How do you like your eggs? When eating out I’d never pull the attitude Jack Nicholson’s character sneered in Five Easy Pieces:

For most of my life, I’ve been a sunny side up or scrambled egg eater. In the last few years, maybe with a lot more road travel, I’ve gotten more fond of eggs over easy. The thing is… at home, for some reason, I avoided making them this way. Without too much Freudian analysis, for some reason I thought I could not manage the flip well.

“I’m not good at making eggs over easy. I’m not a chef.”

So I just never tried.

Once I tried flipping my sunny side up eggs over… well it was easy. And it’s the only way I make ’em any more.

I think I have talked enough about eggs; what I intended to write about was the desire in technology for “easy”– sort of rumbling notion that challenging stuff is never easy. My colleague and friend Todd Conaway really framed this well in a smashing TechTalk performance last year at Scottsdale Community College.

I’m glad I held off writing this post, because until an experience last night, my working title was “The Crock of Easy” (and that would have had crockpot metaphors not eggs).

It was like eating someone else’s dog food… from someone else’s bowl… in someone else’s house. And then finding out it was not even dog food.

Royalty free image by Stuart Miles / Free Digital

Royalty free image by Stuart Miles / Free Digital

By probably no means a provable assertion (and open to thrashing), it seems educators can have a built in “Learned Technological Helplessness”. I hear it in utterances like “I’m not a techie” or “I don’t know much about computers” as self-defeating statements before even trying something with technology.

Because they make it about the technology, not what it might do.

To me it’s not much different when someone tells you “I am not a photographer”. My response is “Do you take photos?” and when they say “yes”… well I wave my wand and say.. “Guess what, you are a photographer.” If you use a computer, a mobile device for any purpose, to me you are a technology user. Not a java programmer, not a hacker, but you are capable of doing something with technology.

I am sure my runny yolk logic will not go over well. “Easy for you to say, Alan, you’re a programmer.”

Yet… using technology for a purpose does not require deep knowledge of Objective-C, much in the same way that for me to operate a vehicle to drive from Phoenix to LA does not require that I am a mechanic.

Still, my analogies are leaking water, they are open to poaching. Sue me. I’m not a —- oh well, I’ve watched Perry Mason.

My worry is when people discount what they can do before they even try.

Now this egg dripping post was motivated partly by comments from colleagues who are rather far from this state of technology helplessness. Quite the polar opposite. And this has to do with the stuff I have done the last few years, most recently in Connected Courses, to create WordPress aggregation “hub” sites with Feed WordPress and RSS feeds.

In a comment thread in a recent What’s next for connected courses post by Mimi Ito, my Blog Brother Howard Rheingold wrote:

I am by no means an adept. I’m probably a lot geekier than the average indicator. I like that it’s easy to click around in WordPress and figure things out. But it’s complex! I don’t see that the open, connected pedagogy is going to make serious inroads with many educators until the process of setting up a hub is easier.

And likewise, Lisa M. Lane recently tweeted

That “easy” word gives me a small twitch. An is it the setting up of hub really the block in adopting connected methods? There sure was a lot of other components in Connected Courses than the hub.

But I cannot really fault either colleague; There are few educators who have tried more ways to use online tools than Lisa; she has tried and struggled with the WordPress hub, with Google Sites, with Google Communities, she constantly seeks end arounds in Moodle, and wrestles with her LMSness.

Howard too has done plenty himself, running connected courses in blogs, and wikis, and taking up the syndication hub thing too.

But they are right.

It’s not easy like push button easy. And it’s not easy, because RSS feeds can be messy, and there’s a lot of nuances involved. Perhaps that’s why it took five blog posts to describe my methods, rather than one click.

Yet… it’s not impossible. Look at what has been done by Kim Jaxson (Chico State U), Todd Conaway (Yavapai Community College), James Michie (open course for secondary school educators), Barry Gelston (K-12 home schooled math).

Let me pry this apart a bit.

When one says “a wordpress syndication hub is not easy to build” it frames the hub as a unitary thing. One model. One way. What you see on Connected Courses is at the top end- it relies on a Premium plugin (Gravity Forms) to automate the signup process, and to make that work, I had to do custom code, as well as to generate the blog listing in the format you see.

These are “nice to haves” especially for a larger, wide open course like Connected Courses. But they are not critical needs. Here’s how you can simplify setting up WordPress Hub:

  • Have people send you their URLs by email or a google form. I did the latter for ETMOOC. And I (glutton) processed well over 500 submissions via the form. A side benefit was… I saw everyone’s blog at least once. I got a good overview of who was in the mix. But adding the feeds is as simple as entering the URLs in the Feed WordPress admin area, and checking they work. Tedious, maybe, but doable. Especially for a class sized connected course.
  • Use a plugin to generate a list of blogs. Because Feed woprdpress enters all of the feeds as Links type data in a category, you can use the Links Shortcode Plugin. The list of syndicated blogs you see on the Future of Learning Institute site is generated autmatically with this bit of “complex” coded inserted into the page content

    Not easy? Oh well.

  • Simplify the Platforms Much of the headaches occur from the wide variety of blog platforms people may use. If you are running a class, you may want to dictate strongly suggest a single platform. This makes what you have to deal with easier. This is why for Project Community we have all students create tumblr blogs. One platform to support, and all they need is to send you the URL for their blog; feeds are found automatically by Feed WordPress for tumblr sites. See the tumblr guide we offer. This past round we had well over 70 students, most brand new to blogging, use tumblr for an entire semester.

These may not be all that convincing. You want easier? Don’t even bother with a WordPress hub – set up a NetVibes aggregator, you get the same result- a blog hub.

And you know what you can do with all my advice. Toss it right out…

Creative Commons licensed geograph image by Evelyn Simak

Creative Commons licensed geograph image by Evelyn Simak

I really want to have a better understanding of the stuff Mike Caulfield has been tireless promoting – the Smallest Federated Wiki. I can buy into the idea because of my trust and respect for Mike. His examples and videos are really helping better rationalize to me that there is some there. And yet, every time I have tried it, I feel like I have entered another dimension.

I am looking forward to a Federates Wiki “Happening” he is leading online over the next two weeks. I want to “get it”. Last night I got the urge to try and jump in… and I ended up in some bad corner of the anti-Narnia.

And it all hits home.

This is what it feels like.

Seems obvious.

I think I am Over Easy.

Heck I might be ready for Soufflé

And all of this dovetails into a really great hangout conversation I had this morning with Ben Werdmüller and Erin Jo Richey about Known. I’ve only been barely tinkering with it, but was fired up when Erin demo-ed the Reader/Hub functionality that is coming soon for the rest of us

The things they showed and described about the vision and capability has literally lit a burner under my egg pan (bad one). I have no idea what I will do with known, but tis time to give it a serious look. I have a good feeling. Or I will just Do What Jim Does.

While I am not ready to close up my WordPressing by any means (yet) — in fact the SPLOTs I have been working on have me quite excited. It’s something about inverting a lot of the ways of thinking about the web, and the affordances of the way known works with other web sites.

It’s not necessarily the “easy” syndicating that compels me, it’s a glimmer of a new. novel way of thinking about the locus of our activity, and how the web mention technology offers a more than singular information flow.

Ease of use is important, do not get me wrong; I don;t want anyone to have my FederatedFrustration with setting up a connected course, but I am in it even more if it enables a way of doing things not possible elsewhere.

So how many eggs do you want? You know how I make ’em.

Top/Featured image: cc licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by velkr0: This is a fun story. I did a flickr creative commons site search for “fried eggs” and the one I chose is by my friend Joe in Vancouver. It’s a small big world.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web 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.


  1. Aha! You are my fellow fedwiki tinkerer (tho maybe i started earlier). Loved this post and may I just say about aggregated blogs (i already said on Mimi’s blog): it was EASY. not one step easy, but as in, follow the instructions, do one thing a bit easier (manually input rss feeds in my case) and then it’s done. Then life is easy. It’s kinda like Mike said about FedWiki, hard to learn, easy to use? That’s a lot of good stuff out there. Not sure why, though, people called wordpress complicated. You can use it in complex ways, but it is essentially quite straightforward if you just want to blog and put some multimedia there.
    Ok, and I used to be a programmer, but i also ran away from it and i was at some point a person who ran away from tech as much as i could…
    But yeah, what brings me back is what i want to do, not what the tech can do for me… If that makes sense?
    One of my probs w Known was that even tho it was techincally easy to use, i had to go elsewhere for too many things so could not make myself focus on tweeting and blogging from there… Maybe the new reader function will change that? I don’t know

    Looking forward to playing with you and everyone else these next two weeks! I just blogged about it :)

    1. I asked Ben about that part,since he has said he is using known for the majority of his process. He showed me a Firefox tool you install for known (there is also a bookmark tool for Chrome) that allows you pretty much to trigger a known status/post/share from where ever you are on the web; you do not have to go back to known to do everything.

      Once we understand FedWiki we should be allowed to wear funny hats.

  2. I do not know if it was serendipitous but I recall listening to you, Jim, and Martin (my three tech heroes) planning what became the method for trying to build these types of #ccourses using WordPress. If I recall it was over breakfast.

    I think part of the issue is people are looking at the “hub” as an lms and if you being with an LMS as your focus you are missing the point of connected courses. It begins with a community and not courseware.

    There are design principles and values that can be baked into the design well before choosing your Feeds.

    I have never tried WordPressFeed, nor have I taught primarily in WordPress. That might be up next who knows. I am currently using Google Apps as my community hub Blogger for students (which I hate, Google has really made the onboarding klunky), Google Sites (which I hate because it does not recognize some basic html tags), and Feedly (which I do not hate as much but needs better tagging).

    Google has been a fine community hub but I may look for something I hate less.

    I am on a research sabbatical next semester so I don’t get to blow everything up for some time but I am intrigued with what Laura Gibbs has done with inoreader (the rules and tagging looks fun). I may try that.

    I have been interested in known since their infomercial on TWIG. I may try that.

    My main point is I will probably always hate my hub. I have ideas in my head that I do not have the expertise to make, the time to learn, or the scratch to pay developers.

    So why focus on the hub? In Connected Learning isn’t the spokes that matter more. Sure the grid feed looked awesome but ask yourself is that where you first went to for content? It wasn’t mine. I checked Twitter and my rss reader primarily. All of my interactions were on the hub. In fact across the 3-4 modules I participated in I did not get a single blog comment but I had great interactions online.

    Focus on the spokes and not the hub.

    I have been intr

  3. Yeah bookmarklet. I use android/iPad most of the non-work time so those things don’t suit my natural usage patterns. If you know what i mean?

  4. A Ritual To Read To Each Other

    If you don’t know the kind of person I am
    and I don’t know the kind of person you are
    a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
    and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

    For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
    a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
    sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
    storming out to play through the broken dyke.

    And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
    but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
    I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
    to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

    And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
    a remote important region in all who talk:
    though we could fool each other, we should consider–
    lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

    For it is important that awake people be awake,
    or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
    the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
    should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

    William Stafford

  5. Your post wants to say that if you’re doing tech, you’re a techie and can keep moving forward with practice and interest. I say, “The darkness around us is deep” er than maybe you or I realize, and we need to keep doing what you’re doing, which is to reach one hand (elephant tail) back to those afraid and lagging and one hand (elephant trunk) forward to the future, “lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.”

    I know you got it, but I just felt like explicating for some reason.

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