Reflections on digital learning environments, part one

Over the summer I corresponded frequently with a colleague at another school who was intrigued by my use of a phpBB discussion forum platform for my online classes. I’ve come to rely on the discussion forums as the primary community builders and hubs for these classes. (I still use blogs and Hypothesis and often Wikipedia as well, but that’s for another post.)

Along the way I thought aloud about my conceptual frameworks for these learning spaces. My frameworks seem in some respects radically different from the frameworks I see in other discussions about online learning. Perhaps they’re not so different as I think, but then again, I’ve been to enough conferences and heard enough talk about uber-LMS next-gen “learning engineered” approaches that I suspect my frameworks are indeed atypical.

At any rate, some thoughts on discussion forums as learning environments:

For me, the biggest question is one of environment and what the cog-psych people call “appraisal“–i.e., the message the environment and affordances send to the user about what sort of thing happens in that environment. That has to do with look and feel, with what’s out there on the Web that resembles the environment, what you can do with the particular affordances the environment provides. In short, what has the environment’s designer (or the platform’s installer, or the course’s instructor) imagined this experience might be like, or should be like?

So in these respects, the choice of what goes where on a platform is less about technical considerations that it is about social, affective, and cognitive considerations. Less like building a house, and more like hosting a great dinner party.

So, do you want your students to be in an environment in which other class discussions can be viewed if they choose–or where they see that these discussions are present, even if they never look at them? For me, that answer would be yes, as the space (in a theatrical sense almost) communicates that Here Fellow Learners Are Building Communities, Working Hard, And Having Fun While Doing So.

I wouldn’t myself put a faculty forum I’ve used for other business in there, because I don’t want the site to be “Dr. C.’s phpBB installation where he takes care of all his business.” Even if the students can’t look at the discussion itself (assuming they’d even want to of course), they see that the forum is there, and for me that subtly communicates that this is not a student learning site but a site that serves my needs first.

These are subtleties in some respects, but they’re all tied to my longstanding dissatisfaction with Blackboard’s transactional design for everything, including their “blogs” and “discussion forums.” I’ve peeked at Canvas, which is now being rolled out at VCU, and while it’s much sleeker and friendlier and web-savvy, it kind of amounts to the same thing.

And getting back to my original point, using something that’s NOT a designed-for-school platform helps the students’ appraisal shift a bit. Think of it as something like the beloved class meetings where you get to go outside. Same lesson, same students, same teacher, but not an environment that says SCHOOL quite so firmly. Another way to think of the forum is as a class-related “third place” or “third space.”  (Yes, the distractions can be a challenge, but so are ants at a picnic. The joy is worth the pain.)

At this point, my colleague asked if students would use a “just chatting” space if they had three spaces available on the forum, with another for guided online discussions and a third for questions and answers (student questions and teacher answers, presumably). I responded with the following thoughts.

In my experience, students typically want things in school to be transactional most of the time. That’s not always bad, but it’s mostly bad, because “transactional” rules out the real vulnerability and communal efforts and conspicuous commitment required for authentic learning communities. So if you create two spaces that are pretty much transactional, with one that’s a social space, they’ll likely say “spaces one and two matter for my utilitarian purposes of getting through this class and earning a good grade, and the rest is just fluff, and I’ve got a million other things to do, and I don’t even know these people, so forget it.”

A common teacher remedy would be to require the students to socialize, which is even more disastrous. (The beatings will continue until morale improves.)

My strong recommendation is to combine those three spaces. They’re all valuable, and they’re related. It will be the students’ responsibility to pay attention and to use the forum to find the information they want (a very easy thing to do, with a search box). You can nudge them along the way by making FAQs, making some threads into “stickies” or “announcements,” etc.

I do require that student posts be “interesting, substantive, and relevant.” My experience has been that there’s enough good socializing in the “interesting, substantive, and relevant” posts to make the forum lively. I’ve also made some recent tweaks, such as creating an “introductions” thread as I did for my summer class. Students need not provide any info they’re uncomfortable providing. They don’t have to use photos of themselves–any polite (i.e., NOT “nsfw”) avatar will do. Having that thread was a great way to start the class.

In my class sessions, I also repeat over and over what I consider to be the value of the forum. I regularly mention posts I’ve found particularly interesting and insightful. And very often, my approach to the next class will be shaped and inspired by the threads and enthusiasms I see on the forum.

I hope the above makes some sense even without the context of the original conversation. I’m happy to elaborate on any part of what I’ve written, either in the comments or in another post.

In subsequent posts, I want to reflect on my own Great Online Pivot last March, and what I learned as a result. I also want to explore some of what I did over the summer–including teaching a fully online asynchronous class–to prepare myself for my online teaching this fall. As a look ahead, here’s an example of one thing I learned to do, something I’d always wanted to try: I made course trailers. I’ll share one now.

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My Father’s Garden

Note: I wrote and posted this work to Facebook on Father’s Day 2020. Although I have many reservations about Facebook these days, and I suspect that “many” may well become “too many” before too long, it is a place of gathering and I depend on it for encouragement and solidarity. Responses come quickly. The news is often timely. The ties that bind are visible and sometimes surprising. Still.

But my first and best online home is still this blog, which I have sadly neglected for all sorts of reasons neither you nor I have the patience for me to recite.

The response to this memoir on Facebook made me think I would do well to reproduce it in an open space. I also know that every post to this good old home keeps the blog from going dark forever.

So another candle in the window, for my father.

I think of my father today, and remember the one place where he was always confident, happy, and full of wonder: his garden. He grew up on a subsistence farm, and worked for the Forest Service before he came to Roanoke for a new life of difficult and often menial physical labor. He complained about many things, and often, but in my hearing he never once complained about the work he had to do to make a living, whether it was grinding centerseals at the N&W shops, or cleaning schools as a day custodian, or, as he once did for a short while, handling what I’m sure were toxic substances in a local biochemical plant.

It always seemed to me that the work he was born to do was farming. I recall hearing him and my mother talking about selling our house, buying some land in Vinton (near Roanoke), and setting up a farm. But someone else would have had to manage it all–my dad was emphatically not a manager–and the idea didn’t last long, though I still remember the conversations.

Later in life, my dad always had a pretty large garden, large enough to hire a horse-driven plow to till the earth at planting time. We ate delicious vegetables from that garden. I thought all vegetables tasted that way until I had to rely on a grocery store, long before groceries had begun to care about better-tasting vegetables. Even today, though, with the right kind of grocery store tomatoes tasting very good indeed, it’s not at all like what my father helped to bring out of the ground.

Neither I nor my brother had any interest in farming, and to this day I’ve never had a garden of my own. But I remember my father in his garden, and I have him on lo-res videocassette explaining his garden to me. I’ve included a still image from that video below.

Walter Campbell explains his garden to his son

I’ve also included what to my knowledge is the only letter my father ever wrote me, a postcard he sent to me during the Governor’s School in 1974. He would sometimes jot a note on the bottom of a letter from my mother, but this was unique in being from him only. I was away from home for a month, longer than I’d ever been away, and for our close-knit family it seemed a very long time indeed.

Postcard from Walter W. Campbell to Son GardnerYou can see from the handwriting that my father struggled with a tremor pretty much all his adult life. It may have been the result of a bad concussion he suffered as a teen when he stepped out of a moving car, fell and hit his head, and lost consciousness for a few days. Whatever the cause, it was something he dealt with and typically sought to hide as he moved through his life.

My father was a complicated man and sometimes difficult, but he loved his family and he had a strong and fruitful way with the land and its bounty. I’m not sure he ever quite understood the life I ended up pursuing. He did say he hoped to live to see me finish my Ph.D. so he could call me Doctor. I finished in May, 1992, and he died just a few months later.

For those few months he did indeed call me Doctor. And he knew, though I’m not sure either of us recognized its significance, that I had written a dissertation primarily concerned with Paradise Lost and, in particular, a garden planted by God.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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The Odyssey Project – A Domains Origin Story

For all that follows, there’s much more to be said–but if I try to say it all, the post will never be written or shared. So let’s get started with this beginning.

Recently a Twitter thread emerged on the origins of the “Domain of One’s Own” project (usually abbreviated DoOO). Jon Udell’s epic talk at the 2007 Seminars on Academic Computing meeting came up as part of the thread. Jon was gracious to mention me as his scheduled co-presenter at that meeting, noting that I couldn’t make it because my flight had been cancelled when a snowstorm hit Denver.

Athena revealing Ithaca to Ulysses, painting by Giuseppe Bottani

DGA557603 Athena revealing Ithaca to Ulysses, by Giuseppe Bottani (1717-1784), oil on canvas, 47×72 cm; Artwork-location: Pavia, Musei Civici Del Castello Visconteo, Pinacoteca Malaspina (Art Gallery)); De Agostini Picture Library / out of copyright.

When I saw the mention, I chimed in about the Bluehost experiment, which Jon had written about for InfoWorld following his epic talk at Faculty Academy 2006 at the University of Mary Washington, where at the time I was a professor of English and assistant vice-president for teaching and learning technologies. (Jon’s talks are routinely epic, if that’s not an oxymoron.) I then tweeted about the Odyssey Project as another point of origin for DoOO, realizing as I did so that very few people outside of UMW had ever heard of this project. Given all the interest in how DoOO got going, I thought it might be a good time to share some of the Odyssey story, one that I think also has important implications for how domains-based projects might be more effective.

The project involved a grant application to the MacArthur Foundation through Duke University’s HASTAC initiative. These grants and initiatives were, as I recall, part of Phase One of the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning initiative. In my view, that phase of the MacArthur initiative included some of the truly interesting efforts to bring higher education into a wider and deeper awareness of the possibilities of the Web for teaching and learning. The initiatives came to an end, as they do. Much of the potential for deep and beneficial change evaporated when the urge to learn was replaced by the urge to produce, to monetize, and to centralize. Some of the potential was overtaken by academic culture. Some of it was overtaken by worthy but secondary concerns such as badging and upskilling. (You can form your own conclusions by reading through this history.) And then, between the enduring choke-hold of Learning Management Systems (sic) and the sudden flood of Gates Foundation money (bringing with it LMS 2.0, the so-called “next generation digital learning environment” that became courseware and brutal adaptive learning paradigms) and the co-opting fevers of MOOC mania and analytics and all the rest of it, talk about participatory culture and wikis and blogging soon fell to a whisper–not entirely gone, but no longer such a vibrant, plangent melody.

But in 2007, that hadn’t happened yet, and it seemed a good time to take what UMW had learned from the Bluehost experiment and our growing experience with UMW Blogs (now that WordPress had a reliable and scalable multi-site version) and see what might be built as a next step or even a leapfrog jump into something even more ambitious. Hence the Odyssey Project.

At the time, I had returned to UMW from a difficult semester at the University of Richmond in the fall of 2006, but now with no official leadership role (that’s another story, one involving–I kid you not–projector bulbs). I was grateful for the chance to engage with this grant application opportunity. The Odyssey Project application allowed me to use what I’d learned during my time as assistant vice-president for teaching and learning technologies, and director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT), and try to craft an initiative that would continue that work in a particular direction and with a particular focus. As the project narrative clearly demonstrates, I was trying to synthesize earlier work at DTLT with my growing awareness of Doug Engelbart’s “bootstrap” approach as well as what I had learned about IT in higher education from my time at the Frye Leadership Seminar in the summer of 2005. I should add that my experience with the Virginia Governor’s School helped shape my thinking about the possibilities for an intensive summer program to prepare a cohort of faculty and students to take advantage of the opportunities the Odyssey Project would make available, and to pave the way for the project to become a part of the curriculum in some way.

In retrospect, I can see that, among other things, the project was trying to take ideas of digital literacy and web literacy and turn them into an approach to metacognition and information literacy generally, all in an effort to bring faculty and students into a heightened and urgent awareness of how the Web might be understood and built and used as a working symbol of human consciousness itself. That sounds quite grand, if not grandiose, but all of my experience to that point–and all my experience since then–taught me that without such a comprehensive view of the real enterprise of learning and communication, the discussion immediately and permanently devolves into what Doug Engelbart memorably rejected as “isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations.

I have always thought, and still think, that education generally, and higher education in particular, not only can do better than that but must do better than that if we hope to build a just and sustainable world that supports human flourishing in community. The goal is not simply a domain of one’s own, as catchy and satisfying as the allusion to Virginia Woolf’s famous essay may be. The goal must be what Engelbart calls an integrated domain: within the learner, within the learning environment, within the network itself.

Easier said than done, as most worthy goals are. Yet once we have that goal in mind, and once we know enough about networked computing to understand what it represents and can empower if we’re smart and thoughtful about it, then we can have meaningful discussions about teaching and learning, about curriculum, about disciplines, about budgets and planning and outcomes, etc.

Or we can talk about isolated clever tricks and then act surprised when their consequences drive out the mission they purport to serve.

So I crafted the Odyssey Project, with the help of folks at DTLT as well as colleagues like Chip German and Andrew Treloar and Jon Udell (though there really aren’t any colleagues like them). I later wrote my “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” piece as a kind of manifesto to explain some of the ideas behind the Odyssey Project, though that project was never mentioned. (The project was not funded, and I’d moved to Baylor University by then to become the founding director of their new Academy for Teaching and Learning.) When that essay was published, UMW’s “Domain of One’s Own” initiative had begun, as I noted in the essay, linking to Jim Groom’s post on the idea. I’m sure the timing seemed odd, as it appeared that my essay addressed the DoOO project, but in fact the “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” essay was the last light from the Odyssey Project.

Jim briefly mentioned the Odyssey Project in a comment on his post, writing that “Yeah, I think this idea has been bandied ab out a bit, and I don’t think it is entirely original. Much of it plays off of Gardner’s idea for the Odyssey project, which was give a select group of 50 faculty and students a Bluehost account each, and work closely with them for development. i like that idea, but the overhead with throwing fifty folks into their own Bluehost account to me seemed steep.” Jim thought domain mapping through WPMu (as it was then called) would be easier. Later in the same comment, though, Jim writes that “it is the culture of educating and getting people excited about this space both in classes and outside of them that would be the real challenge.”

Yes, that is the real challenge, and that’s the challenge the Odyssey Project tried to address. There was never a question of throwing anyone into anything. Rather the opposite. The idea was to understand the steep overhead and accept that challenge. The questions of “what is this for?” and “why should I care about those things?” are central to education, indeed to all human growth and development. We ask those questions from our first words to our last breaths. The second question is always the hardest, as it involves deeper learning and many non-obvious things. Answering that second question is always difficult and never finished. Indeed, sometimes what we learn reveals we should not care about certain things anymore, or that we shouldn’t ever have cared about them. And sometimes what we learn reveals we cared deeply about second things because they were easier to articulate and attend to than the first things we should have cared about but couldn’t find the time, energy, or will to engage with. Real learning is always a double-loop activity in that way, always taking us to places of revision or reaffirmation, or both.

What follows, then, is the narrative of the Odyssey Project that was submitted in the grant application. As I’ve noted, there’s a lot more to say than this post can manage just now. I will say, however, that the ideas of networking, deep information literacy, and metacognitive attention to emergent phenomena seem to me to be crucial, as does the notion of a special course of study devoted to empowering cohorts of faculty (including, crucially, librarians) and students to think seriously and effectively about the information environment they are given and will co-create.

Sort of like an orientation to the idea of college, not simply an orientation that shows you where the services are, important as that is, too. A seminar in the idea of seminars. Or perhaps, at last, as Walker Percy writes in another context, the revelation of “a garden of delights that beckons to one.”

Odyssey Project narrative for grant application
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15 years of Gardner Writes

Gardner Writes appeared fifteen years ago today.


I’ve told the story in many other places of how I began blogging, inspired by Gene Roche and Bryan Alexander and Mary Donnelly and Brian Lamb and Barbara Ganley and Jon Udell and no doubt some folks I have overlooked in that list (my apologies). There are also stories to tell of how and why my blogging has waxed and waned over the years. Some of those stories are about work, some about stress, some about worry, some about insecurity, some about anger, some about exhaustion. Many of the stories combine all those factors.

Every time I blog, now, I find myself avoiding those stories. And since blogging for me has always been about telling my stories–the stories of my learning, my dreams, my hopes, my work–I find myself avoiding blogging, too.

But none of that will be forever, Deo volente. I don’t yet feel able or willing to tell those stories yet, but I will one day. And I hope the very fact I wanted to contribute another thread, today, to the ragged but still thrilling tapestry of the Web indicates I’m still committed to the project. And I always have the splendidly encouraging example of my friend and colleague and fellow blogger Alan Levine before me. (Now there’s a light that’s never goes out.)

I still think about leadership, and positive change, in higher education and in teaching and learning generally. I still think computers are a fascinating invention, and that networked computing as a platform for communication and collaboration can be extraordinarily effective in our efforts to go up Bateson’s levels of learning together. I’m still enthusiastic about the idea of connected learning. It’s been a thrill and a revelation to work with Wiki Education in my courses and to see the difference it’s made in my students’ work and in their lives as learners. has become an essential part of the learning ecosystem in every class I craft; I can’t imagine teaching without it. Each of these affordances and ideas is also a movement, a culture, a set of ideals and commitments that for me continue to represent the spirit of Web 2.0 I found all around me in 2004, when I started blogging.

I still require blogging in my classes. I still think that telling the story of one’s learning in a public blog post offers decisive opportunities for the metacognition that’s essential to deeper learning. Some of my greatest joys as a teacher still come from reading the stories of my students’ learning, particularly those blog posts in which they link to, credit, and encourage each other. To watch a class become a community of learners is a deep delight. It’s just about the most hopeful thing there is, in my experience.

I’m working on a book on Doug Engelbart and helping to convene a conversation around his research report cum manifesto Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. I still meet astonishing people whose lives and work humble and inspire me. I’m still traveling around to speak with folks at various conferences and events, and to learn from them. I’m still an English professor, still in love with film and music and poetry. I’m still a Miltonist, with three new essays out in the last fourteen months. There have been some losses over the last several years, some of them very painful. Yet, and still, there remains much good work to attempt.

And Gardner Writes is still here, and I still believe in blogging.

Andrew Sullivan describes some great reasons to continue the work of blogging, reasons that I still find compelling and true:

Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.

Those words appeared over four years ago, in a post that appears, ironically, to have been Sullivan’s penultimate blog post. But the words are still there, as of this writing, just as promised. The link still connects. So there’s that.

And here is this, a little anniversary celebration for the space that opened up a part of me that badly needed the air and sunlight and companionship all those years ago. My thanks to all of you who have been a part of these fifteen years. It’s been harder for me lately to get to the “letting go” that Sullivan aptly describes as a sine qua non. It’s not a complete letting go, of course. I still believe in personal, not private. But a sequence of losses can make one grab onto whatever’s left very, very tightly. Too tightly. My own irony is that I have not held on to the freedom that this blog brought to me, and still brings to me. I have not held on to the letting go, at least not consistently, and not here. It feels like I’ve nearly forgotten about that note, pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by.

Nearly, but not completely. I still hear some music in the distance.

Time to find that merry gypsy and rejoin the caravan.


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Toward the end of Open Learning ’18, I spotted an article in the Washington Post about a “nationwide college course” about the way democracies decay or erode over time. The Brown University professor who started the course, Rob Blair, began his efforts in the fall of 2017, with three schools in the network. As of this writing, in the spring of 2019, the main course website,, lists thirty-seven schools in the network, three of them outside the United States, as well as one that’s not an institution of higher education, the DC Jail. There’s also an “uncategorized” category, bringing the total categories of participation to thirty-eight. While not all of these participants have contributed to the cross-university blog yet, their presence on the site, and the shared learning resources in the course itself, emphasize the fact that networked learning is at the heart of this ongoing project.

Although the term “open pedagogy” doesn’t appear on the site, I think Dr. Blair’s course and the network built on that foundation certainly deserve to be considered in that light–which is why I immediately contacted him to arrange for an interview.

The interview took place in April, 2018, too late for Open Learning ’18. Nevertheless, while the course network has grown considerably since that time, the course design and the course site are still what they were when I spoke with Rob, so the interview remains relevant (at least in my view). So here, for Open Learning ’19, is our conversation about what I remain convinced is a remarkable example of the value and essential qualities of open pedagogy.


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All sorted and situated for OpenLearning ’19

The third iteration of Open Learning begins next week (March 17) with a focus on Open Access and Open Educational Resources. Week Two (March 24-30) emphasizes Open Pedagogy. Week Three launches Open Learning ’19 into the future with a discussion of Open Professional Development, including the idea of openly networked faculty development that was the initial emphasis for Virginia’s participation in the AAC&U’s Faculty Collaborative project, phase II, led and inspired by Dr. Susan Albertine.

This week, then, is the warm-up week, the orientation week, the week in which new folks have a chance to get themselves sorted and situated: sorted as in “what sorts of things should I be ready to do?” and situated as in situated cognition.

First, getting sorted. Here are the primary ways in which you can co-create (i.e., learn from) this experience.

Blogging. Yes, it can be the hardest, for all sorts of reasons. But I put it first because it’s the sort of participation that can yield the greatest benefits. When you blog, you’re present to your fellow learners (and yourself!) with a depth and breadth that can’t really be achieved with shorter and less essayistic forms of participation. Remember that the word “essay” originally means “an attempt.” An essay is not a term paper. Again, with feeling: an essay is not a term paper. It’s an attempt. And yes, I forget that too, all the time. 🙂

So please consider blogging. And if you decide to blog, please syndicate your blog into the hub site here:

Tweeting. Yes, Twitter is fraught in all sorts of ways. But for now, at least, it’s also a place where you can share, link, and connect quickly and effectively. Gather ’round our hashtag the way you’d gather around a warm and welcoming campfire: #openlearning19. Be hospitable. Expect hospitality in return. If you’re new to Twitter, you’ll likely be surprised by how quickly your network grows and becomes an indispensable part of your personal and professional development. I’ve been on Twitter since 2007, and while I’m repulsed and overwhelmed and bewildered by much of what lives in the fetid parts of our global lightspeed telecommunications network, in the last few weeks I’ve also been very strongly reminded that extraordinary things are not only possible in that network but more likely than they would be otherwise.

Hypothesis. Here’s where we gather around a text and read it together, making our annotations and weaving them into conversations. So, set up an account, look at the quick-start guide, and maybe practice a little. Shared online annotation, in an atmosphere of hospitality and a commitment to good faith, can reveal more glorious layers of both commonality and diversity within community.

Open Learning ’19, like the two iterations preceding it, generates resources worth consulting long after the event is over. There are interviews and panel discussions archived on YouTube. There are Twitter chats, annotated documents, blog posts, lush forests of learning full of associative trails. But the resources exist because of the networks from which they emerged, and for Open Learning, the network is the deliverable. That’s the situated part, as in situated cognition. For Open Learning to be meaningful, you must situate yourself within the network. That’s the easiest part and the hardest part, too.

Welcome! We look forward to learning with you, and from you.

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Featured Annotator: Claudia Ceraso

Featured Annotator Claudia Ceraso

Over a decade ago, I asked a question on Twitter about English usage.

To my surprise and delight, a teacher responded, one for whom Spanish was her mother tongue. Several tweets and linked blog posts later, that serendipitous encounter had become a key moment in my life, one I never forgot.

You’ll hear that story, and how it relates to the Engelbart Framework Annotation expedition, in this conversation with Featured Annotator Claudia Ceraso. The conversation was the first time we had interacted in real time, indeed the first time we had ever met face-to-face (albeit via a video interface). The conversation was thus a meeting and a reunion, focused and intensified by the work of thinking about Doug Engelbart’s 1962 research report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.

Claudia thinks a great deal about language. Her professional life in Argentina, where she lives, centers on teaching English as a foreign language to native Spanish speakers. I was fascinated by her responses to Engelbart’s thoughts on language and/as technology, and deeply moved by her evident love of language and learning.

Claudia has a teacher’s heart and a poet’s soul. I knew this before we spoke, but it was knowledge about, not personal knowledge of. As I go out on a limb, an activity Claudia recommends, I was just above the level of “saber,” and not yet at the level of “conocere.” (Help, Claudia–am I using these words well?) But I had a strong hunch, perhaps even what Claudia teaches me to think of as an “apperception.” Part of what made talking to Claudia such a special experience for me was discovering how right my hunch was, in ways I had not expected.

As you will hear in the interview, there was also the experience of mutual memory in our conversation. Our memory was of a time when the possibilities Doug Engelbart envisioned for “thought vectors in concept space” had seemed closer than ever, a time when the wave of hope and discovery called “Web 2.0” had not quite crested. A time of more blogs and more magical structures built and dwelled within, and not yet a time in which surveillance capitalism and poisonous polarization did not characterize so much of the online experience as they do today. A time when one might discover the unmet friend, and yearn for more connections.

That time is not over yet, but the building is more arduous, more an act of resistance and willed optimism. My conversation with Claudia Ceraso, centered on Engelbart’s dreams of making the world a better place, demonstrates for me that dreamers are not alone, and that the Internet can still be a true meeting place.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Postscript: as you can see from the Twitter timestamp above, the conference exchange between Claudia and me was in 2007. It was the valedictory session of the much-missed “Seminars on Academic Computing” in Snowmass, Colorado. Another loss to mourn, and at the same time, another moment of persistence that the Web enables.

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Featured Annotator: Howard Rheingold

Portrait of Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold

Our Featured Annotator interview series in the Engelbart Framework Annotation expedition continues with Howard Rheingold, whose work has been tremendously influential on me and many, many others who seek to understand the character and potential of the digital age. Howard’s epic Tools For Thought awakened me to depths in this story that I had only suspected before reading his account. Even more to the point, Howard’s work conveys and catalyzes insight on every page.

In this case, our Featured Annotator brings not only deep insights into Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Frameworkbut also a remarkable personal history with that document and its author. As you will hear, Howard met Doug Engelbart not long after Doug’s Augmentation Research Center had ceased operations at SRI. Over many years and many conversations, Howard got to know Doug well, and he brings to this interview a stirring account of Doug as a human being and, as Howard puts it in Tools for Thought, a lonely long-distance thinker.

I have a head full of words, but I struggle to find the language I would need to describe the extent and importance of Howard’s contributions to the planetary conversation about how to build a better future together. He is merrily, definitely, and defiantly, an intellectual philanthropist.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Featured Annotator: Jon Udell

Jon Udell

Part of the Engelbart Framework Annotation event involves what we’re calling “featured annotators.” As Alan Levine and I discussed the event last fall and early this year, we quickly agreed there should be a meta-layer, or perhaps a meta-meta-layer, in which certain annotators would be interviewed for additional thoughts on Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, and especially their thoughts on their own annotations. How did they select the passages they chose to annotate? How did they think about the nature, tone, length, etc. of the passages they annotated? Most generally (most meta), how do they think about the activity of annotating? It seemed not only interesting but pedagogically effective to hear experts musing metacognitively in this way. And it would be an opportunity to expand the annotations multimodally.

We initially thought about doing real-time streams of people annotating, asking them to think aloud (or one might say “narrate their work“) as they did their annotations, but eventually we decided that would be unwieldy and perhaps a little too much like Monty Python’s “Novel Writing With Thomas Hardy” sketch. I bring up this early abandoned idea, though, as a little marker for considering the mix and character of synchronous and asynchronous events in the act of reading and writing. (More to say on that topic sometime.)

Instead of real-time narration, then, we settled on the idea of post-annotation interviews with our featured annotators. I did three of these interviews last week. If all goes according to plan, there will be fourteen of these interviews by the end of this event. (Chaucer didn’t live to finish his storytelling plan; I hope I do.) Today I’m pleased to say that the first of our featured annotator interviews is ready for your viewing.

I’m speaking with Jon Udell, whose work I became aware of shortly after I became aware of Doug Engelbart’s, a kind of temporal rhyme in my own lifestream. I was at lunch with Jerry Slezak, a member of the dream team at the University of Mary Washington, and Jerry mentioned to me a screencast on the topic of Wikipedia and heavy metal umlaut bands. Intrigued, I watched the screencast as soon as I got back to the office, and was thus introduced to the creative world of a deep thinker–a rare and memorable event. Jon has played a major role in this phase of my own intellectual and professional development. I look to him as an exemplar, a mentor, and a friend.

Here’s my conversation with Jon.

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Engelbart Framework Project podcast 2 parts 1 and 2

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Week 2 of the Engelbart Framework Annotation Project focuses on two excerpts from Doug Engelbart’s 1962 research report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual FrameworkHere are the audiobook recordings for Week 2.

The first excerpt, Section II parts A and B, is Engelbart’s overview of the H-LAM/T framework he proposed as a way of understanding and thus potentially accelerating the augmentation of human intellect.

This link takes you to the annotation indicating the beginning of this excerpt from the report.

The second excerpt, Section III part A subsection 1-2, discusses one of the primary antecedents for the conceptual framework Engelbart proposes: the 1945 essay “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush. In my reading, I’ve tried to differentiate the long quotation from Bush’s essay from the commentary and analysis Engelbart provides on either side of that long quotation. I didn’t want to try to emulate Bush’s Yankee accent–too much of a stunt, and I wouldn’t have done it well in any case–so instead I read the Bush quotation with a more declamatory style, while reading Engelbart’s words in a more ruminative and somewhat more intimate voice. If you get lost, just refer back to the original 1962 document. 🙂

This link takes you to the annotation indicating the beginning of this excerpt from the report.

As always, I hope these readings are helpful. For me, doing these recordings has been quite a revelation at times, for reasons I’ll explore in future blog posts.

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