I am still reeling from my Berkman@10 experience last week … I have told a handful of people that the gathering was perhaps the most important thing I have done professionally in the ten years I have been in higher education. No kidding … there were moments that I was able to discover great clarity in some of my thinking — mostly followed by moments of great confusion. The things that resonated most for me centered on what was the primary theme of the event — openness. At the event the notion of openness took many forms — media, learning, politics, and access come to mind as the most critically discussed. I went in with a strong sense of how this would be discussed because of my recent opportunities to spend time with Lessig, but I didn’t expect my thinking to be impacted as much as it has by the event.
One of the more exciting opportunities the event afforded was having dinner with David Weinberger on the middle night of the event. I love David’s work (particularly the Cluetrain Manifesto) and was very eager to hear him in person. His work in the late 90s pushed me to embrace the notion of the conversation as the core tenant of the Internet and getting to spend time with him did not disappoint! At our dinner table was an executive from British Telecom, a young man working to break down information barriers in Cuba, an attorney and lobbyist who wrote some of the original briefs on network neutrality, a creative director from Public Radio International, and others. The discussion carried real depth for nearly two hours and I found that I was able to participate at an acceptable level, even choosing to move topics around and lead some of the discussions. It was outstanding. What I took from the dinner had everything to do with open access to knowledge and content via our networks. We take for granted just how open our networks are for producing and accessing information — in general we have clear access (without content filters) to anything available. This just isn’t the case on a global basis. That guy from Cuba I mentioned? He and his group use USB memory sticks to distribute content because their isn’t open access in Cuba. His stories floored me. After dinner I bought Weinberger’s new book, Everything is Miscellaneous. So far it is pushing me to think even harder about what I was exposed to last week. I recommend it.
Now, open content … I spent time listening to Jimmy Wales (founder of wikipedia) and while he can come off as arrogant and self-righteous (to some), there are some very powerful ideas in the things he says and stands for. I listened very closely to his notion of an open environment for creating knowledge and was particularly interested in the governance models supporting it all. It got me thinking about our own challenges in higher education as they relate to content creation and management for learning. Where is the wikipedia of course content? I am not really thinking about open courseware per say, what I am thinking about is how to create a discipline specific content space that could support the creation of articles by faculty for teaching and learning. Could a College or department work at the committee level to create the outline of the critical concepts within a given space and ask its faculty and students (and perhaps alumni) to create the wiki articles that satisfies these concepts? I think the answer is yes and would like to talk to some people about exploring this through practice.
The last thing I will mention here is an amazing quote by Jonathan Zittrain … “The Internet has no main menu.” If you really think about the web and what has won — open access via the browser over the closed content provider client applications (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy) you see this is true. Information wants to be free and when the network is open it allows contribution. Our models for collecting institutional content is going to keep us relegated to the successes (and ultimately the failures) of an AOL model. We live in times where the open Internet beat the closed content environment … why not create that structure inside the academy.
Ok, let me hear it!