Jeff Longland

Relax, don't worry – have a home brew!

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Connecting to SQL Server from SQL Developer on a Mac

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I just spent a couple of hours trying to get SQL Developer ( to authenticate to SQL Server 2012 using Windows authentication from OS X (Mavericks). Although SQL Developer prompts for a domain and whether you want to use Windows authentication, it appears to ignore those settings on OS X. Hopefully this is useful to someone else in the future. Here’s what worked for me, after reading this fellow’s instructions and stackoverflow.

1. Edit the SQL Developer connections file: /Users/<username>/.sqldeveloper/system4.
2. Modify the JDBC connection string to pass useNTLMv2=true and domain=<domain>

<StringRefAddr addrType=”customUrl”>

3. Save the file and start SQL Developer. You should be able to connect.

Similarly for Pentaho Data Integration (e.g. spoon), you need to pass the same params to the driver:

  • Connection Type: MS SQL Server (not the Native driver)
  • Under Options, create parameters for useNTLMv2 and domain.

Written by jlongland

May 25, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reflections on Permanence and Purpose

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During October, I had a lot of time to think about life and specifically, what I want of my life. I had the great fortune to do much of this thinking far from home in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and London. Four weeks away from the usual day-to-day. Three of those weeks in cities with immense history that dwarfs the history of all Canadian cities. No work, no responsibilities – just time… for eating baguettes, wandering city streets, drinking beer, and exploring museums.

Rows of Skulls

In the end…

Early in the trip, a theme quickly emerged: permanence. Wandering through Paris, I was astounded by the vast history everywhere. Here I was, in a city with a history stretching well before the Roman Republic. A city central to the Napoleonic Empire. A city where La Résistance worked amidst Paris’ massive underground tunnels – the same tunnels where Nazi soldiers established bunkers in World War II. I wondered about the individual people who lived in these buildings and walked these streets. I imagine there was largely hardship, occasionally punctuated by happy moments – likely brought by luxuries that I take for granted today. I was surrounded by an overwhelming history in a vibrant city where people continue to live. But the recurring question that preoccupied my thoughts was: who were these people as individuals and what is left of their lives today?

The sheer number of people whose lives are without permanence was underscored by a visit to the Catacombs of Paris where there are more than 6 million skeletons organized in an elaborate ossuary. There are no tombstones, no records of the individuals – just general records of the graveyards from which the skeletons were removed and when they were deposed in the catacombs. There are no individuals. A person’s skull or femur might be used as part of a wall or monument – but that’s the extent of individual permanence, if you can call it that. Nameless bones amidst a giant pile of nameless bones. There’s something about a pile of bones that makes you feel utterly insignificant and acutely aware that your eventual fate is much the same.

The jarring lack of individual permanence in the Catacombs was sharply contrasted by the history preserved in countless, stunning museums. I was floored by the volume of art. To be honest, I don’t know much about art – my knowledge is probably on par with the average person.  I know some artists and the names of a few pieces, but that’s about it. But visits to museums provided a window into people’s lives – individual narratives that I could follow.  In particular, I was enthralled with impressionism and the lives and works of Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. I could trace the trajectories of their careers and lives: the challenges they faced, the families they raised, the places they lived.  I felt a tenuous connection to them as individuals.  But when I thought about the individuals represented in the museums, it’s a frighteningly small percentage of the people who lived in their era. The likelihood that anyone reading this insignificant blog post will leave some form of lasting legacy…  a rather depressing thought.  Nonetheless, the museums provided a foggy window into lives that still have a legacy today.

Starry Night Over the Rhone

Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t intend for any of this to come across as profound, because it’s undoubtedly not. But it left me with considerable perspective from which to reflect on my life. What have I done with my life thus far? Why do I feel compelled to leave something of importance behind after I die? Will that legacy be important to me and those near me, or could it have some larger importance? Is it even reasonable to think I have the potential to leave some form of legacy? I still have more questions than answers, but grappling with these questions has left me with some clarity with which to move forward.

Picking Hops at UBC Farm

Picking hops at UBC Farm

First and foremost, I am happiest when practicing a craft. As such, I need to spend more time day-to-day as a craftsperson. I don’t expect any lasting legacy from this work, but there’s considerable self-fulfillment to be found in practicing a craft amidst a community of like-minded individuals. My work in edtech has largely been driven by community, characterized in recent years by those who have congregated around ds106radio. (My contributions are minimal and I’m no Jim Groom, Brian LambAudrey Watters or Grant Potter – I only mean to say that’s the community that inspires me). Similarly, I’ve become an avid homebrewer due to my love of the craft and the vast community that surrounds it. I came across a Van Gogh quote on the trip that captures my love of craft and community: “I know how much I still have to learn myself, but all the same I’m beginning to see light ahead of me and, one way or another, by practising on my own, by learning anything I can from others, I’ll continue to paint with passion” (Van Gogh, 22 Oct 1883). Whether it’s brewing, cooking, farming, music, software craftsmanship, systems administration, solving problems, or writing – I need to make craft a priority, personally and professionally. Hell, maybe I’ll take up painting.

Secondly, I need to come to terms with my mortality and that of those I love. I am fortunate to be in reasonably decent health and I haven’t lost many people in my life. But this will not always be the case. I have been fixated on illness and death for quite some time and I need to get over it. I need to find some way to accept death.  I need to take better care of myself (namely, lose weight) and stop worrying. On a train from Paris to Amsterdam, I was listening to The Japandroids and as the refrain goes in Young Hearts Spark Fire: “We used to dream, now we worry about dying … and I don’t wanna worry about dying, I just wanna worry about those Sunshine Girls”. It’s no master piece of art, but the passion is there. What matters is the present and it’s where I need to be living. More dreaming, more living.

Finally, I need to focus on family. Time passes so easily and I don’t make enough time for family. I need to make this a priority immediately. More FaceTime, more email, more phone calls, and more face-to-face visits. It’s also time to start a family of my own, which raises a barrage of questions like ‘should we buy a house?’ and ‘where?’ I am excited and terrified in equal proportions. A friend whom I won’t name here, has commented that while his wife is pregnant, he has trouble sleeping – lying awake, worrying about how to provide for them. I suspect I will be of a similar disposition. Having this in the forefront of my mind has certainly changed my thinking in recent weeks.

But getting back to permanence…  I’m left with the impression that permanence is fleeting and unlikely. Electronic artifacts are easily destroyed, by accident or malicious intent, or en masse by something like a coronal mass ejections. Even physical artifacts, like works of art, can be stolen and haphazardly destroyed. It’s depressing, but it’s a reminder to live in the present. Sing with your friends. Have fun. Make the most of the moments we’re afforded. It’s such a cliché, but with good reason. In the end, permanence is found in those you share your life with, which is why I’m rambling here to all of y’all…

Written by jlongland

November 26, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Vista IPA

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Vista IPAI’ve been relaxing this evening, drinking Swan’s Extra IPA and Driftwood Fat Tug – both 5 star beers in my opinion.  So it may not be a fair time to write this review of Vista IPA…  but I know this batch has some flaws and this review has been on my mind for a few weeks.  Vista IPA is a recipe that I’ve been playing with for most of my homebrewing ‘career’.  It started around Christmas 2010, an extract and partial mash beer based on Dan’s Grapefruit Bitter.  I cranked up the hops, but mostly kept the ratio of pale malt, carastan and wheat.  I entered the beer in the VanBrewers 2011 competition as JLo’s Jolly IPA and it did quite well, with 40/50 and 35/50 scores.

I eventually renamed the recipe in honour of the LMS that I have spent a decade supporting – Blackboard Learn Vista (nee WebCT Vista).  The name change came as I brewed one September evening.  While the grains were mashing, I was reviewing logs and graphs, trying to identify the cause of a recent outage.  It struck me that my struggle to find the root cause was similar to my quest for a well-balanced homebrew IPA – elusive.  But to call Vista IPA a recipe…  the term doesn’t fit.  It’s constantly changing.  It’s a project where I change something with every batch: adjust the ratio of the malts, substitute different hops, try a different yeast, etc.  Since it’s inception, I’ve transitioned to all-grain brewing and now use Maris Otter malt as the base of this beer.  With some Wyeast 1968, a batch of Vista IPA took 3rd place in the IPA category at the VanBrewers 2012 competition.  Possibly my proudest moment as a homebrewer!

Sadly, this batch doesn’t live up to that award winning batch.  Worse still, I shared it with a bunch of colleagues.  Nobody seemed too bothered by it, and some even asked for bottles to take home.  But Joe has tasted a number of the Vista IPA batches and commented that this one was off.  I really appreciate that sort of feedback…  because it’s how I feel about this batch.  So what’s different?

  • Well, the efficiency was lower than expected and the boil was rather long.
  • Fermentation wasn’t as temperature-controlled as I would like, but it was always below 20C.
  • I added dextrose and that likely drove the final gravity down, making it a bit dry.   Bottles have likely dropped a few points below the final gravity of 1.010 when it was bottled, further drying the beer.
  • The sourness suggests an infection – which is supported by the extreme carbonation in every bottle. There was a comment that the beer was more like a hoppy saison – dry, highly carbonated, and light.  But I’m not really sure where the infection originated.  I’ve recently bought new fermenter buckets and recent batches aren’t infected (fingers crossed I won’t run into this problem again).
  • Inattentive brew?  I had some assistant brewers (and BBQers..  and beer drinkers).

Appearance – Deep gold, hazy.  Very carbonated. Head is big bubbles, supported by many finer bubbles constantly bubbling.

Aroma – Hops and slight sourness.

Taste –  Fruity hops, grapefruit, spice and sourness. Harsh bitter finish, some spicy notes.

Mouthfeel – Very light and carbonated.  Very carbonated.  Dry finish.

Drinkability/Notes – Normally, a batch of IPA doesn’t last long in my household – it’s my favourite style.  Even when I have a batch that’s flawed (I’ve had a long-running oxidation issue), I’ve finished the batches without problem.  This…  I still have a few bottles and will opt to drink pretty much anything else.  The sourness and lingering, dry bitterness is off-putting.  Nonetheless, I’ll re-attempt this soon – especially since I have some rare Amarillo – a hop that I used in both of my competition batches of this beer.  It adds a great fruity taste and smell.

Vista IPA Recipe

Wort Volume Before Boil: 7.00 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 6.10 US gals
Volume Transferred: 6.00 US gals
Volume At Pitching: 6.00 US gals
Final Batch Volume: 5.00 US gals
Expected Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.046 SG
Actual Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.040 SG
Expected OG: 1.059 SG
Actual OG: 1.055 SG
Expected FG: 1.015 SG
Actual FG: 1.010 SG
Expected Efficiency: 60.0%
Actual Efficiency: 52.0%
Expected ABV: 5.9 %
Actual ABV: 6.0 %
Expected IBU: 66
Expected Color: 8.3 SRM
Boil Duration: 60.0 mins

UK Maris Otter Malt 12.00 lb – 78.7 %
Wheat Malt – 1.50 lb – 9.8%
Carastan Malt – 1.00 lb – 6.6%
Dextrose – 0.75 lb – 4.9%

Zeus (15.9% alpha) 29 g – First wort hopped
Centennial (8.5% alpha) 14 g – 30 mins
Cascade (6.5% alpha) 14 g – 15 mins
Centennial (8.5% alpha) 14 g – 5 mins
Cascade (6.5% alpha) 14 g – 5 mins
Chinook (10.5% alpha) 14 g – 5 mins
Centennial (8.5% alpha) 28 g – 0 mins
Cascade (6.5% alpha) 28 g – 0 mins
Chinook (10.5% alpha) 28 g – 0 mins
Centennial (8.5% alpha) 42 g – dry-hopped
Zeus (15.9% alpha) 28 g – dry-hopped
Chinook (10.5% alpha) 18 g – dry-hopped

Other Ingredients
Yeast: Wyeast 1968 London ESB Ale
Mash started at 160F and dropped to 155F after 60 mins. (target was 155F)

Written by jlongland

January 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Homebrew, Uncategorized

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My BC Beer Advent Calendar

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I saw a tweet this evening asking about beer advent calendars.  Some of the local liquor stores actually had these a few weeks ago…  but they looked kinda lame, at least to me.  But if I were to roll my own, what would I put in it?  I’ve tried to limit the list to beers that I assume to be generally available.  There are a few beers that I’d list, but they’re only available on-tap: Crannog Backhand of God, Red Truck Brown Porter, Storm Black Plague Stout, etc.

Nonetheless, here we go:

  1. Driftwood Fat Tug IPA
  2. Lighthouse Switchback IPA
  3. Red Racer IPA
  4. Swans Extra IPA
  5. Philips Amnesiac Double IPA
  6. Mt Begbie Nasty Habit IPA
  7. Red Racer ESB
  8. R&B East Side Bitter
  9. Howe Sound Baldwin & Cooper Best Bitter
  10. Moon Under Water Blue Moon Bitter
  11. Swans Appleton Brown Ale
  12. Howe Sound Rail Ale Nut Brown
  13. Lighthouse Keepers Stout
  14. Red Racer Oatmeal Stout
  15. Howe Sound Diamond Head Oatmeal Stout
  16. Swans Oatmeal Stout
  17. Parallel 49 Ugly Sweater Milk Stout
  18. Howe Sound Pothole Filler Imperial Stout
  19. Driftwood Singularity Russian Imperial Stout
  20. Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter
  21. Townsite Pow Town Porter
  22. Driftwood Blackstone Porter
  23. Parallel 49 Salty Scot
  24. Parallel 49 Black Christmas

I might need to do some tweaking of the specific ordering…  but I think this might my goal for December!  Acquire all of the above and drink them like an advent calendar.  It’s like being a kid again.  But with beer.

Written by jlongland

November 17, 2012 at 12:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

(Virtually) Being-with

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Yet another in an apparent series of philosophy posts…   While digging up my last post, I came across the following paper that I wrote around the same time.   In a lot of ways, these papers are the fondest memories of my degree.  I spent countless evenings and nights trying to get my head around Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.  These papers were some of my first opportunities in higher education to write about edtech.  I can’t thank people like Helen Fielding and Tracy Isaacs enough for providing flexibility in their courses.  Without a doubt, I am forever changed by their courses.

What follows is a paper about Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and Heidegger’s Being and Time.  Again, the tone isn’t the greatest and I may not give the best account of either author.  But I’ve been thinking about this paper as we’re implementing our new LMS.  A colleague commented today that she is still discovering and settling into the new product.  I immediately thought about the process of ‘taking up’ a virtual space.  This paper certainly needs work – it just…  kinda ends.  I’ve long intended to re-work it, expand it….  but I don’t know when or if that will ever happen.  So I’m going to share it as-is.  My readership is limited, so what do I care?


In this paper I will argue that being-with in the virtual world is not distinct from being-with in the physical world – there is simply being-with.  Central to such a claim are synchronous communications tools that allow distant physical bodies to join in meaningfully near communities.  I will argue that synchronous communication tools are necessary for individuals to fully present themselves in the virtual place.  I will discuss how we are able to to take up the new level of the virtual place.  I will then discuss how this type of tool is incorporated into one’s bodily space and how it may appear to be disembodying.  Finally, I will discuss how synchronous communication tools creates a new mode of being-with.

Merleau-Ponty’s work on orientation to space is helpful in understanding our being in the virtual world.  He argues that being in the world is a prerequisite for our orientation to space.  It is from our experience of the world that we receive an orientation.  There is a primordial spatial level that originates from our hold on the world, “… a communication with the world more ancient than thought” (PP 296).  Merleau-Ponty describes an experiment conducted by Wertheimer in which a subject sees a room through a mirror at a 45-degree angle.  The result is that the room is seen ‘slantwise’.  When the subject enters Wertheimer’s experiment, the room is canted and seems uninhabitable.  The subject does not share it with the man who walks through it.  If the subject does not glance away from the mirror to re-anchor to his initial level, the room reflected in the mirror will summon within the subject a virtual body capable of inhabiting it.

The subject’s body is geared to the world and takes up the new spatial level within the ‘slanted’ room.  The subject no longer has the feeling of being in the actual room within his actual body.  He inhabits the room within a virtual body that is geared to being in the world reflected in the canted mirror.  Orientation is determined not by the body as it is in objective space, but by a “… system of possible actions, a virtual body with its phenomenal ‘place’ defined by its task and situation. My body is wherever there is something to be done” (PP 291).  The body can take up the level of the slanted room because it is presented with potential actions: walking, opening a cupboard, sitting down, etc.  As Merleau-Ponty would say, “being is synonymous with being situated” (PP 294).  Being endows space with meaning at every instant.  The subject transposes his ways of being in the physical world into the virtual world.  His ways of moving and doing things are transposed from one level to the next.  Merleau-Ponty explains, “the possession of a body implies the ability to change levels and to ‘understand’ space, just as the possession of a voice implies the ability to change key” (PP 293).

When we look into the screens of our computer or mobile devices, we are experiencing a virtual world much like Wertheimer’s subject experiences the slanted room through the mirror.  As the subject takes up a new spatial level to inhabit the space; we also take up a new spatial level to inhabit the virtual world.  Our being in the virtual world summons virtual bodies that are capable of inhabiting virtual places.  While virtual worlds like Second Life provide a good framework in which to discuss our virtual being, I’d like to consider how we take up synchronous communication tools that are as much place as they are tool.  Every other week, I meet in a synchronous virtual place with a community of individuals who administer and support learning management systems.  For nearly three years we have gathered regularly in this place.  On average, there are approximately thirty-five participants that are scattered across North America (with occasional visitors from Australia, South Africa, or the United Kingdom).  It is beyond our means and simply impractical to meet face-to-face with the regularity that we can meet virtually.

Upon entering the virtual place, community members may find themselves out of sorts – the place seems uninhabitable at first.  Our initial meetings were filled with ‘dead air’ although the technology indicated that there were two dozen people ‘in the room’.  Conversations were fractured and sometimes nearly meaningless.  One could almost feel the distance, as if the conversations were occurring between two tin cans attached with a piece of string.  I recall wondering whether we should even bother holding the meetings.  I wondered whether the others were there and whether I was present to them?  The question, ‘can you hear me?’ was often heard on the calls – and it is still heard today when new members take up the place.  These early experiences give me an understanding as to why some feel that technology mediated communication is a disembodied experience.  The transposition of our ways of being into the virtual place did not occur for some time – myself included.  The move into this new level does not occur as quickly as it does for the subject in Wertheimer’s slanted room.

I argue that the delay in the taking up of the level of the virtual place is simply the time that it takes to incorporate the technology into our bodily space.  The mirror through which the subject lives in the slanted world is a mediated experience.  Albeit a simple form of mediation, the mirror is a technology as much as the synchronous communication tool. Given the simple mediation of the mirror, the subject can quickly take up the level reflected in the mirror.  Another example is that of the blind man whose “… stick has ceased to be an object for him, and is no longer perceived for itself; its point has become an area of sensitivity, extending the scope and active radius of touch, and providing a parallel to sight” (PP 165).  Eventually the stick is ‘well in hand’ for the blind man and he is orientated.  Synchronous communication tools are more complex than a mirror or stick.  Layers of technology underlie the communication tools themselves: computers, microphones, webcams, networks, servers, and software to name a few.  Each of the these technologies are in turn constituted by other technologies, much like Russian Dolls.  It does not seem unreasonable that incorporating such a complex tool into our body might require many hours of experience.  I think this is a plausible explanation for the slow take-up of levels mediated through technology.

Being in the virtual world brought improvements with each meeting.  Through the experience of the virtual place, people slowly summoned their virtual bodies capable of inhabiting the place.  We began to move into the new level and transpose our ways of being into it.  The space presents potential actions.  I can project my presence and gestures through a webcam to be seen by others through their display devices.  I can speak through my microphone and be heard by others through their headphones.  I can share an application that is running on my computer such that it can be seen as if everyone were sitting beside me.  I can ‘whisper’ to others through the text chat while someone else is speaking.  I can ‘clap’ and ‘laugh’.  I can signal that I’m ‘confused’ or ‘surprised’.  I don’t even need to be at my computer to attend – I can take up the virtual place through my mobile phone from wherever I happen to be in the physical world.  There is a richness and spontaneity in our virtual place that parallels that of the physical world.  There is ebb and flow just like a face-to-face meeting – sometimes there isn’t much to discuss, or people aren’t in the mood to talk, or key contributors can’t attend.  While we may start with an agenda, a spontaneous out-pouring of comments or questions may lead us down a tangent much like a face-to-face meeting.

It is important to note that the potential actions of the virtual place pale in comparison to the physical world.  Our virtual place is focused on achieving a goal that cannot be accomplished by the body’s natural means: gathering as a community regardless of geographical proximity.  Merleau-Ponty acknowledges that “sometimes … the meaning aimed at cannot be achieved by the body’s natural means; it must then build itself an instrument, and it projects thereby around itself a cultural world” (PP 169).  The virtual place allows our community to gather from anywhere.  The person in Halifax, Nova Scotia feels as close as the person in Chico, California when we are in the virtual place.  It is the home of our community.  To take up the virtual place is to re-anchor ourselves in the community.  With my physical body sitting in my chair with a coffee at hand, I take up my virtual body as I enter the virtual place.  As I put on my headphones and plug in my webcam, I might as well be walking around the corner to the local pub.  Although we’re physically far, we’re virtually near.

Synchronous communication technologies provide new ways to be with others.  Martin Heidegger argues that as humans, our very nature is to experience the world with others in a complex web of social relations.  Much like Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger is concerned with how the world is revealed to us through our experience of it.  He refers to our Being as Dasein, literally translated, ‘Being-there’, but more practically as ‘Being-in-the-world’.  We come to know ourselves and the world through our everyday experiences in the world.  To fully explain Dasein is beyond the scope of this paper, if not my understanding of Being and Time.  I want to focus on a component of Dasein that Heidegger terms ‘being-with’.  Heidegger says, “the world of Dasein is a with-world.  Being-in is being-with others” (pg 112 [118]).  The world is full of people and if I am in my world, then that world is something that I experience with others:  “the world is always already the one that I share with the others” (pg 112 [118]).  But being-with is much more than just our relations with others and the world.  Being-with is a primordial readiness for interacting with others.  “Being-with existentiaily determines Dasein even when an other is not factically present and perceived” (pg 113 [120]).  Even if I were living in a post-apocalyptic world as the sole survivor, being-with would remain a component of Dasein.

I posit that our being-with in the virtual world is not distinct from being-with in the physical world, rather, they are one and the same – there is simply being-with.  As we incorporate synchronous communication tools into our bodily space and take up the level of the virtual place, we are taking up a new mode of being-with.  When we meet at the virtual place, we are anchored in the physical world and we extend ourselves into the virtual.  This new mode of being-with is elusive in that it is neither here, there, nor anywhere.  It is above us and around us at all times.  We have fashioned a tool to experience the world with others, whether in the apartment below us or on the other side of the world.  Our presence is no longer limited to those in geographical proximity.  Far from being disembodied, I believe we have vastly extended our abilities to be with others in the world.  Prior to the establishment of our virtual place, we only knew each other as names on mailing lists and discussion boards.  Our community largely existed as individuals or small groups, stranded on islands, throwing messages-in-bottles into the virtual ether.  Asynchronous tools like mailing lists provided a means of communicating, but it certainly felt like being stranded on an island.

Being-with-others in our virtual place has created a diverse and rich community of practice that the pre-existing asynchronous tools simply couldn’t provide.  Our virtual place is akin to a pub in that it draws people into arguments, discussions, and relationships.  A pub can move from the level of drinking establishment to social establishment.  When regulars enter, the meaningful feature isn’t the alcohol – rather, it’s noticing who’s behind the bar today.  Is anyone playing darts?  Who else is here with me?  Even if you entered the pub and it was empty, you would “… feel the close presence of others through a veil of anonymity” (PP 405).  I typically arrive at our virtual meeting place early and as such I’m usually the first one there.  Even there by myself, the place has meaning.  I find myself thinking of the people I admire, funny moments, people I haven’t ‘seen’ recently, and the stories I’ll share that week.  When I enter the virtual place, I may be alone at a screen, even alone in the place, but the sediment of others is everywhere.

Written by jlongland

January 17, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Freire and Edtech – A Simple Essay

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I wrote the following essay for a course a few years ago.  The tone is…  dry.  It’s a bit boring. Cliched.  But a recent tweet by @kylemackie got me thinking about it.  I’m posting it here, as it was submitted to my instructor.  Please be forgiving, it was written parallel to building a grade submission web app (there’s a window into my life…)


The instructional technology community is filled with discussion about the potential of technology to transform learning.  The very nature of the community lends itself to such rhetoric.  I’m not throwing rocks at glass houses – I too am guilty of promoting idealistic visions of technology.  In recent years there has been a growing movement that critically questions how and why technology has been integrated into teaching.  Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed frequently arises in these dialogues.  In this paper I will argue that Freire’s concept of “the banking method of education” is valuable to authors who are mounting oppositions to the modern ‘downloading method of education’.

Freire believes that the individual should form himself rather than be formed.  Education should allow an individual to reach a truly reflective state through which they develop a self-construction of the world.  Freire believes that “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the the world, and with each other” (Freire 58).  But the predominant approach to education is characterized by lecturing and memorization.  Freire calls this approach the “banking method of education”.  In this model, “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing” (Freire 58).  The banking concept forces a passive role on students.  It stifles their development of critical consciousness as direct participants in the world.  The banking method encourages students to simply adapt to whatever view of reality is narrated to them by the teacher.  When combined with a paternalistic social action apparatus, the banking concept can be used by oppressors to change the consciousness of the oppressed rather than changing their situation.

In opposition to the banking concept, Freire advocates for a problem-posing education that encourages critical consciousness and intervention in reality.  Freire makes a call to action: “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students” (Freire 59). The problem-posing teacher transforms students from docile listeners to critical collaborators.  Students and teachers are jointly responsible for the learning process.  The role of the problem-posing educator is to facilitate consciousness-raising.  As students are challenged with problems that place them in-the-world and with-the-world, they will come to see the problems within a web of relations.  Their response will lead them to new comprehensions that are increasingly critical and less alienated.  Freire argues that “a deepened consciousness of [one’s] situation leads men to apprehend that situation as an historical reality susceptible of transformation” (Freire 73).  The banking concept fosters a model of ‘education as oppression’ whereas the problem-posing approach fosters a model of ‘education as freedom and realization’.

I believe that Freire’s work is valuable to authors who are mounting oppositions to the modern ‘downloading method of education’.  Over the past decade, countless initiatives have attempted to transform education with technology.  The Open University was established in the United Kingdom to “promote educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential” (  Any individual can access courses from the Open University for free.  Similar initiatives can be seen in projects like MIT’s OpenCourseWare or lecture-sharing site Academic Earth.  While I applaud these initiatives for making their content available beyond the members of their institution, they perpetuate a model of education that is still uni-directional.  The general availability of educational packages seems to suggest that downloading and consuming them will result in learning.  A problem-posing educator is absent from most of these initiatives.  Learners are left in the virtual ‘wild’ to fend for themselves.

Beyond open eduction initiatives, the ‘downloading method of education’ can be seen within the walled gardens of online learning systems that are found at many institutions.  Systems like Blackboard, Desire2Learn and WebCT are largely used for distributing content to students.  The focus of such systems is evident in their very name: learning management systems.  While these systems have capabilities for many-directional interactions, they are used primarily for the delivery of course content.  These online environments are tightly integrated with administrative systems to the extent that teaching & learning is something that occurs as part of larger institutional business processes.  Students are constrained within these systems and isolated from larger communities of discourse that could be facilitated by through the use of instructional technologies.  While technology has brought benefits to education, I do not think the oft-discussed transformative potential has been realized.  I think that Freire’s work is of considerable value to authors mounting oppositions to the “downloading method of education” and the need for a problem-posing approach when leveraging instructional technologies.

Written by jlongland

January 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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A Call to Blackboard Openness

with 7 comments

Blackboard needs to be more open.  You might think: “But Jeff!  Look at everything they’ve done in the last 18-24 months.”  I don’t want to diminish Blackboard’s recent efforts towards being open and transparent.  But I want more!

Later today, Ray Henderson will present his annual report card for Blackboard Learn.  I expect there will be good grades for Blackboard’s efforts towards openness.  In recent years, Blackboard has adopted client crowdsourcing to prioritize bugs and product enhancements.  They’ve converted Dr. Chuck into a Blackboard believer by shipping releases with support for IMS Common Cartridge, LIS, and LTI – enough for Chuck to get a Blackboard tattoo.  Product development programs are numerous and open (at least for clients who have joined BIE and signed an NDA).  These are considerable steps towards a product strategy that embraces client engagement, standards, and openness.  Clients have a voice and can influence product development.  It’s the direction of a company that is realizing they don’t need to rely on vendor lock-in.  I see it as Blackboard welcoming client input and competition in the marketplace – people choose to run Learn.  You can debate the lack of alternatives and Blackboard’s acquisition strategy – but institutions are choosing Blackboard.

As someone who has been critical and outspoken about Blackboard in the past, I need to give credit where credit is due.  Kudos!  You’ve come a long way in recent years.  But dear Blackboard, don’t rest on your laurels.  You’re heading in the right direction, but there’s more you can do.  More that you need to do.  As someone who works with the product and community on a regular basis, I want to lay out some suggestions….  maybe Ray will look at these as goals for next year’s report card.

  1. Extend the availability of the Building Blocks framework.  Currently, only clients or partners can develop Building Blocks.  This is contrary to all the marketing buzz about Blackboard’s “Open APIs” and how Building Blocks can be an open source layer on top of a closed source product.  If there’s a significant barrier to entry, I’m sorry, that seems more closed than it does open.  Yesterday, Szymon Machajewski tweeted a suggestion that Blackboard make Building Blocks freely available to developers releasing their work under open source licenses.  A suggestion of this value should not be discarded – I strongly support it.  Such a move would embrace the innovation that can come from an open community.  One needs to look no further than Moodle to see that openness can be immensely successful.  While Blackboard owns the marketplace, I think the Moodle and Sakai communities own many edtech hearts.  But don’t fear Blackboard, you too, can be embraced in this way.  All you need to do is be more open.  So put the legal team to work and draw up some license agreements.  Let’s get the Building Blocks framework into the hands of anyone who cares to use it.
  2. Provide the source code for Learn.  Pause.  Now that the laughter and/or derision has subsided, let me explain.  A commercial product can provide source code.  Blackboard need look no further than the provider of their software development tools – Atlassian.  When you buy an Atlassian product (at a reasonable price, I might add) you receive access to the source code.  The intent is to allow clients to develop bug fixes, customizations, or new features.  I vaguely recall that Penn State has an agreement with Angel/Blackboard that provides them with access to source code.  They fix bugs and ship them back to Blackboard for general release.  But….  I appreciate that this is asking a lot.  So let me reign in the scope of my request – provide the source code for the Building Blocks framework.  At DevCon11 I heard a number of developers talking about the various issues with Learn 9.1’s web services – perhaps we could help fix them?  With OSCELOT projects that expose additional web services, I think it’s clear that clients are capable of building / contributing to the framework.  Consider this an experiment in openness – the scope is limited, but the potential is huge.

While there are countless other things Blackboard could be doing to be more open, I think the above suggestions are reasonable and more than feasible.  I’m sure some folks in the company will disagree, but I’ll wager (we are in Vegas after all) that there’s support within Blackboard for these suggestions.  Hopefully these will be accomplishments to celebrate in Ray’s report card next year.

Written by jlongland

July 13, 2011 at 9:37 am