OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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by Stephen Downes
Jan 22, 2016

Feature Article
What I Learned Using Paypal
Stephen Downes, Jan 22, 2016.

Doug Belshaw wrote an item this week called 3 things I’ve learned from 200 weeks of sending out an email newsletter which made me smile and think "newbie" to myself. That's not even four years!

But it's actually a major commitment  and I respect anyone who can carry out something on a regular basis for 200 weeks. I have a good sense of what it takes, not only in terms of effort, but also in terms of computing power and servers.

He draws three lessons:

- "You are the most important audience". By "you" he doesn't mean "you, the reader," he means "you, the author." If the newsletter didn't mean something to me personally, I would not keep it up. Belshaw has learned the same lesson.

- "People like commentary". I can attest to this. I've run surveys a couple times over the years, and I always ask whether people like the commentary or whether I should shut up and just deliver the news. The responses are unanimous. Readers want the opinion. Informed opinion.

- "A little bit of personality goes a long way." Like Doug, I don't just stick to a narrow diet of education technology tools and applications, or some similar specialization. My items reflect an interest in a range of disciplines, and the articles orbit around a set of core ideas, not some market managers conception of a vertical.

But also, like Doug, I have asked for donations. As I explained in my Donations page, my website costs me $200 a month to run, or $30,000 over the years. The traffic demands it; I have tried to run OLDaily and the rest of the website on a cheaper server, and simply crashed the server. It has created some financial stress, so I asked for help.

But I was also curious. Some people say that you simply have to ask, and you will receive, but I don't really fit the demographic. I'm not private-school pretty, I'm prickly and annoying, I'm not exactly a supporter of the corporate and entrepreneurship agenda, and I don't really have an interest in self-promotion (that doesn't mean I don't do it, it just means I feel guilty whenever I do).

But, you know, I always wonder, if I ever wanted a backup gig, could this be it? I look at some of the other people who started out as ed tech pundits and became self-employed as writers or consultants. There are some who make a living doing it, but I don't see people retiring early on the money. It looks like a tough life, with a lot of work in the trenches.

So how did I do?

From 30 donors I received about $1478. Most of the donations were the minimum $25 but I receive a large number of $75 contributions and a couple of people gave $250. Nobody selected the $1000 option (I thought maybe a company or two might want their name and link on the logo, but it didn't happen). It really is a tremendous response, and it comes close to covering my server costs for the year, and I'm grateful.

Here's what I did: when I redesigned the site to make it mobile-friendly over the holiday break, I added a donation page. I put a donate button on the home page, and ran one link in the January 4 issue of OLDaily. That was it for advertising. I thought anything more would be crass. But given that the link had (as of this writing) 67 views, maybe it wouldn't have been so crass.

I thought I would get a flurry of donations right away, and then nothing, but that's not what really happened. I've had a steady flow of donations spaced out over the last three weeks. Sure, I got 12 donations in the first two days, but it's averaged a steady one-a-day since then, in varying amounts.

I got my thank-you emails sent out today. At first I didn't think I could even send them - while PayPal faithfully reports the incoming donations, it downplays the sender's email. It has a co-branded service whereby it will print shipping lables and handle delivery for you - for a fee. Smart. But that was more than I wanted to pay just to send an email.

Sending out 30 individual emails took some time, and I was always afraid I would get the person's name wrong (happened once) or misrepresent the amount they donated (happened once). Cut-and-paste seems so impersonal, but retyping the same message would have been too much, but I was able to add some personal touches. Were the frequency of donations to increase, I would create a 'thank you' script.

I received a few comments on the list of options. Feeling very clever, I created the following range of choices: $25, $75, $250, $1000. And as we see on donation pages everywhere, I offered incremental rewards for each level (I resisted calling them 'gold', 'platinum', 'sustaining', etc.). Within a day I had to add two additional notes on the donations page: one telling people they could choose whatever amount they wanted, and another telling them they did not have to have their name listed on the page. A few people chose their own amounts, and two people took the extra effort to mail me a cheque instead of using PayPal.

Would I do it again? Definitely. I feel people appreciated the opportunity to say thanks. The money was significant. And server costs aren't going away. And hey, maybe a few companies will start using that $1000 option. :)

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Centennial College to scrap Saudi training program
Toronto Star, 2016/01/22


I think all my readers agree that education should be provided to both men and women. This is true even in Saudi Arabia, which has the world's largest women-only university. And though there have been complaints about Canadian colleges offering men-only programs in the middle east, it's worth noting that some  colleges are also conducting parallel women-only programs. That's what Niagara College is doing. Is this the best way to offer learning? Probably not. But people like the premier of Ontario should be careful before declaring it's "unacceptable". They should, at the very least, look in their own back yard, where private institutions like Saint Andrew College operate all-male campuses. Does a $60K tuition make an old-boys network acceptable? Let's not pretend we're so superior.

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What a post-Persona landscape means for Open Badges
Doug Belshaw, Open Educational Thinkering, 2016/01/22


Mozilla is shuttering its 'Persona' project, which has an impact on the Open Badges project. Users needed a secure login to access the badge Backpack, which is what Persona provided. But as Doug Belshaw reports, these products will still work (they're open source, after all) and as well there are other places to store badges, including the Open Badge Passport and Open Badge Academy and a new platform launching through LRNG. And, he writes, "as Nate Otto wrote in his post Open Badges in 2016: A Look Ahead, the project is growing up." Simple solutions (like associating badges with email addresses) worked for now. But we need to think of more robust solutions.

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From Bricks to Clicks: the potential of data and analytics in Higher Education
Philip Norton, Sarah Porter, The Higher Education Commission, 2016/01/22


This is a reasonably detailed view (76 page PDF) of learning analytics from a policy perspective and contains a series of recommendations pertaining to data ownership and use, ethical issues, the nature of the data collected, and implementation issues. There is similar work, including some of the same charts, in this presentation from Barbara Newland. I read in this report a push toward centralization and central ownership of data, citing "a body of work to rationalise current data collections and modernise the HESA returns process," and against open data, based on the idea that "the more marketised HE landscape is making institutions more reluctant to share data." In the response from JISC we read, "We are working with 50 UK universities to set up a national learning analytics service – this will be the first time learning analytics has been introduced on a national scale anywhere in the world." I think large centralized data stores used to manage systems are fraught with difficulties and dangers, and make it difficult for the system to adapt to changing circumstances.

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Higher Education in Developing Countries is Getting Harder
Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates, 2016/01/22


This is an interesting set of observations. Development, argues Alex Usher, is getting harder because countries can no longer foster development through export-driven manufacturing. "There aren’t going to be any more Taiwans or Koreas." Instead, "In future, if countries are going to get rich, it’s going to be through some kind of services and knowledge-intensive products." But this requires higher education, and especially universities. But how do you develop universities before you've created economic development? It's a structural problem. Universities "simply lack entrepreneurial partners with whom to work on knowledge and commercialization projects."

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The 7 Devices of Transformation in Education
Vicki Davis, The Cool Cat Teacher, 2016/01/22

This is a terrific post. The core message is that "technology change is about people." And Vicki Davis pulls that apart and comes up with seven spot-on observations (mostly my own wording):

  • Innovation is done by people (and not, I would add, processes, forms, reports or measurements)
  • Time is precious, especially for kids
  • The best way to produce innovation is to empower people
  • Spend money on investments, not expenses
  • Invest especially in relationships
  • Invest in yourself - your own learning, your own capabilities
  • Be the device

Sometimes it's tempting to say that if we could only tweak a process, change an organizational structure, or develop a new tool, that we could address all the issues we face. I'm learning that this mostly isn't true (it's a far harder lesson to learn in practice in your 50s than it is to learn in theory in your 30s, and I've done both).

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The sky is falling on print newspapers faster than you think
Richard Tofel, Medium, 2016/01/22


Having been writing this newsletter for a long time, I can still recall the days when pundits were saying print newspapers would disappear while critics were saying people would never abandon the comfort of print and paper. Fast forward to today, where here in Canada there has been another round of layoffs at PostMedia, and where, as this article notes, the bottom is dropping out of print circulation numbers faster than you may think. I personally gave up on print newspapers after a lifetime of engagement with them, from my early days as a paperboy to my morning ritual of reading the local news. The turning point came when Brunswick News laid off all its photographers, the one redeeming feature in a corporate shill of a media organization. But then again - aren't they all shills? And who, really, regrets their demise?

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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