Intentionally Closed

To follow up on the unintentional progress we are seeing with academic content being published openly on blogs at Institutions across the country I thought I’d share a story that tells a different tale. Last May I was lucky enough to attend the Berkman@10 conference at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law … one of the first general sessions was a conversation lead by John Palfrey related to Politics and the Future of Democracy. This was my first real view into the notion of nations filtering access to content by its citizens and it was a very powerful experience. During his talk he discussed the Farsi (Iranian) blogosphere and how explosive it is in terms of growth and productivity. He spoke of it as the fourth largest blogosphere (measured by language publishing) and the intense censorship that goes on in the country on topics such as politics, love, religion, and art. Those who write do so at great risk — not the kind of risk we worry about, the kind of risk that ends with people disappearing.

It is not a matter of freedom of speech, it is a matter of freedom after speech.

What struck me at the time was the passion of the bloggers in Iran to get the word out and share … they want so badly to speak out against the government, to show the world that they love art, that they appreciate culture, and so on. They want real change to come to their lives. Because of the level of Internet filtering that goes on, much of what is written within Iran never gets read within Iran … in other words they are writing things that their neighbors can never read. It was a moving thought about the power of the written word and the lengths people will go to for real change. I was reminded of this experience when I came across an outstanding video from the Vancouver Film School, Iran: A Nation of Bloggers. This is so worth the watch.

IRAN: A Nation Of Bloggers from ayrakus on Vimeo.

This puts the notion of easy publishing in a perspective many of us do not view all that often. I wonder what your reaction to this is and why we are so tied to a closed architecture when there are people willing to die for the ability to live in the open. Maybe I am comparing things that cannot/should not be compared, but it is sort of ironic is it not? We live in a place where access to knowledge is open, a place where I can publish instantly and (part of) the world can take part in the conversation, and yet we still work to build walls around our knowledge. I’m not too Polly Anna to think there isn’t a reason to protect intellectual property (not agreeing with an approach does not make it go away), but for crying out loud its time to cry out loud!

Looking in Both Directions

As we start a new semester here at the University I thought it might be important to share some thoughts about how this summer has been different than others for me. My reflections are primarily related to work, but who knows if some personal stuff emerges. This summer has bolted by just as others before it … the difference I see here is how perspective changing, progressive, proactive, connected, and encouraging this one has been. I’ve probably worked harder this summer than many in the past — and that includes the years doing nothing but maintenance, painting, and the other odd jobs I did in high school, college, and during grad school. This summer I moved my thinking in new directions and we tried things as a group within ETS that stretched us and pushed us forward. The results, in my mind, have laid the groundwork for what I hope will become the root of our most substantial progress to date.

My personal and professional tipping point came early in the summer when I traveled to Harvard University and attended the Berkman at 10 event. To say it was transformative would be an understatement. The idea that spending a few days around people who spend their time thinking critically about how the Internet empowers and should promote openness was an amazing opportunity. I walked away from Berkman with a new clarity that I have tried in the subsequent months to embrace in new ways. I am even more focused on the notion that the Internet is a platform that not only provides new affordances, but actually encourages openness, collaboration, and community. Getting to hear people whom I have spent years reading was a thrill … getting to have dinner with David Weinberger and to engage in real conversations with he and others at our table was a thrill. When I say thrill I don’t mean it was like getting to meet a rock star, it was an opportunity to test my own legs as I was working through my own ideas that I feel have been built on their foundations. It left me oddly depressed and so motivated at the same time. It pushed me to want to create an environment like the Berkman Center here at my own Institution that works to create a knowledge community and I am working towards that lofty goal.

Organizationally, the thing that jumps out at me as the biggest move this summer was the opportunity to add Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul to ETS as a resident faculty fellow this summer. I’m not going to recount her work here only because she and the rest of the team did a masterful job of capturing it in the ETS wikispace. Her work, connected to our staff and relationships, have built new opportunities that I think will lead to a real change in the ways faculty and students embrace the notion of reflection as a learning tool. The portfolio work she pushed at us has changed the conversation in our organization and it has forced us to see it as a larger opportunity. It pushed to get our stuff together to the point where we can now point to tangible projects that will see students and faculty engaging in portfolios in a systematic way within at least two colleges on campus. That to me is very exciting. Carla’s work has not only inspired us within ETS, it has had an interesting effect on other innovative and open thinking faculty — they are encouraged to be fellows. I think going forward this has the potential to change our dynamic with faculty across the board and will help us create a sustainable model for engagement that could grow deep roots.

The idea that our local community could come together and create a first rate professional development event that brings together over 100 people is stunning. The fact that it happen is even more incredible to me. The Learning Design Summer Camp represents the change that is happening across our Institution — there are fresh ideas, fresh faces, and fresh energy that are pushing us all to do a better job at creating shared expectations. The LDSC08 represents the movement that is underway across campus — one that points to the power of community in a real a sense. This is the real life, meat space, embodiment of web 2.0 … it is tangible evidence that social networks, if fostered and supported, are real. That Twitter can coalesce real face to face interaction that is both meaningful and lasting. The events leading up to and at the LDSC08 are proof that we can be a force to be reckoned with. What we do with this new found power is the critical question.

There is so much more that went on this Summer that warrants individual posts … the ones above are the ones I see as having sustainable impact at PSU. We’ve done quite a bit more — new versions of Adobe Connect, a new and enhanced publishing platform in the blogs at Penn State, achieved goals with iTunes U that are still unspeakable, built plans for a new graduate student initiative to impact discipline specific activity, put in a half dozen new Digital Commons facilities across our Commonwealth, embarked on a project to impact thousands of composition students, and so much more. It was a good Summer … We honestly won’t know the real impact for months, but things are moving in a great direction. A huge thank you that made it so special to me and who have put their heart and soul into making vision a reality.

Open Design Questions without Answers

I am beginning to think that “May is Think Open Month” for me … obviously thinking about openness is something that has been in the middle of my head for the last several weeks. The trip to the Berkman@10 event pushed me very hard to evaluate the things I feel are important to me as I do my work — as an administrator, teacher, and person. I have be reevaluating many of the descions I’ve made over the last few years in my work and I think for the most part I’ve been consistent in my push for openness … I’m not always able to be moving in that direction, but for the most part I have spent the last few years thinking very critically about the interplay between identity, community, and deisgn as it realtes to openness. The events of the last month have only served to push me further down the path to look even more critically at how I can impact change at my Institution and beyond to embrace a collective voice as it relates to moving to a more open perspective.

I’m not thinking about open courseware, open (unfiltered) ranting, or other more disruptive concepts … no, I am thinking more about how openness should be built into the design process. Not really instructional design per say, but design in general … in my mind learning design is looking at the notion of building learning opportunities in a more broad sense than more strict instructional systems design. I am interested in what happens when we (designers) give up a majority of the control and let our communities come in and particpate in a more holistic sense. Would chaos emerge if we didn’t control the learning design process, just enabled it through new governance models (unfortunate term as it feels very controlling), new methodologies for encouraging open participation, and open access to tools? I am thinking seriously about what it would look like to convince a department that we should embark on a new approach to knowledge capture … a wikipedia approach that places the emphasis on the community to create the reification of knowledge as they see fit. What would that look like?

I am seriously considering proposing to teach a new course this Fall (I know it sounds crazy) with a focus on exploring open design … maybe doing it in the context of creating discipline specific knowledge by the community. I don’t know what College this works in, but clearly the College of Education or the College of Information Sciences and Technology would be prime targets for this. This is not fully baked (as I thought of it about an hour ago as I mowed the lawn), but my goal would be to turn over the design of the articulation of knowledge to the community. Let the students work to determine what we should capture and how to do it — furthermore, let them explore how to encourage a larger community involvement in that task as well. I see a wiki sitting in the middle with a discipline specific outline in it … each major item in the outline is an article stub that teams of students would work to complete. I wonder if they could create articles that could stand up to the scrutiny of a group of faculty reviewers? I wonder if the illustration of a project like this would tip the scales towards a more bottom up curricular knowledge creation perspective? I wonder if it would produce any interesting outcomes?

Lots of questions, but as with most new half-baked concepts questions often are the only things to guide us. I have no idea if any of this would work, but after reading about some great examples of faculty pushing students to craft complete knowledge destined for wikipedia, I am fairly certain the mechanics could work. So at the end of the day I am interested in seeing if a few of my questions could be answered:

  • Can you ask a loosely joined group to work together in a distributed way to construct a concrete example of expressed discipline specific material?
  • Would the work of a small class encourage participation from outside the class?
  • Could the resulting articles be valuable enough that they could form the basis for some other curricular activities? In other words, would they hold up to the standard set forth by more traditional eLearning content creation approaches?
  • Would Colleges or Departments invest the time of the expertise at the top (faculty) to form some sort of domain specific governance (oversight) committee to help ensure quality content from the community?
  • Would studnets participating in a course like this gain enough through the creation of small pieces of content? In other words, the course would have to be about open design, not a specific curricular goal.

With my las bullet I think I captured what I really want — I want to spend 15 weeks with a small group of smart students investigating what open design means and how we could all learn to apply what we learn to novel challenges. Should I do it? Who wants to help?

Open Thinking

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!

Jimmy Wales and Yochi Benkler on Cooperation

Wikipedia has become the icon of a different way of looking at how we can be productive and collaborative. Peer production has emerged as a defining feature of the networked information economy and the networked public sphere. Can we seriously begin to imagine that these practices should change our understanding of the possibilities of cooperative human relations? What are the forces pushing against cooperation, and how can they be addressed? What can we learn from life online about how better to design systems, both technical and institutional that will foster cooperation?

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Jonathan Zittrain on the Future of the Internet

“Open code, open education, open talk, open.” — Charles Nesson on the core values of Berkman.

“I was skeptical of studying the Internet at a law school … it seemed like proposing to study the telephone at a law school.” — William Fisher, during the introduction of Zittrain.

“Jonathan is the Berkman Center.” — Dean Elana Kegan while introducing Zittrain.

Photo Credits: wseltzer

Time to get started … the first real talk is kicking off with Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet. I admit that I have his book resting on my desk in my office, but I have yet to read it. I am very interested in getting to it as it has been recommended by some very smart people, Lessig in particular talked at length about it during our lunch together at the 2008 TLT Symposium. Off to his talk … BTW, while some of this I really tried to capture, much of it is a collection of quotes I found interesting and want to return to for later reflection.

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Getting Started at the Berkman@10

My colleague Chris Millet and I are sitting in very tight seats in Ames Courtroom on the campus of Harvard University getting set to listen the opening remarks for the Berkman@10, The Future of the Internet event. This is an event that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. I rarely get to attend events that I choose for my own development — I do a ton of travel, but the majority of it is related to University business. Being able to come and listen to people talk about the Future of the Internet is a real treat. I have been following the work of the Berkman Center and several of their fellows for quite some time now … names like Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Jimmy Wales, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, and so many others.

Throughout the day I will be doing my best to post thoughts related to the event as it unfolds. I will attempt to capture some salient thoughts that may provide some new opportunities for the work we do at Penn State and beyond. I’ll be on Twitter all day sharing some things as well and welcome any tweets @colecamplese with ideas, reactions, or questions.