Access to knowledge is a control system.
As the "Apple of Eden" unlocked the power to question so too is the case with all modern knowledge transfer technologies. Knowledge corrupts established thought, expands horizons, and changes human outcomes in powerful ways. It has network effects of its own and so, it is imperative that we as producers and orchestrators of knowledge production, management and dissemination acknowledge the power we wield. We have the power to shape society. So how best can we utilize our talents to maximize empowerment?
It is an ethical imperative that we seek the fundamental transformation of higher education to maximize quality and access to knowledge. This transformation will empower the globe to increase empathy, maximize personal freedom and personal growth through increased educational equality.
Change knowledge dissemination; change everything.
We will build a more open, more accessible, more equal opportunities, and as a result a more just society through the empowerment of all regardless of background, experience, status or financial means. What structural problems must we attack in order to fundamentally alter the dissemination and production of knowledge? What philosophy of system design can we adopt in order to change structural inequality?
Actor network theory offers a critical lens with which to view production and implementation of knowledge dissemination technologies. TLDR; all machines and human connections influence one another equally and their relative positioning to one another is important. Simply using a tool is not enough, the tool must provide affordances that eliminate structural inequality in knowledge production and dissemination.
To illustrate that there is a difference in possibilities through knowledge dissemination usage:
All knowledge is produced by accessing website X. All knowledge seekers access website X. A counter to this approach is similar in initial access but maximizes flexibility and potential quality of experience All knowledge is produced in any location that best meets its needs (Solution Y), then referenced in website X. All knowledge seekers access website X, but are pushed out to website Y.
Decentralization of knowledge construction
This decentralization of knowledge construction still affords the minimal amount of centralization required to avoid chaos, which I shall deem structured anarchy. The point of decentralizing knowledge production is not to produce chaos, it is to provide more vibrant, local options to better meet the needs of knowledge producers based on the topic of choice. We don't setup science lab classes expecting to teach forestry in them. We don't expect our doctors of tomorrow to learn while dangling from a tree harness.
Why then should it be absurd to construct technology environments that best meet the needs of the topic at hand?
Seeding this ground, that all learning environments and knowledge production silos are the same, forces us to accept structural failings of today's learning management systems which better resemble a theocracy then today's vibrant internet culture. These structural failures lead to simple technical ones that are difficult for modern knowledge produces to understand (yet are forced to accept):
- Want to improve perception of knowledge quality through design? No, the theocracy demands understanding of complex technical underpinnings.
- Want to reference or pull in external knowledge? Yes, but only if it follows our ridged, dated orthodoxies of API design.
There's another way out.
A phrase has emerged (circa 2014) to attempt to encompass the antithesis of the theocratic knowledge production market. Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) is thought of as the response to legacy theocratic knowledge dissemination technologies. NGDLE embraces knowledge construction by leveraging a free and open internet as well as the construction of new learning ecosystems. It seeks maximal freedom for knowledge producers to utilize whatever methods of production they can access in order to best disseminate knowledge to those seeking it.
The theocratic knowledge production market has attempted to utilize existing methods of structural inequality in order to perpetuate their control in the name of next generation. It utilizes legacy standards like Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) in order to claim that it has embraced the internet by providing a window out to it.
"Look at us, we've changed. No really, we have. We allow you to access (some) additional methods of construction. Just stay with us, please, we've changed." the theocratic knowledge production market says. Like an abusive lover though, it hasn't actually changed, it's just gotten a haircut and bought flowers (or, you know, adopted Twitter's bootstrap framework and claimed the high ground of usability as a result).
The knowledge production theocracy wants you; needs you; no, demands that you stay in a stasis.
But you don’t need them
NGDLE is not about building up a long dead, one sided relationship (and ideology). It's an approach that says we need to tell the LMS that "we're cool, we've moved on. We can still be friends though". I mean, LMS still has all your CDs in its car and you can't just leave 40 or 50 CDs in LMS's car right? No, don't abandon your CDs in LMS's car; I'm saying though that we need to consider how we can make LMS useful the best self it can be too. The LMS was never meant to do too much, but we previously demanded that it do so. Like every Disney villain, they aren't purely evil, the theocratic knowledge production market is just misguided. It's going where capitalism has allowed it to go and needs a purely decentralized, internet mindset in order to right the (sinking) ship.
NGDLE more than technology construction is about aligning the foundational principle of academic freedom with technology freedom. While the theocratic knowledge production market provides and enforces bland experience construction; NGDLE by contrast fosters personal growth, seeking new idea and expanding horizons through the intentional decentralization of knowledge production and dissemination.
This is why NGDLE has been so difficult for anyone to embrace (or build for that matter...ELMS:LN is 4 years old and only now is making sense in discussions I have or slides). NGDLE is not a product. It is a mindset, a method of knowledge assembly that ensures no centralized authority can exist. Without centralization, it's very difficult for the theocratic knowledge production market (as it presently exists) to make money. And if it's purely profit driven (spoiler alert: they don't care about you no matter how big their conference, they want your money).
Bringing the market to succumb to NGDLE
If the market existed, then capitalism alone would provide it right? We've been asking for these products and the theocratic knowledge production market provided. To which I'd retort... when Toys R Us existed and we all went to a centralized location to buy toys, did we sit around and think "huh, there's gotta be a way we can get rid of this process and provide better outcomes". I mean, the market produced a solution to a need, we utilized it, so it was clearly the best (I mean they had a run for 70+ years).
Some will argue the market caught up with them (Amazon specifically) but what really happened? Amazon embraced a decentralized access methodology, aka internet centric access and development method. By increasing pressure in the server and supply chain automation space they were able to collapse the theocratic toy purchase market.
Forces to support which will decentralize the theocratic knowledge production market
Support these efforts, and we collectively can disrupt the theocratic knowledge production market
Stand up for voices that are attacking the theocratic knowledge production market and are using their money and their feet to demonstrate their commitment to ending it. Paul's work illustrates the power of the individual to get up and leave and not fail. Reclaim hosting is an example of how an edge industry and further erode confidence in the theocratic knowledge production market. Tsugi is a representation of how we can micro service the theocratic knowledge production market into a position where you start questioning why you have an LMS. I will say that as I'm far more aggressive in my NGDLE stance then Dr. Chuck, his technology embraces the theocratic knowledge production market too much and will ensure that it always exists.
I am a hardline NGDLE believer. I am change. I am a Tempored Radical. As a result, the fronts that I push on and will continue to push on are far more decentralized then these approaches. All three of the above empower people... to continue to use the theocratic knowledge production market over the long term. They build up their users for sure, but in any social declaration of where we can go, someone needs to try and be the goal post.
Story of the arbiters of the digital revolution
These represent my own efforts to bring about the decentralization of knowledge production in order to Transform Education.
- #HAXtheweb - Decentralized, OER Schema aware knowledge construction platform. Run an identical authoring experience regardless of platform and leverage the web as a whole. Work on a desktop, a phone, locally, in a CMS, in an LMS? Doesn't matter. HAX is intended to be a decentralized production system which makes writing complex HTML trivial. It's also engineered to allow developers to extend the authoring experience by simply extending the web (through web component based architecture, ala LRN Web components below).
- ELMS:LN - ELMS: Learning Network - A system of systems, built with NGDLE in mind. It is engineered to power HAX (and HAX power it). It provides methods for environment construction so that educators can have more vibrant learning ecosystems rather then single widget-y + 1 tools. ELMS:LN pulls all of these technologies and grows in capabilities as elements make it possible. It is both experiment and development platform for testing new pedagogical idea as they relate to design as well as delivering higher quality experiences then traditional LMS can produce.
- LRN Web components - LRN Web Components is an ever expanding design and functionality component set that powers ELMS:LN, HAX and any system that we develop. It allows for an insane amount of reuse across educational projects and is intended to solve the NGDLE problem of cognitive load on learners via design and development consistency making environments easier to use and develop.
- OER Schema - Schema for expressing pedagogy. It extends Schema.org and provides semantic meaning to all of the elements produced as part of LRN Web Components, meaning that every system (edtech or otherwise) that implement LRN Web Components will be getting wired for OER Schema. This will provide a more vibrant search and remix experience for OER content produced over the long haul of society.
I'll see you in the future.
We can develop in minutes what takes the establishment months to envision. When we give these technologies away. When we work with faculty person to person to empower them not to stand on our shoulders but to stand on their own, completely independent of us (via HAX). There is no limit to what we can do when we start working together.
I will be told that I'm full of myself, and often have, and that's fine. But if Hawkings felt he couldn't be better than Einstein he never would have tried. If it wasn't an active journey to be the best, to liberate the most, . I can pledge to you now, whoever you are, that you have a critical role to play in the future development of educational technology solutions and helping improve structural inequality, if you want to.
I'm standing up, and I won't back down from these ideas, technologies, and approaches. My heroes are probably a little different than yours. My heroes are people like Jonas Salk, inventor of the Polio vaccine that refused to patton it. Like Dr. Charles R. Severance who's crazy enough to believe in a communication's protocol so deeply that he'd get tattoos of those that implemented it (as an LTI founder and me viewing LTI as evil, we're a fun party pack). Like Richard Stallman who is unapologetic in his adherence to open source and free software. And all those that donate their time and efforts in order to empower others to build solutions for themselves.
I've passed up money, promotions, companies, consulting, time with loved ones (the big picture is a better future for my boys); because of an idea which I know to be true: any individual can change the world. I will change whatever educational equity issue I can resolve in my life time, or will at least work as hard as I can towards attempting to resolve those issues. I've been blessed with an amazing opportunity in this world... to write code that I can release in hopes of making an impact. I know that if you'd join us and do the same, that we can improve access, increase quality, and eliminate the need for anyone to be dependent on anyone else to disseminate knowledge.
Will you join me in trying to be more than just a vapor in this world but to leave a legacy as the people that stood up and caused a social movement that saw a dramatic improvement in education and knowledge production systems? Through better solutions, people will be able to better empathize with one another, have a bigger world view, and reduce real world conflicts. Through better solutions we'll get knowledge out to people in faraway places and disadvantaged nearby ones that build people up and teach them how to fish on their own. That give them untold experiences without the need to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
Ex Uno Plura - Out of one, many. Be that one that can bring forth the empowerment of many.
Bryan Todd Ollendyke
March 16th, 2018.