The Simplicity This Side of Complexity…

I love this quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes:

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity I would give my right arm” (figs, one must presume, being much more readily–and affordably–attainable in post-Civil War Boston than present-day Seattle)

But it had not until recently occurred to me that such garden-variety simplicity could actually be worse than useless.

I read the brief of a design competition the other day asking for a signage system The competition sponsors (administrators of an expensive private school) “our revolutionary library classification system will be based on how students intuitively think about and explore topics; discarding the arbitrary alphabetization of fiction authors and the meaninglessly abstract Dewey decimal system for non-fiction, all our books will instead be categorized by concept. If a student wanted to learn more about Alaska, for instance she might go to the aisle for Places, find the section on the United States and then the group of books about Alaska. Another student interested in dinosaurs would find the whole collection under Animals: Dinosaurs”

The brief outlined the 24 categories into which…someone…had divided the universe of literature and asked for both a color and a pictogram for each. The competition prize was handsome, so I found myself back at the brief several times; perhaps there was an elegant solution I had missed in my rush to judgment? But no. The idea simply broke down once a reader progressed beyond board books.

Where, for example, would one look for the American classic “To Kill a Mockingbird?”
Under Animals: Birds, right?

Okay, then. Places: United States: Alabama?
Times and Seasons: Great Depression?
Professions: Law?

How about Social Issues: Race, Rape, Murder, Poverty, Disability, or Advocacy?
Honor? Sacrifice? Coming of Age?
What about Burned-out Tree? (the image that stuck most prominently in my mind the first time I read it. I may have been just a bit young.)

In fact, I can’t think of a single book worth reading that is about ONE thing. And I feel deeply inordinately concerned about a library full either of books gutless enough to be classified by such a system or teachers one-dimensional enough themselves to reduce the treasured worlds and heroes of my childhood to a pictogram.


Been ruminating on this one for a while (isn’t it funny how deep personal understanding of a word can make it at once more crude and more perfectly appropriate?) anyway, I’ve been ruminating on relevance. And I’m becoming convinced that more than interest, more than engagement, more than challenge or even feedback, relevance is the key to motivation in education.

rel-e-vance : relation to the matter at hand : PERTINANCE

per-ti-nent : [from L to reach, belong] : to belong to something as a care or concern or duty, to have reference to, to be appropriate or suitable for application.

Relevant material is suitable for application to the matter at hand. Relevant instruction carries with it care and concern, a duty to relate to the matter at hand. So, what is the matter at hand? I think it’s deceptively simple. In that way that makes it really easy to answer that question in a workshop (or a comments section) and yet still be baffled when it comes to actually doing it. I think the “matter at hand,” for students of all ages all over the world is simply LIFE. Continue reading

A Singlular Experience…

Just started what might be to coolest class of my graduate career. (Oh, forgive me, second coolest, professor _______ .)

Just to give you a taste, this is a quick run-down of my discussion group (about a quarter of the participants in the class):

Vasileios Paliktzoglou – Greece
Frank Kiel – Germany
Johan Hellström – Sweden (in Uganda)
SaraJoy Pond – USA
Andrés Moreno – Spain (in Finland/Sri Lanka/Kenya)
Xavier Justino Muianga – Mozambique
Thai Bui – Viet Nam
Sören Norrgård – Finland
Rajarshi Sahai – India
Lenandlar Singh (Len) – Guyana

Notice anything? I am the ONLY American! (I’m also the only woman. Somehow I don’t find that quite as exhilarating…perhaps I should.)

I am so excited to be part of an active discussion on issues I am completely passionate about (using information and communication technologies for development) with people from all over the world, who are all commited to (and unquestionably capable of) changing the world.

If you’re interested, the class is using the ICT4D Consortium’s Elgg site as a discussion forum. I can’t imagine anyone would object to lurkers…or even sporadic contributions.

One Small Step for CC…

(this one too…)

Renewable Energy for OpenEd

Several dozen entries in the Dell Social Innovation competition (which I have become mildly obsessed with over the past several days since entering—yes, that was a shameless plug…check it out) proposing everything from human-powered nut butter machines to low-cost solar panels cum water purifiers, plus the numerous billions of dollars allotted for “exploring” it in the nation’s latest stimulus package have got me thinking a lot about renewable energy.

As said entries make abundantly clear, there are numerous interpretations of the term “renewable;” from the denotative take of a resource replenished by natural processes at a rate comparably faster than its rate of consumption (the windmills sprouting like towering minimalist daisies along I-80 in Wyoming) to the more pragmatic idea of an abundance that’s not likely to go away (the mechanism that would transform traffic racket to electricity proposed by this guy.)

So what could “renewable energy” mean in Open Education?

I know! Freshmen!

Continue reading

Models, What Models?

This week’s quest asks merchants to explore the long-term sustainability models of each of the main players in the OER field and discuss the rationale behind them. Pending the return of some emails that might give me a more insider perspective (I don’t blame them for the delay–they just might have something more important to do, like, oh, worry about the long-term sustainability of their jobs) here’s what I can gather:


There are hints at diversification, inklings of refined value propositions, and some definite short-term cobbling going on, but nothing (in my opinion) unified and coherent enough to be called a “model.”  MIT, arguably the flagship of the OER movement, has placed considerable effort of late into moving supporters into more active, (financially) committed roles: there are “why I donate” snippets on every page, an ever-present “donate now” button and a newly formed corporate sponsorship campaign (two levels $10K and $100K–right now one company is listed on the site.) To be honest, these efforts give me a not-so-subtle vibe of desperation. This does not bode well for the organizations following in their wake.

Continue reading

Orphan-ish Contribution to the Open Initiative at CTL

David made me do it…

With more than 20 FTE of talented instructional designers and production experts supported by more than 100 student employees, BYU’s Center for Teaching and Learning is a powerful force supporting the university’s mission to “develop students of faith, intellect, and character who have the skills and the desire to continue learning and to serve others throughout their lives.” The high-quality learning objects produced at the walk-in center and the sophisticated interactive environments, assessment instruments, and instructional efficiency tools developed in cooperation with the center’s teaching and learning consultants deepen students’ understanding of crucial principles and help them connect and apply that understanding throughout their education and their lives.

We propose a three-pronged initiative of openness at the CTL:
• First, upload the best and brightest of CTL learning objects to seed an institutional repository so (for example) students can explore ancient Egyptian architecture to prepare for their art history exam, even though the animation was originally created for a literature course.
• Secondly, adopt a default open license on materials created using CTL resources so that repository will continue to grow in breadth and quality.
• And finally, position the center as a materials creation collaboration hub, channeling resources created by other instructors and students (Graphic Design assignments to create info-graphics, Biology power-point presentations on genetic disorders, Videos of physics demonstrations from an Engineering course) into the growing BYU OER library.

With openly licensed BYU learning objects available to students in Provo and across continents, the openness initiative at the Center for Teaching and Learning will take the oft-quoted catch phrase so particularly true of BYU to a new level—“The world is our campus.”

The Results are In…

Well, here are the results of our little licensing quiz…Hopefully someone will correct me on the things I’ve got wrong…

What license should I apply to my dog-training video if I’m cool with releasing openly (and feel everyone should be) but I’d rather my client’s puppies not show up in someone’s animal cruelty presentation?

Creative Commons

My intent was for this to be BY-ND-SA. BY is almost inherent in anything not “all rights reserved.” The statement about feeling others should be open as well implies a Share-Alike clause and No-Derivatives would protect those puppies from ending up in an unseemly remix. This hypothetical trainer doesn’t mention any objections to someone else making money off the video

As a director (not playwrite) can I stage a CC-BY-ND play in a different time period or geographic location (eg. 1960s New York instead of ancient Japan)?

YES! : 1

NO : 4

A bit of a trick question… staging a play is not a publishing activity. As long as I am not publishing this as an adaptation of the original author’s work, I am completely within the rights granted directors, performers, users etc. usually lumped under “creative license.”

Am I allowed to create an instructional slideshow on Baroque architecture by combining CC-BY-NC photos from Flikr with CC-BY-SA music from Magnatune and my own narration?

YES! : 4
NO : 1

Neither of these licenses limit derivative works, and an instructional slideshow (that might not have been very clear–I meant for classroom use) is well within the non-commercial clause of the photos, so I should be fine. Incidentally, depending on the extent of the resources used in my presentation, this kind of use would be acceptable even if the works were under traditional copyright.

Which license(s) would I be able to apply to the resulting product?

CC-BY-SA (2)
None, at least not legally…

If I understand properly, in order to re-mix these resources, their licenses must be not only compatible (which would make CC-BY-NC-SA a viable option) but exactly the same. Practically, we could probably license this BY-NC-SA, but according to the letter of the law, the licenses of the photos and the music are not remix-able.

Classify each of the following licenses based on the type of use permitted:


ARR                  :  R – R – R – R
BY                      :  RRRR
BY-SA               :  RRRR
BY-ND-SA        :  RR – R – R
BY-NC               :  RRRR
BY-NC-SA        :  RRRR
BY-NC-ND       :  RR – R – R
BY-NC-ND-SA : RR – R – R

Everyone got this one exactly right. I guess that illustrates well the fact that on their own each license and its bounds are pretty clear…it’s the compatibility issues that introduce the confusion and complexity.

Disclaimer: This was a game. Only a handfull of responses are represented. In no way should any of the following results or analysis be given scientific, statistical, or practical credence of any kind 🙂

So You Think You Can License?

Because this assignment is already 2 weeks late, because you can already read great summaries here, here, here, and–oh yeah–here, and because (despite his assertions) I just can’t believe that David actually wants to read another explanation of creative commons licenses…

Test your knowledge on a couple of fun licensing scenarios here. (Tried to do it with polls inside WordPress, not much luck…told you I wasn’t an artisan) I’ll post the results on Monday.

“Why we say we’re open…”

Jared presented a good broad categorization of open ed motivations (Philanthropic, Strategic, Pedagogic, Economic) and I liked the framework Michael proposed as well; motivations based on values and motivations based on value. Picking up from there, here’s a little analysis on the “whys” (at least the public ones) of some top open education initiatives…

MIT OpenCourseWare : Unlocking knowledge, Empowering minds. “MIT OpenCourseWare is an idea – and an ideal – developed by the MIT faculty who share the Institute’s mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship to best serve the world.”

Values: excellence in instruction, universal access to information, education for service
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, competitive advantage, indirect sales (support recruiting)

OER Commons : Free-to-use Teaching and Learning Content from Around the World “expand educational opportunities by increasing access to high-quality Open Educational Resources (OER), and facilitating the creation, use, and re-use of OER, for instructors, students, and self-learners.

Values: improved OERs, improved instruction, improved access, multi-culturalism

C()SL at Utah State : Open and Sustainable Learning “is dedicated to increasing access to educational opportunity worldwide…we believe that all humans beings are endowed with a capacity to learn, improve, and progress. Educational opportunity is the mechanism by which we fulfill that capacity. Therefore, free and open access to educational opportunity is a basic human right.”

Values: rights-based access, humanism, education for service, advocacy
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Commonwealth of Learning : Learning for Development “helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training”

Values: humanitarianism/charity, access
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution

Carnegie Mellon OLI : Working to help the World Wide Web make good on its promise “Using intelligent tutoring systems, virtual laboratories, simulations, and frequent opportunities for assessment and feedback, OLI builds courses that are intended to enact instruction – or, more precisely, to enact the kind of dynamic, flexible, and responsive instruction that fosters learning.

Values: innovation, relevance/effectiveness/flexibility in learning
Value: PR and reputation effects for the institution, research platform, technology integration/exploration

WikiEducator : Free elearning content. Just try it! Our community will support you. “The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative planning of education projects linked with the development of free content; development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning; work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs. networking on funding proposals developed as free content.”

Values: community organizing, improved OERs
Value: cost-savings for participants