OER, CARE, Stewardship, and the Commons

 

Lisa Petrides, Douglas Levin, and C. Edward Watson recently released the CARE Framework, but apparently some people, David Wiley in particular, don’t care for the framework.  Stephen Downes has already I think responded in two brief posts here and here. Stephen’s posts are brief and I think pretty spot-on. Nonetheless, I’ll soldier on and try to use a couple thousand words to say the same thing.

I find the Framework both exciting and timely. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been making up for lost time studying the economics of the commons. In particular, I’ve been deep into Elinor and Vince Ostrom’s work, as well as David Bollier’s work.  The Framework doesn’t explicitly state that it is about a “commons” but that’s what they are describing. A commons. A true commons as Elinor and Vince Ostrom would describe it.

OER Stewardship consists of Contributing, Attributing, Releasing, and Empowering

The CARE Framework for OER Stewardship

People serving as OER stewards pursue a wide variety of strategies and tactics relevant to their specific context to improve access to education and opportunity over time. Yet, what all good OER stewards should have in common is a commitment to practices that serve to demonstrate their duty of care to the broader OER movement.

The Framework is a great start towards a community definition of our own Open Education Commons. I hope to make more contributions along these lines this year. It’s part of what I will talk about at OER18 and OE Global18, and it’s what I’m drafting papers and posts about.

The CARE Framework emphasizes “membership” and “stewardship”.  It uses words like contribute, attribute, release, and empower.  These are verbs.  The commons is a verb.  A commons is all about governance, behavior, social norms, production, and usage. It is a social-economic system. It is not a pool of objects or nouns that a bunch of people share.

Wiley dismisses this. He makes a nod towards Elinor Ostrom and tries to cite her work on the commons as supporting his.  He misses. It may be a compliment to Ostrom.

The CARE Framework attempt to define membership boundaries in what I’ll call the open education commons (I have good reason to say OE commons, not OER commons – bear with me).  Wiley admits that defining group boundaries is Ostrom’s first principle of managing a commons. But he dismisses the Framework and any effort to define group membership, and thereby any behavioral norms, by denying that we should even consider OER as a commons. It’s here where he abandons Ostrom and returns to the old “tragedy of the commons” analogy. He invokes the idea that commons thinking and commons ideas only apply if we’re discussing physical, natural common pool resources. He asserts that rivalrous goods are necessary for such common pool resources and then asserts OER are not rivalrous goods.

Indeed, he sets up a straw man using the old Garrett Hardin story of the tragedy of the commons wherein a “commons” is defined to be  = open, unlimited access to a scarce, limited natural resource.  The analysis is static and he gets lost in the terminology.

The first problem is that common pool resource(s) are not the same as a commons. That’s Ostrom 101. It’s difficult to read Ostrom or listen to her (fortunately there are many extant videos online of her lectures) and not discover the fatal flaw in Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” story of over-grazing (or over-fishing or over-hunting). Hardin’s “tragedy” describes a common pool resource where there was no commons structure or social norms governing behavior.  It did not describe real-life commons scenarios.  Ostrom studied real-life cases. In the Hardin “tragedy” it’s unlimited access by strictly self-interested, socially-detached, profit-maximizing individuals that did not practice stewardship. Interestingly, Wiley denies there’s any possibility of “tragedy” of OER commons while he advocates for OER precisely the hypothetical regime of Hardin’s “tragedy”: unlimited use of CC licensed educational materials without consideration for community norms or commons governance or stewardship or recognition of being in a “community”.

The second problem is Wiley’s assertion that OER materials are “non-rivalrous”. Wiley supposes lack of rivalry in OER goods inoculates OER from any of the risks of unsustainabilty or failure of what I’ll call the OE commons. Here we’ve got three sub-issues: Are non-rivalrous goods exempt from concerns of sustainability?  Are OER non-rivalrous and cost-free to reproduce? And finally, just what is the scarce resource jeapardizing sustainability?

Wiley is dead wrong in his assertion that non-rivalrous goods are the only subjects of common pool resource concerns or commons concerns. He implies that Ostrom and her work on the commons only applies to rivalrous goods like natural resources (even here, not all natural resources are rivalrous. Rivalry in goods is contextual and depends on demand, supply, and property regimes). It is true that knowledge and ideas are non-rivalrous. But even non-rivalrous goods can be managed quite successfully as a commons and can also face challenges of sustainability and governance. Ostrom co-authored and co-edited Understanding Knowledge as a Commons. Her work inspired the Workshop on Governing Knowledge Commons. It’s a gross misrepresentation to suggest that Ostrom’s work on commons governance and membership applies only to natural resource pools that are rivalrous. Even non-rivalrous goods face challenges of sustainability that need to be addressed by commons stewardship.

But let’s look at Wiley’s assertion that OER materials are non-rivalrous. His evidence for this is based on the tired canard that making digital copies is virtually free and we can make unlimited copies.  But even in an all digital document file world (and not all OER are digital document files) the cost of copying is not zero. Disks, networks, computers, software all have costs of both acquisition and maintenance. They also bring questions of privilege and access. The marginal cost of copying may be very, very small. But marginal cost isn’t the end all of the analysis as any good economist knows. OER reproduction is not cost-free. To have a very, very low marginal cost still requires substantial investment in infrastructure, fixed costs, and sunk costs. Further, just how does one costlessly copy a digital OER resource and avail themselves of all the 5 R’s when the source code files for the website aren’t provided or come in such a format that discourages it. Ask the many faculty who have tried to download, edit, and remix some OpenStax texts. Time is a cost too. Wiley himself sees this when elsewhere he argues that very few have the resources or luxury to contribute to the “hard, frequently painful, and seldom recognized work associated with stewardship.” Clearly OER materials are not cost-less to reproduce and that alone means we must be concerned with sustainability and behavioral norms of stewardship.

A great deal of confusion in thinking about OER sustainability – or what I prefer to think of as sustainability of the OE commons – comes from confusion in terms. In particular we’re confused about “resources”.  We use the word resource in OER and then we encounter research about the commons and CPR’s, common pool resources, and confusion ensues. Economically, a resource is something that is necessary for the production of other more economically valued goods or experiences. Resources do not have to be physical objects. The traditional taxonomy is land, labor, and capital, although I think most economists today would not object to adding knowledge in some form to that mix. In economic terms, what we call OER’s are resources used as part of the teaching process that produces some learning.

Note: Please bear with me, my critical pedagogy folk. I’m applying economics to teaching here at a very abstract, general level. I am not embracing learning outcomes, learning analytics, or engineered corporate “learning” experiences. Teachers who  engage pedagogies and activities that result in student agency or transformation can still be viewed as a production process in the abstract even if it’s artisanal, unpredictable, and unmeasurable.

Yes, teaching materials such as textbooks, quizzes, images, and software are resources in the teaching or educational process. They are one of the resources. If those materials are free to access, to use, to revise, to adapt, etc, then we call them OER.  The use of the word “resource” is legit in this context. However, are these resources fit for purpose? And by fit for purpose, I mean are do they synergistically amplify the most critical resource of the process, the labor and knowledge of the teacher?  To make them truly fit for purpose requires engaging the 5 R’s. We must remix, revise, redistribute, and edit. It is not enough to have or use an OER with permissions for 5 R’s if we do not or cannot actually do them. I may have the right or permission to vote, but if I do not actually vote that right is meaningless.  To actually revise, remix, redistribute, or edit OER’s requires additional resources.

The critical resources necessary for OER are people’s time and expertise. This is true for both the creation of those mass distribution OER’s such as general ed course textbooks and the materials as used in each class. I think of the textbooks as wholesale or bulk OER’s that need further processing and supplementation to be most effective in any particular course. And who provides these critical resources of time and expertise for creation, editing, remixing, revising, and redistribution? The most critical source is faculty.  Is faculty time non-rivalrous? Hardly.

Accepting the economics definition of scarcity as “unlimited wants and limited resources”, we must conclude faculty time is scarce. It is valuable. Faculty make choices of how to use their time. They can choose to spend time creating, editing, revising, remixing, and sharing OER materials, or they can spend their time in a myriad of other ways.

While OER materials are indeed resources in the context of teaching, in the context of our discussions of sustainability, they are not. OER materials are not resources and not the commons or the CPR itself. OER are the fruits of the an open education commons that utilizes a common pool resource of faculty time and expertise to produce them.  If we think of it this way, we see why stewardship, the CARE Framework, and Ostrom’s principles are so important.

OER materials are not some static, ever growing pool of materials that can endlessly and costlessly be copied, reproduced, and used. That OER textbook written two years ago? It might be out of date now. Who is going to edit and update it? Who cares if I can copy that text from a decade ago? Maybe OER’s cannot be over-used as David Wiley states, but they can certainly be under-produced. Under-production will lead to tragedy of the open education commons as surely as over-grazing might lead to failure of a pasture commons.

Why would faculty devote their scarce time to OER? Why should they take time to attribute (and trust me attribution takes time)? Is it only because of threats of legal action should they not comply with copyright licenses?  Hardly. That’s never stopped faculty before. It’s because they are convinced that they are part of a community, a commons, wherein this is the norm. Attribution is what good people do. As Downes put it, they want to respect, protect, and further the collective enterprise in which they are a part.

Why would faculty devote scarce time to sharing and contributing their content or materials? All teachers have materials they’ve created for classes. Not all OER’s must be 300 page textbooks. There’s a wealth of unshared teaching materials sitting in faculty drawers in the form of handouts. Only a small portion get shared or contributed to others, partly because sharing and making available to others is not always easy. Time. Resources. Scarcity. Again, they share when it’s part of the social norm.

What might discourage faculty from attributing or contributing? Faculty will not share, will not contribute, and will not attribute when they see that their efforts and time get abused by others who don’t adhere to the social norms.

It’s not just over-use that can doom a commons. Enclosure and extraction can destroy a commons just as well.

Another Ostrom principle of commons management is fairness. Faculty and all members of the open education commons need to perceive that fairness reigns. There’s been a steady drumbeat that says CC-BY license is the “most free” (how is it more free than CC0, I wonder?). But when I’ve worked with faculty to help them create, share, publish, revise, or remix their OER materials, their gut preference is typically for CC-NC, CC-SA, or CC-NC-SA.  Why? Because they perceive those licenses as more fair. The NC and SA licenses make statements about “I’m contributing to the OER community. I expect fair reciprocity. I expect you to be a good steward too.”  Faculty react quite negatively to organizations who charge for access to CC-BY materials. Faculty perceive those organizations as using legal technicalities to abuse the good faith efforts of the community.

I haven’t yet presented the CARE Framework to faculty. My expectation is it will be warmly accepted and greeted with a kind of “well, of course”.  I thank Petrides, Levin, and Watson for their work on it. While in many ways the framework simply captures what I think most faculty think and feel already, making the framework and its emphasis on stewardship explicit is a major step forward for the open education commons.

 

 

 

 

 

A Personal Note on Ostrom, Open Learning, and Me

As usual, I have way too many balls in the air and way too many ideas happening at once.  It’s exciting but every silver lining has a touch of grey. (hat tip , Robert Hunter).

I continue wearing my multiple hats as part of the school’s Open Learn Lab. I still have no title, although ITS calls me the Project Champion (thank you).  I actually prefer “Chief Instigator”.  Anyway, it continues to be me as server sys admin, dev  ops, open pedagogy evangelist, WP developer, inventor, faculty professional developer, and chief pixel washer.   We are digital, so there’s no bottles to wash anymore. Just pixels.  This year I do have two fantastic  enthusiastic student interns that are convinced we’re going to revolutionize higher ed. On top of all that, there’s still the half-load of teaching and course development.  And in a community college, once you’ve done the governance & faculty leadership gig, it kind of sticks to you – especially if you’re trying to get the Lab “institutionalized” (translation: into the org chart & budget permanently).

So I’ve been spending most of the past year trying to figure out for folks where or how “open learning” fits into the college – ours or any community college.  I think I’ve been making progress on that front with the Commons of Our Own idea.  But then David Bollier at OpenEd17 steps into my world with his talk of the commons.  BAM.  The grey cells start firing at accelerated pace.  The economist part of me starts kicking in and I’m off to the races.

Bollier gets me to start researching and reading and listening to Elinor Ostrom.  Now I’m embarrassed to say that while I had a most passing familiarity with her work, I hadn’t until now taken a deep dive.  My loss. That’s both the silver lining and the touch of grey.  Her and Vince Ostrom’s ideas on governance of commons, polycentric complex economic systems, and the differentiation between commons as behaviors vs common pool resources has the little grey cells firing like a fourth of July fireworks finale. Silver. Lots of silver.  It’s all coming together.  My multi-disciplinary career and background, the Open Learning Lab, the tech, higher ed governance and policy, pedagogy, and what we need to do for people.  BAM. Silver linings.

Unfortunately, I’m not a young man. Touch of grey around the temples.  Ok, ok, ok, lots of grey throughout.  I get a feeling that I missed my calling and a chance to really do some interesting stuff in this commons area.  I could have done so, so much but my education didn’t really expose me to the Ostroms or the Commons (except for the myth of the “tragedy” thereof).

So I’m kind of overwhelmed now.  Today, while out on my walk, I listened to Elinor’s lecture at Indiana U just after her wining the Nobel Memorial Prize.  I found myself alternating between shouts of “yes!” as I connected her ideas to our present situation in open learning and higher ed, and  then followed by waves of sadness and perhaps tears (“no, you have something in your eye!”) as I realize what could have been personally.  As I said, I’m not a young guy.  I’m gonna have to make the most of these years left.  There’s a lot to do and lots of connections to make.  Collaborations about innovation aren’t the easiest thing to put together at a community college.

I promise I’ll blog and tie all this stuff together.  I have to.  I promised to talk about it at OER18 and OEGlobal 18 in April.

Here’s the lecture:

And, hat tip to Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia.   

Don’t Call It a Resolution

So it’s a new year, the traditional time for resolutions. For some reason I don’t like the idea of resolutions, so I’m gonna say I made a few “promises to myself”.  My friend Chris Gillard (@hypervisible) self-describes himself in his Twitter profile as “I spend a lot of time thinking (and not enough time writing)…”.  I’m in that trap too. Not that I spend too much time thinking, but that I spend too little time writing. Or, to be more precise, I don’t write enough or often enough.  So a promise to myself is to write more and, in particular, blog more.

I’ve also promised to be more aware and reconsider my habits on commercial social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think I’ll call it 3C Social Media – corporate, commercial, centralized social media. Chris, and others, have made the powerful arguements about why 3CSocialMedia is so awful. But they’ve also made the point that we can’t just “stop using it” as a solution.

One tactic that can help is a return to more blogging and RSS feed use.  So I’m promising to do my part and blog more. But that takes me back to “a lot of thinking and not enough writing”.  So, of course, I’ve been thinking about why I think so much but don’t write so much (this is really getting meta).  And I think the reason is a complete, finished argument. What I mean is, I’ve had this feeling that when I write or blog, I need to have a complete, finished, thorough argument or story.  This would sure explain why I seem so utterly incapable of a short, terse post. (well, that and my natural verbosity).

I’m trying to entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, I don’t need to write a complete, thorough, fully-fleshed argument every time  I write.  So I’m going to go out on a limb this year and try blogging a lot more often. But be prepared, there’s likely to be a lot of posts where I’m just kind of saying “hey, this is the odd connection my little grey cells made in the shower this morning and I can’t get it out of my mind. It may not make any sense but I’m playing around with it.”   We’ll see how this goes.

Commons of Our Own

A college degree is more than the sum of its courses. The learning that takes place in the classroom has always been only a part of a good college education. Many researchers, including most recently Cathy Davidson in The New Education (Basic Books, 2017)  have noted that what is important and most transformative are the opportunities to share, create, and connect on campus, not the lectures and testing of the classroom. The learning experiences that are most impactful are those that connect the classroom to experiences and authentic assignments rooted in the real world.  Historically, this is why campus life and indeed the physical campus itself has always been so important. The campus, and life on the campus, has provided the liminal space and the linkage between classroom and real world. The campus is truly a place of ambient learning.

In Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem (AAC&U, 2016), Randy Bass and Bret Eynon argue for the importance of engagement, community and mentorship, and integration in liberal education. They observe how the digital revolution in education – indeed the digital revolution in all society – has tended to unbundle higher education, attempting to reduce a college education to a mere collection of online training courses. The argue instead for a vision of a “learning-first” digital ecosystem. Their AAC&U and Gates Foundation commissioned study identified many ways universities and colleges could create a new digital learning eco-system that is learner-centered, networked, integrative, adaptive, and open.  They provided many examples of such important initiatives such as Open Educational Resources, (OER), public e-portfolios by students, and student research. They devoted an entire chapter to just one such innovation, “Domains of One’s Own” (DoOO) projects. DoOO projects emerged from the University of Mary Washington and spread to approximately 50-60 universities and liberal arts schools. 

The LCC Open Learn Lab was an experiment launched in Spring 2016 to see if a DoOO type project were feasible or valuable at a community college. LCC was the first community college to attempt a DoOO project.  The results of that initial experimentation period were enormously successful as documented in the final report for what had become “Phase I” of an ongoing project. That report is available online at http://bit.ly/2yZSwEh. The first year-and-half of experimentation established that “it is both feasible and worth doing!”  But, being new and innovative, how “it” fit in the college was not obvious. Phase II of the project requires explaining how to institutionalize the effort. Institutionalization of the Open Learn Lab is more than just finding a place on the org  chart or a budget line to fund it. It requires clarifying how open learning fits in the LCC mission, plans, and projects. Explaining how Open Learning fits at LCC is the objective of this document.

The LCC Open Learn Lab has helped faculty, staff, and most importantly, students, to create hundreds of public websites where they can create, publish, connect, and share. These websites are all located within a domain called OpenLCC.net. While the Open Learn Lab staff often help set up the initial sites, the content of these sites and vision of what they can do and how they can be used to further learning and community connection belongs to the scholars in our LCC community – our students, faculty, and staff. OpenLCC.net is a scholarly commons. 

The Physical Campus – Before Digital

The physical campus has always formed a space where learning was shared and integrated, where students and professors could connect outside the classroom. Classrooms, the spaces where courses are taught, are closed, private spaces. There are good reasons for that – although it is possible to be tightly closed or restricted. Courses constitute parts of a curriculum which leads to some kind of certification. Institutions need documentation and record-keeping of what happens there – documentation that we used to call a grade-book but now call assessments, grades, and analytics. Both students and professors need a safe place where ideas can be examined and explored without outside interference. The classroom experience is temporal. Often the artifacts produced are as fleeting as the course itself.

The best campuses provide ambient learning and spaces for connection-building outside the classroom. They provide libraries, common eating areas, study zones, exposure to art and scholarly works outside the classroom, and ways to connect to the larger world. They provide student life. The campus provides opportunities and encouragement for sharing, creating, and connecting.

Providing this kind of campus space has always been easier for full-time, residential colleges and universities. Students are literally immersed in the environment 24/7. Community colleges and other institutions with a large part-time, working, or commuter student population have been more challenged in providing the campus commons.  Lansing Community College has rightly received significant recognition for the great improvements it has made to the physical campus environment in the past decade.

The Digital or Online World Today

The digital world of the 21st century poses an even greater challenge in providing the creative, connected, sharing experiences of the campus.  Increasingly, students of all ages are engaged with the digital world. Yes, they still need to do things in a physical space, but the imperatives of social media and their digital lives command more of their attention. The physical campus finds it difficult to compete for attention. Online education has created an even larger gap.

Although distance education has been around for a long time, the last twenty years have seen an explosion of student enrollment. LCC started its own online courses in 1997. LCC, like many community colleges, now has between a quarter and a third of all courses are delivered purely online. As much as half of all students take at least one online course.  The emphasis in online education has historically been on the courses. Large investments and costs have been incurred to both create online courses and to “deliver” and “manage” them. The result is the modern Learning Management System (LMS). While LCC uses Desire2Learn Brightspace, it makes little difference which LMS is used. The role and function of the LMS, be it Blackboard, Moodle, D2L, or Canvas Instructure, is largely the same. It is to “manage” learning activities. The LMS is, in effect, the digital classroom. Like the classroom, it tries to contain all the relevant activities. The experience of taking a class in a LMS is temporal. At the end of the semester, access to that class disappears. Evidence of what was learned, discovered, or created there is gone, banished to some archives file at a data center not accessible to students.

 

 

The result for students is a virtual desert. Students are connected and spending time, often more than ever, connected to the public digital world. Students of all ages increasingly live their lives connected to the Web and its many sites. Although it is virtual in the physical sense, the digital public Web is the “real” world to students. In contrast, as LMS systems grow more sophisticated and as publishers convert traditional printed textbooks into rented courseware modules, the classroom is experienced as increasingly isolated and cut-off from the “real” world. And indeed it is. There is much value in online digital materials and course work that is easy to navigate and clearly designed to “teach” to some learning outcomes. However, by themselves, the LMS, videos, and related courseware lead to shallow learning. They focus on information transfer, not transformative, integrative learning. It happens in isolation and unconnected.

We see the effects in enrollment and engagement. Students like online classes because of the flexibility and the fit with their busy lives. They use their devices for other learning – cooking, house repairs, play instruments, resolve arguments, etc. Why not use it for college? But when college course delivery is the sole element of the college experience, they lose interest. The closed course is often experienced as isolated from the “real”world – just a series of boxes to check or hoops to jump through. Engagement suffers. Retention suffers. Long-term learning suffers. Online in the LMS, they find few opportunities to connect socially the way they do with social media.

OpenLCC: A Commons of Our Own

OpenLCC.net, is a digital scholarly commons, digital counterpart to the physical campus experience. It is not the equivalent or an analogue, but rather a complement that creates a”new digital ecosystem” that Bass and Eynon envision. OpenLCC enables connections. It connects the content of courses in both f-2-f and LMS classrooms with the real world via open, authentic learning assignments. It provides spaces where students and faculty can document their learning, find their scholarly voice, and publish to the public Web.

A commons is a community, not just a shared pool of resources. As the work of Nobel-prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom and other economists such as David Bollier have shown, a commons is a community that shares resources using established social protocols and norms. OpenLCC.net is a commons of the scholarly activity of LCC scholars: faculty, students, and staff. Being accessible by the public, we can share our scholarly work with the greater Lansing and Michigan communities that support us.

OpenLCC.net is distinguished by the being a .net top-level domain and not a .edu. LCC.edu is the official school site. It is the voice of the institution itself. OpenLCC.net is the commons consisting of the many individual voices of the LCC community. The commons consists of many hundreds of websites created and controlled by individual faculty, students, staff, clubs, or centers. These sites are functionally clustered into four major types: Share, Learn, Create, and Connect.

  • Share sites provide an infrastructure for creation, editing, and hosting of OER materials for classes. Share sites provide faculty a wider range of OER options than typically considered.
  • Learn sites are primarily created by faculty to serve classroom needs. They may consist of course supplements such as a shared glossary, active learning sites, or even public course hubs. Learn sites provide a chance for faculty to add a specific open assignment or activity without needing to completely re-do the course design.
  • Create or Voice sites are mostly individual websites or blogs for students and faculty, allowing them to establish their own public voices and portfolios. Create or Voice sites linked to course hubs enable using a connected-courses open methodology in courses.
  • Connect sites are for discussion, meeting and socializing with others, study groups, or for displaying or connecting with the larger public community of Lansing.

In other posts in this series, I will explain and detail each of these types of sites. Together these sites make it easy for faculty to adopt open educational practices, OER, and open pedagogies incrementally into existing classes, providing a digital learning ecosystem for integrative learning.

Running Errands at Domains17

I’m speaking again at Domains17 conference. I’ll talk about the LCC Open Learn Lab experiences in creating and exploring a Domains of One’s Own project at a community college.  It’s also applicable to any teaching-oriented college or university wanting start a DoOO.

Here are the slides. If this embedded view doesn’t show, they can be downloaded/viewed at this link.

 

 

And here’s a link to download the Final Report of the Open Learn Lab.  It’s called “Final” report because initially we only committed to a 1.5 year project to explore the feasibility and desirability of doing a DoOO at the college.  As you’ll, read the results were quite positive and now we’ve committed to expanding and “institutionalizing” the program at LCC.  I’ve also committed to helping other schools get started via a non-profit organization called Malartu, Inc.

Open Learn Lab project – Final Report_May2017

OER17 – Connections to Relationships

These are my reflections from the OER17 conference in London.  It is a mark of  a powerful community and conference that it is nearly 3 weeks gone, yet it has a powerful hold on me.  I wrote just six months ago how OpenEd16 changed me. Lightning has struck twice.  I can’t be the same again.

There is so much to recount and I’m sure I can’t do justice in mentioning all the great stuff I learned. Instead I’ll try to actually put it into practice and spread the word.

My journey to London started with a speculative blog post last November in the wake of Trump’s election in the US. With the encouragement of Martin Weller, David Kernohan, and others it led to the panel discussion I assembled for the conference. Just the experience of putting together the panel with so many great people was awesome. Thank you to Martin, David, Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell, Robin DeRosa, Chris Gilliard, and Nadine Aboulmagd.

The greatest experience for me of the open education community in the past couple years has been the connections made. I want to comment here on the importance of making connections. For decades, I’ve gone to conferences and shows. As an academic, I’ve done the economics world, the higher ed leadership/accreditation world (HLC, AACU and the like), the community college and general teaching and technology conferences.  Sometimes I felt like visitor from Mars and other times it felt close-but-not-quite.  The open education community has become home. I feel at home with these people.

One of the best aspects of the open education community is that people are, well, open. They connect. They welcome connections. They are, as Kate Bowles would say, hospitable.  I find them authentic. So in the last couple years as I’ve become more active in the open education community, my “network” has grown. Saying the “network has expanded” sounds too cold. I’ve connected with people.  I can say with pride and great warmth that I now have connections to people in places around the world. This makes the world smaller and more human.

I’ve always been concerned for events and the well-being of people around the world.   I follow the news. I seek out other perspectives. But without personal connections, such concern is only abstract. To read of a bombing is tragic. But when we have personal connections, the depth of feeling changes. We connect to the humanity.

A year ago I would read of the bombing of a Coptic church in Eqypt and be sad to think of the people killed and their families. I may have reacted with anger at the political policies that lead ultimately to desperate acts of terrorism. Now I read of such a bombing and the depth of feeling is greater. I know people there. They may be hundreds of miles away and uninvolved but they’re a lot closer to it than I am. I have at least some small glimmer of their lives. I wonder how it affects them. Being connected to at least one or two real persons, individuals I know and care about, my concern, feelings, and thoughts for all the Egyptian people take on a different character. My connections with one or two help weave a stronger fabric for humanity.

At OER17, I experienced making new connections to people in places I thought I would never connect with. Places like South Africa, Germany, Scotland, France, and Australia.  But I also experienced how what starts as connections can deepen into relationships.

I want to mention two in particular. It was so wonderful to finally put a face and human touch to them.  Jim Groom is somebody I’ve learned from, worked with, and given grief to over the Twitter for a few years now. We’ve come to know each other enough that Jim himself wondered how it could be that we hadn’t met in person yet.  (I still maintain it’s because he fled the country when I signed up for Reclaim, btw.) That connection became a relationship.

Finally I want to acknowledge the wonderful soul of Maha Bali who I only connected with for the first time last fall, yet has become such a valued relationship in my life it is difficult to believe it has only been six or so months. I see and understand things differently because of Maha. (and Maha, you’ll be pleased to know that with my wife’s help I am practicing how to properly pronounce your name.  It’s harder than you think for this old Ohio boy).

Open education, by fostering openness as a value, respect for people, and the technology to make it happen, creates connections.  When we mindfully nurture those connections and collaborate creatively, those connections become relationships. Relationships can span the globe and weave the fabric of humanity.  That is how we will eliminate poverty and create peace – one connection at a time.  The politics of open is the politics of connected people.

Thank you all for the experience.

What’s Open? Are OER Necessary?

Like most great conflagrations, it began as a small exchange that touched on a vital point.  At OER17 a couple of weeks ago a suggestion appeared via Twitter that DS106 (the pioneering online course, not the NETGEAR router) wasn’t/isn’t really “open” since it wasn’t based on true OER (Open Educational Resources.  Exception was taken. The ensuing discussion has only grown. Now nearly three weeks after the conference, the discussion (debate? argument? positioning battle?) has grown to the point that Maha Bali has organized a Hangout to discuss it further.  She’s also begun to curate the growing number of posts on the topic.  Thank you Maha.

Back at the conference – before it blew up into such a large discussion – I had promised to blog on the topic.  Alas events at my home campus have delayed that post but here it is. I hesitate somewhat given the great minds that have already weighed in, but in the interest of openness itself I think I might have a slightly different perspective to add.

OER: Permission to Use Property

The definition of OER, Open Education Resources, seems relatively clear and agreed. David Wiley has defined Open Content and OER as those copyrightable works licenses so as to permit perpetual 5R activities of retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. In practice this means Creative Commons (CC) licenses and CC-BY in particular.

I have some issues with this definition such as the exclusion of open source software, the silence regarding public domain and fair use, and Wiley’s deprecation of CC SA, NC, and ND licenses, but that’s fodder for another post. For this discussion, this CC-license-with-the-5R’s definition will suffice to clarify OER.  Thus we have it: The essence of openness for resources is permission to use copyrighted property. 

note: Though it’s peripheral to this discussion and worthy of its own post, I would like to remind folks that while we call copyrighted material intellectual property and the law treats it as property, it is artificial property. It’s not like land or that coffee mug in your hand. It’s an artificial government-granted bundle of monopoly powers that we call property.

The driver of this growing discussion then really turns on the question of what qualifies as “open pedagogy”?  Wiley is pretty clear about his view. Open Pedagogy is the practice of using OER.  Thus the definition of “openness”, according to Wiley, has OER and its property use permissions as prerequisite. If there’s not explicitly CC licensed OER involved, it’s not open.

Many of the posts discussing “what’s open pedagogy?” take a turn towards defining it differently. Some use open in practice/praxis terms.  Others use it in terms of the “open web”.  I think we can consider the use of open web approach as one emphasizing open access, whether that access is to read or to publish. Either approach, the praxis/practice approach or the accessibility/open web approach seem to still emphasize the written materials as the center of the issue.  In other words, the focus shifts to what’s done with the materials? Is the Internet and its affordances utilized?  Jim Groom in I Don’t Need Permission to be Open stakes out the position closer to my heart:

I think the locking down of open is dangerous. I think it draws lines where they need not be, and it reconsolidates power for those who define it. More than that, the power around open has been pretty focused on a few people for too long, and I count myself amongst them. More and more on this trip in conversations with others, I think we as a field need to do a better job of bringing the next generation of ed-tech folks to the fore, stepping back, and letting them frame what’s next. Even this post shows my harkening back to work I did 6 years ago, I don’t want to have a corner on open or ed-tech, I want something that gets me excited and passionate. OER17 certainly did that, and I crave more. What I see as hardline definitions of what is and is not OER or open need not police the discussion. I would hate for an edict about what is and is not open pedagogy to get in the way of people “coloring outside the lines” of the 5Rs, to appropriate Brian Lamb’s gorgeous turn of phrase from one of this 3 tweets in response to the avalanche.

David Kernohan in his comment on Jim’s post, though, really nails my position:

I don’t need 5Rs permission for the inside of my head. And if I want to share what’s inside my head with others, that’s my business. The fact that some of the ideas in my head have been put there by corporate idea salesmen, and that I need to refer to those ideas to express mine, is immaterial.

Make art. Dammit.

I would just add to David’s comment the admonition to “Make Art. Or Science. Or Philosophy. Or Whatevs. Dammit”

Property, Process, Pedagogy, and Power

The core of my objection to the “OER as prerequisite to being open” position is that OER are resources. They’re things. Commodities. Property. Or, at least they’re treated as property in a capitalist US-Western economic system that increasingly dominates the global economy and culture.

Pedagogy isn’t property. It’s not a commodity. It’s a process. It’s a method of creating a desired outcome. For me the analogy is to business process analysis: pedagogy is the production process. It may be mass-production oriented or it may be artisinal. It’s the way things get accomplished – or at least it’s the way we intend to accomplish things.  For those without a business analysis background who may recoil at anything smacking of “business” in education, let me use a different analogy.  As educators, we intend to help students to have some kind of particular experience: learn something, change perspectives, grow, mature, create, collaborate, etc. Of course in the modern lingo we call those “learning outcomes” (don’t get me started on that!). My point here is that pedagogy is the intended process by which we enable students to reach those outcomes and  have that experience.

As a process, pedagogy, makes use of resources. Any production process uses resources, but the resources are not the essence of the process. In the case of pedagogy, what we normally think of as “educational resources”, books and written materials, whether they be closed ER or OER, aren’t even the most important resources.  The most important resources are human – the labor, communication, dialogue, and care of humans. Other critical resources include technology and its affordances embodied in what we economists would call capital. The methods and rules we use to combine all these resources, the property, the humans, and the technologies, is the process, the pedagogy.

If licenses and legal permissions to use property make resources open, then what makes pedagogy open?  It can’t be licenses or permissions. Pedagogy isn’t property.  It also can’t be that open pedagogy simply means using open resources. The resources may be openly licensed, but that says nothing about the openness of the process, the openness of the humans, or the openness of the media & technology.

A process, like a pedagogy, can be conducted in isolation removed from any other activities or parts of life. Or, the process can be conducted in the open, connected to rest of human activity.  Humans are the center of pedagogy or educational praxis. It’s students and teachers and their interactions that are the essence of pedagogy. That means that pedagogy is not just about some instructional design strategy, it’s about power relations. Who gets to do what? Who gets to tell whom what to do? Who sets the bounds and the rules? What are the limits of activity?  Who tells whom what to write about? Who defines the limits of the audience the student can reach? Who defines meaning?  To me, any pedagogy is primarily about power relations and therefore freedom.

Now I think we can get to the essence of openness in pedagogy. Since pedagogy is about process and power relations, then openness in pedagogy is about freedom and connection. It’s about the degrees and ways in which a pedagogy is free and mutual. Openness in pedagogy then starts to overlap with critical pedagogy. It is no wonder then that a discussion of “what’s open pedagogy” should emerge from an OER17 conference with the theme of the “Politics of Open”.

Recognizing Openness in Pedagogy

I don’t think a simple, checklist definition of open pedagogy is possible. It’s a pointless and ultimately dangerous endeavor to attempt to judge pedagogy as open or not according to some abstract checklist.  To do so risks reifying both pedagogy and education as something that exists independent of the students and teachers engaged in it. We already all too often talk about education as something to be acquired rather than an experience or activity that’s lived.

Freedom, power relations, and learning are very multi-dimensional.  So while a strict, abstract, checklist definition of open pedagogy isn’t useful, we can describe dimensions of openness.  I would love to see our discussions of what’s open pedagogy evolve these lines.  So let me try a few examples of dimensions of openness in pedagogy. I am grateful to my colleagues Jeff Janowick, Regina Gong, Meg Elias, and Leslie Johnson for recent discussions that helped my understandings of these dimensions. For each of these examples, the dimension is described as running from more closed to more open.

  • Isolation vs. Connectedness:  Does the pedagogy and learning activities exist predominantly in a closed, isolated space such as the traditional classroom or do they engage and form connections with the larger, outside world?  Using this dimension, courses where students create materials on the open web, accessible by the public, makes the pedagogy more open.
  • Disposable  vs. Permanent, Public, or Authentic assignments
  • Temporary Interactions vs. Building of Lasting Community
  • Defined, limited activities vs. opportunity for expressing more creativity
  • Controlled, limited use of learning materials, including which sources are approved vs. Accessing and using the range of publicly available resources on the Web.
  • Teacher as “the” authority vs. Students being able to bring other sources of authority. 

This is just a beginning. I would be very interested in hearing what others might think and of other dimensions in which pedagogy may be more closed vs more open.

If openness in resources is defined by permissions to use property, I argue that openness in pedagogy must be measured in terms of freedom, authority, and power of the learning process.  To place the resources, the OER, as the prerequisite of openness of pedagogy is to commoditize and reify education itself, ultimately denying the possibility of critical pedagogy. Open pedagogy, and therefore open education and open learning, are more about freedom of action and authority than they are about property permissions.