A Conversation with Brian Lamb about the Open Educational Technology Collaborative (OpenETC)

Brian Lamb is the Director of Learning Technology & Innovation at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), and he is one of the founders of the Open Educational Technology Collaborative (OpenETC) here in British Columbia.  I wrote about the OpenETC in a previous post, but here Brian and I talked about how the OpenETC got started, and some visions they have for the future.

I’ve known Brian for awhile but was really interested in where the idea for OpenETC came from.  He began “I’ve been active in open education for most of my time in EdTech, going back to the early 2000s and always thought the open web was a great place to connect with people in other places, share materials, reuse other people’s materials, and collaborate.  So, when this thing called Open Education began to take form while I was at UBC, I was able to get support to bring in blog and wiki platforms for the institution.”  But then he moved to TRU and “was confronted with the reality of IT departments who are tightly strapped for resources and rightfully wary of people coming in with a boutique project”, because so often people start up projects, work on them for awhile, then move on leaving IT holding the bag.  While they had a WordPress installation at TRU, it was quite locked down and didn’t do what Brian needed it to do.  He started up something on his own, but quickly realized that being the admin for a service that he wanted to grow was not sustainable.

But Brian had a network to draw on.  “As I talked to people at other institutions, I knew that other people were in the same position, for example Grant Potter at the University of Northern British Columbia and Tannis Morgan at the Justice Institute of BC who was doing amazing work with her team at the Justice Institute.  So, we thought, rather than all of us struggling individually to run three different WordPress installs, we should pull our resources together and get one good one.”

Brian, Grant, and Tannis spent some time considering different models of hosting.  They knew that they wanted a space where they could innovate and collaborate.  They started small, collaborating on a WordPress platform they kept fairly small and private, but then were able to get some shared hosting space from BCNet. “That was a huge shift for us because it allowed us to be more open with the platform because we finally had FIPPA-compliant hosting.  At that point it started to grow and that’s when we started to think we had a model that we could extend to other people who might want to use these tools.”  And that was the moment OpenETC was born.

While WordPress was the main tool the OpenETC started with, they knew other applications were in the same boat with regards to institutional need versus lack of support.  “We’re always playing with things. Grant is the most experimental tinkerer of the group, and he’s brought several things to the table that we’ve played with internally, some of which we brought on (Mattermost) and some we decided not to move forward with. One of the things he brought forward early on was Sandstorm.”  While unfortunately the developers have not continued to support Sandstorm (which allowed people to run applications without having to install them locally), “that model is very powerful and it’s still our dream, to have a wide range of applications available for people throughout the province to take and run – open applications without third party surveillance.  Applications where people can determine the level of privacy they want and have the autonomy to run themselves. We’re still playing with those models but haven’t quite found the framework that we can share widely…yet.”

So, who is the current team supporting the tools they have and with new tools potentially on the way?  Brian tells me that while it can be a bit fluid, there is, of course, Brian himself (as one of the founders).  There is also Troy Welch, a developer on the team who works with Brian at TRU. But it’s a reciprocal relationship, and while Troy works on elements for OpenETC, he shares those back to TRU, “and other people build things that we can also bring back to TRU.”  In addition, OpenETC has support from BCcampus, and BCNet hosts their WordPress service via EduCloud.  Then of course Grant Potter (another founder) at UNBC whose WordPress use case was one of the drivers for the creation of the OpenETC and Tannis Morgan who was at the Justice Institute when she started with OpenETC and is now with Vancouver Community College. “The Justice Institute has done amazing with their open WordPress sites, and I wanted to be able to see how they build their stuff, to go into the back end and see what themes they chose, what plugins they used, how they configured them, etc.  There’s so much benefit in that kind of sharing.” And in addition to this initial group, “Anne-Marie Scott joined us while she was still at the University of Edinburgh. She happened to be in Vancouver when we were having an in-person event and we invited her along because her group at Edinburgh, in my opinion, may be the best EdTech unit in the world.” She is now a Deputy Provost at Athabasca University and an integral contributor to our planning and operations.  And of course, Clint Lalonde from BCcampus gradually became more and more involved as well. “We’re starting to expand now. First of all, anyone who shows up on Mattermost who is engaging with the other participants and the tools, if they want to say they’re part of the OpenETC, that makes us happy.” Then there are people who represent institutions.  “We’re starting to expand that group but doing it mindfully in a way that doesn’t spin out of control.  For example, bringing people like you, Emily, and Ian Linkletter from BCIT and Liesel Knaak from North Island College – you’re the people who are doing the most, especially institutionally.”

Other organizations have also supported OpenETC.  “We haven’t really talked about the role that ETUG (the Educational Technology User Group) plays. Even though there’s not an official relationship between OpenETC and ETUG, I don’t think OpenETC would have worked if ETUG didn’t exist. Because ETUG has created this cohesive community where we share with and help each other. It’s because of groups like ETUG and BCcampus, who emphasize openness and ethical practice as core values, that we have been able to do this work. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the people that are most active in the OpenETC are the same people that have been active in ETUG for years.”

You might be asking yourself, is OpenETC just for BC?  Brian told me that if you understand the model of sharing, we have in BC, supported by ETUG and BCcampus, which in other places seems to be an incredibly radical thing, it really is a natural reflection of the culture that’s evolved here over a long period of time.  “Sometimes we’ve had inquiries from people in other provinces about OpenETC. And from a technical point of view, creating your own OpenETC is no harder than setting up your own WordPress server, but how do you develop that culture? A lot of the things I’ve learned through ETUG we try to embody in our OpenETC practice. We don’t talk about it very often because I think it’s just understood; it’s just a shared set of values.”

When I asked if Brian was surprised by the way OpenETC has taken off in the community, he told me “I expected people would use the tools because there was a gap people were struggling with. What I’ve found most amazing is the quality of work being done with the tools. It’s so satisfying to see people at other institutions doing work that they couldn’t have done if not for OpenETC – that’s the coolest thing in the world. I love seeing committed Edtech people, who care about the ethics of what they do, doing such interesting things on the open web. And if you give them some tools and a little bit of help, what they’ll do with it never stops being amazing.”

But institutional collaborators don’t just bring themselves to OpenETC; they also bring students.  “It’s always been a given that whatever we make available, we want it to be able to work for students – if it’s something only a specific group of people can use, then it’s not really meeting our purpose. The thing with students is some of them can jump in right away, but the majority of students have never worked with tools like these before. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of faculty are wary of adopting new tools because they know they’re going to spend a lot of time supporting students, so we’ve tried to make the sign-up process as smooth and self-serve as we can.”  And they are still working on making the onboarding process smoother, including having more clonable starter sites in WordPress so students (and others) don’t have to start with a blank site.  That way “they can feel reasonably good about showing their site to people quickly without having to learn how themes work.”  But what Brian really likes about WordPress is that students have the control to change themes, delete and add plugins, widgets, design their sites the way they want to. And Brian is also, as he says, “selfishly excited to see the work students are doing with WordPress”.

I asked what the future holds for OpenETC (and I confess, I was asking specifically whether or not they were considering bringing on a Wiki or other collaborative tool) and Brian assured me that they are having discussions, but don’t want to raise expectations.  “We know that Etherpad is an extremely popular application, so we’re probably going to launch that as a stand-alone application which works well for collaborative writing. We’ve talked about Wikis, and if there was significant demand for wiki-like collaborative spaces that Etherpad couldn’t meet, we would have to look at that. We’ve been playing with a framework called Cloudron, which is like an advanced version of Sandstorm in the sense that it lets you deploy apps and includes a number of pretty interesting Wiki applications, but we aren’t sure that it is the right framework for us.”  But Brian is interested in creating a kind of middle-ground for more robust and server-intensive applications, where access is limited to those people at institutions who support educational technology, who can then support people at their institutions.

Then there is H5P.  “I think one of my dreams is to find ways to make H5P a little easier to support. We’ve talked about creating a dedicated H5P-enabled WordPress theme where we could embed sharing tools and user documentation. It’s been really cool to watch how H5P has been used across the province and I would love to find way to promote and support more activity with it.”  Of course, the challenge for Brian and others supporting OpenETC is that this sort of development work is not part of their regular jobs and “unfortunately, a lot of this work ends up being off the sides of all our desks, which is not the way it should be.”  Brian would also love to find ways to make it easier for people to share their work across the OpenETC network.  “My dream would be to improve discoverability and shareability of H5P objects across sites. And I hope one day to create a framework where you can share your own work more easily.”  He has some ideas but thinks this is where the community could really help, because the potential from sharing H5P objects is immense.  “We still have a long way to go, but where I think the future of OpenETC will come from people doing do more on the platform and contributing back. If we have more people doing that, we can start to incorporate what they do to make it better.  We’re better now already because of the participants, but I really think we’re just starting to see the payoff of wider collaboration across the province.”

As participation and community collaboration grew, it became evident that perhaps OpenETC should adopt some terms of use guidelines.  While OpenETC hasn’t been confronted with abuse of content or copyright violations yet, the community began asking about a code of conduct for OpenETC. “Ian Linkletter had developed a code of conduct for his Mattermost installation at UBC, so we adapted his model for our code of conduct and Clint Lalonde did a really good job of facilitating a wider community conversation and getting feedback and input on it. We might not have done it then without that help, but it was something the community wanted, and they were prepared to put in the work to make it happen.”

I asked Brian if OpenETC has seen a lot of growth when COVID hit back in 2020.  But he reflected that it’s hard to know because they had been growing before that point and it’s hard to know what the difference would have been without a pandemic pushing everyone online.  But numbers of users are not nearly as important or interesting to Brian as seeing unique and interesting applications of the tools from around the province.  That being said, with more people signing on, “we hired someone to tighten up the on-ramping for the WordPress clone tool, and to set up better reporting tools so we have a more effective way to look at growth in accounts over time and where they originated.  But, while we’ve definitely seen growth, I’m not sure how much we would have seen without COVID and I’d like to believe the work we did to make the platform more accessible, and our regular development plan would have brought people aboard under any conditions.”

As my discussion with Brian drew to a close, I wanted to express to him how much the OpenETC has supported me and my work with faculty and students at Camosun.  I was able to set up WordPress sites on the fly to support people during COVID, and have introduced many faculty, program groups, and students to the wonders of setting up their own WordPress sites, and even working with H5P.  And I also reflected, and continue to reflect, on more ways I can give back to the OpenETC community.  Brian was kind enough to assure me that we at Camosun have been contributing back, saying “we have just been so thrilled to see the work you’re doing, the way you’re giving back, and onboarding. That idea of ‘contributions, not contracts’ has become one of our slogans, and you’ve really grasped that right from the beginning. And I just want to say how much we appreciate how you’ve taken that idea of contributing back seriously.”  And I want to say that OpenETC makes it easy, and safe, to play and share back.  OpenETC is without a doubt one of the most collegial, supportive, and collaborative groups I’ve ever worked with.  I hope to be a part of this community for a very long time!

Digital Detox Reblog (and lots of food for thought around Microsoft for education)

I needed to reblog this post, because:

  1. I love Dr. Brenna Clarke Grey’s posts about anything
  2. because if you haven’t already started following the Digital Detox, you need to, and
  3. because of the discussions in our unit and institution around making Microsoft Teams more available for students, and integrating it within our LMS.

To be honest, I still think it’s a good idea to build access for students into our Teams (and to also integrate it with our LSM) as we are struggling, as other institutions are, with finding good tools to support online student to student engagement and collaboration. But…well, read for yourself:

Digital Detox #4: Habits, Data, and Things That Go Bump in the Night: Microsoft for Education


Re-Introduction to the Open Edtech Collaborative (OpenETC)

Today I am beginning a series of posts about the Open EdTech Collaborative (OpenETC). I’ve posted about OpenETC before, but as people settle into what is turning into a new realm for teaching and learning at post-secondary institutions in B.C. (not just pandemic panic, but the realization that teaching and learning online is viable and worth the investment in time, training, and resources) you should know that the OpenETC offers services and tools that can help you enhance your courses, as well as open them to the world. So, in this first post, I am going to re-introduce you to the OpenETC.

To lift the excellent description from their main site, the OpenETC is “a community of educators, technologists, and designers sharing their expertise to foster and support open infrastructure for the BC post-secondary sector. No contracts or agreements are required to join us, just a willingness and ability to actively participate in our collective endeavor to:

  • encourage technological autonomy and provide ways for students, faculty and institutions to own and control their own data.
  • lower the barrier to participation on the open web for BC faculty and students.
  • provide a more sustainable ed tech infrastructure to BC higher education that gives institutions more control over their tools.  Institutions are currently at the mercy of vendor pricing, upgrade cycles, and exit strategies.  This puts institutions at a certain degree of risk when there are changes to any of the variables beyond their control.  Open-source approaches reduce the risk to institutions in this regard.
  • assist BC faculty in evaluating and making informed pedagogical decisions around open-source teaching and learning applications.”

If you are associated with a post secondary institution in BC (faculty, staff, student), you can sign up for an Open ETC account and try out the tools they support, like WordPress, Sandstorm (a collection of open source applications) or Mattermost (an open-source messaging platform), which are hosted on BC servers, and thus FIPPA compliant. Make sure to review their Code of Conduct and Terms of Use (collaboratively created by the OpenETC community) before joining, and if you would like to become a more active member of the OpenETC community, you can join their Mattermost channel.

I’ll be talking more about their tools, as well as about the folks and institutions that support them, in subsequent posts. And just so you know, this blog, as well as our Camosun Tutorials site, is on the OpenETC WordPress instance!

If you work at Camosun College and want to know more about OpenETC and its tools (in particular, WordPress as we are beginning to point faculty to the OpenETC WordPress instance for their blogs and websites), contact Emily Schudel, instructional designer, eLearning (as well as an institutional lead for OpenETC) (schudele@camosun.ca).

A Quick Introduction to H5P

Last week the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG) ran a Cooking with H5P webinar which gave participants a great overview of how H5P works, and how to get started exploring it on your own. I encourage you to check out the recording.

What is H5P?

H5P (HTML-5-Package; https://h5p.org/) is plugin tool that enables faculty, instructional designers, etc. to develop creative, dynamic and responsive web-based content, activities, and assessments without having to have advanced technical expertise. H5P is an open-source tool, which means faculty can share their H5P objects with anyone – or adapt H5P objects developed by someone else – without being limited to a specific proprietary tool or platform.

Some of the benefits of H5P include:

  • Increased student engagement. H5P allows you to develop a variety of responsive and interactive objects, including image Hotspots, Branching Scenarios, Flashcards, Dialog Cards, Interactive Video, and Speak the Words
  • Opportunities for students to develop their own interactive objects. H5P provides students the opportunity to create their own H5P objects for sharing back as assessments or as learning objects for their fellow students.
  • Open tool, open licenses. H5P objects can be Creative Commons-licenced, supporting the 5 Rs of Open Education Resources (OER) Reuse, Retain, Revise, Remix, Redistribute.. You can access templates, and adapt & reuse freely shared, CC-licenced H5P objects and resources from institutions world-wide, including from a wide network of users right here in British Columbia.
  • Accessibility compliance. H5P is dedicated to ensuring that all its objects meet, or are on track to meet, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). A complete list of content-type accessibility is kept up-to-date by H5P.com at Content Type Recommendations.

H5P Resources


If you don’t already know about Educause, you need to check it out.

Educause is “a non-profit association and the largest community of technology, academic, industry, and campus leaders advancing higher education through the use of IT.” And you can find all kinds of resources, research, and connections at the Educause website.

For example, last December Educause published a 2019 Study of Faculty and Information Technology. While the data comes from 119 US institutions, much of the information collected is likely also reflective of trends in Canada.

I encourage you to take a look around the Educause site and let us know if you have any questions or want to find out more about any of the issues discussed there.

The Educational Technology Users Group’s (ETUG) First Webinar!

This Friday, ETUG is running its first ever webinar: Include-Ed.   It will be an exciting, jam-packed day of presentations and discussions with some amazing presenters from around B.C., so don’t miss it.  Come for the day, or stay for whatever sessions you can – it’s all online, so you can join from anywhere.  We look forward to seeing you there!

[Fall Workshop 2019] Include-Ed Webinar Schedule


ETUG Fall Workshops – save the dates

For today’s post, a quick reblog.

The Educational Technology User Group Fall workshop will be in two parts this year: Friday, October 18th face to face in Vancouver at SFU Harbourside, and virtually on Friday, November 1st! Mark the dates now – more information and registration will be coming up soon.

Find out more at the ETUG website:


Want to know more about ETUG and how you can get more involved?  Contact Emily Schudel, Chair of the Stewardship Committee for ETUG, at schudele@camosun.ca

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra: Video/Audio Class Conferencing Online

If you have been paying attention to the workshop announcements for May/June, you may have noticed the following:

BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra: Information sessions

  • Lansdowne: Wednesday, June 5, 10:00-11:00am, LLC151
  • Interurban: Friday, May 17, 10:30-11:30am, LACC235

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a synchronous classroom tool that is coming to Camosun. This means that faculty now have an online tool with audio, video, chat, polling, and whiteboard/desktop sharing capabilities to support their teaching in real-time. Kaltura can be used as a stand-alone teaching tool, or can be integrated into a D2L course, and it works on computers and mobile devices (yes, even phones!)

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra rooms include a collaborative whiteboard tool that allows you to interact with students in real time, breakout rooms for smaller group discussions, and the ability to display desktop applications and web resources such as multimedia. In addition, an interactive recording can be created for each session allowing students the opportunity to review material at a later date.

Some specific activities which work well in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra are:

  • Facilitating live, online discussions around specific topics using video and audio, which can then be recorded so students can go back and review at any time
  • Showing students how to use different kinds of technologies through desktop sharing, and presenting polls at intervals to check comprehension
  • Breaking your class into smaller groups for discussions, then bringing them back to the main room for a debrief
  • Giving students space to do online class presentations using PowerPoint or a virtual whiteboard
  • Providing online office hours, or online space for student group work

More information about how you will be able to access Blackboard Collaborate Ultra will be coming in late April, and hands-on sessions will be offered in the spring. Go to https://decamosun.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/elearning-spring-workshops-open-for-registration/ to find out more.

If you have any questions about how and when you can have access to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, or if you would like a demo or to talk to someone about how you might use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, contact desupport@camosun.ca to arrange for a meeting with Bob Preston, or one of our instructional designers.

Introducing Lynda.com!

In case you didn’t know, Camosun has purchased a licence for Lynda.com that all faculty, staff, and students at Camosun have access to through the Library.

What is Lynda.com? Well, to quote the Research Guide on Lynda.com (https://camosun.ca.libguides.com/lynda), “Lynda.com is a leading online learning platform that helps anyone learn business, software, technology and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals. There are over 4000 engaging, top-quality courses taught by recognized industry experts.”

Some cool things about how you can use Lynda:

  • You have access to the site 24/7 from on and off campus, and from a variety of devices.
  • Lynda not only has videos on how to use various software, it also offers courses on time management, teaching techniques, managing stress, communication strategies, etc.
  • You can embed Lynda videos into your D2L course. Click the Faculty/Teaching tab on the main Lynda.com guide (https://camosun.ca.libguides.com/lynda/teaching) and scroll down to find the Integrating Lynda Videos into D2L section on the right-hand side.

One thing to remember: if you are using Lynda to help you learn how to use some of the software we support in eLearning, such as D2L, Kaltura, WordPress, or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, be aware that the way the softwares are configured at Camosun may differ from how they are presented in Lynda. If you have any questions about this after viewing Lynda videos on any of these tools, please contact desupport@camosun.ca and ask to talk to Bob Preston or an instructional designer for clarification.

If you have questions about or need help with Lynda.com, click on the Need More Help tab (https://camosun.ca.libguides.com/lynda/help).

Social Media Use in Education – Workshop Synopsis

Last May I ran some workshops related to social media and the use of online tools in teaching and learning. This month I am going to present a series of posts related to these workshops. This first post is a synopsis of the Social Media Use in Education workshop, which was promoted with the following blurb:  “Interested in integrating social media into your classroom?  This workshop will examine various social media tools used in the teaching and learning and discuss best practices.  In addition, participants will have the opportunity to share strategies on how social media can be incorporated into their own courses.”

Before beginning the discussions around what social media is and why you would use it to support your teaching, I wanted to find out what the participants knew about social media so I could start the conversation from where they were at. The two questions I asked to kick things off were:

  • What big question do you bring to this workshop?
  • What do you know about social media?

We decided social media is about:

  • Sharing and exchanging
  • Communicating, interacting, and collaborating
  • Networking
  • Managing relationships
  • Keeping in touch
  • Curating/collecting resources
  • Modifying resources
  • Bringing “the real world” into the classroom

Knowing this, we then discussed why faculty might want to integrate social media applications into their teaching. Some of the aspects social media brings to the table include:

  • Collecting and evaluating resources
  • Sharing works with small groups, the whole class, professionals in the field, etc.
  • Developing new resources through collaboration and teamwork
  • Transferring “control” to the students (fostering a sense of ownership over the course content)
  • Fostering peer-to-peer learning and critiquing
  • Supporting the development of transferable skills
  • Learning about community and social engagement
  • Opening the door to experts from outside of the classroom to see the students’ work
  • Bringing the world into the classroom

To give the participants some more specific ideas of what all this means, I showed some specific examples of social media tools:


Image sharing

Video sharing

Organizing and sharing information – Curation

Collaborative tools/Wikis


But of course, we also needed to talk about specific ways that these tools can be used to support teaching and learning.  The following websites all have great examples of social media use in education:



Image and Video sharing



Use of Collaborative tool like Google docs and Wikis in education

Of course, as with integrating any educational technology into your teaching, there are many considerations that need to be kept in mind as you investigate various online tools. For example:

  • Privacy – is the tool in compliance with BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and does it comply with Camosun’s privacy policy?
  • Accessibility – is the tool accessible to a range of abilities, devices, etc.?
  • Copyright and Intellectual property – who owns the content once it has been placed into the tool/environment in question?
  • Support – is there technical and training support available for you and for your students? Is there a cost? Who will pay for it?
  • Choice and evaluation – make sure to choose the right tool for the task/learning outcome, and evaluate the tools before committing to them.
  • Ask others – is anyone else at the college using this tool? What is their experience?
  • Plan, plan, plan, then design, pilot, revise. Start with one activity and one tool, then debrief – if things don’t work, maybe it wasn’t the tool – revise and try it again
  • Provide clear instructions to your students and be prepared to give them an alternate activity if privacy is an issue, or if they have technical challenges (i.e., what is Plan B?)

So, what kinds of things are the workshop participants going to try? Well, some of them are going to think a little more about why, or if, they want to introduce social media into their teaching at all, but at the very least will be talking more with their students about things they should be considering when engaging with social media themselves. As for specific tool use, a couple of the participants will be exploring Instagram Stories in their courses (Instagram stories are…). In addition, Etherpad and blogging struck a note with a couple of faculty, which is exciting since Camosun now has a WordPress instance of its own that students will be able to use after May of this year.  If you have used social media tools to support your teaching, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to post your experiences in the Comments, or send me an email at schudele@camosun.ca.

Since I first ran this workshop, the face of social media has changed – tools come and go all the time.  This makes it a new workshop every year, so if you haven’t taken it before, or even if you have, I can guarantee you will learn something new when I run it again this spring!

Additional Resources