On Openness, Process, and Forums

More response to comments from Stephen regarding the OpenContent / cc.edu goings-on.

My comments were not intended as personal criticisms or even comments about your action (and hence, not a punishment of a good deed). I was not complaining about the fact of your closing down OpenContent, but rather, the fact that it could be closed down by one person.

Your post, if anything, suggests that I have a point. How could an initiative as popular as you say it is (2,000,000+ hits in the last year) end up with exactly one member? Process matters.

This is an excellent question and one that I’ve often pondered. In the first two years we had a good group, including Eric Raymond, Andy Oram, and others. There have always been plenty of users. After OPL 1.0 was finalized everyone seemed to disappear. There was an attempt made toward the end of year three to update the OPL to 2.0, but this failed fairly quickly as (1) members of the original group seemed to have little time, and (2) no new members were forthcoming, and specifically (3) no one with appropriate legal expertise could be located to work on the update.

I have in fact commented on cc.edu, arguing in a post that creating specialized licenses for education is a bad idea. You may not agree, and that?s fine. But then what? Where is the place where this gets resolved? It doesn?t exist.

This is an interesting comment in a couple of ways. First, there is a mailing list set up for the discussion of cc.edu, and I know you are subscribed to the list. However, none of your criticisms regarding process or the license itself have been shared there. I read your blog because I enjoy engaging you and your ideas, but it is inappropriate to assume that everyone interested in cc.edu will read your blog, or that someone will repost your thought to the list in your behalf. CC has established what I believe to be a very “open process”:http://creativecommons.org/discuss for discussing the need for cc.edu (and other projects, like the Developing Nations license option), but you refuse to participate in the process by choosing to make your comments elsewhere. If you don’t like the process, that’s one thing. It’s another to claim that no place exists for disagreements to be discussed and resolved.

The point of my remark was that I saw the same process in action at Creative Commons. I have no doubt of your qualifications, your ability, or your popularity as a selection. But what concerns me is that nobody, that I am aware of, in the field was even asked whether or not they wanted a special cc.edu and whether or not they wanted a cc.edu chair (and yes, I?m on the mailing list).

Process matters.

The CC Discuss process begins by (1) identifying the need to carry out a discussion around a certain topic, and (2) identifying someone who can lead the discussion. Sometimes it will end up in no action being taken at all, but someone has to be responsible for shepherding the process. The latter part of your comment puzzles me most of all. If someone feels there is a need for a new license option, new piece of software, or a better mouse trap, why should they be required to ask the community to vote on whether or not to proceed with their innovation? Would anything truly innovative ever emerge if this were the process? if Shawn had asked the music community (artists, publishers, record companies, listeners) if a music trading service was a good idea? if Richard or Linus had asked the software community if free software was a good idea? I’m a little surprised at this criticism.

Open content – open anything – isn?t just about rounding up a bunch of free content and giving it away, in my opinion. Look at the open software movement – it?s not about handing out free copies of Windows.

It is essential, in my view, to foster not merely the idea of receiving free content, but to foster the idea that we, as an educational community, could actually create and share free content. Now you have in the past suggested that you don?t believe that any such network is going to spring up. Again, that?s fine – but again, where does this get resolved?

Finally I meet someone with a memory as poor as my own! How could you possibly interpret anything I have said to mean that I don’t believe a rich, vibrant community of people who create educational materials they freely share will never exist? If I believed this were true, why would I be working to develop a Source Forge for educational content? Why would I be working with the OpenCourseWare project? Why would I be searching for funding for the EduCommons project? Why would I be staring on a free, online, peer-reviewed journal specifically about open, sustainable learning opportunities and the techincal, legal, and other infrastructure necessary to support it? (These are some of the ongoing projects I have mentioned on my blog in the last few months.) And, if I’m not trying to incent authors to create and share materials, why would I be working on a license? It is true that I believe *commercial* educational content networks are not viable, but almost literally everything I do, all day every day, is related to cultivating, fertilizing, watering, and growing a network of free educational opportunity.

(And remember that I strongly disagree that “open educational content” == “open educational opportunity.” I’m also very focused on free learning support from other human beings, which I believe is the more important part of open, sustainable learning opportunity. The myopy of others who claim to be interested in open education to this specific point continues to puzzle me. If free content were enough to support learning, libraries would never have evolved into universities. There must be people involved in learning, and we need models and infrastructure for facilitating free human support of people engaged in the learning process.)

These are issues you and others know about, because I?ve raised them before. If there?s no mechanism for a decision, then all I can do is complain. So long as all I can do is complain, that?s what I will do. If you?re ready for something more open, more democratic, sign me up.

Please bring your issues to the official forum where people interested in cc.edu are supposed to be discussing them, including whether or not we need the license, if someone else should be leading the project, the language of the draft itself, and all other issues related to cc.edu. If someone establishes a process and forum for discussion, please don’t ignore it, refuse to post in it, and then complain that there’s no forum. =)

In closing I must say that, as much as Stephen and I seem to agitate each other, I personally enjoy the constant critique of an intelligent person with a different view point. It’s quite healthy.