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chapter 8:Getting Started

Finding Your Why

Every parent or preschool teacher can share stories of little toddlers barraging them with questions. Beautiful snot nosed cherubs clinging to your legs answering every query, every task with one word, “Why?” When do we lose this critical lens that every toddler has? When do we as citizens get so worn down by schooling we accept “Just Because” or worse when do we learn to answer a student insistent pleading of “Why” with “Because I said so?”

Before you begin your journey into open pedagogy we ask you to find your inner toddler. Before you make any decision you must First tackle the hardest question in education, perhaps life, “Why?”

We all need to find our “why” was educators. Why do we teach? Why include this objective? This lesson? This assessment? As Mimi Ito likes to point out too often we begin with the what and how of learning and never consider the underlying implications of “why?” Back in 1929 Alfred Whitehead noted when discussing learning:

The child should make them his own, and should understand their application here and now in the circumstances of his actual life. From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery.

If you do not make your open pedagogy journey your own, if your “why” does not address some personal goal then your efforts will fail. Michael Wesh, a digital ethnographer, noted three important “Why’s” in his review of the literature: vocation, citizenship, and "how to enjoy life”.

We believe open pedagogy brings these three elements together for our students. We prepare them for a global society as they pick up digital literacy skills in out spaces. They learn how to interact and learn in civic online communities. Finally by learning out loud from their own site students in open pedagogy develop a love for learning that as Illich pointed out, schools love to destroy.

For an example of a “Why” check out Greg'spost has he designed an Open Pedagogy course called EDU106: New Literacies: Digital Text and Tools for Lifelong Learning which Greg wrote as part Connected Coursesor Ian's on why he blogs.

So before you take your first step into open pedagogy make sure to lace up in a tight knot of your “why.” In fact put this book down now, grab a piece of paper and reflect on your why. If that doesn’t work try a walk, do the dishes, or whatever activity engages you in your best writing.

Building a Digital Hub

We spend a lot of time guiding educators as they create and curate a space of their own online. Many times it can be a scary, nerve-racking experience as they build up an online home. We learned how to build up a digital identity through trial and error(s). To this end we have built and broken so many places online it’s hard to count.

As you get started, it’s important to be flexible, self-reflective, and willing to iterate over time. Know that you can not do this all in one night but be comforted by the idea that getting your own website online is 93.26% of the requirements for open pedagogy.

It all begins with carving out your own place online, setting up a basic website, then reflecting as you first learn something and then teach something.

A domain of your own

If you You need one web address that you build up and share all of your content. This is one website or blog in which you write, share, and archive everything that you create. This is one place that you can direct followers, students, colleagues, friends, and family. This is also a place that people can review if they just met you. Where can they go to learn more about who you are, what you’ve done…and what you’re currently working on? Having one web address (that you control) saves everyone the hassle of tracking your digital breadcrumbs all over the Internet.

Alan Levine provides some useful guiding questions in his post Interview with Your Domain

  • What is your domain name and what is the story, meaning behind your choice of that as a name?
  • What was a compelling feature, reason, motivation for you to get and use a domain? When you started what did you think you would put there?
  • What kind of future plans to you have for your domain?
  • What would you say to other educators about the value, reason why to have a domain of your own? What will it take them to get going with their own domain?

You do not need your own domain to take part in open pedagogy. In fact many school districts may require teachers to use a commercial content management system (CMS) like Seesaw, Blogger, edublogs, etc. However the rest of the book will assume you want begin to take ownership of your digital identity and this begins with having a domain.Most of the larger commercial blogging platforms such as, Weebly, Blogger, and others allow for you to use a domain.

Your domain is the first time to customize your digital identity. You want to be able to complete this sentence when asked, "My URL is.." Ther is no correct answer. More importantly your domain protects you against what Audrey Waters identified as three threats to the web: loss of control ofpersonal data, not being critical of technology, and the dangers of algorithimic decision making.When you get a domain you take back who you are online.

When choosing a domain name consider your goals and purposes. Many people choose to use their names as a URL. This may not be as possible for people with common names. Others may want to protect their identity and may choose to not to use their names. Still others may want represent an online persona. Registering your domain represents the first step of agency found when using technology of open pedagogy

Build Your Website

Open Pedagogy provides multiple opportunities to utilize digital spaces and tools to create versions of our identities. We can create and host our own websites to share and archive our work. We can use social media to share this work out with others online. It is within the intersection of these materials that we can build and maintain an identity in digital spaces. We create a trail of digital breadcrumbs that help create the residue that makes up our online identities.

The challenge as we create an identity across numerous digital spaces is that this version of ourselves is often incomplete. Many online social networks act as silos and trap your information there and do not share it with other spaces. There is also the possibility that the business that owns the digital space will change their business model and your materials will disappear. Google+ anyone? What would you do if one of these social networks deleted or moved the posts and content you shared? You should also consider what happens when someone meets you for the first time and they “Google” you. Depending on where they search, they might get an incomplete picture of you.

For these reasons, we believe that individuals should build what Gardner Campbell calls a personal cyberinfrastructure. Basically as you engage in open pedagogy you frame, curate, share, and direct your own streams throughout the learning environment. This means that you develop and direct the information streams that individuals use to interact with you online. As your infrastructure improves your network grows and you have access to far greater knowledge

Audience of One

As writing teachers we have always focused on determinign your purpose and audience when starting writing assignments. Yet these learning tasks often relies on contrived tasks with hypothetical audiences. When you build your website build for yourself. Do not consider the needs of others. What do you want? Who do you want to present yourself as online?

First formulate your purpose. As you begin this process, consider the identity that you would like to have online. You may already have multiple identities and accounts online. You may have partial or incomplete portions of your identity across these spaces. At this point, none of this matters. As you craft your digital identity, you have the opportunity to be anything that you would like to be. You will write yourself into being in digital spaces.

We encourage people starting websites to set their purpose using the six word memoir.Open up your journal, grab a piece of scrap paper, or a new blank writing space. Take twenty minutes and write six words that identify yoy. Only six words…no more…no less. These six words may be who you would like to be, or who you think you should be. But, in this process, you need to identify yourself in six words.

These six words should be in a place that is easily accessible and displayed in plain sight in your workspace. Yet this may not be in text. Your purpose should determine your design. Let it folow through the colors and images you choose. You’ll want to revisit these six words over the a week or two as you begin this process. You’ll also want to continuously revisit these six words and revise if needed. In mour experiences we frequently come back and revise our six words as our career and life changes. In web design, like life, always move forward. You never finish a website.

Paper is Your Friend

Once you settle on your purpose you can begin to layout your website. Again we turn to our favorite edtech, the paper and pencil. Everyone beginning a journey of a domain of their own should begin with a paper prototype. Take a piece of scratch and design your homepage. This step requires no artisty skills, but a ruler and graph paper do help. Basically use boxes to draw where you would want content. This can include images, texts, and links. Choose how many pages you need to build. We recommend starting small with aa homepage, an about me page, and a blog page. Decide where your menu will live. At this point do not worry about your web skills. Even if you have never touched HTML before you can layout a site on paper.

For some examples of paper prototypes check out this post by Greg

Once you have a basic design of your homepage repeat the process for each of the pages in your site. If you have "copy," a fancy designer word for text you may want to type it up and have it edited before your buold the site. You do not need technical skills to get started in open pedagogy just a desire to learn out loud and capture our thinking

Commonplace Book

As you design your website for open pedagogy we encourage you to adopt a philosophy of thecommonplace book The idea of a common place book traces back to the 16500s when books remained prohibitively expensive to the hand scribing. The rich and educated would keep one book as a journal to describe all your learning. The commonplce book remained a staple and the political philosopher John Locke regaled their use for capturing quotes, ideas, proverb, and speech ideas.

having my own online searchable database of things I’ve written, replied to, bookmarked, read, listened to, watched, annotated, etc. has been incredibly useful over the past few years.A cursory look at my website for 2018by Chris Aldrich

In open pedagogy your blog becomes your commonplace book. You capture all of your learning and as you design your site think about how you want to learn out loud. In open pedagogy reflection drives learning and your website acts as a mirror

Choosing a Website Platform

Once you have a tentative purpose and developed a design to meet this need you can begin to build your website. You have almsot unlimited choices when building a website and we could never cover them all. Instead we try to recommend three different experiences. Those users looking for a turn key experience, people familiar with a bit of HTML who may want to customize websites, and developers and engineers or educators and develops with these skills.

Each of the platforms that we recommend meet our mimimum standard of open enough. This means a platform must allow you to map your website to your own domain (which is why no longer makes our list), have ease of data portability, and utlize open standards and APIs. We do not, in our list of tools, require developers to openly license their source code. Instead we ask the question, "Would I use this tool in an open pedagogy class?"

Turn Key Platforms

Open Pedagogy requires a fundamental rethinking of where knowledge and learning live while also building up your online spaces. Sometimes you want a website tool that just works. It could be your current skill level, the lack of time, or simply a lack of desire.

We also know reducing the cognitive load improves learning. As a teacher you serve students first and fiddling with features ain't fun on the fly. The three tools we review below meet our minimum standards of open and require a few clicks and no technical knowledge to launch.

Blogger, now a Google property, began as one of the first blogging service platforms. Originally you could even self-host your blogger website on your own servers, but Google shut this down in 2010. Today it integrates with many other Google services such as Google Drive, Google Sites, and Google Docs which make it an attractive option for educators

Blogger also meets our standard of open. According to Google's terms of service users maintain control of their content.

Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours. Google's Privacy

If you want to use modern blogging and social reader tools on Blogger you can not add #IndieWeb plugins. However, you can connect your blogger account to Bridgy a service built by Ryan Barret that can allow you to connect your Blogger to recieve webmentions, a tool that drives the modern social web. The W3C standard, folks who write the "MLA/APA handbook" of marking up the web, allows a blogger to publish a post and then display any replies he gets on the blogs of other people as a comment on their website., by Automattic powers more blogs than other platform on the web. It began in 2005 and uses a version of the the open source software. Anyone can use, but you need a shared host. Automattic provides the hosting for you at,As a user you can get a free account with add support and no domain, and can remove ad support and get your own domain for around $5.oo a month. If you want to use custom plugins and themes that drive much of wordprss sites, however, you would need to pay closer to $50 a month. At this price point you are better off using a shared host for a site.

Check out this tutorial by Greg for adding webmentions to meets our standard of Open and has driven much of the open source blogging community for the lat ten years. You can get you own domain and your data belongs to you and will always be portable.

While you can't use any of themes or plugins on to connect to the social web you can add webmentions through Bridgy similar to Blogger. This will still allow you to connect your blog to so many others from yoru won site rather than relying on social media. Bridgy does allow you to send your posts to some social media sites like Twitter (facebook removed their read/write API they want to own the web not contribute to the open web) and pull back reply tweets as comments on your post. We call this process POSSE, Publish On your Site Syndicate Elsewhere.

As a user if you want a turn key experience and all the tools of the modern social web than may offer yoru best choice. provides more than blogging tools. You also get a curated safe community for microblogs. Every user has timeline to follow, you can find friends and discover new posts. You never have to touch HTML or code once to post on your own site.

Anyone can use for free for fourteen days. After that the hosting cost $5 a month for a blog or $10 a month for a blog and podcasts. Even if you are not a customer and use another blogging platform you can connect your site and share post with RSS. While requires you to know zero code it provides a great platform to learn as site template everything got using Open Source tools. Overtime you can customize your CSS to your theme and write your own HTML files, if that is your goal. If you just want to blog on the modern social web then you can start the minute you sign up. far exceeds our standards for open enough. While the code remains proprietary runs on fully open APIs, protocols, and web standards. It comes pre-equipped with all of the tools for the modern social web such as native webmentions and special links called endpoints that allow you to publish using the micropub standard with endless #IndieWeb tools.

Peaking under the Hood

These next set of tools require a bit more know how than the turn key services. However if you know just a bit of HTML/CSS and have a shared host such as Reclaimhosting or GoDaddy you get far more flexibility. has powered the open pedagogy movement for much of the last decade. Driven by classes such as Rhizomatic Learning, Connected Courses, and of course #Ds106, has become the defacto platform for our community. This means thousands of tutorials exist. Most of these on sites such as Alan Levine's a long time open pedagogy contributor.

Most users that engage in open pedagogy rely on RSS readers and Twitter. Google+ was an important platform before it's announced shutdown. You can do fine with just a blog and an RSS reader. However if you want to use modern tools of the emerging social web your choices get limited quickly.

For a list of educators engaged in open pedagogy using check out:

Only three or four themes out of the the tens of thousands of available exist that can work with other #IndieWeb sites out of the box. Of these themes, only SemPress is available for users on the site. Other themes such as 2016-IndieWeb require you to know how to use GitHub, maintain a child theme, and then update that theme from GitHub.

If you already have a and want to add support for the #IndieWeb tools that connect you to the social web your options are limited. All the modern blogging platforms use a type of metadata called microformats that has existed for over a dozen years. Yet because Google created their own special kind of metadata to meet their business needs many WordPress developers blindly followed suit. This behavior reflects much of the shady business practices that have occured in the WordPress community over the years. Basically WordPress sites became less about blogging and more about social media impressions. This opened the floodgates to SEO (search engine optimization) hacks that threatened stability.

You can still use an IndieWeb theme and recreate the visual feel of your website. To do this you can use page builders that exist such as Divi or Elementor. We also have no idea what the Gutenberg project will do to The governance model leaves very little room for community input.

Still is probably one of the best options for open pedagogy. The community grows every day. The majority of bloggers usually start on a turnkey hosted platform and then move to a shared host using You just need a blog and a reader to take flight in open pedagogy. the IndieWeb tools just provide you with the luxury of flying first class.


Known is an open publishing / community platform project. It aims to be a simple, beautiful way to share your story using a variety of media from any device. It adheres to the IndieWeb technologies and principles.

Known almost got pushed down into the next section because it takes more technical know how to launch than You will need to know how to use GitHub, FTP, and set up a database. However we kept it here as many shared hosts offer single push button installation of Known and all of the cool blogging tools of the modern social web simply work with no further set up.

The Known community supports both the microformats supported by #IndieWeb and the JSON-LD format pushed by Google. They also have ActivityPub (the tools that power Mastodon). In fact Known founder Ben Werdmüller posted his desire to avoid any fights over standards and build a platform simply committted to supporting open protocols and APIs.

Building the Engine

These next set of tools require the greatest technical know-how. We do not recommend this approach unless you have prior experience as a professional or hobbyist developer. In fact if you did not cringe and think, "Uggh these are CMSs, what a bad metaphor these aren't blogging engines at all", then this approach may require greater skills than you have. Thus we will not go into detail of each platform for our audience.


Drupal really exists in between shared hosting options and the more technical "build your site from scratch" options. We chose to categorize it here as the set up, even when included in Shared Hosting one button install interfaces like CPanel, Drupal requires a bit more technical knowledge.

Drupal has a huge following in the education community. The CMS powers many university and class websites. The #IndieWeb tools that one can add to Drupal make it a powerful choice. If you can get through the initial set up the platform will run itself. We also believe Drupal has a more sustainable governance model and leadership more aligned to the open web than the "benevolent dictator approach" forced on through Automattic.


Jekyll helps you create "Simple, blog-aware, static sites" suitable for static domain hosting. It is simple in sense that it does one thing well. It compiles HTML and markdown files into a static website.

Jekyll has themes with the correct metadata that will allow you to play with other Independent bloggers on the web. In fact Jekyll is very popular among the #IndieWeb bloggin crowd that tends to skew more technical than most educators. People enjoy the platform for its ease of use and integration with git.


Hugo is static site generator written. That means each page is a single HTML file rather than dynamically compiled from a database which is how many CMS operate. You add pages using a special type of markup called markdown (don't ask). HTMl and Markdown are kind of like skiing and snowboarding. Some claim one is much easier to use while others say they enjoy what they do and don't want to lean something else.

While Hugo out of the box will not work with social websites connected on the #IndieWeb being built on compiled HTML makes changing templates easy. This means people can add a special type of metadata to their templates called microformats. This bit of code in your HTML allow your websites to connect to other blogs on the social web.


You can get a blog started using Ghost by pressing one button on the Glitch platform Ghost provides both a static site blogging tool and a a hosted option at Some have noted that the Write API needs improved documentation and the lack of proper user authentication makes using third party apps difficult. Numerous templates exist that will let you customize your site.

Not many examples of Ghost sites live in the wild that connect to the social web through #IndieWeb tools. In their fifth year anniversary post the Ghost team noted that they can not compete on ease of use and will therefore concentrate only on the niche super technical audience. This may not make the platform a great choice for educators. However Glitch now offers a push button install of Ghost which may help spread it's adoption and people have started to build IndieWeb tools on node.js.



Roll Your Own


  1. Three Steps to Identify Your Digital Identity
  2. Building Your Front Door, or Hub for Digital Learning Spaces
  3. Commonplace Book
  4. Cursory Look at my Website for 2018
  5. Connected Courses
  6. personal cyberinfrastructure

getting_started.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/29 13:36 (external edit)