UVU and the OCWC

Jared Stein writes on his blog that UVU has decided to go open, using a very simple mechanism:

Now UVU is not just a vocational/trade school (though I daresay there is more than one administrator who would like to de-emphasize that fact now that we are a university); most of our programs are in the liberal arts and sciences, and I know faculty in those areas will be interested in sharing what they are doing, too. Because we have only recently become a university, I know we have a lot of faculty who are seasoned and enthusiastic teachers, not researchers, and that may make them more likely to share what they do best. So our approach has to facilitate these folks as well, and keep the process as unencumbered as possible. To this end, the process we have proposed neglects the OCW/OER labels, and focuses on re-licensing of UVU-owned (”work-for-hire”) content under a Creative Commons license. At this point it’s a single form, and once it’s been signed by UVU administration the faculty member will be free to publish the content under any medium available.

Jared talks at length in the post about some of the issues he’s struggled with, echoing some of Scott Leslie’s concerns about the role of institutions in sharing in general:

The most important part of this announcement is not that UVU will be engaging in opencourseware, nor even that we can officially join the OpenCourseWare Consortium—the key for me is having the chance to explore and articulate a vision for openness at UVU, and how we might proceed in a way that contributes uniquely and with impact.

Scott argues that a problem with institutionally-guided sharing is “they [the planners/sharers] didn’t actually know what the compelling need was, it just sounded like a good idea at the time.” In our case the “need” has driven me from the beginning. Instead of just saying, “Hey, OCW is cool and the OCWC has a lot of big names (not to mention the press coverage!)” I had to decide why anyone in the world would care that Utah Valley University, a former trade college, would be sharing it’s course content, activities, and educational materials.

I think there’s quite a number of people on the grassroots side of things that feel this way. When you’re in the trenches the PR piece and the recognition piece doesn’t seem to matter much. And frankly there’s always something that feels a little slimy about PR — and I say that as a person who does PR.

My feeling on this is pretty simple. The OCWC membership is a tactic, PR is a tactic, grant funding is a tactic, having lunches with your provost is a tactic, a simple form is a tactic, merit pay is a tactic.

And at OCWC we try to provide other tools you can use, finding presenters, pairing people with like interests up, trying (in despair recently) to build a healthy news network up. We’re constantly looking for other things we can offer people to get the job done. (In other words — we’re needs driven as well).

But ultimately, if people can get the job done without us, that’s fine too. The fact is the boundaries are not rigid here. If UVU is successful with their approach, I am absolutely going to get Jared’s form and put it into the toolkit as a resource — a path for people to choose if they want. And whether UVU comes on board with us or not, whether they call what they are doing OCW or not, they are encouraged to come to any and all OCWC conferences and talk with the people on the ground doing it in other institutions, or lift copy they need from the OCWC Toolkit.

In the best of worlds these boundaries are naturally blurry, because this is not ultimately about membership — its about a movement. We’re all in this together, no matter what the terms, and to my mind success is the best proof of efficacy of method. Congratulations to Jared and others at UVU on successfully pushing this through!

Enterprise Learning Systems Considered Harmful to Learning

Not a new thought, but one I’m newly fired up about after talking to Jon Udell last night.

We don’t make enterprise purchases for students when it comes to spiral bound notebooks, pencils, or binders. So why do we move so quickly to consider e-learning questions “enterprise” questions? When looking at e-portfolio possibilities, why wouldn’t we just direct the students to sign on to a blog provider, perhaps even an ISP of their choice?

Students buy their own laptops and their own software for classes, they purchase required books and materials. There’s absolutely no reason from a student perspective that you couldn’t tell a student, here — go set up an account on Blogger and make yourself an eportfolio.

But there’s the rub. Enterprise e-learning is about classroom management and enterprise reporting. It is about the so-called measurement of learning. We force students to use enterprise systems, because like the email system we “give” them, it makes our lives easier and accomplishes goals that have nothing to do with the student.

What would e-learning look like if we started from the needs of the student, instead of the institution? What would it look like if the overriding question was “How can we use technology in a way that benefits the student?”

My guess is it’d look a lot like life. It would be a wonderful mess of different students and professors choosing different tools on an ad hoc basis. Their choices would evolve over time. And because the students worked with real tools (and possibly even on real problems) they’d graduate with bankable skills rather than detailed knowledge of how to use an LMS that has no analogue in the outside world.

I’m not saying it would be easy: it’s a hard sell to faculty, and there are certainly some institutional goals that such a bricolage would not meet.

But, if we started with the student, there would be no e-learning “system” in the sense of a single integrated application provided by a vendor. Instead of focussing on buying e-learning systems, we’d focus on building an e-learning culture.

If we started with the student.

Seth Godin: Blow up your Home Page

The general 30,000 foot view from Seth Godin:

The problem with home page thinking is that it’s a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with an index, nothing wrong with a page for newbies, nothing wrong with a place that makes a first impression when you get the chance to control that encounter. But it’s not your ‘home’. It’s not what the surfer/user wants, and when it doesn’t match, they flee.

You don’t need one home page. You need a hundred or a thousand. And they’re all just as important.

On the practical side? Realize that the reason why no one is happy with your homepage is that you are sending everybody to the same page. Start deep-linking people in, whenever possible.

Send newbies to the index. Send the daily visitors to the news feed. Send the people to whom you sent your last marketing campaign to a page constructed particularly for them.

When someone says “I couldn’t find that from your homepage,” investigate the obvious question: how did they get stuck going to the homepage in the first place?

Systemantics Thought for the Day: Loose Systems Less Hostile to Human Life

From John Gall’s Systemantics:

Since most of modern life is lived in the interstices of large systems, it is of practical importance to note that:


and are therefore generally somewhat less hostile to human life forms than tighter systems.

As an example of a System attunned to the principles of Systems-design enuciated thus far, consider the system of the Family. The Family has been around for a long time. Our close primate relatives, the gorillas, form family units consisting of a husband and wife and one or more offspring. As Jane Goodall has shown, gorrillas take naps after meals (Every day is Sunday for large primates). The youngsters wake up too soon, get bored, and start monkeying around the nest. Father gorilla eventually wakes up, leans on one elbow, and fixes the youngster with a penetrating stare that speaks louder than words. The offending juvenile thereupon stops his irritating hyperactivity, at least for a few minutes.

Clearly, this is a functioning system. Its immense survival power is obvious. It has weathered vicissitudes compared to which the stresses of our own day are trivial. And what are the sources of its strength? In brief: extreme simplicity of structure, looseness in everday functioning, “inefficiency” in the efficiency-expert’s sense of the term, and a strong alignment with basic primate motivations.