The Wrong Robots, Illustrated

A while back I wrote a post that ended with this graf:

Calls for efficiency in education are fine, and talk about affordability and social justice is critical. But by the time that teaching — one of the hardest jobs to automate — is significantly automated we will be at the end of the robo-revolution, not the beginning. And if we really think that’s the case, what we’re teaching students now seems a much more pressing issue than how we’ll teach them years from now. What we need above all else is not an education that is powered by automation, but an education that is a response to it.

Today, via Quartz, comes a decent visual to show what I mean. I’ve drawn up my own annotations here, but click the link to explore on your own:


The vertical axis is pay and the horizontal axis is “likelihood of being automated”.  As you can see, the likelihood of teaching being automated before computer programming is pretty low.

Now consider that we are trying to save money on preparing the future programmers and benefits managers of the world by attempting to automate teaching. What’s wrong with this plan?


We had a different system once. It worked pretty well.



Slideshare has been good to me. Outside my surprise Latvian Top 40 hit,  my “Slidecasts” (PowerPoints plus audio overlay) rank as some of my more popular productions. If the Slideshare analytics are to be believed, my combined presentations on Water 106 (I did a bunch) have been viewed collectively over 4,000 times. My presentation on Open Course Frameworks has another 1500 or so views.

But today I’m doing that all too familiar dance of “downloading my stuff before the third party service deletes it”.  Slideshare is discontinuing Slidecasts, and has tossed my stuff out on the street for me to collect, in true rom-com breakup style.


I’ve got to get them off the server by the end of the month. And by “get them off the server” I mean a seperate PPT file and audio file,  which are not the Slidecast, but the materials I uploaded to create the Slidecast before a good hour of syncing markings.

Some might just sigh “capitalism” and leave it at that. But I don’t think it’s that.

Because we had a system, once, that mostly worked. It was based on a seperation of concerns. As an example, back in 1997 or so I bought a computer from HP and I bought a program from FutureWave Corporation called “FutureSplash”. I made flash-like animations with that program and saved them to my hard disk. When Macromedia bought out FutureSplash, renamed it to Flash and radically changed the format, I didn’t get a notice that said “Your files will no longer work.”

Everything continued to work. I could open them, edit them, work with them. Macromedia didn’t own my drive, or even (really) the instance of the program its predecessor had sold me.  I didn’t have to worry that a TOS had changed and now my files could be mined for personal data or used in advertisements. And incentives were better aligned, as well upgraded to Macromedia Flash not because my stuff wouldn’t work without it, but because they had great new features. Imagine that — people paying money to upgrade not because someone had a gun to their head, but because paying that money allowed them to do new, neat things.

All that was capitalism, all that was companies, and all of it kinda-mostly worked.

For a while this changed, because we suddenly needed peresistently available web storage and browser-runnable apps. It made sense to push that all up to the server. And it made the coding easier as well, not having to write for all the different platforms. And suddenly the old system was gone — your files, hardware, and code were all controlled by the entity that handled your web display and bandwidth.

My point in previous posts about personal cyberinfrastructure is that one way out of this is everyone will have a server somewhere with open-source apps on it. And that may work. But the thing is I don’t think most people want to run their own server. I think they want to own what they buy, more or less forever. And I think they don’t want to be in thrall to a software subscription plan or shifting ToS just because they *don’t* run their own server. And the weird thing is that we had that, mostly.

The storage-neutral idea is just part of a seperation of concerns critique of this new paradigm. As we move away from browser-based software and back to apps that run at least partially on our devices, do we want to preserve the sort of vendor control that emerged in the web-as-middleware age? Or do we want to reintroduce the separations we lost?

Slideshare, ultimately, doesn’t spend any real money on my editing of these things or the storage of the files. Or even the editing software. But the bandwidth is killing their bottom line. So because the bandwidth is not separated from the service or the storage, everything must go.

That seems really broken to me, doesn’t it to you?







Google+ will die, because Google already owns the one lifestream that matters.

So one of my non-edtech tech predictions in January was that the OS-based lifestream would kill the web-based mega-service, discussed most clearly in “Revenge of the OS”, but also in the slightly later article titled “The OS-based Lifestream Will Kill the Web-based Mega-Service”.

Well, the end of the year came early in 2014, because this is already going down. From the TechCrunch article “Google+ is Walking Dead”:

What we’re hearing from multiple sources is that Google+ will no longer be considered a product, but a platform — essentially ending its competition with other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.


As part of these staff changes, the Google Hangouts team will be moving to the Android team, and it’s likely that the photos team will follow, these people said. Basically, talent will be shifting away from the Google+ kingdom and towards Android as a platform, we’re hearing.

Why do this? It’s not because Google lost to Facebook. It’s that Google, via Android, has already won. Facebook is an app for sharing pictures and news stories. For a while it was a contender to own the thing that really mattered — your identity management architecture and your lifestream. But guess where IM and lifestream functions live now:


Your phone OS (and your Windows 8 OS, and your Xbox OS, etc. etc.) serve the platform functions that Facebook reached for and missed. It’s over.

Google understands that, which is why it’s moved so much of its Google+ team into building former mega-site features into the OS. Microsoft understands that, which is why it shipped the half-baked, but theoretically well-founded, Windows 8. Apple has probably known this a while which is why it just waited.

If we want to change the future of technology, that’s where we have to be. I don’t quite know what that means yet. But it’s time to start talking about it, and stop waging the battles that don’t matter anymore.

Federated Wiki, explanation as of April 2014

Someone emailed me and asked if I could point to posts on my blog that explain the federated wiki idea. I started to pull together some links, but realized that many explanations were out of date. I’ve been fooling around with this for several months now, and I know a bit more than I once did.

I find it easiest to start the explanation by talking about instructional technology support sites. But if you make it through that explanation, there’s a huge classroom application as well, and even huger OER implications.

[First, let me note I’m not talking here about Ward Cunningham’s Federated Wiki, which was largely the inspiration for this, but about our local attempts to make Dokuwiki work in a way that approximates federation. But I think the use cases apply to Ward’s work as well. Conceptually, I would love to use Ward & co.’s SFW as a base for this sort of stuff, but there are some barriers, so we’re left at the moment with Dokuwiki hacks.]

Ok, so here goes the instructional technology support explanation. It’s not the thing I’m most excited about, but it’s the easiest to explain.

There’s really two approaches to producing support documentation for your faculty. The first way, and the way most people choose, is to produce documentation more or less from scratch.  Here’s a recent write up of the tool Explain Everything by Judy Brophy at Keene State College.



Meanwhile, here’s a screencast about Explain Anything from Samuel Williams, who works in IT at the University of Portland:

If you look through Academic Technology sites, you can find half a dozen of these on this very limited subject. If look at something bigger, like uses of screencasting or flipped classroom implementation, you’ll find hundreds of these, all explained from scratch. That’s a lot of hours spent rewriting basic documentation.

Now, when we see something like this, usually someone will come up with the brilliant idea “We should have ONE CENTRAL SITE that WE ALL COULD WORK ON!” Imagine if Judy and Samuel worked together on the Explain Everything article. It’d be the Wikipedia of Edtech!

But there’s lots of reasons why such a thing doesn’t really work.

For one, maybe Judy has a very location-specific intro on that article (and actually she does, beginning it with a story about a Keene State professor). That’s a good thing, tying it back to the campus like that, and we don’t want to give that up for a wiki.

Second, when you send faculty to a generic wiki to solve their problem, they often look at you like you are throwing them off the boat. It took a lot for them to come to you with this question, and now you’re just spinning them off again into this generic resource. For various reasons, faculty find the presence of local support sites comforting, and see them as evidence that they are supported in their efforts.

Third, Judy and Samuel may have actual differences of opinion that make writing a single article hard. Samuel may think classroom use of clickers is the spawn of Hell. Judy may think it’s the Second Coming. When they send the faculty member to our group wiki, there’s an implicit endorsement of the views there — so who makes the call on the clicker issue? (Note: I really have no idea on what either Judy or Samuel think about clickers).

All of this stuff together makes it very difficult to come up with one version of things. So we continue on, either feeding faculty incoherent messes of links, or writing everything from scratch.


Doctor, Heal Thyself

What’s fascinating to me about this is that for a bunch of people that are constantly telling faculty about the glories of reusing materials we actually suck at reuse. And we suck at it for the same reasons faculty do. Coherence and reuse are orthogonal to one another. We’re not willing to sacrifice the coherence of custom materials, so we sacrifice efficiency.

What we need is a system that promotes revisable reuse in our own spaces.

So enter federated wiki. The idea is pretty simple. Let’s say we start with 20 colleges. We all install our own support wikis on our own sites. And then we “federate”.

What does this mean? It means when I make changes to my wiki, they flow to yours. When you make changes to your wiki they flow to mine. And not only to our individual wikis, but to everyone in the federation.

So I go into my wiki and write up this guide to lightly blended courses:

Now when I hit save, it saves to my wiki. But it also notifies all the other members of the federation that there is new content. The admins of those sites will have a number of choices when they see this new content.

  1. Reject it. We don’t want your stinking article on our wiki.
  2. Accept it into a special “drafts” folder, for editing and future posting.
  3. Accept it as is into an editor, make edits on the spot and post.
  4. Accept it as is, and agree that future edits the original author makes to it will automatically flow through to our wiki.

So let’s say that person accepts it as is. But then they notice that there are a number of spelling errors in it, and also that the section on the “Understanding by Design” approach is a bit lengthy. So they pull out the Understanding by Design stuff into a separate article,  link it, and fix the spelling errors. When saving it they put in the notes box that they did minor spelling edits and a pull-out of the UbD section.

So now everyone in the federation gets two notifications. First of all, the article has been updated. So they get notified of that. They also see the new article the reviser split off.

Not everything would have to flow through the federation. I might just edit the contact information on an article and decide to check the “Do not syndicate” box before I post. Entire portions of my site may not be federated. It may be that only one subdirectory or namespace is federated.

But you can start to see how this works. It’s like a wiki, but instead of editing a single copy, you “fork” one (and this, again, is the insight of Ward — on a wiki every page has an edit button; on a federated wiki, every page has a fork button). Changes flow back and forth through the network, but everyone maintains control of their own copy. And best of all, the backend would handle credit, so people who wanted to track who did what for the article could easily do that, and so that people who create broadly used pieces could get credit for their work (and warm fuzzy feelings about the amount of use it gets).


Academic & Pedagogical Uses

I actually started exploring this idea not because of support sites, but because of barriers I hit with an instructional design project called Water106. The idea seemed simple — get multiple classes from multiple institutions to interact in a common space of the web.  So if we were all looking at the issue of water from different scientific, engineering, and political angles we could produce a mega-wiki on water.

A lot of people want to do this stuff. Cross-institutional classes have been the “future of education” for a good decade now. But ultimately it’s a bit clunky to get going.  That mega-wiki has to live somewhere. So maybe I own it here at Vancouver. But then I’m setting all the permissions and talking to the faculty in these other places providing support. That’s not really what the instructional technologists at these other institutions want — because ultimately they’d like to build and support this thing without depending on coordinating with me.  We want to work together, but without the coordination hassle that could easily consume us.

Furthermore, there’s a pretty simple issue for classes. Instructors want outside influences in their classroom to promote critical thinking, but for grading purposes they want their students to have the last word on their work. They want to know when they are looking as a wiki article that it is in the state that the student believed was the “gradeable” state. They don’t want to have to sort through the issue if someone from outside the class modified it in ways that moved it away from student intention.

Federated wiki is a way around all this. If we all have academic wikis on the subject of water we federate them. Your students just do their work as if they were doing it alone, either on a wiki that your institution controls or on one they own themselves, with whatever security parameters, etc. that you/they need to have. But magically, this other work flows into the wiki that the students can approve or discard (or maybe even transclude?). And again, when students build pieces that get widely re-used throughout the federation, they can take some pride in that. To some extent, it’s like “Tumblr for wikis” — you post your stuff and see how many reblogs (“re-wikis”?) you get.



You know what? I’m not even going to go into Open Educational Resources. If you’ve been in the field a while, you can see that this sort of system could start to address the issues we’ve been trying to solve for over a decade. The problems we have reusing materials to help develop faculty are the same problems they have with reusing teaching materials. Solve the smaller problem and you’ve begun to crack into the bigger one.

I’ll just say this: most faculty have some materials/activities/assessments that work brilliantly, and a lot that are mediocre. You can start to see what is possible if 500 Psychology 101 professors start using federated wikis to build their course materials. A system where faculty are pulling the best and most effective bits of pedagogy from around the world is a system that could have amazing impact in education.

I’ve been involved with open education a good ten years now. I’ve gotten cynical about addressing the Reusability Paradox. Certain developments in the past couple years have un-cynicalfied me. One is the Lumen Learning approach to OER implementation. Another is this. Good software ideas/implementations can create the possibility of doing something; great software creates a *culture* of doing something. Federated wiki, properly designed, is culture-creating software.


When Will This Thing Be Built?

I’m working on Dokuwiki hacks I can, and Tim Owens has also given substantial time to it. I’ve played around with it enough at this point to understand that the primary barriers are not technical. Rather, the most difficult thing is to organize the process by which material gets syndicated throughout the federation in a way that people can easily conceptualize.

Meaning. with enough time to code we can get the files to do what we want. But that step of deciding what comes onto your wiki from the federation — what does that look like? It could get really noisy. It could get very difficult to know which updates of a dozen you want. It could be so time consuming to scan the updates and understand what they are that it’s easier to roll your own. Alternatively, the process could be so silent that everything flows into your drafts folder but never gets used. Things like attributing cleanly without gunking up the articles with too many lines of credits are also issues.  Tracking what you have approved and not approved may get confusing as well (Did I review this already?) unless the system handles it elegantly.

And I’m still toying with the idea of using the Smallest Federated Wiki that Ward & co. are developing instead of hacking Dokuwiki. If SFW only had an Installatron setup, we’d be halfway there (i.e. students get personally owned server space via DoOO, login in, punch the installatron button and voila!). SFW would also have to be Section 508 compliant though, to make sure it’s not difficult for the visually impaired to use it. It currently doesn’t seem to play nice with JAWS, and unfortunately that’s a hard stop for us.  So, until then, it’s Dokuwiki hacks for now. I’m a spaghetti coder on a good day, so it’s slow going.

Anyway, that’s the update. As I mentioned, I only have a fraction of my time to give to this right now — spending much more time getting Dokuwiki ready for internal use by faculty and putting together workshops for the summer. But I’m always willing to talk about this with anyone who is interested, so give me a shout-out on Twitter @holden. Or comment on this post.




Your Diploma Just Got Downgraded. But You Can Upgrade It At a 20% Discount!


From the comments on my last post —  friend of the blog (and Sloan-C Karoake instigator) Michael Berman lets us know he got some bad news about the Udacity certificate he earned in 2012.

Please note this is a real email, from “Amanda Sparr, Coach @Udacity”. This is not a parody. (Really!)

Dear Michael,

Nice work on earning a certificate for the Intro to Computer Science courseware. It speaks volumes for what you learned while completing this rigorous course. Congrats again!

Today we upgraded this course . This brings you new opportunities, for little extra work:

  • You can now practice and show off your skills, with a new hands-on project where you’ll build a social network.
  • You can also earn a Verified Certificate, since this course now has a subscription option.

Udacious Coaches like me work with you and award these Verified Certificates. We review your project code, share feedback and tips, and conduct a final video interview where we verify your identity. With these steps, employers see our Verified Certificates as an even stronger endorsement of your skills.

To get you started here’s a 20% discount*:

Oh my. I don’t know where to start. The fact that the “magic formula” involves personal tutors and graders? The line “Udacious coaches like me….”?

But of course the kicker is the business model: hey, we know you earned this certificate, but it’s kind of worthless now that we only do Verified Certificates. But, look, for a low, low fee you can earn it again. For real this time!

I never realized the answer to the college cost crisis was right in front of us all the time. We just need to downgrade everyone’s degrees, then let them know for a low, low price and a short trip to a testing center we will continue to verify their diploma. Instant cash flow! And accountability!

Oh, man. You really can’t make this crap up.

The Sieve Manufacture Continues at Udacity

From Udacity last week, regarding the phasing out of free certificates:

“We owe it to you, our hard working students, that we do whatever we can to ensure your certificate is as valuable as possible.”


We have now heard from many students and employers alike that they would like to see more rigor in certifying actual accomplishments.

Jonathan Rees has more on this odd phrasing about what is essentially a decision to charge students for what used to be a free education:

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this here, but I think this announcement raises profound questions about what education actually is, or perhaps simply what it’s supposed to accomplish. Is higher education a good thing because of the skills it represents or is it a good thing because you have it and others don’t?

To which I’d answer, no, you’re not reading too much into it. As I said back in November about Thrun’s sudden pivot:

There’ll likely be lots of analysis on this article and change in direction. He’s my little contribution. Thrun can’t build a bucket that doesn’t leak, so he’s going to sell sieves…Udacity dithered for a bit on whether it would be accountable for student outcomes. Failures at San Jose State put an end to that. The move now is to return to the original idea: high failure rates and dropouts are features, not bugs, because they represent a way to thin pools of applicants for potential employers. Thrun is moving to an area where he is unaccountable, because accountability is hard.

If thinning pools through creating high-failure courses is good, then thinning pools through creating high-failure courses and costly identity verification is even better. It’s MOOCs as Meritocracies, and it’s just as dumb (and culturally illiterate) an idea as it was in 2012, when the Chronicle was drooling over it.

Meritocracy is not a system, but rather a myth power tells itself. It’s openness as a privilege multiplier. It’s the antithesis of open education, which must measure its success in outputs, not inputs. You can’t claim you’ve granted people access to the top shelf of goods if you don’t provide them a stepladder.

I would disagree with one small point in Jonathan’s post, however. He indicts all MOOCs for this view. There are, I think, significant differences in the approach of both edX and Coursera to these issues. Most notably, edX has Justin Reich on board, and Justin Reich’s research is in exactly this area — how do we make sure that openness closes gaps rather than widen them. But I’ve also seen Coursera publicly grapple with this question in a way Udacity has walked away from. It’s clear to me that Coursera at the very least is *committed* to gap-closing as a principle, even if they have not yet acheived that in practice.

And that’s a difference worth noting and encouraging. There will be fundamental changes coming to Coursera’s model soon, and the question is which way will they lean. Let’s hope it’s not towards the sieve market Udacity continues to pioneer.

Are Blogs the Vinyl Records of the Internet?

From Blogs are the Vinyl Records of the Internet

The quote comes from a full article in the Washington Post about the decline of blogging in Iran. A few years ago, Iran emerged as a culture filled with high traffic, powerful blogs. It was called Blogestan. But, these days, as in many other cultures around the world, personal blogging is retreating in favour of corporate social media sites such as Facebook, twitter, and tumblr.

Two things.

First, the premise of the article is vinyl records are better (like blogs) but they have no impact on the record industry anymore.

I don’t quite know how to judge that. What would it mean to have impact as a *format* rather than as an *artist*. Maybe I’m being stupid, but I can’t really grok it. It makes sense as a statement only if you equate impact with money. In which case, yes. On the other hand, the sonic textures that you will be enjoying in two years on your iPod are spinning right now on a short run vinyl release in some Athens, GA apartment. You haven’t heard the band, and you perhaps you never will. But just like so much in pop music today can be traced to aesthetics of mid-to-late 00s releases, the same thing will happen again. In fact, I would not doubt that the Future Sound of the Format Formerly Known As Rock is floating around currently on cassette. So format, schmormat. In philosophy I believe Gilbert Ryle called such comparisons “category mistakes”.

Secondly, I’m still on my tunnel-vision streak of seeing the re-share issue everywhere. Blogs have been replaced by….Tumblr? Um, Tumblr is at heart a blog with a reblog button. That’s the innovation there. The behavior (and integration of the non-writer into the community) is a result of that. And in fact, as you look at migration to online communities and away from free-standing social media, one of the big sells is the re-share (or retweet, re-pin, whatever). Worth thinking about why that is, and whether we in educational technology could learn a thing or two from that. A nascent thought. But still a thought. Maybe people who re-share but never create are more important than we think, right?

228 Summaries

I don’t talk enough about the classes I work with. I’m trying to change that, starting with my own class, T&L 521: Educational Technology.

I ended up teaching this class because they had a last minute schedule conflict with the person who normally does it. It was a one credit class with pre-service teachers who are working in classrooms full-time Monday-Thursday. They are also prepping for the state certification exam. They are a very over-extended bunch.

I decided that as they had already had some training on classroom tech that I’d focus on use of net-enabled tools for professional development. Not “How can I teach with this tool?” necessarily, but “How can these tools help me to be a better teacher?” which is the real question.  One of the central pieces of that was that the students were suppoed to use their Twitter feed and other tools to find three articles a week they thought were particularly helpful, book mark them on, and write a brief summary. I’ve become a big fan of this approach, which sits somewhere in between blogging and micro-blogging as a format, and builds personal habits that can be of use.

In any case, I looked at the class Pinboard account today — and over the semester the eight students in the class have summarized  228 articles. These are informal, and make an awkward (teacher required) pivot to class topics in some cases, but they are mostly solid summaries of good articles.


And there’s 228 of them. That really blows my mind.

Pinboard’s a pay once, stay up forever sort of account, so the account will stay up for their use afterwards, and any article we talked about is just a Pinboard search away. We may have future classes contribute to it as well — if you’d like to use the account for your class, just let me know, I’ll give you the password and login.

Using ProProfs With Dokuwiki

I’ve wanted for a long time to embed questions in things like course wikis and blogs, questions that fed to a centrally managed backend system. Finally a number of people are working on this — Instructure’s Canvas mentioned this as something under development (or maybe here at this point, we’re an Angel campus, unfortunately). Bill Fitzgerald is working with Lumen Learning on LMS/WordPress integration, and I think this may be a piece of that as well.

However, if you want a simple solution available *today*, without needing an LMS, it’s available. ProProfs gives you an account (free accounts are available too) that lets you easily embed quizzes, questions, and upload fields into your wiki pages.

Here’s an example. I wrote up this page on the TL 521 wiki with some final project instructions. It’s pretty typical — watch a video, think about it, write a response.


At this point what we would usually do is either have the students write something publicly (which works great) on the wiki, or have them submit into the LMS if it needs to be private. The problem is being out on the wiki is like being out on the quad on a sunny spring day. And sending the students back into the LMS feels like sending them into an SAT center from said quad. It’s just so institutional.

Besides that, there’s a *flow* at work here. They’ve read the text and watched the video; they are ready to write. Adding the friction of the LMS at that point is ill-advised. We want to them to stay on this page to submit the project for the same reason we wanted them to stay on this page to watch the video. The way to do that is embedding. And what ProProfs does is allow you to embed your assessments the same way you embed the video:



So the student uploads….



And then it appears in  your ProProfs panel. Easy-peasy.


As I said, other options will be available soon — this isn’t an ad for ProProfs. It *is* however an example of the loosely-coupled assessment we’ve been begging for for over seven years now. It makes a ton more sense to assess in your teaching space than to teach in your assessing space. But I’d gotten so used to disappointment on this front I was unaware it had arrived. Give it a shot, the world’s your oyster.


Additional Note: I’m sure some people will say this has been available from various embeddable survey tools. Not really. ProProfs allows you to assign points, make autograded MC and fill in the blank questions, optionally authenticate a roster of students, provide feedback on wrong answers, and set number of retries. The level of functionality changes everything, because there really isn’t much you *can’t* do with it.




Experience Without Humility Is Not Very Helpful At All

Phil Hill has a great analysis of the NYT interview with Richard Levin, the new CEO of Coursera. And core to that analysis is a point I’ve made before — that Ivy League institutions *do* have experience in online education, but they are so committed to covering up their failure in those efforts that they can’t learn from those mistakes. This is in contradistinction to public, tuition-supported efforts where rewriting narratives can only take you so far. After all, most institutions only have so much money you can throw down a hole and light on fire.

Here’s a piece of the NYT conversation cited by Phil:

Q. Yale has not exactly been a mass institution.

A. No, but we were early in the on-line arena, with a venture back in 2000 called All-Learn.

Q. How much did you lose, and why didn’t that spoil this for you?

A. It was too early. Bandwidth wasn’t adequate to support the video. But we gained a lot of experience of how to create courses, and then we used it starting in 2007 to create very high quality videos, now supported by adequate bandwidth in many parts of the world, with the Open Yale courses. We’ve released over 40 of them, and they gained a wide audience.

As Phil points out, bandwidth really wasn’t an issue for the demographic they were looking at with All-Learn.


All-Learn folded in 2006, when broadband was at a meager 20% adoption. Today, it’s different, supposedly. It’s at 28%. Are we to really believe that somewhere in that 8% of the population is the difference between success and failure?

Levin goes on to say they gathered a lot of experience on how to create courses, and cites Open Yale Courses as an example of that. Now the courses at OYC are interesting, and I’ve used portions of the Introductory Psychology course in my own work, as well as the Kelly Brownell course on obesity. But the price tag for those forty courses, as far as I know, was $4 million dollars of Hewlett money. And the videos are basically recordings of class lectures. Four million dollars for forty filmed courses, or, if you prefer, $100,000 a course for video lectures.

Hewlett, of course, didn’t grant Yale that money for *just* 40 courses. As anyone who has ever applied for an OER grant knows, the big question one has to answer is “How will you make this effort sustainable after the money is gone?” Levin and others apparently had an answer for that, and that answer was apparently wrong. And what the reporter is asking now is how Coursera’s sustainability path (which looks at this point to be somewhat similar to both OYC and AllLearn) is different. And the answer Levin gives is “bandwidth”. In other words, the plan was great, it was the world that was imperfect. But this time it will work for sure.

If I was an investor in Coursera and I heard that answer, I’d panic. And if I was a grant manager at Hewlett, I’d cry. It’s not Groundhog Day, it’s worse. It’s Memento, where the lead character is doomed to repeat his past because he cannot come to terms with what he has done.

It’s worth noting that there *are* newer models out there for Open Education which are learning from the past instead of repeating it. At WSU Vancouver, for example, we’re working with Lumen Learning on a math initiative. Lumen has an interesting model, which they refer to as Red Hat for OER (or, allternately, “filling the gap between DIY and WTF“). In this model Lumen iteratively improves and maintains a set of OER for free, and makes money off of consulting with colleges on adoption and integration of that OER into the curriculum.

If you ask its founders David Wiley and Kim Thanos why this time Open Education will be different, they’ll certainly mention that the world has changed since the first open textbooks. We have higher quality books, more printing options, broader adoption of devices to run those books on. And the growth pattern is different. There’s a more or less continuing growth of OER use from the late 90s forward, not the boom and bust of Ivy League Online initiatives.

But I think they’d also be quite happy to tell you how their views of what the OER movement needs have changed over the past years. In fact, here’s David doing just that in a recent blog post:

 But, in their own way, each of these efforts [were] underpinned by an “if we build it they will come” philosophy. If we just make the content sufficiently high quality, if we just make it easy enough to find, if we just make it easy enough to remix, faculty will adopt OER in their classrooms. Don’t get me wrong – there are some faculty who have the necessary time, prerequisite skills, and hacker ethic to do it themselves (I would like to believe that I’m one of them). But people with this particular configuration of opportunity, means, and motive are the overwhelming minority of higher education faculty. By the end of 2012 it had become clear that if OER adoption was ever going to happen at any scale, someone needed to get on a plane, go to campus, and train people. So that’s what the Lumen team did in 2012.

If you ask David and Kim what they have learned in the past decade, they are not going to say “bandwidth”. They are going to say something along the lines of “We radically underestimated the amount of time and expertise required to integrate OER into curriculum.” and explain how their recent efforts address that issue.

That’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s how you move forward. That’s what you pay people for — not for the experience they have, but for the knowledge they’ve brought away from that experience. It’s true that Levin brings a wealth of experience to the table. But for the life of me I can’t see what he’s gained from it.