Open Ed Spottings Week 9

Week 9 musings! Jennifer comments on The World is Flat this week, and makes a number of observations

She contrasts directed collaboration (e.g., group work in a class) with what we are currently seeing online – “Each person brings individual contributions to the network based on individual needs and interests. While they may interact and in turn support each other, they are not necessarily focused on achievement of the same goal or for a specific outside audience.” I think this is an absolutely critical point to understand. One way of defining self-organization would have to be the public, self-interested actions of a massive number of individuals that result in completely accidental, and therefore zero overhead, collaboration. There’s a lot of writing to do here. I’ll leave it for another post.

When we rely on the self-interested actions of others, sustainability becomes less of a problem. As Jennifer notes, “Contrary to my post from last week, not being preoccupied with the needs and concerns of the broader audience may be a good thing for the sustainability of open education. Go figure?!”

And finally, one point I wish we could get through to higher education – “the world will continue to get flatter, so we should capitalize on it rather than to fight it or keep on doing what we’ve been doing.”

Jon read Coase’s Penguin, and makes some comments about motivation and sustainability.

“In some cases a monetary reward could be inversely related to social-psychological satisfaction. For example (Benkler’s example), a friend who invites you to dinner might be offended if you tried to pay him/her…. Projects that provide non-monetary benefits such as ways to track reputation, power to make decisions about content, and the ability to create (Benkler describes the urge to create as an intirinsic-hedonistic motivation) are more likely to receive and maintain contributions.”

I don’t know if a project that offers these rewards is more likely to receive contributions (if I offered $1000 per I’d probably receive several), but I think he means to say that they are more likely to be sustainable over the long-term, and of course, he’s right.

He also makes a comment that echoes Jennifer’s comments about the producer-driven model. “Where markets and firms use pricing and management hierarchy to determine the best fit for a particular agent; in the peered-production model the agent decides for him/herself where they can be of the most value.” You can clearly read this to say ‘Where NGOs try to find out what content is needed by who, and determine who should build it, in the open education model, everyone self-selects what they can and will build.’

Erik read “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good.” His summary touched a nerve with me when he said: “The book talked about the lists that would be created by the planners, but then there was no follow through because no one was held accountable. Good ideas are a wonderful thing, but if you don’t have the plan and means to carry them out they are worthless.” This is why I think all students in instructional technology programs need to learn to to use the tools of our trade. Not just to do designs; not just to do evaluations. Our students need to learn to program. If all you can do is sit around and make lists, plans, and have ideas you’re not nearly as useful to the world as someone who can do those things AND whip out a functioning prototype.

Erik then goes after on of the sacred cows of open education: “Some of the analogies in the book made me question if free was best, but that is a topic for another paper.” I sincerely hope he comes back to this thought in another post.

Yu-Chun also read Coase’s Penguin. She picks up on Benkler’s discussion of the size of the unit of work and the difficulty of adding it to the overall system: “The granularity of the modules is important for maintain a project. When a project of any size is broken into little pieces, each of pieces can be independently performed by an individual in a short amount of time. It will be amazing if pooling the efforts of different people with different capabilities.” Short amount of time, of course, equals lower barrier to entry for individuals who want to contribute to the project.

But Yu-Chun also picks up on a problem lurking in the background. “However, I am wondering if modularity can be applied to any kind subjects and if there is some pitfalls that it will bring. Take cookbooks, for example. It is good for users to add any contents for specific topics. Each cooking skill can be a unit, and users can be responsible for a small part to decrease the mistakes which probably will happen during editing. Each cooking skill is independent from each other, so we don’t need to worry about the consistency of the contents. But what if there are a series of scientific concepts which will be edited in different units? Since each concept is related to each other, I wonder if each segment is consistent with each other. If related contents are not consistent, learners must feel confused during learning.” There are several open textbooks. But have you ever seen a really good one that was written by a distributed group via a wiki?

Congratulations to Jessie, who got married last week! She found time during the honeymoon to blog about The World is Flat, including some goals for the movement: “The task of open education movement now is to make the education borderless among countries, companies, universities and help creativity and individuation of each learner.”

But I had to chuckle when I read this next part of her post – the grass really is always greener on the other side of the fence. “Open educational movement is getting mature in developed countries, but it just started in some developing countries especially big country like China. It seems harder to make meaningful progress in Asian countries even developed country like Japan because of the cultural and government issues in those countries. It may take a while for the open educational movement innovators to solve those problems.” I wish we had solved the cultural and governmental issues here in the US!

Greg chose Free Culture. He provides a nice counterpoint to some of what Jennifer and Jon said above:

“I think the open education movement can learn a lot about the idea put forth in Free Culture about the importance of free speech and allowing all voices to be heard. These ideas can be applied to the instructional strategies that open educational materials use, the methods in which they are disseminated, and the formative evaluation methods they follow…. Most OER come from a rich and powerful places of the world because that is who has the money and other resources to create them. So the voice of the rich and powerful is placed into the OER, not because of some evil intent, but simply because that is the mindset of the creator.”

So how do we balance this out the ideas of letting people produce what they want to with the problem that only the rich have leisure time to create OERs?

Other thoughts sound a lot like what I have tried to do (with only mixed success) in this very class: “Open education can be seen as a way to spread the knowledge of the few to the many and it is a laudable movement. But in the actual instruction being done does open education allow the few to speak for the many, or does it give ample opportunity for self-expression specifically among its users, the learners and teachers? I think that the former is more common. Another way to give voice to participants is to use instructional techniques in the actual delivery of instruction that allow for discussion, reflection and learner-centered activities rather than direct instruction techniques. Technologies do not currently make it very easy to hold a quality synchronous meeting over the Internet but they are getting better. Lessig mentions the power of the blog, where people can post items for peer review and content. Ideas are discussed at length and arguments are made. Technologies certainly allow for a quality discussion to happen over the course of time on blogs. The voice of the student is heard.”

Greg finishes up with an extended commentary on a debate between Lessig and Valenti that is also worth reading.

Rob also read The World is Flat, and knocked me out with this picture he painted:

“Something else that got me thinking, as I’ve been reading lately about open source, open content, copyright, and licensing mechanisms, was when Friedman talked about Japan and China working together. Even with the bitter feelings the Chinese still have towards the Japanese who occupied their country and used biological weapons to kill millions of Chinese, the Japanese are outsourcing to China. The economics override the hate. That made me wonder if at some point we’ll see some collaboration among Richard Stallman, Larry Lessig, Steve Ballmer, Tom Giovanetti, and Marilyn Bergman. Stallman’s and Lessig’s licenses, GFDL and CC, don’t currently work together even though they’re on the same team. The software and recording industries seem pretty much united in their opposition to anything being open, although Ballmer does claim that he likes to see open source development happen using Microsoft products. If Lessig and Stallman can’t present a united front, however, how will anyone be able to withstand the attack from the MPAA/RIAA/ASCAP/Orrin Hatch/Microsoft front?”

Rob also observes, “The businesses that will survive the outsourcing of many common tasks, according to Friedman, are the ones that localize, defined by Joel Cawley of IBM as ‘[taking] all the global capabilities that are now out there and [tailoring] them to the needs of a local community.’ One of the important functions of the OER movement is in providing resources available to anyone that are compatible with technological and legal frameworks that allow localization.” How would these sentences read if instead of businesses we talked specifically about education?

Bobbe brings home one of the messages from The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid to our own program here at USU:

“Part of the success of ICICI Bank is its philosophy: “If you are going to gain sustainable competitive edge, you have to leverage technology in a big way.” They could see that moving from “physical-branch banking” to “virtual banking” would be a lot more profitable. This is a fact that Distance Education has yet to learn. USU has been doing Distance Education for a couple of decades – reaching out to the very rural areas of Utah. They did it by building ‘brick and mortar’ buildings around the state and then piping in the ‘virtual’ part, causing students to sit in F2F classrooms that utilized expensive technology. That was understandable in the beginning, but as rural areas gained access to home computers and connectivity, the university failed to make changes and continues to invest in even more expensive equipment to replace the stuff that is getting old. Rural students have to leave their home computers and travel (an hour or two) to an outreach building, to attend ‘virtual’ classes, synchronously. The investment in unneeded technology is proportionate to the inability to let go and let virtual.” Yea Bobbe!

Catia read Coase’s Penguin. She zeros in on the core issues of sustainability outlined by Yochai, who, “analyzes why the large-scale collaboration systems can be sustainable. Sustainability here is due to these factors, according to the author: modular work, granularity and low cost integration.” She also picks up on the risks of when ‘low cost integration’ goes wrong, saying “when someone’s contribution is not integrated properly into the whole project, changing its quality,” it not only bogs down the project, but disincentivizes people from making future contributions.

Antonio also read Coase’s Penguin, and picks up on the difference between different types of OER projects.

“Peer production are best fitted with project that are modular, high-granular with a low-cost integration of the pieces. They should be modular for allowing individuals to indipendently author a small piece, the dimension (granularity) of this piece should be minimized for admitting occasional, small-sized contributions from everyone and, finally, these pieces should integrate without a high, centralized effort. Of course, the integration relates also with quality, which is attained mostly by peer-review. So, I want to add one more constraint, related to the size of the community: peer-reviewing is usually well done if the number of reviewers is high or they are very specialized (but this case would lead to rise integration costs…)

It seems the identikit of Wikipedia!

But OER are not only encyclopedias: more structured productions are neeed too, as textbooks or coursewares. Unfortunately, they have not all these characteristics… Maybe that in these cases, the “firm model” is more suitable, providing the necessary information and control for coherence and consistency. Furthermore, educational resources have often to be more contextualized than an encyclopedia entry. This implies the need for additional efforts and/or for specialized roles for participants.”

In short, Antonio is highlighting Benkler’s suggestion that not all OERs are amenable to development with the commons-based peer production process.

1 thought on “Open Ed Spottings Week 9”

  1. You are exactly right, it is much easier to tell out our own concern than others because we are in the situation. I am wondering what obstacles you have found in some other countries beside the U.S. Or they all face similar problems? Travel around is hard but sometimes are fun to observe new things. However, we do have to stay in the situation for some amount of time, then we might figure out something. Is it hard for you to understand Chinese or Japanese culture?

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