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iterating toward openness



pragmatism over zeal - aut inveniam viam aut faciam



Updated: 2017-09-08T15:57:45Z

 



Contribute a Short Video for #OpenEdMOOC

2017-09-08T15:57:45Z

As you may have heard, my fellow rabble-rouser George Siemens and I are doing a MOOC on open education that launches later this month on edX. Before you ask, let me preemptively answer a few questions. Yes, this MOOC actually is open – all the content will be viewable outside the edX platform and downloadable […]

As you may have heard, my fellow rabble-rouser George Siemens and I are doing a MOOC on open education that launches later this month on edX. Before you ask, let me preemptively answer a few questions.

  • Yes, this MOOC actually is open – all the content will be viewable outside the edX platform and downloadable under open licenses so as to be fully 5R-able,
  • yes, you can fully participate in the course for free, and
  • no, I don’t make any money should you choose to try for a Verified Certificate.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, George and I have a request. Would you be willing to make a 3 – 5 minute video sharing your perspectives and experiences regarding one or more of our weekly topics? We would love for our fellow course participants to hear a wide diversity of voices (rather than just suffering through ours all the time). The weekly topics are:

  • Week 1: Why Open Matters
  • Week 2: Copyright, the Public Domain, and the Commons
  • Week 3: The 5R’s, Creative Commons, and Open Licensing
  • Week 4: Creating, Finding and Using OERs
  • Week 5: Research on OER Impact and Effectiveness
  • Week 6: The Next Battle for Openness: Data, Algorithms, and Competency Mapping

If you’re willing to create a video or two (only one weekly topic per video, please!), here’s what to do. Post it somewhere public under an open license (e.g., post it on YouTube licensed CC BY). The send us a tweet using the course hashtag #openedmooc with a link to your video or drop the link in the comments below. If you do all this by the end of the day Sept 14, we’ll review your video, send it off for transcription, and get it integrated into the official course materials. The video will, of course, be attributed to you as required by the CC license – bringing you fame and glory beyond your wildest dreams. Or, at least, a few thousand views.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.




“Open” Through the Lens of Negative and Positive Liberty

2017-09-05T21:36:55Z

Reading through and pondering the reactions to what was apparently a wonderful ALTC keynote by Bonnie Stewart (UPDATE: here are her slides), I find myself reflecting on the ways my thinking about “open” is influenced by the ideas of negative liberty and positive liberty. This is certainly not the only lens through which I see […]Reading through and pondering the reactions to what was apparently a wonderful ALTC keynote by Bonnie Stewart (UPDATE: here are her slides), I find myself reflecting on the ways my thinking about “open” is influenced by the ideas of negative liberty and positive liberty. This is certainly not the only lens through which I see open, but I do feel like it is a useful one. As I understand it, negative liberty refers to the absence of external obstacles, barriers, roadblocks, hinderances, or constraints that interfere with my ability to accomplish my desires. My negative liberty is maximized when there is nothing in the law, in society, or elsewhere outside of me that prevents me from exercising my agency in order to accomplish my desires. Say, for example, that I want all my students to have access to the learning materials for my course, forever. In order to accomplish this goal, I decide to make photocopies of the required textbook and distribute these to students for free. Under normal circumstances, copyright law restricts me from making or distributing these copies. This external constraint decreases my negative liberty and prohibits me from accomplishing my desires. Positive liberty, as I understand it, refers to a person’s own knowledge, skills, and attitudes – their internal capacity to fulfill their own desires (once those external obstacles that decrease negative liberty have been removed). Say, for example, that I have adopted OER instead of a commercial textbook for my class. I want all my students to have access to the learning materials for the course, forever. In order to accomplish this goal, I decide to place a copy of the course materials on a public-facing website outside the LMS, where students will have ongoing access to them. However, I have no idea how to do this and so am unable to accomplish my desire. In this instance I had sufficient negative liberty (OER gave me the permissions necessary) but insufficient positive liberty (I was incapable of using the opportunity effectively). Someone who is more familiar with these terms may jump in and tell me I’m using them wrong. If I am, please do so! For now, I’ll press forward… We can define both negative and positive liberty as either absence or possession. Negative liberty is the absence of external obstacles like laws or policies. Positive liberty is the absence of internal obstacles like apathy or incompetence. Negative liberty is the possession of permission and opportunity. Positive liberty is the possession of capacity and capability. I very much think of open as operating in the realm of negative liberty. On reflection, this seems obvious since I think about open explicitly in terms of free permission to engage in the 5R activities. I think of open specifically as removing the barriers associated with copyright. Note that there are two obstacles associated with copyright. Permissions and cost (“free permission to engage in the 5R activities”). Strictly speaking, permission to engage in the 5R activities is available for every commercial textbook. And for that matter, these permissions are available for every motion picture, novel, and song. If you can afford the license. (Even Lucas will license the rights to Star Wars for the right price.) Thus, open overcomes both the obstacles of the (1) cost of permissions, and the consequent (2) lack of permissions, by providing free permission to engage in the 5R activities. To my mind, the purpose of education writ large is to increase positive liberty – to increase the capacities of people so that they are better able to exercise their agency in ways that will help them accompli[...]



Information Underload and OER Leverage

2017-07-20T19:07:28Z

I started to post this as a comment on Mike’s amazing essay Information Underload, but I’m going to put it here instead. Read Mike’s whole piece – it’s worth it. He writes: Endless thinkpieces have been written about the Netflix matching algorithm [including in education], but for many years that algorithm could only match you with […]I started to post this as a comment on Mike’s amazing essay Information Underload, but I’m going to put it here instead. Read Mike’s whole piece – it’s worth it. He writes: Endless thinkpieces have been written about the Netflix matching algorithm [including in education], but for many years that algorithm could only match you with the equivalent of the films in the Walmart bargain bin, because Netflix had a matching algorithm but nothing worth watching. (emphasis in original) Is this why OER repositories (and the learning object repositories that came before them) typically fail – because the resource you find is frequently no better than the resource you could have made yourself if you had just spent the time creating instead of searching? This contains echoes of the reusability paradox if you don’t understand that open licenses resolve the paradox. I suppose you could think about it from an information foraging perspective as well. But there’s some basic math around how we use time in relation to OER. If the time we spend searching for OER only turns up resources we could have created in roughly the same period of time, then there’s no advantage to OER. Being clear about that single point is super valuable. But Mike’s key insight here is that we shouldn’t try to solve this problem by decreasing mean time to discovery – we should solve it by increasing the value of the OER you eventually find. Perhaps we should call this “OER leverage” – the ratio of time spent searching for OER to the time saved by finding OER. As Mike says, “let’s belabor the point”: Spending 15 minutes searching only to find an OER you could have created in about 15 minutes = not very useful Spending 15 minutes searching and finding an OER that would have taken you 100 hours to create = very useful This kind of example makes it clear that working to decrease mean time to discovery is a fight of diminishing returns. If I’m going to mostly find resources I could have made in 15 – 30 minutes, how much time can I possibly save by decreasing mean time to discovery? (Answer: 15 – 30 minutes.) There’s an upper bound on the amount of leverage I can achieve by working this side of the problem, and it’s a pretty low one. But if I work the other side of the problem – creating larger, more useful OER – there’s an opportunity to create significant leverage. How much time do I save when I discover a comprehensive set of OER that I can use to replace an entire textbook? Mike continues, Since Netflix is a business and needs to survive, they decided not to pour the majority of their money into newer algorithms to better match people with the version of Big Momma’s House they would hate the least. Instead, they poured their money into making and obtaining things people actually wanted to watch, and as a result Netflix is actually useful now…. there is endless talk about the latest needle in a haystack finder, when what we are facing is a collapse of the market that funds the creation of needles. Netflix caught on. Let’s hope that the people who are funding cancer research and teaching students get a clue soon as well. I have a deep appreciation for metaphors and analogies that put complicated issues in a language that people can understand, and Mike really does this well. And I find it particularly delicious when someone else helps me understand my own work more clearly. Kim and I founded Lumen because we “caught on” in the same way that Netflix did. Rather than tryi[...]



What Difference Does It Make?

2017-07-12T05:36:54Z

Last week I shared a little of my thinking about the problems inherent in the way people in the field talk about OER. Primary among those problems is our bewildering refusal to talk about the permissions necessary to engage in the 5R activities. These permissions are a critical part of the definition of what it […] Last week I shared a little of my thinking about the problems inherent in the way people in the field talk about OER. Primary among those problems is our bewildering refusal to talk about the permissions necessary to engage in the 5R activities. These permissions are a critical part of the definition of what it means for a learning resource to be open. Second among the problems I discussed is our seeming inability to be clear about OER being free (the other critical part of the definition of what it means for a learning resource to be open), while services provided in conjunction with OER might cost money. Those problems manifested themselves plainly in my newsfeed this morning. Like they do every day. For example, here’s an upcoming webinar from Inside Higher Ed about “The OER Moment“: There’s a supposed definition of OER in the very first sentence, but there’s no mention of permissions anywhere. According to IHE, OER are nothing more than free online materials like a story you might read on the New York Times website or a photograph you might see on the National Geographic website – and they’re about to hold a webinar in which they’ll repeat this alternative fact to everyone attending. And it’s not IHE’s fault that they have this deeply impoverished view of OER – they’re learning about OER from us, the OER advocates. Or take this story from the Houston Chronicle: From the first word of the headline, we find ourselves back in the free versus affordable confusion. The OER produced by OpenStax are free – that’s why they’re OER. As a value-added service, OpenStax makes printed copies of their OER available for $30 – $60. That’s fairly cheap compared to what people pay for traditional textbooks, so in that light the headline sort of makes sense. But again, (1) there’s no mention of permissions anywhere and (2) we’ve confused the issue of what is free (the OER) and what is affordable (the service of printing). Publishers absolutely delight in this “cheap textbooks” framing of the OER message because (1) they can lower their prices so as to be competitive with “cheap” and (2) the language of “textbooks” sounds super 1960s while publishers are talking about systems that can provide students with an infinite amount of practice with immediate feedback. As a brief aside, we’re killing ourselves with the way we talk about formats, too. For example, take this quote from the article – “OpenStax textbooks … are available in digital PDF versions and cheaper $30 print editions.” Of course they’re available in other formats, too, but those formats are mostly useful for facilitating the 5R activities enabled by those permissions we keep ignoring. The notion that OER are either PDFs or printed materials perpetuates the feeling that the entire movement is way behind the times and gives publishers additional fodder to attack us. BTW, did you know that it’s entirely possible to implement some of the most basic insights from educational psychology – the very principles enacted in many of these online practice systems – in print? The spacing effect can be practiced using Leitner boxes, for example. (I’m not suggesting that we start selling supplementary shoe boxes and index cards, I just thought you might find it interesting.) I know you shake your head in genuine wonder, asking yourself “Why does he care? What difference does it make which words we use? Nobody cares about permissions! Doesn’t he get sick of writing t[...]



The Sleight of Hand of “Free” vs “Affordable”

2017-06-30T18:57:31Z

In a recent webinar about OER, organized by one of the major textbook publishers, there was a lot of conversation about whether OER are “free” or “affordable.” This conversation was problematic in two ways. Before I begin though, just to be clear, allow me to reaffirm that OER are free, plain and simple, full stop, […]In a recent webinar about OER, organized by one of the major textbook publishers, there was a lot of conversation about whether OER are “free” or “affordable.” This conversation was problematic in two ways. Before I begin though, just to be clear, allow me to reaffirm that OER are free, plain and simple, full stop, period. That is literally part of the definition of OER. OER = free + permissions. Problem the First The first problem with the conversation about “free” vs “affordable” is this: it conflates OER (which are definitely free) with value-added services offered in conjunction with OER. We all use one or more of these value-added services as we provide OER to students, but frequently we background the costs associated with some of them (engaging in what Thaler called “mental accounting“). For example, we charge students a mandatory fee to pay for the campus LMS (from which OER are often provided) but tend to ignore that platform expenditure when we think about the cost of OER to students. Some of these value-added services do a better job of improving student learning than others. Some are better aligned with the values of the open education community than others. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Lumen falls into this category of providing value-added services around OER.) We should never conflate the cost of value-added services offered in conjunction with OER with the cost of the OER itself. Once they have been produced and openly licensed, OER are free to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. The platforms from which they are provided, the tools for revising and remixing and attributing, the time and expertise to vet licenses and confirm attribution, the data collection and analysis necessary to drive meaningful continuous improvement of the resources, the actual maintenance and improvement of the resources over time, faculty training and teacher professional development, and a whole host of other OER-related services may or may not be free, affordable, or insanely expensive. Reasonable people might argue over whether the added cost of paying for a particular value-added service actually results in additional value proportional to the cost. I believe this question to be critically important, and have been shouting from the rooftops for years about the need to talk about “learning outcomes per dollar,” maybe in terms of an OER Impact Factor. I would strongly argue that many of these value-added services are worth paying for (though maybe not as much as they currently cost). And these are empirical questions for which we can go find (and publish) answers. But a conversation about the ROI of a value-added service only makes sense if you cleanly separate out the OER, which is free, from the value-added service, which costs money. Conversations about “whether OER should be free or affordable” completely fail to make this important distinction. Problem the Second The second, and larger, problem with the free versus affordable debate is that it’s a decoy. A distraction. A first class, super skillful, street corner magician “look over here so you don’t see what’s happening over there” sleight of hand. When OER advocates say “free” and publishers say “affordable,” launching into an argument about the distance between those two positions (and obfuscating the difference between OER and value-added services), it’s an easy debate to get lost in. Certainly interesting enough to consume your attention for an entire webinar[...]



JSON Feed

2017-05-24T18:27:14Z

This is just a quick note to say that if you’re following the work being done on JSON feeds (as a compliment to – or potential replacement for – RSS), I’ve activated JSON feeds on opencontent.org. If you want to try reading Iterating Toward Openness that way, you can access this new feed at https://opencontent.org/blog/feed/json.

This is just a quick note to say that if you’re following the work being done on JSON feeds (as a compliment to – or potential replacement for – RSS), I’ve activated JSON feeds on opencontent.org. If you want to try reading Iterating Toward Openness that way, you can access this new feed at https://opencontent.org/blog/feed/json.




TULIP: the Theoretical Upper Limit of Impact of Products

2017-05-03T20:43:47Z

Today and tomorrow I’m at the EdTech Efficacy Research Academic Symposium in Washington, DC. The conversations here have been wonderful and have reminded me of something… For many years, several friends and I have argued about the following question: After accounting for all other differences – differences in a student’s age, race, gender, income, and […]

Today and tomorrow I’m at the EdTech Efficacy Research Academic Symposium in Washington, DC. The conversations here have been wonderful and have reminded me of something…

For many years, several friends and I have argued about the following question:

After accounting for all other differences – differences in a student’s age, race, gender, income, and prior academic success; differences in school environments; differences in teachers; differences in support available from friends, family, and other out-of-school sources; &c. – what is the theoretical upper limit on the impact a specific textbook, digital learning platform, or other edtech product can have on educational measures we care about (e.g., final grade, completion rate, time to graduation, satisfaction, etc.)?

If we don’t have a notion of the maximum potential impact these kinds of tools can have on measures we care about, how can we judge their effectiveness? For example, if the upper bound is +0.43 letter grades then we would interpret a product achieving a lift of +0.2 letter grades in one way. But if the the upper bound is actually +1.7 letter grades, we would interpret that same lift of +0.2 letter grades in an entirely different way.

While it’s interesting – and even useful – to compare the measures (like final grade) associated with different products, it feels like this work is ungrounded in a way that unsettles me.

I have some thoughts on the topic, but right now am just putting this out there and wondering what other people think…




OER-Enabled Pedagogy

2017-05-02T17:19:16Z

Over the last several weeks there has been an incredible amount of writing about open pedagogy and open educational practices (samples collected here by Maha). There have been dozens of blog posts. Countless tweets. There was a well-attended (and well-viewed) conversation via Google Hangout. At the Hewlett OER Meeting last week over a dozen people […]Over the last several weeks there has been an incredible amount of writing about open pedagogy and open educational practices (samples collected here by Maha). There have been dozens of blog posts. Countless tweets. There was a well-attended (and well-viewed) conversation via Google Hangout. At the Hewlett OER Meeting last week over a dozen people spent another hour talking about the issue during the unconference time. There were additional conversations on the topic during walks through the incredibly beautiful countryside outside Toronto. I had particularly helpful talks with John Hilton and Rajiv Jhangiani – but don’t blame them if you don’t like what you read below. I’m convinced that the terms “open pedagogy” and “open educational practices” are understood so differently by so many people that there is literally no hope of achieving a useful consensus about the meaning of either of these terms. Some definitions are centered on OER. Some are centered on the public, linkable nature of the “open web.” Some are centered on social justice. Some are centered on collaboration. Some are centered on innovation. Some are centered on learner empowerment. Some are exercises in the permutations of these. There have even been arguments made that a clear definition would somehow be antithetical to the ideal of open. As I said, there appears to be no consensus coming for the meaning of either of these terms. For my own personal purposes of writing, researching, and advocating, the absence of a shared understanding of these terms removes any utility I previously hoped they had. Consequently, I don’t think I’ll use these terms any longer or participate in the discussion about their meanings going forward. Others will doubtless continue this deeply interesting conversation and I wish them well as they do – I am in no way criticizing them as I withdraw from these conversations. My curiosity in this space has always been about understanding something very specific. As I’ve described it many times: We learn by the things we do. Copyright restricts what we are permitted to do. Consequently, copyright restricts the ways we are permitted to learn. Open removes these restrictions, permitting us to do new things. Consequently, open permits us to learn in new ways. What teaching and learning practices are possible (or practical) in the context of OER that aren’t possible when you don’t have permission to engage in the 5R activities? What are the impacts on learners and teachers of engaging in these practices? That is what I want to understand. And I need something to call that so I can talk about it, research it, write about it, and advocate for it. I need a completely empty phrase that I can fill with my specific meaning so that there can be no confusion about definitions when the term is used. After brainstorming, gathering some feedback, and running some Google searches, I’ve decided on the term “OER-enabled pedagogy.” Google has no record of this phrase ever being used, so it should serve my purposes of both conveying my intended meaning and avoiding argument. Here’s the definition of “OER-enabled pedagogy”: OER-enabled pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities. As for usage, the phrase “OER-enabled pedagogy” can be used as-is to talk about how th[...]



Wandering Through the “Open Pedagogy” Maze

2017-04-25T18:22:19Z

Some random thoughts emerging in my mind as a result of yesterday’s wonderful conversation on “open pedagogy.” Don’t work too hard to figure out how they’re supposed to connect up. What we do with tools and resources is more important than the tools and resources themselves. However, without tools and resources there is precious little […]Some random thoughts emerging in my mind as a result of yesterday’s wonderful conversation on “open pedagogy.” Don’t work too hard to figure out how they’re supposed to connect up. What we do with tools and resources is more important than the tools and resources themselves. However, without tools and resources there is precious little we can do. Many (e.g., Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Wertsch) have argued persuasively that learning is mediated. Some have argued (again, I think persuasively) that the primary tool that mediates learning is language. Whether learning is being supported through conversation, lecture, argument, video, adaptive courseware, plain old textbook, or Google Hangout, words are absolutely critical to supporting learning. There are two times we can experience words. We can be present when they are uttered (e.g., conversation, lecture, argument, Google Hangout), or we can experience them afterward as a recorded artifact (e.g., video, courseware, textbook). There is one level of privilege associated with being in the room or on the Hangout as the conversation happens. There is another level of privilege associated with having access to the recordings (written, video, audio, or otherwise) of the conversation. There is another level of privilege associated with a complete lack of access to the conversation, whether synchronous or asynchronous. It is broadly understood that the ideas conveyed by words (like the second law of thermodynamics, or the role that tools and resources play in mediating learning) cannot be controlled or copyrighted, but a specific expression of an idea (your way of explaining it) can. Actually, “can” is too weak an expression. We should say a specific expression of an idea – your way of explaining it – is copyrighted and controlled. The overwhelming majority of the world is subject to the Berne Convention (see this map), the TRIPS Agreement (see this map), and other instruments that automatically protect creative expression if it is captured in any form, whether you want that protection or not. Here levels of privilege become important again. Those who are privileged to be in the room for the conversation are not constrained in the same way as those less privileged persons whose only access to the conversation is via recorded (and copyrighted) artifact. The defense that “ideas aren’t copyrightable” is a complete copout. If those uncopyrightable ideas can only ever be made available to the less privileged majority of the public as recorded specific (and hence copyrighted) expressions, then what’s the difference? To say that words play a mediating role in learning is to suggest that we must be able to pick them up and use them. They mediate nothing left lying inert on the table, and only come to life as our actions give them life. In many ways, the great arguments over alternative forms of pedagogy have been fought largely over what to do with the tools and resources that mediate learning. But it’s hard to use verbs when you don’t have access to nouns. Inasmuch as copyright prohibits certain kinds of activity (without the usually lengthy and costly acquisition of additional permissions), copyright limits the ways in which tools and resources are allowed to mediate learning. That is to say, not only does copyright limit learning by making access to ideas artificially scarce (e.g., creating situations in which t[...]



When Opens Collide

2017-04-24T14:31:33Z

In my recent post How is Open Pedagogy Different?, I defined open pedagogy as ”the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions” – a definition I have been using in my writing and public speaking since I first blogged about open pedagogy back in 2013 […]In my recent post How is Open Pedagogy Different?, I defined open pedagogy as ”the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions” – a definition I have been using in my writing and public speaking since I first blogged about open pedagogy back in 2013 (except there were only 4Rs back then). Although none of my other posts or talks on this topic over the past four years managed to, How is Open Pedagogy Different? elicited quite a response. Many of these responses were deeply interesting and informative. For example, I learned that when I first started writing about open pedagogy in 2013, I made the cardinal mistake of not checking to see if the term might have a long history of use by others in a context completely outside the one I was writing about. It does. Oops. However, this is not actually what led to the strong reaction to my post. As I continue to ponder the Twitter conversations with Mike, Robin, Maha, and others, as well as what’s been written on blogs like those by Clint (which came before mine) and Jim (which came after), it appears that what is happening is that the “open” in open education is colliding with the “open” in open web. As I’ve written about at some length before, whether you’re talking about open content, open educational resources, open access (to research), open data, open knowledge, open source, or open standards, in all of these contexts “open” means: Free access to the content, resource, journal article, data, knowledge artifact, software, or standard, and A formal grant of rights and permissions giving back to the user many of the rights and permissions copyright normally reserves exclusively for the creator or other rights holder. The consensus in these contexts that open = free + permissions is extraordinarily strong. However, it turns out that this consensus is separate from the “open” in “open web.” One of the most influential descriptions of the open web was written by Tantek back in 2010. You should really read the whole article to get the nuance of his argument. He closes by saying: And that’s my rough working definiton [sic] of what is the open web. In summary: open content and application publishing open ability to code and implement the standards that such content depends on open access to content, web-applications , web standards implementations (browsers), and the internet. In other words, an “open web” is a web on which: You don’t need anyone’s permission to publish any content or create any web app you want to (like my blog or Amazon.com) You don’t need anyone’s permission to write code that conforms to or implements relevant standards (like web servers or browsers) You have access to all the content, web apps, and tools because all content / traffic is treated equally (net neutrality) Tantek’s vision of an open web is closely related to Adam Thierer’s notion of “permissionless innovation.” Permissionless innovation is the ability to create and invent without seeking and obtaining prior approval, allowing “the creativity of the human mind to run wild in its inherent curiosity and inventiveness.” Imagine, for example, that you want to start your own radio station. The FCC has a few forms for you to fill out before you begin. Or perhaps you want to start your own television channel. The FCC isn’t even accepting applications for new television stations currently. Compare this ripe-w[...]