Movable Type as an Open Content Toolset

I have been thinking more and more about the opportunities we have at our fingertips now that we have an enterprise blogging toolset in place here at the University. I’ve watched my online colleagues discussing open courseware and blog tools for about a week now and am ready to chime in with my own thoughts. I am impressed with the progress and ah-ha moments that have gone on around the edu-blog web for the better part of a week, although I am slightly surprised in that many of these same people are the ones who have been banging the “blog is more than a blog” drum for quite some time. I spent the better part of a year working that angle in hopes of getting our own decision makers to buy into an enterprise blog tool — “no, its a personal content management system …” So as I watched D’Arcy, Brian, Jim, and David show off the work they’ve done and the excellent thinking they are sharing I was a little confused by the excitement.

But then it hit me. The glorious piece to this is not the software, it is the philosophical underpinnings it is supporting. Openness. Open content that can be easily created, managed, searched, and then shared out (using a number of interesting methods) to other platforms so it can be customized and treated the way people want to treat content — ironically, as their own. What I mean is that we’ve all talked about online repositories for the last 10 or so years, what I see as the difference here is that I can find good open content, grab it, move it into a drop dead simple environment (like, and manipulate it and make it more like the environment I want it to be. We always wanted that but we (at least) couldn’t make it happen. Maybe we can now.

So, we have Movable Type as our enterprise blogging tool here at PSU. That means that anyone with an access account and webspace can log in and create a blog. A couple of clicks, some typing, and you are publishing. To me it spells a platform to support all sorts of learning content design and development. What if for a minute we envisioned a second install of MT that is built to be specifically for course design and development? A design team (including faculty) could build in this space using all the collaborative tools to do so, take advantage of tags, categories, and other meta-like data to help keep things straight, and create killer learning objects. This isn’t really new thinking. But what if all these things were just open and waiting to be exported (in MT format) and imported (in MT format) directly into our enterprise blog tool by a single faculty member who was interested in taking what was available and adding the parts they wanted the most — their own personal contexts to bring it to life.

A project like this would allow us to explore some things at an Institutional level and actually answer some questions … a few things that come to mind include:

  • Platforms: The blog environment is the perfect kind of place to hang all sorts of opportunities off … I am thinking about podcasts, streaming media, google maps, links to ANGEL, and all sorts of other small pieces.
  • Best Practices: What does it mean to use an environment like MT to produce learning content or objects … could we build a roadmap for others to follow?
  • OER Standards: We need to establish all sorts of baseline constructs if we are going to move into a more OER space … what is the granularity of content, what kinds of tags should be used, how do we manage assets, and all the other things we worry about with learning object design.
  • OER Policies: Even more critical to the long term vision is how do we position ourselves (and our content) for use and reuse? I know there is at least one College on campus already playing in the OER space, but what does it sound like as an Institutional conversation?
  • Attitudes: How will our stakeholders react and what do people really think about sharing?
  • Usability: Does this type of environment lend itself to use, and maybe more importantly is it the right kind of space to use in the first place?

It isn’t fully baked and I know there are holes in it, but I am willing to put a group of people together to aggressively explore it … what should we be thinking about — and at the end of the day, why shouldn’t we do it? I know this post is not articulate enough to really illustrate the vision, but it is my feeble attempt to get some input and get a conversation started around the concept. Anyone care to share some thoughts or participate in a larger discussion?

7 thoughts on “Movable Type as an Open Content Toolset

  1. Cole, great stuff. It’s totally NOT about the technology – it’s been technically possible to do this stuff for years. It’s about it becoming easy enough, and effective enough, that the only limiting reactant is philosophy. Unfortunately, that’s the hardest thing the change 🙂

  2. I really prefer this kind of open system as opposed to learning object repository systems that require complex metadata. It has to be easy and open for people to get on board. In other words, when content experts are being nice enough to share their content, why put red tape in their way, discouraging them from sharing? Let the content be the metadata. Throw in a nice social rating system (“I like this content, thumbs-up”) and that might encourage others to share their work.

    If nothing else, we would learn a lot from designing a couple of courses this way.

  3. I agree ease of use is key. Let’s get the ‘tool’ out of the way. Cole, eighteen months ago we talked about ‘Liquid ANGEL’ and I see MT4 as a great step toward that kind of openness. Like we talked about at lunch the other day, it’s no longer about my real life and my online life; it’s my life operating on different planes. To be able to build my educational life, and thus my work life, into the equation—that is powerful.

  4. I dig this in a big way. Although, I don’t see why we would need or want a separate instance of MT for this. I don’t think we want to force people to have to strictly classify what is course material from other forms of content. How about a button that can appear on someone’s blog post that says “Use this content”. Click it and it automatically opens a new entry screen in your blog with content of the post. You can edit it to your liking and save it to your own repository. Of course, we will also make it easy to suck multiple pieces of content at one time, too.

    Getting into the business of OER Standards scares me a little. Focus on this is what, IMHO, hampers a lot of repository efforts. This is why I like the idea of “It’s really just a blog”. As we go forward people will create content in a way that is useful for them and others. Over time they will get better at it. Sure, we have a role to help figure this out and share our knowledge. I see these more like best practices.

  5. There are great thoughts here. The part that stood out to me was ownership of content. Humans like to own things. In the physical world this leads to scarcity, but in the digital world we are free to ‘own’ the same thing over and over again if we are willing to make it open in the first place. It’s as if you had a box of chocolates that never ran out and you could just keep giving them away.

    Anyway, this concept of using the tools that are available – be they Moveable Type or WordPress is powerful. Since the platforms are hackable we can now add the last 10-20% that is required to modify the tools so that they precisely fit the user’s needs. In many cases the existing community has already built the components we need. We only need to assemble them.

    You say this may not be new thinking, but I actually thing it is something new. Blogs are not new, but the concept of using a blogging system as a platform for collaboration and content development in an academic setting is a bit revolutionary. Imagine a world where we didn’t have to pay insane amounts of money for WebCT and or Blackboard and instead could use the tools students are already accustomed to and which they will use in the real world.

    Great thought and ideas here. I look forward to your continued comments in the space.

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