argued, if its just Learning Management Systems with social media and other interactivity added in, what is so NG about it? We already have affordances for these things in some of the systems we have.

So are there answers? Reading, researching, working, and creating with/in learning environments for many years has me thinking a few things that are confounding/conflicting. First of all, in the Cynefin framework we are asking complex/chaotic questions. Answers to these types of questions are difficult to measure by their nature. Yet we need to find ways to educate people in all the things. And there are so many things we require comparing and predicting.

Secondly: context is everything. In this world of knowledge abundance and context collapse we are constantly at odds for what contexts we need to participate in and foster. And at the underbelly of all this, is a question Dave Cormier recently posited: What is education for? All of the greatest educational minds can gather in whatever conferences/workshops/symposium/think tanks and come away without an answer to this. Why is this? Because the diversity and convergence of our natures/backgrounds/disciplines/privilege/instincts do not allow for “obvious” answers.

And that’s where it ends. So instead of frustrating ourselves trying to force obvious answers onto complex questions, why not look around the room/campus/community you want to learn with and find out what is best for all of you? If you can’t decide, start expanding the people you’re talking to and involve as many perspectives as you can. This definitely complicates things, but shouldn’t these conversations always be so? (Y)Our future is (y)ours and we need to find as many perspectives on what education was/is/will be in order to find a path forward.

Concerning these things, what do you think of #ngdle? Add your voice to the conversation using #codesign16. Engage with us and lets see where we can move with these things.

NB: #IdeaVomit term stolen from Safiya U Noble from her #budsc16 keynote at Bucknell University