Openness as reuse, and openness as transparencyPosted: January 25, 2009
I’ve been looking at a number of comparisons of Carnegie Mellon’s OLI resources to MIT’s OCW, most stimulated by David Wiley’s course on Open Education. The comparisons are interesting, and it’s great to see the different angles people have found on this.
However, I haven’t seen what I consider to be the core difference articulated — at least in the precise way that I would articulate it. So at the risk of kibbutzing the class here, I offer my unsolicited analysis.
Openness is an umbrella term for a number of things. In the mashup era we tend to think of it in terms of reuse. And in the OLI model that is paramount. OLI is about reuse.
MIT OCW (in my completely unofficial opinion) is about the value of transparency. And transparency, not reuse, is the core concern.
It would be tempting to say that while separable concepts, the aims of reuse and transparency are so synergistic as to never be at odds. But this isn’t the case. Engineering for reuse takes a certain type of investment that constitutes a drag on transparency efforts. Transparency is most effective when as much is made transparent as possible. The principle behind transparency is that you never know what bit of internal information may be valuable to outsiders. And you shouldn’t really spend too much time worrying about it — get as much open as you can.
Reuse, when materials have to be reformatted, has different goals. Find what is useful, and put effort into the objectification of it.
Programmers will recognize this division immediately as the OO vs. scripting religious war, transposed in a different key. Does the world belong to elegant APIs and object models, or does it belong to those who open up the spaghetti code of their script to the world?
The answer ends up being that the world needs both — but if you apply a Perl or Python aesthetic to a COM object the COM object comes up lacking, and vice versa.
Worth keeping in mind.
On a slightly related note, I saw a documentary about Tom Dowd yesterday, the guy who did sound engineering on everything from John Coltrane to Aretha Franklin to Eric Clapton. And one of the weirdest stories in the film was this — he went over to England in 1967, and was visiting with the Beatles, and they thought, hey, since you’re here, maybe you could engineer something for us. Dowd went looking for an eight track board — the kind by Ampex that Atlantic Records had been using since 1958. And all he could find in 1967 England was 3 tracks. They had no idea that the soul and R&B recordings in America were being done on 1-inch 8 track devices.
In fact, George Martin, the Beatles’s producer, had the only four track in England. He thought he had the most advanced machine available. And so Sgt. Pepper’s, one of the most sonically ambitious records of its time, was recorded with a pair of four-tracks, bouncing tracks back and forth (with each bounce costing fidelity). Let me repeat this for emphasis: In Britain they had no idea that the eight track machines that had existed almost a decade in America existed.
Nowadays, I imagine Dowd — who was never proprietary about his techniques when asked — would run a blog, talking about the experience of mixing the eight tracks he used on 1961’s Stand By Me and other Atlantic classics. And George Martin would read that blog and have Sgt. Pepper’s — heck, have Revolver — mixed on the Ampex eight-track, just as they ended up using an Ampex 8-track for portions of the White Album, after they learned of its existence.
That would be the power of transparency — a decade leap in sound technology for Britain. A long way of making the point, I suppose, that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of a professor looking at someone else’s class materials and saying — hey, I wonder how they do it over there… if anything, the classroom is a far more closed space right now than the studios of 1967, and we can only imagine what innovations we might find if we opened the whole thing up…