Open Event Planning

I’ve noted the Learning Design Summer Camp that is happening on our campus August 12 and 13 a number of times before, but I wanted to share a few additional details that have been making me very proud of the work going on around PSU. You see this event is different than anything else we’ve planned before — different because we really aren’t so much planning it as we are guiding it. I pitched the LDSC idea as a way to replace our more traditional all campus instructional design meeting that has historically happened on an annual basis. My challenges were to expand the reach to a more inclusive community of learning designers, raise the level of the conversations we could have, create a fun and robust program, and let the community shape the event. It was that last challenge that excited and scared the hell out of us.

We’ve watched others do the unconference thing and have loved the results. None of had done it so we were reluctant to try until I got back from the Berkman at 10 event and felt new energy about how communities can rise up and participate. We had been getting good participation in the ETS Wiki and felt like we could count on at least a handful of people to help out. What has happened has surprised us all. My colleague, Allan Gyorke, added a page to the wiki on May 28th with a very light skeleton structure … a few Tweets later and the pages came to life. Within days a volunteer committee had formed and met. Within a few weeks enough ideas for sessions had been proposed and discussed that we didn’t need to be concerned. A couple week later, someone from the University Libraries offered their gorgeous space for us to hold the event. Within two months an amazingly robust event had been planned. All of it without having an assigned committee or agenda. All we had was a vision, an outline, and a wiki.

Learning Design Summer Camp Wiki

Learning Design Summer Camp Wiki

If you have the time, or the interest, jump over to the LDSC wiki page and see for yourself. This event is shaping up to be outstanding. The stories and conversations that can potentially go on are both exciting and encouraging on all sorts of levels. Explore how the community has created a series of stickers that represent areas of interests or icons of themselves, take a look at how the logo for the event evolved, check out the sessions proposed by the community, and look at how many people from all over PSU decided to spend two days with us. So maybe the community can be the committee!

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!

Community as Committee

In higher education we use the committee model to get most things done. If you are planning a conference the first thing you do is get a committee or two together. If you are creating new policy, strategic direction, or just about anything else that requires a decision we assemble a group of people and ask them to build the recommendations. Committees are typically a good way to come to consensus around very complex issues. With that said, I feel like I have arrived at a new place with my thinking around planning — it may be time to take the next step and ask the community to be the committee.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately and I am having trouble figuring out why we wouldn’t want to ask the community to really interact with us as we make plans for new projects, initiatives, or approaches. I’m not coming up with anything that is an insurmountable negative and I am certainly not going to align myself with the attitude that talking openly about some of our direction is a bad thing. I know some people will get nervous about the idea of asking anyone in the PSU community to contribute ideas for what we are working on, but at the end of the day as long as we all recognize we can’t implement all the ideas we’ll be fine. So there in lies my first two questions … what are the real downsides to this approach and can it work to create stronger outcomes?

To this end, the one thing we’ve done recently is to start placing more of our planning documents in a quasi-open wiki. Quasi-open because it is limited to those who are part of the PSU community — both people with full access and to those with the Friends of Penn State account. We’ve started a wiki article on the Blogs at Penn State and will be asking the community to come in and help us think big about what we can and should do with it on our campus. Will people show up? Only time will tell … how will we manage the page editing if they do show up? Only time will tell. But if we are to address the needs of over 100,000 potential users it may be time to ask some of them what they think. So, consider yourself invited to be a part of the committee.

Wiki Feeds

As I was looking over the changes at the First Annual Learning Design Non-Conference wiki, I was noticing a bunch of additions. That in and of itself is amazing. But I decided to add the change log RSS to my Google Reader and was really impressed. I know this is going to sound crazy, but it is the first time I have ever subscribed to a wiki change log. This has to be one of the reasons why so many of my colleagues swear by the wiki for group work. I’ve used them for all sorts of things, but I’ve never fallen for them like I just did … all because of a change log.

Wiki RSS

Our Learning Design Non-Conference

As the TLT Symposium approaches I am struck again and again at how much I enjoy working in the PSU Learning Design community … this community is made up of faculty in all sorts of disciplines, staff across our campuses who think about teaching and learning with technology, and students who are engaged in discovering new territory. It is really active and alive! My Twitter stream tells me that is true.

With that in mind, I am thinking about how we get as many of these people together to keep pushing our conversation forward. One thing I know we should have done a long time ago is some sort of an unconference model where we can come together, pick some topics, and share thoughts related to them. So, the other night I put together a page at my wiki asking for help in designing the First Annual Learning Design Non-Conference. Come on in and help us figure it out … the whole thing feels like the right thing to do. If there are people outside the area who would want to join the fun, help us think about how we could extend it to others.

Wiki Thoughts: Taking the Next Steps

At the risk of looking like someone who bounces from thing to thing I thought I’d share just a few thoughts on what a wiki service might be all about at a University … I think one of the fundamental issues around wiki spaces is that people want to feel ownership. In other words, they want to “own” their space. In most higher education models, we (the IT people) bring a wiki online and say to people, “it is there, go ahead and add pages.” That is met with less enthusiasm as one would expect at first blush. I think the overall ownership piece plays a part, don’t you?

If you think about the model, it is a lot like simply installing a version of WordPress and telling people to start blogging. Sure they can blog, but their content is mixed in with the rest of the people blogging on that one space. In my opinion, the answer is to create a service that allows people a very easy way to create a wiki space that is their own.

With the Blogs at Penn State project we are letting people start with a centrally hosted blog publishing platform that they visit … but when it is time to publish their content shows up in their personal webspace. That gives people a little more ownership in the whole process. If you look at what a service like PB WIki provides you can see the right model. I think others agree given I just read that PBWiki Raised $2m to grow its service.

So I am right back to square one with the whole build/buy/partner question that seems to be around every turn these days. Here’s a question for those of who have implemented a wiki service at your Universities … do you have one big wiki that people just add to, or do you provide a true wiki service where any user can create a separate instance that is their own?