Issue Hubs /Water106

There was so much good thinking by others on the web during my winter vacation. And I want to comment on it all — just as soon as I go through the purgatory of semester startup. Faculty need blogs, administrators need schedules and work plans, and I may even need to have a syllabus together for a small class I am teaching this semester. These things need to happen by, say, Friday.

At the same time, I notice that I haven’t updated people on the evolution of Water106 on this blog recently. So here’s the update.

Water106 is still going forward, but in a slightly altered form. It’s simpler, I think. My current mental formulation is this: folks have been producing UMW-like “course hubs” for a while now. And we’re starting to build some demand on campus for exactly this sort of thing. A course hub is just a set of web spaces and services that forms the public presence of a class on the web. Here’s one on I worked on with Clare Weber last semester for ANTH301 (Arts and Media in a Global Perspective) — it’s got a public blog and a semi-private wiki. Easy-peasy. If I wasn’t so bogged down, I’d drop a dozen links here to show you examples from all over the country, but use google and type in “UMW blogs” or “course hubs” and you’ll see the sort of thing I mean.

Here’s my utterly reduced “issue hubs” pitch. What if instead of setting hubs up under the “course” umbrella, we set them up by “topics” or “issues”? What if instead of encouraging faculty to set up, I encouraged them to set up And then what if we made minor alterations to the structure of the hub that made it really easy for another class working on a similar or related subject to live in the same place? Without ever explicitly coordinating with the initial class?

This is not new by any means. Looking for Whitman modeled much of this approach something like four years ago, and remains for me one of the great untapped experiments of the pre-xMOOC age. Ds106 has done similar things. So has FemTechNet. Many others have done experiments with this as well. So I’m not sure how much new I’m adding to the store of human knowledge here. But what I am asking is whether we can apply the lessons we have learned in the past 4 years about how to run “blurred-boundary” courses and work it into what we do not as the exception, but as the default. And ideally, build it in such a way that less coordination is needed between classes and individuals participating. I know that Jim Groom and Alan Levine and Brian Lamb have in the past rightly critiqued the “scalability” push on these efforts (was it Brian who asked “Does poetry scale?”). But structuring classes in this way is one way to start to get beneficial network effects in the production of these sites while simultaneously improving the pedagogy.

Absolutely know there are some issues with this approach, and it is not a one-size-fits all. More soon.

Revenge of the OS


I’ve been trying to write a longer piece on an issue and failing, so I thought I’d put down the five paragraph version here, and see what Twitter thinks.

Roughly, circa 2006 there was an corporate/institutional integration problem and a personal integration problem. The corporate/institutional problem went something like “We need to be THE one stop solution, so we can maximize clicks and get a more global view of the customer.” The personal problem went something like “I’m sick of having to log in to 20 different services in the course of the day.”

These somewhat related concerns pushed on us the age of the mega-service, and the discussion was around which provider would become that mega-service. Would it be Google+, Facebook, Twitter? The idea of the mega-service was total identity management — convenience for us, unified data for them.

Except something strange has happened over the past couple of years. Identity is now maintained on our phones. It’s a device issue. Our portal is our app screen. Our network isn’t Facebook or Google or Twitter. It’s the phone address book that is the union of those three imports. And on the phone we stop dreaming about “If only there was a service that integrated functions of Twitter, Gmail, and Snapchat!” Because there is a service that integrates that — your phone’s notifications screen. The notifications screen is the new Facebook feed. The mega-service — a bizarre artifact of web-based logins, crippled APIs and an embarrassingly outdated cookie-based persistence scheme — is at its height right now, but it no longer solves a consumer problem. It’s about to collapse.


Xbox 360 has looked like this for years now, skipped over portal phase altogether…

So where are we? Well, the consumer-corporate pact is unwinding. Mega-services and institutions still have their data needs an monopolistic dreams, but we no longer have a need for their solution. My daughter, who needed Facebook to hold her life together 4 years ago, now moves fluidly between Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine accounts, with the notifications panel her point of integration. It doesn’t occur to her that this is a hassle — it feels like little more than switching pages in Facebook.

Identity has been moved upstream. It’s the revenge of the OS, and it’s already spreading beyond phones as app-based design becomes the dominant computing model. Today it’s Facebook that needs to worry. But it seems to me there are interesting implications for edtech as well. Thoughts?