SLightly modified animated GIF from "The Wormhole Activation Machine" from boing boing

Slightly modified animated GIF from “The Wormhole Activation Machine” from boing boing

The lights are on, flashing, and content is spinning around. On Friday afternoon, Tom Woodward flicked the server lights on a site we have been co-building over the last few days, maybe 2 weeks. We were able to use a staging server on wpengine which meant we had a public facing “coming soon” site, and a secondary one which we tested, broke, and fixed things.


The site is a hub for an open course centered/hosted at Virginia Commonwealth University. Based at VCU, the course is officially UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument, what is typically a research/writing class, but sprinkled with a good dose of what Gardner Campbell has done over the last few years on his New Media Seminars, witness the subtitle:

Our special digital engagement pilot name is “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds.” The “dreams” are those of the pioneers and architects of the digital age, people like Vannevar Bush, J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, and Adele Goldberg. We’ll be reading and working with five essays by these dreamers this summer, learning new concepts that will help us build better questions and better learning networks with our trusty personal, interactive, networked computers (including the one you may have in your pocket right now).

Or from the back of a flyer created to promote the course


The code name we have built the site around, the twitter, hashtag, pulling from the words of Doug Engelbart, is Thought Vectors in Concept Space, a way he saw for organizations to really move to becoming “high performance teams”:

Its to externalize your thoughts in the concept structures that are meaningful outside and moving around flexibly and manipulating them and viewing them. Its a new way to operate on a new kind of externalized medium. So, to keep doing it in a model of the old media is just a hangup that someplace we’re going to break that perspective and shift and then the idea of high performance and the idea of high performance teams who’ve learned to coordinate, to get that ball down the field together in all kinds of operations.

That quote from a panel session of internet pioneers gathered for the Brown/MIT Vannevar Bush Symposium.

The site now is live at


A followup post will have a lot of gory code detail on how the site was built, but it is in line with previous syndication hub courses I have had a hand in, from DS106 to Project Community to ETMOOC to RMOOC.

The course opens officially for VCU students Monday night, but the door is open now for you to start connecting now as an open students. The “not quite requirements” are a twitter account (to be part of the #thoughtvectors community) (but not strictly required); and a blog to publish your work in (self hosted,, Blogger, even tumblr (ducks from Gardner’s tomato toss) — anything with an RSS feed, the ability to tag/categorize content, and hopefully a way for people to leave comments.

The place to start connecting your blog (and the reasoning behind this comes in the techie post) is via our map of the terrain, the stream of RSS.

There is a kinship with ds106 on tapping creative expression, but this is also a course that will ask you to take on some meaty readings and to design and develop a research project.

I will name drop some teasers, while not completely confirmed, the whispering I have heard that there are potential lined up guests for the live hangout sessions that may include Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, Christina Engelbart, and more.

Part of the challenge in building a site is how…. “organic” the planning has been. Discussions have gone on here for months, faculty lined up, etc. But the realization is that this is the spirit of the topic- the whole frame for this research writing process is an inquiry project based in and part of the open web. Itself a chaotic, organic place.

You see, most big time media gushing MOOCs, are planned carefully upfront, all of the things are put into place, content neatly lined up like books on a shelf, videos pre-recorded, and then a lot of fanfare is announced. The expectations are largely put into place. It’s not to say that UNIV 200 lacks a plan, but it is not tightly choreographed. It shall be emergent, not emerged.

This is something that will come across in the notion of “associate trails” which comes from the first reading, Vannevar Bush’s As We May Think. Gardner has a really nifty video that should be out tomorrow, where he shows his line of thinking from a tweet

that led him to the library stacks, to being curious about book design and who made it, and back to the web to seek more.

I think the idea is to pay attention to how ideas are connected, and being open to following and exploring ones maybe not carefully spelled out in a syllabus or a worksheet. It is having a curiosity to ask and pursue questions which are likely “not on the final exam”.

It also gets to something that may be a shortcoming of what learning analytics can really measure- is that not all the learning takes place in machine space. It’s not all there in data.

In our mad rush of trying to consume and share information, give thought about how the connect, not only to each other, but to and through us?

Like the other night, a.k.a. Dinner with the Campbells, Gardner’s daughter shared an art project she has been involved with. Jenny offered for me to try on the Jeremy mask

It’s not obvious here, but having though much about the iconic Doug Engelbart pointing photo we use on the site, I was doing a poor imitation with the mask on. The next day at VCU, someone was asking me about the photo. And then I just thought, as a fun way to get people joining in, what if we had people do their own selfies trying to emulate the pose?

and thus we have people joining in. It’s not anything prophetic or seeped in inquiry, but thinking of these paths and exploring them is what I think a lot of the ethos of the course is. Our brains do not operate like lists of course objectives.

It even happens when I seek media for the post. I thought there was an old show that had a booming line about something “in hyperspace” (not just the Muppets “Pigs in Space”) which landed me in google a pile of scifi artwork, but also a nifty animated GIF, where a click led me to the boing boing article The Wormhole Actualization Machine, an utterly amazing DIY project described by Alan Watts that includes infinity mirrors, Arduino controllers, using Google Sketchup to design the cabinet… it is something I would have never come across if not being curious and wandering the trails.

This is what I know of the Thoughtvectors course structure- there are 6 sections of UNIV 200 being run here at VCU but as an online class, each with 20 registered paying students and one full time faculty member. Librarians and learning center staff are standing by to help. The faculty team is working from a common syllabus, but each teacher is going to have latitude with the way they frame the assignments and (if I got this write) some flexibility on how they weigh portions of the graded assignments.

The syllabus is published but is not carved in stone, it resides in the malleable web. Details will change, but the framework is in place. It’s a map that is not the territory.

All students will be working in a blog they set up and maintain, as are all the faculty members. That all syndicates into where it is then sliced and diced again into different groupings, as well as tweets, and likely resources from a diigo group. And maybe a few or many more things that are suggested as we go.

Each teacher is also going to run a course site (I think we were calling these the Clubhouses), with context specifically for their sections, and maybe or maybe not a syndication of selected student posts back to the main site (we can use tags to push dynaamic content to the graphic slider and other widgeted sections).

And we have a Martin Hawksey twitter explorer going that may just be the bees knees for associative trailing. Open one person’s node and you can watch all the conversations she has been a part of play out as a series of overlapping trails of others

twitter replay

The course runs through the end of July, and we hope open participants dive in and participate or just work to encourage the VCU students.

What are you waiting for? Get over and check out Look to this blog soon for a long scroller of a post detailing the nuts and bolts of Feed WordPress and other bits of duct tape used in the process.

Yes, it shall all go quite smoothly indeed.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


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