Open practice with #ds106 daily create: conclusion

In the last post, I exhibited some of the work I’ve produced this week in connection with the Daily Create challenge. It is now time to reflect on this experience of open practise.

How was your activity an open practice in your view?

I shared my daily create artifacts under a creative commons attribution license (CC BY), with the intention of empowering anybody to pick up my piece and make something new and creative out of it. Perhaps nobody ever will, but I want to leave all doors open for this to happen.

Reading through Alan Levine’s entries, it occurred to me that I could have been more open about the process leading up to the artifacts I shared, both in terms of technology and inspiration.

Did you run into any problems or barriers?

I did not feel confident enough to contribute to the video and gif assignments suggested this week. When I opened the daily create page, there were already a couple of gif submissions and I just felt overwhelmed by my incompetence. It froze any idea of things I could do at my own level.

I haven’t overcome this barrier so far: all I did was avoid the obstacle…and I’m not particularly proud of it.

Was this process beneficial to you in some way?

While I wasn’t able to respond to each prompt, the daily create assignments introduced a routine of thinking about ways I could express myself creatively. My preferred medium has always been words and I tend to refrain from venturing publicly into unfamiliar territories such as photography because of how harshly I judge my own output.

Daily Create had a liberating effect on me because the act of creation is repeated every day so failing once doesn’t bite away at your enthusiasm for the next day’s creative assignment. You can check out what others have made, maybe find out how they did it, fiddle with GIMP as time allows. In the worst case, you’ll have spent 20 minutes of your day struggling with a software you can’t bend to your will. You get up the next day, ready to take on a new challenge, knowing you have people around to support you.

Two things happened from there:

  1. I made my first (very imperfect) animated gif
  2. I joined the headless ds106 course starting tomorrow

So, I say ‘yay’:

What did you learn through this process about openness, or about anything else?

On the technical side of things, I tried out GIMP which was a bit frustrating at first, tough well worth the effort. I can’t say that I master all the nuts and bolts of the software but I’ve got the basics down at least.

I also played around with the back-end (CSS) of my Tumblr theme to add the Disqus comments widget, which I am glad to report was a successful operation.

Comment thread on Tumblr. 25th August 2013.

Comment thread on Tumblr. 25th August 2013.

More importantly, I learnt that no matter how lousy you think you are at photography/animation/telling jokes/*insert activity*, that’s no excuse to limit your self-expression to media you’re comfortable with.

Practice makes perfect.

Practice + sharing + community feedback + more practice = still imperfect but a lot better.

The challenge of building online communities

In yesterday’s #whyopen Google Hangout, Simeon (@mtotowajirani), Cliff (@omcliff), David (@dvdgc13) and I wondered how to go about building thriving online communities.

What strategies would you employ to ensure that there is active participation, collaboration, the very essence of what we call open?

Simeon’s question triggered an exchange of experiences about how communities come together and what fosters participation within the network.

Network by Flickr user futureshape. Under CC BY license.

Network by Flickr user futureshape. Under CC BY license.

How do you get people on board?

As part of the course, we’re going to be engaging in open activities in groups. Unlike a traditional classroom setting, where most activities are bound by the physical environment, open activities should allow for a wider spectrum of participants to join in.

In our case, we could consider the student group to be a driving force behind the project (task force?), while people exterior to the course will be invited to collaborate on the project.

How do we reach out to the wider community to make this happen ?

  • Communicate about the project

People will first need to know what we are trying to achieve so they can decide whether they feel like joining us. Communicating about the project involves being open about who we are, what our goal is and what type of activities we’ll be carrying out together.

Being excited about it makes all the difference!

  • Use social media to connect people

Social media can be used to spread the word about our project as well as receive feedback from various sources.

Twitter, Facebook and G+ can also help to keep the information flowing between participants who might not be able to meet up physically or gather for a synchronous session.

As Simeon rightly pointed out during yesterday’s discussion, social media platforms are also fantastic at getting you in touch with people who may have skills or connections you need to harness for your project. If approached tactfully, most people will be happy to point you in the right direction, send you a link to a helpful article or just give you a tip on how to solve your problem.

  • Tap into existing communities

Our group is made up of people from diverse backgrounds. Why don’t we take advantage of existing communities with adjacent interests to find relevant information and maybe recruit new participants?

If our project has to do with education for instance, we’re likely to come across motivated individuals among the OER practitioners.

How do you keep the momentum?

Now that we have successfully formed a community around our exciting new project, we’re all bursting with energy. But what happens if the project takes longer than expected? What if we run into challenges? How do we keep our participants engaged?

  • A helping hand

Learning by doing is something that motivates people to join online communities but if the learning curve becomes too steep and nobody’s available to show you the way, then you’re likely to fall off the edge. A community should be a place where nobody is afraid to ask for help.

This is something I greatly appreciate at Global Voices: whenever someone encounters technical difficulties, has doubts about how to translate a certain passage, or needs guidance to draft a post, there will always be another team member ready to help. The knowledge base we have as a network is simply mind-boggling but the really amazing part is how generously this knowledge is shared.

  • Assign tasks…

To simplify coordination between team members and ensure that the work gets done, it can be helpful to assign tasks or let people sign themselves up for tasks so we’re all clear about who does what. This implies knowing each other well enough to match the skill sets with the tasks at hand.

When you’re assigned a task, you feel responsible for the outcome and tend to work at it with renewed interest.

  • …but keep it flexible

We’re volunteering our time out of dedication to the project but it should not become a burden. When someone is not available to contribute because of other commitments or just needs a break, they should feel free to step out for a while, confident in knowing that others will take over.

  • Sweets galore!

‘Give out sweets’ to keep up participation, said David in the chat window. The phrasing made us all smile but the idea that if participants feel that their work is valued, they’re more likely to continue being committed to the project does ring true.

Depending on the situation, a genuine ‘thank you’, a public endorsement or a badge, might be appreciated and encourage further participation.

What’s your experience of building communities or participating in one? Would you like to share what’s worked for you and what’s been rather disappointing?

Are you: free / open / none of the above ?

Where I tinker with the notions of open and free: how are they different? how do they overlap?

Do we need a definition of ‘open’?

Last week in #whyopen, we reflected on the meaning of open as it relates to our lives and practise. After discussing our views on various online platforms, we asked ourselves whether we should try to define openness or leave the definition open.

On this issue, I agree with Pat Lockley who says:

Defining is hard, as we have come to realise during last week’s exercise. Yet, most of us in the discussion felt that we needed to come to a common understanding of the term ‘open’ so as to be able to rally around it. If we have no clear benchmark for what open is, how can anyone decide if something is open or otherwise?

Defining ‘open’ sounds all the more crucial that we are confronted with arguments raging back and forth between free culture and open culture.

Free is absolute

Comparing two possible definitions of free content and open content, I find ‘free’ more uncompromising a label than ‘open’. Whereas an artifact is either free or not free, it can be more or less open.

Open is a more flexible concept, that allows for a continuum of positions within the realm of openness:

Content is open to the extent that its license allows users to engage in the 4R activities [4R: reuse, revise, remix, redistribute]. Content is less open to the extent that its license places restrictions (e.g., forbidding derivatives or prohibiting commercial use) or requirements (e.g., mandating that derivatives adopt a certain license or demanding attribution to the original author) on a user’s ability to engage in the 4R activities.

This difference is clearly spelt out on the Free cultural works wiki:

We discourage you to use other terms to identify Free Cultural Works which do not convey a clear definition of freedom, such as “Open Content” and “Open Access.” These terms are often used to refer to content which is available under “less restrictive” terms than those of existing copyright laws, or even for works that are just “available on the Web”.

Is free the extreme end of open, the most radical stance? Conversely, is openness a diluted version of free culture?

Differing ideologies

In an interview with Forbes, free software advocate Richard Stallman posed an ideological grounding for free culture which is opposed to the more pragmatic approach he attributes to the proponents of open source:

Where we differ from the proponents of open source is in what those goals are. The open source viewpoint cites only practical-convenience goals, such as making software powerful and reliable. Our primary goals are freedom and community. We appreciate convenience too, of course, but we do not put that above freedom.

So, essentially, open source people are sell-outs who abandoned the fight for freedom in favour of … convenience!

I’m not sure that everybody championing openness fits the portrait of practically-minded people with not an idealist’s bone in them. Both open source and free software advocates strive against proprietary software: they just don’t agree on the means to do that or indeed on the priorities of the movement.

This is as far as I’ve gone in my reflection on open vs. free. Admittedly a bit scant, but I hope I’ll be able to deepen my reflection as the days go by and the discussion progresses.

Open, closed…and everything in between!

Reading through the survey answers to the question “What does open mean to you?”, the perspective offered by an anonymous librarian had me thinking about ‘open’ and ‘closed’ as the extreme ends of a spectrum. Are there degrees of openness?

Open and closed can be thought of as binary positions, but I think it’s more accurate to see it as a continuum. There are degrees of openness. A college might be called open if it accepts everyone who applies, but tuition and the applications process are still hurdles that close it off to some. Some courses call themselves open but are only open to registrants, and closed to anyone else. When it comes to open education or open learning, I think an open-mindedness on the part of course facilitators is important, so that they’re open to learners establishing their own goals and having a hand in defining their own learning paths and assessments – open outcomes/open assessment.

Anonymous librarian’s answer to a preliminary survey for P2P University course on the item: What does ‘open’ mean to you?. Audio recording by Marie-Laure Le Guen under CC BY 3.0.

In higher education, MOOCs are often regarded as the quintessential example of openness. Indeed, on the surface, participation in a massive open online course requires little more than a reliable Internet connection, an awareness that the course is offered and a bit of time on one’s hands. In practise though, being open isn’t just about uploading a couple of video lectures and letting students grapple with the material on their own.

All MOOCs self-identify as open but they clearly do not apply the same yardstick. To measure how much openness goes into a particular MOOC, we would need a multidimensional framework that would help us determine the type and the degree of openness realised in a given course.

I see several dimensions to consider, which I would formulate along these lines:

1. Open enrollment

This is currently the minimum requirement for any MOOC: anyone with an Internet connection should be able to join, regardless of their location, educational background, professional credentials, financial status, etc.

Open enrollment usually means that there are no restrictions as to the number of students joining, which explains the massive scale of some recent courses. An Artificial Intelligence class offered by Stanford in 2012 saw over 58,000 people [pdf] sign up !

Some courses such as Why Open? have however enforced a limit on the number of participants in an effort to manage the pace of the discussion forums. The irony wasn’t lost on Terry Elliott:

This looks like a worthwhile August project and I would love to be a part of it, but I am struck by the delicious irony that a course called “Why Open?” is already closed 😉

Is it enough to allow anybody to sign up at no cost to claim complete openness in terms of enrollment? Well, not exactly. Setting aside the obvious issue of Internet access and cost, the following barriers to enrollment may still exist:

  • Language: the vast majority of MOOCs are offered in English, by English-speaking facilitators or instructors and thus end up being dominated by native English speakers or at least proficient English speakers. Instruction, discussions and assessments generally take place in English which puts some potential students at a great disadvantage. I would therefore rate a multilingual course as more open than a monolingual one. The practical implications aren’t simple but it is a fact worth noting.
  • Self-censorship: Even though the platform is meant to be open to all, potential learners may feel intimidated by the academic qualifications of other participants or the technical terms used in the introduction page and decide that they are not welcome because they do not fit into the culture of the virtual university.

It appears that even on an issue seemingly as straightforward as open enrollment, degrees of openness emerge.

2. Open participation

Which aspects of the course can participants model according to their individual or group needs? The answer to this question will determine the course’s level of openness-as-participation.

This would involve checking whether students are able to define their own learning goals and paths, whether they are expected to create their own learning materials or just use those provided by an external authority, whether they can ‘come and go’ as they wish or are bound by certain rules. It is mostly about who has control over what happens in the course.


  • It is often taken for granted that the tools used in MOOCs are mastered by all the learners. It isn’t always the case and, in the absence of appropriate scaffolding, the lack of technological literacy is going to be a barrier to participation.
  • Low connection speed and firewalls are major hurdles in many parts of the world, and this digital divide is most acutely felt in the case of learners trying to follow video-based lectures. I’ve experienced this myself time and time again!

According to this framework, a course is all the more open that is gives leeway for participants to forge their own paths and provides an appropriate technical infrastructure taking into account everyone’s needs – including for instance alternatives to video lectures and tutorials to help bridge the technological literacy gap, etc.

3. Open resources

What are participants allowed to do with the course materials? Is the software infrastructure open source?

For a MOOC to qualify as fully open in this regard, it would have to release its course material under an open license and use open source software. Here, the restrictions imposed by the chosen license will define the degree of openness, using only copyrighted material being farthest on the closed end of the spectrum while using exclusively works from the public domain would conversely place a course in the most open position (to take extreme examples…).

This is a side of openness often ignored by the bigger xMOOC players.

4. Open assessment

Since the motivations for joining an MOOC typically vary from improving job prospects to simple curiosity for the subject matter, it would not make sense to look at assessment through a single lens. In an open course, learners are free to set their own achievement goals, so the conditions of assessment should be flexible enough to accommodate the diversity of student expectations.

What would open assessment look like then? Pretty much anything that makes sense to the learner will work. Pragmatically, it comes down to a choice between grading (robot grading, peer assessment…), port-folio based assessment or no formal assessment at all. Some students are pushing for access to formal university accreditation.

As usual, it would be fantastic to hear from you on this. Any feedback? Ideas on how to visualise these 4 dimensions ?


Daniel, J. (2012). Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility (pdf). Accessed 2013-08-05.

Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., De Boer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D. & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom: Research into edX’s First MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8(3), 13-25. Accessed 2013-08-05.