Contribute a Short Video for #OpenEdMOOC

As you may have heard, my fellow rabble-rouser George Siemens and I are doing a MOOC on open education that launches later this month on edX. Before you ask, let me preemptively answer a few questions.

  • Yes, this MOOC actually is open – all the content will be viewable outside the edX platform and downloadable under open licenses so as to be fully 5R-able,
  • yes, you can fully participate in the course for free, and
  • no, I don’t make any money should you choose to try for a Verified Certificate.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, George and I have a request. Would you be willing to make a 3 – 5 minute video sharing your perspectives and experiences regarding one or more of our weekly topics? We would love for our fellow course participants to hear a wide diversity of voices (rather than just suffering through ours all the time). The weekly topics are:

  • Week 1: Why Open Matters
  • Week 2: Copyright, the Public Domain, and the Commons
  • Week 3: The 5R’s, Creative Commons, and Open Licensing
  • Week 4: Creating, Finding and Using OERs
  • Week 5: Research on OER Impact and Effectiveness
  • Week 6: The Next Battle for Openness: Data, Algorithms, and Competency Mapping

If you’re willing to create a video or two (only one weekly topic per video, please!), here’s what to do. Post it somewhere public under an open license (e.g., post it on YouTube licensed CC BY). The send us a tweet using the course hashtag #openedmooc with a link to your video or drop the link in the comments below. If you do all this by the end of the day Sept 14, we’ll review your video, send it off for transcription, and get it integrated into the official course materials. The video will, of course, be attributed to you as required by the CC license – bringing you fame and glory beyond your wildest dreams. Or, at least, a few thousand views.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.


Reading through and pondering the reactions to what was apparently a wonderful ALTC keynote by Bonnie Stewart (UPDATE: here are her slides), I find myself reflecting on the ways my thinking about “open” is influenced by the ideas of negative liberty and positive liberty. This is certainly not the only lens through which I see open, but I do feel like it is a useful one.

As I understand it, negative liberty refers to the absence of external obstacles, barriers, roadblocks, hinderances, or constraints that interfere with my ability to accomplish my desires. My negative liberty is maximized when there is nothing in the law, in society, or elsewhere outside of me that prevents me from exercising my agency in order to accomplish my desires.

Say, for example, that I want all my students to have access to the learning materials for my course, forever. In order to accomplish this goal, I decide to make photocopies of the required textbook and distribute these to students for free. Under normal circumstances, copyright law restricts me from making or distributing these copies. This external constraint decreases my negative liberty and prohibits me from accomplishing my desires.

Positive liberty, as I understand it, refers to a person’s own knowledge, skills, and attitudes – their internal capacity to fulfill their own desires (once those external obstacles that decrease negative liberty have been removed).

Say, for example, that I have adopted OER instead of a commercial textbook for my class. I want all my students to have access to the learning materials for the course, forever. In order to accomplish this goal, I decide to place a copy of the course materials on a public-facing website outside the LMS, where students will have ongoing access to them. However, I have no idea how to do this and so am unable to accomplish my desire. In this instance I had sufficient negative liberty (OER gave me the permissions necessary) but insufficient positive liberty (I was incapable of using the opportunity effectively).

Someone who is more familiar with these terms may jump in and tell me I’m using them wrong. If I am, please do so! For now, I’ll press forward…

We can define both negative and positive liberty as either absence or possession. Negative liberty is the absence of external obstacles like laws or policies. Positive liberty is the absence of internal obstacles like apathy or incompetence. Negative liberty is the possession of permission and opportunity. Positive liberty is the possession of capacity and capability.

I very much think of open as operating in the realm of negative liberty. On reflection, this seems obvious since I think about open explicitly in terms of free permission to engage in the 5R activities. I think of open specifically as removing the barriers associated with copyright.

Note that there are two obstacles associated with copyright. Permissions and cost (“free permission to engage in the 5R activities”). Strictly speaking, permission to engage in the 5R activities is available for every commercial textbook. And for that matter, these permissions are available for every motion picture, novel, and song. If you can afford the license. (Even Lucas will license the rights to Star Wars for the right price.) Thus, open overcomes both the obstacles of the (1) cost of permissions, and the consequent (2) lack of permissions, by providing free permission to engage in the 5R activities.

To my mind, the purpose of education writ large is to increase positive liberty – to increase the capacities of people so that they are better able to exercise their agency in ways that will help them accomplish their desires.

This means that, for me at least, “open” intersects with “education” in places where copyright restrictions and their associated costs create obstacles to people who want to learn and grow (and where they create obstacles for the people who want to help those people learn and grow). At it’s simplest, this obstacle manifests as students going without access to necessary learning materials. At it’s richest, this manifests as faculty and students being shut out of a world in which teaching and learning consists of publicly and collaboratively creating and sharing new knowledge and new knowledge artifacts by copying, revising, and remixing existing knowledge and existing knowledge artifacts.

This latter thicket of activity is what I’m talking about when I say that OER-enabled pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities. It should go without saying that there will need to be a great increase in faculty and students’ positive liberty before they are able to fully take advantage of the opportunities provided by open (as I’ve characterized them above).

I love open. I think of it as working to increase people’s opportunities. I also love education. I think of it as working to increase people’s ability to effectively use their opportunities. I really love open education.

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Information Underload and OER Leverage

I started to post this as a comment on Mike’s amazing essay Information Underload, but I’m going to put it here instead. Read Mike’s whole piece – it’s worth it.

He writes:

Endless thinkpieces have been written about the Netflix matching algorithm [including in education], but for many years that algorithm could only match you with the equivalent of the films in the Walmart bargain bin, because Netflix had a matching algorithm but nothing worth watching. (emphasis in original)

Is this why OER repositories (and the learning object repositories that came before them) typically fail – because the resource you find is frequently no better than the resource you could have made yourself if you had just spent the time creating instead of searching?

This contains echoes of the reusability paradox if you don’t understand that open licenses resolve the paradox. I suppose you could think about it from an information foraging perspective as well. But there’s some basic math around how we use time in relation to OER. If the time we spend searching for OER only turns up resources we could have created in roughly the same period of time, then there’s no advantage to OER. Being clear about that single point is super valuable. But Mike’s key insight here is that we shouldn’t try to solve this problem by decreasing mean time to discovery – we should solve it by increasing the value of the OER you eventually find.

Perhaps we should call this “OER leverage” – the ratio of time spent searching for OER to the time saved by finding OER.

As Mike says, “let’s belabor the point”:

  • Spending 15 minutes searching only to find an OER you could have created in about 15 minutes = not very useful
  • Spending 15 minutes searching and finding an OER that would have taken you 100 hours to create = very useful

This kind of example makes it clear that working to decrease mean time to discovery is a fight of diminishing returns. If I’m going to mostly find resources I could have made in 15 – 30 minutes, how much time can I possibly save by decreasing mean time to discovery? (Answer: 15 – 30 minutes.) There’s an upper bound on the amount of leverage I can achieve by working this side of the problem, and it’s a pretty low one. But if I work the other side of the problem – creating larger, more useful OER – there’s an opportunity to create significant leverage. How much time do I save when I discover a comprehensive set of OER that I can use to replace an entire textbook?

Mike continues,

Since Netflix is a business and needs to survive, they decided not to pour the majority of their money into newer algorithms to better match people with the version of Big Momma’s House they would hate the least. Instead, they poured their money into making and obtaining things people actually wanted to watch, and as a result Netflix is actually useful now…. there is endless talk about the latest needle in a haystack finder, when what we are facing is a collapse of the market that funds the creation of needles. Netflix caught on. Let’s hope that the people who are funding cancer research and teaching students get a clue soon as well.

I have a deep appreciation for metaphors and analogies that put complicated issues in a language that people can understand, and Mike really does this well. And I find it particularly delicious when someone else helps me understand my own work more clearly.

Kim and I founded Lumen because we “caught on” in the same way that Netflix did. Rather than trying to build a better “OER in a haystack finder,” Lumen’s strategy has been to work with faculty to select, align, enhance, and aggregate individual OER into comprehensive, well-designed collections that people will actually want to adopt (and then continuously improve the individual resources and the collection itself based on student and faculty feedback and relevant learning data). In other words, we’re trying to facilitate OER adoption by creating greater OER leverage. And once a faculty member has adopted OER, then there’s a chance to talk about new pedagogies, student co-creation of knowledge, and the other things we really want to talk about.

I love new ways of thinking about my own work.


Please don’t misread this as an argument for “open textbooks.” This is an argument for leverage. While the collections of OER that are sometimes referred to as open textbooks are large enough to create significant leverage, the language of “textbooks” ties us to the past in ways that subconsciously constrain our beliefs about what we can do with OER. I continue to believe that every time we use the word “textbook” to describe the work we’re doing with OER we paint ourselves a little further into the corner of traditional thinking about teaching and learning resources. This approach might win the battle but it will lose the war.

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