OpenFiction [ Blog ]

June 3, 2008

Punk’d

Filed under: , , , , , , — Stephen Carson @ 8:19 am

I’ve really been enjoying the Edupunk buzz, especially this recent post by Mike Caulfield (read past Iggy). Edupunk, though, is going to be quite limited if it allows itself to be defined as anti-anything, especially LMSs of all things. While Caulfield includes a lot of the negative, he does a good job of presenting the positive as well:

These Web 2.0 tools they adopted encouraged them to share their stuff with the world, instead of locking it away in a password protected course. And suddenly, they got a taste of open education. And it didn’t stop there. The tools they adopted had a true web DNA, and played well with other tools in a loosely coupled mode. So suddenly, they got a taste of what it was like to build your own custom learning environment.

And so on. They started to experience the creativity that the web can unleash, and experienced for the first time that connectivist thrill people had been going on about.

And it was then, with their courses out on the net for all to see, having developed Wordpress pages that mashed together video with slideshares with twitter updates and del.icio.us feeds, having witnessed students commenting on posts right next to people from across the world, having seen authors of books responding to their student’s reader response essays, directly —

It was then that it hit these people. Blackboard was never a learning tool.

And while I make no claims to the Edupunk mantle, the Edupunk vision is very consistent with my own views on and experiences with LMSs and Web 2.0 tools:

The whole idea that learning can be “managed” from a central system may even seem to be a strange notion in ten years. Instead of centrally creating a secure digital learning space for teachers and students, as we do now, the default may be that students and teachers come together in self-organizing digital spaces of their own design, where the various elements of the participants’ digital personas (blogs, vlogs, wikis, websites, facebooks, fileshares and linklists) come together via aggregation tools of their choosing. In as much as the physical classroom depends on the unique contributions of both the teacher and the students to produce the character of the learning experience, so too the digital learning experience may utlimately depend greatly on the ways in which the students project themselve into cyberspace, and the walls of an LMS may be a barrier to this.

The elements of current LMS that I found to be of most use were basically the administrative tools, and those might eventually atrophy to be the only elements that remain, if at all, as small parts of school’s student information systems. Even these are not that hard to replecate externally, with the exception of direct links to enrollment lists in administrative systems and the reporting back of grades–—though who knows, a secure RSS feed might allow even that to happen in multiple environments.

So how does this affect opencourseware publication? I’d suggest in two ways. Because it ultimately points to a situation in which learning becomes a less digitally stable undertaking—–something more fluid, with learning experiences created and dismantled rapidly and outside of any central control—–opencourseware publication can serve as an organizing principle around which learning experiences can be documented. The process of gathering materials and publishing a “snapshot” of the materials can provide a stable point of reference for future learning experiences.

Second (and this again is an idea that draws on Stephen Downes’ thinking), opencourseware may become less about providing reusable and repurposable materials that are then somehow “localized” by others, and more about providing a fertile soil for future learning experiences as old materials decompose. In trying to imagine how I might use opencourseware content in my future teaching, it seems to me if I know of a resource reasonably close to my own needs that exists at a stable URL, I would likely point to it in a blog post and provide any necessary annotation for my class in the post, rather than try to download it and edit it directly.

December 10, 2007

University of Maine visit

Filed under: , , — Stephen Carson @ 1:40 pm

Maine

On Friday, I drove four hours north through the snow-covered pine forests of Maine to visit the U of Maine campus. Maine reminds me a lot of West Virginia, except with more moose and lobster. Thanks to Seth Tyler and the entire group at the BioMedia Lab at U of Maine for being such great hosts.

I say this a lot, but one of the best things about the invitations to share the OCW story is that I get to see so many just really cool things going on at other schools around the world. In addition to churning out truly elegant web sites for U of Maine (the School of Biology and Ecology site is Exhibit A), Seth’s group has created a really outstanding LMS called Synapse. I’ve used my share of LMSs and Synapse easily has the cleanest interface I’ve ever seen, plus a few administrative features I really wish I’d had available when I was teaching.

Synapse was born when a faculty member came to the BioMedia Lab unsatisfied with existing LMSs and asked to have a custom teaching site built. It’s been created and run by four people on part time effort. The whole thing has me thinking again about the impending doom I see for LMSs, which I’ve talked about before, although in a new way. In addition to Web 2.0 tools and IP practices causing LMSs to atrophy into student information management tools, it also seems increasingly possible that small groups of educators may be able to easily roll their own LMS to suit their particular needs. In other words, instead of thousands working on Moodle, you may get emerging clusters of five to ten with nearly identical needs creating an LMS that serves unique local conditions.

It’s unclear even if will be necessary to share code from other open source LMSs to do this, or if borrowing concepts is enough and coding can be done from the ground up. This scenario begins to approximate many of the characteristics of open educational content–where there is not a one-size-fits-almost-all need like with big open source software successes like LINUX and Firefox, but rather lots of individual local needs. A situation where the concept is more important than the actual code. To say the least, I’m intrigued.

October 11, 2006

Educational content lifecycle

Filed under: , , , — Stephen Carson @ 2:36 pm

For as long as there’s been an MIT OCW, we’ve been talking about the “unified process” of educational content creation and management. In its latest iteration, “educational content lifecycle,” it’s being discussed as the start-to-finish process through which educational materials are created (mostly by idiosyncratic faculty), used for instruction (often in an LMS), integrated with other materials (via library electronic holdings), ported to an open publication (that’s us), archived (DSpace, anyone?), and (hopefully) reused for the next generation of educational content.

There are clear reasons why OCW would be interested conceptualizing and examining this lifecycle–if we can convince faculty to make OCW-friendly decisions upstream, then our publication process gets simpler. The developers of the Institute LMS (Stellar) have an interest in understanding how to drive adoption of the tool. Faculty (may) want to make content creation as easy as possible through reuse of existing content. But for the most part, the discussions of the ECL (god help me, another acronym) revolve around the notion of cost savings with little mention of to what ends.

The one that gets no mention at all, but I think needs careful consideration, is that much of the process is designed to shield the institution from IP risk. In large part, LMS use for classroom-based courses is about having a safe space to provide IP restricted course materials online. Authentication systems providing access to electronic library reserves are another layer of IP control in this chain. OCW publication processes are largely a game of weeding out IP-protected materials. In fact, when viewed as an end-to-end process, the ECL seems as much about IP as anything else. Maybe that’s just my perspective.

So, if part of the game is cost savings in the process, then one question to ask is are these technology tools the appropriate way to manage IP risk? Especially if (as I’ve heard rumored) they aren’t really able to do the job. Might not there be cultural or legal strategies that might be more cost effective? Not sure I have anything to propose, but I can’t shake this line of thinking…

August 18, 2006

So maybe I’m wrong about Blackboard…

Filed under: , — Stephen Carson @ 3:32 pm

…they appear to be going after other commercial vendors for license fees. They have no concerns about the open source competition. Can you hear the nonchalant whistling as they look the other way?

August 17, 2006

Radio killed the radio star?

Filed under: , , , — Stephen Carson @ 12:12 pm

I’ve said before I thought Web 2.0 tools may supplant Learning Management Systems before too long, but I never thought that LMS providers were going to be the driving force. In a stunningly stupid strategic move, Blackboard—after basically becoming the only commercial game in LMS-town—has decided to attack the remaining competition with an absurdly broad patent claim. It looks to me like they’re hoping other LMS providers and users of those products will feel they don’t have pockets deep enough to go toe-to-toe with them on the issue.

While “use our product or we’ll sue you” may seem on its face to be a sound business strategy, it does feel like they’ve missed the point that wikis, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools are fast becoming familiar to educators and are already widely adopted by students. I’d already be willing to give up the LMS for a suite of Web 2.0 tools, and now I have a compelling argument for why it’s in my institution’s interests to allow me to do so. I’m not sure this is the situation Blackboard was trying to create. I’m also not entirely sad they’ve decided to do so…

May 11, 2006

Welcome to the bazaar (or how video may kill the radio star)

Filed under: , , , — Stephen Carson @ 5:21 am

In gaming out scenarios of the future of opencourseware publication, part of the never-ending search for sustainable models, I keep having discussions about improved integration between Learning Management Systems (pervasive enough to demand capitalization) and opencourseware publication systems, such as MIT’s CMS or COSL’s eduCommons. Makes sense on the face of it. If we can get most faculty to adopt an LMS, and we can couple the LMS with the publishing environment, then we can capture the effort faculty expend anyway in creating their courses and reduce the effort required to openly publish the course materials. These scenarios always start out with assumptions like, “If 80% of faculty are assumed to be using an LMS…”

But I’ve never been comfortable with those assumptions, and I realized a while back that it was because I never taught with an LMS. I used one for three years while I was teaching a distance learning course, but the whole time the actual content was housed in a separate web site (where it was much easier to manage) and most of the interaction was via e-mail (1998-2000, a web 1.0 world). It’s a heretical thing to say in some circles (and I’m not the first to say it–I first heard the idea from a presentation by Stephen Downes), but we may well be seeing the high-water mark for the LMS and adoption may actually decrease in the years to come. I recently came across a site, which—–while I haven’t explored in great depth yet–—seems to point in the same direction.

The whole idea that learning can be “managed” from a central system may even seem to be a strange notion in ten years. Instead of centrally creating a secure digital learning space for teachers and students, as we do now, the default may be that students and teachers come together in self-organizing digital spaces of their own design, where the various elements of the participants’ digital personas (blogs, vlogs, wikis, websites, facebooks, fileshares and linklists) come together via aggregation tools of their choosing. In as much as the physical classroom depends on the unique contributions of both the teacher and the students to produce the character of the learning experience, so too the digital learning experience may utlimately depend greatly on the ways in which the students project themselve into cyberspace, and the walls of an LMS may be a barrier to this.

The elements of current LMS that I found to be of most use were basically the administrative tools, and those might eventually atrophy to be the only elements that remain, if at all, as small parts of school’s student information systems. Even these are not that hard to replecate externally, with the exception of direct links to enrollment lists in administrative systems and the reporting back of grades–—though who knows, a secure RSS feed might allow even that to happen in multiple environments.

So how does this affect opencourseware publication? I’d suggest in two ways. Because it ultimately points to a situation in which learning becomes a less digitally stable undertaking—–something more fluid, with learning experiences created and dismantled rapidly and outside of any central control—–opencourseware publication can serve as an organizing principle around which learning experiences can be documented. The process of gathering materials and publishing a “snapshot” of the materials can provide a stable point of reference for future learning experiences.

Second (and this again is an idea that draws on Stephen Downes’ thinking), opencourseware may become less about providing reusable and repurposable materials that are then somehow “localized” by others, and more about providing a fertile soil for future learning experiences as old materials decompose. In trying to imagine how I might use opencourseware content in my future teaching, it seems to me if I know of a resource reasonably close to my own needs that exists at a stable URL, I would likely point to it in a blog post and provide any necessary annotation for my class in the post, rather than try to download it and edit it directly.

The idea of reusable digital objects, as I’ve said before, may be a consumer culture idea developed in a time when such objects were expensive and difficult to create (and in fact I think the potential for reuse of an object is related to the expense and difficulty required to create it–which is why simulations are among the most sought-after types of digital resources). In a producer culture environment, most “learning materials” may turn out to be more disposable than reusable, with educators finding in a web 2.0 world that it’s just as easy to roll your own as borrow and adapt.

We may find that so many people are creating so much material and making it so widely available that there’s always plenty of useful stuff near enough to our needs that a reference to the resource wherever it resides on the web, with a little context in the pointer, is much easier than making the effort to pull it into a canonical system and make changes to the resource directly. This vision would point to keeping opencourseware systems relatively format and learning environment agnostic (something I see as a strength of eduCommons right now) and keeping publishing formats relatively simple. I’m not saying this vision is a certainty by any means, but I’m not buying stock in WebCT/BlackBoard either.

February 2, 2006

Downes on OER sustainability

Filed under: , , , , , , , , — Stephen Carson @ 12:23 pm

Stephen Downes recently posted a really useful summary of sustainability issues that’s a good first read in understanding the problem. Like any summary, I think it misses some of the complexity–MIT OCW has actually only gotten a minority portion of its funding from the Institute itself. Most of the money has come from foundations, along with a handful of very generous alumni and corporate contributions, and innumerable small donations from site users around the globe. I see it less as a question of which model will predominate and more as an issue of projects finding the right mix… Also, not because I want to pick nits with a really useful article, but because I think it needs to be made clear to others considering an OCW project: Stephen cites licensing as one of the major expenses for OCW and it’s not nearly the issue it was predicted to be, ranking behind issues like data entry and document conversion.

So the good stuff–I doubt I could have expressed how education is colliding with the producer culture more articulately:

…the functions of production and consumption need to be collapsed, that the distinction between producers and consumers need to be collapsed. The use of a learning resource, through adaptation and repurposing, becomes the production of another resource. Though there is a steady stream of new resources input into the network by volunteers, this represents, not the result of an OER sustainability project, but the beginning of it.

Here also is a jumping off point for a movement away from the emphasis on reusability (a supply-side mass market economics) toward one on reinterpretation (a demand-side producer culture economics). I’ve argued this before, but no project can really sustain the costs of producing “reusable” materials, even assuming they could determine what that meant. The real costs of open publication can be measured in the distance between materials as they were used in the classroom and the open versions of those same materials. As the distance tends toward zero, so does the cost.

So the path to sustainable projects seems to lie in getting as many materials onto the web in as close a state to that of their original use as is possible. This means–among other things–reducing the amount of copyright-protected materials in the originals, eliminating or minimizing technical reformatting, eliminating duplication of data entry effort between LMS’s and open publication tools, and automating or eliminating consistency of presentation. Movement down the path requires new tools, which are difficult but not impossible to create, and new behaviors by faculty, which may only happen at the pace of faculty retirement.

Once the materials are out there, educators and learners increasingly–again maybe at the pace of retirement–have the tools and know-how to shape them to their needs. In doing so and then sharing the result, as Stephen suggests, they create the next generation of open educational resources. Not co-creation, really, but perhaps viral creation, the same educational DNA mutated and recombined for potency in a different environment.

October 18, 2005

Will it help, really?

Filed under: , , — Stephen Carson @ 12:21 pm

So I’ll try to make this as much question as opinion, but I do love to hear my own thoughts… There’s been this consistent drumbeat for more integration between LMS and OCW environments, the argument being that you can move a lot of the open publishing work upstream and have the content entered into the system as instructors are creating their content, rather than collecting it after the fact and publishing it in a different system. Makes sense, but I’m having some misgivings. The two areas that seem to hold the most promise for reduction of effort are content entry and metadata entry. Both are relatively labor-intensive, and a big part of most opencourseware publishing efforts, and both seem to have issues in this integrated model.

Content entry first: I’d challenge the notion that you’d end up with a lot more information in the system (at least in formats like HTML and XML) than with current approaches, because LMS’s are such lousy authoring environments. When I’ve used LMS’s, I’ve put the bare minimum actually into the HTML templates of the system, and attached the rest as documents. For the distance learning course that became tOFP, I hand-coded the content in HTML outside of the school’s BlackBoard system expressly because I couldn’t bear to manage it within the web interface of the LMS. Until someone creates an LMS that is truly an authoring environment–one that doesn’t use a web interface–I doubt you’ll find educators entering a whole lot of information into HTML templates.

And metadata: When I taught my first class, I got the assignment the Friday before the semester’s start the following Monday, and so had three days to develop the materials. When I created the distance learning course, I was writing the text and doing the coding as the course progressed. I typically worked from about ten PM ’till one or two in the morning three or four nights a week. I bring this up not because I think it’s extraordinary, but because I think it is completely ordinary. These are the circumstances under which educational materials get created. Metadata is just not something I think most educators will want to address at two in the morning. Unless they are looking for a way to fall asleep.

So here’s the question: There are undoubtedly some efficiencies to be had in more integrated systems, but is it really the holy grail? Are there tools right around the corner that will allow educators to create content in HTML and XML as seamlessly as in Word or PowerPoint? Can we automate metadata collection to the point where metadata is no longer an extra thing that never gets done? Or should we be looking for efficiencies under the assumption that educational materials will always emerge from heterogeneous technology environments?