Teenage Idol

The currrent frenzy over MOOCs has reached such genuinely hysterical proportions reminiscent of the overnight transcendence of a pop star. Last night, Alan Levine tweeted an article  that stuns with its hyperbole and doe-eyed, lamestream media enthusiasm for Sebasian Thrun, Kahn Academy, and all things MOOC.

Alan's Tweet

I read the article and had the following, thoughtfully-crafted response:

Last night's tweet

If you are a DS106 enthusiast (and you SHOULD be), you know what happens next. Alan took the reins and made it a full-blown assignment. Here is my contribution — ironically, I did not put Sebestian Thrun next to Justin Beiber, I replaced Justin Beiber with Sebastian Thrun, taking Justin’s place next to Selena Gomez:

Sebastian Thrun on the cover of J-14.

I am officially infected with the DS106 virus. I think in DS106 now. I leave you with these words from my glam rock idol, Elton John, and his non-hit “I’m Going to Be a Teenage Idol”:

And root-toot-shoot myself to fame
Every kid alive gonna know my name
An overnight phenomenon like there’s never been
A motivated supersonic king of the scene

All of which is to say, the prevailing MOOC discussion just may have officially jumped the shark. But don’t despair! DO THE ASSIGNMENT!

DS106 and Tracdat: Perfect Together

Constant back and forth between detail and strategy is one of the things that make my job challenging. I feel most grateful that I have Curtiss Grymala and Pam Lowery to count on for a lot of the deveIlopment and user training work. This allows me to focus more on strategic planning, trends research, testing, meetings (and meetings and meetings), and even some experimentation during the day. Which isn’t to say that I don’t do my own fair amount of user support (I really love the folks at UMW so it’s not a problem), content management, coding, image editing, and the like. It’s just no longer the main thrust of what I do on a day-to-day basis.

The balance between creating tangible product and advancing intangible ideas is a line I am uncomfortable straddling. Last year, immersed in the implementation of a new website, there was no time to think of such luxuries as strategic planning for the Web. The past year I’ve been getting my sea legs with “well, we’ve got the site, now what?”

Enter Tracdat, our institution’s technology tool for assessment and reporting of each administrative and academic area’s activities throughout the year. The past few days, I’ve immersed myself in the narrative of what we planned and what we did and what we have to do. Gathering documents and screenshots together, I’ve tried to represent an accurate picture of what we hoped to accomplish, and what we have accomplished this past year. It’s an anxiety-producing exercise for me.

When Tracdat was getting me down, I switched over to DS106, and my alter ego. There were the intermittent tweets as my alter ego, and tweets as me. Mid-morning, I attended a Google Hangout in full character costume (wig, sweatband, sunglasses), listening to the brilliant Bryan Alexander actually saw fit to respond to one of my questions (what a privilege), horsing around with students, online educators, and assorted Camp Magic MacGuffin aficionados. Pure chaos of the stealthily productive variety.

Following the 90 minute online discussion, I removed the wig and returned to Tracdat. At about 4 pm, after picking up my daughter at school, I went outside and took a photo for the daily create, uploading it to Flickr. Then, I went back and finished up not only Tracdat, but my IE Report for the year (a summary for the Board of Visitors about what happened this year, and what we recommend for next year).

I submitted my final Tracdat report at the end of the day and received a rating of “Awesome!” from our institutional research person. (To the extent that a coherent report in an institutional assessment tool can be considered an accomplishment, well, that’s an argument for another day. Mastering the mundane realities of employment are not so sexy as nailing that final philosophy paper, but it’ll have to do for now.)

I have to admit that in the past couple of years, I’ve watched DS106 from the sidelines, wondering what the heck Jim Groom in a bald wig had to do with higher education. I began to make a connection yesterday between what it means to be a liberal arts institution and the core mission of enabling students to be able to think, a rare skill in our supposedly skill-obsessed world. DS106 appears to require that I develop a nimbleness needed to bounce among the array of digital and creative possibilities in service to advancing coherent ideas.

That would put Jim Groom in a bald wig right in the crosshairs of our institution’s mission of “providing a superior education that inspires and enables our students to make positive changes in the world.”

What a logo that would be.

Adventures in Creating an Online Alter Ego

For DS106’s Camp Magic Macguffin semester, I have created an alter ego online so that I can engage in an alternate narrative that  does not bind me to my own online history. All of my online activity vis-a-vis DS106 need to appear to emanate from this person. Having managed permissions on large CMS systems in the past, including Sharepoint, I figured no problem, right? Well, there are no problems, except in my apparent inability to grok the ramifications of what I’m doing. But, that’s what online learning is about, trial, error, trial, error, tear out hair, more error. Eventual solution. Trial, error…

As I fix one thing to make sure that I’ve covered my tracks, another one has popped up. Here is a favorite scene from Abbott and Costello that haunts me during these kinds of experiences (unless YouTube stops me):

With that in mind, here are a few lessons I’m learning. By the way, I performed all of the following steps in the wrong order. What I’m hoping to tell you is how to do it right so you don’t experience what Lou is experiencing above:

1) Start with WordPress.com: You’ll want to create a new WordPress.com account. If you already have one, create a new one with an alternate email address and identity. In my case, I used my Yahoo! account email, and then forwarded that to my Gmail account. These days, by the way, Yahoo! charges you $20 per year to forward. I think they’ve caught on about this new Google thing…

2) Gravatar: Associate your alternate email address with your WordPress identity and upload a new gravatar.

3) Twitter: Create a new Twitter account, and use the same image you used for your gravatar.

4) Soundcloud and other services: Associate them with your Gravatar email account, and your Gravatar identity should carry through.

5) DS106: I needed to create an additional account on DS106 associated with my new identity.

6) Be Mindful: I have to keep mindful of logging into this and that with the right identity. I’ve slipped up more than once, and will no doubt continue to do so, which is part of the fun. The character is in service to the narrative, not to me, so if I mess up, it’s possible that this can be woven into the narrative in some way. I’m not worried, unless I apply for a job somewhere and someone asks me something like, “It says here that you are an unemployed music teacher with a drinking problem who is obsessed with guarding her footlocker. What do you think these experiences could help you bring to this position?”

I’m sure I’m still doing it wrong, and that there are other steps of which I need to be mindful. If you have any suggestions, or have other experiences with online identities that may help, I’m all ears.




Think It’s Going to be a Great Summer

The other day, I synced my new iPad to my iCloud. In so doing, I saw a song there that I had forgotten about. Whenever my kids like a song, I can frequently point to an earlier piece of music from which it was derived. They are probably sick of my doing this. But, my son, for some reason, heard on YouTube the Vanilla Ice song “Ice Ice Baby.” After downloading it for him, I also downloaded the song from which it samples its main riff: “Under Pressure” performed by Queen and David Bowie.

That song has a hook that is so infectious it should be illegal. So, I wound up listening to it in my car a few times in a row. I have a long commute between Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. So much cooks in my head on that ride. Suddenly, in an instant, as I was pulling into my driveway after a long day, it hit me that I’d love to do a cover of “Under Pressure” because it’s an amazing song. And, specifically, I wanted to do a crowdsourced cover.

Why crowdsourced? Because, this summer, my alter ego is a counselor at Camp Magic Macguffin, otherwise known as this semester’s DS106. As a member of this community, the instruments of creativity need not be limited to those I can master and manipulate. I want to see what it’s like to let my work go into the ether, and to see if we can accomplish a truly globally-produced piece of music.

Why a web designer doing multi-tracking of music? Well, back in my salad days, I obsessively multitracked endless numbers of original compositions in my one-room studio in the East Village, dreaming of stardom. My first encounters with computing, and with technology hardware, were through a Casio CZ101 and a TASCAM PortaOne. Music technology has moved on, and I have grown too busy with life to indulge in this activity in the last few years, and thought it was time I got back to it. I’ve got a room full of midi keyboards at home, and some old-style analog drum sound modules that are just gathering dust.  More importantly, my inspirations have been gathering dust as well.

It’s time to break out of the old studio apartment in my head, and be open to a world of collaboration. I’ve already received a vocal track from Australia. This is gonna be a good summer.