Renewable Energy for OpenEd

Several dozen entries in the Dell Social Innovation competition (which I have become mildly obsessed with over the past several days since entering—yes, that was a shameless plug…check it out) proposing everything from human-powered nut butter machines to low-cost solar panels cum water purifiers, plus the numerous billions of dollars allotted for “exploring” it in the nation’s latest stimulus package have got me thinking a lot about renewable energy.

As said entries make abundantly clear, there are numerous interpretations of the term “renewable;” from the denotative take of a resource replenished by natural processes at a rate comparably faster than its rate of consumption (the windmills sprouting like towering minimalist daisies along I-80 in Wyoming) to the more pragmatic idea of an abundance that’s not likely to go away (the mechanism that would transform traffic racket to electricity proposed by this guy.)

So what could “renewable energy” mean in Open Education?

I know! Freshmen!

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Models, What Models?

This week’s quest asks merchants to explore the long-term sustainability models of each of the main players in the OER field and discuss the rationale behind them. Pending the return of some emails that might give me a more insider perspective (I don’t blame them for the delay–they just might have something more important to do, like, oh, worry about the long-term sustainability of their jobs) here’s what I can gather:


There are hints at diversification, inklings of refined value propositions, and some definite short-term cobbling going on, but nothing (in my opinion) unified and coherent enough to be called a “model.”  MIT, arguably the flagship of the OER movement, has placed considerable effort of late into moving supporters into more active, (financially) committed roles: there are “why I donate” snippets on every page, an ever-present “donate now” button and a newly formed corporate sponsorship campaign (two levels $10K and $100K–right now one company is listed on the site.) To be honest, these efforts give me a not-so-subtle vibe of desperation. This does not bode well for the organizations following in their wake.

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Sustainability Outside the Box

You pretty much would have to have been living in a cave for the past decade not to have picked up on the sustainability buzz sweeping through sectors from chemical production to health care to broadcast journalism. The Wikipedia entry on “Sustainability” has had almost daily editing activity for the past three years and includes more than 300 (top notch) citations/references. Still, the definition is far from universally understood and far from static.

Ratner (2004) points out that the whole concept may be expressed as statements of fact, intent, or value with sustainability treated as either a “journey” or a “destination.” In terms of media attention and general public awareness, sustainability is primarily an environmental issue. We think of “going green” and carrying cute canvas bags to the super market. But succession planning and resource utilization strategy are just as much part of sustainability as those cute canvas bags.

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The Results are In…

Well, here are the results of our little licensing quiz…Hopefully someone will correct me on the things I’ve got wrong…

What license should I apply to my dog-training video if I’m cool with releasing openly (and feel everyone should be) but I’d rather my client’s puppies not show up in someone’s animal cruelty presentation?

Creative Commons

My intent was for this to be BY-ND-SA. BY is almost inherent in anything not “all rights reserved.” The statement about feeling others should be open as well implies a Share-Alike clause and No-Derivatives would protect those puppies from ending up in an unseemly remix. This hypothetical trainer doesn’t mention any objections to someone else making money off the video

As a director (not playwrite) can I stage a CC-BY-ND play in a different time period or geographic location (eg. 1960s New York instead of ancient Japan)?

YES! : 1

NO : 4

A bit of a trick question… staging a play is not a publishing activity. As long as I am not publishing this as an adaptation of the original author’s work, I am completely within the rights granted directors, performers, users etc. usually lumped under “creative license.”

Am I allowed to create an instructional slideshow on Baroque architecture by combining CC-BY-NC photos from Flikr with CC-BY-SA music from Magnatune and my own narration?

YES! : 4
NO : 1

Neither of these licenses limit derivative works, and an instructional slideshow (that might not have been very clear–I meant for classroom use) is well within the non-commercial clause of the photos, so I should be fine. Incidentally, depending on the extent of the resources used in my presentation, this kind of use would be acceptable even if the works were under traditional copyright.

Which license(s) would I be able to apply to the resulting product?

CC-BY-SA (2)
None, at least not legally…

If I understand properly, in order to re-mix these resources, their licenses must be not only compatible (which would make CC-BY-NC-SA a viable option) but exactly the same. Practically, we could probably license this BY-NC-SA, but according to the letter of the law, the licenses of the photos and the music are not remix-able.

Classify each of the following licenses based on the type of use permitted:


ARR                  :  R – R – R – R
BY                      :  RRRR
BY-SA               :  RRRR
BY-ND-SA        :  RR – R – R
BY-NC               :  RRRR
BY-NC-SA        :  RRRR
BY-NC-ND       :  RR – R – R
BY-NC-ND-SA : RR – R – R

Everyone got this one exactly right. I guess that illustrates well the fact that on their own each license and its bounds are pretty clear…it’s the compatibility issues that introduce the confusion and complexity.

Disclaimer: This was a game. Only a handfull of responses are represented. In no way should any of the following results or analysis be given scientific, statistical, or practical credence of any kind 🙂

“Why we say we’re open…”

Jared presented a good broad categorization of open ed motivations (Philanthropic, Strategic, Pedagogic, Economic) and I liked the framework Michael proposed as well; motivations based on values and motivations based on value. Picking up from there, here’s a little analysis on the “whys” (at least the public ones) of some top open education initiatives…

MIT OpenCourseWare : Unlocking knowledge, Empowering minds. “MIT OpenCourseWare is an idea – and an ideal – developed by the MIT faculty who share the Institute’s mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship to best serve the world.”

Values: excellence in instruction, universal access to information, education for service
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, competitive advantage, indirect sales (support recruiting)

OER Commons : Free-to-use Teaching and Learning Content from Around the World “expand educational opportunities by increasing access to high-quality Open Educational Resources (OER), and facilitating the creation, use, and re-use of OER, for instructors, students, and self-learners.

Values: improved OERs, improved instruction, improved access, multi-culturalism

C()SL at Utah State : Open and Sustainable Learning “is dedicated to increasing access to educational opportunity worldwide…we believe that all humans beings are endowed with a capacity to learn, improve, and progress. Educational opportunity is the mechanism by which we fulfill that capacity. Therefore, free and open access to educational opportunity is a basic human right.”

Values: rights-based access, humanism, education for service, advocacy
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Commonwealth of Learning : Learning for Development “helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training”

Values: humanitarianism/charity, access
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Carnegie Mellon OLI : Working to help the World Wide Web make good on its promise “Using intelligent tutoring systems, virtual laboratories, simulations, and frequent opportunities for assessment and feedback, OLI builds courses that are intended to enact instruction – or, more precisely, to enact the kind of dynamic, flexible, and responsive instruction that fosters learning.

Values: innovation, relevance/effectiveness/flexibility in learning
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, research platform, technology integration/exploration

WikiEducator : Free elearning content. Just try it! Our community will support you. “The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative planning of education projects linked with the development of free content; development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning; work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs. networking on funding proposals developed as free content.”

Values: community organizing, improved OERs
Value: cost-savings for participants

“Quality” in Open Education

Training quest 3 has us exploring “ideals of quality” across two of the largest/highest profile open education initiatives.  I hear “quality” and immediately think in terms of comparative worth–excellence along any number of dimensions from durability to fit to taste and texture. While I could easily write a post about OLI’s Modern Biology animations or student argumentation skills in MIT’s Seminar in Ethnography and Fieldwork, discussions of quality as a global characteristic don’t seem particularly fruitful here.

But what if we think instead in terms of the first definition of quality: “an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute.” Instead of value, then, quality is more about values.

So, what do MIT and OLI value? What do they consider the essential or distinctive characteristics of what they’re trying to do, of who they are as organizations? Continue reading

Openness in the Information Economy

This thought first came up in a keynote at OpenEd 2008…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in David’s New Media, Social Media and Learning course last semester…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Then it came up in a discussion in Cape Town with Mark Horner about his Siyavula project…and I didn’t make time to blog it.

Yesterday, it came up again…alright, alright, I’ll blog it!

Having come into this sort of second-generation of open education, I’ve heard a lot about sustainability. I’ve heard about the challenges of incentivizing quality content creation within the reward structures of schools and universities…and the headaches of license incompatibility…and the looming funding crisis. But so far, it seems like we’ve been diagnosing and treating an assortment of these micro-issues–symptoms of our larger, deeper sustainability issues–without doing as much to address the root requirements of sustainability.

Whereas traditional commercial ventures are forced to face the sustainability question from their inception, non-profit/NGO/academic ventures start life in a kind of artificial reality–grants and donors (never expecting to be repaid) offer their support based on the theoretical merit of the idea, the reputation of the players, and the warmth points or positive PR they receive in return. Most such projects are never required to articulate a value proposition or hash out their competitive advantage.

What is it, really, that open education offers the educational community with all its idiosyncratic (but very real) economic, social and political pressures that would make it worth the massive outlay of time, talent, resources and–perhaps most significantly–change required to sustain it?

Unless we can answer that question concretely, consistantly, compellingly…and soon, we might not be fretting about license compatibility for long.

Open Ed’s Not-Quite 95 Theses

We’re not planning to nail it to President Samuelson’s door just yet, but our class discussion on the evolving value proposition of open education yielded some intriguing results.

The premise here is that in order to remain viable, let alone accomplish its admittedly lofty goals, this next generation of open educational resources and practices must offer something to the institutions that support it beyond warm fuzzies…or positive PR…or 5-year infusions of funding. In short, it’s got to make a difference in the education of current, fee-paying, sitting-in-the-classroom students or the axe won’t stay hovering for long.

So what can openness offer the on-campus student? Here’s a start:

  • Better material used in courses
  • Faster/cheaper course development
  • Improved access to content (device-driven and adaptable)
  • Explicit connections/access to background material (instead of just saying “you remember linear algebra…right?” the instructor can actually link back to the foundational material from a previous course. Students with such access may even perform better in advanced courses.)
  • Increased efficiency in academic advisement (students can take on many of these functions themselves–more information up-front about a course will lead to lower drop rates, less time lost to resulting schedule inefficiencies and lower administrative costs.)
  • Faculty modeling critical skills of collaboration and team work.

State of the Movement…

I’m taking “Introduction to Open Education” from David Wiley this semester. Incidentally, you can too! (love it when people practice what they preach) And I would highly recommend it. Our first “quest” (the course is an erratic spin-off of World of Warcraft) is to research and summarize the history of the Open Ed movement…briefly.

Like almost any revolution, OpenEd began in almost pristine idealism. Again typically, the idea germinated and finally erupted in several tight-knit enclaves almost simultaneously right around the turn of the century (still have trouble getting that term not to conjure up images like this). Wiley obsessed about reuse and learning objects and drafted his own open license. Downes evangelized connectivity and information access as a basic right. Creative Commons plotted mass expansion of remixable resources from audio to images to law briefs and drafted their own set of licenses. And MIT sent spasms of shock and awe through the higher education world when it announced plans to make all lecture notes, syllabi and course materials free and open to the public. Meanwhile, the giants of the Free and Open Software movement looked on with that wistful mixture of love and pity that only a group 10 years further down the road could understand.

Things have since gotten a bit messier. I’m not suggesting anything like the Reign of Terror at MIT or slaughtered innnocents at Rice’s Connexions hub, but (perhaps significantly in the twilight of multi-million dollar funding grants from giants like Hewlett and Gates) Open Education seems to have moved past the riot in the streets; “death to copyright–free education for all!” and on to the hunkered-down, brutal-facts strategizing, consolidating, and compromising that we all hope will move these rabble-rousing edupunks sustainably into the mainstream.

Today, nearly everyone seems to agree that sustainability is the issue–then again, nearly everyone today seems to agree that’s the issue. But whether they’re talking about incentive and reward structures for content creation, the current license compatibility issues that keep real content remixing part of the sales pitch rather than the lived experience, or the dark question haunting the server banks from Palo Alto to Houston to Logan–“will this thing survive once the funding dries up?”–the main voices in the arena seem to be doing a little less talking past each other.

So, while we are likely years if not decades away from the complete expulsion of copyright and other vestiges of colonial closed-ness, and there are still some minefields to be navigated, I’d say the open education rebels have won some signficant battles and at least educational content is well on its way to revolution.

Cool stuff from OpenEducation 2008

Just some highlights:

  • Siyavula Project from the Shuttleworth Foundation: A comprehensive curriculum that meets all the requirements of the South African government developed by an online community of teachers contributing OERs to an easy-to-use opensource authoring platform.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to build a collection of content and pedagogical modules that could be filtered according to the curriculum standards and requirements of any given country in the world!? How hard would it be to get efforts like Open High School and High Tech High to contribute to the same library? How critical is that, really?

  • Open Med School from the University of Michigan: Don’t freak out, it’s not actually online med school. A cross-discipline team from the IT programs and Med School at UMich has set up a unique [potentially very scalable] interface and management system for using volunteers/employees they affectionately call “dScribes” [distributed scribes] to clear content objects [from diagrams to simulations] in medical courses for publication as open educational resources.

Starts my mind going crazy with visions of creating an ‘OER marketplace’ where graphic design, film, information systems, interaction design and illustration students come together to create content objects for use in courses across disciplines, campuses, countries…my students in Paraguay making a video about composting that can be used by a professor of crop science in Nebraska, whose students then contribute comparative charts of turf grass varieties studied as part of an open courseware lecture series by students starting a sod farm in Ukraine.

  • Case Studies as OERs: The ISKME team conducted thorough case studies of 6 different open education projects, tagged them, stored them on YouTube and the OER Commons, and even created a Case Study Toolkit to encourage others to incorporate this simple method of self-evaluation.

The best part of this for me was the idea that, when well-tagged and made public, the case study itself becomes an OER–something that others can learn from, use, re-use and adapt. Talk about maximizing the potential return on investment! Also underscores one of the challenges that came up over and over at the conference–how deeply Open Education efforts are currently rooted in and dependent on altruism. More on this later…

Cool stuff, eh?