Bag of Gold

I wrote about my experience seeing Gardner Campbell’s talk, “No more digital facelifts” at OpenEd in Vancouver right after the event. It was really a true stand out to me at the time and continues to resonate. Clearly the truly interesting work happening in and around Jim Groom’s ds106 course at Mary Washington reinforces the importance of the talk … especially in light of how the open course and #ds106radio is playing out across the Internet. I tweeted not too long ago that the only disappointing thing about my new job is not having the cycles to participate in what is an amazing demonstration in the notion of the aggregate learning experience of the future — and then I see the video above and a little part of me dies as I am faced with a troubling thought …

Am I now the one not understanding the true value of exploring what the bag of gold has to offer and dismissing the opportunity?

I sure hope that isn’t a sign of my new life and I seriously doubt it is. My life is about exploring and in the last couple of months I have had far less time for that. I am not trying to be overly reactive in this reflection so I will just leave it well enough alone. I do, however, want to find time to continue to explore and learn about how to take advantage of and support the explosive nature that teaching and learning with technology affords. I am in total agreement with Gardner, “it is what makes me do what I do.”

BTW, one of the magical things happening in the ds106 course is the intense amount of talent working in a single direction in a very distributed network of intelligence and creativity. Tom Woodward’s remix of Gardner’s talk is a perfect example of that.

Open Insight

We don’t have a top down open education initiative here at Penn State. At some point in the near future I hope to see that change, but at the end of the day so much is already happening in the open across the PSU web … quite frankly it is really amazing to see. I try to highlight that incidental openness when I can, but I have been thinking more and more about what our OER might look like here. And when I say that, I’d like to do it in a way that could impact more than just people looking to grab some solid open content to consume … I’d like to take it a step further, but up until recently I haven’t been able to figure out what that means.

After Learning Design Summer Camp, one of our undergraduate writing interns put together a short piece on her reactions from the day in a post called, Learning Design Summer Camp from the student perspective. There was one part that really struck me as interesting and thought provoking …

The one presentation that I found particularly interesting as a student was Sam Richard’s presentation on teaching Sociology 119. I actually took Sam’s Sociology 119 class during the spring 2010 semester, so hearing him speak about the actual teaching of a class that I had taken just recently was very interesting for me. His presentation at Camp focused heavily on engaging students in a large lecture setting, especially through the use of technology. Sam’s Sociology 119 class was one of the most engaging classes I have taken at Penn State, especially amazing, since it is in such a large lecture setting. Before hearing Sam speak at Camp, I never really thought about all the things he actually did to keep me engaged and interested in a class so large that it would be easy to feel forgotten. Hearing him discuss choosing these technologies and why they work in the classroom helped me to better understand from his perspective how he can make a class of 700 students work so well.

What grabbed about it is that I’ve never really thought about what classroom practice looks like to students. What I mean is that I never recall thinking about the kinds of things my faculty did to engage me in the classroom … and I certainly never really thought about the fact that they were doing something deliberate. It makes me wonder if any of the students on our campuses think at all about what goes into making a particular class interesting or engaging?

With this new perspective I have been talking about an idea that would go along with some sort of more structured video based OER project. What I would like to do is to not only produce a video based OER series, much like Yale’s, but add shorter vignettes of the featured faculty talking about their designs, motivations, inspirations, and reflections on how and why they teach. I think it would be terrific to hear in short bursts from the faculty about what is going on in their heads as they prepare to stand in front of their students. I could see it being very much like a powerful digital story that can inspire other faculty to think critically about their practice and it may be really interesting and engaging to students to hear their faculty talk more informally about what is going on behind the scenes. It may also help inform design practice in ways we haven’t yet thought about.

Locked Doors to Openness

Something I have been struggling with lately is the continuum of open to closed in lots of contexts. So much of the conversation in the tech blogosphere is all about Apple and the App Store/iPad/iPod/iPhone lock in. It is a conversation that if taken on its own I am completely disinterested in. I bought in years ago and that is that. The App eco-system and the perceived heavy hand of Apple in the approval process does not interest me in the least. It is, however, in this conversation that I am trying to pay more attention to where I am in my own career and thinking.

I read a great post that John Gruber pointed to yesterday by Neven Mrgan titled, “The Walled Garden.” Again this post dealt with the App Store, but I think it has some serious implications for thought about the field of education technology and the way we are working within our institutions to radically open up education. It sort of caught me off guard how aligned some of my thinking is around this topic … and in many ways I find myself standing on the other side of a divide I thought I’d crossed.

Aren’t the benefits of a closed, carefully managed garden clearly visible? The experience is controlled, so it tells a story – one which may not emerge from a democratic, anything-goes process (or do you think this sort of slow and deliberate story would emerge in a busy American city in the year 2010?) Charging for admission means that the place can be maintained, improved, and marketed. There are downsides to this, of course — maybe the management makes boneheaded decisions now and then. Maybe you think that vine maple would look better a little to the left — maybe you’re even right.


Even in my teaching I struggle with open versus closed and I am growing tired of the “versus” in that conversation. Some things are better closed and managed by the few — not all parts of my open class are democratic and I wouldn’t apologize for that, but for some reason I feel like I need to say I am sorry in other contexts for not being totally open. I know there are times my students feel they know better than I … and many times I know they are right.

In my work, I am being pushed at my institution to take a broader view of the landscape and that is forcing me to see perspectives that I am afraid are not widely held ideals of many of my peers (many of whom I count as mentors and friends) from across higher education. I spent the better part of the last 10 years pressing on the idea that “open wins, period” and lately I am finding that there are times when closed is as much a winner.


via Shirley Buxton

I try to manage my own organization as openly as possible, but things are shifting under my feet. I recently did something I never thought I would do — I created a private blog space that only my staff can get to. Just the thought of that makes me cringe, but that is exactly what I did. I was finding that I was unable to share things that were in process openly as it was constantly being picked up and shared as gospel. As much as I enjoy seeing our work get recognized by the likes of our own Daily Collegian, Onward State, and the Chronicle of Higher Education the overhead of managing the fallout from it has worn on me. It isn’t a coincidence that I have stopped writing as much about my work openly … my work has changed and so has emerged a greater need to keep it guarded. So a private blog was born so I could once again be open with my own staff — it sounds crazy … I needed a closed space so I could be open. There is that gradient thing again.

I am chairing a committee charged with investigating the pedagogical affordances of various course management systems and that as well has me questioning some of my beliefs about it all. I have been a very loud opponent of the CMS in the past and I still don’t use our University-wide CMS in my own teaching, but through the work I am doing with a very smart group from across our Institution I am seeing it all in a new light. Why am I so damn embarrassed to admit that I do believe the CMS is an important part of what we do? I think these tools should be in place and more and more I see them as the access point to all of the innovative stuff we do outside the CMS — why not turn the place that nearly everyone uses into a portal into the Blogs at Penn State, our iTunes U dashboards, and perhaps even google services in the future? If my goal is to drive adoption of these types of (open) platforms I have needed to get beyond the “CMS is evil” stance and embrace it. Again, I need to pass through a closed space to arrive at opportunities for openness.

All of this is is interesting to me and I wonder what it means to where my work fits into the larger landscape of higher education. I have built much of the success of my organizations on being open, honest, and transparent. I want to continue to live in that space, but more and more I see value in some layers of control. I know we will continue to innovate and I know we’ll continue to share, but as the ideas of openness continue to spread I am seeing how closed is truly a part of the conversation. At the end of the day I do recognize the need for doors into wide open spaces — even in that realization I see the ridiculous contradictions. If the doors are locked, how does everyone get in? Maybe the open space on the other side isn’t locked? Not all fences enclose a whole area … what if the door is just the easy way for many of us to walk in and share out? I don’t know.

What Does Open Mean?

I’ve had lots of people ask me about the meaning of “openness” in the context of the work I do since returning from Open Ed 2009 two weeks ago and I am still struggling for an answer. I was working to frame my view of open based on my own experiences here at PSU, but it feels forced and difficult to grab — there seems to be clarity for a moment and then it just vanishes, slipping through my fingers and out of reach. I mentioned that I have a different perspective on open than many at the conference in my own reflection of the event, but it seems important to me to hash through a few more ideas that are banging around in my head.

I am moving closer to the notion that it can’t just be about access to open educational resources. I was exploring this more deeply in a response to my colleague, David DiBiase’s comment on my Open Ed reflection post. I had mentioned that there were many at the event who pushed on the idea of a moral imperative … I wasn’t saying I felt that way necessarily and I certainly do not spend my time thinking about distance education and access of those materials by everyone. Instead I was asking the question about what needs to be a part of something to make it an OER? Is a course blog an OER? Are a set of annotated Flickr photos an OER? Is a YouTube mediated conversation an OER?

These are things that I am really curious about exploring. Our team here at PSU spends our time exploring platforms to empower teaching and learning in new ways, we spend time working to impact faculty in positive ways, and we work to bring all of our thinking to the entire community in as a transparent way we can through both physical and virtual activities. How are we pressing openness when we don’t really deliver anything that is deemed educational in and of itself. We build the framework that we hope open happens on. I wonder if that makes sense?

A lot of my current thinking is built on a mash up of thoughts I have been working through since I heard Jonathan Zittrain speak at the Berkman at 10 event in Boston last year. My favorite quote from his talk is that, “there is no main menu for the Internet.” Its a mash up of thoughts because it resonates so well with the push button attitude of the web on which too many of us build our identities. In this context I am thinking specifically about the closed room that is Facebook. It is reminding me so much of the old days of AOL that is scary. You remember AOL, don’t you. It was essentially a fully top down, closed, main menu driven version of the Internet that eventually died when we all realized there was value in not navigating the path they wanted us to. The new web should be, by nature, empower openness — just like Zittrain said, the web is an environment that encourages us to party in a “BYOC — Bring your own content” way. Once we started to bring our own content, the proprietary providers couldn’t keep up. Will the same happen at Facebook?

There is no Main Menu for the Internet.

There is no Main Menu for the Internet.

Facebook is clearly different than AOL in that we still bring our own content, but instead of managing and sharing it openly, we are hoarding it and only letting our “friends” see it. Is that really any different than a $5.00 a month service? Facebook is free you say, but the content we deposit in it isn’t. If open is about global access, how does an Internet built on that vision match up? How can we feel good about watching our students (and faculty, staff, children, friends, parents, etc) drop a great deal of long-term learning opportunities into that box?

How does this rambling mess relate to OER? Well, that is for us to explore together, but if there is one thing I believe passionately in its the ability for all of us to have a platform that we can use to make decisions about how our content is shared. My colleague, Elizabeth Pyatt put it brilliantly when she insightfully told me that closed is a gradient of open. Our open movement here may have more to do with providing the opportunity to make the default decision be an open one. I know over the term of my digital life I’d prefer that I can make decisions about what is left there for others to consume. Open may be about letting people know they have the power to make that decision and giving them free access to BYOC.

Just a thought … any reactions?

OpenEd 2009 Recap

I spent the better part of last week attending the OpenEd 2009 conference in Vancouver, B.C. The event itself has pushed me in so many directions I’ve had a terribly difficult time making sense of all of it. It was certainly one of the most interesting mix of personal and professional growth that I’ve dealt with in quite a long time. Last year I was lucky enough to attend Harvard’s Berkman at 10 conference and I must say while that event made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the Internet, this event has reshaped my thinking about my ability to impact education in a more general sense.

When I registered for the event it had quite a bit to do with the people I knew would be there and the opportunity to meet and talk through issues with those folks was key. The sessions surprised me in ways that I was honestly not prepared for, each one I attended was massively insightful and wonderfully done. I’ll do my best in this post to reflect on some of the things that jumped out at me, but will in no way be able to fully articulate the things that are still roaming around in my head as they relate to the Open Education community. What follows are notes and reflections that were started sometime during the week and have been edited on and off over the course of several days — it’ll bounce between present, future, and past tense … so try to hang in and I apologize going in about how long it is.



New Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Opportunities

Clearly some of the work David Wiley has ben doing will lay the groundwork for informing Institutions about the relative value an OER initative will have on their long term success. The part of OER that is unfortunate to me has been listening to many top level administrators frame the discussion as one that is built solely on financial issues. Many of the people actually invested in the OER space talk about it as a “moral imperative,” related to sharing content to the World and doing good. I agree with this stance on lots of levels but it is the realities of the Institutional base that creates a strong argument against doing it. I feel like what is begining to happen is that there are people (Wiley is one of them) who are looking more critically at what it might mean to a University from both a financial and moral perspective. The other thing here is that I spend nearly all of my time thinking only about resident learning and ways to make that a more open experience. The other thing that I noticed is that most of the conversation related to OER focuses more on the more pure distant education and not resident education. This has kept on the sidelines for much of the conversation. The meeting in Vancouver made me rethink that position …

I did my best to share my thoughts related to openness from an RI perspective and tried to stress that we shouldn’t limit our activities to simply courseware, but also tools that empower openness. I think through the conversations I had I was able to talk those notions through with some people, but at times I did feel as though I was still on the outside looking in. Reflecting on the whole experience I can say I feel much better about coming at this from a slightly different perspective.

The final note I’ll make about the notion of new conversations and scholarship centers around the fact that the OpenEd conference has become an internationally known event that draws some of the most serious educational technologists in the world. The fact that I can be asked to participate in a global conversation that is really designed by ed tech people for ed tech people is relatively stunning. The place was absolutely buzzing with energy and without being too over the top, it felt to me like there is a bit of a sea change on the horizon. I think for too many years we perhaps leaned on potentially out moded forms of design that are centered on ignoring the power of the open social web. It is in that realization that I felt as though I really belonged with this group. I think that we may be in the moment where the work of the last 10 years specifically will begin to penetrate the thinking as it relates to teaching and learning. That we can drive real curricular change and challenge the notion of the behaviorist view of traditional learning design. The flexibility and openness afforded to us is empowering educational technologits to imagine new forms of pedagogy that over time could radically alter the open vs. closed conversation that dominates much of education. Again, I don’t want to make too much of it, but spending time talking through this issue is what has been the transformative moment of the event for me. Openness will happen, but I believe it will be built on new forms of scholarship and pedagogy by people who have been living their lives in the social web — experimenting, imagining, and designing learning spaces that tear down the long standing notions of top down, locked down content. That to me is more motivating than anything I can consider.

People Matter

Like I mentioned earlier, I went mainly for the people and the hope for intense conversations. I am leaving with an even greater sense of community and with new friendships. I’ll clearly leave people out, but the hospitatility and intensity of those who put this event together is inspiring — Brian Lamb, David Wiley, Chris Lott, and Scott Leslie all put their best foot forward and built something that is clearly very difficult to create — an event that is intellectually challenging paired with what I would consider a world-class collection of voices in the field. Canada has its share of thought leaders in our field, but I had no idea I would meet so many more. Some of the others who either rocked me with their sessions or just through informal conversations are listed below … in no particular order.

Alec Courous is someone whom I read as much as I can and have come to respect on so many levels over the last few years. As a faculty member he is challenging the notions of scholarship and pushing his field in new directions. While Alec didn’t present, the conversations I had with him — down to his empassioned readings of twitter messages — made me think even more critically how important it is for me to personally continue to attack my own doctorate and to press my colleagues at Penn State to follow his lead. His open course, Social Media and Open Education is a very interesting model that we may consider for our own C&I 597 course Scott McDonald and I will teach in the spring. Very cool design and the openness is amazing.

I’ve know D’Arcy Norman for years online and have even had a chance to meet him once face to face prior to the event itself. D’Arcy styles himself as just “a lowly ed tech geek from the University of Calgery …” what he is however is someone who started much of the incidental openness that has spawned the very community that gathered here in Vancouver last week. He doesn’t write as much as he used to, but D’Arcy was honestly the first voice I heard online from my own field. He didn’t intend to inspire people in our field to bypass the traditional publishing path and make our own voice, but he did. These efforts pushed many of us, including me, to start experimenting with open platforms and to start imagining how they could be used in a teaching and learning contexts. Our discussions did not disappoint and I was thrilled to see he is just as snarky in person as he is on Twitter. His talk was short, but created lots of ongoing conversation … I would have liked to have had more time.

Telling Stories by the Fire

Telling Stories by the Fire

Alan Levine‘s “Amazing Stories of Openness” session was a real highlight. Alan always pushes it hard when he presents, but this was a whole new level. Alan used the open web and made calls for amazing stories from colleagues across the country and beyond. Alan decided that instead of him telling the stories he’d light the camp fire and have a virtual panel where he moderated and negitiated his way through some of the best reflective videos I’ve seen. I think in a lot of ways his approach was more about imploring those in attendance that amazing does happen in education when you build it on transparency.

History of EduGlu

History of EduGlu

My time with Jim Groom did not disappoint. I find it amazing that Jim drives forward with everything he does with both massive amounts of energy and passion yet controls his message so well. But the thing that strikes me in a deeper way is that each time I spend time with him I see how truly innovative and forward thinking he really is. I was just as in awe of his talk, “The Design of Openness” this time as I have been in the past, but his approach was softer and more well articulated in many ways. Instead of hitting us over the head with a technological solution to a problem that may or may not exist he spent his time weaving a story that focused on the things we should be concerned about — most importantly student learning and engagement. He deflects compliments, but he is honestly opening new doors for many of us to get our message out there to people outside our specific slice of the field.

Gardner Mesmerized Us

Gardner Mesmerized Us

This was my first time getting to listen to Gardner Campbell from Baylor give a talk. I’ve met Garder and he is certainly one of my daily reads. He is also a faculty member working to redesign the Honors College at Baylor and he will do it with a style and substance that few I’ve met can bring. His talk, “No Digital Facelifts” was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was the only session that I went to that felt it lasted five minutes. Articulate, smart, and a bit provactive his message really resonated with me. His delivery was masterful — as much as any of the best lectures I’ve been to … in other words, he schooled us all. It is a much watch. His ideas of students as “sys admins” for their own educational cyber-infrastructure is at first almost laughable until you start to sit back and think about how little flexibility we give students to explore and design their own online identities. His metaphor of C-Panel as the CMS was staggering upon further reflection and while there isn’t a chance in the world that we could honestly do something like that, it gives me hope that within the next 5-10 years we can make real steps in that direction. When I go back and re-read my last sentence I want to edit it … but more on that in another post.

Dave Cormier’s session title, “We’re not your [@#$%] educational resource” was masterfully delivered and articulated. I’m honestly embarassed to say that I was not previously subscribed to Dave’s blog, but that changed immediately. His claim that we minimize the importance of community as components of the OER movement was wonderfully given. The discussion and debate that occured was mind opening. On top of that, Dave is a very smart and insightful guy across a very broad spectrum. I spent way too much time hanging out talking with him about a dozen or so topics late into the night — the Railway Club was an ideal location to expand our conversations!

John Mott from BYU simply blew me away. Another must watch presentation. All I can say is this guy knows what he is talking about on so many levels it is a bit scary. The fact he does in such an unassuming way was even more humbling. Thinking about how one builds a brdige between a personal learning environment and the LMS is a critical step along the path towards taking personal responsibility for one’s own learning. Another guy who just made me smile and marvel at was Chris Lott. I’ve followed Chris for quite some time, but hadn’t had the chance to really talk to him or see him in action. Getting to hear him talk and then spend time with him in a social setting was well worth the trip.

Then there was this undercurrent of new kids coming to the party. I met Boone Georges in person after many months of watching his Twitter stream. Andre Malen proved to be every bit as smart and articulate as both Brian Lamb and D’Arcy warned me about. I think those two, if they choose to stay in ed tech, will be great leaders in our field going forward. Having the courage and confidence to not just show up, but to challenge the thinking in such deep ways tells me so much about these two. BTW, there were about a half dozen or so amazingly intellignet young people at the event that I never did quite catch their names, so I appologize for not mentioning them by name. The old guard isn’t quite old or stale enough for a total changing to happen, but this is the first new blood I’ve seen injected into the conversation in quite some time.

Finally, I was impressed beyond belief with the participation of my PSU colleagues. Brian Panulla, Stevie Rocco, Ann Taylor, Jeff Swain, and Keith Bailey all came ready to engage and challenge what people had to say. I admit to following Ann’s running notes as a cue for what was happening in other sessions and watching Jeff’s blog for his session thoughts the entire time. I saw a bit of ah-ha monets come across the face of several of them and I know that means PSU will be a stronger place with that crew amplifying the message.

Final Thoughts

I know much of that reads like a fanboy perspective, but at the end of the day these and so many other people made a profound impact on me that I had to get some of it out. The event was terrific and the city was amazing. I’m looking forward to continuing this work here at PSU and beyond over the course of the next few years. I threw out an idea to some of the people listed above about coming to PSU and taking part in an all day event designed to keep the conversation moving forward … if they are half as passionate here as they were at OpenEd we’ll be in good shape.

Relationships that don’t Suck

This post is a generalization. Now that I have that out of the way, here I go … I’ve been in the instructional design/technology/etc business for over a dozen or so years and I’ve seen lots of models in place to help people get their teaching, training, and learning materials together. In the corporate space it was a very contract driven approach with Subject Matter Experts (SME) being pushed to provide content by a project manager or instructional designer. In higher education the SME is typically a faculty member and they are typically being pushed to provide content by the instructional designers — a very corporate approach to learning design. It is my thought that this relationship is, in many ways, very unhealthy. I say that only by watching what I see around me in countless course design projects.

Back when I was an instructional designer at the Penn State World Campus I worked with a faculty member to build an online Reliability Engineering course. It was made very clear to me that a big part of my responsibility was to get the faculty member to write and deliver content on some (arbitrary) timeline. I was an Instructional Designer that had been reduced to a content task master. The faculty member on the other hand was an internationally known reliability engineer whom we reduced to the notion of content provider. I can tell you the relationship was contentious at best — for lots of reasons. One of those reasons was that we didn’t find a way to build a professional relationship that centered around us talking about what our areas of focus and expertise was all about. I find it unfortunate looking back on it as I wished I would have taken the time to work to a common ground. I could tell I made him mad and he knew that I loathed his pace in the delivery of the holy grail of eLearning materials — raw content.

How disturbing is that? Raw content … it just sounds insulting, that we would categorize what this man had to offer was nothing more than several written pages of raw content. I am sorry for ever reducing the brilliance of this man’s work into a term so demeaning as that. It is no wonder he looked at me like I was nothing more than a “computer jockey” slinging his prose into some HTML container. What a crock of shit the whole thing was.

After the conversation that broke out here this week about working to see perspectives when we come together I want so badly to offer an alternative approach to what we do in a typical instructional design process, but rarely feel like we have to time to accomplish — work to come together, build a relationship, and trust the passion, energy, and expertise we all bring to the table.

On Sunday I spent some time talking with my good friend and colleague Keith Bailey about how nasty the relationship can get between an ID and a faculty member for this very reason. We work so hard to create schedules and then push faculty to just hand over some content (and we’ll take it from there) that real anger emerges. The question that emerged centered around how do we push through and learn there are many more powerful ways to go about this task?

One I’ll offer is to embrace the notion open content. What I challenged Dr. Bailey with was at the start of the next course his team in the Arts and Architecture eLearning Institute designs is to take the content outline and first go to wikipedia, wikieducator, and other open content spaces and see what exists with the faculty member as a partner. Use that moment to explore what is and isn’t there, to start the conversation about what is different and what is similar about what they discover together. It should lead to a real conversation about why it might make more sense for us to skip designing in a closed space and instead actually using what is available and contributed what we make into these open spaces? If an article about a concept doesn’t exist, construct it collaboratively and contribute it there. The idea of a Creative Commons licensed article is much more powerful than the existing lock down we place on learning materials from within the academy.

Would the overall process of working together to identify existing content and working to contribute new knowledge into the commons lead to an opportunity unlike what our current approaches provide? I’m not sure, but would like to explore that further. Any thoughts?

Accidental Openness

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.

Philosophy 298H Course Site

Philosophy 298H Course Site

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?

Discovering Open Resources at Home (and Beyond)

With all my yelling for openness on campus recently, I am proud to show off some of the open content emerging within our iTunes U space. There are thousands of course podcasts that are still behind the log in wall, but so much great open content is being published every single day. It is really cool to see. If you have iTunes installed and you click this link you’ll be taken to our top downloads area to see for yourself.

PSU on iTunes U: Top Downloads

PSU on iTunes U: Top Downloads

The one thing I’m not sure we are doing a good job at is exposing this to the teaching community as a resource. I’m not thinking about it as a resource for just posting content, but a resource for linking content into an existing course. A quick browse through the WPSU stuff alone brings to light hundreds of amazing assets that are very well done and could support all sorts of learning needs. If there isn’t anything to discover at PSU for you, it may be time to take a look at the content that has been appearing in the overall iTunes U space. Not only is there an excellent selection of open content items from higher education available, but the folks in Cupertino who manage this environment have done an outstanding job bringing open and available content to us from all sorts of sources — take a look, there are some high quality resources just waiting to be used, mashed, contextualized, and shared.

Back at PSU we are in the midsts of a total redesign of our entire podcasting service — from the Podcasts at Penn State site to our iTunes U environment. We are consolidating, working to make things more discoverable, and trying to find new ways to encourage the open posting of content. We are hoping to start releasing some of the new stuff around the start of the Spring 2009 semester. With that in mind, we are all ears! What should we be doing to promote this in a wider sense and raise greater awareness on and off campus?