Clarifying and Strengthening the 5Rs

Despite my best efforts, I spent much of the recent holiday break thinking about the eviscerated definition of OER in the final version of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. As I fretted about the holes in the final language and the size of the various trucks you could drive through them, I also reflected on the 5Rs. I revisited them with a critical eye and tried to read them adversarially. If I were to try to drive a truck – or roll a matchbox car – through the 5Rs, how would I do that?

There is no change to the 5Rs themselves – they’re still retain, revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute. But I have (1) tweaked the order in which they’re presented to one that is a little more logical and (2) significantly clarified and tightened up the explanations of what each R means. I’ve updated the language on and as well as in my introductory presentation Creative Commons, the 5Rs, and OER (which is designed to be restyled, revised, and reused).

The Spirit of Open

Last year I created an un-styled, (hopefully) easy-to-reuse slide deck about Creative Commons, the 5Rs, and OER. I’ve been a vocal advocate for CC since the day it launched, and have been answering questions about the licenses for years. I helped design the new Creative Commons Certification course, taught the first two sections offered, and am the Education Fellow at CC. Suffice it to say that I have a pretty good sense of what the most common misconceptions are about the SA, NC, and ND conditions of the CC licenses. One of my main goals in making this presentation was to give people a simple way to accurately understand them.

I’ve seen lots of people reuse one or more of the slides from this presentation, and it’s been rewarding to feel like the effort I put into making them was worth it. I felt particularly good about slide 10, which boils down a lot of the complexity around the licenses into a simple visual framework.

The six Creative Commons licenses

A tweet I saw yesterday linked to a presentation that included a remixed version of this slide, and it made me pause and reflect on the beauty of open as I understand and practice it. In the revised version of the slide, the BY-NC-SA license is highlighted visually and the slide notes contain an argument about why this is the best license to use with OER.

Now, this is the exact opposite of the point that I make when I give this presentation.  It is not hyperbole to say that I disagree very strongly with the point the author is trying to make with the remixed slide. But I found that I was pleasantly surprised by how I felt about the fact that someone is using my work to send a message I disagree with so fundamentally. I was happy.

The experience reaffirmed to me that I really do believe in open. After a little introspection, I can honestly say that I am more interested in insuring that other people are able to do whatever they want or need to do with my content than I am concerned about making sure  they can only do what I want them to do with it.

This is why I use CC BY personally and why I advocate so vocally for CC BY. The CC BY license grants everyone perpetual, irrevocable permission to do whatever they want to with my work (as long as they acknowledge my contribution and don’t try to claim that I endorse what they’re doing). The SA licenses would restrict what people can do with my work. The NC licenses would restrict what people can do with my work. The ND licenses would restrict what people can do with my work. But I truly want everyone to be able to do whatever they want to do with my work.

To me, this is the very core of what open is all about – the spirit of open, if you will – empowering others without judging them. Making it as easy as possible for them to do the work they want to do, and not decreeing that there is some work that I will not allow them to do. Putting their wants and desires above my own.

Isn’t that what sharing is all about?

Some of the Wonderful Things I Discovered in 2019

I suppose it’s time for end of year reflections.

In many ways my year was dominated by three things – my family’s move from Utah to West Virginia, donating part of my liver to Cable, and closing down the annual Open Education Conference after fifteen years. Each of these took huge amounts of time and energy. Each took an incredibly large toll on me physically and emotionally. But these weren’t the only things I did this year. I also caught up on things others have apparently known about for quite a long time, but that were new to me. I thought I’d share some of these things so that, if you don’t know about them yet, you can find them more quickly than I did.

The best book I read this year – hands down, without question – was Ann Mei Cheng’s Lean Impact. In this book, Ann Mei revises and remixes the techniques described in The Lean Startup (another terrific book) specifically for use by organizations whose primary goal is having a positive impact on the world. She complements her excellent adaptation with numerous case studies. I think I’ve made notes on every single page I’ve read so far and, consequently, this book is taking me forever to get through. But it’s awesome. Here’s a video of Ann Mei summarizing some of the main points of the book.

The best TV I watched this year was definitely Avatar: The Last Airbender. Somehow I had never seen an episode of this show, despite it being one of my children’s favorite shows and a source of endless references in our home. We watched it as a family, two or three episodes per evening, while I recovered over the summer. I highly recommend it. As my daughter Megumi is fond of saying, Zuko’s redemption arc is some of the best storytelling around.

Characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Copyrighted image from

The best musician I discovered this year was Jacob Collier. As a self-respecting musician – and especially a fan of a capella multitrackers – I’m totally embarrassed that it took me until now to find him. Jacob plays almost every instrument, has beyond perfect pitch, does multitrack a capella recording, arranges for orchestra, writes original compositions, teaches workshops, and the list goes on. His #IHarmU project for Patreon supporters is one of favorite examples of remix. His arrangement of All Night Long, with Take 6 and orchestra, is a triumph of joy and enthusiasm. I leaned on it heavily this year.

I discovered Barnaby Martin’s YouTube channel Listening In while researching Jacob Collier. His harmonic analysis of Jacob’s arrangement of Moon River, and his further discussion of How Jacob Collier Uses Microtonality, Pitch and Temperament were amazing. But it was his analysis of John Williams’ work on the Star Wars movies that both moved me to tears and caused me to go to Twitter to beg Barnaby to start a Patreon.

My kids also introduced me to the Two Set Violin YouTube channel this year.  This is another music discovery I kind of can’t believe it took me so long to make. These guys are incredibly talented, brutally honest, and really funny. And their clear, vocal, and constantly repeated commitment to practicing makes me glad my kids are fans.

Finally, I discovered the 3Blue 1Brown YouTube channel this year, and just… wow. Yes, this is a math channel. But it approaches math in an entirely different way – one that is intensely curious, uses amazing visualizations to communicate complex concepts, and is just so clear. For me, the fun all started with the video “The most unexpected answer to a counting puzzle.” Unexpected indeed! Math is deeply, incredibly beautiful, and I don’t know anyone better at sharing and communicating that beauty than Grant Sanderson.

These are just some of the incredible, wonderful, beautiful things I discovered in 2019. I’m grateful for all the amazing and hard things that happened this year. May your new year be filled with discovery, progress, gratitude, and kindness.