The Cost of Freedom – The Open World

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Towards the end of last year, following an invitation from Adam Hyde of booksprints.net, I wrote a contribution for a free and open online book called The Cost of Freedom.  The book is dedicated to Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil, باسل خرطبيل, who has been detained in Syria since March 2012. On the 3rd October 2015 Bassel’s name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register where he was detained and no further information has been obtained about his whereabouts.

The Cost of Freedom is not a statement about freedom and culture — it is a primal scream — the sum of our questions and desires. It is the raw expression of our lives. It talks about what is ultimately made through the dream of free culture: us.

~ The Cost of Freedom

The book was written in Pourrières in France during a five day book sprint in early November 2015, with additional contributions being submitted by writers from all over the world. Here’s my contribution, a personal reflection on what openness means to me.

"Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)" by Joi Ito - http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482 CC BY 2.0

The Open World

In Open is not a License Adam Hyde has described openness as

‘a set of values by which you live…a way of life, or perhaps a way of growing, an often painful path where we challenge our own value system against itself.’

To my mind, openness is also contradictory. I don’t mean contradictory in terms of the polar dichotomy of open vs. closed, or the endless debates that seek to define the semantics of open. I mean contradictory on a more personal level; openness raises contradictions within ourselves. Openness can lead us to question our position in the world; our position in relation to real and perceived boundaries imposed from without and carefully constructed from within.

In one way or another I have worked in the open education space for a decade now. I have contributed to open standards, created open educational resources, developed open policy, written open books, participated in open knowledge initiatives, facilitated open events, I endeavour to be an ‘open practitioner’, I run a blog called Open World. However, I am not by nature a very open person; my inclination is always to remain closed. I have had to learn openness and I’m not sure I’m very good at it yet. It’s a continual learning experience. Openness is a process that requires practice and perseverance. (Though sometimes circumstances leave us with little choice, sometimes it’s open or nothing.)

And of course, there is a cost; openness requires a little courage. When we step, or are pushed, outside our boundaries and institutions, it’s easy to feel disoriented and insecure. The open world can be a challenging and unsettling place and it’s easy to understand the impulse to withdraw, to seek the security of the familiar.

When large scale open education funding programmes first started to appear, (what an impossible luxury that seems like now), they were met with more than a little scepticism. When a major OER funding initiative was launched in the UK in 2009 (UKOER), the initial response was incredulity (OER Programme Myths). Surely projects weren’t expected to share their resource with everyone? Surely UK Higher Education resources should only be shared with other UK Higher Education institutions? It took patience and persistence to convince colleagues that yes, open really did mean open, open for everyone everywhere, not just open for a select few. One perceptive colleague at the time described this attitude as ‘the agoraphobia of openness’(1).

Although open licences and open educational resources are more familiar concepts now, there is still a degree of reticence. An undercurrent of anxiety persists that discourages us from sharing our educational resources, and reusing resources shared by others. There is a fear that by opening up our resources and our practice, we will also open ourselves up to criticism, that we will be judged and found wanting. Imposter syndrome is a real thing; even experienced teachers may fail to recognise their own work as being genuinely innovative and creative. At the same time, openness can invoke a fear of loss; loss of control, loss of agency, and in some cases even loss of livelihood. Viewed through this lens, the distinction between openness and exposure blurs.

But despite these costs and contradictions, I do believe there is inherently personal and public value in openness. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open. Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education, widen participation, and create new opportunities while at the same time supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

In the domain of knowledge representation, the Open World Assumption ‘codifies the informal notion that in general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge’. It’s a useful assumption to bear in mind; our knowledge will never be complete, what better motivation to keep learning? But the Open World of my blog title doesn’t come from the domain of knowledge representation; it comes from the Scottish poet Kenneth White (2), Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne, 1983-1996, and a writer for whom openness is an enduring and inspiring theme. White is also the founder of the International Institute of Geopoetics, which is ‘concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world’ (3). In the words of White:

no art can touch it; the mind can only

try to become attuned to it

to become quiet, and space itself out, to

become open and still, unworlded (4)

disquiet ambient/electronica have recorded a number of the contributions to the book, including mine, which you can listen to here.

References

  1. I cannot remember who said this, but the comment has always stayed with me.
  2. White, K., (2003), Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.
  3. White, K., (2004), Geopoetics: place, culture, world, Alba.
  4. White, K., (2004), ‘A High Blue Day on Scalpay’ in Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.

Links

Erinma Ochu: Crowd Sourcing for Community Development

Earlier this week I went along to an event at the National Museum of Scotland run by the University of Edinburgh’s  Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing group.  There were some fascinating projects and initiatives on display but the highlight of the event was undoubtedly Erinma Ochu‘s engaging and thought provoking public lecture on Crowd Sourcing for Community Development.

Erinma Ochu

Erinma outlined the benefits that amateurs can bring to scientific research; they can help to validate data, fill in gaps in data collected by scientists, bring interesting new perspectives and, if they are not overly trained, they may be better able to spot patterns in data that scientists might miss. However Erinma also reminded us of the reciprocal aspects of citizen science. Citizen science should involve scientists serving the community, not just volunteers collecting data for research. It’s important to balance social and scientific value; the community building process is as important as the data product.  We have a responsibility to make spaces in which social inclusion and engagement can happen. I particularly liked Erinma’s focus on citizen science as a learning opportunity;  projects should give something back to the people who contribute the data and help them to learn.  Along the way Erinma introduced some fascinating and inspiring projects including Turing’s Sunflowers, Farm Hack and Manchester City of Science Robot Orchestra.

For a more comprehensive overview of Erinma’s talk I’ve created a storify of tweets here: Crowd Sourcing for Community Development Storify and Erinma’s slides area available on Slideshare here.

The Challenge of OER Sustainability

Sustaining the outputs of projects and programmes beyond their initial phase of funding is a weel kent problem but it is one that we still struggle to solve. Back in 2009 when Cetis were working with Jisc to scope the technical guidelines for the forthcoming UKOER Programme we attempted to address this issue by recommending that projects deliver their content through multiple platforms. One of the few actual requirements among the programme guidelines was that projects must also deposit their content in JorumOpen, in order to act as a safeguard against resources being lost:

Delivery Platforms

Projects are free to use any system or application as long as it is capable of delivering content freely on the open web. However all projects must also deposit their content in JorumOpen. In addition projects should use platforms that are capable of generating RSS/Atom feeds, particularly for collections of resources e.g. YouTube channels. Although this programme is not about technical development projects are encouraged to make the most of the functionality provided by their chosen delivery platforms.

OER Programme Technical Requirements

Six years down the line and attrition is taking the inevitable toll. Several of the sites and repositories that hosted UKOER content have disappeared and the sustainability of the content hosted by the national Jorum repository remains uncertain following Jisc’s announcement in June that it intended to retire Jorum and “refresh its open educational resources offer”.

These problems were brought into sharp focus by Viv Rolfe (@VivienRolfe) of the University of West England this week when she tweeted

Viv’s tweet sparked a lengthy discussion on twitter that drew in several of the community’s most incisive critical thinkers on open education including Simon Thomson (@digisim), Pat Lockley (@Solvonauts, @patlockley), David Kernohan (@dkernohan), Leo Havemann (@leohavemann) and Theresa MacKinnon (@WarwickLanguage).  

The wide ranging discussion touched on a number of thorny issues relating to OER preservation and sustainability.  I’ve created a Storify of the entire discussion here: The Challenge of OER Sustainability

Self-hosting was seen as one alternative to using institutional or national repositories to host OER, with WordPress being a popular platform in some quarters.  David Kernohan took this one step further, asking if individuals who want to self-host OER should run their own repositories. While this is an interesting idea it was regarded as a rather heavy weight solution to the problem and Pat argued that repositories are the wrong tool for the job as they sit outside standard academic digital literacies.

The discussion then turned to cross-publishing. The LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) approach to digital preservation was regarded as one good way to ensure that content does not disappear.  However if content is deposited in multiple places and scattered across the web then other issues arise relating to how to find and curate content. Pat commented that multiple deposit may solve “lost hosting” but complicates “find”. Aggregators and the dark arts of search engine optimisation clearly play a role here, however search engines’ ability to accurately interpret licence information is still problematic.

The Solvonauts aggregator and OER search engine represents a good example of one sustainable approach to locating OER content.  Solvonauts has aggregated 141867 OERs, it costs around $50 a year to run and the code and database are shared on Github. If Pat falls under a bus tomorrow, it’s business as usual for Solvonauts. (Pat’s phrase, not mine.  Please don’t fall under a bus Pat!)  Of course Solvonauts can only find content that it is there; it can not solve the problem of how to sustain content if servers are switched off or repositories shut down with little or no warning, which brings us right back to the issue of repository sustainability.

Leo Havemann commented that the main problem is lack of funding rather than the failure of repositories per se and Simon Thomson suggested MERLOT as a good example of a sustainable OER repository.  This resulted in a rather heated discussion about whether MERLOT can be regarded as an OER repository as not all the content is CC licensed and there is a cost associated with deposit.  Simon has already blogged an excellent summary of this discussion and the points he made regarding MERLOT which you can find here: The challenges of maintaining OER repositories, but why we must never stop trying.

Ultimately there is no simple answer to the question posed by David.

 Where should I put my OER so people can find and use it?

Pat’s answer may suggest a way forward in the short term.

I would place content into any platform which supported some licensing, or was free hosting, caveated with a bulk download option should the platform close.

Even if there is no easy answer, sustainability of OER is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention and a collective response from the community.  Digital curation and sustainability of OERs may represent a challenge, but as Simon pointed out in his own blog post, we must never stop trying.

Wikimedia opportunities and events at the University of Edinburgh

[Cross posted from Open Scotland]

edinburghThe University of Edinburgh recently became the first Higher Education institution in Scotland to advertise for a Wikimedian in Residence.  The post will be based within Information Services where the successful candidate will work alongside learning technologists, archivists, librarians and information literacy teams to help establish a network of Wikimedians on campus and to embed digital skills and open knowledge activities in learning and teaching across the University.  Applications for the post, which is part-time and fixed term, are open until the 29th October 2015.

The University of Edinburgh already has a strong tradition of engaging with the Wikimedia Foundation through Wikimedians in Residence at the National Library of Scotland and National Museums Scotland.  A number of editathons have already taken place at the University focused on raising the profile of women in science and Scottish history.  The hugely successful Edinburgh Seven editathon, focused on the first women to be admitted on a degree programme at any British university. The achievements of the Edinburgh Seven were also recognised when a commemorative plaque was unveiled by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, at a ceremony in the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum in September.

ADA_Blog

Another Women, Science and Scottish History editathon will be taking place at the University on Tuesday 13th October to coincide with Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  In addition to the editathon, the event will feature speakers on Lovelace, research using LEGO, programming and games, and sessions on composing music with algorithms, and building Raspberry Pi enclosures with LEGO.

Links

ALT Community Call – come and talk to me!

Tomorrow I’ll be taking part in the first ALT-C ‘Community Call’ where I’ll be in conversation with ALT’s Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer, Martin Hawksey. Among other things,  I’ll be talking about my role in open education technology, policy and practice advocacy, my involvement with ALT, and my work with EDINA and LTW at the University of Edinburgh. I’ll also be giving an update on OER16 and outlining the conference themes.

The Community Call is free to join and will be hosted as a Google Hangout On Air at 12.30 PM. You can watch the call from the Google+ page, YouTube Channel or embedded on the ALT website, and you’ll be able to ask questions during the call from the Google+ page or via Twitter by using the tag #altc.  I hope you’ll come along and join us!

When:1 Oct 2015 12:30 PM   to   1:00 PM
Where: Google+
ETA: In case you missed it, here’s the video of the event.  If I look rather bemused and there’s a delay in me answering Martin’s questions it’s because I was hearing everything repeated with a 2 second delay!

A new string for my bow: OER Liaison – Open Scotland

burghead_saltire_cropped

CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

(Cross posted to openscot.net)

I’m very pleased to have added a new string to my bow! As of the beginning of this month I will be working one day a week as OER Liaison – Open Scotland within the Learning, Teaching and Web division at the University of Edinburgh, where I’ll be working with LTW Director and OER16 co-chair, Melissa Highton. I’ll also continue working in my main role as Digital Education Manager at EDINA, while still doing some consultancy work with former Cetis colleagues, so I’m certainly going to be busy!

Edinburgh already has a world class reputation for encouraging innovation in open education and a forward looking vision for sharing open educational materials, so I’m very pleased indeed that the University has chosen to support Open Scotland in this way.

The main activities I’ll be concentrating on over the coming months are planning next year’s OER16 conference, revitalising the Open Scotland initiative, promoting the Scottish Open Education Declaration, and continuing to participate in the Open Policy Network.  The Open Scotland blog has been sadly neglected for some time now so hopefully I’ll be able to start updating it again with open education news and developments from across Scotland and beyond, so if you’re involved in an any kind of open education initiative that you’d like to see featured on Open Scotland please feel free to get in touch. You can drop me a mail at lorna.m.campbell@icloud.com or contact me on twitter @lornamcampbell.

I’ll also be at ALT-C next week so if you’ve got any thoughts or ideas either for OER16 or for Open Scotland, please do come and find me for a chat.

Can open stop the future?

wikipedia_politics_opennessLast week Catherine Cronin brought Alice Marwick’s review of Nathaniel Tkacz’s Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, to my attention and it’s left me with a lot of food for thought.  I haven’t had a chance to read Tkacz’s book yet but there are a couple points that I’d like to pick up on from the review, and one in particular that relates to the post I wrote recently on Jisc’s announcement that it intended to “retire” Jorum and replace it with a new “App and Content store” : Retire and Refresh: Jisc, Jorum and Open Education.

I tend to shy away from socio-political discussions about the nature of openness as I find that they often become very circular, and very contentious, very quickly.  I do agree with Tkacz and Marwick that openness is inherently political but I certainly don’t believe that openness is intrinsically neoliberal. To my mind this analysis betrays a rather US centric view of the open world and fails to take into consideration many other global expressions of openness.

If I’m interpreting Marwick correctly, Tkacz also seems to be arguing that openness must necessarily be non-hierarchical, which is an interesting perspective but not one that I wholly buy into.  While I think we need to be aware of the dangers of replicating existing hierarchical power structures in open environments, I think it’s somewhat idealistic to expect open initiatives to flourish without any power structures at all. So yes, there are hierarchical power structures inherent in Wikipedia, but I think there are many more egregious examples of openwashing out there.

The point that really struck me in Marwick’s review was the reference to Jonathan Zittrain’s 2008 book The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It  in which the author charts the evolution from generative to tethered devices.

The Future of the Internet“The PC revolution was launched with PCs that invited innovation by others. So too with the Internet. Both were generative: they were designed to accept any contribution that followed a basic set of rules (either coded for a particular operating system, or respecting the protocols of the Internet). Both overwhelmed their respective proprietary, non-generative competitors, such as the makers of stand-alone word processors and proprietary online services like CompuServe and AOL. But the future unfolding right now is very different from this past. The future is not one of generative PCs attached to a generative network. It is instead one of sterile appliances tethered to a network of control.”

The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It
Jonathan Zittrain

Marwick elaborates on the this generative – tethered dichotomy and situates it in our current technology context.

“Those in the former (generative) group allow under-the-hood tinkering, or simply messing with code, are championed by the maker movement, and run on free and open-source software. Tethered devices, on the other hand, are governed by app stores and regulated by mobile carriers: this is the iPhone model….The most successful apps of today, from Uber to Airbnb to Snapchat, are participatory and open only in the sense that anyone is free to use them and generate revenue for their owners.

Most of these apps use proprietary formats, don’t play well with others, make it difficult for users to port their content from one to another, and are resolutely closed-source.”

Open Markets, Open Projects: Wikipedia and the politics of openness
Alice E. Marwick

Now, I’m not sufficiently familiar with Zittrain’s work to know if his thinking is still considered to be current and relevant, but his warnings about a future of closed technologies tethered to a network of control, rather amplified the alarm bells that have been ringing in my head since Jisc announced the creation of their App and Content store.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the idea of an App Store sits very uneasily with my conception of open education.  Also I can’t help wondering what role, if any, open standards will play in the development of the new app store to prevent lock-in to proprietary applications and formats.

Zittrain suggested that developing community ethos is one way to “stop the future” and counter technology lockdown.

“A lockdown on PCs and a corresponding rise of tethered appliances will eliminate what today we take for granted: a world where mainstream technology can be influenced, even revolutionized, out of left field. Stopping this future depends on some wisely developed and implemented locks, along with new technologies and a community ethos that secures the keys to those locks among groups with shared norms and a sense of public purpose, rather than in the hands of a single gatekeeping entity, whether public or private.”

The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It
Jonathan Zittrain

I absolutely agree that when it comes to the development of education content and technologies we need a community ethos with shared norms and a sense of public purpose, but to my mind it’s increased openness, rather than more locks and keys that will provide this safeguard.  In the past Jisc played an important public role by fostering communities of practice, supporting the development of innovative open technologies and sharing common practice and I sincerely hope that, rather than becoming a single gatekeeper to the community’s education content and applications, it will continue to maintain this invaluable sense of public purpose.

Open Education Policy – blocked pipelines and infinite loops

Doesn’t time fly?  It’s almost a fortnight since I joined colleagues at what has now become an annual event in the Scottish education technology calendar; the ALT Scotland one day conference. One of the things I really like about this event is that it consistently brings together colleagues from all sectors of Scottish education to discuss issues relating to open education technology, policy and practice. The theme of this year’s event was Sharing Digital Practice and Policy in Scottish Education, and it was highly appropriate that it was hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University as they have just approved their new institutional OER policy.

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to put together a storify or write a full summary of the event, however thanks to Martin Hawksey’s fine audio visual skills you can view the entire livestream of the event on the ALT YouTube channel here: AM / PM.  I do want to pick up on one of the themes that emerged from several presentations though and that is the problem of blocked pipelines and infinite loops.

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Marion Kelt, Senior Librarian: Digital Development and Information Literacy at GCU, was the first to raise this issue in her talk about the lengthy process of getting GCU’s Open Educational Resources policy approved by the university. At one stage this involved being referred to an institutional IPR policy that she eventually discovered did not actually exist! This is just one example the kind of infinite loop it’s very easy to get drawn into when trying to introduce new policy.  Often it’s unclear which management structures within the institution have the authority to ratify new policy, particularly if that policy has evolved from the ground up. The danger is that draft documents get endlessly stuck in limbo, waiting for approval that never comes. Thankfully Marion is nothing if not persistent and after going round these loops several times she was eventually successful in getting the policy approved. GCU’s Open Educational Resources Policy, which is based on the University of Leeds‘ OER policy, can be accessed here.

Joe Wilson, of the College Development Network, highlighted a similar infinite loop. When he was appointed as Chief Executive of CDN earlier this year, Joe made it his number one priority to encourage the FE sector to sign up to the principles of the Scottish Open Eduction Declaration, an initiative he has been involved with since its inception in 2013. Joe began by taking the relevant papers to the Committee of Regional Chairs, which is composed primarily of deputy principals of colleges.  They were broadly supportive but advised taking the Declaration to the Principals’ Forum. The Principals’ Forum were also very interested and keen to do something, but they in turn suggested that it was the Government’s responsibility to take a stance on open education.  Suffice to say, while there appears to be some interest in adopting open education principals and practice in the FE sector, there are still a  lot of blockages in the pipeline. As Joe said “we’re still at the stage of I’m not going to show you mine unless you show me yours”. However I’m quite sure that if anyone has the vision and determination to clear these blockages, it’s Joe.

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Which brings me on to my own infinite loop…Earlier this year the ALT Scotland SIG Committee brought the Scottish Open Education Declaration to the attention of Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.  We were pleased to receive the following positive and encouraging response from the Higher Education and Learner Support Division.

“The Open Education Declaration and its aim at implementing wider and more equitable access to education and to lead the way in Europe is a noble initiative with potential to enhance diversity as well as many of our key aims, including widening access to education through free access to high quality education and to redraw traditional boundaries between informal and formal learning.”

In addition to highlighting the role of the Open University’s Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project, the response noted that

“SFC also funds Jisc which supports the development and use of Open Educational Resources through platforms, repositories, and projects.”

However Jisc’s recent announcement that it will be closing Jorum, the UK OER repository for higher and further education and the skills sector, and “refreshing” their approach to open educational resources, does rather beg question who, if anyone, is supporting open education in Scotland?

I have no immediate answers as to how we break out of these infinite loops and clear the blockages in policy pipelines.  Sometimes it’s a case of identifying exactly where the blockage lies, sometimes it’s more to do with identifying that one person who has both the vision, the authority and the determination to make a stand and take the decision to move things forwards.

There is one blockage I have been able to clear however.  During the meeting several colleagues asked how much longer the Scottish Open Education Declaration would be available only as a draft.  They explained that the Declaration’s draft status was preventing them from using the document to promote open education within their own institutions as the draft status meant that senior managers were unwilling to give it serious consideration.   As there have been no further comments on the Declaration since draft 0.2 was published towards the end of last year, the status of the document has now been updated from draft 0.2 to edition 1.0. Hopefully I’ll be publishing a short post on this update over at the Open Scotland blog shortly.