Ingesting Open Content into a Course Blogsite

One of the use-cases for is for a class to integrate external resources such as OpenLearn courses, or potentially anything that has an RSS feed, to be ingested into the class blogsite. Currently, there are 2 scenarios possible for doing this, each with their own specific benefits, but neither quite matching what I think would make for a more powerful way to contextualize these external resources within the activities of a course.

With the VERY sweet OpenLearn Republisher plugin, you can set up a set of Sources (courses on OpenLearn, etc…) to be pulled into an installation of WordPress Multiuser. The OpenLearn plugin creates a new blog for each Source, and sucks down all items in the provided RSS feed into that blog, and creates blog Posts for each item.

OpenLearn Course Importing Plugin Workflow
OpenLearn Course Importing Plugin Workflow

The benefit of this is a set of centralized blog sites for each course, which could be shared across multiple courses. But that’s also the big downside of this model – what if you want to contextualize the content differently for each course that’s using it? If you didn’t want to do that, why not just use the online OpenLearn hosted version of the course?

With FeedWordPress (or wp-o-matic) you can pull RSS feeds into a single course blogsite, and all items will be published as blog Posts within that site. Categories can be set up and inherited to help organize the imported content.

FeedWordPress RSS Importing Workflow
FeedWordPress RSS Importing Workflow

But, if the activity of the course takes place as blog Posts, it becomes mixed in with any content imported from the external resources. Conversation and content become merged.

Ideally, a course blogsite would use the Pages feature to manage “content” – the stuff the conversations refer to – and use the blog Posts for the activity and conversation of the course. As such, I think it would be more effective to have the content from external resources be ingested into a blogsite as Pages, created within the hierarchy of pages (select a parent page, and a full table of contents structure is generated as needed).

Ideal open content ingestor workflow
Ideal open content ingestor workflow

I’m not sure if that’s possible now with the available tools, but I think we’re getting REALLY close to a powerful open content contextualization platform – ingesting prepared resources for use within the spatial and temporal contexts of a course.

Ideally, the power and features of OpenLearn Republisher, with the ability to designate the “host” blog for the ingested content (or have it create new blogsites as needed), and to create Pages rather than Posts. It’s VERY close, and it’s got the potential to change how people interact with (open) content.

Open needs to be bidirectional

Michael Geist - Why Copyright? - 7I just got back from Michael Geist’s inspiring presentation “Why Copyright?” – where he laid out some of the issues relating to copyright, open access, sharing, reusing, mashups, and a long list of implications for the potentially pending Canadian DMCA.

It felt like there was much agreement among the faculty and staff who were present for Dr. Geist’s presentation. When he was talking about the need for, and the power of, open access, many heads were nodding. People were agreeing, and it felt like we might be about ready to start moving forward on some Open Content (if not all the way to Open Education) initiatives. I’ve got some ideas that I want to incubate for a bit longer, but I’ll be following up with faculty members to see what we can do to move in that direction.

Walking back from the presentation, chatting with two unnamed faculty members. They were saying how eye-opening the session was, and how they had no idea that Fair Dealing was as useful and potentially as flexible as it sounds like it is. How great, that they can go ahead and scan books as PDF and post them in their courses in Blackboard.

“But,” I replied, “what if we went further than that, and started sharing course materials on the open web for others to use as well, instead of just locking copyrighted materials behind Blackboard’s login?”

“No. I could never put my course on the open web. I’d get sued. I don’t worry about this now, because it’s all in Blackboard. They have no right to look in Blackboard, so it’s safe.”

My jaw is still sore from when it hit the elevator floor.

Fair Dealing, and open access, and creative commons, and all of the wonderful things that these entail. Only seen by faculty as ways to get content into their courses. A one-way trip. Roach motel.

I can see I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Ron Murch hit the nail on the head with his comment/question in the discussion after the presentation. He asked if there was something more we could be doing, rather than just using citations to show the content that has been reused in the context of a course.

Yes, Ron. There is absolutely more we can do.

First and foremost, we need to model ethical and appropriate use of copyrighted materials. Hiding copyright infringements behind the Blackboard login is not good enough. You have to realize that you’re modeling this infringement for your students to see. “It’s OK to infringe on copyright, because The Man can’t see, right?” “uh… if Dr. Whatsisname could do it, why can’t I?”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t repurpose content in your courses, but do it legitimately. We have a copyright policy here on campus. Use it. Follow it. Show your students what it means to properly use copyrighted materials. Find materials that you can legally use for your purposes. Link to materials that you can’t republish directly in the course.

But, that is only half of what we need to be doing.

The other, perhaps more important part, is that we need to walk the walk. We need to publish content in forms, and under licenses, that make it possible for others to use and reuse it. A professor publishing their research publicly in DSpace is a fantastic way to show their students about the power of sharing. An instructor keeping a public blog and/or wiki with resources is a great way to model active contribution.

This is the primary reason I’ve chosen to publish everything I do online under a simple Creative Commons Attribution license – it’s important to model this, and even more important to fully understand what it means to be an active participant in this collaborative publishing medium. Restricting yourself to publishing within the confines of Blackboard (or any other restricted walled garden) is not contributing to the Greater Good.

We can do better than that. We need to do better than that.

on closed content as copyright violation obfuscation

I was present at a faculty collaboration project meeting today, and one of the profs was showing some of the resources they’ve built to support their classroom teaching. It was some impressive video work, which the prof admitted could easily have applications in other classes, or institutions, or even other disciplines. He then went on to describe the rigorous steps that he’d had to take in order to prevent that from happening – video being hosted on an internal streaming server so nobody could find it without seeing the video embedded on a course within Blackboard. He was struggling to implement the embedding as effectively as he wanted. When asked why that was necessary, why not just put the video onto YouTube or Google Video? They had actually thought of that initially – it solves the bandwidth, hosting, and embedding problems quite nicely.

But they couldn’t let non-registered-students see the video because it contained several pieces of media that would involve rather blatant copyright violations if distributed outside the context of the course.

It struck me how much effort and energy was being expended to protect disclosure of these violations, and how relatively easy it would have been to just avoid potential copyright violations in the first place by using Creative Commons and/or Public Domain media instead of commercial.

It then got me wondering – how much of the content generated by institutions is simply not sharable – not as a result of philosophical, technical nor design constraints, but because there wasn’t thought put into the implications of integrating copyrighted materials into this content?

Open Education Course: week 1 reading

The following are my notes made while reading the first 3 articles for the Open Education course facilitated by David Wiley. The reading list (and links to the original articles) is available at the course wiki page. (I’ll clean up the categories/tags asap, but the course wiki and David’s blog are down at the moment, so I don’t have the exact course tags handy right now…)

Continue reading “Open Education Course: week 1 reading”

Open Education License – Attribution is important

I should preface this with a reminder that I am not a lawyer. I don’t play one on TV, nor the internets. But as someone who creates and publishes a fair amount of content under an unrestrictive Creative Commons license, I have some thoughts on the topic.

I read David’s post on the proposed new Open Education License, and I’ve been struggling to understand why a new license is needed. Here’s the comment I left on David’s post:

David, I’ve been struggling to understand why a new license is warranted. How would this benefit either the original creator, or the content “repurposer” beyond what a plain vanilla Creative Commons Attribution license provides? That license allows derivative works, doesn’t require share-alike (although that can be added), and requires attribution. It also allows commercial use (of the original and/or derivative works) – or not, if desired.

Would it be as effective to just recommend a particular combination of CC bit flags?

From the post, David mentions that the new license is strongly inspired by CreativeCommons, using the same language and terminology, right down to the compatible XML description of the license:

<rdf :RDF xmlns=””
<license rdf:about=””>
<permits rdf:resource=”” />
<permits rdf:resource=”” />
<permits rdf:resource=”” />

But, if the license can be described using CreativeCommons clauses, why not just promote a particular flavour of CC license for Open Education content? It could be essentially a branding/marketing effort, to promote the Creative Commons Attribution license:

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This flavour of CC is pretty open – it explicitly allows copying, modification, redistribution, and distribution of modifications. It also (optionally) allows commercial use of the content and derivatives. All it requires is attribution. (more on this below)

By building on CreativeCommons directly, it would take advantage of localized versions of the licenses, and wouldn’t “fork” the mindshare of “open” licenses. Under the proposed license, a contributor has to decide if they want to use the more common Creative Commons series of licenses, or try out the new OEL.

David mentions that one goal of the new OEL license is to do away with the Attribution clause, because that may cause friction when content from one culture is used in another. A Sunni-created work might be frowned upon in a Shia-created derivation, if it was obvious through attribution that the work originated from a Sunni group. I don’t buy that argument – if there is that level of cultural intolerance, it will go beyond the name mentioned in the credits of a derivative work. The cultural origin of a work is inherent in the work, not just in the attribution byline.

I firmly believe that the requirement of Attribution is essential in sharing content. It brings along the concepts of trust, responsibility, reputation, and even simple credit. I don’t believe that many people will willingly expend resources (time, energy, money, social capital) in the construction of valuable educational content, only to cast if off in an essentially Public Domain license. They will want to know that they will at least be given credit for creating the work. And consumers/reusers of these works should be able to follow the provenance of the derivatives, to go back to original sources. Removing Attribution as a requirement breaks that chain.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that these licenses are not exclusive. If Attribution is impossible,  contact the creator of the work and arrange a separate license. This could involve a fee, or just an agreement. This is already possible under Creative Commons.