Friday, June 1, 2012

Open Course Ware

ocw consortium home pageWhen MIT launched it's Open Courseware project in 2001, Charles Vest, then President of MIT, described it as a "web based program that will provide free access to primary materials for virtually every course at MIT." He explained that they expected this project to provide benefit to the public by raising the quality of learning for all but also benefit MIT itself by helping attract students and allow more focus on human interaction which he called the "core of learning." He also expressed his hope that it would inspire other institutions to follow suit and share their materials as well.

Over 10 years on, this hope is now a reality with the Open Courseware Consortium now made up of nearly 300 members.  They recently held a conference in Cambridge which I was unable to attend but which I followed via twitter and the web.  I collected some highlights into the following Storify:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A First Encounter with Dave Snowden

by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE via flickr
Dave Snowden is a heavyweight and I mean that in the gravitational sense of influencing the trajectories of those he encounters.  After  listening to the recording the of the #change11 session he conducted for this week with no more preparation than a cursory glance at the wikipedia page about him I find myself reeling from the cognitive onslaught.

While effective synthesis of the ideas he presented will require some mental digesting on my part, there were several gems that I thought would be worthwhile sharing right away so here are a some excerpts from my notes that are loosely quoted from his session:

Failure is better than success in learning, it’s easier to remember
There’s too much focus on specialization and a loss of generalists needed for synthesizing diverse knowledge bases in a complex world with high levels of uncertainty.
The problem with the education system is that we’re training recipe book users when we need chefs.
When asked what to do about this practically when the current education system inherently requires pre-defined outcomes thereby eliminating originality, he said: 
“deception is the heart of innovation in any system.”
The human brain is a pattern processing intelligence... it has evolved from messy coherence not structured order.
Starvation, pressure, and .perspective shift produce innovation which then produces creativity
If it’s a complex problem, then bring in multiply diverse teams with ritual dissent to produce multiply parallel safe-to-fail experiments.  Managers fail if half of the experiments aren’t failing.
“cynical stories around the water coolers produce the most learning in organizations”

His final words for the session were “don’t give up on formal education but for gods sake interact with the real world and read outside your subject.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Open Content

(c) Express Syndication LTD, British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, carl Gile, Daily Express, 1981.
In my last post, I said that the power of the Creative Commons licensing was it's simplicity of use for the creator and re-user of a work.  While this is true in some instances, challenges still abound.  One issue is that educational resources rarely exist in a vacuum. I recently attended a workshop on Open Educational Resources for Higher Education and one of the presentations was about a University that had received grant money to license some of their courses as OER using creative commons.  What they found was that it took a tremendous amount of work to check each and every aspect of the course to make sure it could actually be licensed this way.  In many cased there were questions about photos or graphics used in presentations.  Questions arose about the ownership of work done by academic staff. They needed buy-in at every level of the institution to succeed.

One issue arises from the fact that teaching already uses all kinds of content is already considered free or open in some form or fashion.  There are a lot of cases that could be considered grey or fuzzy about what a license actually allows, especially when it comes to non-commercial, educational use, not to mention fair use in the US. Don't think that you can clear this up by asking a lawyer either, the IP lawyer in attendance at the workshop was practically reduced to speaking in riddle.

David Wiley calls material that is in allowed to re-used to some degree Open Content and that is one of the topics covered in the Introduction to Openness in Education course that has just started.

In practice, what it comes down to is that if someone wants to stop you from using their copyrighted material, they will take (or more likely start by threatening to take) legal action against you. In my opinion, this puts the burden on us all to exercise our rights if for no other reason than to map these legal boundaries. There are clearly some cases that are morally wrong- to profit from someone else's work to their detriment is a clear example.  For non-commercial use, it's hard to see the harm and for educational use it easy to see some good. The question becomes about risk and, unfortunately, Universities are likely to be very risk averse.

One other consideration in an educational setting is modelling behaviour for the students.  However, I think this applies both to a respect for the law as well as need to civically engage, exercise rights and challenge unjust and unfair law.

So, a real world example is the cartoon above which is copyrighted but has been cleared for educational use by the British Cartoon Archive.  The fuzzy area is when you try to determine exactly how educational use is defined. Think about these examples of use and try to figure out where to draw the educational use line:

  • a teacher shows the cartoon to a class during a lecture
  • that lecture is put on the VLE for the students to download
  • the lecture is recorded and the video is put onto Itunes U. or Youtube Ed
  • the cartoon is posted on the schools public website
  • The instructor's presentation is put onto slideshare
  • a student uses the cartoon the in their own blog (which is about their studies and even part of an assessed project)
The biggest issue would seem to come down to possible commercial use of the photo. I'm the student in the last example, and I'm relatively certain that this is an appropriate use (especially given the nature of the comic!) but it is certainly possible that Express Syndication LTD could disagree.

There are plenty of really interesting dimensions of these issue to explore such as the history and purpose of copyright in the first place, the way the issue is impacting the music, film, and publishing industries, the tension between artists rights and corporations who often hold the copyrights of the artists work, and other examples of strange enforcement and challenge of it.  For now, I want to just give one more example that follows very nicely along the theme of the cartoon.

No image uploaded here, just using a url
Just in case you live under a rock, the Far Side is a comic strip created by Gary Larson and which, according to wikipedia, "was carried by more than 1,900 daily newspapers, translated into 17 languages, and collected into calendars and 22 compilation books.[1]"

First off, let me say that Larson is a hero and has probably brought as many smiles and laughs into this world as is humanly possible. For over a decade you could barely find a school hallway or refrigerator that wasn't adorned by his fabulous work.

Wikipedia also says "It is difficult to find many Far Side cartoons online, since Larson, his publishers, and lawyers have successfully persuaded people not to infringe on his copyright." Which is absolute rubbish since if you do a google image search for the farside, almost all the images that come up for first several pages are his comics, and even on page 20 it's still about half and half. The persuasion bit refers to the following letter:
I'm walking a fine line here.

On the one hand, I confess to finding it quite flattering that some of my fans have created web sites displaying and / or distributing my work on the Internet. And, on the other, I'm struggling to find the words that convincingly but sensitively persuade these Far Side enthusiasts to "cease and desist" before they have to read these words from some lawyer.

What impact this unauthorized use has had (and is having) in tangible terms is, naturally, of great concern to my publishers and therefore to me -- but it's not the focus of this letter. My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control.

Years ago I was having lunch one day with the cartoonist Richard Guindon, and the subject came up how neither one of us ever solicited or accepted ideas from others. But, until Richard summed it up quite neatly, I never really understood my own aversions to doing this: ''It's like having someone else write in your diary, he said. And how true that statement rang with me . In effect, we drew cartoons that we hoped would be entertaining or, at the very least, not boring; but regardless, they would always come from an intensely personal, and therefore original perspective.

To attempt to be "funny" is a very scary, risk-laden proposition. (Ask any stand-up comic who has ever "bombed" on stage.) But if there was ever an axiom to follow in this business, it would be this: be honest to yourself and -- most important -- respect your audience.

So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my "children," of sorts, and like a parent, I'm concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone's web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, "Uh, Dad, you're not going to like this much, but guess where I am."

I hope my explanation helps you to understand the importance this has for me, personally, and why I'm making this request.

Please send my "kids" home. I'll be eternally grateful. 

Most respectfully, 
Gary Larson

Open Licensing

I was excited to learn that David Wiley is starting up the winter 2012 Introduction to Openness in Education course.  I first encountered Wiley via his facilitation of week5 of the  #change11 mooc. Last week he announced on his blog that he is now the Senior Fellow for Open Education at the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, also known as Digital Promise. Congratulations to him, and to educators and learners everywhere that will hopefully benefit from the work that he does in this position.

I learned a lot about the history of open learning from his week of #change11 and I highly recommend an article he wrote called The OpenCourse Wars (be sure to click the link at the bottom to read the remainder of the chapter) though I have to admit that I was rather naive when I read it and had to spend considerable amount of time afterwards trying to sort out where fact ends and fiction begins.

The class that he is starting up now is a refined version of a course he has taught before and it is breaking new ground in how an online course can be delivered openly. Anyone can sign up and contribute the course and he has incorporated an assessment system that utilizes badges that look like they will make the course fun in addition to be informative.  Look out for the #ioe12 hashtag that is associated with it.

The first topic in the course is Open Licensing which is a critical issue underlying the open educational theory and practice. Wiley himself was quite involved with the conception and development of the Creative Commons (CC) licenses drawing significant inspiration from the Open Source software movement which is the next topic in the course.  

The Creative Commons License provide an easy and legally legitimate way for anyone to maintain ownership of their creative work while at the same time allowing for it's free use by others within a choice of parameters about whether or not it  requires an attribute, can be used commercially, and/or can be adapted and reused.

CC Monitor Project
The power of this licensing system is in it's relative simplicity and especially ease of use for the creator and future users. The first set of CC licenses were release almost 10 years ago in December 2002 and there are now estimated to be over 450 million works using the license. These licenses have empowered an entire movement for Open Educational Resources, another topic that is covered later in this course.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Notes and Thoughts About the Future of Higher Education

This week's #change11 topic is the 21st Century University and it is being facilitated by Valerie Irvine and Jillianne Code from the Technology Integration and Evaluation (TIE) Research Lab at the University of Victoria. At yesterday's session they described the challenges their institution is facing and some of the strategies they are using to deal with them.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik
The challenges that they talked about included diminishing funding, decreasing 18 to 22 y.o. demographic, increased competition from more degree granting institutions, and more online programs.  They also talked about changes in what students want and expect from a University, specifically mentioning a demand for more choice and flexibility in how they complete their studies.

In response to these challenges, U. of Victoria is trying to attract more students by offering more choice in terms of what type of learning students can sign up for. This effort includes enhancements to the registration system and more online learning options so that the choice includes face to face, video conferencing, online, and blended options.

Enhanced technology are a big part of both of these efforts.  One aspect of this has been designing learning spaces conducive to video conferencing and blended online approaches.  There have also been upgrades to the registration system to make it easy for the learners to choose what types of courses they want. The goal here is to empower the student by giving them control and choice when it comes to the type of courses they enroll in.

In our next session, we're going to learn more about the new video conferencing tool they are using which is called Bluejeans.  One aspect they are excited about is that it is compatible with mobile devices. The plan is to give #change11 participants a chance to try it out.

I enjoyed the session, Jillianne and Valerie are energetic presenters and have a lot of enthusiasm for their project. It was refreshing to have a very concrete project as a focal point for the week, while the broader discussion that they have started about the future of the University in general is also very interesting.

As I thought about the question they posed in their initial blog post, I starting wondering about the long term effects of distance learning technologies.  There are two very different sides to this question.  What is good for students and what is good for the institutions is not necessarily the same thing.  At the core of the University as an institution is research and teaching but the student experience, especially for 18 to 22 year olds who generate most of the revenue (is that true?) learning is only a very small of the experience. Semi-independent living (often for the first time) is probably one of the biggest undertakings for these students. Socializing probably consumes twice as much time as studying.  And consider sports, many students are funded via sports scholarships and the teams they're on are just as important to them as the classes they are taking.

On the other hand, at the end of the day (or ~4 years) the degree they leave with is based solely on their academic performance and doesn't particularly take into account their social or athletic achievements.  Yet, a large part of the ostensible value in the degree is for employability and on that front, the social aspects might be just as valuable, if not greater.

What this line of thinking led me to was the idea that perhaps many of the non academic functions of a University could or should be separated out.  If a big University hit a financial wall, could an investor (or step in and create a totally different business model (or perhaps a cooperative be formed.) Young people could sign up to join in a communal living situation with all the great aspects of campus life minus the learning, which they could access online by their choice of method.

So, that's my off the cuff idea- any thoughts?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Attention Probes for Net Smarts

This week, Howard Rheingold was the facilitator for #change11 ( #change12 yet?) and has led two excellent sessions related to the ideas from his upcoming book about social media literacies.  This fits right into my favorite emerging theme of #change11- learning to learn.  He identified 5 key areas that are important for all learners to navigate the pervasive seas of networked continuously connected people and knowledge.
courtesy of Nanette Saylor via flickr

The first skill he talked about is attention.  I really appreciated this idea and the examples of how to view attention as a skill that can be developed in respect to social media.  It could be argued that attention is the fundamental building block of reality. Observation, which is a form of attention, is tied very closely with reality at the quantum physics level. Often, our attention shifts very quickly with us even being aware of it.

So what makes it a crucial skill in the world of social media? We have a limited supply of attention and there's a seemingly infinite amount of information and potential for connecting with people which means we have to make choices about what to pay attention to.  The nature of our networked, always on technologies mean that we often have multiple activities vying for attention at any one time.   Although Howard's review of the research suggests that although most people are not effective multitaskers, he wonders about those that are. Undeniably, multi-tasking is becoming more acceptable in many situations as social norms evolve to adapt to ever present mobile technologies so Howard has been working on ways to develop the skill of attention.

To this end, he has created what he calls attention probes which he describes as ways of becoming aware of where you are deploying your attention. He enlisted the help of some colleagues and students to develop and try some different ways of doing this. The most basic exercise he introduced was simply  asking everyone to close their eyes and remain silent for a few minutes while observing their thoughts.  This is a basic form of meditation.  Howard also referred to it as a form of metacognition.

Some other examples of attention probes that Howard described include ringing a bell at random intervals which signals each person to take note of whether or not they were thinking about the material being covered.  Each person places a color coded sticky note on a sheet to denote whether their attention was on task, on something tangentially related, or unrelated. In another example, each time the instructor held a pen in their left hand, each person would put their thumb on their desktop.

Making judgements about the quality of what you're paying attention to is what Howard calls crap detection.  It's his second social media literacy and here's a great blog post he wrote about it. The other literacies he talked about were participation, collaboration, and network know-how.

Going Off the Record at #durbbu

Why Not  Record It All?

photo by Dustin Baxter via flickr
Ray Land delivered the second keynote of the Blackboard Users Conference today giving a great presentation about the imperatives and risks of Open Education in a world being transformed by speed. Yesterday, Grainne Conole gave us a tour of the open educational horizon in the context of using the VLE as a way of encourgaing educators to enhance their teaching ( here are her slides)

Both of the presentations were so rich that I know I would benefit from being able to review them again.  I just had the chance to speak with Malcolm Murray, one of the conference organizers about why the keynotes are not recorded.

Although there are some issues with copyright and licensing that arise with the use of borrowed images and embedded youtube videos, Malcolm suggested a deeper reason as well. The act of recording changes behaviours.  Not only does it have the potential to greatly expand the size of the audience, it can also have an inhibiting effect discouraging speaking freely and being critical. So going off the record can contribute to special type of environment, especially in today's world of near ubiquitous surveillance.

I actually heard in mentioned in a session here that a University is considering recording all lectures by default and making them available to the students.  While there is an obvious benefit in for the student's access to the lectures, would it truly be outweighed by the potentially stifling effects?

So, while it's a loss that these keynotes will not be widely shared as video recordings, perhaps they were of a higher quality for taking place in this "special" type of environment.  I'll take some time to reflect on them here in the future as will many of the other attendees I'm sure.

In the mean time, here's a sample from Ray Land: