Posts tagged "OpenEd"

The Criticality of Open Platforms

Below is a somewhat summary of the talk I gave in conjunction with Amy Collier, Daniel Lynds, and Jim Luke at OpenEd17. The tl;dr is that I’m convinced that need to start publishing analyses of the open platforms we adopt in order to bring transparency to a number of metrics to include not just data ownership and stewardship but broader metrics such as who has monetary vested interest in the success of the product. As I’ve returned home, I’ve began to construct in my head a real tangible way in which we can start to build a community to do this work, much of which is being inspired by Jon Udell and Mike Caulfield’s collaboration on Digital Polarization. If any of this sounds in the smallest bit interesting, please comment or reach out.

Situating My “Open”

When I find myself at OpenEd, I often feel the need to explain myself. As smarter people than myself have mentioned, the word “open” itself is often a moving target. So I want to quickly give some context to how I interpret open. David Wiley wrote in April that whether you are talking about OER, open access, open source, etc. They all involve two things:

  1. Free access.
  2. A formal grant of rights and permissions normally reserved by the original creator.

This implies open as an end product. So I’ll go ahead and say I see open as an end product less interesting. Open as a space that can produce open products: I find much more interesting. I’m equally weird though in that I don’t necessarily blindly subscribe to open pedagogy. I’m also less interested in open as a pedagogical strategy than I am open as a digital environment for situated learning, communities of practice, and identity construction. For me, much like how Lave and Wenger positioned communities as practices, it’s much more of a learning theory than a pedagogical practice.

Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytical viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning.

– Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning : Legitimate Peripheral Participation

At OU we’ve tried to position our Domain of One’s Own project, OU Create, as a space to be inhabited (or in contrast—not inhabited, maybe abandoned). Yes, it fits the definition of free access and of specific permissions. But it doesn’t have to.

I often go into classrooms to lead demonstrations on how to use our domain platform (and I do want to call it a platform and highlight that because I’ll come back to that point later), and I’ll tell the students what it means to register a domain. That’s it yours. That you own it. That you own the data. And you can take it with you after this class, after you graduate, or not. Long term, it’s your garden to tend to and you can decide whether you want to.

And often I’ll get a student who wants to contest me on the issue. Do we really own this? Does this mean I can do with it what I want? Can I decide whether it’s public or private? Etc.

And the answer to all of those questions is yes. What’s interesting is that I’ve never had a student ask about ownership of their textbook or ownership of their LMS course.

As an institution, OU Create has lent us the opportunity to talk about what does it mean to give students their data. How do we define data and how do we support that notion of taking it? What obligation do we have to help them to protect the data? What do we mean when we say we respect a students privacy? How do we support free speech?

I want to be clear and say that I’m not trying to say that domain of one’s own is the best and only solution for having these conversations. In the same way that I believe forcing someone to stand for a pledge to a flag defeats the purpose of a pledge to a flag, I believe requiring someone to own their digital identity defeats the point of ownership as ownership is a choice. Openness is simply the ingredients in which someone is afforded the opportunity to make that choice.

Misinformation and Platforms

But as someone who is often thinking critically about the types of virtual spaces we require our students to enter, I think this moment in time is a better wake up call than ever to reconsider those spaces—including the open ones. I don’t think anyone was surprised to hear that Facebook and Google have been required to turn over Russian-linked data to the federal government for investigation. It’s been reported recently that YouTube, Tumblr, and even Pokemon Go also turned over data. Shame on you if you didn’t see that one coming.

As both a faculty member and practitioner in journalism, I care deeply about these issues, specifically fake news, and have found Mike Caulfield and his work on digital polarization to be a canary in a coal mine. Mike has recently argued, while citing a Stanford History Education Group study, that the issues involved in disinformation extend well beyond the concept of fake news. The black and white argument is there’s hoax sites and “real” news. But there’s a large grey area. Intention is much harder to recognize, pull apart, and understand. As Mike said at 10:30am, in quite possibly the quickest citation ever, the problem is we are all vulnerable to charges of biasness.

I’ve been thinking recently about how we begin to apply these analysis techniques used for evaluating information or disinformation and apply them to platforms. What metrics should be using to evaluate OU Create as a platform? In recognizing not all open is good and closed is bad, that’s its much messier than that, how do make sure we are continuing to be critical of OU Create knowing that it’s ultimately still just a platform for data creation and possibly dissemination.

As I find the conversation in the OpenEd community start to concentrate around platforms–specifically OER textbook platforms–I want to ask to what standards are we holding these platforms accountable? Further, how can students evaluate these tools and the company’s practices and intentions?

One website I often show my students is Terms of Service; Didn’t Read. This site is a community collaboration that seeks to offer both easy to read explanations of the Terms of Services for popular sites like Google and YouTube (and even gives it a letter grade!). Here’s some of the questions they are trying to uncover:

  •      Do you control the copyright of your content on this platform?
  •      Can your content be removed at any time without prior notice?
  •      Do they monetize your data for third parties?
  •      Is your content permanently deleted if you delete it?
  •      Do they contribute their developments as open source projects?
  •      Can the terms be changed at any point without notice?

These are indeed some of the right questions and are really helpful. Unfortunately for my own need, they’ve only gone deep into a few platforms, a lot of their findings are inclusive, and very few have overlap with edtech.

In 2012, Audrey Watters develop The Audrey Test, a set of yes or no questions for edtech products that goes beyond TOSDR to include some of the questions more specific to education

  •      Do you work closely with instructors and students to develop your product?
  •      Do you offer data portability to students?
  •      Do you offer an API?
  •      Do you meet accessibility standards?
  •      And, finally, do you have a revenue strategy that involves something other than raising VC money?

I like that last question because it does get us closer to understanding the intent of the company in developing the platform (Note: Part 2 of the test is equally valuable). Now I want to tread lightly here knowing that we have many attendees this year that are either looking to give or receive funding. I don’t mean to say external funding is bad, but I don’t also want to say it’s always good. What I do believe is that it’s really helpful when organizations that receive funding are open and transparent about what they’ve received, who they received it from, what the funders intentions are, how that money will be utilized, etc.

I bring up this conversation because when the revenue model for the web is inherently either selling content, advertising, or a mix of both, these questions help inform what happens to student’s data and the topic of this conversation. And as much as I was to speak towards DoOO with rhetoric such as student agency and digital identity, all of these ideas hinge on just that–data.

I want to end with a few recommendations:

  1. As a community, we need a more comprehensive strategy for how we evaluate open and OER platforms. It has to extend beyond access to permissions to include business model, growth model, and intent, but am still not certain what that comprehensive list looks like. One example is the live annotation of Slack’s Privacy statement that was led by Kristen Eshleman and Bill Fitzgerald.
  2. We need to continue to be willing to be critical of those within our community and we need to allow others to be critical of our own work. Caulfield also told us we all have biases. And for when our own biasnesses fail–and they fail–we need to support those beyond the institutions whose critical analysis of our practices is necessary. At this point, there’s really only one person and that’s Audrey Watters and she’s such a much needed voice. So please support her.
  3. Last, I want to echo some of the comments we heard in David Bollier‘s keynote: the conversation needs to extend beyond end-products like open source, open websites, open textbooks, to be thinking about what I was referring to as “open as a situated learning space” or what he refers very wisely refers to as the commons.

Featured Image: “Platform” by Martin L is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Searching for Student Voices at #OpenEd16

I’m currently on a plane headed back to Oklahoma from OpenEd16. OpenEd brought the end of my pause from social media and a rejuvenation thanks to fellow attendees. Over the two OpenEd’s I’ve attended, Vancouver and now Richmond, the community has brought out the best of me and I deeply appreciate that.

The last activity that I participated in at the conference was facilitating a student panel on March’s Indie EdTech gathering and Indie EdTech projects including BYU’s APIs, Georgetown’s HowToCollege, and the EdSurge Independent, all of which seek to increase student agency. As Erika Bullock has previous said about the Indie EdTech conversation:

The room was full of professors, administrators, undergrad and grad students, techies, activists, entrepreneurs, and the conversations we had were engaging and challenging because of the many voices contributing throughout the weekend.

One thing I deeply appreciated about OpenEd this year was the student experience being at the center of the keynotes. Gardner Campbell focused on learning, insight, awe, and wonder. Sara Goldrick-Rab spoke about how the costs for education are simply too high, our financial aid systems are too complex/not meeting needs leading students to work multiple jobs, drop classes, and often live without adequate housing and food.

Both keynotes struck me in very different ways. Gardner took me on a journey of thinking what is possible in learning through struggle and insight. Sara was frankly a gut punch. I left her talk feeling helpless. And then I started to look around only to realize that the very voices that I would hope we could see amplified through open education simply aren’t represented in our conversations.

I’ve spent the last few months occasionally working alongsisde–not above–students. The HowToCollege project brought me to Georgetown for a couple of weeks this summer where I worked with Erika Bullock. Andrew Rikard and I started (and stopped) producing a podcast. Both attended the IndieEdTech gathering last March.

As I was attending a session that was led by my colleagues John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler on gamified faculty learning communities (GOBLIN), an interesting question was asked about how you could possibly develop games at the quality level of the video games “are students are used to playing and expect” without spending millions of dollars on graphics.

A couple of agreeing questions trickled in. And then from the back of the room Erika answered the question by saying that she had a class project where they created games out of pen and paper based off of film narratives as a class assignment.

My my, how far off we can get. Video games ONLY if we can make them with EA Sports-level graphics that can be viewed on a virtual reality headset. But this happens so often because so often we put words in the mouths of students. Students only want virtual reality right? Because native!

But I digress. Unfortunately, this was the first I had heard a student at least identify as a student and give a perspective.

In fact, when Erika first arrived, we were grabbing lunch and she looked at me and said “Are their any other undergraduates here at all?” My guess is there were but we didn’t give them enough space alongside are conversations about open pedagogy (teaching) and textbooks (which, let’s be honest, starts with faculty).

By the way, I’ve come to recognize these more by hearing colleagues like Andrew Rikard advocate for this. It’s worth too recognizing the way he has opened many people’s eyes, including mine, to student voice and #stuvoice.

How could we partner with students to begin to tackle the very clear problems that Sara laid out about higher education? Where are they at our conferences? Where is their voice in our conversation?

So I want to press the panic button immediately. Let’s design course materials (I really hate to call what she does a textbook) alongside our students like Robin DeRosa is doing. Let’s take all the data about our students that we are so preciously holding onto and put it in the public for students and others to build on top of like BYU is doing. Let’s give them spaces to house their own data and build digital identities like Domains of One’s Own. Let’s fund student-developed projects like the mentorship platform project Erika is leading. Let’s have students have cross-institutional discourse about higher education like Andrew Rikard is doing with the EdSurge Independent. Let’s submit proposals so that we can present alongside our students. I promise. It’s the most rewarding presentation you’ll ever give.

Last, let’s stop treating them like lower tied citizens of our community and let’s treat them like equals. Because they deserve it. Let’s recognize how we are minimizing their voice in our conversations. And then let’s fix it.

Is That What We Meant?

I’m back in the heartland after a wonderful past few days in Vancouver for OpenEd. First, I want to give my deepest appreciation to David Wiley and team as well as the BC Campus for such being such accommodating hosts. The work that has happened over the last decade at BC Campus is nothing short of phenomenal. To get a quick recap, check out their slides from a presentation on Friday when they become available, which chronicled the evolution that brought forth the BC Open Textbook Project. I have mad respect for what they have done and thank you for sharing your city with all of us.

On Wednesday, I wrote a post on my Known blog that gave out APIs that I had built which contained every abstract for OpenEd since 2012. I originally built these because I was curious about the acronym “OER.” When did we go from “Open Education Resources” to “OER” and what is the acronym usually associated with? As a lot of my projects, I abandoned it before I made a ton of headway, but I encourage you to download the files and play with the data to do so (or use it, of course, however you would like).

As I left on Friday, I heard grumbling (some of it, admittedly, my own) that the conference felt very heavily focused on OER Textbooks. This gave me a good reason to revisit the data and see if there has indeed been a growing trend.

Year Total Sessions Abstracts Containing “OER” Percent “OER” Abstracts Containing “Textbook” Percent “Textbook”
2012 69 42 60.87 9 8.74
2013 103 67 65.05 27 26.21
2014 100 83 72.17 32 27.83
2015 123 84 68.29 39 31.71

As you can see, in 2012 “textbook” was one of many conversations that was being had in 2012 and made up less than 10% of the abstracts. There’s a clear moment though in 2013 where the abstracts that contain textbook grow three fold. This has only increased since and now makes up almost nearly a third of every session. Assuming there are four concurrent sessions at once, you are guaranteed to land on something about textbooks.

So what does this mean? While certain folks on Twitter may have caused a stir asserting that “OpenEd = Open Textbook,” it’s not necessarily a new trend. It may even be a positive result of a concerted effort towards a strategic goal for the OpenEd community (something desperately needed and a point that was hammered home by Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill in their opening keynote and further articulated very well in the new OER strategy document).

The tough piece to quantify is, of course, where the conversations diverge and what conversations occurred outside the formal structure. While this doesn’t really give you a sense for the collective conversation, this does give us is the dominate narrative the conference planning committee is building.

I’m not against a conversation about OER textbooks. I’ve attended OER textbook conferences. I’ve worked on large-scale class adoptions. I’m a fan. I’m not so certain though it needs to maintain such a dominant presence at this conference. David Kernohan and I were talking about this on Friday: at what point does their need to be a OpenEd OER Conference? Not necessarily to remove the textbook conversation from OpenEd but at least to make space for other flavors of Open Ed: pedagogy, theory, data, analytics, maybe even courses (dare I say MOOCs?).

That is not what we meant.

Michael Feldstein pointedly said this during his Virtual Connecting session that really stood out to me and I paraphrased below:

There was this pretty strong reaction in this community to what we’ll call “xMoocs” … There are plenty things to be worried about with xMOOCs. I’m not here to argue the virtues. Nevertheless, there is something there that can be legitimately defined as a new kind of “open” that I didn’t get a sense that, now there’s been some rich discussion about it, but at the time there was a pretty strong reaction of, “That is not what we meant.” And rather than, “Huh, that’s not what we were thinking of. What does that mean?” That’s a fine reaction, but I’m not ever sure I got an answer for myself for “Ok, well what is it that you meant?

Ok, well what is it that you meant?

I was reading a book on the plane ride home and tweeted this quote:

Licklider is known as one of the pioneer’s of the Internet and he is writing this pre-Internet. The visions that the Lickliders and Bushs and Englebarts had was not just access to information but re-conceptualizing how we interacted with information. And so here’s the question I want to ask: If OER textbooks are where the OpenEd community wants to make this the first point of attack, what’s next? Let’s assume a world where all textbooks are free. Did we win? Or did we just make the act of passively interacting with information less expensive? Is that what we meant?

My last session of OpenEd ended with this thought from Robert Farrow:

“There is no such thing as openness.”

To become more open is to remove restrictions that you’ve previously imposed. Before we commend ourselves too much for saving students money on a textbook, should we recognize the burden that we’ve allowed be imposed on our students for decades? Is that voice strong enough and does it apply further than textbooks in areas in which we are currently afraid to address? If OpenEd continues to be a conversation dominated by a specific theme, what conversations and themes are we suppressing and how ok are we with that? And, my challenge to myself as much as anyone else, is if this or that or the other is not what we meant, then what the hell is it that we mean?