on open ed 2007

I’m not going to write up a summary or wrap-up of the conference. Others have done that better, and faster, than I. But I do just want to throw some thoughts out there on my Open Ed experience.

First, it was an amazing conference. There aren’t many events that bring together such a vastly diverse group of people – from widely different technical, cultural, geographical and economic backgrounds. Many of the conferences I have been to have felt largely homogeneous. A strong feeling of “sameness” that, while comforting on one level, is diametrically opposed to the real value of these conferences. What a conference can add, above a similarly structured online event, is the serendipitous exposure to people, ideas, philosophies, strategies, and techniques that one wouldn’t ordinarily be associated with. A cosmopolitan conference adds so much more value than one that is simply bringing together like-minded individuals. The irony is, this small conference in rural Utah felt more cosmopolitan than some large conferences I’ve attended in major urban centres.

Open Ed was a conference where I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that it was organized by David Wiley and his C()SL krëw, and that Brian has raved about each of the previous iterations of the event. That’s all I need to make me want to check it out. I’ve been trying to get my head into the open content/education movement, and figured this was the best way to make it real for myself. Boy, did I underestimate that.

One of the reasons I was rather incoherent and rambling during our Open Ed presentation was that the event was affecting me deeply, and I was actively working through the process of internalizing and understanding some of the ideas that had been brought forth prior to our session (note: I’m really not meaning to sound like I’m using the Royal We – Jim was my compadre for the presentation so it was very much a “we” kind of thing).

What was so striking, that it caused me to shift the topic of my presentation in mid session? I’m still not sure it’s clear – I’ve been chewing on it for a few days now, and still don’t think I can put it into words. It’s likely going to take me quite awhile to make some sense of what happened. Some of the concepts include:

  • open education is about sharing freely, in every sense. a truly free sharing experience values and honours all participants (not just professor/teacher/expert), is conversational and iterative, and is recontextualizable without friction.
  • for open education to be successful, we must have both open content and effective open communication.
  • for open content to be truly successful, we must stop wasting resources (time, energy, money) in creating infinite versions of essentially the same content. it is not acceptable to build a new piece of content simply because you aren’t aware of the existence of already available content, or because you simply want to change a small portion of that available content (“that’s great, but I don’t like this diagram” or “good, except for chapter 3. can’t use that. so let’s build our own” – or worse “let’s build it so we can charge $50 to let people access it.”). Use what’s there. Build upon it. Extend it, refine it, and share your derivations.
  • if we’re actively working on building content that will be locked behind logins, we’re actively working against open education.
  • there is a strong need to raise awareness that “business models” and sustainability can’t be tied to restricting access to content. if the only way an organization can raise money is to act as a gatekeeper to its content, they have no value and are irrelevant or dead (but likely don’t or won’t know it for some time)
  • open content is not the same as open source, as it relates to source code. content needs to be much more remixable – software, while mixable to some extent – is largely self contained. content needs to be able to be reused at a very small level of granularity – a paragraph here, an image there – and the resulting derivative/aggregate work needs to be available for similar remixing by others. what does this mean for copyright? copyleft and viral licenses are not compatible with this type of remixing.
  • I’m still struggling with the suggestion that open content and open education are “moral imperatives” – I think in many cases that much of the content that we have now could easily be deleted without causing any ill effects. Is there a moral imperative to ensure that all content, no matter how self-congratulatory and crappily written, be made freely available for use by all?
  • on the “conceit and arrogance of originality” – I’ve certainly been guilty of this with respect to software development. Sure, other tools are available, but it’d just be better if I wrote my own from scratch. I’ve also been involved with countless content development projects with the same perspective. Resources allocated, perhaps wasted, building new content because existing content wasn’t “perfect”. Wasteful. Arrogant. Conceited. Much better to take those resources and allocate them to refining existing content.
  • unless you’re actively thinking about, and planning for, sustainability, you’re wasting your time. (meaning, if you aren’t planning on how to keep a project alive, any effort put into the project will be wasted when the project eventually withers and dies)

As I said, I’m still struggling through these ideas. There are voices bouncing around in my head, and I’m trying to make sense of the story they are telling.

All I do know is that Open Ed 2007 has left me changed. My perspective is different now than it was last week. I have a rough idea of what I need to do, in order to affect meaningful change at my own institution, if that’s possible.

Oh, there was one thing to add to a conference recap. While the people were amazing, the presentations mostly profound and deep, and the conversations life-changing, the conference food sucked on all accounts. What was that slurry served in glasses during Friday’s lunch? At a conference with attendees quite literally from around the globe, not a single person could identify it. And it was nasty. Next year, maybe hire Quizno’s to cater?

Finally, I’ve been working through Susan Sontag On Photography, and some of the concepts she lays out in her series of essays have relevance here as well. The arrogance and aggression that can be implicit in the act of photography can also be found in the process of creating content (open or otherwise). Mindblowing stuff that is also changing how I think about many things.

8 thoughts on “on open ed 2007”

  1. Sounds like a mindblower in every respect. Wish I could have been there. Thanks for blogging this.

    From iTunesU (first iteration) to Bb, I’m pretty vocal about not locking the stuff down–but in some parts of the open ed movement, I confess that I’m in a middle position. I’m not sure any context can shift without friction, or even that I’d always want it to. In some respects, individuality will always yield friction. Friction–if we’re really talking friction and not a wall–can yield some benefits, slow us down and give us time for more reflection. Also, I’m right with you on the idea of honoring all participants in the conversation–if they’re truly participating with an eye to the greater good–but I also think expertise is valuable and that value should be honored too. Maybe this is what you mean by not necessarily preserving the crappily written content?

    Also, the reverend will tell you that I believe in leaders and authority, when they’re generative and thoughtful and devoted to empowering others.

    I think we agree on most of the main points–and I’m grateful you’ve summed up those voices in your head for us to hear as well.

    Regarding Sontag, a cautionary post from Errol Morris: http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-part-one/index.html?th&emc=th

  2. @Gardner: my thoughts are still quite incoherent on this, so it’s definitely less clear than it will be (hopefully) later.

    I wasn’t trying to discount the role of the expert/teacher/professor, but rather to elevate the role of the student. This is an equalization-up, not down.

    Also, the suggestion that all content has equal value is nice and sentimental, but devalues the best content. Not all things are worth preserving, and in fact much ephemera has value in being cast aside as part of the process.

    Thanks for the link to the Sontag critique. Rest assured – I’m reading with eyes wide open, and a grain of salt larger than my house. It’s still interesting to read some of the criticisms and theses she put forward. That said, I’m still taking lots of photographs (including several during the conference) but am finding that I am being more mindful, both of process and the interaction between photographer and photographed (and bystanders). Interesting stuff, even if she deliberately wrote it overly radicalized and polarized for general consumption.

  3. @Gardner: regarding friction, I was meaning in a technical and legal sense, not an intellectual, conceptual or academic sense. Friction inside one’s skull is where the magic happens (I’m experiencing a considerable amount of friction right now) – friction outside the skull is problematic, though.

  4. Thanks for blogging this so comprehensively. The conference sounds like it was a wonderfully validating experience for you as well and through this medium I sense a little for myself as well. I appreciate this sense that you found this homogeneity in diversity and can sense some of your passion in how deeply you were affected. Your discussion has stimulated some thoughtful discussion at my institution as well. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for those thoughtful responses to my own jumbled comment, D’Arcy. I do think we’re largely in agreement here.

    I will say that the legal barriers to reuse are usually regrettable, but some very few times they’re justified. One of the problems I have with Larry Lessig is the way he eggs his fans on by his more radical asides to them, while publicly he maintains a somewhat more moderate position. I understand you’re not trying to out-Lessig Lessig here. I’m still trying to make up my own mind on a bunch of this stuff.

  6. The green slurry stuff was pretty nasty. I asked one of the waitresses and the drink she said was an Indonesian tea of some sort. Go figure.

    I only made it to one day of the conference (Friday) but I really enjoyed the sessions I attended. It was fun reading your write-up.

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