Why Open Matters – thoughts from activity 1

This has been an interesting start to the course.

I enjoyed Stephen Downes scene-setting video, given his significant inputs into the theory of connectivism, I was not surprised to see him evangelising about the importance of sharing. As I blogged earlier (The classroom…) I am still unsure whether everyone is as willing or able to embrace the online as the sole, or even primary arena for learning. I think it is important to differentiate between the consumption of knowledge (which can be a very private thing) and the contribution of knowledge as you struggle with concepts online.  For many, making the latter anything but private may be a step too far. Steve Wheeler’s (@timbuckteeth) earlier words of encouragement to go public have spurred me on to write this posting. He lauded the process of blogging as helping to refine his thinking. That may be true, and helpful for the individual, but I still wonder how transferable that journey is to another learner – are all the twists and turns really more informative than the final lucid prose?

The next big star rolled out was Desmond Tutu. Another evangelist, this time we were treated to his warm voice encouraging us to adopt open source software and worldwide sharing to overcome inequality.  He poured scorn on patents and I was unsure whether there was a subtext that some laws should be ignored if they get in the way of learning. This theme was also picked up in the course’s Fair and Reasonable Practice survey. I like things for free and have contributed my time and skills to several open source projects, but I don’t see them as the only solution.  Unless institutions that benefit from open source software get better at contributing regularly to their maintenance, then there is a risk that the coders and testers will founder as “the day job” gets in the way.

That said, it is not all doom and gloom. It has been very useful to see the course practice what it preaches and make use a range of content made available under creative commons licences – such as the excellent guide to reflective writing from UNSW, Australia. I think there is a lot of scope for sharing at the individual level, helping individuals avoid re-inventing wheels. If money is a barrier to that and openness can at least sometimes help reduce that, then who can argue against that?

Image credit: opensource.comhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5537457391/

Reflections on Digital Freedom – Desmond Tutu

It is hard to disagree with such a charismatic speaker as Archbishop Demond Tutu. Luckily, much of what he said makes sense to me. He rightly chastizes the patent companies that try to claim the ‘patently obvious’ without doing anything useful with it and then sue anyone who later comes along and actually tries to use the concept.  To me this is even worse than the foolish lawyer-advised protectionism that it seemed Blackboard adopted when it tried to patent an “Internet-based education support system and methods” (see Wikipedia).

I am not so sure that we should be placing all our eggs in the open-source software basket (which may come as a surprise to those of you who know of my work as one of the directors of Oscelot). There are just too many examples of well-meaning initiatives that founder because the lead developers eventually move on, or the product takes a turn that moves away from the original direction and no longer meets your particular needs. Whilst this is true of commercial products too, sometimes the possibility of a revenue stream may reduce the risk (though I hear you shouting “Remember Flipcam?”). Also, reliance on open source software may require institutions to contribute regularly to its upkeep – either in code or wages – how different is that from paying a company to do this?

A minor quibble in an otherwise enjoyable and rousing opening ceremony.

The classroom, …

The classroom, where we share our learning, has moved online, and we need to be able to move our stuff there too

Stephen Downes

From his intro on the Open Content Licensing for Educators course.
An interesting position – I agree that some of the process has gone online, but for me at least I feel I still operate in a hybrid position, with some of my content shared (like this) but others sitting “locked” away on my laptop.

The question is why – is some stuff not worth sharing? Does repetition of opinion online advance our knowledge, or just help drown out any dissent? Something to ponder as the course progresses