Tag Archives: sharing

OLNet Fellowship – Week 2 Reflections

So I’m a little behind on this (since I’m now in Week 3) but still wanted to jot a few notes down, as I had some fantastic discussions last week.

Meeting with JORUM – Using DSpace as a Learning Content Repository

One of the highlights last week was a trip to Manchester to meet with Gareth Waller and Laura Shaw of the JORUM project. Back when we started our own repository work in BC I liaised with folks from JORUM, setting up a few conference calls to share details on how we were tackling our similar problems, but we’d fallen out of touch, and facilitated through meeting Jackie Carter last January at ELI, this was a chance to renew the connections.

One reason I wanted to meet was that JORUM’s model is very similar to our own, so I wanted to see if my ideas on how to track OERs after they’ve been downloaded from a repository resonated with them, and whether they were already employing some other technique to do so. Turns out they were of interest and to date these are (as I had suspected) numbers they were not currently collecting but eager to have, so that was a useful vote of confidence.

But the other major reason I had for my visit was to learn more about the work they had done on JORUM Open to turn DSpace into a platform for sharing learning resources. It had been almost 4 years since I last concluded that while you could try to jimmy a LOR into DSpace, it wasn’t an ideal fit – DSpace “out of the box” really caters to the deposit and archiving of documents but isn’t optimized to deal with the specialized (read “arcane”) formats of learning content.

Which is why I wanted to see how the JORUM folks were doing it; sure enough, Gareth Waller has coded many new features into the product that make it a much better fit to handle “learning” content. While I’m not yet certain it provides a simple exit strategy out of our existing commercial platform, the work Gareth has done represents a big step towards that, and I would highly recommend any other institutions already involved with using DSpace specifically for learning content to contact him.

Planning for Succession – How to enable what comes after the LMS

The rest of the week was spent with my nose to the grindstone trying to code up the hooks to incorporate piwik tracking codes into resources uploaded to SOL*R. As a treat that weekend, I travelled to Cardiff, Wales, my old stomping grounds from my Graduate degree days, to spend 3 nights with Martin Weller and his family.

We spent most of the weekend biking around the city and a good deal of time in Llandaff Fields, near Martin’s home. On Sunday afternoon we did a large circuit of the park while Martin’s daughter was at riding lessons, and it was one of those settings and strolls that beg for epic conversation. And this did not disappoint. Two ideas in particular resonated with me.

The first was the notion of “succession” of technology, to borrow a metaphor from ecology. Martin has written on this a number of times before, both in articles and in his book on VLEs. But we were discussing it in the context of the recent acquisition of Wimba and Elluminate by Blackboard (as well as in light of my recent reading of Lanier’s “You are not a gadget” in which he discusses the idea of “technological lock-in” and “sedimentation”), so put a slightly new spin on it, I think.

Now metaphors can both enable and obscure, but to follow this one for a bit, one can look at the current institutional ed tech landscape as a maturing landscape where variety is diminishing and certain species becoming dominant. But far from reaching an ultimate stable climax, there are disruptors, the latest and possibly largest being the financial crisis. These disturbances open the opportunity for new species to flourish. But… unless we’re suggesting the disturbances are so large as to restart the entire succession process (which some indeed do suggest) we’re likely instead to see adaptations to this specific force, often in the form of seeking cheaper options.

So far, pretty conventional story – mature open source scoop some existing customers when the pricepoint gets too high. Except this is where I am seeing a real opportunity for the next generation approach to creep in (I’m pretty much going to abandon the metaphor here, as I’m no ecologist, that’s for sure.) Some of us have been enthused by the prospect of Loosely Coupled Gradebooks as a technology that can unseat the dominant, monolithic LMS. But to date, there have been only a few convincing examples, and it seems like a bit of a “can’t get there from here” problem (made worse by Blackboard’s predatory acquisition strategy.) Which is where the bridging strategy comes in – we need to take Moodle (and I guess Sakai though I am lot less keen on that prospect) and focus on isolating and improving its gradebook function; as it is, Moodle already represents a very viable alternative (as the increasing defections to it show), but as it is, it doesn’t represent a Next Step, nor will adopting it “as-is” move online learning in formal contexts further. But adopting it in combination with developing its gradebook functionality to ultimately become the hub for a loosely coupled set of tools. Maybe this isn’t that revelatory, but it became clear to me that a path forward for schools looking to leave not just Blackboard, but LMS/VLEs in general, goes through Moodle as it is transformed into something else. At least that seems doable to me, and something I hope to discuss with folks in BC as a strategy.

A new Network Literacy – Sharing Well

Throughout our walk, the second recurring theme was how, for both scholars and students, bloggers and wiki creators, open source software developers and crowdsourcers of many ilk, there is a real talent to sharing in such a way that it catalyzes further action, be it comments, remixes or code contributions.

Howard Rheingold uses the term “Collaboration literacy” as one of the 5 new network literacies he proposes, and I guess, barring any other contender, that it’s not a bad term, but it does strike me that there is a real (and teachable) skill here, one that many of us have experienced; either in the “lazyweb” tweet that is so ill-conceived that it generates no responses at all, or often in envy marvelling at bloggers who manage to generate deep discussion on what seems like the barest of posts, yet one which clearly strikes the right note. “Shareability”? Ugh, right, maybe leave it alone, I mean do we really need another neologism? Still, it does seem worthy of note as a discrete skill that people can increasingly cultivate in our networked, mash-up world.

Another 1/4-baked idea – OER "virtual reference librarian"

This is another totally off-the-cuff not-well-thought-through idea (one wonders if I have any other kind!) but I do trust that smart folks out there will promptly tell me if it’s a terrible one, which is why I’m tossing it out here before I actually spend any more effort on it.

I want to put to the side ideological and theoretical debates around OER for a second because I am driven by a specific problem – it’s *my job* to help instructors and institutions in BC share online learning resources and in general to promote awareness of OER and their reuse. So I am always thinking of ways I might help people find useful resources.

Now I often make the mistake of thinking everyone is exactly like me, and so much of my effort has been in helping people help themselves. This often takes the form of technological interventions like teaching instructors how to grow their own PLN’s, or my work around client-side augmentation.

But a couple of things have given me pause to reconsider whether there are other ‘hands-on,’ ‘high touch’ approaches I should also be considering. One is the (disappointingly stillborn) Findanoerafrica twitter account that Dave Cormier setup at the Open Ed ’09 conference. The other was the experience last night of watching a friend wonder out loud on twitter about good resources on gardening for K-4 students, and within minutes seeing a fantastic reply from another friend and OER curator-type which seemed to exactly fit the bill.

So there could be no better example of informal learning networks “just sharing” than this, and I know enough about this network stuff to know that institutionalizing it can be the kiss of death, but both of these did make me wonder if there maybe isn’t some role for an “Ask the OER Virtual Librarian” service to help faculty new to the idea of finding and reusing open resources get off to a start. Maybe a twitter account or email address that would be easy to monitor as part of one’s normal workflow but that would allow a higher touch response. I suppose this is often the role for instructional designers, but in my experience not every faculty developing a course gets the chance to work with instructional designers (and certainly students don’t, and I wonder the extent to which *real* librarians avail themselves of OER versus more traditional sources.) So…

Is this a dumb idea? Would this be tantamount to admitting that OERs (as any sort of distinct thing) are a failure? (Certainly it would seem like acknowledging the current way of developing and sharing them might be.) Is “discoverability” even actually the problem with resources getting reused, or is it possible that the whole model is so flawed, so disconnected from how educators construct course materials, that it wouldn’t make any difference (and to be fair, it is important to distinguish OER aimed at educator reuse and OER aimed at student self-study). Please let me know. I like this idea simply because when I see this happen in my networks it brings me joy to observe, but it may be trying to squash the round peg of institutional roles into the square hole of personal networks. Wouldn’t be the first time… - SWL

Sharing, not just planning to share – Crowdsourcing OER Search for Africa

http://twitter.com/findanoerafrica/

I am hoping that Dave Cormier will write this up fully, as it was his idea for which he deserves full credit, but the eleganceand simplicity of it, coupled with the real need it hopes to serve, compelled me to post something right away in hopes of helping it get going.

As I understand it, after Catherine Ngugi’s powerful opening keynote at Open Education ’09, Dave spent some time chatting with Catherine, in which he came to learn that there was a person tasked with locating useful open resources for faculty but that this was an overwhelming task. Dave, being Dave, immediately saw the potential for our existing networks to pitch in, sharing as we already do, and set about creating a twitter account, findanoerafrica to send out requests to the community for help finding appropriate resources. The idea was hatched on Wednesday and announced this Friday morning.

Only time will tell if it works and how effect it is. You can help, really easily. If you use twitter, then follow findanoerafrica and basically respond in the helpful way you already do. The difference being you’ll be helping someone who is in turn supporting hundreds of educators. The beauty – it isn’t asking you to do anything you’re not already doing, and the cost was essentially zero. Obviously, this is not going to solve all the worlds ills, but it’s one of those little steps to maybe make it better than it was. Dave – your energy and enthusiasm are both infectious and inspiring. Getting to hang with you this week in Vancouver has definitely been one of the highlights for me. – SWL

Video Hosting Solutions and The Challenges of Being Not-American

http://www.video.ca/

Much like Henry Jenkins, I think institutions trying to “recreate Youtube” is not such a great idea (though for me the biggest reason is that our various access controls and inward focus inhibit the very ‘network effects‘ that make sites like Youtube the successes they are.) But

…like my compatriot has already explained, and something those living in the US may not realize – your ‘Patriot Act‘ and the way it treats private data means that Canadian institutions (as well as ones from many other lands, ahem, economic stimulus, ahem) are either reluctant or just totally unable to use US-based services like Youtube because your government’s access to student data (even something as innocuous as an email address) violates privacy policies, either institutional, provincial or federal. So it’s not just as simple as pointing instructors at existing services like Youtube or blip.tv.

While I often think the restrictions caused by our privacy policies may be blown out of proportion and need to be tested, at the end of the day it is typically a good way to shut down conversations about, and attempts to use, these services. The alternative, for people who do see the potential of ‘Web 2.0′ tools but are outside the US, is either to a) host versions of them yourself b) form consortia of institutions to host them on a larger scale or c) look for solutions based out of the US (in places with privacy legislation conducive to our own, which ultimately usually just means – in Canada). I work for a province-wide outfit in BC, so solutions B and C are typically the ones I keep an eye out for, also because of any of these options, they have the best chance of being large and open enough to enable positive network effects to occur.

The use for something like Youtube or blip.tv (meaning something that allows – individual user self-contributions; wide range of uploadable codecs are handled; web-based; streams the results; embedabble videos; ideally with a social/interaction component; and even better, editing and annotation tools) is pretty compelling and there is increasingly a demand here (as I assume elsewhere) to come up with a wider solution.

So imagine my joy when someone pointed me to Video.ca, a seemingly (you gotta verify these things) Canadian-based video sharing site. It joins the ranks of the following that I have come across in my searches these last few months:

  • CCHost, an open source package originally developed to power the ccMixter site
  • Kaltura, another open source package, which last time I checked was being used in the wikieducator site
  • GoTuit, a commercial package but one potentially hostable in Canada, which has a fairly sweet-looking set of additional functionality for remixing and annotation
  • Netro a Vancouver Island-based company that while I don’t think have the specific technology, may be well positioned skill-wise (and geographically) for such work

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive and isn’t really based on any concerted effort, just things I’ve gather the last few months as this started to get on my radar. And I am NOT an expert in this field. But following the philosophy of “share early, share often,” I thought I’d throw it out there, in case it was helpful to others, in case you had others to add, or in case (it wouldn;t be the first time) I am totally off-base here and looking for solutions to problems that don’t exist. So please, let me know if, understand the issue outlined abouve, you have some other ideas we should look at. – SWL

Planning to Share versus Just Sharing

(This is a long post, born out of years of frustration with ineffective institutional collaborations. If you only want the highlights, here they are: grow your network by sharing, not planning to share or deciding who to share with; the tech doesn’t determine the sharing – if you want to share, you will; weave your network by sharing what you can, and they will share what they can – people won’t share [without a lot of added incentives] stuff that’s not easy or compelling for them to share. Create virtuous cycles that amplify network effects. Given the right ‘set,’ simple tech is all they need to get started.)

I have been asked to participate in many projects over the years that start once a bunch of departments, institutions or organizations notice that they have a lot in common with others and decide that it would be a good idea to collaborate, to share “best practices” or “data” or whatever. It always ‘sounds’ like a good idea. I am big on sharing and have benefited much over the years from stuff I’ve shared and stuff shared with me by my peers.

But inevitably, with a very few exceptions, these projects spend an enormous amount of time defining what is to be shared, figuring out how to share it, setting up the mechanisms to share it, and then…not really sharing much. Or sharing once but costing so much time, effort or money that they do not get sustained. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I don’t feel like this phenomenon is isolated to me or somehow occurs because of my own personal ineptitude, but you never know.

Now I contrast that with the learning networks which I inhabit, and in which every single day I share my learning and have knowledge and learning shared back with me. I know it works. I literally don’t think I could do my job any longer without it – the pace of change is too rapid, the number of developments I need to follow and master too great, and without my network I would drown. But I am not drowning, indeed I feel regularly that I am enjoying surfing these waves and glance over to see other surfers right there beside me, silly grins on all of our faces. So it feels to me like it’s working, like we ARE sharing, and thriving because of it.

So I began to wonder, why does one the (institutional-driven/focused) approach continually fail while my personal learning network continues to thrive. Here are some thoughts on why:

We grow our network by sharing, they start their network by setting up inital agreements

We just finished a workshop this week on “Weaving your own PLE.” While part of this was definitely an effort at straight tech training, that in my mind was actually the minor part – the whole reason many of us are so attracted to blogs, microblogs, social media, etc., in the first place is that they are SIMPLE to use and don’t require a lot of training.

No, in my mind, a lot of the message was helping newcomers to get over the hump of “well, I created a blog/joined this service/etc, but how come no one is reading it?” A lot of what we discussed were the practices by which you can grow your connections, and by and large these involve some form of sharing: writing interesting posts (sharing your insight and learning); writing comments (sharing feedback/conversation); publishing work in open spaces (and pointing to it). Your network will grow. It may take a little time, but it will grow. The other thing we emphasized was a line I think I stole from Dave Winer – “It doesn’t matter if there are only 2 people reading your blog as long as they are the right 2 people.” The notion that if you grow your network organically, don’t force it, it will settle, over time, on just what you need.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations.” In my experience, these start with meetings in which people first agree that sharing is a good idea, and then follow up meetings to decide what they might share, then, somewhere way down the line, some sharing might happen. The whole time, some of the parts of a network are already present and could have just started sharing what they have, heck they could have started before ever meeting, even WITHOUT ever meeting, but this never happens. (I say part, because if it’s a network it will grow to include many others not in any intial group.)


We share what we share, they want to share what they often don’t have (or even really want)

Much of the sharing that happens in my learning network happens through seredipity. People publish a blog post, bookmark a delicious link, etc, as a normal part of their own workflow,and whether through syndication or the “All seeing eye of Google,” it comes my way, as John Krutsch would say, “Right On Time.” Or I ask the network, through my blog or twitter, or sometimes directly, for help with a question or problem: sometimes the answer comes in seconds, because someone’s already worked it out; sometimes in minutes, maybe because a slight twist needs to be given to existing work; sometimes in days or weeks, when it tweaks someone else’s mind as much as mine and they do the work because it seems worhtwhile to them and they can do it; sometimes it comes in months or years, because it’s a big problem. But so far, it’s never not come, eventually. Our sharing is “good enough,” not perfect; optimal, not ideal. We don’t build our entire houses on this single foundation, but it sure helps get a lot of structure built quickly on many an occassion.

Contrast this with the formal approach. In my experience, a ton of time goes into defining ahead of time what is to be shared. Often with little thought to whether it’s actually something that is easy for them to share. And always, because its done ahead of time, with the assumption that it will be value, not because someone is asking for it, right then, with a burning need. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but my experience over a decade consulting and working on these kinds of projects is that I’m not. Someone always thinks that defining these terms ahead of time is a good idea. And my experience is that you then get people not sharing very much, because to do so takes extra effort, and that what does get shared doesn’t actually get used, because despite what they said while they were sitting in the requirements gathering sessions, they didn’t actually know what the compelling need was, it just sounded like a good idea at the time.


By the way, if my writing is making it seem that I haven’t done this myself, many times, that’s just wrong. For the longest time, it seemed like a good idea to me too.


We share with people, they share with “Institutions”

I have never spoken to “an institution.” I would be scared if one started to speak to me. But I’ve spoken and shared with many *people* in institutions. Many *people* use stuff I have shared. And usually, in my experience, its people who directly, not through some intermediary, have a need.

The institutional approach, in my experience, is driven by people who will end up not being the ones doing the actual sharing nor producing what is to be shared. They might have the need, but they are acting on behalf of some larger entity. The need ends up getting diffused over all the people involved ultimately in sharing, and the people who go to the meetings, form the relationships, have *the actual network* end up delegating the work to people who are excluded from the network, acting as proxies, instead of forming their *own* network. There is nothing stopping them from doing so except the need being defined at the top of the org but driven to the bottom, instead of the need being defined (differently) at each level of the organization and at each level personal networks being built (and if this were happening, the whole notion of “levels” would no doubt start to get a bit woobly.)


We develop multiple (informal) channels while they focus on a single official mechanism

I blog. I use twitter. I use delicious. I use flickr. I use facebook (when I have to.) I use drop.io. I use slideshare. I use scribd. I use google docs. I use… the list goes on and on. Many of the ones above are ones that have persisted in my practice for some time now, while there are others that come and go. The point is, though, I have yet to come across a situation where someone in my network asked for help (through any of these channels, or indeed simply through email) and I (or someone in the network) did not find SOME way to share what they needed with them. More often than not, we’d shared it ahead of time and it’s Google finding it, and typically always things are shared in a way that allowed everyone else simply to benefit from that act of sharing. The technology is NOT the problem. Given a compelling need to connect, people will find a way, be it through smoke signals, Morse code or Usenet news groups.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations” – in my experience, much time goes into finding the right single “platform” to collaborate in (and somehow it always ends up to blame – too clunky, too this, too that.) And because typically the needs for the platform have been defined by the collective’s/collaboration’s needs, and not each of the individual users/institutions, what results is a central “bucket” that people are reluctant to contribute to, that is secondary to their ‘normal’ workflow, and that results in at least some of the motivation (of getting some credit, because even those of us who give things away still like to enjoy some recognition) being diminshed. And again, in my experience, in not a whole lot of sharing going on.


What to do if you are stuck having to facilitate sharing amongst a large group of institutions?

So hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am a big believer in everyone, no matter what their role in an organization, developing their own personal learning network/environment. But the reality is, you and I are going to get asked for years to come to help groups who say they want to share. So what do we do. Well, if you can, my advice is to provision as little tech as possible and urge an approach that focuses on the sharing and the network creation first. But if you must provide a single “platform,” my advice is to focus on providing one with these three simple pieces:

  • a simple way to find out who else is out there (profile, even just a directory)
  • some simple channels to communicate: email lists/addresses, threaded discussions
  • a simple way to publish content

That’s it. Maybe a synchronous tool. If the need and desire to share is real, these basic means (which really, they already have access to, but sometimes you need to build them a new one, after all we all like to feel special sometimes) are ALL THEY NEED TO SHARE. You see, at the end of the day, that’s all any of us, who started building our personal learning networks with, say, blogs, actually had. And it worked. It works every day. – SWL