sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘open education’ Category

MIT quits open-source Kuali project

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 18, 2010

What happened: Recently, MIT announced it would discontinue partnership with the Kuali foundation on an open-source project called Kuali Student. This came, according to an official press release, after extensive discussions with board members and people and groups directly involved in developing this student-administration software.

What the press release didn’t say is why MIT made this decision. It seems likely that the decision was financial. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, MIT is the second higher education institution in the last several months to pull out of Kuali Student; Florida State University withdrew in February due to budget cuts.

Why it matters: MIT has been a strong and vocal supporter of openness in higher education and research. During my employ at the Institute, administrators officially adopted an open access policy which was designed to support the widest possible circulation of ideas, projects, and research generated by MIT-affiliated researchers. MIT has embraced the open education movement, investing copious time, energy, and dollars into its OpenCourseWare project.

If MIT’s decision to withdraw from Kuali Student is primarily a cost-cutting measure–and again, we don’t know for sure if this is the rationale–this does not bode well for open education. It’s all too easy to treat the idea of openness as a luxury worth pursuing during times of plenty and simple to abandon during times of famine. But the openness movement, in all its iterations (software, hardware, education, access, and so on), is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Transparency problems are part of what got us into this mess in the first place, especially in higher education where access to high-quality learning is still sequestered off behind a series of wrought-iron gates that cost too much–too much time, too much money, too much sacrifice–for many of our learners to be willing or able to gain entry.

We are no longer in an era where we can afford to make powerful, empowering education available only to the few. Indeed, one can easily argue that it’s not openness but opacity that is the luxury.

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Posted in academia, education, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source | 1 Comment »

Edublog Awards 2009: and the nominees are…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on December 6, 2009

Below are my nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards. If you’re interested in submitting your own nominations for this year’s awards, you’ll need to act fast. The deadlines start rolling in this week:

  • Nominations: Close Tuesday 8 December
  • Voting: Ends Wednesday 16 December
  • Award Ceremony: Friday 18 December

Click here for more information about the awards and nomination process.

…and the nominees are:

First, “open” is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our commonsense, every day experience teaches us that “open” is continuous. Anyone who will argue that “open” is a binary construct is forced to admit that a door cracked open one centimeter is just as open as a door standing wide open, because their conception of the term has no nuance. Alternately, they may adopt an artificial definition, in which a door opened 20 cm or more is considered open, while a door opened 19 cm is not considered open. But this is unsatisfactory as well.

Wiley has since addressed the question of openness in a systematic, deliberate, and useful way; but I consider this post more influential than even the ideas it gave rise to because it so clearly delineated the problem and so clearly demonstrated (in the tone of the post and in the comments below) the emotional tension underlying this issue.

  • Best teacher blog: Kevin’s Meandering Mind, a blog maintained by Kevin Hodgson, a 6th grade teacher, National Writing Project teacher-consutant, creative writer, and author. It’s absolutely essential reading for anybody interested in questions about how we might teach the “new” writing.
  • Best educational use of video / visual: viz.: Visual Rhetoric — visual culture — pedagogy.

Posted in blogging, education, open education | 1 Comment »

my late-entry sxsw panel proposal: plz to vote for me

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 30, 2009

File under: shameless self-promotion

This year, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival is crowdsourcing its lineup of panelists by allowing people to vote thumbsup or thumbdown on panel proposals.

I recently submitted my proposal, which is on the Free / Libre / Open Education (FLOE) movement.

You guys, I really really want to get accepted. Will you go to the site and vote for me?

You can read my proposal here.

Posted in open education, participatory culture | Leave a Comment »

why I chose openness: David Wiley, I’ve completed my homework assignment!

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 27, 2009

In a recent post on his blog iterating toward openness, David Wiley makes a request of all adherents to the “openness” movement who read his blog:

Without any special authority to do so, may I please give you a homework assignment? Would you please blog about why you choose to be open? What is the fundamental, underlying goal or goals you hope to accomplish by being open? What keeps you motivated? Why do you spend your precious little free time on my blog, reading this post and this question? If each of us put some thought and some public reflective writing into this question, the field would likely be greatly served. The more honest and open you are in your response, the more useful the exercise will be for you and for us.

The assigmnent is the result of a previous post in which Wiley wrote:

While I think everyone in the field of “open education” is dedicated to increasing access to educational opportunity, there is an increasingly radical element within the field – good old-fashioned guillotine and molotov type revolutionaries. At the conference I heard a number of people say that things would be greatly improved if we could just get rid of all the institutions of formal education. I once heard a follow up comment, “and governments, too.” I turned to laugh at his joke, but saw that he was serious. This “burn it all down” attitude really scares me.

As you can imagine if you know even a small chunk of the history of projects like the Free / Libre / Open Source Software movement (it keeps getting more words tacked onto it for a reason), Wiley’s post generated some fierce responses. So the request, and Wiley’s decision to back away from his initial stance, appears to be an effort to consider the broad range of issues that attract people to the openness movement in general, and open education in particular.

Back in 1984, Seymour Papert said this:

There won’t be schools in the future…. I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum– all of that. The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer… But this will happen only in communities of children who have access to computers on a sufficient scale.

Twenty-five years later, we are forced to conclude that one of the following is probably true:

  • The computer didn’t actually blow up anything at all; schools are basically the same as they always were, with the same curricula, approaches, and values; or
  • The computer did blow up the school, but nobody noticed that the school was blown to bits, and kept operating as if education continues to serve the purpose it served 50, 100, or more years ago.

Either way, the results are the same: schools equip kids with a set of mindsets and skillsets that prepare them increasingly less well for the culture into which they will emerge.

Perhaps Papert’s mistake was in attributing intention to the computer; if, to further extend the metaphor, the computer really was an explosive device, then it had no ability to decide how, when, and here to detonate.

I was drawn to the open education movement because it attempts to do on purpose what we thought computers would do by default: blow wide open the walls, and therefore the constraints, surrounding education. In arguing against the binary nature of the notion of “openness,” Wiley argues that “[i]n the eyes of the defenders of the ‘open source’ brand, if you’re not open enough you’re not open at all…. It is just as inappropriate for you to try to force your goals on others as it is for others to try to force their goals on you.”

Of course he’s right, but on the other hand, things aren’t always quite so clearcut in the field of education. I shouldn’t be able to force my values on educators, researchers, and administrators who disagree with my approach to teaching and learning; but if I leave them be, then they are free to inculcate young people with exactly the wrong set of skills, ideals, and values–the kind that reify outdated, unfair, and wrongheaded assumptions about how the world can, does, and should work.

I am, as I hope I have made clear, an increasingly radical element within the field. I am a revolutionary. And this is precisely what drew me to openness as a movement. In fact, I wish the open education movement would embrace a more inclusive name, perhaps something like Free / Libre / Open Education, or FLOE. In fact, I think I’ll start calling it exactly that.

I agree with Wiley that the term “open” is problematic, but for the exact opposite reason that Wiley gives. I think people are too likely to call almost anything open, even if the door is only open a centimeter. If it’s open exactly that far, and there’s a doorstop behind it preventing it from opening any further, then that door is effectively closed.

Related posts by other writers:
David Wiley: A few notes about openness (and a request)
Jeremy Brown: Bard Quest 2: Wiley’s motivation, Tomaševski’s motivation, and the real reason people get into Open Education
Jared Spurbeck: Why my creative work is “open”
davidp:Optimal, not ideal

Posted in education, open education, open source, participatory culture, pedagogy, politics, public schools | 3 Comments »

putting the "our" in "open source": on the dearth of women in the open source programming movement

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 4, 2009

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I wanted to link you to Kirrily Robert’s keynote at this year’s O’Reilly Open Source Convention. Robert’s keynote, “Standing Out in the Crowd,” focused on the dearth of female developers in the open source movement. She offers this image from the 2008 Linux Kernel Summit:


Image credit: Jonathan Corbet, lwn.net

Robert writes:

This is a normal sort of open source project. I’ll give you a minute to spot the women in the picture. Sorry, make that woman. She’s on the right. Can you see her?

While women are a minority in most tech communities, Robert explains, the gender disparity in open source development is more pronounced than in other technology disciplines. While women make up between 10-30% of the tech community in general, they comprise about 5% of Perl developers, about 10% of Drupal developers, and (according to an EU-funded survey of open source usage and development, called FLOSSPOLS) about 1.5% of open source contributors in general.

Robert surveyed female developers to find out why women seem to be so reluctant to contribute to open source projects; the most common reason was some variation of “I didn’t feel welcome.” She points to a pair of innovative projects whose members have actively worked to recruit women. One is the Organization for Transformative Works’ (OTW) Archive of Our Own (or AO3); the other is Dreamwidth, a blogging and community platform forked from the LiveJournal codebase. Both projects focused on recruiting women, not to be inclusive but because they felt it was essential for the success of the projects.

The entire talk is worth a read-through or a listen, but I want to highlight one key point from the set of strategies she offers for recruiting diverse candidates: Find potential users of the application and teach them programming, instead of recruiting good programmers and teaching them about the value of the application. She says:

If you’re working on a desktop app, recruit desktop users. If you’re writing a music sharing toolkit, recruit music lovers. Don’t worry about their programming skills. You can teach programming; you can’t teach passion or diversity.

I’ve been thinking about this very aspect of the open education movement since the Sakai 2009 Conference I attended last month. Sakai offers an open source collaborative learning environment for secondary and higher education institutions, emphasizing openness of knowledge, content, and technology. This embrace of openness was evident in every aspect of the conference, except for one: The notable lack of educators in the panels and audience.

If you want a good open education resource, you need to start by recruiting open source-friendly educators. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing a highly robust, highly functional tool that’s limited only in its ability to offer the features educators actually want.

Posted in distributed cognition, feminism, open education, open source, pedagogy, sakai | Leave a Comment »

opening up scholarship: generosity among grinches

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 5, 2009

why academic research and open exchange of ideas are like that bottle of raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing you’ve had in the back of your fridge since last summer

The folks over at Good Magazine are tossing up a series of blogposts under the heading “We Like to Share.”

The articles are actually a series of interviews with creative types in a variety of fields who share one characteristic: they believe that sharing of ideas and content is valuable and important. The edited interviews are being posted by Eric Steuer, the Creative Director of Creative Commons–a project which, though I admittedly don’t fully understand it, I find deeply ethical and innovative with respect to offering new approaches to sharing and community.

So far, two posts have gone up, the first with Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and the former online strategist for the Obama presidential campaign, and the second with Flickr founder Caterina Fake. Talking about how much we’ve changed in our attitudes toward sharing, Fake explains that

[i]f you go online today you will see stories about Obama sharing his private Flickr photos. So this is how far the world has come: our president is sharing photos of his life and experiences with the rest of the world, online. Our acceptance of public sharing has evolved a lot over the course of the past 15 years. And as people became increasingly comfortable sharing with each other—and the world—that lead to things that we didn’t even anticipate: the smart mob phenomenon, people cracking crimes, participatory media, subverting oppressive governments. We didn’t know these things were going to happen when we created the website, but that one decision—to make things public and sharable—had significant consequences.

Hughes’ interview is less overtly about sharing as we typically think of the term, but he points out that the Obama campaign was successful because it focused on offering useful communications tools that lowered barriers to access and then

getting out of the way of the grassroots supporters and organizers who were already out there making technology the most efficient vehicle possible for them to be able to organize. That was a huge emphasis of our program: with people all over the place online—Facebook, MySpace, and a lot of other different networks—we worked hard to make sure anyone who was energized by the campaign and inspired by Barack Obama could share that enthusiasm with their friends, get involved, and do tangible things to help us get closer to victory. The Obama campaign was in many ways a good end to the grassroots energy that was out there.

Both interviews, for as far as they go, offer interesting insights into how sharing is approached by innovators within their respective spheres. But though these posts present their subjects as bold in their embrace of sharing and community, their ideas about what sharing means and how it matters are woefully…limited. Fake uses the Obama example to point out how far we’ve come; but really, does Obama’s decision to make public photos of his adorable family mean much more than that he knows how to maintain his image as the handsome, open President who loves his family almost to a fault? I don’t imagine we’d be very surprised to learn that Obama’s advisors counseled him to make these photos widely available.

Indeed, the Flickr approach, in general, is this: These photos are mine and I will let you see them, but you have to give them back when you’re done. It’s a version of sharing, yes, but only along the lines of the sharing we learned to do as children.

The same is true of the picture Hughes paints of a campaign that successfully leveraged social networking technologies. The Obama campaign’s decision to use participatory technologies was a calculated move: Everybody knows that a.) More young, wired and tech-savvy people supported Obama than McCain; and b.) those supporters required a little extra outreach in order to line up at the polls on election day. You can bet that if Republicans outnumbered Democrats on Facebook, you can bet Obama’s managers would have been a little less quick to embrace these barrier-dropping communication tools.

What we’re not seeing so far among these innovators is an innovative approach to sharing–one that opens up copyright-able and patent-able and, therefore, economically valuable ideas and content to the larger community.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of my obsession with open education and open access. In particular, educational researchers–even those who embrace open educational resources–struggle with the prospect of making their work available to other interested researchers.

This makes sense to anyone who’s undertaken ed research–prestige, funding, and plum faculty positions (what little there is of any of these things) are secured through the generation of innovative, unique scholarship and ideas, and ideas made readily available are ideas made readily stealable. As a fairly new addition to the field, even I have been a victim of intellectual property theft. It’s enough to give a person pause, even if, like me, you’re on open education like Joss Whedon on strong, feminist-type leading ladies.

But, come on, we all know there’s no point to hiding good research from the public. As Kevin Smith writes in a recent blogpost on a San Jose State University professor who accused a student of copyright violation for posting assigned work online,

[t]here are many reasons to share scholarship, and very few reasons to keep it secret. Scholarship that is not shared has very little value, and the default position for scholars at all levels ought to be as much openness as is possible. There are a few situations in which it is appropriate to withhold scholarship from public view, but they should be carefully defined and circumscribed. After all, the point of our institutions is to increase public knowledge and to put learning at the service of society. And there are several ways in which scholars benefit personally by sharing their work widely.

Smith is right, of course, and the only real issue is figuring out strategies for getting everybody on board with the pro-sharing approach to scholarship. The “I made this and you can see it but you have to give it back when you’re done” model is nice in theory but, in practice, limits innovation and progress in educational research. A more useful approach might be along the lines of: “I made this and you can feel free to appropriate the parts that are valuable to you, but please make sure you credit my work as your source material.” This is a key principle at the core of the open education approach and of what media scholar Henry Jenkins calls “spreadability.”

The problem is that there are enough academics who subscribe to the “share your toys but take them back when you’re done playing” approach to research that anybody who embraces the free-appropriation model of scholarship ends up getting every toy stolen and has to go home with an empty bag. This is why the open education movement holds so much promise for all of academia: Adherents to the core values of open education agree that while we may not have a common vocabulary for the practice of sharing scholarship, we absolutely need to work to develop one. For all my criticisms of the OpenCourseWare projects at MIT and elsewhere, one essential aspect of this work is that it opens up a space to talk about how to share materials, and why, and when, and in what context. The content of these projects may be conservative, but the approach is wildly radical.

Posted in academia, academics, collective intelligence, Henry Jenkins, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source, President Obama, spreadability | 2 Comments »

Come to Sakai Conference 2009 in Beantown

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 2, 2009

I’ll be attending the Sakai Conference in Boston July 8-10. In case you’re unfamiliar with Sakai, here’s a quick rundown, followed by reasons why you should attend:

Sakai is an open source learning environment developed by and for educators. As the Sakai Project website explains,

The Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) is a flexible, enterprise application that supports teaching, learning and scholarly collaboration in either fully or partially online environments environments…. Instructors teach in a variety of different styles using a wide array of methods. Sakai meets the needs of the institution, the individual instructor and students though its highly customizable nature. Sakai’s architecture is modular and individual instructors can select the tools they want available for their class. Or you can configure sites that are specifically designed for research collaboration or administrative work groups. And because the source code is freely available, you always have the option of changing or adding a feature that would make Sakai work event better on your campus.


The conference is intended to highlight work with Sakai by designers, administrators, faculty, and students. A key theme in most of the scheduled sessions is collaboration, not only across a single university but across educational institutions. Sessions are organized in the following tracks:

  • Building Sakai: the technical aspects of Sakai enterprise development–requirements analysis, design, code, quality assurance, documentation and release management–hold center stage in this track. User experience design, scalability and performance, interoperability, development and presentation frameworks, programming best practices, and testing strategies are but a few of the many topics to be discussed and debated.
  • Deploying Sakai: planning a Sakai pilot or production rollout, have questions regarding configuration or administration or need advice on how best to train and support your user community, then the deployment track will interest you. Implementing and supporting Sakai at both large and small institutions will be examined with a goal of elucidating best practices for IT managers, system administrators, support staff and trainers.
  • Using Sakai: explore the teaching and learning, research and project collaboration capabilities of the Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment. Sessions will examine effective learning and teaching practices, articulate strategies for facilitating research and project team collaboration, as well as confront the challenges of improving Sakai workflows, usability and accessibility.
  • Multiple Audiences: this track features sessions of general interest to the Sakai Community or presentations that span the problem domains otherwise demarcated by our other session tracks.
  • Sakai Showcase: the Sakai Community’s goal of producing innovative software for higher education is on display in this track. Interactive demonstrations and tutorials focusing on new or refactored Sakai tools and services provide a snapshot of community-source software development in action.

And here’s why you should attend:

  • First, I’d love to meet you.
  • Second, Sakai collaborators are on the front lines of the open source and open education movement, and they’re thinking about participatory design and opening up education in exciting, innovative ways.
  • Third, the keynote speaker is Vijay Kumar, the director of MIT’s Office of Educational Innovation and Technology and, more importantly, a key figure in the open education movement. He’ll be speaking at 8:30 a.m. on July 8, and you can bet I’ll be as close to the front row as I can get for it.
  • Fourth, Boston is a great place to be in early July. You can come early and get a glimpse of our world-famous Independence Day celebrations, or you can stay late and enjoy the post-July 4th quiet.

You should come to the conference if any of these keywords interest you: open education, open source, open access, online learning networks, supporting higher education and learning, social revolution.

Posted in awesome, education, MIT, open education, open source, social media, teaching | Leave a Comment »

Let’s rethink OpenCourseWare

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 29, 2009

You can’t knock down the gates around higher education by putting up virtual borders instead.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m on the open source movement like Daniel Tosh on videos of people puking.

Which is why I engage with MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative as if I were trying to embody the very definition of insanity itself. This time, I’ve gotten my dander up over the promise and disappointment of an awesomely titled course, Research Topics in Architecture: Citizen-Centered Design of Open Governance Systems. Here’s the description from the course’s syllabus:

Imagine if networked computers and other devices could unleash full democratic real-time participation in official decisions by all stakeholders. To date, member-led debate and decision-making has always been subject to physical limits in space, time and numbers of participants. Current technologies and business practices can allow architects and planners to break through the traditional constraints to member involvement in the agoras of our public and private institutions. The implications for corporate transparency and accountability, as well as for more responsive government are provocative.

In this seminar, students will design and perfect a digital environment to house the activities of large-scale organizations of people making bottom-up decisions, such as with citizen-government affairs, voting corporate shareholders or voting members of global non-profits and labor unions. A working Open Source prototype created last semester will be used as the starting point, featuring collaborative filtering and electronic agent technology pioneered at the Media Lab. This course focuses on development of online spaces as part of an interdependent human environment, including physical architectures, mapped work processes and social/political dimensions.

Perfect, right? And not only that, but I keep going back to the noble origins of OCW and wanting the tool to live up to its promise. As the site proclaims,

In 1999, MIT Faculty considered how to use the Internet in pursuit of MIT’s mission—to advance knowledge and educate students—and in 2000 proposed OCW. MIT published the first proof-of-concept site in 2002, containing 50 courses. By November 2007, MIT completed the initial publication of virtually the entire curriculum, over 1,800 courses in 33 academic disciplines. Going forward, the OCW team is updating existing courses and adding new content and services to the site.

It’s an expensive–according to the site, it costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to upload materials from a single course–but laudable effort, ideally suited to highly resourceful learners looking for ways to supplement their formal or informal learning.

Again and again I return to OCW. Again and again I’m disappointed by how hostile OCW materials are to even the most dedicated, passionate learner. The materials are easy to download and unzip but difficult to unpack: They’re so dense, and so decontextualized in their current format, that they’re nearly nonsensical.

The architecture course is a case in point. While I’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect class for the likes of me, the materials, though organized according to the course schedule and packaged with lecture notes, handouts, and supplemental readings, are simply too much to make head or tail of. Here, for example, are the class notes from week 1, “slashdot as example”:

Class Notes

  1. Slashdot.org – Karma – six levels – terrible, bad, neutral, positive, good, excellent
  2. Self-Organizing
  3. Fiction (Jeremy) – similar point system
  4. Pathfinder (Stylianos)
  5. Shock Experiment – Anonymity
  6. Slackdot – takes time to penetrate – no ‘design’ (‘blurb’ upon ‘blurb’)
  7. Legibility should be more important
  8. Hard to read – squint eyes
  9. Only get ‘tip of the iceberg’
  10. Graphic way of searching for info – rhizome.org (starry night)
  11. The Brain EKP – Enterprise Knowledge Platform
  12. Spider Map – Irish PM interface – drag and drop
  13. How things get ‘about the iceberg’ – organized on screen – very different
  14. Slashdot – every user is not equal – ‘superusers’ have more input – antidemocratic
  15. Mediation – 3rd party neutral – resolution among themselves.
  16. Arbitration – 3rd party neutral – arbitrator rules based on evidence.
  17. EBay- used same technology to resolve dispute
  18. High reputation, good feedback – typically did nothing wrong – past performance
  19. Filters – like minded people (ie ACLU) or only hi-karma people
  20. Maybe have user-defined (voted for things you also want)
  21. To what extent are user comments and actions transparent?
  22. Is real identity necessary?

Next Week:

How to preserve minority rights – mediation – therapeutic circles!

Debate Notes:
#2
What do you mean by project based experience?
Really there is 2 proposals – eliminate GRE, use project-based evaluation
Other criteria still valid.

I’m sure this makes perfect sense to the student who was able to sit in on that week’s lecture, but it’s all but useless without that guidance. Though I’m sure the readings and other assignments clarify nicely, it’s up to me to locate the texts, read them alone, and figure out the link to the key ideas of the course. This is only slightly better, and perhaps a good deal more time-consuming, than if I were to simply email the instructor with a request for reading recommendations.

The resources aren’t completely useless, of course; the reading list saves me the time and energy of having to locate, contact, and wait to hear back from the instructor. I imagine, too, that OCW is an invaluable resource for higher ed faculty and administrators as they approach course planning. Used right, this kind of resource could help us make enormous strides toward leveling the higher education playing field.

But I’m not sure what using it right might look like. Should all universities compare their course offerings and reading materials to that offered by MIT faculty? Should all students pick an accompanying OCW course to complement their chosen field of study? Or should we ignore the content and emulate the approach: Making all course materials at all universities available to anybody who wants to access them?

Perhaps, as a colleague pointed out, it’s not fair to use a course from 2002 as proof of OCW’s failings. After all, as she explained, 2002 was too early to judge anything by today’s criteria: “In 2002,” she said, “the New York Times was still charging for content.”

Fair enough. But more recent courses appear similarly information-dense and context-sparse. All I’m saying (and I’ve said it before, here on this blog) is that while the impetus behind OCW is grand and noble, it doesn’t seem like anybody’s getting their $10,000 to $15,000 worth. It seems much more valuable–not to mention cheaper and more readily accessible–to capture one or two key lectures per semester, surround those lectures with related readings designed by the lecturer for the OCW context, and link learners to a cluster of resources available through other open educational resources, online networks, and offline texts. This seems much more closely aligned to the spirit of the open educational movement, an effort that hopes to break down archaic and arbitrary geological, achievement-oriented, and class-defined gaps in participation.

Okay, now I’m just repeating myself.

Posted in academia, academics, distributed cognition, education, intellectual property, MIT, open education, open source | 7 Comments »

applying the abundance model to the classroom

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 24, 2009

In a recent Wired article called “Tech is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity,” Chris Anderson considers the difference between a scarcity management model and an abundance model. His point is linked to management of technology resources; he writes that

[i]f you’re controlling a scarce resource, like the prime-time broadcast schedule, you have to be discriminating. There are real costs associated with those half-hour chunks of network time, and the penalty for failing to reach tens of millions of viewers with them is calculated in red ink and lost careers. No wonder TV executives fall back on sitcom formulas and celebrities—they’re safe bets in an expensive game.

But if you’re tapping into an abundant resource, you can afford to take chances, since the cost of failure is so low. Nobody gets fired when your YouTube video is viewed only by your mom.

Anderson’s point is that when resources–in this case, willing content producers with cheap production tools–are abundant, we need to rethink how we structure, market, and make money off of content.

The point, though linked to media marketing models, might easily be applied to the domain of education. The following graphic accompanies Anderson’s piece:

Clearly, the abundance model as presented here aligns with the spirit of participatory culture, at its heart an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical movement wherein cultural decisions become crowdsourced. Here’s where many school policies confuse scarcity and abundance: They block participatory media (including YouTube, many social networking sites, and sometimes Google and Wikipedia) and evaluate students based on their ability to repeat back to the teacher (or testmaker) the big ideas of the class. Knowledge, in this case, is treated as a scarce resource, when in a participatory culture knowledge is almost the most abundant thing we have.

What would it look like to apply an abundance model to the classroom? What new roles can and should teachers and students play in an egalitarian classrom in which “everything is permitted unless it is forbidden”? What’s the difference, practically speaking, between a “command and control” classroom and a class without that type of control?

Important questions to chew on. More soon.

Posted in assessment, education, open education, participatory culture, schools | Leave a Comment »

open source, open access, open education: some definitions

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 18, 2009

For my upcoming study at Indiana University, I’m working on a position paper on the Free / Open Source / Libre movement, the open source ethos, and open education. It’s kind of weird having to draft a position paper when I kind of feel like I’ve done that, over here at sleeping alone and starting out early.

In fact, a position paper focusing only on the F/OSS movement and open education seems to somehow miss the point, since the spirit of these movements embraces an open-source approach to culture at large. In this way, this blog feels more appropriate as a position statement than any short paper ever could.

Still, academia is academia, and I can’t just turn in a one-liner (http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com) as a position paper. The paper I’m drafting, though, belongs to and informs this blog as much as this blog informs it. For that reason, I’ll be posting my work here as I go.

Today, I’ll start with some definitions.

Open Source:
Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code. Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source)

Open Source Software (OSS): computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open source software is the most prominent example of open source development and often compared to user-generated content. The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software.

Free Software (vs. Open Source Software): The term “free software” was coined by Richard Stallman, who explains that

When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users’ essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html)

Briefly, the difference in the terms highlights different ethical approaches to software development. In general, the OSS movement emphasizes the collective engagement with source code in order to develop, and sometimes to market, powerful and efficient software. The free software movement identifies as a social movement. Stallman explains:

Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and moving to free software is the solution.

Many adherents to these movements, to avoid this issue, simply refer to the Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) Movement.

Community Source Software (CSS): Community Source Software differs from OSS in that institutions devote paid employees to the project, with the intention of collaboratively developing a product that embraces the open source ethos. From the Wikipedia article on Community source,

An important distinctive characteristic of community source as opposed to plain open source is that the community includes some organizations or institutions that are committing their resources to the community, in the form of human resources or other financial elements. In this way, the open source project will have both more solid support, rather than purely volunteer efforts as found in other open source communities, and will possibly be shaped by the strategic requirements of the institution committing the resource.

Examples of CSS include: the Sakai Project, Kuali Foundation, and Open Source Portfolio.

Open Access (OA):
From http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm, “open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The goal of adopting OA policies is to remove barriers to information. Many higher education institutions have adopted an open access policy, as for example the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which explains that it adopted an OA policy because “The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”

Open Education Movement and Open Educational Resources (OERs): From Opening Up Education, a key tenet of this movement is that education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection. The open education movement embraces a shift away from a scarcity-based model of higher education, which bases its value on limiting access. As Batson, Paharia, and Kumar explain (in chapter 6, “A Harvest Too Large? A Framework for Educational Abundance”), open education works within a “knowledge ecology characterized by unfettered access to educational resources, choice, and change in the context and clientele of higher education.” In the open, “abundance-based” learning framework, we see the following shifts, with the “trend indicators” column showing features of higher education that point to the shift.

Recursive Publics: This term was coined by Christopher Kelty, who describes it at length in Two Bits (available for download, online browsing, and modulation for free online):

A recursive public is a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence as a public; it is a collective independent of other forms of constituted power and is capable of speaking to existing forms of power through the production of actually existing alternatives.

More to the point, a recursive public is a group of people who exist outside of traditional institutions (governments, churches, schools, corporations) and, when necessary, use this outsider status to hold these entities in check. The engagement of these publics goes far beyond simply protesting decisions or stating their opinions. Kelty, writing about geek culture as a recursive public, explains it thus:

Recursive publics seek to create what might be understood, enigmatically, as a constantly “self-leveling” level playing field. And it is in the attempt to make the playing field self-leveling that they confront and resist forms of power and control that seek to level it to the advantage of one or another large constituency: state, government, corporation, profession. It is important to understand that geeks do not simply want to level the playing field to their advantage—they have no affinity or identity as such. Instead, they wish to devise ways to give the playing field a certain kind of agency, effected through the agency of many different humans, but checked by its technical and legal structure and openness. Geeks do not wish to compete qua capitalists or entrepreneurs unless they can assure themselves that (qua public actors) that they can compete fairly. It is an ethic of justice shot through with an aesthetic of technical elegance and legal cleverness.

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