I was reading my friend and colleague Jim Groom’s blog and came across another one of his spectacular posts … this one wasn’t long and detailed, just short and to the point. Jim, or the Reverend as he is nicknamed, is the mad genius behind the Blogs at University of Mary Washington, the EduPunk movement, and so much more incredibly cool stuff. I was lucky to get to present and hang out with him at the ELI annual meeting and I can tell you he gets this stuff. He gets it a level that is hard to describe … and he does it with his own style. His post, What I Learned from UMW Blogs Today …” calls out two interesting little facts he learned by reading posts on the Blogs at UMW about Salvador Dali and his work and influence on animation in the 1940s … to be honest I don’t really care at all about the topic, but the fact that he could learn that by browsing the Blogs at UMW is a wonderful little happenstance that needs to be explored further.
The same kind of thing is happening at Institutions all over the place — content that has been locked away in the LMS/CMS of choice is now being freed by the easy publishing enabled by Institutional blogging platforms. I find the notion that there is this vast sea of open content being generated without the official blessing of the Academy a wonderful incidental benefit to it all. Let me put it this way … MIT made a huge splash with a “real” open courseware initiative several years ago that cost millions of dollars. The money went to invest in content management systems, convincing faculty it is good, developing models for openness, to support faculty development, pay for marketing, and all sorts of physical and virtual infrastructure. No doubt MIT’s initiative is amazing and has been successful for lots of reasons, but the fact of the matter is that this information inherently wants to be free … so the bottom up community-driven approach I am seeing is a wonderful thing.
Here at PSU our own Blogs at Penn State environment is working to free content in new and interesting ways. Faculty who until recently would not have bothered writing and engaging students openly are doing so. I wonder if it is the toolset or the times we are living in? There is an unprecedented acceptance of technology in our everyday lives and I can’t help but wonder if we are a part of a larger movement in general … a movement in which citizen journalism is reaching into otherwise fortified verticals. Our own vertical, Higher Education, has been one that has promoted locked content for some time now … but what is happening is the convergence of easy to use platforms, social pressures and acceptance, and an interest in participation. It is amazing to watch it unfold. Can it continue in the absence of administrative blessings? I hope so.
I am seeing a day rapidly approaching where many of the major Institutions provide platforms that empower open content and scholarly activity … a place where the next LMS/CMS is simply a browser, a social bookmarking toolset, and perhaps a social recommendation space (like Times People). Imagine how amazing it will be when the best content is published in the open where debate, conversations, and discourse happens at the micro and macro level. Think of how concepts will be brought to life when a single blog post could generate a decades worth of comments from millions of people! Will it be like attending a Symposium on a single post where perspectives are shared from all corners of the globe? I can see how it will allow an individual to see the thinking of the author and react to it and the comments of the community … can that happen? Perhaps.
No matter how one looks at all of this, it is impressive. There will always be the need for closed environments for testing and grades, but why lock away original thoughts? The fact that there are open accidents happening all over the educational blogosphere gives me hope. Anyone care to chime in on any of that insanity?