Making the case for “Fully Open” Content

I’ve asked twitterites a few times but haven’t got much of a reply yet, so I’m hoping readers have a reference or two to throw my way. Here’s the question – I work on a project that helps share educational resources. We currently support two licenses, a Creative Commons license and a regional consortia license called the “BC Commons” which facilitates sharing amongst the public post-secondary institutions in BC. Obviously this latter is not a “fully open” license as it does limit who can see and reuse the content. We’ve always seen it, I think, as an interim step, a way to get people into the habit of sharing their content but in a ‘safe’ way (and a way that the funders, the BC government and taxpayers, could be convinced of the immediate benefits).

Increasingly we are looking to try and increase the use of “fully open” licenses like Creative Commons, but in order to take this step we need to make the case to funders (as well, ultimately, to the content owners) as to why publishing under a fully open license is a better idea, for them, for the funders and ultimately the taxpayers.

So, I am looking for as many good references as I can find to help make the case. I wish it were enough to simply point people at David Wiley’s BCNet talk from 2007 [audio here | video here] (heck, it was given here in BC) because if you ask me, slam dunk!

Unfortunately, I need more, especially actual studies of the benefits or effects of sharing in a fully open way (and especially where a group moved from a more closed to more open model of sharing). Anything that can support or illustrate these kinds of arguments:

  • making resources fully open increases the number of accesses (and reuse) of resources, both within and outside of the original constituency
  • resources that are made fully open will have more improvements made to them, and thus end up as higher quality resources at no cost, then resources that aren’t
  • making resources fully open can provide additional returns for the organizations that do so in the form of increased brand recognition, increased student enrollments, better prepared existing students, etc.
  • making resources fully open leads to increased opportunities for partnership
  • making resources fully open does not substantially impact revenues to the content owner or institution (and indeed may increase it)

Anything is helpful, and I assume there are others trying to make this case in their own jurisdictions. Do you know of any studies that we can cite to substantiate the above propositions? Or indeed other propositions we should be staking the case on? –SWL

My OpenEd Demonstrator – Augmenting OER with Client-Side Tools

Back in June I submitted a paper proposal to OpenEd 2007. In August, the day before I was to go camping, I heard back that while my proposal hadn’t been accepted, I was invited to participate in a ‘Demonstrator’ session (basically a Poster session set up at the end of Day 2).

I have to admit that I was a bit crushed at first. But very quickly I turned this around; not only did I realize that this was a good decision by the organizers in terms of my proposals’ content and the general tenor of the accepted presentations, I also realized that doing a ‘demonstrator’ in the right way would give me an opportunity to reach a wider audience than doing a straight presentation.

So the result is this 10 minute Flash movie demonstrating a few of the ways learners can augment their experience of OERs (in fact the web in general) using client-side (mostly) tools that they control. This idea of client-side tools (by which I mean extensions, bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts) really appeals to me because it starts to shift the locus of control back to the learner and away from centrally provisioned server tools. The point in doing this? Well, in addition to simply raising awareness of these techniques, the point in presenting this specifically at OpenEd is as a small challenge to what I see as a past tendency towards monolithic (and not mashup friendly) content in some of the formal OER projects, and to counter what seems to me like the chauvinism that people are going to consume your OER courses on your site, in the way you dictate. In my mind, OERs will really start to succeed when they can augment our experience of the learning space that is the entire internet, instead of sitting off to the side and requiring learners to self-identify that they want an OER. As I say in my final slide “People need their OER even when they are not on an OER site!”

Was this a successful experiment? Well, in my mind, not totally. I really wanted to show more examples, for instance like WikiProxy, of Greasemonkey scripts that dynamically link to supplemental resources without a lot of semantic underpinnings. You know, loosely connected. But I couldn’t get WikiProxy working properly, ran out of time in my own development efforts (but more on this soon) and as much as I think the new OER Recommender by COSL is a good illustration of this technique, it felt kind of superfluous to demo this where it was actually developed 😉

I also think one can validly challenge the extent to which the techniques I demonstrate actually enhance learning. I think they do, but I can see how others would disagree. So my question to you – what other ‘client side enhancements’ have you found that learners can use independently to augment existing coontent and improve their learning experience on the web. I am really interested to hear more ideas!

There are other pieces that I didn’t get to show but that if you are interested you can find out more in my links for the presentation. Specifically, how you can perform some of these tricks in other browsers (through things like Turnabout and Creammonkey), how organizations can distribute these tools through mechanisms like custom toolbars, customized portable apps on cheap thumb drives and how yoyu can turn Greasemonkey scripts into proper extensions. Enjoy! – SWL

Trailfire – promising Firefox extension to create social trails through the web

I am kind of surprised to not have seen this come through my aggregator yet as it’s the kind of thing I thought the connectivist and open education crowd would be quite excited about. Maybe I just missed it, or maybe that just shows how clued out I am. Anyways, when I stumbled on this app the other day it was quite exciting as it’s something I’ve been seeking for a while.

Trailfire is a Firefox extension which allows you to easily create ‘trails’ through the web. ‘Trails’ are in essence sequences of webpages which can be annotated and can be shared with others. For instance, here’s is a trail I just created showing some of the applications I’ve found for creating trails online (how recursive!). Here’s another example, a trail on ‘elearning’ by someone called Ideanoth, and here’s another someone built to take you through learning CSS.

Each node in a trail, called a mark (and really just equivalent to a unique URL) can also receive comments from other users, so you can start to build up a bit of a threaded discussion around the nodes in a trail, and in addition, you can set the trailfire extension to show you any other marks from other users that have been set against any webpage. So all of a sudden, you can start to see how a specific resource can show up in multiple frames of reference.

Have a look; I think you could find fault with the interface and parts of the implementation, but I know the idea of being able to model how I’ve learned something by laying down trails that can then serve as the basis both for discussion and as starting templates for others’ trails really appeals to me as a way to ‘teach’ on the open web. – SWL

Moodle OCW Module

So I usually don’t “blog on demand” but when Michael Penney emails me stuff it’s almost always worth a post, and this time is no exception (and totally by chance it turns out I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with the developers in November). As it says on the site, “OCW MetaMod for Moodle provides instructors and designers with the ability to mark individual resources or activities in a Moodle course as ‘shared’ (allowing guest viewing) or ‘private’ (only visible for registered students). Additionally, the MetaMod tags resources and activities as ‘C’ (copyright) or ‘CC’ (Creative Commons/Copyright Cleared).” This is a great step forward in enabling easy sharing of resources, allowing instructors to do it right from where the resource has been used.

As Michael wrote “Despite Mr. Small, the beat goes on…:-)” speaking of whom, the next chapter is slowly unfolding.SWL

Creative Commons Images and Watermarks

Mark at eClippings recently re-posted this image from Dion Hinchcliffe. The image itself is interesting, but what struck me was that it had the Creative Commons condition icons and the source URL embedded in the image itself at the bottom. I’m calling this a watermark but I may be using the term incorrectly.

When I saw this I was torn. On the one hand my first reaction was – hey, that’s a great idea, remove any ambiguity about the rights associated with the image regardless of where it ends up, and also clear up how it is to be attributed by including it’s original URL. If you buy into the argument that lack of clarity about rights and the hardship of clearing rights is a major inhibitor to the reuse of digital resources then it seems to make sense, right?

On the other hand, I can see arguments to the effect that such marks could be a hinderance to reuse (if done in an ugly way that mars the original image or if they take away from the re-users contribution to the remix). And if they are such a great idea, why aren’t we seeing this more often. There are already lots of scripts out there to automate watermarking of images, and it would be simple to offer these as a service that people could tie into. But is this a good idea?

I have self-interested reasons for asking this question. Within my work on SOL*R I have to advise content authors on how to display either a Creative Commons or BC Commons license in their work. My reply has always been “Hey, they’re your rights and it’s your content, so if you feel strongly about people respecting these, assert them as often as you like.” The funny thing is the issue isn’t people wanting to use license tags excessively, its people not wanting to use them at all because they haven’t included them up front on a template or the like.

So, is this practice one to encourage? Should we instead use XMP for this (and build apps that automatically just add it in without extra work from the user)? Or leave well enough alone? Feedback (through email, as my overworked butt has still not migrated this to WordPress as promised) always appreciated. – SWL

Paper – The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age

This is an important new paper by William McGeveran and William Fisher from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. It’s not exactly earth shattering content for people regularly working on the issue of sharing and reusing digital resources for education, but it is fairly comprehensive (from a US perspective at least) and done by lawyers, the type of document that can potentially have some legitimacy with politicians and other decision makers (and yes, I believe in faeries too!) The Mellon Foundation is to be commended for funding it. I loved their case studies, especially the one that has a media prof cracking DRM controls with freely available tools so as to be able to create a clips reel for his class. That would never happen 😉 – SWL

Connexions ‘Rhaptos’ Software Released

The folks at Connexions have released the software that powers that site as open source code, so presumably you can now run your own instance if you wanted. Connexions is neat in that it shows a working example of learning content as XML being re-aggregated and re-skinned. For me the challenge with its particular implementation is in how the content is created – the Word-to-CXML convertor has got to be a great improvement over asking faculty to hand-code XML (where but at a Science and Engineering school could you even begin to get away with this), but it still strikes me as a barrier to the approach. That said, 115 courses/2000+ modules is nothing to sneer at, so clearly some users are willing to use the current set of tools on offer through Connexions. It should be noted too that the paradigm for reusable content has always been more reusers than original authors, and in this regard, reusing content in other contexts once created in Connexions seems reasonably straightforward.

Tools like eXe offer some glimmer of what an easier to use tool to author learning content that was also XML might look like, but I’m not sure I’m convinced yet. Some will no doubt rejoin about the virtues of RSS in this regard; again, I remain interested but unconvinced. Not of the virtues of XML or of the traction of RSS for syndication of content, but unconvinced that it represents the solution of how to easily author learning content in a format that is then easily findable, re-aggregatable or re-presentable (which I take to be the problem at hand, but maybe I’ve misunderstood). Structured blogging? Again, maybe.

I know that in my own project, our first attempt to get an approach working that made use of an XML database as a backend failed. Our second attempt, which went into pilot last week, uses The Learning Edge. It doesn’t deal with XML-native content at all, mostly because no one has any for us to deal with. It focuses on dealing with what people do have – all sorts of HTML, Word docs, powerpoints, PDFs, Flash movies. It tries to assist with re-use (the ‘re-aggregating and re-presenting’ above) by integrating a WYSIWYG authoring environment directly with the repository that allows people to drag and drop existing content into new collections. We will see how it works. I am definitely not holding it up as the way to do this either; in general I remain unconvinced (and exhausted) by the entire enterprise, and mostly just want to go off and play my bass. – SWL

Open Access Journals in the Field of Education

Just in case you missed it in the editor’s introduction to the recently launched Pitch journal, David Wiley and Brent Lambert point to this very extensive list of ‘open access journals on education’ put together by the Communication of Research SIG of the American Educational Research Association. – SWL