On Being Open: An Open Letter to Bloomsburg, PA’s Press Enterprise

To the Editor of the Press Enterprise,

I was going to post this to your Facebook wall as I am a fan, but the character limits of that environment forced me to do it in my own space. I am hopeful you will see my letter in the spirit it is offered — as a concerned and compassionate plea for action.

First, I want to thank and commend you for opening the online edition of the Press Enterprise in the days after the flood. It was incredibly important to so many people coast to coast. We all have friends and family who have been impacted by this disaster in so many ways.

With that said, I want to understand your decision to close access to the online edition during the days following the disaster that is unfolding in our communities. I believe you should be providing free and open access to your online edition for as long as it takes for people outside the area to know what is happening — there is an obvious lack of national attention to this tragedy. I would also urge you to maintain open access to the archives of the digital issues so other news agencies can cite and point to your reporting. Maintaining an open and searchable archive of the paper in an accessible format will be critical for other news agencies, scholars, and historians in the near to long term.

I have been gathering and posting photos online at Flickr to share with people who want to be connected to Bloomsburg and the surrounding areas. For the last two days alone, I have had over 65,000 views of these photos. I’ve never had more than a 100 views in any given day — ever. My photos are open, licensed as Creative Commons, and will continue to be available as a set on Flickr.

I have talked to friends in other parts of the country who haven’t heard about what has happened and are completely unaware. Who else is going to report this other than our local news? The national news has ignored this event. The Press Enterprise represents our local news and because of that you represent our communities. Please do the right thing and open access to the paper for others to see what has happened and what continues to go on. I seriously doubt it will limit your paid subscriptions in the long haul and sincerely hope your decision can transcend financial issues.

I say this as a Bloomsburg native and as a friend to the Press. Please let me know if I can help or if you’d like to talk about a strategy over the short term. We want you to know that we will support you going forward. Please do the right thing.

I sincerely appreciate your consideration in this matter. Please know that I am posting this widely in hopes that you will consider the imperative.

Cole W. Camplese

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?

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?

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!

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?

More Hulu and Big Media

I am still taking in the greatness that is hulu.com … a big media company that has gotten it. This morning I bounced over and saw that they’ve recently added a new “program” called, Hulu How-To’s. Nothing earth shattering — the typical screencast of how to do things on the site. The thing that is entirely interesting to me is that the three how-to’s I saw were all about how to share their content. They teach you how to embed it (with the ability to embed only the parts you want), how to link it, and how to email it. Can you imagine a year ago a big media company teaching you how to redistribute their content?

Update … here is something I didn’t know. Hulu is unavailable outside the US. While I have no interest in supporting Internet filtering I am torn about the notion of perceived progress related to limiting access to content.

Two additional observations:

Several years ago big media started demanding that higher education take action against piracy on our networks. I have to say that I do not blame them doing so. Piracy of music, and more recently movies and software, is illegal and should not be tolerated. I think a lot of people didn’t agree with the approaches the big boys utilized and we all wished they saw the value in being more open — we’ve all heard both sides of the conversation so no need to rehash. One of the things we all did to help fight illegal file sharing was limit bandwidth on our campuses so students could push fewer bits through our pipes. We don’t monitor what gets pushed, we just make sure they aren’t using too much. When they do, we are forced to assume it is because they are sharing large media files and we turn off their access for a time. Am I the only one beginning to find it incredibly ironic that some of these same big media folks are now seeing the value in allowing open access to their properties and all of it requires a boatload of bandwidth? I am guessing they will now cry foul about our limiting the very networks they were once so concerned about.

The second observation has to do with Obama’s decision to share his Fireside Chats via youtube instead of just radio. I heard some folks on NPR bashing the decision and coming up with a handful of reasons why it is wrong. I’m not so much impressed that he chose youtube as the platform, I am impressed that he decided to do it on a social platform. Youtube allows for feedback, video responses, and the reuse of media via embed tags. Imagine what an amazing open archive these will be as we go forward. Open educational resources at their best.

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?

Should it all be Miscellaneous?

I know from the start that much of what I am working through will agitate a great number of the people around campus and the world that I consider colleagues. I apologize in advance, but this is territory I want to explore with others.

Today I attended the Penn State Web Conference and left asking new questions about how the information of the academy should be organized … even in that statement I am making the assumption that we should be organizing it. When I step back, I have to ask myself a simple question — what the hell am I asking? Of course we need to organize it — without our attempt to put content into an organized structure we aren’t climbing the curve to information and are certainly stopping short of knowledge … but, to tell you the truth I am now questioning that notion specifically. I am also rethinking the notion of the systems we are asking users to adopt — content management systems. Even the naming of it has become very frustrating to me … the idea that we need to manage content may not be the right approach at all.

I am reading David Weinberger’s new book, Everything is Miscellaneous and am taking from it the idea that information really wants to be free from the structure we attempt to pack it into — as if information is like the silverware we obsessively place into the drawer separated by the little dividing lines. His observation is that digital world shouldn’t be organized in such rigid first or second order structures — that instead it should be allowed to exist as complete thoughts and rearranged and explored based on the users’ needs or the context seekers are approaching it for. From his book:

We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and — perhaps more important — who we think has the authority to tell us so.

So what. Well, what I am continuing to think about is the institutional knowledge issue I’ve been exploring over the course of the last few weeks. The Web Conference, while very solid, seems to be dwelling on two things — the big problem with managing the web at a large University and the use of content management to fix it. I am starting to think we are all wrong on both counts. I’ll try to make sense of that.

The idea that we can follow a book filled with instructions on how to do information architecture, web design, usability, and so forth may be crazy. The problems are too large to be solved by following a recipe that seems to work for corporate sites that have a focus on selling something — sure you can argue we are selling something and that is true. The problem I see is that we have stakeholder groups that insist on being included, largely can’t effectively participate, and really don’t have the space in their worlds to worry about the problem. Think about the pressures that compete with our primary need (in my mind that is recruiting new students) within the context of a University website — instantly I think about faculty pages, research centers, information for existing students, knowledge bases, externally facing Intranet like pages, class webpages, and so on (and on and on …). Let me just say it, those books don’t exist. I haven’t come across the process for managing that process. The system is too complex to look at it and arrive at an answer that makes them all happy.

The second thing I am concerned about is the almost fanatical need to push a tool as a solution. I am all for content management systems (hell I use them every day), but I am afraid that we will sell them as the solution and that they will lead to unfulfilled promises. The CMS will be part of the answer, but why have we lost our ability to look at the overall system? Not a CMS system, I am talking about taking a systemic view on the issue.

I don’t have the answer, but I spent some time talking to a few people I find very smart and suggested we take a step back and look more closely at what has made Wikipedia successful … I am thinking specifically about the governance models around what does and doesn’t see the light of day. What if we did an exercise that asks a subset of our dozens upon dozens of stakeholders to strip away all the noise around the Institutional webspace and focus only on the handful of critical concepts and directed intense, top down energy on that? Below this threshold, let go of control. Completely. Give the users the right and ability to write what needs to be written — let them easily collaborate, share, edit, tag, and create the information that makes sense. Don’t make them worry about hierarchy and navigation. Let University Relations work with the right people to manage say 100 pages within the Institution’s webspace and then let everyone else manage everything else. Make the stuff we really need to share so obvious that it just works and then just let search lead people to the rest. No idea if it would work, but after listening to and interacting with a couple hundred web professionals today, the current system isn’t cutting it.

My parting thought is if we are actually doing what I suggest, but in a massively inefficient way — everyone chooses their tools, establishes their own processes, and builds their own site maps. How does one make the leap from a massively decentralized process to a massively coordinated decentralized collaborative approach? Wow, I have no idea if any of that made any sense. I need reaction and feedback. If you made it this far, I’ll buy the beer to talk this over.