Review of personal learning environment after ‘Why open’

At the beginning of the course, I had a go at planning my personal learning environment: I wrote about places that would help me gather my thoughts and connect with others who are interested in the topic of openness. Now that “Why Open” is nearly over, it’s time to look back at what actually happened.

Reading through what I had in mind a bit over a month ago in terms of learning environment, I find the picture rather close to the reality, except for a few details which I’ll explain here. Additional tools turned out useful as well besides the ones I had initially considered.

What didn’t work so well

I had thought about scheduling a face-to-face meeting with a fellow learner also based in Paris but this unfortunately did not happen. We were both busy and I don’t think she really had much time to delve deeper into the course so the meet-up had to be shelved. This does not mean we won’t discuss openness next time we meet, only that it didn’t happen during the time frame allocated to “Why Open”. The beauty of such a learning endeavour is that it goes well beyond the few weeks devoted to it.

I attempted to participate in 3 Google Hangouts but it’s fair to  say that they weren’t successful. My connection acted up and I wasn’t able to attend efficiently. On one occasion, the discussion was even moved to Twitter due to my connection problems…I said I wasn’t the biggest fan of Google Hangout, now the joke’s on me. Someone remove the curse the spirit of Google has placed on me! [FYI, I’m reading a book on voodoo and it hasn’t helped so far]

What worked as planned (or nearly)

This blog was indeed my central place for reflection, although I have neglected it of late. It was somewhat disappointing that so few people blogged consistently during the 4 weeks of the course. I guess my expectations were too high in this regard. To temper this, I must point out that the contributions (both posts and comments) were of very good quality.

Twitter‘s #whyopen stream was lively, especially during the weekly chat sessions. From my point of view, Twitter and the small groups were the main avenues for getting to know other learners in the course.

What worked better than expected

I quickly took to Delicious, a tool I was experimenting with for this course. It is not as social as I expected it to be (probably because I’ve only joined recently and don’t know many people on the platform yet) but I’ve found it an easy way to store up and organise articles I read online about education. I’ll definitely keep it up.

What I hadn’t thought of but turned out useful

There’s a ridiculously simple tool I hadn’t mentioned in my post on personal learning environment: Etherpads. We used pads to keep up with notes from live sessions, sign up for Hangouts, provide feedback, as well as to brainstorm our group’s activities.

I ended up trying out Audacity to record and edit a short commentary on the pre-course survey results which I uploaded on Soundcloud.

Flickr was always on a tab somewhere, as a source of CC illustrations.

The course is officially over – but for the final projects – but I hope that #whyopen was merely a more intense time in a longer conversation taking place on- and offline.

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.

Week 3: practising openly with #ds106 daily create

This week in ‘Why Open?’, we’ve been focusing on open practise: less talking, more doing. After doing, back to writing then…

Our group plans on making an interactive youtube video, which is admittedly quite an ambitious project given our time scope. We’re far from reaching completion but Christina was hinting at turning this into our final project for the course. I’d rather postpone my post on the group activity to a later stage as I feel it would be premature to publish anything now.

Instead, I’m going to look back at my recent involvement with the Daily Create assignments which are part of the larger DS106 activities.

Daily create

Aside from the group work, I was drawn to the Daily Create challenge which appeared as an open activity suggestion on the course page.

Daily create consists in responding to daily prompts encouraging participants to experiment with digital modes of expression such as photos, videos, animated gifs, drawings, audio recordings, and written pieces. Contributions are uploaded on various online platforms and tagged ‘dailycreate’ and ‘tdcxxx’ so as to syndicate them on the site. Participants can thus easily comment on each others’ creations.

This week’s creative harvest

I took pictures…

My first assignment was to take a photo of an object representing a colour I love. I chose turquoise:

The walls of my room are all white, except for one which I painted turquoise. It is an energetic splash of colour that illuminates the space. Posing for me was my dear friend Felix, who happened to be around and got a hug for his patience.

Click here to see what others were inspired to share on the same topic.

The next challenge I took up was a little bit more abstract : create a pass or certificate that allows you to not complete this Daily Create.

I opened my sketch book and used felt pens to make an old-fashioned hand-written note. In Preview, I edited the colors to add a sepia effect:

It wasn’t easy to decide what to make of this prompt because there’s obviously an element of absurd embedded in the assignment.

See other examples on this theme here.

My latest photo contribution was a response to the following prompt: Power corrupts, take a picture of something powerful. My train of thought directed me to photograph this:

What do I find powerful about this particular hot sauce? First of all, the taste! It’s a genuine chilli paste which has the power to make me eat up any dish once this is spread on top. It’s that good. Heck, there’s a bunch of red chillies drawn on the tube and it’s no lie!!!

My secret weapon is also multilingual. How many languages can you identify on the picture? (There’s a list of ingredients at the back, with some weird spelling errors in Spanish. The translator in me cringed).

I didn’t quite manage to incorporate the “power corrupts” idea in this shot. See completely different contributions here.

I scribbled once…

As part of Daily Create, I also wrote an advertisement for the headless ds106 course to entice new participants.

The day was foretold long, long ago, in the age of typewriters and cassette recorders. Yes, before the advent of the great html, some had announced the beheading of Digital Storytelling 106, or #ds106 as it soon came to be known. What they hadn’t counted on was its return…

Headless, supercharged with creativity, an army of digital storytellers is about to swarm your timeline. Will you be among them, reclaiming byte after byte of the narrative?

Stack up on inspiration and join this amazing quest spanning across the Internet realm. Make connections beyond the land of your ancestors. Conquer your fears and tell your stories. #ds106 won’t be the same without you.

My ad was so convincing, it even convinced me to sign up for the course!

Looking back

It’s getting late so I’ll keep the following questions for tomorrow :

  • How was your activity an open practice in your view?
  • Did you run into any problems or barriers? If so, please explain what they were and how you tried to address them (if possible). Were these issues related to openness in some way?
  • Was this process beneficial to you in some way? What benefits can you imagine open practices might bring?
  • What did you learn through this process about openness, or about anything else? What did you learn from your peers in your group?

(Stay tuned for more, as they say…)

Licensing qualms.

Patented emotions by Nina Paley was translated into Hebrew and modern Greek. ♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Patented emotions by Nina Paley was translated into Hebrew and modern Greek. ♡Copyheart. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Choosing a license for one’s work sometimes opens up a can of worms. It forces one to consider questions beyond just sticking a CC icon at the bottom of the page.

Questions like: Does it matter that others might make money off my work without remunerating me? Does the fear of future enclosure by commercial entities surpass the desire to share as widely as possible? Why do I care about getting credit for my work? How much control do I wish to retain ? Given the inspiration gathered from various sources all along my life, can I honestly claim originality and ownership over ‘my’ work?

An apparently straight-forward choice of license, guided by deceivingly simple questions (do you want to allow derivatives? etc), launches you on a personal journey to look into these dilemmas and really start digging into the nature of creation, your own motivations for sharing, your fears.

Not everybody ends up documenting what I call the ‘qualms of licensing’ or the story of how they came to make certain trade-offs. Christina Hendricks did it at length on her blog. I recommend reading her successive positioning on non-commercial, share-alike and attribution which led to her licensing the texts of her blog under CC BY: you get the feeling that a lot of soul-searching went into these posts.

CC is non-commercial, right? Wrong!

But while we weigh our priorities against the reality of sharing online and compare the merits of the various open licenses, other dilemmas come to haunt us.

The whole point of open licenses is to enable downstream users to understand what they can and cannot do with a given piece of work. Yet confusion is rife and we too often see all the licenses lumped together, assimilated to non-commercial. In fact, it would be interesting to carry out a poll to find out how many people down your street know about creative commons. Out of those who declare an awareness of creative commons, how many think it only has to do with non-commercial activities? How many know the meaning of all the symbols?

Confronted with this issue around her film Sita sings the blues, Nina Paley went for a more radical expression of her desire to share. She waived all her copyright over the film using a CC0 license (no rights reserved) which, to her, is a way of refusing to let the law come between her and her audience:

CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don’t want to ride.

Here, openness is very much about letting go.

Copying is an act of love

In an attempt to keep the spirit of sharing alive beyond the legalese characteristic of licenses, Nina Paley went as far as to create her own license, called copyheart. Reasoning that the answer to legal problems does not lie in legal answers, she turned the problem on its head by speaking another language, the language of love:

Although we appreciate and use Free Licenses when appropriate, these aren’t solving the problems of copyright restrictions. Instead of trying to educate everyone on the complexities of copyright law, we’d rather make our intentions clear with this simple statement:

♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Could it really be that simple?

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?

The language of MOOCs

When examining barriers to openness in MOOCs, the issue of language and localisation has long been ignored or brushed aside. Yet, online education cannot deliver on its promises without facing the fact that a one-size-fits-all, American style education is not going to cut it for most of the world.

What’s going on?

At first, MOOCs seemed like a dream come true, the realisation of technology’s potential for greatness: everybody would have access to a high quality university education, wherever in the world they may be. MOOCs would address the demand for higher education at a time when few could still afford it.

Except, this is not what is happening. If you look closely enough, you’ll soon find out that English-speakers in rich countries top the charts in terms of registration numbers. It doesn’t mean that learners from developing nations aren’t joining in, but the picture certainly doesn’t speak of a revolution.

One of the issues with this vision of universal online education is the assumption that the world speaks English. Well, that’s just not the case. Things are starting to change, slowly, but the language of instruction in MOOCs is still predominantly English.

Why this is a problem

Fears that educational resources produced in rich developed countries will be once more pushed onto educators (pdf) in developing nations are very real. There is a risk of entrenching a unilateral north-south, producer-consumer model of education.

Pr. Tel Amiel of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Brazil) said in a Skype interview with Ry Rivard that he thinks language is “a huge barrier and it’s not something we can deal with trivially”.

While remixing resources into an informative booklet about Open Educational Resources for teachers in Brazil, he and his team faced many challenges, among which the question of language and cultural bias. It is not enough to simply translate the English text into Portuguese: one must also adapt the content to a context including “a computer laboratory that had been closed for three months, limited printing and photocopying in school, and students with limited access to computers at home”.

Reporting from Tanzania, Ian Attfield holds similar views. He feels that for local students to really reap the benefits of MOOCs, there is a dire need for localisation of content and adjustment of delivery models:

Internet access is erratic and expensive, but perhaps more of a barrier will be language and cultural issues for students who may be unaccustomed to student-centreed, but independent and at the same time collaborative, learning.

What we can do about it

To overcome the challenges of delivering education in a stubbornly multilingual world, several initiatives are already under their way.

  • Translate existing courses

The most obvious solution to address a multilingual audience is to translate the material into as many languages as possible.

Among the big players, Udacity has pioneered crowdsourced translation thanks to a partnership with the collaborative subtitling platform Amara. Participants can create subtitles in their language and have been active in 63 different languages, most notably Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese. The course How to Build a Startup is now fully available in Ukrainian.

Somewhat late to the party, Coursera has taken the institutional route: as a result of partnerships with various organisations, a handful of courses will be available by September 2013 in “many of the most popular language markets”, namely Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Japanese, Ukrainian, Kazakh, and Arabic.

  • Extend the network of partner universities

Another idea is to invite universities from around the world to join the network, thus diversifying the linguistic and cultural landscape.

Screenshot of Coursera website on 09 August 2013. By hardcorekancil, under CC BY license.

Screenshot of Coursera website on 09 August 2013. By hardcorekancil, under CC BY license.

Some universitites outside the US such as Taiwan National University, Univerdiad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Ecole Polytechnique de Lausane, Technische Universitaet Muenchen and Sapienza University of Rome are thus offering a total of 29 courses at Coursera in languages other than English. (See snapshot)

I also came across a search engine that helps students find courses in a few European languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, German). ‘Encuentra tu curso! (find your course), says the tagline 😉
  • Develop ad hoc courses

Translating existing courses and involving universities across the world in MOOCs are steps in the right direction but nothing can replace solutions developed by people possessing a deep knowledge of the context in which students learn.

On such bridge person is University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) professor Ragib Hasan. About a year ago, he created Shikkhok (meaning ‘teacher’ in Bengali), a free MOOC specifically targeting Bengali-speaking students, which now has close to 40,000 registered users and probably twice as many following classes informally (registration is not mandatory).

All this was made possible by an initial budget of 15$ : $10 for the web host + $5 for the domain name + 0$ for hours upon hours of hard work put in by volunteer teachers who agreed to record, edit and upload lessons that would be culturally significant to Bengali-speaking students from primary school to university level.

Since computers with an Internet connection are far from being a mainstay in rural Bangladeshi households, Hasan designed a model integrating offline distribution channels:

  • Lectures are uploaded onto Raspberry Pi computers which are then shipped to rural schools where they can be connected to TVs.
  • The video lectures are accessible from mobile phone shops for use on mobile devices which, unlike computers, are ubiquitous in the region.
  • Shikkhok videos are also distributed to cable TV operators who can broadcast them.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi and shipping box by Ayaita (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being barely one year old, this project has already won a Google RISE Award, a Deutsche-Welle Best of Blogs award (Users’ Choice Best Innovation) as well as the Isif Asia Awards 2013 in the category ‘Innovation on learning and localization’.

Final words

Whoever cares about openness in education cannot afford to overlook the language issue. Translation – crowdsourced or otherwise – is one way of managing multilingual audiences but grassroots innovation will have to emerge to really address educational needs on a local or regional level.

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.