Thursday, March 29, 2012

Open, Free, Libre?

David Wiley 2008
It must be very satisfying to know that you took a significant first step and made a difference to the discourse around education and the sharing of resources. Despite David's modest presentation of his coining of the term "OpenContent" and the launch of the first license and written principles aimed at protecting and sharing academic content (OPL and OP/L), his initiative made a difference.
While he acknowledges the flaws of his initial efforts and the importance of the Creative Commons licenses developed by Larry Lessig and others, he was a leader at a time when many academics were focused on protecting their work, not on sharing it.
I'm still uncertain about the long term effect of supporting open licensing as opposed to free (libre) approaches. While I admire the mavericks of the Free Software Foundation, the supporters of Richard Stallman and open source itself, I'm doubtful that their model will fit the realities that many teachers and students face or the level of interest they have in engaging with the issue. I think that the free radicals (pun intended ;-) have a critical role to play in ensuring that the corporations like Microsoft, Apple, etc. don't end up owning and controlling our use of technologies and increasingly our access to knowledge and sharing of information.
David's description of the limitations (protections?) of open content resonate for me. Although those protections mean that his license doesn't qualify as a "copyleft" license (if I understood that correctly), but I do think it is an approach that acknowledges the concerns of the producers of the educational content - that they have some say in how their work is shared and used. Many academics I've spoken to as I've tried to promote the concept of "open" are willing to support the concept of a "right to education" but they are concerned that their hard work will be misconstrued, misused or appropriated to make someone else richer. CC licenses allow each individual to determine their level of comfort in sharing - they are customizable. The fact that they too have flaws is unfortunate but I have every confidence that we'll eventually get it right. How can we not with all those brilliant minds at Harvard focused on improvement?
Where I have concerns with David's approach is his apparent focus on textbooks. I think the idea that the textbook is too often an excuse for lazy teaching. It seems to encourage (support?) a traditional, lecture-based approach to teaching and an underlying assumptions of a static model of knowledge. In our rapidly changing world, this approach has limited value. It doesn't appeal to students nor does it seem to serve their needs or the needs of the economy or of everyday life. Certainly when I look around to see who is successful in the world, it rarely seems to be persons who rely on textbooks. And the exemplary instructors I've known are the ones out there pushing the envelope, engaging in real world learning and using the power of technologies and connectivities to connect with other experts and learners to grow the shared knowledge around subjects of interest and concern. There are better methods of collecting and sharing information than a textbook and we're starting to see all kinds of good examples. Doesn't mean there is not a role for textbooks; I would predict thought that they'll be increasingly unimportant in the future of education. P.S. David recently participated in the Change MOOC that Stephen Downes and George Siemens have been organizing. He posted a brief description with some additional links to open projects he's participated in - About David

Thursday, March 22, 2012

P'sing off a hacker can be amazingly productive...

So, I've worked my way through the videos and readings for open content. Richard Stallman was not gnu to me (get it???!) but somehow I missed learning about Linus Torvald as I was working my way through my courses in Edtech at UBC. As an educator who was trying to be responsible about not infringing copyright when producing learning activities and presentations for teaching, I found the GNU license for images and other content a life-saver. Although I am an admirer of the CC-license, the GNU one is just really straightforward and I am really comfortable in the open exchange of ideas and resources (not trying to get rich, just trying to make the teaching and learning exchange more interesting for teacher and students!)
I have to say that I've found this in-depth coverage of hacker culture somewhat disturbing. Not so much the history of the development of free software and open source (I noticed that the incredibly mind-numbingly picky, self-interested analysis of the sharing and collaborative building happens when people start trying to make serious money from this stuff) but Cory Doctorow's presentation at the 28c3 Congress.
The Revolution OS video gave me a much broader understanding of how open source developed and the role of big players that I've only experienced peripherally before (Red Hat, Apache and Mozilla's Firefox). But I have to say I went away thinking less of many of them. The egos that many of the participants exhibited as they explained the significance of their actions reminded me of Sheldon and the guys on Big Bang Theory in that there are these incredibly bright but often quite narrow people who seem very disconnected from society. As you might guess from my post title, it seemed to me that many of them were motivated by pique - especially Richard Stallman. At least he was honest about the petty frustration that drove him out of the comfortable academic interchange at MIT and motivated him to create a movement. Amazing to think so much can come from such a seemingly insignificant series of events.
Cory Doctorow identified some risks that I hadn't even been aware of in his presentation at 28c3 "The coming war on general computation" and now I'm leaving the whole open versus corporate software and copyright and optimal length of copyright and DRM etc behind. Now I'm just worried about how we can possibly stop governments, private corporations, institutions and control freaks from building and deploying computer-based technologies that control (or could control) what we do. My paranoid tendencies have been re-awakened. And it didn't help to listen to a news report about the growing use of unmanned drones in Canada! Did you know that they used one to judge crowd sizes during the Wall Street protest movements (and record everyone who was there I bet).
Maybe it's time to get unplugged and disconnect...but then how will I know who's watching?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The notion of value..

     As we in Canada are yet again awaiting the final outcome of renewed attempts to amend our Copyright Act, the subject of licensing and the optimal term of copyright seem very appropriate. But I think it may be only relevant to me (and perhaps other Canadians?).
     I thought when I started this Introduction to Openness in Education course late that I would find my blogging attempts resounding in a big emptiness as the conversation amongst the other bloggers in this course would have moved on. Sigh...Well, I think I need to get my reflections down (or is it up?) before I move on and forget them. I'll go trolling through other blogs later.
     It has been good to review the arguments about optimal length of copyright terms and to reflect on the purpose of copyright and who benefits and who should benefit in terms of our society and in terms of the rights of an individual.
     Watching Larry Lessig's presentation at TEDxNYED was a great start but it actually got me thinking about the impact of new forms of communication, new media and social interactions more than it got me thinking about license terms! I have copious notes and I am planning to go back and explore Julian Sanchez and the Cato Institute (whom I had never heard of before - my new media guy was Henry Jenkins of MIT fame)
     If Larry was trying to demonstrate the value to the public of open content, his choice of mashups didn't really convince me. Although entertaining and sometimes revealing, these kinds of videos don't really serve to convince me that copyright shouldn't be extended. What I think they demonstrate is the value of play and the need for people to be able to grab short pieces of music, writing, video to create something new. Whether that use precludes a creator being able to pass the value of his/her creation on to their children or family to benefit from is another point.
His four core values:
  • freedom
  • community
  • limit regulation
  • respect the creator
are useful as broad guidelines but it's in the practical realization of these values that are the devil to puzzle out. I believe in freedom with responsibility, community with a respect for individual rights, minimal regulation but meaningful enforcement, and a respect for the creator with a recognition that no one creates alone - we all build on what others have done and usually supported by those around us.
     I reviewed the Creative Commons licenses and played the game (which I really like as a teaching aid - will try to incorporate that when I talk about open content to my teachers - better check the CC license eh?). I've loved CC licenses since I first heard about them in 2004. I, along with many other teachers, have struggled with interesting content I've found on the Internet - who owns it? If I just use a little bit of it, is that OK? If a person put this content up and didn't tell me NOT to use it in education, can I presume that they wanted to share? CC licenses make everything clear (well not everything really but it's a good start). I know who created something and how they will allow it to be used. I have always credited my sources but not always in the exact way they might want to be acknowledged so CC licensing clears that up too. I like the fact that it puts the responsibility for defining rights on the creator, not on a judicial or administrative system.
     I enjoyed Pollock's "Value of the public domain" and "Forever minus a day" in a painful kind of way. I got a little lost in some of his more arcane calculations but found some of his citations and examples very thought-provoking. I'm still not truly convinced we can every accurately assess the potential value or costs of these kinds of decisions - how long to make copyright, how restrictive the terms should be to protect and thus nurture future creativity, to create value to the economy and society and contribute to the public good. For almost every point he made, I could find examples that might demonstrate the opposite of his suppositions.
     I think some form of broader fair use might do more than arguing about the term of copyright. If I create something that generates value, I would like to be able to leave it to my family. Perhaps it would be best to ensure that copyright is held by an individual or family group? It would be up to them to ensure that it continues to create value.
     I see no reason why we couldn't have a system that allows the protection of a unique piece of work from outright copying and reselling but also allows people to create something new with pieces of the original work. I don't really buy the argument that the entire work has to become public domain at some point in time or it will limit creativity? It can inspire and contribute to the public domain if we ensure that copyright holders have to allow some use of it to create something new - not complete copying but some new interpretation of the material. Perhaps a modification of CC-licensing combined with a broadening of fair use would protect the rights of creators and continue to stimulate people's creativity and new creations.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Taking the first steps...

Being an organized person (and having gotten lost in open and networked learning courses before!) I followed David's First Steps section. Hit my first hiccup when I realized I had to apply for membership to the course wiki so I could post my contact information (his topic content pages allow you to just browse the learning content but I want to learn to earn!) I sent off my request and quickly set up a new Blogger blog (the first one was for my testing of Stephen Downes and George Siemens' changemooc course). Of course that sidetracked me cuz I had to play with selecting a new theme, selecting a background picture that expressed something of what I like. And because I have a new computer (yeahhhh!!) I had no access to my photo editing software (waiting for Adobe to verify that I am a teacher so yes, I should be able to purchase an educational version of the Creative Suite) so I went back to my old faithful -- free, easy to use, web-based Picnik!  Unfortunately they've been swallowed by Google too but luckily for me, they're still available until the end of April.
Rather than boring you with the rest of the steps I took, the challenges of setup, selection and personalization I encountered, I'll just note that I have now completed:
Signup (added twitter and blog info on wiki - check)
Subscribe to Course Updates - slight fussiness but I think I've got it into Netvibes Just 4 fun sent a couple of tweets out with the hashtag #ioe12
Familiarize Yourself With the Challenges/Badges - (check)
Dive into Topics - listened to Lessig - already have lots of thoughts/responses but will be careful to read the rest of the links/resources before I start blathering on my blog. After all, this is probably enuf 4 now eh? (that's a canadianism in case you haven't dealt with Canadians much ;-)


Friday, March 2, 2012

Will I learn to earn?

so, I've essentially dropped out of my changeMOOC course. I tried participating in Howard Rheingold's session in January but I was winding down my job and it was just too stressful and hectic to keep up. This kind of learning can be very fragmented (all the different channels of communication and nodes to keep track of) and some of the presenters they had were just not very interesting to me.
I'll keep an eye on it and blog if I anything I hear or read makes me thoughtful but I think that is it for my pursuit of the MOOC-model of learning. It doesn't seem to work for me.
So, I was cleaning up some of my open content, open education materials as I re-establish my home office and came across the first course I ever took on open content - David Wiley's Intro to Open Education in 2007!
Turns out David has another course starting (actually it has started) and he's trying a new model where he's hoping we'll work to earn Mozilla badges. I'm curious about this trend towards providing some kind of credits or accreditation (?) for open learning so I think I'll take the plunge.
Therefore....a new Blogger blog to track my progress. Good luck to me. You'd think at my age I would be more self-disciplined.