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About Me

I'm Colin Madland, the Director of TWU Online at Trinity Western University, and formerly the e-Learning Facilitator and Coordinator for Educational Technologies for Thompson Rivers University. I've previously taught high school physical education and digital media technologies in addition to a whole bunch of other courses.

Colin Madland

Despair and Hope

4 min read

Like many others, I'm processing the debacle of Nov 8 while wondering what went wrong. This post is my attempt to make sense of it all and try to move forward productively.

First of all, I know that I am going to get some of this wrong. My view isn't complete, or entirely accurate, but we all need to process this and I hope that by processing this in public, I will help someone else and we can iterate towards hope and peace.

Also, as a Canadian man of northern European descent, I am not currently in the line of fire. I don't feel the target that many of my friends do...yet. But there are a great many people who ARE being targeted right now, and that demands a response. Not because it MIGHT happen to me, but because it IS happening to them.

It seems, from here at least, that the responses from those who voted for Hillary tend to fall in between two poles: despair and hope. Obviously, a great many are experiencing despair. These are the folks we see marching through American cities and campuses protesting, they are likely equal parts angry and terrified, or maybe all of one or the other depending on the day. Or maybe they are too terrified to leave their home. It is likely that these people do carry a target as a member of one of the many groups that Donald has attacked, marginalized, and far. The number of those groups will most certainly grow as Donald's cons come to light (like the fact that he seems poised to fill his own swamp with the types of 'establishment' players he led his followers to believe he would root out).

We need these people to be angry.

I won't condone violence or the destruction of property, but we need these people to be visibly and obnoxiously angry. Their anger is visceral and raw and it needs to be expended or it will become toxic...and then, too many will forget.

We can't forget.

This looks too much like the beginnings of a dictatorship. We can't forget.

I was in Poland last March and had the opportunity to tour Auschwitz and Bierkenau.

We. Cannot. Forget.

Hitler gained power because ordinary people decided that racism, hatred, fear of 'the other', and other forms of bigotry weren't so bad because ordinary people benefitted from the entrenchment of these evils. It was easier to turn their back on their Jewish, black, gypsy, gay, disabled neighbour than it was to confront the hate of others. And then, it was easier to kill their Jewish, black, gypsy, gay, disabled neighbour than to confront their own hate.

And yet, there is another response, one rooted in hope, and we all need hope.

8 years ago, 'Hope' was the rallying cry as Obama was first elected, and there was great hope that Hillary would overcome in 2016, but she didn't. It is unlikely that anyone wanted Hillary to win more than Hillary (well, maybe Bill). But her response to this devastating loss was one of hope. 'He deserves the opportunity to lead', she said, and I don't disagree, in principle. He won the electoral college, and any Vulcan might be able to say, without feeling, he won and derserves to lead. He is still an ass, but he was elected to lead.

That both Hillary and Barack have been gracious in this is testament to their commitment to the Republic and the peacful transition of power. They can't despair.

It would seem that there are a large number of people who had lost hope leading up to Nov 8, and many of those voted for Donald. Now, there are many more who have lost hope in the looming darkness because ordinary people  are empowering and encouraging and gleefully participating in this orgy of hate, exclusion, and bigotry. There is no positive end if we give in to despair.

Those who can still see hope must light the way for those currently in despair.

We need the anger of the desparate. We need you to not let us forget. We need you to hold up a mirror to evil in order to protect the innocent and marginalized. We need you to be loud and obnoxious and inconvenient to remind the powerful that we are watching.

We need the reassurance of the hopeful. We need you to be as shrewd as vipers and as innocent as doves. We need you to build bridges so that we may all find common ground.

We cannot forget and we cannot lose hope.


Colin Madland

Colin Madland

Colin Madland

Brain Surgery in the African Bush

3 min read

Driving in to work this morning I listened to today's podcast edition of The Current from the CBC, and was impressed with the scalability of empowering students to take ownership and responsibility for their learning.

The episode, available here, and outlined here, covers the story of an American brain surgeon, Dr. Dilan Ellegala, who, like many medical professionals in the west, was volunteering his time to assist some of the 5 billion-with-a-b people in the world who lack affordable and safe access to surgeons. This number comes with a cost of an estimated 17 million lives annually.

A common response to this problem is to send western doctors to remote, 3rd world hospitals and clinics to relieve some of that pressure. The trouble that Dr. Ellegala noticed, however, was that local medical professionals were essentially being ignored by the visiting doctors. At the morning meetings when the medical staff would review the charts and images from the previous night, all the wetsern doctors would be seated at the front of the room, with a clear view of the xrays and other images, while the Tanzanian staff would be standing at the back of the room, unable to see clearly. Following the discussion the western docs would go about their business of visiting patients and doing their doctorly things.

The Tanzanians were completely disenfranshised and excluded from caring for their own patients.

Dr. Ellegala decided to do something different. As a  professor of neurosurgery in the US, Ellegala had a keen appreciation for the skills and temperament required to perform successful neurosurgery and he noticed one of the Tanzanian medical staff, Emmanuel Mayegga, not a doctor, but an assistant, had it. So he decided that by the end of his short trip, Mayegga would be able to perform brain surgery.

Short story even shorter, they began immediately andwithin 6 months, Mayegga, with no medical school background, was able to independently perform brain surgery, something that Dr. Ellegala had trained for a decade after medical school to be able to do competently.

Of course, there were naysayers. Ellegala's colleagues in the US were far less than enthusiastic and supportive, but Ellegala's response was that they could either train locals to perform this surgery, or people would continue to die unnecessarily. So he proceeded.

He even invited the chief neurosurgeons from nearby Kenya and the Tanzanian capital to his remote hospital. They joined the surgeon in surgery, looked at the data that had been collected on outcomes, visited patients and were stunned at the results. in the course of a few days, they had shifted their mental paradigms.

And that is what I contend will transform online learning at TWU and elsewhere. a paradigm shift from students as receptacles to students as co-creators of knowledge who are empowered to share their learning with their communities.

By providing students with the means to take ownership (literally and figuratively) of their learning, we are developing a system where students are trusted, given true agency in decision making, and empowered to affect change in their own communities. And that is why I want Domain of One's Own to become a central anchor in TWU Online (and offline). There is tremendous power in trusting and empowering students.

It's not brain surgery.

Colin Madland


3 min read

I'm into week # 2 of my new gig at TWU, and it's been a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, read a lot of reports and summaries of what people around here have been thinking about online learning in the last several years, and begin to wrap my head around the context of this project.

On several levels, I'm starting new. Here's my office...


flickr photo shared by CulturalVertigo under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license


So to say that I am starting from scratch isn't much of a stretch. It's not entirely true, as there have been some folks doing some good work online for a decade or so, but there hasn't been a sustained, pan-institutional online initiative. And that is what I am here for.

One of the projects that has led to me being here was a taskforce composed of several senior admin and faculty who published a report on their work identifying several key characteristics of what TWU Online needs to look like. It was encouraging that I agreed with much of the report, at least in essence, if not in the practicalities of implementation. I do think that there is a good solid foundation of people here who have an understanding of the importance of online learning for higher ed, but it's the practicalities of implementation that are missing.

Highlights from the report include the following ideas:

  1. Relevant, personalized andragogy. As those who choose to engage in online higher ed are typically older than the 18-24 year-olds who constitute residential undergrad programs, they often have families, are working full time and generally don't have time to faff about. They want their learning to be highly contextualized and applicable to their lives.
  2. Transformational learning. As a Christian university, TWU has always had a focus that is broader than the cognitive domain. While this is certainly not unique to TWU, around here, it is the foundation of everything we do. We seek to develop each student as a whole person mentally, physically, and spiritually. Since TWU began, this has been realized through the relentless focus on community.
  3. Supportive community. Since the beginning of TWU (as Trinity Junior College in 1962), community has been critical to our success, including, more recently, our very high scores on NSSE. It is through a scholarly community, online or otherwise, that tranformational learning is most likely to occur.
  4. Structures and services. We recognize that we are behind the game in technological and human infrastructure to support online learning, and that there needs to be an intentional focus on building the structures and supports necessary to make it happen.

So, the challenge is clear...I get to start with an empty office and an old, rickety LMS and build the infrastructure and supportive community needed to support transformational learning through relevant, andragogically sound learning experiences.

Colin Madland

Looking ahead

5 min read

As I look into the ether of what is to come in my professional life, it is hard to not feel a little giddy at the opportunity that I have. It will, however, be too easy to get distracted by what *could* be done, but with little impact, over what *should* be done to build a truly transformative learning environment and experience.

My colleague and friend, Marie (who just completed her MA in talks about the dangers of 'Management by Shiny Things'. She has seen good and capable leaders get sidetracked by trying to keep up with the latest tech bling, with little discernible impact on student learning. That isn't to say that tech bling never impacts student learning for the better, just that its deployment matters.

So, what will I do to avoid MbST?

It's the Network, silly...

One way to avoid clickyclickyblingbling is to focus relentlessly on the *people* who will ground this initiative. Initially, that network will be those who I know and from whom I can learn and seek advice. Over time, that will change with the addition of people on campus at Trinity (current students, faculty, and staff) who will need to help me contextualize my plans and visions. Then, as the initiative starts to gain traction, I will need to build a team of people to work their own magic, whether that is wrangling the web ferrets, working with faculty to design learning experiences, or supporting students. These people will also add their own experience and network to the mix. If I don't get this right, this goes down with little more than a puff of smoke.

Assessment of/for Learning

I know of a web-based system that is designed to mimic as closely as possible a paper form. I won't get all judgy here, because the system (mostly) works. But there are some artifacts from the paper system that are absurd in the web system. The point is that using digital learning technologies to prop analog practices (some of which are grossly ineffective anyways) leads to absurdities.

One of those practices is assessment. Too often, students are *graded* (I didn't say 'assessed') on 'one and done' disposable assignments. If you've been to school, you will recognize the ubiquity of disposable assignments. These are assignments that are imposed upon students, they are likely related to the content of the course, but they are not necessarily meaningfully aligned to any learning outcomes. They are written or created for an audience of one person who has graded thousands of the same assignments. They are given a letter grade and sometimes some comments, returned to the student and either filed in a binder to be forgotten, or they are tossed in the bin.

And that is why I call them 'one and done'. They are written for one person to read and graded, and then both the teacher and the learner are done. A letter grade is too often a final judgement. It's the end of the conversation, not the beginning.

Another significant problem with one and done assignments is that their use encourages plagiarism. If a faculty member uses the same assignments year after year, it will not take long for responses to the assignment to be readily available either online or from past students.And we know that when students are stressed (before a deadline) and it is easy to access a shortcut, that shortcut is very difficult to ignore.

There is a better way.

Renewable assignments are those which rely on OER as well as students doing meaningful, scholarly work, often on the open web. Think about it.The purpose of higher education is to generate and disseminate knowledge. If students are doing their work as a contribution to knowledge in the area, it can't be a one and done assignment.  How is the purpose of a university served by having student write yet another descriptive essay or other disposable assignment that will be binned? How much more is it served when students are working on the open web, contributing to the field, and doing it on a domain that they own and control?

Alan wrote yesterday about the fact that simply owning a domain doesn't guarantee engagement and persistence. Only 6 (or maybe 7, or maybe 8) of his 81 former DS106 students at UMW are currently active on blogs hosted on their own domains. Initially that seems like a small number, but it is 6-8 more students who have a voice on the web than if DS106 were locked away in an lms. And since Alan's students were involved in a pilot initiative, there were bound to be difficulties. In the last three years or so, we (by that, I mean Reclaim Hosting, and SPLOTs and the EdTech Collaborative and others) have progressed so that we are much better at deploying and supporting students and faculty as they venture into the world of creating on the web.

Creating on the web.

That is, in my mind, what I'm at TWU to accomplish. To build confidence and capacity for students and faculty to learn by and through creating on the web.

Colin Madland

What if...

1 min read

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo; Stef Etow

What if you had the opportunity to build an online learning department focussed around graduate programs, and you were starting from scratch? No legacy LMS. No staff. No vendor agreements.

What you do have is a mandate from all levels of senior administration, from the board, president, provost, deans all the way down the line. You have strong support from the library and the teaching and learning centre. There are some faculty and departments who have been offering online courses, mostly off the side of their desks. Faculty are engaged, but unfamiliar with either online or open learning.

Where do you start?

I'd love to hear what your approach would be, and what you would prioritize. I certainly have some thoughts bouncing around in my mind, but I know that there are a whole bunch of people out there on the interwebs who might think differently.

Feel free to leave a comment here, link to a video, link to your own post...whatever suits your fancy.

Colin Madland


2 min read

I have, along with my wife and kids, made the rather significant decision to resign from my position as edtech coordinator at TRU, and accept a position as director of TWU Online at Trinity Western University. 

Oy vey!

It's one of those positions that doesn't come along very often at all, represents a meaningful professional challenge, and will allow me to extend and expand on the work I've been involved with at TRU. 

I think it's relevant to note that I wasn't looking to leave TRU. There are some extremely talented and passionate people there who are doing amazing work with shrinking resources. I'm sad to leave.


TWU represents a huge opportunity. They don't really have a coherent online strategy other than a few faculty and departments offering 'online' courses off the side of their desks. If you follow the most obvious links from the main page of the site, you will find a list of courses with links to year-old syllabi repurposed for online by adding required online discussions.

Suffice it to say that the task before me is huge, but I'm excited. The potential is huge. Since TWU doesn't have a history in online learning, they don't have any ties to software systems or vendors. No Blackboard. No Brightspace. Just an old, rickety version of Moodle (1.9).

So, it is my sincere hope that I'll be able to leapfrog the last couple decades of increasingly bloated LMSs and build an open infrastructure, with open tools to allow open pedagogies and an open invitation to participate in a vibrant learning community.


flickr photo shared by CulturalVertigo under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Colin Madland

South Rim of Helmcken Falls

It's taken me 42 years, but I finally made it to the south rim of Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Park in BC. 

Well worth the hike!

Colin Madland

Mozilla Webmaker

A couple months ago @cogdog blogged about Digital Durability and the importance of controlling your own stuff on the web. He quoted @holden in saying

If you want someone to find something, don’t put it in one place — put it everywhere.

Alan put a bit of a challenge out for people to

[make] suggestions for exceptions to my assertion- show me an organization; an institution outside of the Internet Archive, that operates in a manner of preserving their digital history and/or produces durable digital content.

And, here is my example that does the opposite. It provides evidence that Alan is correct.

I've had an instance of @withknown running for a year or so, but it's been sitting, neglected, while I pay more attention to WordPress. But now, with a major career transition coming my way, quite unexpectedly, (more on that soon) I'm thinking more of Known as a great publishing platform, simply because it has 'put it everywhere' baked right in.

By publishing here, you can automatically publish 'everywhere'.

When I originally set up Known, I had an active page on Mozilla Webmaker, that handy little tool you could use to tinker with html and publish your page. Using Embedly, I was able to embed that page into the header of my Known site as my profile. It worked pretty nicely.

However, today when I went to sign in to edit my page at WebMaker, I got the notice that you see at the top of this page.

Unfortunately, we no longer support this tool, so your awesome project is no longer remixable.

I'm locked out of my own work.

But wait, Webmaker was just a simple HTML page, so I should be able to copy the source, right? Nope.

[Right click --> View source]


html lang="en-US" dir="ltr">
    title>Colin Madland | Mere Learningtitle>
    meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
    meta property="og:description" content="An 'about me' page for Colin Madland.">
    meta property="og:image" content="">
    meta property="og:site_name" content="Mozilla Webmaker">
    meta property="og:title" content="Colin Madland | Mere Learning">
    meta property="og:type" content="website">
    meta property="og:updated_time" content="1427152598041">
    meta property="og:url" content="">

    link rel="shortcut icon" href="/favicon.ico">
    link rel="stylesheet" href="/static/stylesheets/makedetails.css">

    script src="">script>
    div class="make-details-page">
      div class="make-bar">
        div class="make-bar-wrapper">
          span class="make-bar-logospan">
            a class="make-bar-link" href="">
              img src="/static/images/logo_small.png" alt="Mozilla Webmaker">
            span class="make-bar-made-with">
              Made with a class="make-bar-link" href="">Webmakera>
              Unfortunately, we no longer support this tool, so your awesome project is no longer remixable. Have you tried the new a class="make-bar-link" href="">Mozilla Thimblea>?
    div class="embed-container ">
      div class="embed-wrapper">
        div class="embed-padding">
          iframe class="embed-iframe" src="" mozallowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen allowfullscreen>iframe>
    script src="/static/bower/jquery/jquery.min.js">script>
    script src="/static/bower/webmaker-analytics/analytics.js">script>
    script src="/dynamic/js/googleanalytics.js">script>

Useless to me. The only reference to the original HTML is the link to the page, which, as we now know, is not editable.

So, I think Alan is correct:

And that everywhere should start with your own space. Because you care the most about your own stuff.

UPDATE: June 27/16

Alan pointed my in the direction of the page where I could copy the HTML for my Thimble page, so I followed the link, copied the code and have now got it hosted on my portfolio site. It is also embedded (via here in Known. Now, when I update the original page, those updates will be propagated throughout.