Our Technology

Too often, education technologies are developed that position students as objects of education, a reflection no doubt of how traditional educational practices also view students. Education technologies do things to students, rather than foster student agency. If we are to challenge what “school” should look like, we must also challenge what “ed-tech” does as well. What sorts of technologies can and should we build to give students more control? What sorts of technologies can offer students the power to “own” their learning — their data, their content, their digital profiles, and their domain?

Claim Your Domain

Our multi-age learning community sets up and runs our organization. We don’t use learning management software. Instead, our learners use the professional tools of a modern, neurodiverse organization, without all the ed-tech surveillance baked in. We use technology to co-create paths to equity and access for our learners so they can collaborate on distributed, multi-age, cross-disciplinary teams with a neurodiverse array of creatives doing work that impacts community.

This is some of the technology we gain experience with in the process and our philosophy for using it.

Our Software

  • WordPress.com – Web publishing, team communication, a domain of our own
  • Element.io – Team communication
  • P2 – Team communication and documentation
  • 1Password – Team password management and secure document storage
  • Toggl Plan – Team task and project management using the power of timelines and boards
  • Google Workspace – Email, calendars, live document editing, file storage
  • HubSpot – Customer relationship management, grant management, and sales and donation pipelining that connects with lots of platforms
  • QuickBooks – Bookkeeping, payroll, budgeting, money management, invoicing, tax compliance
  • Hootsuite – Social media management and analytics
  • WPForms – Form builder that connects to WordPress, HubSpot, and Zapier
  • GiveWP – Donation collection and management platform that connects to WordPress and Zapier
  • WooCommerce – Online store that connects to WordPress, HubSpot, and Zapier
  • Taxjar – Automated sales tax collection and submittal that connects with WooCommerce
  • Zapier – Automation platform that connects all this software together
  • GitHub – Revision management and issue tracking
  • Setapp – An Apple based software subscription service that gets you access to hundreds of professional apps for macOS, iOS, and iPadOS
  • Raindrop.io – Team bookmarking, highlighting, annotation, and document management

In many schools today, the phrase “computer-aided instruction” means making the computer teach the child. One might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

There’s a lot more software in our lives, but the above form our operational and collaborative bones.

At the center of it all is our open source communication stack.

Open Source Communication

With our Element.ioP2, and WordPress communication stack, we cover the three levels, three speeds, and three archetypal spaces of communication, collaboration, and sociality.

  • Three Levels: Conversation, Discussion, Publication
  • Three Speeds: Realtime, Async, Storage
  • Three Spaces: Caves, Campfires, Watering Holes
  • Three Sensitivities: Dandelions, Tulips, Orchids

Now we have the opportunity and understanding to move from emergency pandemic remote school and its pantomime of learning to purposefully designed online education spaces that are accessible, sustainable, and representative of the communities they serve.

Conference to Restore Humanity: The Need

Indie Ed-Tech

“Indie ed-tech” draws rather explicitly on the spirit of indie music and the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos of punk rock.

‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech
black background with text overlay screengrab
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web — not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments — through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

In the spirit of the open philosophy, we decided early on that we wanted our kids to be engineers and inventors, and not technology tourists.

And here’s where we broke from tradition.

During our class meetings, we spoke with all of our high school students about the program. We brought them together, and we started that conversation with the words, “We trust you.”

Penn Manor: The power of open in education

“Indie ed-tech” – what we’re gathered here to talk about over the next few days – is inherently ideological as it seeks to challenge much of how we’ve come to see (and perhaps even acquiesce to) a certain vision for the future of education technology. An industry vision. An institutionalized vision. Indie ed-tech invokes some of the potential that was seen in the earliest Web technologies, before things were carved up into corporate properties and well-known Internet brands: that is, the ability to share information globally, not just among researchers, scientists, and scholars within academic institutions or its disciplines, but among all of us – those working inside and outside of powerful institutions, working across disciplines, working from the margins, recognizing the contributions of those who have not necessarily been certified – by school, by society – as experts. Distributed knowledge networks, rather than centralized information repositories. “Small pieces, loosely joined.”

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web — not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments — through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

To best prepare students for the future, we must think deeply and openly about our vision for school technology today. I believe every student, in every school, deserves equal and open access to computers. Students should have the freedom to explore and experiment with their school-issued devices. In an open schoolhouse, every student is trusted with learning technology and empowered to rewire and reshape the world.

The Open Schoolhouse – Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students

Indie Ed-tech is infrastructure that supports scholarly agency and autonomy.

A Journey to discover what is Indie Ed-tech | Heart | Soul | Machine

For his part, in that Stanford talk, Jim Groom pointed to 80s indie punk as a source of inspiration for indie ed-tech. “Why 1980s indie punk?” Groom explains,

First and foremost because I dig it. But secondly it provides an interesting parallel for what we might consider Indie Edtech. Indie punk represents a staunchly independent, iconoclastic, and DIY approach to music which encompasses many of the principles we aspired to when creating open, accessible networks for teaching and learning at [the University of Mary Washington]. Make it open source, cheap, and true alternatives [sic] to the pre-packaged learning management systems that had hijacked innovation.

The LMS is our major record label. Prepackaged software. A prepackaged sound.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

If we don’t like ‘the system’ of ed-tech, we should create one of our own.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

What if our classrooms pushed aside lecture and standard curriculum, and reorganized as a community of practitioners working toward a common goal? What if every high school junior worked just like a journalist or technologist?

The flat-world technology revolution asks us to rethink our notion of what it means to be educated and literate in the 21st Century. However, one traditional skill remains unchanged: the ability to artfully and effectively self-express through writing. Blogs, reports, essays, and Tweets; writing across multiple modalities is learning made visual–and a full keyboard is still the most efficient tool to hone this skill.

Schools, it seems, are holding computer policies upside down. They shackle incredible, open-ended learning technology in digital chains. An air of distrust hangs over the device and the student. The practice cripples learning and students’ autonomy. Repressive computer device management policies crush learner agency and intellectual freedom.

What I love so much about open source philosophy, and what I strive to replicate on the help desk, is the participatory, inclusive environment where traditional power structures dissolve and students are empowered to act, contribute, express, learn, and think. Together as a team, students and staff shape the world around them. Once we stop treating students like data banks waiting for downloads, once we trust students as equal partners in their education, and once we empower students to contribute to their school community, the open schoolhouse emerges.

The Open Schoolhouse – Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students
Charlie Reisinger: Lessons From the Open Source Schoolhouse
Charlie Reisinger: Teaching The Next Generation of WordPress Bloggers and Hackers

Within all this, “technology” — meaning contemporary information and communications technology — is essential, as are all other kinds of tools. And that technology needs to be open and under student control, or it becomes a limitation instead of a key to the world.

“Personalized Learning” is an expression of teacher and school power, just like “Project-Based…

Blogging, Domain of One’s Own, and WordPress

If I had a desert island EdTech, it would be blogging, and that is not just in a nostalgic sense. No other educational technology has continued to develop, as the proliferation of WordPress sites attests, and also remain so full of potential. I’ve waxed lyrical about academic blogging many times before, but for almost every ed tech that comes along, I find myself thinking that a blog version would be better: e-portfolios, VLEs, MOOCs, OERs, social networks. Sometimes it’s like Jim Groom and Alan Levine have taken over my brain, and I don’t even mind. I still harbour dreams of making students effective bloggers will be a prime aspect of graduateness. Nothing develops and anchors your online identity quite like a blog.

Source: 25 Years of EdTech – 2003: Blogs – The Ed Techie 

Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one’s domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.

As originally conceived at the Virginia liberal arts university, the Domains initiative provides students and faculty with their own Web domain. It isn’t simply a blog or a bit of Web space and storage at the school’s dot-edu, but their own domain – the dot com (or dot net, etc) of the student’s choosing. The school facilitates the purchase of the domain; it helps with installation of WordPress and other open source software; it offers both technical and instructional support; and it hosts the site until graduation when domain ownership is transferred to the student.

And then – contrary to what happens at most schools, where a student’s work exists only inside a learning management system and cannot be accessed once the semester is over – the domain and all its content are the student’s to take with them. It is, after all, their education, their intellectual development, their work.

But there remains this notion, deeply embedded in Domain of One’s Own, that it is important to have one’s own space in order to develop one’s ideas and one’s craft. It’s important that learners have control over their work – their content and their data. In a 2009 article that served as a philosophical grounding of sorts for the initiative, Gardner Campbell, then a professor at Baylor University, called for a “personal cyberinfrastructure” where students:

not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments…. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own ‘engagement streams’ throughout the learning environment.

The importance of giving students responsibility for their own domain cannot be overstated. This can be a way to track growth and demonstrate new learning over the course of a student’s school career – something that they themselves can reflect upon, not simply grades and assignments that are locked away in a proprietary system controlled by the school.

Source: The Web We Need to Give Students – BRIGHT Magazine

WordPress (disclosure: some of us at Stimpunks helped make it) is open and free, including the freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0). It’s part of our organizations communication stackNewark is a large school district using WordPress for internal and external communication. @camworld of SchoolPresser built and manages the 70+ WP sites at the Newark district. This podcast talks to him about moving Newark over to WordPress. He gets into nuts and bolts and case study, including cost model.

See his talk on WordPress for Schools at WordCamp Raleigh (slides).

High school, college, and even middle school students help make WordPress. Shipping to an authentic audience is powerful and life-changing.

Glow is a service for to all schools & education establishments across Scotland.

Glow gives access to a number of different web services.

One of these services is Glow Blogs which runs on WordPress.

All teachers and pupils in Scotland can have access to #GlowBlogs via a Single signon via RMUNIFY (shibboleth)

Glow Blogs are currently used for School Websites, Class Blogs, Project Blogs, Trips, Libraries, eportfolios. Blogs By Learners, Blogs for Learners (Resources, revision ect), collaborations, aggregations.

Source: Word Press for Weans 2018 #pressedconf18

There are thousands of so-called widgets, plugins and themes that are just as important for a one-person blogger than the world’s largest publishers. Gartner’s recent pace-layered application strategy shows that organisations can accelerate their innovation by choosing an array of systems that support business requirements on long-, medium- and short-term timescales.

Systems that maximise connectivity between the pace layers offer organisations competitive advantage. WordPress’ ubiquity has driven it to enjoy a rich ecosystem of connectivity and integration, something that the baked-in WordPress REST API now extends that connectivity infinitely. This is why things will accelerate in 2017.

Source: How WordPress Ate The Internet in 2016… And The World in 2017

In the aftermath, we find that we live in a post truth world filled with fake news and alternative facts. And all around us, people are pointing at the web as the engine that allowed all this to advance: it turns out that understanding how search engines work is really important; it turns out that understanding Facebook algorithms really does matter; it turns out that knowing how to create and disseminate information on the Web is a very, very powerful force.

And it turns out that we have a lot of work to do.

Through its coded spaces, the LMS values a learning experience that is as streamlined and predictable as possible, and, thus the teaching we do in the LMS never addresses the Web below the surface. What spaces can we imagine on the Web that might push us deeper?

Within our personal Web spaces, the application that captured our imaginations the most was an open source blogging platform called WordPress. WordPress was popular back then; it’s even more popular now. Some estimates suggest that it powers close to 30% of the Web. Within WordPress, users can use plugins and themes to extend and alter the application. Themes let users change the way their site looks; plugins let them change the way it behaves. This extensibility of WordPress is why it has become, for me, a game-changer. When faculty or students have something they want to build on the Web, I can almost always figure out a way they can achieve it with WordPress.

WordPress, which I’ve already mentioned several times and which so many of our students use and learn, is a powerful force on the Web. Because it is used by so many sites, learning it is an actual marketable skill that our students can include on their resumes. This matters, and it’s worth pointing out and emphasizing to our communities.

Let’s talk about the more philosophical underpinnings of the project — the notion that we are pushing our students to develop a deeper understanding of how the Web works and why that matters to us in 2017. Let’s return to WordPress for a moment. WordPress is, indeed, a specific, popular content management system. But even if it wasn’t the most popular, or, even if some other open source tool were to overtake it in popularity in the next four years, that doesn’t mean the experience of learning it loses value for our students, not if we approach that learning in a particular way.

For WordPress can actually serve as an exemplar, a symbol with which our students can grapple as a way towards a deeper understanding. The things they learn to do in WordPress are generalizable to other systems and other online spaces: identifying an audience; honing a voice; organizing and architecting an online space; mixing media to create compelling narratives; considering the interplay between design and content; understanding how Web applications work “under the hood” and how databases and scripts interact; adapting sites to consider accessibility and universal design; connecting disparate online spaces so they relate to each other in synthesized whole; adapting a site as it grows and develops in new directions; responding to comments and finding other spaces and sites upon which to comment; learning how search engines rank sites and how those search engine’s algorithms impact the findability of their own site. This list goes on and on, and it leads us to a more fundamental conversation about the Web and it’s place within our classrooms, our disciplines, and our culture.

I’ve begun to think that we need to push for an approach to the Web that considers it as space that begs of us an interpretive approach. Much like in our specific disciplines we learn how to interpret text, research, data, stories, art, I believe we need to approach the Web as an object of this kind of interrogation and consideration. The Web is not merely the content we read or view. It’s not merely the sites we browse or post on.

This is the Web we need to grapple with, for our students’ sakes as well as our own. And there is still so much work we have to do.

Messy & Chaotic Learning: A Domains Presentation at Keene State College | The Fish Wrapper

The latest statistics reveal that WP accounts for about 39.5% of the entire Web and 62% of CMS-built websites.

What Percentage of Websites are WordPress in 2022?

WordPress is used by 64.2% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 43.0% of all websites.

Usage Statistics and Market Share of WordPress, July 2022

WordPress’ market share is 43% of all websites

WordPress Market Share Statistics (2011-2022) – Kinsta®

Toolbelt Theory

At our Stimpunks learning space, we embrace toolbelt theory.

Tools matter though. They are the most basic thing about being human.

They matter most for those who lack the highest capabilities.

And everyone needs a properly equipped Toolbelt to get through life.

Toolbelt Theory for Everyone

We want our children to discover how to choose effectively for their own needs. To do that, they need choices, and so we believe in Toolbelt Theory.

The Basics of Open Technology

Toolbelt Theory is based in the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based in the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports.

So, the Toolbelt is designed to:

  • Break the dependence cycle
  • Develop lifespan technology skills
  • Limit limitations
  • Empower student decision making
  • Prepare students for life beyond school

Source: A Toolbelt for a Lifetime

No student will have mechanical limitations in access to either information or communication — whether through disability, inability at this moment, or even just discomfort. Learning is our goal, and we make it accessible.

We hand our students real laptops with real capabilities, and we fill them with software, apps, and bookmarks.

We want our children to discover how to choose effectively for their own needs. To do that, they need choices, and so we believe in Toolbelt Theory.

The Basics of Open Technology

We all have different needs and different tool belts. At Stimpunks, we’re co-creating personalized toolbelts to meet learners’ needs.

laptops in the classroom represent the first real chance at Universal Design for Learning – the first real chance to allow every student to choose the media format most appropriate for their own needs – the first real chance for students who are different to be accommodated without labels

SpeEdChange: Humiliation and the Modern Professor

Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.

black and red typewriter with "Stories matter" typed out

Writing is too important because, though forms and structures will differ, writing is the path to power for those born without power. This importance lies not in how to write a “five‐paragraph essay” or a “compare and contrast” book review but in the capability to clearly communicate visions both personal and collaborative. Whether the work is a tweet that generates action when that is needed, or a text message to an employer, or the ability to convince others in the political realm, or the expression of one’s identity in a form that evokes empathy in those without similar experience, “communicating” “well” is a social leveler of supreme importance.

 Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools.

In both cases, methodology become less important than process. Our students read on paper, or through audio books, or through text‐to‐speech, or by watching video, or by seeing theater – or by observing their world. They write with pens, keyboards large and small, touchscreens, or by dictating to their phones or computers, or by recording audio, or by making videos, or by writing plays or creating art, or playing music. We do not limit the work by attacking those with disabilities or even inabilities – or even other preferences, because that robs children of both important influences and of their individual voices. Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Thus we begin by moving the teaching of writing from the training of a specific skill set toward an interpersonal art form that flows from students and builds communities. Then, through the reimagining of teaching places into “learning spaces,” we craft “studios” where all the technologies of school – time, space, tools, pedagogies – liberate and inspire rather than deliver and test. Then, using those recrafted technologies, we allow communication learning to flow.

 Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools.

Created Serendipity: Chance Favors the Connected Mind

If bell hooks Made an LMS: a Praxis of Liberation and Domain of One’s Own

We roil at the limitations and oppressive qualities of the LMS. But the problem here is not the LMS—it is that, despite our best efforts at creating other platforms, we still think through our own internal LMS. The problem is that whether we are using Blackboard or teaching in Canvas or building a Domains project, we are most likely not doing thinking that is liberative enough.

The point is not just about platform. The point is about praxis.

the LMS is an outlook, a standpoint, a conviction. Like it or not, it is in our blood as a product of our privilege and our educations. It is not a cage we put students in as much as it is an artificial playground over which we can be masters. It is, in fact, a learning space, but not for the content we put there; rather it is a space of enculturation into an oppressive educative model which each of us has born the weight of, and into which we each believe, to varying degrees, students should be baptized. The same is true of the classroom, the academy, the professional conference. These are spaces we understand, where we are not marginal, but where we can invite the marginal to participate, to become not-marginal. And this invitation to the middle is an act we say is elevating, is doing good.

There are multitudes of voices that we won’t hear because we do not feel safe in their spaces, on the margins. And safe, for educators, usually means expert, superior, capable, competent. When we enter the margins from our roosts in academe, we suffer the surrender of our confidence. In the face of what might be being created in the spaces we don’t occupy, our knees wobble.

By offering a room, we make ourselves the lessors. By making space, we claim space. “These are your walls,” we say. “These are your walls that I’ve given you. These are your walls to hang upon them what you would like. I have made them of plaster and drywall. I have painted them. I have put in the studs and I have raised high the roofbeams. But truly, this is yours. I have made you a space where you can be who you want to be.”

We need to design learning where there is no option for oppression.

Source: If bell hooks Made an LMS: a Praxis of Liberation and Domain of One’s Own

There are other considerations as well. How does this tool represent a politics of oppression—the surrender of privacy, data, authorship, authority, agency, as well as issues of representation, equity, access? Who owns the tool and what are their goals? How is the production of this tool funded? What influence does the maker of this tool have on culture more broadly writ? What labor is rewarded and what labor is erased? What is the relationship between this tool and the administration of the institution? Who must use this tool and who is trained to use this tool, and is that labor compensated? These are all important questions to ask, and the answers may play a role in the adoption of any given tool in a classroom or learning environment.

But in many cases, and especially with the LMS, adoption comes regardless of consent. In only a minority of situations are faculty and students part of the discussion around the purchase of an LMS for an institution. In those situations, we must abide by the use of the LMS; however, that doesn’t mean we must acquiesce to its politics or its pedagogy. In order to intervene, then, we must step back and rather than learn the tool, analyze the tool.

When we do that with the LMS, we find that its primary operation is the acquisition of data, and the conflation of that data with student performance, engagement, and teaching success.

Source: Reading the LMS against the Backdrop of Critical Pedagogy, Part One – OFFICE OF DIGITAL LEARNING

But rules, procedures, and steps are exactly what code defines, and when we fail to acknowledge this we fail to see the pedagogical power that technology and the LMS can have in our classroom.

So the LMS underscores and codifies a set of beliefs and values: with our courses we should build standard interfaces, provide standardized features and tools, and promote, among our students, the expectation that their experiences from one course to the next will be, standard and predictable

Through its coded spaces, the LMS values a learning experience that is as streamlined and predictable as possible, and, thus the teaching we do in the LMS never addresses the Web below the surface. What spaces can we imagine on the Web that might push us deeper?

Messy & Chaotic Learning: A Domains Presentation at Keene State College | The Fish Wrapper

Online Learning in Anti-Ableist Space

Learn more about our technology philosophy at Stimpunks Space.

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