OSL Road Show: Dent 2023

In September I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico to share Open-Source Learning with the Dent Conference.

Rather than describe the experience, I thought I’d show it to you. Feel free to dive deeper by checking the time-stamped annotated notes below. Enjoy!


00:01 Consciously reflecting on and understanding our reasons for taking action helps us focuses our attention and do everything better. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation

00:10 The concept of fun is vastly underrated in our culture. Systems of formal learning and work emphasize… well, work. Which is ironic, since research suggests that fun accelerates our acquisition of new information, and learning improves the quality of our work. https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/learning

00:29 Novel experiences cue our neural mechanisms for learning and enhance our memory https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/learning-by-surprise/

01:36 “Repetition is a key to learning.” – Hall of Fame UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden

02:04 Learning is the process of changing our minds. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-learning-means-changing-your-mind/2021/02

03:01 “L’esprit de l’escalier” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L’esprit_de_l’escalier

04:40 “Time for Success” by David Preston https://www.amazon.com/Time-Success-David-R-Preston/dp/0966718402/ref=sr_1_1

05:08 “Have the time of your life” https://davidpreston.net/2022/06/21/have-the-time-of-your-life/

05:17 Video of Steven Wright https://youtube.com/shorts/iqSB0RG7EBA

06:15 Opportunity cost: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunity_cost

06:46 I began the talk (before the video started) by saying that, just before I started speaking, all things were still possible – until I started talking and those possibilities resolved into one reality. I called the idea “Schrödinger’s Chat” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Schrödinger

06:51 Adult learning and schema https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4005174/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schema_(psychology)

07:29 Unlearning https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-gen-y-psy/202004/the-power-unlearning

07:42 For more on the power of the question: https://davidpreston.net/2022/01/17/whats-your-big-question-2/

09:24 Open-Source Learning as a response to school’s closed systems: https://davidpreston.net/2021/09/13/back-to-school-not/

10:07 Did you see what I did there? Master teacher Madeline Hunter wrote about dignifying all responses in order to encourage participation. I built this into a practice I call “organizational aikido” – I’ll post a link if (a) there is interest, and (b) I can find it

10:35 Cognitive dissonance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

10:38 Leon Festinger: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Festinger

10:54 Meta: This is me, curating this talk over a month “after the fact”

11:11 Curation: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/curation

12:53 Synaptic pruning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaptic_pruning

14:07 face vase

14:55 Visual cortex: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_cortex

16:10 David Goggins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Goggins

16:22 John Wooden: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wooden

16:39 Grantland Rice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grantland_Rice

17:56 Learning to play golf: https://davidpreston.net/2023/08/15/a-good-walk-spoiled/

22:40 “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss https://www.powells.com/book/never-split-the-difference-negotiating-as-if-your-life-depended-on-it-9780062407801

23:01 Waldorf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education

23:01 Montessori https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori_education

23:01 Reggio Emilia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Emilia_approach

24:51 Predeterminism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predeterminism

26:41 Angel and other hombre art from the Preston household

31:23 Sensemaking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensemaking

32:28 Mindfulness research: https://labs.psych.ucsb.edu/schooler/jonathan/research/mindfulness

32:42 “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama https://www.powells.com/book/art-of-happiness-9781444714227

33:18 Laozi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi

37:36 Physiological sigh: https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/stress-relief-stanford-breathing-technique-psychological-sigh.html

38:56 “The OSL Making of an Ironman” https://davidpreston.net/2022/12/06/the-osl-making-of-an-ironman/

44:49 Charlemagne and education: https://www.britannica.com/topic/education/The-Carolingian-renaissance-and-its-aftermath

45:08 A deeper, more critical dive on Horace Mann and the Prussian model of education: https://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model

45:14 For more on Alfred Binet, the IQ test, and the history of assessment see “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mismeasure_of_Man

46:50 What is your big (interdisciplinary) question? https://drprestonsrhsenglitcomp13.blogspot.com/2013/05/whats-your-big-question.html#comment-form

48:59 “Will this blog see tomorrow?” https://drprestonsrhsenglitcomp14.blogspot.com/2014/05/will-this-blog-see-tomorrow.html

49:11 Observer effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)

49:18 Unanimity is the most robust form of collective decision-making. It’s also the hardest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unanimity

51:34 It’s true that the iPhone is way more powerful than NASA’s Apollo computers, but it’s also way easier to break: https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a25655/nasa-computer-iphone-comparison/

52:20 Addiction https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction

56:01 Carl Rogers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Rogers

56:13 For more on the difference between position-based bargaining and interest-based, collaborative problem-solving, check out “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Ury: https://www.powells.com/book/getting-to-yes-negotiating-agreement-without-giving-in-9780143118756

56:36 Pleasure Principle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleasure_principle_(psychology)

58:06 Andrew Huberman’s podcast explains neurological concepts and research in ways that all of us can understand and apply, and this episode is a particularly thorough treatment of dopamine: https://www.hubermanlab.com/newsletter/tools-to-manage-dopamine-and-improve-motivation-and-drive

01:04:17 The history of blue is absolutely wild – the poisonous truth about Prussian Blue is stranger than fiction, but stories are the most entertaining lies that tell the truth, so check out Benjamin Labatut’s “When We Cease to Understand the World” https://www.powells.com/book/when-we-cease-to-understand-the-world-9781681375663

01:07:17 Our OSL Dent community lives online here: https://osldent.circle.so/home

01:07:39 Paper on Information Width: https://www.santafe.edu/research/results/working-papers/information-width-a-way-for-the-second-law-to-incr

01:08:06 “Peripheral hearing” was just a fun verbal mistake I made, but panoramic hearing is a real thing, which involves taking more in from our acoustical environment because it includes more than a typical auditory cone of focus. Visually impaired people are often really good at this. The visual equivalent is moving our eyes side to side, which is consistent with a state of optic flow, such as when we scan our environment as we walk. One benefit of sweeping our environment in this way is that it calms our amygdala, the threat response center in our brain, which lowers our stress level and calms us down.

01:08:15 On the cognitive benefits of visual note-taking (aka “doodling”): https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-thinking-benefits-of-doodling-2016121510844

01:09:47 I’m still looking through old hard drives for this article, which I’m almost positive is “The Art of Teaching” by Elliot Eisner

01:11:03 made some powerful observations about the Manhattan Project and I hope we have the chance to unpack this in a future conversation!

01:11:37 “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson: https://www.powells.com/book/medici-effect-breakthrough-insights-at-the-intersection-of-ideas-concepts-cultures-9781591391869

01:15:17 Our groups focused on issues such as health care, social justice and oppressive structures in our society, and the connections between Manhattan Project-style collaboration and the use of genetic biology to solve decades-old murder cases. Makes me wonder what we might have accomplished in the next 10 minutes…

01:18:10 Bill Schopf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._William_Schopf

01:19:21 In “Crimes Against Logic” Jamie Whyte makes a brilliant case for argument as a collaborative search for truth: https://www.powells.com/book/crimes-against-logic-exposing-the-bogus-arguments-of-politicians-priests-journalists-other-serial-offenders-9780071446433

01:22:45 I based this comment about verbal and nonverbal communication on the work of Albert Mehrabian, with whom I was lucky enough to study at UCLA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian

01:23:09 It’s important to remember that the verbal v nonverbal communication issue only matters when there is incongruence, i.e., what’s being said doesn’t align with what is being conveyed via body language, facial expressions, etc.

01:24:32 Kintsugi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi

01:25:00 Bruce Lee’s two finger pushup:

01:25:03 Martial artists breaking cinder blocks:

01:25:49 Tikkun Olam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikkun_olam

01:26:07 “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie: https://www.powells.com/book/orbiting-the-giant-hairball-a-corporate-fools-guide-to-surviving-with-grace-9780670879830

01:29:30 POST: https://osldent.circle.so/home

01:30:38 This is me curating what I talked about for the reason I talked about it! :)))

01:38:53 Here’s what “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is really about: https://prestonlearning.medium.com/passing-periods-thoughts-on-fahrenheit-451-59159a4dfa8d

THANKS FOR GETTING THIS FAR! Please comment with any questions, ideas, or observations. Have a great day 😀

Hurricane in the desert

The first time I brought my family to the Coachella Valley, temperatures soared over 120 degrees. We used lots of sun block, drank lots of water, got up early and stayed inside during the hottest part of the afternoon. We adapted. And we loved it so much that we moved here.

The desert can be harsh and unforgiving, and I knew we’d have to make concessions. I planned for heat, and drought, and earthquakes.

But I never imagined that living here would put us in the path of a hurricane.


I like to get stuff done. Most days I’m up by 5:30A and I’m pretty good about compartmentalizing. I’m not on social media and I manage my news consumption. I keep lists.

But it’s hard to concentrate and complete projects when the sky turns science fiction.

I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life. I can tell when there’s a fire by the sun’s reflection on the sidewalk. Friday afternoon, when the light in the house felt extra weird, I looked into the backyard expecting the familiar muddy amber smoke screen.

Everything was a beautiful, strange shade of orange sherbet I’d never seen before.

Photo: David Preston ©2023. All rights reserved. There is no color filter on this photo.

Out front the sun was shining in a clear western sky as it descended toward San Jacinto Peak. I took the picture below just after sunset. If you look closely you can see the new moon just to the left of the palm trees.

Then I went out back and looked south, where I was confronted with the most massive cloud I have ever seen.

Being able to see the cloud’s texture and its edge made it look even bigger, taller, and heavier than a cloudy day.

I went back inside.

Animals know

After my wife and I ate dinner, she went outside to water the plants. I heard the slider close. Two seconds later it opened again. Her head popped in. “I think you should see this. And I think we should take down the table umbrella.”

For the next ten minutes we stood on the fire pit and looked east toward Joshua Tree. Lightning strikes illuminated the black and grey thunderheads in the desert sky.

The flashes came every few seconds. It was the most lightning I’d ever seen outside of Texas during hurricane season. But California doesn’t have hurricanes. The Pacific Ocean is too cold.

Suddenly I turned to my wife. “Do you hear that?”


“Do you hear anything?”

My wife frowned. Then she looked up at me, wide-eyed. “Whoa.”

On any given day our backyard is filled morning, noon, and night with a soundtrack of birdsong. We have mourning doves, mockingbirds, vermillion flycatchers, hummingbirds (which make four different kinds of sounds!), an occasional hawk or owl, and more.

This time of year is also prime time for our noisiest visitors, the cicadas, which are so loud that prolonged exposure to their buzzing and clicking can cause hearing loss.

My wife and I looked at each other for a few moments and listened. The air was heavy and still.


The lightning flashed again in the distance.

My wife’s words were soft and distinct: “The animals know.”

People think

When the news confirmed the animals were right, and Southern California received its first tropical storm warning ever, we sprung into action. My wife went to the grocery store and I took care of the sandbags. We checked our batteries, gas tanks, flashlights, backup systems, and go bags.

Some people in my life acted like I was overreacting. (To a f*cking HURRICANE.) I had a flashback to the beginning of the pandemic, when many people literally couldn’t figure out how to wipe their own asses. My family began wearing masks before it was a thing. People looked at us funny. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now.

Some people think

Mr. Rogers was wrong. Some people aren’t just special, they’re extraspecial – and by that I mean poorly informed, intensely opinionated, and unreasonably likely to impose their views on other people. To make a bad thing worse, extraspecialers have a hard time articulating credibly-informed logic, so they have a tendency to scream their feelings.

Earth has a message for the extraspecial people. (I can hear Earth the exact same way they hear God.) Earth is pissed. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and snicker. That’s nature elbowing you in the chest: “Dude! Seriously! Show some respect or she’s gonna kill us!!”

When it comes to the nonnegotiable properties of the physical world, especially those things that affect you and me interdependently (like communicable diseases or the meaning of green and red lights at an intersection), the game is way bigger than the players.

Do you really think gravity cares whether you like it? Find a tall building and prove us all wrong. You get exactly one chance to become a legend.

As soon as you became a flat-earther, Trumper, anti-vaxxer, or anything else you’ve recently invented bullshit terms to describe because your thinking is unclear, unsupported, and threatening to the rest of us, “You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well I’ve done a lot of it, and it adds up to one thing: [our genetics, opinions, feelings, and] problems… don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” No true American can argue with Humphrey Bogart. And Bogey says we do not put up with nonsense, especially when that nonsense unnecessarily puts us at risk.

There will be people who need rescuing. Maybe they had a really important reason to be where they were. Maybe they knew what they were doing and understood the danger. My heart goes out to them. Unless they didn’t bother to find out or prepare, in which case it’s hard not to get angry at them, on behalf of the families of the rescue workers who will now have to put their own lives on the line.

Just like the pandemic, the information about this weather is out there for anyone to find. You can get just as informed about meteorology as you can about epidemiology. #internet

And what were they saying about the hurricane where I live? NOAA and NHC used the terms “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.” It’s right there at 4:29 of this NBC interview: My community is in for some of the worst flooding that area has ever seen.”

Open-Source Learning is a matter of life and death

Right now I can barely figure out how to conclude this post. 40-50 mph wind gusts are lashing my windows with rain. I have an alarm set for every 15 minutes to check the neighbor’s sump pump and make sure my pool doesn’t overflow. I need to check the floors in my bathroom and home office again to make sure no more water is coming up through the foundation. I’ve surrendered the garage.

Some people say it’s too late to evaluate credible information well enough to share one reality, or agree on politics, or change our behavior enough to reduce the effects of climate change.

I say that’s all we have left.

A good walk spoiled

It’s been almost thirty years since I played golf. I don’t have that kind of time or money.

So I got a little nervous last week when my friend Eric invited me to his country club in Los Angeles. I found myself looking for an out even though there was every reason to say yes – he’s helping me network for business, he’s picking up the tab, and my parents live nearby so I’ll be able to visit them on my way home.

But saying yes means I have to relearn the game. In two weeks.

Winston Churchill once said, “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.” Bobby Jones added, “Golf is assuredly a mystifying game. It would seem that if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, he should be able to duplicate the performance at will. But such is certainly not the case.”

You can’t learn golf by watching YouTube videos. This is a perfect time to practice what I preach.

Open-Source Learning Step #1: Find an Expert Mentor

Two weeks is nothing for a sport as physically and psychologically tricky as golf. I needed help. A quick search led me to Bryan Lebedevitch, Director of Instruction at PGA West. Bryan was named one of America’s Top 100 Instructors by Golf Digest. I emailed Bryan with the subject header: “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?”

Bryan answered right away, but he was out of town, so he introduced me to PGA West instructor John Battaglia, who has also been recognized as one of California’s best instructors.

John scheduled a time for me and I drove out to meet him.

Open-Source Learning Step #2: Honest Self-Assessment

I told both Bryan and John the truth. It’s been a long time since I swung a golf club and I wasn’t very good at it in the first place.

Open-Source Learning Step #3: Etch-A-Sketch Mind

Adults have different learning challenges than young people. Often we have to unlearn habits or forget inaccurate ideas to make room for better information. Just because we’ve been doing things a long time doesn’t mean we’ve been doing them right, or even that we know what we’ve been doing at all. (I published this post, and you clicked a bunch of symbols to find it, but I highly doubt either one of us knows exactly how the internet works.)

Relearning and mastering the basics is fundamental for even the most successful athletes. In high school I worked for Hall of Fame UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden. His teams won 10 NCAA titles. The top high school players in the country came to play for him, and I can imagine their reactions on the first day of practice, when Coach taught them how to put on their shoes and socks. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you have a blister.

So I wasn’t entirely surprised that the first thing I did needed correcting. John watched me pick up a club, frowned, and twisted my hands on the grip until they felt all wrong. I had to completely ignore the impulse to move my hands back to a comfortable place, but that became a little easier when I hit a few balls and they went in the general direction I aimed.

Open-Source Learning Step #4: Focus

One of my favorite things about sports is the way they absorb you. If you stop paying attention while you’re skiing or boxing, you’re going to pay a price. I loved playing basketball at a competitive level because every moment required me to think, anticipate, react, and use everything I’d practiced.

Golf is a mental challenge for me because it’s so damn slow. There is way too much time to think. I stand over the ball but my mind wants to be somewhere else. I think about the time I’m wasting, all the other things I could/should be doing, how much I suck at this, how I still have love handles even though I’ve completed an Ironman Triathlon, how so many morons can ignore the effects of climate change… I’d be better off if the ball caught fire.

At the same time there is absolutely nothing going on, a ton of golf details also show up to compete for my attention: Where are my hands? Are my feet lined up? How far up/back is the ball? Is the club face aligned? Can I stop your back swing if I need to? Will my hips move on the follow-through? Am I going to keep snapping my wrists at the end of my swing? What the hell did John just tell me and why can’t I remember? Think maybe I’ll the ball sometime today, sunshine?

Stop. Let all that go. Waggle the club. Breathe.

When I teach or coach, I often begin with a guided meditation. These processes are all about intentionally placing our attention. The more we’re able to do that, the better we’re able to do everything.

Open-Source Learning Step #5: Reflection

As William Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar, “For the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.” I haven’t yet met the skilled person who got where they are without a mentor. Every top athlete knows the benefit of having a coach at every stage of their career. Why? Because coaches observe our real-time performance and help fine-tune our technique by offering insight from a different perspective.

John had the perfect setup to help me see, understand, and apply what he saw. Next to where I was hitting golf balls there was a tripod with a camera. A few feet away under a canopy, he had a laptop on a table where we could review the images together. He showed me my stance side by side with other students and pro players (all of whom have better posture than me). He analyzed video of my swing frame by frame and I could see the precise point where I went from “so far so good” to “oh boy that’s gonna suck.”

Open-Source Learning Step #6: Practice

Coach Wooden introduced me to a verse from Grantland Rice called “How to be a Champion”:

You wonder how they do it,
You look to see the knack.
You watch the foot in action,
Or the shoulder of the back.
But when you spot the answer,
Where the higher glamours lurk,
You’ll find in moving higher,
Up the laurel-covered spire,
That most of it is practice,
And the rest of it is work.

This afternoon I ran a couple errands and stopped at a practice range on my way home. It’s August in the desert, and the temperature was about 115 degrees. I took about 40 minutes to hit a bucket of 90 balls. I’m getting used to the uncomfortable grip. I’m more able to stop in the middle of my back swing. I only hit a few really bad balls, and I was nicer to myself about it. My last shot was close to perfect, even though it sailed way farther than I expected and I suddenly wondered how the hell I’m going to control for distance on the course next week.

I’m never going to be a golfer. I’m not even sure I like golf.

But I love learning.


If you have a good story about golf, or if you’d like to know more about how Open-Source Learning can help you or your organization, please Contact Me.

Physical fitness is for lead learners too

As a Lead Learner, I try to find, analyze, evaluate, and use the best information out there. Here’s an example I shared with a learning community during the pandemic about physical fitness.


This page provides some basic information about physical fitness, one of the five fitnesses of Open-Source Learning. It also comes with a story. If you want to skip the story and get right to the practices, scroll down for a no-gear workout plan, and (coming soon) information on nutrition and sleep.

In Open-Source Learning, the lead learner paves the way by demonstrating strategies for seeking out information and people that can help us all grow and improve.

Here is an example. As 2019 was coming to an end, I felt like I needed to learn more to improve my physical fitness. I was an athlete in high school and college, but that was a long time ago, and – like many Americans – my work and family life was pretty sedentary. I went to the gym, but the old workouts were only getting me so far.

One day I talked with a friend about this and he mentioned a book:

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Usually I resist this kind of stuff. I’m generally suspicious of people who sell superficial solutions. That cover? Come on. But I respect the friend who endorsed the book. He’s been a reliable source of information in my life for a long time. So, I decided to give it a shot. I bought the book.

The book grabbed me from the beginning. Instead of YELLING!! promises of six-pack abs, it started by describing elements of our mindset, and the thought patterns that hold us back from achieving the goals we want.

I have often found that the principles of sports psychology can useful in all sorts of learning contexts. The author of the book, Bobby Maximus (the name Robert MacDonald got when he bulked up in high school and college), was speaking my language. So, I read on, did the workouts in the book, and I got results.

After 12 weeks of following the workouts in the book to the letter, I had improved by every measure: I was faster, stronger, leaner, and more energetic throughout the day than when I started.

But then I hit another plateau. I did the complete workout cycle two more times, and nothing seemed to change. Pretty soon I started to doubt myself – my effort, my form – and I realized that I could only progress so far without a trainer to give me advice and feedback.

I went straight to the source and sent Bobby Maximus an email. We talked a couple times on the phone and he agreed to train me at his gym in Utah. So, the end of last year’s winter break, I got on a plane:

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The next morning, before dawn, I headed to Bobby’s gym, which is in a little industrial park just south of Salt Lake City.

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Bobby was focused throughout the workout. He wanted me to have some images of my form, so he took some pictures while I worked. You can tell Bobby cares about proper form. You can also tell he doesn’t give a crap about photography. 😂

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For the next three days, Bobby taught me everything I needed to know to reboot my workouts. He designed a plan:

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I came home and hit the gym. The first few weeks went great.

Then the pandemic struck. My gym, along with everything else, has been off-limits ever since. But that’s no reason to stop exercising and challenging ourselves to be our best.

In fact, we have more incentive than ever to get in top shape, because a virus is trying to kill us. The best way to support our immune systems is by maintaining our strength and stamina through healthy exercise, nutrition, and rest.

So here is Bobby’s No-Gear workout. For tips on form, Bobby has posted brief videos for each exercise on his YouTube channel. I’m here to answer questions, and happy to work out online with anyone who’d rather not go it alone.


I am still committed to staying in good physical condition, and I want you to have the energy you need to be at your best. So we’re all going to create a “Physical Fitness Blog” (remember that “blog” is short for web log, and in this context, “log” is a synonym for “journal” or “diary”) – we’re going to curate a record of what we do every day.

Here is a sample from my own Open-Source Learning physical fitness blog. As you can see, it’s not about being perfect – it’s about being honest with ourselves and doing the best we can to be fit and accountable. As we get better at this, and keeping our blog up to date becomes a routine, we will use the same process with our sleep and our nutrition.

Here’s an example:

30 AUG 2021

One hour on the exercise bike + Day One of no-gear. It’s a new month this week, and I’m going to rock September! (And then you want to take a selfie to put on your blog, but you drop your glasses, so you have no idea how the pic looks until after the workout, and it’s goofy, but you don’t want to put sweaty clothes back on so you post it anyway… So this is my “What do you mean you haven’t posted to your blog yet?” face 😂)

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Get going. Today’s a great day to start.

the wisdom of weeds

Looking closely was both the problem and the solution.

I walk through my front yard at least a couple times a day but I don’t really see it.

When I get the newspaper in the morning, or pull the car in and lock the gate at night, I notice the cactus and the ocotillo, framed by San Jacinto Peak in the background. I see the birds fly into the olive tree. I may even catch the moment at dusk when the lights come on next to the path from the driveway to the front door.

These are big picture views. That’s my lens. Big and beautiful. I’m a big picture thinker.

The Problem

My wife is a gardener and a landscaper. She loves the details. She knows the names of things.

This past weekend I wanted to take a break from work and spend some time with her. When I looked up from the crossword she was headed outside to prune the orange tree. I asked how I could help. She got a glint in her eye. “Well,” she said, “Have you noticed the weeds in front since it rained?”

I hadn’t.

Now I looked. Really looked.

Everywhere I turned, wisps and tufts of green peeked between the rocks.

It sucked. In that moment our beautiful front yard became an abandoned lot.

The Solution

I believe in turning into the skid and answering the call for adventure. When we deny reality, we suffer. When we lean away from the hill that scares us, our skis run and we lose control.

Now that I’d seen the weeds I couldn’t unsee them. The question was what to do about them.

Weeding isn’t rocket science. But there were so many… and using environmentally unfriendly, cancer-causing chemicals was out of the question.

Our learning is most valuable when we apply it. As I surveyed the yard I remembered what I learned about setting goals from reading Emily Balcetis’ Clearer Closer Better. Breaking a big goal into segments makes it more likely that you’ll complete it. Don’t think about running the whole marathon. Get to the next landmark.

Looking at the yard all at once made me want to give up before I started. The project would be easier to complete if I focused on a specific chunk and then moved the goal posts. I zoomed in on a section between my neighbor’s wall and our driveway.

I grabbed a bucket and sat down to work.

Process Over Results

When I was in Tibet I talked with a monk who was cleaning the monastery.

“David,” he said, “I used to clean because I wanted a clean space. But cleaning was hard and I had to wait for the result. Now, I clean because I like to clean. It is easy and I enjoy the process.” He smiled. “And when I finish, I still enjoy the result.”


I haven’t done the dishes the same way since.

Yes, I wanted the weeds out of my yard, and I wanted to make my wife happy, but I also didn’t want to be pissed for two hours thinking about everything else I wasn’t doing.

When the work is just about the work, everything else stops. You get into a state of flow and you lose the sense of work itself. That’s when the fun begins.

What I Learned

Here are the top 10 things I learned on the job:

  1. There are three distinct types of weeds that were growing in that section of my yard: grassy, leafy, and sneaky purple fuckers
  2. The sneaky purple fuckers actually managed to mimic the color of the rocks around them. I didn’t see them right away so I had to retrace my steps and give them an unkind nickname
  3. Some weeds had flowers on top. I found this arrogant (“Look at me, I’m a weed with a pretty yellow hat!”) and I took special pleasure in uprooting them
  4. Propaganda is a truly effective way to justify killing. When I personalized the weeds (see #3) it became easier to characterize them as jerks (the fact that I humanized them to dehumanize them = your daily dose of irony)
  5. Different weeds have different roots, so I developed techniques like “the Rottweiler Shake” to bring them up quickly without leaving part of the root underground
  6. The best tool for most weeding is your bare hand
  7. Sunscreen is a gift from the gods in these punctured-ozone times. You should reapply
  8. People driving by your house in a community where lots of people visit on vacation sometimes do double-takes when they see a middle-aged white guy sitting on the ground picking weeds without a pickup truck in sight
  9. A fun way to scare the hell out of your neighbor Phil when you smell him smoking cigarettes is by standing up suddenly to stretch and saying, “Hi, Phil!” over the wall right next to where he’s replacing a windshield wiper
  10. Pulling weeds for a couple hours in the desert can alter your fingerprint to the point where your fancy MacPro doesn’t know who you are anymore and demands a password instead of touch recognition

The Results Are In

… and the weeds are out. While I was thinking all those thoughts, I was constantly pulling weeds. Turning over rocks. Scooting over to the next section. Pulling more weeds. Letting my eyes go soft so that anything green (or purple!) jumped out at me. And pulling more weeds, until the whole yard appeared beautiful to me, both for what I could see and for what I could no longer see.

My wife came out to say hi just as I was finishing up.

“Wow!” she said. “You have the patience of a saint.”

Nah. Just the love of a good woman, the cleaning ethic of a Tibetan monk, and a front yard that is momentarily weed-free.



too many cooks

Building a successful team is an art.

25 years ago I worked with the best coaches in the world to build a program that creates championship teams. What better place to savor success and learn bitter lessons than the kitchen?

6’x4’ oil painting on canvas, Too Many Cooks by Adam Stone, July 19, 2000.

Participants in Too Many Cooks learn the processes and practices of successful teams. Then they apply what they learn in the kitchen under the guidance of our executive chef. The immediate result is a gourmet meal. The lasting impact is a sustainable network of relationships that achieve increasingly high levels of performance.

Teams are appealing, but they’re not for everyone. Have a look at the lists below. There’s no shame in taking a different approach; just don’t call it a team if it’s not, because your people will know and they won’t like it.

If you think you’re ready to build a team, or if you want to take the team you already have to the next level, let’s talk.


  • Teams have clear goals and rules to play by.
  • You know where you stand on a team. Your job is important and suited to your abilities.
  • Everyone’s clear on whether the team succeeds.


  • Recruiting, building, and managing a team requires vision, skill, and patience.
  • Teams are harder to lead than working groups and direct reports.
  • Individual team members are valuable because they see things from different perspectives, so diversity, divergence, and even conflict are important features – if the team has a structure for communicating, mediating, and making decisions. If there is no “container” for these creative collaborations, the fire that illuminates may burn everything down.

Teams are strong. They get things done. And winning as a team is one of the great joys in life. But it’s not enough to want it. You have to do some very specific work to create and lead a team. Every successful team goes through phases of planning and growth. The good news is that we understand how to design for team success. If you’re ready, let’s get started.

Declare your digital interdependence

Going online these days is like walking through a trade show in an office building full of corporate lobbies. While you’re trying to decide where to do your business – Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon – banner ads and pop ups constantly compete for your attention.

You can’t read two paragraphs before something blocks your view and you have to find the tiny icon to close the window but then the phone glitches or the video moves and now you’re on another URL which shifts your search history algorithm…

I’ve heard it said that the internet is basically a series of agreements between individuals and software about how we communicate.

Well, I didn’t agree to this.

Understanding Social Contracts

Once upon a time, you could tell a student: “I know that your teacher is a difficult person to deal with, but if you can just keep your head down, pass, and graduate, your life will be at least as good as your parents’.”

Today that statement is not supported by the facts.

A social contract is created when an individual gives up some personal freedoms in exchange for maintaining the greater good of social order. Apart from preventing anarchy, the benefits of “taking one for the team” can include:

  • economic stability
  • protection from invasion
  • large-scale public works
  • public health

Social contracts aren’t always complicated or controversial. Stopping at a red light may add a couple minutes to your commute, but it’s a small price to pay for not getting t-boned or run over.

But what happens when a social contract is broken? What happens when:

Declaring Independence

Recently I asked a high school Open-Source Learning network what they knew about the Declaration of Independence. (NOTE: I should have been more specific, since there have been quite a few.)

Everyone recognized the phrase. A few rolled their eyes. One said: “We learned about that in American History.”

“Cool. What can you tell me about it?”

Nothing. Silence. No one could explain what it was. Or why it happened, or why it might be important to understand.

The Declaration of Independence matters. Whatever we may think of America, or its colonial history, or the destructive impact of that history, or even the way it functions today, the Declaration of Independence is an articulate, assertive example of speaking truth to power. The document is an artifact of a broken agreement.

The Problem With User Agreements

As Yale computer science professor Edward Tufte has observed, “Only drug dealers and software companies call their customers ‘users.'”

Neither drug dealers nor software companies are transparent about their practices. Both offer products and services on one-sided terms that prospective customers are unable to negotiate.

Many of us have given up on trying. If we want to use the software, we have to scroll down and click “Accept,” so we may as well get on with it.

Most people don’t know what they’re agreeing to, because most people don’t read the agreements. In 2005, PC Pitstop temporarily added a clause to their End User License Agreement that offered $1000 to anyone who read that far and contacted them. It took five months and more than 3000 sales before anyone did.

And what recourse do we have if a company breaks their own agreement, or applies their policies unevenly? How many times have individuals, groups, and even the United States Congress complained to Facebook? (*Lots.) Has Facebook addressed these concerns? (*Nope.) Has Facebook taken steps to protect individual privacy or punish those who threaten our democracy with misinformation and violence? (*Nope.)

Our Declaration of Digital Interdependence

Students and I read the original Declaration of Independence together while we watched the news. More Facebook employees stepped forward and shared documents showing that the company hosted hate speech and illegal activity that hurts individuals and our country.

Facebook knows about our pain and profits by it without regard to what we think or how we feel. That’s not cool.

And that’s not the only example of big tech taking advantage for profit.

Rather than write a cranky blog post and leave it at that, we decided to do something about it.

Our Declaration of Digital Interdependence

The first thing we did was to read and remix the original Declaration of Independence. The text was written by the influencers of the day, and it has shown some staying power, so why recreate the wheel?

We needed to update the document for our purposes, so we used an etherpad on our own server and started editing:









Once we were all satisfied, we e-signed it:




In our conversations, learners pointed out that their school email addresses all start with their ID numbers. Students don’t own those ID numbers. IDs are assigned upon enrollment and surrendered when students graduate, transfer, or get kicked out.

The data that students create doesn’t belong to them either. Someone else owns the servers, and that means someone else controls the fate of the data.

Learning management systems such as Canvas, student information systems such as Aeries, and feature suites such as Google Classroom or Microsoft 365 all profit handsomely off the content and metadata students create. Schools and districts buy this software. Teachers and students are directed to use it.

So, just like the colonists, we are leaving the nest and creating an alternative. We are building the Open-Source Learning Academy Protocol (OSLAP). OSLAP is a protocol, and not a platform, because OSLAP:

  • Reinforces Open-Source Learning Academy principles through its architecture and use.
  • Supports the philosophy and values of Open-Source Learning – starting with giving people the choice to participate.
  • Does not require anyone to pay to enter proprietary digital real estate.

OSLAP began with the culture of Open-Source Learning. We have curated on the public internet for more than ten years – always on someone else’s servers. Even though we can use online software such Blogger and other platforms without paying in currency, there is always a price, starting with our lack of informed agency. We know that somewhere out there, someone may be extracting value from our work in ways we can’t see.

Action Speaks Loudest

Last week we took an important step. After we signed our declaration, we had a meeting, and we agreed to move our data to our own servers. All of this is documented – in our data, in the recording of our conversation about our data, and ultimately in the actions we took to preserve and move our data.

Action is the ultimate authenticity. It was up to each of us to backup our blogs into .xml files that we downloaded to our machines and then uploaded to OSLAP.

Stay Tuned

I will share more about this in coming weeks. Contact Me to learn more or test-drive OSLAP with your learning community.



Enter the 5PH1NX

Note: I originally wrote this post as a draft for
5tudent Peer Heuristic for 1Nformation Xchange
(A slightly transmedia use case in peeragogical assessment.)
David Preston, Ph.D.
Over the last several decades technology has driven massive shifts in the way we communicate and collaborate.  Information technology, socioeconomic trends, an increasingly complex and uncertain future, and school’s failed brand are contributing factors in an emerging discourse that seeks to align learning with our rapidly changing culture.  Open Source Learning and Peeragogy, two emerging theoretical frameworks in this discourse, leverage end-to-end user principles of communication technology to facilitate peers learning together and teaching each other.  In both traditional and liminal learning communities, oneof the major points of contact between education and societal culture is the purposeful use of assessment.  The processes of giving, receiving, and applying constructive critique makes learners better thinkers, innovators, motivators, collaborators, coworkers, friends, relatives, spouses, teammates, and neighbors.  Implementing peer-based assessment can be problematic in schooling institutions where evaluative authority is traditionally conflated with hierarchical authority, and where economic and political influences have focused attention on summative, quantitative, standardized measurement of learning and intelligence.  This is the story of how one learning community is adopting Open Source Learning and Peeragogical principles to decentralize and enrich the assessment process.
Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based upon our old experiences.  Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery, moment by moment, of our existence.  
 -Aldous Huxley, Knowledge & Understanding (1952) 


A growing tide of popular and academic attention heralds the promise of education technology.  The problem is that tools and strategies such as MOOCs, videos, virtual environments, and games are only as good as the contexts in which they are used.  Even the most adept practitioners quickly discover that pressing emerging technology and culture into the shape of yesterday’s curricular and instructional models amounts to little more than Skinner’s Box 2.0.  

So what is to be done?  How can we use emerging tools and culture to deliver such an amazing individual and collaborative experience that it shatters expectations and helps students forget they’re in school long enough to fall in love with learning again? 

 A world in which work looks more like this

…requires a learning environment that looks more like this

and this.
Education in the Information Age should enable learners to find, analyze, evaluate, curate, and act on the best available information.  Pursuing an interdisciplinary path of inquiry in an interest-based community doesn’t just facilitate the acquisition of factual knowledge (which has a limited half-life).  The process brings learners closer to understanding their own habits of mind and gives them practice and an identity in the culture they’ll be expected to join after they graduate.  This requires new literacies and a curriculum that emphasizes mental fitness, physical fitness, spiritual fitness, civic fitness, and technological fitness.
Models of
assessment that emphasize self-directed Paragogical
and collaborative Peeragogical
principles enrich the learning experience and accelerate and amplify
deep understanding.  Because these approaches
are pull-based and generate tens of thousands of multi/transmedia data points per
learner, they generate multi-dimensional portraits of learner development and provide feedback that goes far beyond strengths and weaknesses in content retention.  The long-term benefit is exponential.  Learners who can intentionally direct their
own concentration are empowered far beyond knowledge acquisition or skill
mastery.  They become more effective thinkers
and–because they are vested– more caring people.  This
learning experience is of their own making: it isn’t
business, it’s personal. The inspiration
to recreate the process for themselves and for others is the wellspring of the
lifelong learner.
As Benjamin Disraeli put it, “In general the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.”  It is a widely accepted truism in business that better data leads to better decisions.  We now have the ability to generate, aggregate, analyze, and evaluate much richer data sets that can help us learn more about helping each other learn.  Sharing different kinds of data in different ways will have the same game-changing effect in learning that it has in professional baseball, basketball, and investment banking.
collaborative assessment generates an unprecedented quantity and variety of data that illuminates aspects of learning, instruction, and overall systemic efficacy.  Even a cursory examination of readily available freeware metrics, blog/social media content, and time stamps can provide valuable insight into an individual’s working process and differentiate learners in a network.



In the larger
scheme of things, Peeragogical assessment provides direct access to and practice in
the culture learners will be expected to join when they complete their course
of study.  Collaboration, delegation,
facilitating conversations, and other highly valued skills are developed in plain view, where they can be critiqued and validated by peers, experts and the public. 

Learners responded to the assignment with real-time
and created a finished
in 24 hours.  The map also attracted contributors outside the original learning community who lent perspectives on content, design and working process.  Although there was no formal assessment process, it was easy for each viewer to see exactly who did what and how well.
But tall trees
don’t grow by themselves in the desert.  Peeragogical
innovation can be challenging in organizational cultures that prioritize control
and standardization; as Senge et al have
observed, the system doesn’t evaluate quality when dealing with the unfamiliar, it just pushes back.  In schools this is so typical that it doesn’t merit comment in traditional media.  The world notices when Syria goes dark, but in school restricted online access is business as usual.





Cultural constraints can make early adopters in technology-based Peeragogy seem like Promethean
Learners are not fooled by the rhetoric of in loco parentis or vision statements that emphasize “safe, nurturing learning environments.”  With notable exceptions, today’s school leaders do not know as much about technology as the young people for whom they assume responsibility.  Still, learners understand survival: they are fighting in unfavorable terrain against an enemy of great power.  Innovating is impossible and even loudly criticizing school or advocating for change is a risk.  As a result many do
just enough to satisfy requirements without getting involved enough to attract attention.  Some
have also internalized the critical voices of authority or the failure of the formal experience as evidence
of their own inability: I’m just not any good
at math
How do we know when we’re really good at something?  Standardized testing feedback doesn’t help learners improve.  Most of
us don’t have a natural talent for offering or accepting criticism.  And yet, as Wole
put it, “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.”
Peeragogical interaction requires refining relational and topical critique, as well as skills in other “meta” literacies, including but not limited to critical thinking, collaboration, conflict
resolution, decision-making, mindfulness, patience and compassion. 
Interpersonal learning skills are
undervalued in today’s schooling paradigm.  Consequently there is an operational lack of
incentive for teachers and learners to devote time and energy, particularly
when it carries a perceived cost in achievement on tests that determine
financial allocations and job security.2
Nevertheless, some
educators are introducing peer-to-peer network language and even introducing peer-based assessment.  But the contracts, syllabi and letters to
students stink of the old ways.
These one-to-many documents are presented by agents of the
institution endowed with the power to reward or punish.  To many students this does not represent a
choice or a real opportunity to hack the learning experience.  They suspect manipulation and they wait for
the other shoe to drop.  Learners also don’t like to be told they’re free while being forced to operate within tight constraints.  Consider this
to a
that is highly
regarded in the field
“Students may choose to reblog their
work in a public place or on their own blogs, but do so at their own
risk.” What? Did I read that correctly? “Students may choose to
reblog their work in a public place or on their own blogs, but do so at their
own risk.” Risk? What risk? The risk of possibly helping someone understand
something that they didn’t before or get a different opinion than they had
before? Someone please help me make sense of this.
To effectively adopt
Peeragogical assessment in the schooling context, the community must construct a
new understanding of how the members in the network relate to one another
independent of their roles in the surrounding social or hierarchical systems.  This requires trust, which in school requires
significant suspension of disbelief, which–and this is the hard part– requires actual substantive, structural change in the learning transaction.  This is the defining characteristic of Open Source Learning: as the network grows, changes composition, and changes purpose, it also changes the direction and content of the learning experience.  Every network member can introduce new ideas, ask questions, and contribute resources than refine and redirect the process.
This isn’t easy.  A member in this network must forget
what she knows about school in order to test the boundaries of learning that shape her relationship to content, peers, and expert sources of information and feedback.  This is how the cogs in the machine become the liminal heroes who redesign it.  Having rejected the old way, they must now
create the rituals that will come to define the new.  They are following in the path of Oedipus,
who took on the inscrutable and intimidating Sphinx, solved the riddle that
had killed others who tried, and ushered out the old belief systems to pave the
way for the Gods of Olympus.
Imagine if Oedipus
had the Internet. 



Enter 5PH1NX
On Monday, April
2, 2011, students in three English classes at a California public high school discovered
anomalies in the
day’s entry on their course blog
.3  The date was wrong and the journal topic was this:
In The Principles of Psychology
(1890), William James wrote, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a
wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character
and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should
improve this faculty would be the education par excellence
.” How have your
experiences in this course helped you focus your attention? What do you still
need to work on? What elements of the following text (from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84)
draw your attention and help you construct meaning?
driver nodded and took the money. “Would you like a receipt?”
“No need. And keep the change.”
“Thanks very much,” he said. “Be careful, it
looks windy out there. Don’t slip.”
“I’ll be careful,” Aomame said.
also,” the driver
said, facing the
mirror, “please remember: things are not what they seem.”
Things are not what they seem, Aomame repeated mentally. “What do
you mean by that?” she asked with knitted brows.
The driver chose his words carefully: “It’s just that you’re about to do something out of the
. Am I right? People do not ordinarily climb down the emergency
stairs of the Metropolitan Expressway in the middle of the day– especially
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Right. And after you do something like that, the everyday look of
things might seem to change a little. Things may look different
to you than they did before. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let appearances fool
you. There’s always only one reality.”
the jokers


The jokers were
real4 and hidden (without much intent to conceal) around the classroom and in students’ journals.  Students
found them and asked questions about the letters in blue; the questions went
unanswered.  Some thought it was just
another of their teacher’s wild hair ideas.
Although they didn’t know it yet they were playing the liminal role that
Oedipus originated in mythology.  Solving
the riddle would enable them to usher out an old way of thinking and introduce
the new. 
The old way.  An
authority figure sets the rules, packages the information for a passive
audience, and unilaterally evaluates each learner’s performance.  In that context, peeragogical assessment might
be introduced with a theoretical framework, a rubric, and a lesson plan with
input, checks for understanding, and guided practice as a foundation for
independent work.
            The new way.  In Open Source Learning the learner pursues a path of inquiry within
communities that function as end-to-end user networks.  Each individual begins her learning with a
question and pursues answers through an interdisciplinary course of study that
emphasizes multiple modalities and the five Fs: mental Fitness, physical
Fitness, spiritual Fitness, civic Fitness, and technological Fitness.  Learners collaborate with mentors and receive
feedback from experts, community-based peers, and the public.  They are the heroes of learning journeys.Heroes don’t respond to syllabi.  They respond to calls to adventure.
Open Source Learning prepares
students for the unforeseen.  By the time
they met the 5PH1NX students had learned about habits of mind, operating
schema, digital culture and community, self-expression, collaboration, free
play, autonomy, confidence/trust/risk, and resilience.  These ideas had been reinforced through nonfiction
s and literary selections such as
Montaigne’s Essays,
Plato’s Allegory
of the Cave
, Bukowski’s Laughing
, Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
Sartre’s No
and others. 
The first poem
assigned in the course was Bukowski’s “Laughing Heart”: The Gods will give you chances.
Know them.  Take them. 
So it is with knowledge and
understanding.  Today we are presented
with an overwhelming, unprecedented quantity and variety of data in our
physical and virtual lives; to cope we must improve the ways we seek, select,
curate, analyze, evaluate, and act on information. 
On the back of
each Joker card was a QR code
that linked to a blog page with riddles and
clues to a search.  At this point
students realized they were playing a game.
A tab on the blog page labeled “The Law” laid out the rules of
This is
The Law.

1.  You cannot “obey” or “break” The Law.  You
can only make good decisions or bad decisions.
2.  Good decisions lead to positive outcomes.3.  Bad decisions lead to suffering.4.  Success requires humanity.5. “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf
is the Pack.” -Rudyard Kipling6. “The Way of the sage is to act but not to compete.” -Lao Tzu

7. Be honorable.

8.  Have fun.

9.  Question.

10.  Sapere aude

This is The Law.
After a second set
of on-campus and blog quests,
students noticed a shift in 5PH1NX.  A
couple of weeks before the first clue was published, during a Socratic seminar on
concept of Free Play
, a student said, “We learn best when adults take away
the crutches and there is no safety net.”
The quote was used in the next clue; students began to realize that the
game was not pre-determined.  5PH1NX was
evolving in response to their contributions.  


student’s comment was a call to action.
The Feats of Wisdom
were designed to engage learners over a vacation break in fun, collaborative,
social media-friendly missions that required engagement in the community,
expansion of their personal learning networks, and documentation on their blogs.  For example:

Feat #1:
Buy a ticket to “The Hunger Games” (or any other
movie that’s likely to draw a large, young, rowdy audience).  Before the
lights dim and the trailers begin, walk to the screen, turn to the audience,
and in a loud, clear voice, recite the “To be, or not to be…”
soliloquy from Hamlet (don’t worry if you make a couple mistakes, just be sure
you make it all the way to, “Be all my sins remembered.”).
Capture the event on video & post it to your blog.
had been using the Internet without an Acceptable Use Policy all year; such policies are one-to-many artifacts of a central authority and far weaker than community norms.  So rather than introduce “rules”
5PH1NX simply provided a reminder of the client-side responsibility:


The Emergence of
Peeragogical Assessment
The third page on the Feats of
Wisdom blog was entitled Identifying
and Rewarding Greatness
, where learners were greeted with the following
you see something that was done with love, that pushed the boundaries, set the
standard, broke the mold, pushed the envelope, raised the bar, blew the doors
off, or rocked in some previously unspecified way, please bring it to the
attention of the tribe by posting a link to it [here].
No one did.
Instead, they started doing
something more effective.  They started
building.  One student hacked the entire
game and then created her own
Other students began to
consider the implications for identifying and rewarding greatness.  They realized that one teacher couldn’t
possibly observe how 96 students were working over vacation out in the community
and online to accomplish the Feats of Wisdom. In order to get credit for their
efforts they would have to curate and share their work process and
product.  They also realized that the same
logic applied to learning and coursework in general; after all, even the most
engaged, conscientious teacher only sees a high school or college student a few
hours a week in artificial conditions.
The learner presumably spends her whole life in the company of her own brain.  Who is the more qualified reporting
With these thoughts in mind
students created Project
, a peer-to-peer assessment platform through which students could
independently assign value to those thoughts and activities they deemed
worthy.  Because the 2011-12 5PH1NX was a
three-week exercise in gamification, Project Infinity quickly evolved to
include collaborative
working groups
and coursework.  This was
learner-centered Peeragogical assessment in action; learners identified a need
and an opportunity, they built a tool for the purpose, they managed it
themselves, and they leveraged it in a meaningful way to support student
achievement in the core curriculum.
Project Infinity 2 & Implications
for the Future
            Alumni from
the Class of 2012 felt such a strong positive connection to their experience in
Open Source Learning and Peeragogical assessment that they built a version for
the Class of 2013.  They created Project Infinity2 with
enhanced functionality, they asked the teacher to embed an associated Twitter
feed on the course blog, and they came to classes to speak with current
students about their experiences.
Everyone thought the Class of 2013 would stand on the shoulders of
giants and adopt the platform with similar enthusiasm.
            They were
            Students understood
the concept and politely contributed suggestions for credit, but it quickly
became evident that they weren’t enthusiastic.
Submissions decreased and finally the Project Infinity2 Twitter feed
disappeared from the course blog.  Learners’ blogs and
project work (here
and here)
suggested that they were mastering the core curriculum and meta concepts, and they
appeared generally excited about Open Source Learning overall.  So why weren’t they more excited about the
idea of assessing themselves and each other?
Project Infinity wasn’t theirs.  They
didn’t get to build it.  It was handed to
them in the same way that a syllabus is handed to them.  No matter how innovative or
effective it might be, Project Infinity was just another tool designed by
someone else to get students to do something they weren’t sure they wanted/needed
to do in the first place.
            Timing may be a factor.  Last year’s students didn’t meet 5PH1NX until the first week in
April, well into the spring semester.
This year’s cohort started everything faster and met 5PH1NX in November.  Now (in January) they understand the true
potential of their situation and they’re taking the reins.  As students realized what was happening with
the clues and QR codes they approached the teacher and last year’s alumni with
a request: Let Us In.  They don’t just
want to design learning materials or creatively demonstrate mastery, they want to chart their own course and build
the vehicle/s for taking the trip.  Alumni and students are becoming Virtual TAs who will start the formal peer-to-peer advising and grading process.  In the Spring Semester all students will be asked to prepare a statement of goals/intentions, and they will be informed that the traditional teacher will be responsible for no more than 30% of their grade.  The rest will come from a community of peers, experts and members of the public.
            On Tuesday of Finals Week 5PH1NX went from five players to two hundred.  Sophomores and freshman have jumped into the
fray and hacked/solved one of the blog clues before seniors did.  Members of the Open Source Learning cohort
have also identified opportunities to enrich and expand 5PH1NX.  A series of conversations about in-person
retreats and the alumni community led to students wanting to create a massively
multiple player learning cohort.  Imagine
50,000-100,000 learners collaborating and sharing information on a quest to
pass an exam—by solving a game that leads them to a “Learning Man Festival” in
the Summer of 2013.  

            When 5PH1NX
players return from Winter Break in January they will transform their roles
relative to the game and the course.
Several have already shared “AHA!” moments in which they discovered ways
to share ideas and encourage collaboration and peer assessment.  They have identified Virtual Teaching
Assistant candidates, who will be coached by alumni, and they have plans to
provide peer-based assessment for their online work.  They are also now actively engaged in taking more control over the
collaboration process itself

            On the last day of the semester, a post-finals
throwaway day of 30-minute class sessions that administrators put on the
calendar to collect Average Daily Attendance money, hardly anyone came to campus.  Open Source Learning students were all there.  They have separated the experience of
learning from the temporal, spatial, and cultural constraints of school.  They understand how democracy works: those
who participate make the decisions.
No one knows how this ends, but the outcome of Peeragogical assessment is not a score; it is learners who demonstrate their thinking progress and
mastery through social production and peer-based critique.  This community’s approach to learning and
assessment has prepared its members for a complex and uncertain future by moving
them from a world of probability to a world of possibility.  As one student put it in a video entitled “We Are Superman,” “What we are doing now may seem small, but we are part of something so much bigger than we think.  What does this prove?  It proves everything; it proves that it’s possible.”



1.     Whenever
the author gives a talk or an interview someone asks if he’s in trouble.
3.     Reminder:
not so long ago this sentencea would have been rightly interpreted
as science fiction. 
a.     And
its structure.
4.     In
[this year’s version] students initially assigned symbolic literary value to
the blue letters before the solution dawned & the comment thread ended with,

a tale of two vessels


Five people paid $250,000 apiece to die next to the Titanic.

James Cameron (blockbuster film director, est. net worth >$700M) explained the “catastrophic implosion” of the OceanGate submersible to Anderson Cooper (Vanderbilt heir, est. net worth >$100M) on CNN:

“The only scenario that I could come up with in my mind that could account for that was an implosion,” he told Cooper. “A shockwave event so powerful that it actually took out a secondary system that has its own pressure vessel and its own battery power supply which is the transponder that the ship uses to track where the sub is.”

He said false-hopes kept getting dangled as search teams looked for the missing passengers over the following days.


“I watched over the ensuing days this whole sort of everybody-running-around-with-their-hair-on-fire search, knowing full well that it was futile, hoping against hope that I was wrong but knowing in my bones that I wasn’t,” Cameron told Cooper.


“I encouraged all of them to raise a glass in their honor on Monday,” Cameron said.
Why? Because they’re no longer competing for our resources or leaving a trail of waste? They’re not heroes. All they did was pay a lot of money to sit in the crumple zone. To go where lots of people went before, and where no one wanted to go in the first place. What kind of moron willingly pays $250,000 to sit in a tiny box of questionable technology that is bolted shut from the outside and sunk more than 2 miles beneath the surface of the ocean just to watch a screen that shows the exact same images you can see in your living room? Of a wreck whose very existence is testimony to what happens when we ignore the reality of the world around us?


I knew someone was going to say it, and it took less than a minute into the lead story: “They died doing something they loved.” Like that matters. Plenty of people love doing heroin.


Whatever your jam, whatever, er, floats your boat, it’s your responsibility to mitigate risk and provide for the emotional well-being of the people who love you and rely on you, the people who will truly miss you when you’re gone. You owe your loved ones the minimal service of not dying from stupidity.


Besides, Cameron was wrong. Not everyone wanted to be there. Suleman Dawood, the son of Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, was “terrified” about the trip, but the 19-year-old ended up on the submersible because the trip was Father’s Day weekend and he wanted to please his dad.


They weren’t the only Pakistanis who died at sea last week. They were just the only ones most Americans saw on TV.



Hundreds of Pakistani immigrants died when an overcrowded fishing trawler sank in the Mediterranean Sea on June 14.


According to the United Nations Migration Agency, approximately 750 men, women, and children were on board when the boat capsized.


The people on that boat paid Libyan smugglers about $8000 each to escape their lives in search of better ones.

I grew up in Southern California and I get it. Many friends and students have told me harrowing tales of how they paid coyotes to get across the border.


So many people in so many places are desperately trying to escape war, persecution, climate change, and poverty.



There is a powerful lesson in this. None of the people on either vessel should have died in that time, place, and manner. They wouldn’t have been on those boats at all if people with means would just think enough of their fellow humans to willingly help people with less means.


If you have $250,000 laying around, and you’re thinking of spending it on the grownup version of an amusement park ride to look at the most famous oceanic disaster ever, which was caused by human arrogance and resulted in a horrible loss of life, use that money to help people in need. Give it directly to a person. Support a local nonprofit. Invest in a B corp or social entrepreneurship.


“The best and the worst are known to you, now.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Until we stop hurting ourselves, each other, and our planet, I’m rooting for the orcas.

welcome aboard the digital kon-tiki

Everyone who participates in Open-Source Learning proves that it works. Sometimes the results are observably extraordinary, like when a high school student learns to fly a plane or leads an entire learning community for a long weekend of interdisciplinary wonder in Yosemite.

Often, Open-Source Learning creates more subtle results. We shift our thinking in ways that would be invisible to others if we don’t curate them somewhere for people to see – like what I’m doing right now on this blog.

In the old days, students would work as assigned by a teacher. The only artifact would be a piece of paper. Only two people would know the work existed. After the teacher scrawled a score, a grade, or a comment on the artifact, the student would stuff it in a binder, or the bottom of a backpack, and eventually toss it or lose it altogether.

So, I have to wonder. Why, in the age when everyone is documenting everything about their lives, don’t learners and schools publicly curate the value of what they think? Why are we settling for learning management systems and other walled gardens that elicit users to create content that generates value only for the owners of that particular digital space? Isn’t that the digital equivalent of sharecropping?

This sort of thinking led me to use free software on the public internet with students. And for years, that worked just fine. Selecting tools was a valuable part of the critical thinking process.

But digital companies got more and more sophisticated at extracting values in ways people can’t see.

We needed something new. During the pandemic I collaborated with my dear friend and computing genius Martin Dow to create the Open-Source Learning Academy Protocol.  OSLAP is a software environment in which people are people. We own our identities and the content we create.

Recently wrote a chapter for the University of São Paulo in which I describe the project in more detail. Below is a draft; I would love to know what you think.

Step aboard the digital Kon-Tiki:

draft for blog open source learning chapter for u of são paulo