#2016DML – a look back

tl;dr: I visited the annual conference of the DML Research Hub #2016DML and I tried to pin down some of the many experiences that stuck with me. This should be a much longer post than it actually is.

When I was introduced to the DML Research Hub and the inspiring people in its wider network by Nishant Shah, I was a bit overwhelmed by the complex and critical questions contributors to the blog and to the ‘twittersphere’ (is that still a word?) were asking around digital media and pedagogy, connected learning and its impacts and influences on learning and teaching in general. Leuphana Digital School had been around for a bit longer than one year, we had finished our pilot course and we had also tried out how to apply its infrastructure to the freshmen week at Leuphana. We were still in the process of figuring out things on our own and we had no real capacity for the conscious and planned integration of others’ theories, ideas or practices (see my related post “Where would you start?” for context).

While attending a DML conference seemed out of my world by then, imagining to present during an Ignite Talk session would have blown my ‘2013 self’ out of the universe. So, in October 2016, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the conference and, while memories are as fresh as they will ever be, I want to take the chance and ban some of them onto the web.

Workshop: Crafting Connected Courses

For me, the conference started on Wednesday, Oct 5th, with the workshop “Crafting Connected Courses” offered by Justin Reich and Alan Levine. Even though I have been following their work closely from Germany, I had never met neither Justin nor Alan in person. One could tell that they had put a lot of thought and craftsmanship into the design of the workshop itself. We started off with an introduction to the world of connected courses. Later on, each participant got to set up domains, subdomains, syndication hubs and Splots. All of this was made possible by the team at Reclaim Hosting and Alan Levine and it was a great peak behind the curtain of setting up connected courses with WordPress and other tools that are available for free online. Especially the creation of hubs, the aggregation of different feeds that works as the backbone infrastructure of #ds106, for example, stuck with me as a powerful process and tool when it comes to connecting communities and learning networks. But what actually makes this powerful to me is not its power once it is set up. The power of these tools lies in the fact that now, because of people like Alan and the folks at Reclaim Hosting, even non-coders and non-techies like me are able to set this up for courses and learning networks at their institutions with a simple WordPress installation. It might seem trivial to those in the community who grew up coding, breaking and fixing things but I feel that now, supported by the openly available work of Alan Levine, Jim Groom and so many other dedicated educators, people like me are now able to tinker with these technologies and apply them where we see fit. This can and will scale and the most recent collaboration between Coventry University and Reclaim Hosting might just be the starting point for this in Europe (all dystopian UK / EU developments and narratives aside).

Keynote: What is the Intellectual Culture of Games?

On Thursday, Constance Steinkuehler delivered a powerful and thought-provoking keynote: “What is the Intellectual Culture of Games?” I have to admit that I was not at all familiar with her work before coming to #2016DML which is probably one of the reasons why I was even more fascinated by the connections between gaming and literacy that she drew. The critical, yet optimistic view on participatory culture, learning and gaming that she combined with a clear call for equity and agenda setting by the DML community was even more mind-blowing due to her humorous and emphatic way of communicating hard truths. At this time, a summary by me is not going to do her justice but I encourage anyone to watch the recording of her keynote right away. I mean it, stop what you’re doing and watch this right now.

Virtually Connecting with Legends Online and Offline

The day went on with sessions and workshops and my next personal highlight was the Virtually Connecting session that I was invited to by Maha Bali. Virtually Connecting was founded by Maha and Rebecca Hogue and they are doing an awesome job in amplifying hallway conversations at conferences using Google Hangouts and Youtube Live. People both on site and from all over the world join scheduled sessions and start exchanging impressions, connections and thoughts just like you would with someone you meet on site. The sessions are live-recorded and provide a great entry point to conferences for anyone who could not make it to the conference in person. Our session was virtually facilitated by Sundi RichardMia Zamora was the on-site buddy at the conference. Among others, Howard Rheingold, Jen Weible, Rebecca Hogue and Maha Bali joined virtually while Kate Green, George Station and myself were the on-site guests. George, Mia and Kate had visited the same workshop and so the conversation we had revolved very much around the topics brought up during that workshop. Questions around digital identity, privacy and security emerged and were discussed from multiple perspectives. On site, we had to keep it short due to an overlap of room bookings and I would have loved to stay longer. There will be a next time.

Ignite Talks – Inspirational Stories and Provocations distilled in 5 Minute Bites

More than anything else, though, the Ignite Talk sessions made the biggest impression on me personally. I am probably biased as this was the session in which I presented my thoughts and ideas regarding access to HigherEd for refugees in Germany. But still, the bandwidth of the topics, the provocations, the presentational skills (yes, there was an education-themed cover version of the Prince of Bel Air performed by Nick Ross), the shock and awe the speakers were able to ignite in the audience erase all potential doubts regarding the contextual depth of this format. My personal highlights were the talks by Robin DeRosa on the role of public universities and the ties to Open Access (first Ignite Session on Thursday), the history of annotation by Remi Kalir and the courageous provocation of the audience by Kate Green (both in the second Ignite session on Friday).

It has always struck me as dull that many of the Open Education initiatives in Germany lack a proper reflection or at least an ongoing exchange with experts in the field from the UK, the US or any other part of the world. We can learn a lot by integrating those perspectives and not making all the mistakes all over again should be the intention of anyone in the German system and beyond. The history of OER funding and OER repositories in the UK might just be the most prominent case to look at but there are many other stories and experiences out there that we don’t reflect and integrate into our thinking. Remi’s talk exemplified how much richer a technology or tool can become by adding context. Seeing the web annotation services offered by hypothes.is in this light and context adds even more educational value to the practice of web annotation. Kate’s talk was exemplary for anyone who seeks to emphatically provoke an audience by making a space for an issue that has not yet made it into the hearts, minds and practices of a particular group of people. It will be interesting to watch her in her efforts to further amplify these issues.

Digital Dreamers: Jose Antonio Vargas talks with Henry Jenkins

I remember overhearing a conversation between two DML participants planning a new project. They were discussing the scope and goal of their project and one of them said: “Let’s take on the big one, let’s talk about race.” Especially with the conversation between Henry Jenkins and Jose Antonio Vargas in mind, one has to applaud this notion. Many thought-provoking statements were made about the role of race, gender and diversity in America. I highly recommend to watch and re-watch this. I think the statement that resonated most with me personally  was this:

This is something that I will have to think more on in the future, especially since I am exactly the kind of guy who has been living the privileged life of a white heterosexual male in Western Europe. At this time, though, 24 hours after the #2016DML conference has come to an end, I am not done processing this and will therefore not blurt out comments or ideas on a topic of this importance. However, I’d love to hear and read more about thoughts and ideas on the role of Open Education in this context, please do comment and recommend.

Hallway Conversations

I have to admit that I skipped several activity slots while talking to folks who I only knew from twitter, their blogs or publications. It was great to get to know these inspiring educators who share and work openly. The first conversations during Wednesday’s workshop erased all doubts that I might feel as an outcast or DML newbie who still has to earn his place at the table of educators, thinkers, academics and practitioners. The welcoming atmosphere in general but also the sincere interest of others to engage in thoughts, conversations and activities about potential collaborations in the future is something the German culture around digital media and learning is severely missing.

Slackbots to the Rescue

A part of the community at #2016DML communicated over Slack during the conference, mostly with regards to organizational matters as far as I am aware. However, Kyle Booten tinkered a bit with a Slackbot that responds to different philosophers’ last names and extracts quotes mostly from Tumblr blogs as far as I understood. A fun exercise that entertained a couple of attendees, me included, that one should not take too seriously.


Still, testing Slackbot’s playful take on different philosophers disposition towards digital media was a cool thing to do between conversations and workshops. I was approached by Kyle after the conference at the In-N-Out (where else) after he noticed the hypothes.is sticker on my laptop and we chatted a bit about a potential future use of Slack within the DML. community. So hypothes.is might have opened a door here – again.

I am certain that there are lots of things I missed during the conference and I will have to re-watch many of the recorded keynotes and sessions. I will certainly pick back up on the workshop on Crafting Connected Courses and potential applications. While I am looking forward to the next DML conference (hope I will make it again next year), I am glad about the connections I made with other like-minded people who work towards open and equitable education while critically examining and testing the potential applications of digital media. Thank you!

Hack the Edu System – Ignite Talk at #2016DML

tl;dr: I gave an Ignite Talk at #2016DML in which I talked about access to Higher Ed for refugees in Germany. In the transcript below, I am inviting you to give feedback and to suggest ideas. If you want to dig in deeper, there also is a Google Doc with first ideas.

Here’s a recording of my talk (starting at 53:40)

As I write this post I am on my way from Hamburg to Los Angeles, both excited and a bit nervous about the upcoming #2016DML conference at UC Irvine in California. This is the the first time for me to be presenting at an Ignite Talk session and I don’t have that much experience at international conferences to begin with. When I submitted my proposal, I would not have imagined for it to be considered and so I didn’t pay too much attention to the format itself. I followed an “I’ll see about that when I get there” attitude. So, I am on my way now and I have decided that this will also be the first time for me to publish a blog post about a talk I am giving. I am doing this for several reasons:

1. There is a huge chance that I am not going to convey my message during the talk. I might forget something, I might choose a different wording, I might be too nervous and forget something. Gardner Campbell (!) might let me know that my five minutes are over when I am not done yet. So I will use this post to provide something like a script of my talk. I know there are many issues that I could follow up on in greater depth but this post is not the space for that.

2. As you will (hopefully) see by the end of my talk, I hope that the ideas I am kicking around will receive some feedback. After all, the DML conferences have been places where some of the greatest minds from the world of digital media and learning convene. So, while there is certainly not time for constructive feedback during my potentially embarrassing five minutes on stage, I hope that you will find the time to comment on this post, send me email, annotate with hypothesis, comment in this Google Doc or send me a tweet.

3. This is the most obvious of my three main reasons: I am privileged that I am able to afford a trip to Irvine out of my own pocket and without institutional support. Not everyone is able to do this – be it due to a lack of money, a lack of time, immigration or visa regulation or for personal reasons. So, whenever possible, we should try and make stuff openly available to anyone on the web. Also, I need feedback – so who am I to ask only the folks at #2016DML for their opinions?

Okay, here goes my talk – any feedback is much appreciated:

I want to borrow an experiment from Vincent Zimmer of Kiron and ask a simple question: Imagine yourself to be a refugee somewhere. Let’s say Aleppo to reflect the current news cycle and let’s say you’re 20 years old. Now imagine you have two minutes to pack your stuff before you leave. What will you take along on an exhausting and dangerous journey towards Europe? Now, raise your hands if you thought of your high school diploma or your college transcript of records!

My point is this: for the challenge of opening up study paths for refugees in Germany, there are no easy solutions, no one-size-fits-all processes will serve a diverse group of people who are trying to access higher education.

German bureaucracy is trying to develop just that: one-size-fits-all information, procedure and process. Information on the German educational system is not crafted for refugees (even though it is branded differently), it is distributed between several agencies, and it hardly reflects the recipients’ situations. This process illustrates that we present information but we know very little about the recipients of the information, the ‘target group’.

We don’t have the facts. When immigrating to Germany and applying for asylum, we don’t always ask refugees about their educational attainments, we don’t always know whether someone is a student of architecture or nursing, or whether someone completed secondary school.

Still, we present undirected information on how to study in Germany on websites, for download as PDF. Sometimes we translate into other languages. I know a thing or two about the German System of higher ed, but I cannot make sense of some of the information even though it deals with the system I inherit and it is presented in my native language.

Information is distributed in formats that are not hackable or forkable. There is no way of commenting, of asking questions, or even to easily copy and paste from a PDF to Google Translate because many use mobile devices. The aim seems to be to adapt refugees to the German system of higher education while the system seems reluctant to change. We offer online courses on the subject. To participate, learners have to identify themselves as asylum seekers online. They give up their identities, their names, their profile pictures. We ask refugees who have fled wars, persecution and an environment that taught them to stay ‘under the radar’ to self-identify as refugees and asylum seekers online.

To recap: we know little about the refugees who made it to Germany. Yet, we demand adaptation to a one-size-fits-all system. We discriminate and, instead of listening, we provide universal answers to questions we made up on our own.

The question is: what can we contribute to change? How can we hack the German education system?

What can [online] educators do? What can concepts like rhizomatic learning, connectivism and connected learning contribute to this problem? What does digital pedagogy have to offer? Are there others around the world who have had to deal with similar problems? What were their ideas and concepts?

Two statements came to mind that I want to highlight: The first is from the highly recommended keynote “Not Enough Voices” by Sean Michael Morris, delivered at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute this year. Most of you have probably read this at least once or twice, but I am going to highlight this one statement here: “We amplify silenced voices by listening. By making space for them to speak. Not safe space, necessarily, daring space. Because it’s never safe to speak.” How do we amplify the voices of refugees who are seeking access to a system of higher ed? How do we make space for them to speak instead of a bureaucracy shouting at them? How can we listen and still respect their privacy? How can we hack the system?

The second statement is from Jonathan Worths’ 2015 Ignite Talk at DML. Jonathan talked about enabling people to be heard and to participate in their own representation. Again – how do we do this? How can we enable refugees to participate in their own representation, how do we enable them to be heard? What do communities around #DigPed, #OpenPed #2016DML or #ConnectedLearning have to offer? How can we hack the system of higher education in Germany for refugees to be listened to, to participate in their own representation?

There is not one right answer to any of these questions, but there certainly are ideas, reports or projects with a similar scope. I published a short blog post as a transcript of this talk as well as a Google Doc in which I try to outline two main ideas of how to tackle this. Please comment and suggest ideas. If you know of a project with a similar scope, let me know. If you see parallels to something you have done before, I’d be happy to take your advice. Visit my blog post and the Google Doc and drown me in feedback.

Just as I started this talk by borrowing a short experiment from Vincent Zimmer, I’d like to end it by borrowing from Jim Groom, who quoted Greg Ginn at #OER16: “If you don’t like ‘the system’, you should create one of your own.”

Thank you.

Google Slides to my talk

Where would you start?



Newcastle Libraries



tl;dr: I started to curate a list of topics, trends, literature, people and conferences related to open education, open learning and teaching, connected learning and many more. Take a look here and please do add readings, comments and links. Thank you!

Over the last years, co-workers and colleagues have frequently asked me something similar to this: “I’d like to read up on the recent developments in open education. Which resource can you point me to as a starting point? Which blog or text, which author or publication is most valuable to you? Where should I start if I wanted to dive into connected learning (depending on the context, replace with: open learning, digital pedagogy, open teaching, online teaching, personalization of online learning…)?”

Depending on who asks and on their context, but also depending on the amount of time on my hands, my answer can turn out quite differently. I usually come up with 2-3 references for someone to start with – depending on their background, their assumed expertise and interests or regarding their specific question. Of course, these recommendations are biased by what I have read and what I care about on that particular day and, even if I tried, it would never be an exhaustive list or overview. It would not even come close to doing this question justice. Now, most recently, I was not only asked for some recommendations on the fly, but for an exhaustive list of publications, authors, conferences and the like. And while I still certainly have not reached the status of an expert in any of these fields, I wonder what would have happened if someone I trust had provided me with a list of resources and people she admired when I started out in online learning and open education four years ago.

Four years ago, I stumbled into the world of online teaching and learning. By coincidence and because I had (and still have) the privilege to work with great colleagues, we happened to take lots of decisions that we are okay with still today. Some decisions, or better: their results, still give us headaches today. However, all of these decisions were ill-informed and I would have loved for a trusted colleague or friend to point me to a couple of resources that set the scene for me.

So, today, I try to answer these questions with the best intentions. And in doing so, I still don’t do them justice. I should be able to try and introduce the complex world of online teaching and learning by lining out the key developments. When someone asks about online assessment and credentialing, it feels wrong not to introduce them to work on digital literacy, to learning analytics and its critique, to rhizomatic learning and learning in networks, to issues around privacy, security and safety in online learning, to digital identities. Try and fit that in a tweet, a two-minute conversation or in a short email.

This is why I started to collect and curate my recommendations in a Google Doc. I am doing it out in the open because I hope that this sort of compilation is of use to others, but also because I am hoping for you to help me (if you are still reading these lines). Please do add to the document itself, share your own list if you have one, point me to other resources that I missed, question my categorization of areas and trends. I would be amazed to hear from you. Thank you.