About Open

Lots of chatter across the edu-blogger web the last week or so about the notion of open — what does it mean, why bother to discuss it, and why should we care. The idea that we (as Institutions) would take the time to debate the value or the process by which we arrive at the notion of openness is complex to say the least. If we value the ideals of the Land Grant Institution (or education in general), then why argue when we can just be open? These are questions we deal with when we talk about the notion of open and they are difficult at best to answer. Tonight I think I found an example that may make sense of some of the conversation.

Most of you already realize Google is hosting images from the Life archive. They are brilliant and it speaks to the amazing power of not only Google, but the Internet in general. I spent only a few minutes today using the special, “source:life” search addition and the results were at once moving and inspirational. The power to see and access such historically significant works of art is nothing short of stunning. I was, for some reason, compelled to look at old Life photos of JFK … I think it is because I watched an excellent, American Experience episode on PBS last night about the his assassination. The image that struck me can be found here.

Did you look at the link? Did you notice something about the way that I referneced that beautiful and powerful image? I linked to it. I didn’t embed it. I linked to it. Maybe I am missing something with the Google/Time archive, but I didn’t see anything that asked me to use that photo in my context. I like that the images are accessible but to me, this is an example of what closed now means.

Now, when I do the same thing at Flickr in relation to Barack Obama’s campaign photos something very different emerges. You’ll notice something significant — You can see the image below in my context. Powerful imagery with unreal historical significance, within my space telling my story. Where do you see it? Right here from Barack Obama’s Flickr page, shared via a Creative Commons license. That to me is openness. Any thoughts?

14 thoughts on “About Open

  1. I agree. I think that we are transitioning from open as transparent to open as shared. Business (and maybe education too) are recognizing that allowing people to carry their content to new audiences is good for them in the long run.

    It does make we wonder about education. I tend to believe that this could be a real boon to educational institutions that take full advantage. To do that means to make the on-campus experience something significant and rich, and the content that can be shared in the open becomes representative of that richness and pulls people in. For me this translates into creating intimacy in a true learning community. The learning community creates artifacts that are shared, but really it is in the creation that the power lies. If openness can drive large educational institutions to reconsider the value of delivery forms of pedagogy, that would be a true victory.

  2. Cole first, that you very much for the interesting posting and good illustration. I would like to first provide a really quick response to your last question and then a longer observation in my next comment. This is about the licensing agreement. The example photograph carries the

    Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

    License. Does the Noncommercial restriction make is more or less “Open?”

  3. Scott … I really like this opening statement, “I think that we are transitioning from open as transparent to open as shared.” I couldn’t agree more. I think, for the most part, people are starting to understand the power of the “embed” code. Giving me access to share in your wonderful work is a very powerful decision. Take for example the new YouTube Fireside Chats that Obama is doing. I don’t really care so much that he has chosen YouTube as much I love that I can take his videos and drop them into my learning environment by simply using the embed code. This little affordance changes the game. I can now mash it with my thoughts and context … I think that gives us the opportunity to make someone else’s content ours without altering their original creation.

  4. Ken … the non-commercial makes no difference to me. In my mind, if it is shared, it is open. I’m not interested in making money on content anyway, so just having the power to reuse is good enough for me.

  5. I’m wondering…

    Why can’t you use the Life photo in your blog post? Have those of us interesting in, and aware of, open content ideas become so accustomed to using content that clearly encourages sharing and re-publishing via mechanisms such as embed codes and Creative Commons licenses forgotten about Fair Use?

    People use images in blogs and presentations all the time that are full copyright, presumably under Fair Use provisions (either consciously or inadvertently).

  6. Sean … I thought about just including and citing the photo, but I couldn’t find anything on the google site that provided any guidance. Is it google I cite or Life? No idea. I think your observation that we’ve become accustomed to the notion of embeddable/reusable content makes us uncomfortable taking advantage of fair use … I know I err on the side of extreme caution b/c of my thoughts on sharing. I appreciate the comment and it makes me wonder where fair use begins and ends in a situation like this.

  7. I wonder too. I’ve been so focussed on using CC content that I haven’t paid any attention to Fair Use, and this has left me too scared to use anything that doesn’t explicitly allow sharing.

    The other motivation for using CC content is to encourage and promote it. Even if other content can be used under Fair Use provisions it sort of against my principles to do so.

    Another tangential thought – just because YouTube allows embedding doesn’t necessarily mean copyright isn’t broken either, as much of the content there strictly speaking shouldn’t be. The fact that they provide embed code doesn’t absolve me of guilt for posting copyrighted content on my blog.

  8. Cole I understand your attitude that being able to share and reuse is “open enough.” For many people under many circumstances this is probably an appropriate and logical standard. My question has more to do with the implication of placing any restrictions on the use, distribution, and sharing of “open content.” That is, can you imagine a circumstance under which the non-commercial restriction makes the content not-so-open. For example, what somebody wanted to use this blog posting as an illustration in a consulting engagement, which is a “for-profit” activity? Should they feel uncomfortable using the image because of the restriction? Could a colleague at Penn State use the image openly in a class? How about if they were teaching for the University of Phoenix?

    One of the take home messages that I got from your post was the importance of “fluidity” in open content. The fact that the Google image is less fluid then Flicr make it less “open.” Would the fact that the image becomes less fluid because of another type of restriction also make it less “open?”

  9. Cole I do think that your observation and illustration about how the dialogue of “openness” has evolved is important. Your point about how not being able to embed (mix) media is now recognized as a manifestation of being “closed” is a great illustration of the impact that things like licensing, the use of proprietary file formats, and ease of embedding impact different elements of “openness.” Our conversation has moved from being principally about “availability” (OER repositories, etc.) to including much more coherent notions of access, value, and fluidity.

    That is, there is a growing awareness of the differences in a sustainable ecosystem of openness and an ecosystem that is based on assumptions of proprietary and otherwise closed ideas and content. When we talk about open in terms of “Open Education” the idea embraces a wide, varied, and complex constellation of topics, during which values and beliefs tend to be conflated with practical implications. Quite aside from the issues around the “Land Grant” mission, there is a more general mission of the traditional academy to “advance knowledge,” which includes creating an environment that allows for the creation and dissemination of data and information and its dissemination. So, how do we typically do this?

    – We create artifacts such as curriculum and courses that organize information and knowledge into some logical (usually disciplinary) arrangement.

    – We create learning designs that integrate through some sort of sequencing content and activities.

    – We create other types of disciplinary artifacts that describe knowledge such as patents, processes, trademarks, etc.

    – We distribute knowledge through artifacts such as papers that are published in various formats.

    – We engage in educational processes with peers and students, who may use that knowledge to further knowledge within the academy, through research in other sectors, or through practice.

    – Etc…

    Sitting under all of these activities are assumptions about availability, access, value, and fluidity. I believe that generally speaking the value of what we do in formal and informal education is leveraged in terms of advancing knowledge through making our artifacts and processes “open” (widely available, truly accessible, easily remixable, and transparently fluid)? I cannot see anything in the list of typical educational activity above that is better accomplished in a closed environment. That said, will educators (teachers and researchers) be less motivated to “create” if they are not granted a proprietary monopoly on their creations? Will colleges and universities be less interested in investing if the outcomes of their investments are “open?”

  10. Ken, two great comments … your closing thoughts are interesting to me in several ways. I think the line in the sand is that while much of what we produce in the academy is available, it is not really open. I can gain access to nearly everything any University creates (if I could find it), but what I cannot do is reuse it in digital form with any degree of confidence. We’ve been taught to cite text since we were in grade school — where are the same principles related to digital media? Is text such a different art than film, music, photography, etc? I find it frustrating that we’ve treated these artifacts so vastly different.

    Something has to give eventually … and that is my answer to your closing sentence — yes, we will be less interested in investing if it is open — but only today. We will get it right and we will finally figure out that open is better and that it is our mission — and its what we’ve been doing all along. We just haven’t, IMHO, grasped that digital is no different. In time we’ll be there.

  11. Sean … “just because YouTube allows embedding doesn’t necessarily mean copyright isn’t broken either, as much of the content there strictly speaking shouldn’t be. The fact that they provide embed code doesn’t absolve me of guilt for posting copyrighted content on my blog.”

    My exact point in my next post. Youtube *is* open and available on a global basis, but a percentage of its sharable content shouldn’t be there. Maybe they will figure it out, but copyrighted material is by nature the property of the copyright holder.

  12. We all know that a certain percentage of faculty will not share “their” materials. It’s their lever to their goals, it’s job security, etc. So far this discussion has delved into the physical side of openness – linking vs. embedding as an example, and the artifacts we create that can be shared.

    What about the faculty perspective side of all this, the “it’s mine” view? We can lower the barrier on the physical side of openness by creating tools that make it easy to share stuff. That seems easy in comparison to changing attitudes. What rewards do we offer faculty when they openly share content? How do we protect their rights when they do so? What leverage do we have to encourage them to do so?

  13. Brett … it is a good question, but one I am frustrated by. Not your asking, but the fact that in my 10 years at PSU it is one I hear far too much. I want to ask about the other group of faculty who *will* share? What would your strategy be to engage the believers? What do we say to the third (I am guessing with that %) of faculty who will embrace openness? My goal would be to start with those who will be a part of the change and perhaps never worry about the others. It may be self-serving to ignore the ones who are not interested in participating, but I am guessing they’ll still be around after we get the ones who are interested moving in the right direction.

    Does that make any sense?

    How we protect their rights can come via educating them about the realities of creative commons. With a CC license no one can take their work. It is a new form of open, but one with much protection. Leverage is another question … I’m not sure. They are (presumably) already rock stars, so we can’t promise them that. Again, maybe there are enough of them excited to participate?

  14. there are two obvious (to me) barriers here.

    1. Lack of expertise in how to share
    – How to physically do it
    – How to protect their works.
    2. Lack of time to share.
    – No simple one-stop way here.

    Let’s come up with a plan that removes these constraints, tap the faculty that do want to participate, and go from there. Have successes and market the hell out of it.

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