technology that brings learning back to the living

Every reference I can find for the etymology of the word technology has to do with, “art, skill, or craft.” Technique comes from the same root. Any system of making or doing requires qualities such as dedication, skill, and patience. Technique/technology is all about purpose and cleverness. Tools and computers are sometimes included, but not required.

But whenever I hear people talk about education technology they focus on the latest software that promises to accelerate learning.

Halloween Tech

In this way, most edtech is a lot like Halloween: false, passé, and occasionally dangerous.

On Halloween people dress up as something they’re not and demand treats for their effort. We act as if the ritual is perfectly normal, because tradition.  We make light of their intended deceptions and throw treats in their pillowcases, plastic pumpkins, IPOs, and crypto wallets.

Maybe it’s because we don’t know better. Or we’re afraid they’ll TP our house or troll us online.

Halloween is commercial. Like many Americanized holidays, Halloween sells consumption of plastic, sugar, and alcohol. Celebrate! Lower your inhibitions and get crazy, yeah baby.

The history of Halloween hardly ever enters the conversation unless it’s Ichabod Crane or the Great Pumpkin.

Modern is sometimes overrated.

Dias de los Muertos Tech

Los Dias de los Muertos, like Open-Source Learning, is all about integrating worlds and honoring our connections with people.

Watching the light dim and the plants die at this time of year led brings death to mind. Historically, as people opened that door in their thinking and looked past their own boundaries, they came to believe that the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world thinned as well. Like Beltaine and Samhain in Ireland, Los Dios de los Muertos celebrates the thinner boundary between worlds that makes it easier for the spirits to join us in celebration.

The Technology de los Muertos – the means through which people symbolized this belief system – is designed to reveal, not to conceal. Instead of wearing masks to conceal our real identity or assume a different one, Los Dias de los Muertos costumes and ofrendas are designed to call attention, to invite the spirits and each of us into connection.

Say Hello to my Little Ofrenda

The ways we design and construct ofrendas combine pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals with more recent additions from Catholicism and popular culture. Posada didn’t draw La Catrina until the early 1900s. However, the marigolds – called cempasúchil by the Aztecs – have been used for centuries to call the dead back home.

The ofrendas we build, the food we make, the clothes and makeup we wear, and the music we play – these are all forms of social media. We bring our attention to symbols that convey belonging and meaning.

This is the ofrenda in my house:

Open-Source Learning Tech

When they’re sitting in closed classrooms, students are no more connected to the off-campus community than we are to the spiritual world. Or Antarctica.

Open-Source Learning thins the veil between your learning community and the rest of the world. We can connect with peers, resources, and even mentors in faraway realms that were once closed to us.

The OSL tech game is bigger than the players and it’s all about integrity. When we curate our learning, we’re not dressing up as something we’re not – we are creating offerings that put ideas, skills, and people on display. To paraphrase (the spirit of) Newton, if we can see further it’s because we are standing on the shoulders of giants, many of whom are no longer with us.

Lastly, OSL – like Los Dias de los Muertos – is all about using the tools of our age to tell a story compelling enough to bring worlds together. A decade ago we used the basic public internet. As tools and popular culture evolved, so have we: Blogs. Mind maps. Digital whiteboards. Etherpads. The Fediverse.

We now have the Open-Source Learning Academy Protocol – protocol, not platform – because we understand collaboration and curation is about much more than tools. It’s a process. First, we acknowledge each other and work to clarify our purpose. Then we select the right tools for the job, and we purposefully use those tools to bring our visions to life.

Students are passive, obedient players of the school game, shuffling around with their backpacks, playing tricks and hoping for a treat. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I guarantee it’s going to start in passing period hallways.

Today – every day, really – we invite the learning dead to unite in the world of the living thinkers. Join us! Explore and curate an interdisciplinary legacy that will be remembered as long as there is a server to store it.


a wall of wind and dust

Anyone who thinks that Southern California doesn’t have seasons either hasn’t spent enough time here or just isn’t paying attention.

The difference in the fall air is palpable. It feels thinner, crisper. The morning after a rain, Los Angeles shines in dazzling technicolor.

But these days even subtle, routine climate changes carry dangerous implications.

Last Thursday I was in the middle of complimenting October on the fine job it had done to that point. Temperatures in the Coachella Valley had cooled to balmy 80s and 90s, and the mind-numbingly loud cicadas in my mesquite tree had moved on.

Then the sky went dark.

Thinking we were in for some unexpected rain, I looked west out the kitchen window toward San Jacinto Peak, the mountain just two miles away with a view that John Muir himself called, “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.”

Front yard sunrise day before haboob

But there were no clouds. There was also no mountain. There was only dark gray nothingness. No sky, no depth of field. As my brain adjusted to what my eyes couldn’t see, I realized that I could barely make out the houses across the street.

Front yard sunrise (from inside) day after haboob

Concerned friends blew up my phone: Don’t go outside. You’re better off sucking exhaust pipes in Chernobyl.

I walked outside to lock the car. Twenty steps to the driveway, and sure enough I was wheezing when I came back in.

We were inside a haboob.

Haboobs are giant dust clouds that form when thunderstorms collapse and blow out all the wind they’ve been sucking toward them as they grow. They are most common in dry areas like the Sahara. This one formed as the result of massive thunderstorms in Northern Mexico and Yuma, Arizona. The Air Quality Index was at its maximum hazard rating of 500  – and there was more to it than just sand and topsoil.

“Sure, we’ve had ’em before,” my neighbor told me when it was safe to go outside again. “But now it’s poisonous.” Dude is retired. He owns tools and knows stuff. He votes. But his brow furrowed as he said “Things are just so dry that those winds are blowin’ the Salton Sea bed right at us.”

What’s left of the rapidly receding Salton Sea, California’s most polluted inland lake, is turning into toxic dust. The nasty mess has already caused mass die-offs of fish and birds, and local residents suffer from all sorts of respiratory problems due to airborne particulates.

Now it’s coming for the rest of us.

Every single day, our physical environment shows signs of abuse. It’s our responsibility to help heal it before it kills us all.

To learn how K-12 students are using Open-Source Learning to start community composting campaigns, monitor their gardens, and clean up the messes of previous generations, please Contact Me.



i see you: retrospective on visual storytelling with dan bennett

I’m always fascinated by the ways in which people tell stories, especially when they use an art form to connect with their audience. A few months back I was lucky enough to meet Dan Bennett, the Antipreneur. Dan’s background is in engineering (!) and video production, and he is a master at helping people translate their ideas into visual media. Dan was generous enough to chat with me online and share some of his magic.

Here is the recording, followed by a timeline with links and notes. I hope you find a rabbit hole worth exploring further. If you’d like to contribute an idea or a resource, or if you’d like more examples and links to the coursework I do with learners on the public internet, please Contact me – I look forward to continuing the conversation.


00:00:32 Implications of Freud’s assumptions about perception

00:02:30 Music video (for those of you under 30 🙂 )

00:04:00 Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff

00:04:35 John Cage

00:04:36 Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”

00:05:01 Blu-ray (among other recording media)

00:06:28 Steven Wright

00:07:07 Record store owner called out a vinyl album manufacturer

00:09:09 Analog

00:11:33 “I help entrepreneurs look and sound great on camera.”

00:16:04 SEO

00:16:12 Passover questions

00:18:17 Executive coaching

00:19:03 Magic

00:21:09 The Breakfast Burrito Principle

00:24:57 Our friend Jay Clouse

00:30:04 Resilience

0032:59 Rorschach test

00:36:48 “Building an audience online is not a business.” (No link, just a brilliant observation.)

00:38:30 Open-Source Learning

00:40:16 John Wooden

00:40:36 Grantland Rice

00:46:29 The Millionaire Next Door

00:53:17 “It actually felt like he cared about us and he gave us all these tools for free to be able to implement.”

00:57:10 “We’ll definitely do this again.”

the feed

How exactly do we become us?

“Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”

– Vince Lombardi

We don’t do it alone. Other people give us models, ideas, and direct feedback that validates and challenges our thinking and behavior.

Think back on a time when you were a kid, and someone said something that really got to you – it might have been a compliment, or it might have been a criticism, or it might just have been something shitty to say, but it stuck. You remembered it. It worked on you. Coming back to it over and over did something for you. You kept it so close that the next time you made a decision, you considered that idea in the moment before you acted and it influenced your decision.

Back in the day, THAT was an influencer.

The word processor I’m using to type this blog post red-lined the word influencer (again) because there is no such word in the software’s database. It accepted the word blog – that’s a thing – but not influencer (third red line).

Until recently, there was no such word. We made it up to describe something new.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is a theory of sociology that “sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals.”

The everyday interactions of individuals today are different than they were even just a couple years ago, before the pandemic. They are way different than they were before everyone was glued to their phones.

Now, even in public spaces with lots of people, we experience the sensory isolation of earbuds and screens that are visible only to us.

The interactions are taking place online, and our society is changing as a result.

Acknowledging change is neither a cautionary tale nor a celebration – it’s just an observation. But it is an observation we ignore at our own peril, because the impact of technology on our interaction has fundamentally changed how we understand ourselves and each other.

You Am the Other

I love the fundamental concept of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” A teacher without students is a person delivering a soliloquy at a bus stop. Parents are only parents because of their children. A teammate, a member, an employee, a neighbor… all of these senses of ourselves exist in social systems that inform our sense of ourselves.

“I am he as you are he, as you are me and we are all together.”

– John Lennon & Paul McCartney

In addition to Mental, Physical, and Technological Fitness, Open-Source Learning helps us develop our capacity to understand our desired roles in social systems and larger contexts through Civic and Spiritual Fitness.

We need each other. Beyond our physical needs, we need empathy and trust to build interdependence. I am an Other to someone. You are an Other to someone. Try and hold some empathy for those people who look at both of us today and wonder if they’re really OK.

As we grow through childhood into adolescence, and social acceptance becomes more important to our idea of who we are, the feeling of observed by The Other and wanting to fit in has a corrosive effect on our curiosity, wonder, risk, and creativity. We start to worry that people won’t accept or appreciate our individual talents and quirks. We start to wear matching socks and coordinated outfits that “say something” about us.

George Herbert Mead, one of the leading proponents of Symbolic Interactionism, was described by educator John Dewey as “a seminal mind of the very first order.” Mead understood that our physical fragility forces us to depend on each other in social systems to survive.

Mead also understood that our need for survival is not merely physical but social. We need positive regard from other people to maintain our places in social systems. Seeking that positive regard can lead us to change our stripes, compromise our integrity, and hide our light under a bushel.

Someone Might Not Like My Art

One of the places where The Other most savagely conquers our joy, sadly, is school.

In his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie describes one effect of children becoming more aware of being observed by others as they age, when he visited schools to demonstrate how artists can sculpt steel into animals:

“I always began with the same introduction: ‘Hi My name is Gordon MacKenzie and, among other things, I am an artist… How many of you are artists?’

The pattern of responses never failed.

First grade: En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.

Second grade: About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.

Third grade: At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.

And so on up through the grades. The higher the grade, the fewer children raised their hands. By the time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly—guardedly—their eyes dancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a ‘closet artist.’”

Why Kids Today Are Hurting

Our fear of The Other’s judgement now follows us everywhere. We used to be able to fake not being curious or smart just by not raising our hands in front of the class. Not anymore. Hiding in plain sight is no longer sufficient camouflage.

Past the shouting over the pandemic, the politics, the economy, the environment, and the trauma du jour, in a small corner of a child’s bedroom, the screen glows.

The screen glows all the time. It is a constant companion. The child gets uncomfortable when the screen is turned off or taken away. The child holds onto it under the pillow. Behind a backpack or a notebook during class.

Recently I told a classroom full of high school students: “I know exactly how it sounds when I say something like, ‘When I was your age…’ I remember sitting in your seats like it was yesterday. But do you know how I know that I’m older? Because I truly don’t give a shit whether you like what I’m going to say next.”

They roared with laughter and in that moment we became friendly. I was because they were. And there was relief in the room when I made it clear that whether they judged me or not, I would be just fine, and we could still coexist.

So: When I was their age, my friends and I had to figure it all out too. That is the job of the child, the adolescent, the teenager… and it never ends. I’m still working on it.

The difference is that back then, we had quiet places in our lives where we could turn inward, listen to ourselves, and reflect.

The growing up game has changed. The screen is everywhere.

The screen glows. The screen knows.

Young people sift through The Other’s words and experiences to see what gets the most likes.

Instead of forming an identity, kids identify. The screen tells them stories, gives them archetypes. The screen’s algorithms intensify the effect and give the kids more, more of what it thinks they think they want.

The kids are no longer cooking up their identities at home, from scratch – they are gorging at the algorithmic personality buffet. It has become more difficult for them to distinguish the reality on the screen from reality itself. They no longer differentiate their half-baked true selves from what they see on the screens.

Ask kids what they really love, what they really care about, and they shrug. They don’t have a core – at least not one that they understand well enough to articulate, or believe in enough to represent.

Everyone else doesn’t offer feedback. Even The Other is imagined. Students navigate the school hallways – the only physical public spaces they regularly inhabit – bowing to screens with earbuds jammed in. They take their cues from the feed.

If we want the next generation to learn, instead of merely being taught… if we want the next generation to grow identities, and not just identify… We are going to have them step away from the feed trough, look inward, experiment boldly, and hunt. Otherwise they’ll never eat.

They’ll just feed.