I’ve been working in educational technology for the last 14 years: first at OMSI, then at Portland State, and most recently at rSmart, focused on Sakai open source collaboration and learning technologies. As of February 2013, I have joined former data-journalist Marshall Kirkpatrick‘s startup, Little Bird, here in Portland, Oregon, as Doorman: leading marketing, sales, and support.
I’m profoundly excited by Little Bird. While it may seem like a dramatic departure from my edtech work, at its heart, Little Bird is ultimately a powerful tool for learning, bringing you directly to the leading people and most worthy content in any topic. Little Bird can help anyone do with purpose what I have done haphhazardly and organically: building my own understanding and relationships by connecting to people that matter, first online, but then also, almost always, offline as well. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be joining Little Bird if I hadn’t first learned from, and then met and developed a relationship with Marshall on Twitter. Now with Little Bird, we are working to enable everyone to learn and build relationships that can change their work and lives.
Little Bird’s team is an awsome collection of wildly unique individuals, who nevertheless share inspiring intelligence and worthy values. I’m honored to be able to work alongside Marshall, his Little Bird co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick and Tyler Gillies, and our growing team of folks including Danish Aziz, Peat Bakke, Devin Gaffney, and Brennan Novak. As much as I have learned from and loved working with folks around the world in the Sakai community and at rSmart, it’s a like opening a present every day to spend time face-to-face with Little Bird’s team of smart, thoughtful people, deeply embedded in Portland’s welcoming, innovative tech and creative communities.
My connection to edtech remains: for as long as it makes sense (or until my term ends, which ever comes first), I still serve on the board of directors for the Apereo Foundation—the new organization formed in late 2012 by joining Sakai and Jasig. Maybe the new experience and viewpoints I gain from Little Bird can add some valuable perspective to Apereo. At the very least, I know I’ll be looking at education, and the technologies we hope to make serve it, with a new, avianette lens.
Looking back, I’d like to give my deepest thanks to the people that made my journey with Sakai and rSmart possible: first and foremost, Chris Coppola, who helped me start that journey and lead me forward with his thinking, drive, and values. Wende Garrison and Trish Harris, who put a lot of very smart wind and perspective in my sails and sailed along with me. Kim Thanos, who continues to advise and inspire me in so many wise ways large and small. The whole rSmart team, but most especially Brooke Biltimier, Brenda Chapman, Tom Chapman, Duffy Gillman, Paul Hauser, Orla Mester, Erik Mertz, and Lance Speelmon, who always seemed like close collaborators even though we were so often working at a distance. In the worldwide Sakai community there are too many to name who have been my brothers and sisters in the campaign to make education better: but I thank you all and hope to continue to serve you at Apereo and beyond.
My father-in-law, a wise and beneficent man that I’m proud to consider a close friend, recently sent an email to someone politically conservative that I thought was particularly well-written and offers powerful, yet practical suggestions for how someone might begin to wean themselves off what might be seen as an addiction to the worse kind of “conservative” messages that pass in some circles as reasoned political thought.
My father-in-law’s post was inspired in part by an editorial by the New York Times‘ David Brooks: How People Change, and a lecture he attended by Professor David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, among other works.
With his permission, following is my father-in-law’s recipe for personal political change. I’m sure someone from the other side of the debate (as if there were real debate, as if there were two sides) could come up with a similar recipe to wean someone like me off of what I consider valid, reasoned political debate and get me believing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh actually made some kind of sense rather than just making money from hyperbole.
1. Prevention: stay away from Beck, Rush, any source that uses incendiary language, which they know excites the emotional centers of your brain, rendering your frontal lobe—the discriminating, judgement, executive functioning part of your brain—mute, and activates the emotion-tagged memory part of the brain (the limbic system), both of which are working away muscularly “under the hood” out of awareness. Stay away from sources that regularly excite feelings of “righteous indignation” for the same reasons, however tempting they may be.
2. Put money on the line: Put 100 dollars in the hands of someone else which will be contingent on your changing. For example, if you don’t follow through, the money will be given to MOVEON.org.
3. Engage in social supports: Announce your intentions to cut off contact with Rush, Beck, evangelical groups, routine email pieces that reinforce above themes . Announce and seek support for involving yourself with the Southern Poverty Law Center for example.
4. Feelings: Use negative feelings such as anger as welcome cues to look at whether they are attached to old undesired beliefs and understandings. Remind yourself that these are old and no longer work for you and reward yourself with substituted positive feelings of heightened self regard as you turn to new desired beliefs and attitudes. Reward yourself with a cup of fresh coffee as you pick up the New Yorker or some other news source that fact checks information. Activate feelings of altruism associated with support of genuinely needy persons who lack the resources to improve their lives.
5. Habits: Embed 1-4 in a consistent routine which is laid out in detail. The guiding notion is repetition. Remember that the brain is plastic, but it needs lots of practice to create new grooves. I personally think of 3 months as a useful interval to create a new personal narrative with sufficient robustness to resist backsliding. Long term memory works that way. It takes time, and memory tagged with strong emotion is especially resistant to change. So be patient. Backsliding is just another opportunity to rehearse the above. In due time we might have a different dance