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!

My new job with the OpenCourseWare Consortium

I’m excited beyond words to annouce that starting August 25th I will be working for the OpenCourseWare Consortium as their first Director of Community Outreach. Or at least we think that’s the title of the position. This is the job that appeared in OLDaily some time ago as a marketing job.

For me, there’s a great bit of serendipty in getting this postion. I started my career in e-learning more than a decade ago, and one of my first projects, back in 1997, was what we’d now term an OER project. In 1999, I convinced my employer to make pre-literacy sofware available free on the internet and we put up some of the first flash-based educational games (if you have younger kids, check the link out, it’s still pretty cool stuff). I became enamored with the net-enabled learning-by-doing approach of Cognitive Arts, and was lucky enough to be a senior engineer on the Columbia University Online project 2000-2002.

I’ve kept up with the issues in net-enabled education, but in more recent years my professional and personal life has been more centered in community organizing and publicity, both in movement politics and for my college. And I’ve enjoyed that, a lot. I’m frankly probably a better community organizer and media guy than I ever was a programmer (although I do miss the long diet coke filled nights where it’s just you, your tunes, and 108 lines of python that need to ship by morning).

I had been looking to get back into the net-enabled learning space more fully, and had made some steps towards that at my own institution, but then this job appeared — which is essentially community organizing and movement politics (sort of) for the educational issues I care about.

How cool is that? I honestly looked at the ad, and understood for the first time that the two phases of my career didn’t have to be separate.

Am I gushing here? Yeah, I guess. I can’t help it.

I’ll say more about this when I start, but couldn’t resist putting up something now. And if you’re a reader of this blog and want to tell me what *you* think the OCW movement should be doing, don’t hesitate to email me at caulfield dot mike at gmail dot com. No matter what we decide to call this position, outreach is a whole bunch of what it’s about, and ultimately that means more listening than talking.

Practical Art and Stallman, revisited

I started to type this as a response to the gracious comment Ismael left me on the Stallman post, but it quickly got big, so I am putting it here:

Ismael writes:

The rationale behind my quote of his about art (not actually a literal quote, but actually faithful to what he said) was that:
– if we’re talking about content/works/software that are needed, as tools, to reach other goals, they should be free
– art did not fall in the previous category
– art, as a subjective expression of one’s ideas/feelings, should not be changed by any means (e.g. Richard M. Stallman would not allow any derivative works of his writings not to go out of context, or find he’s being attributed things he did not actually said 😉

First I want to thank Ismael for taking both the initial time to transcribe this lecture of Stallman, and to clarify it. (And I agree with him that from the point of view of most people, the medical patents statement is the most interesting — just not my area)

So to the point —

I think the “practical=tool” clarification helps, but ultimately does not rescue Stallman’s argument. To me, at least, it embraces a Romantic and Early Modern view of art. And it’s a view I’ve found quite interesting — I have always thought, for example, that Jakobson’s “Poetic Function”, which defines art as essentially as a message that turns in on itself — that is, as a message that does not direct itself toward externalities — that analysis is one of the genius moments in 20th century intellectual history. I read the lines “the projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection to the axis of combination”, his definition of the Poetic, and I’m still stunned at how many threads of modern thought come together in that beautifully simple but stunningly creative insight.

So I’m more than interested in attempts to define Art and aesthetic thinking as something in space apart from the prectical and directed. And tellingly, the other name for the Jakobson’s Poetic function it the “autotelic” — that which is an end in itself — and this jives nicely with Stallman’s distinction. That’s not coincidental, since Stallman and Jakobson are pulling from the same Art for Art’s Sake influences, but it’s significant.

Yet even in 1961, Jakobson saw this as a *function* — that is, there is no such thing as poetry in a sense — there’s a poetic element in everything. And the things we call poetry and art are traditionally things which are constructed to highlight the relation of the message to itself. But while the function has clear abstract boundaries, the artifacts that function illuminates do not. And we now have about 40 years of post-structuralist theory showing us that is indeed the case.

So back to the point — to the average person, I suppose, art is not a tool — because they enjoy it as readers. They revel in the autotelic. But to the artist, new art is always demonstrating ways to solve their own artistic problems. It’s no different in some ways than physical invention. Camera obscura, a tool, had a profound effect on Rennaisance Art — but so did Giotto’s realism. To the artist, and even to the astute viewer, art is always a set of tools, characters, plot devices and the like that they can rip out and use.

And of course it does not stop there. Fan fiction is a good example, but we don’t have to go twentieth century on this…here’s DaVinci’s Last Supper:

And here’s Giampetrino’s from some years later:

What was an output of Da Vinci’s artistic process becomes an input into Giampetrino’s own. It’s not the world’s most original work, but as long as correct attribution is made, why shouldn’t Giampetrino use Da Vinci’s work to develop his own style?

Similarly, many of my wife’s friends use photos taken by someone else to make paintings from. To the photographer, the photograph may be meant to be autotelic, but to the painter who uses it, it is another tool in completing their own ends. Likewise, the painting one creates from the photograph could end up as a piece of website layout, or the background of a WordPress theme.

There’s a solution to this, but Stallman can’t use it. The solution is to say that the photographer gets to decide whether his photographs are meant to be tools for graphic designers and artists (in which case he gives up his freedom) or art (in which case he preserves his rights).

But that rests the division in the intentionality of the producer, not in any attribute of the object. And if we vest that distinction in intentionality, we might as well all go home — to say that the producer should determine how his own work should be used is to say that the concept of Free Software is dead. I choose to see my code as my personal self-expression, therefore you can’t copy it.

That’s where we were *before* Stallman’s innovative movement, and I have no intention of going back.

I don’t mean to minimize the massive problems in Art here, with everything from compensation to attribution. It’s not an easy subject — it’s far more difficult than coming to terms with whether printer drivers should be free and open. And I’m guessing that’s why Stallman wants to wall it off from his more core concerns.

This is your Italian course. This is your Italian course on WordPress.

Some day I’ll get tired of admitting how far ahead of the pack UMW is.

Today is not that day.

So to paraphrase that guy with the egg…

This is your Italian course:

course.png

And this is your Italian course on WordPress:

Italian Course

Click the above image to check out a module a UMW Italian professor put together on the Vespa scooter. In the module you watch some vintage Vespa commercials (in Italian, via YouTube), and answer a series of questions about the Vespa based on the commercials.

How can you not want to take that class?

Jim Groom has more details.

The Parable of the Thingamajig

We are reaching the end of our evaluation process here on my eportfolio committee. So in a month of impassioned pleas, I hope y’all forgive me one more. This is the last push.

But I want to do it this time by telling a story.

I want us to pretend it is 1985, and we are considering two competing products for the library. Let’s say that the need is to teach students how to do research circa 1985, and we’ve decided to spend some money on a product to do that. The plan is to develop a “research curriculum” and to get a tool that helps us better understand students’ research ability.One product is called “Thingamajig” and is billed as a replacement for the NYT Index, ERIC, Dialog, and the card catalog. It replaces the Library of Congress system with its own “superior system”, and collates material from multiple subject indexes into its own aggregate database. It has maybe a tenth of the resources available in the library as a whole, but they are well arranged.

In order to do research students log into this tool and use the special Thingamajig™ search tool. Then they give the Thingamajig call numbers to the librarian, etc. And because all their work is logged in the Thingamajig system, we can very easily assess whether these students are starting to get the hang of “research thinking” – Thingamajig can log and score everything done inside of it.

The other product, which we’ll call ResearchRank, just gives some standard ways of assessing student work and pumping out reports. For the actual work, it lets students use the same things they would use outside of the institution: The NYT index, ERIC, Dialog, the card catalog, etc.

In fact, as new resources become available for doing research, ResearchRank doesn’t care – if the professor can understand how the student is using them, he can assess them.

Which is the better product? Which serves the student better?

All of these eportfolio template products we’ve looked at exist in a Thingamajig mindset. Rather than let students use tools that have a broad application outside the boundaries of our college
, they push the student to think of eportfolios as dependent on

institution-specific technology. They keep the student in an unempowered mindset. They force the student to see technology in the wrong way.

To return to our example, imagine it’s 1987 and you’re a professor hiring for an assistantship. You have to chose between two students.

The first student comes in. And when talking about research they tell you how great they are at research – they are, after all, proficient in Thingamajig. They tell you how they used the specialized undergraduate templates to do research in Thingamajig. Are you familiar, for example, with the “Essay Research Template for Political Themes #5”? They did an excellent project using that.

The next student comes in and tells you about subject indexes, the problems of restricted vocabulary, how much they hate the quirks of ERIC, and how low they’ll get a result set on Dialog before they print the list. They tell you a neat system they devised using colored post-its to keep track of where quotes came from. And they tell you about the time it failed and they ended up citing Richard DREYFUSS on particle physics.

You’d choose the second student in a heartbeat. Sure, maybe Dialog rolls out a new version in 6 months, and those skills are irrelevant – but the second student has demonstrated an ability to solve real world problems with real world tools. They understand how to interact with technology – technology extends their will rather than limiting or defining it. And because they have to construct their own environment, they don’t confuse the process of research with the parameters of some school-bought tool.

You’d choose the second student. So would I. And we’d be absolutely right to do so.

The real world tools of reflection today are numerous, but they are not in TaskStream, or ePortaro. They are wikis, blogs, video-sharing sites, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. We can show students how to use these tools to better understand and represent their experience.

Or we can buy them a Thingamajig.

I really think that’s the choice we’re looking at here.

Progress on loosely coupled assessment

So we watched a presentation yesterday by True Outcomes, and of course I had to hold my nose a bit. I come from the “merit badge” school of Roger Schank, that ideally assessments fall into to the category of “Student X can build a fire, and we know that because he built a fire” (or in Schank’s case because he completed a case-based simulation of building a fire). Align a curriculum more towards doing and less toward demonstrating “qualities”, and a lot of assessment headache goes away. In a doing culture, assessment is healthy, because it maps onto real world goals — can this person solve a real world data import problem using a scripting language? Yes? Great! Merit badge!

But “displays knowledge of data analysis techniques and an understanding of how to automate data import processes”? Mapped onto a one to five value rubric?

That’s assessment, and it happens most often when we think the student can’t do anything of value.

That said, I loved the True Outcomes presentation. Why? Because it was pure assessment. There was no eportfolio product attached to it (or rather, the presentation product attached to it was so slight as to be insignificant). What’s more, the students don’t even have to submit into it — there’s a simple option called “Observation” (as opposed to electronic submission) where professors can assess student work outside the program. So if students want to do an eportfolio project in WordPress or Google Documents they could conceivably do it, and just have the professor save a copy of the artifact to local storage somewhere. They want to videoconference it or Skype it in? Again, not a problem. The system doesn’t care.

The point here is that with assessment loosely coupled, the process can be fluid, and defined by the individual needs of the professors. Because the portfolios can be based on an unconstrained worldware approach, professors sold on a Web 2.0 approach are free to push the pedagogical envelope, and let students do things in Blogger, WordPress, or YouTube.  Professors who don’t want to invest time in those things can tell the students to do something or other in MSWord.Â

By not tying the assessment product to the pedagogy, you make sure that you are not hindering your more forward-thinking professors. And you guarantee that as technology evolves outside the college that you’ll automatically benefit from those advances — whether or not you buy the most recent vendor upgrade.

In short, you make evolution possible.

Anyway, I’m very happy about this development. If your institution is currently looking at eportfolio/assessment solutions, I’d suggest that you consider looking at True Outcomes, and put to rest the assessment bit. Then, with the vendor no longer hanging about, suggest a worldware approach to eportfolios and the like.

I’ll keep you all updated on how that goes here.

Loosely coupled assessment

Here’s the thing it’s 2000 all over again. Eportfolio is the new LMS.

Watching a recent vendor presentation I thought “I can’t believe this is happening again.”

That single phrase. In a loop. In my head.

Because remember — this happened once before. The LMS vendors came in with an assessment and management tool, and told us it was an elearning solution. At the time, I was on the other side of the equation, with a company trying to sell award-winning goal-based scenario software to colleges who were saying but we already HAVE an elearning solution. It’s called Blackboard. Or WebCT. Or whatever.

And so Blackboard, an assessment and management tool, determined the pedagogy of colleges for eight or so years. Because teachers wanted to import rosters, we put students in a closed box and told them it was elearning.

When it wasn’t. The truth is the kids were doing more elearning on MySpace than in Blackboard.

How do we avoid it again? How do we avoid imposing something that is just pedagogically WRONG on a new set of students because we need to meet some institutional assessment needs?

There’s only one way — loosely coupled assessment.

If we are going to talk assessment, we are going to have to segregate it. Your assessment tool should ONLY assess.

We don’t need to talk more about student needs wth vendors that supply assessment tools. We need to talk to them less about student needs. It’s not their business.

Literally: it is not their business.

In fact, we should remove student needs entirely from the equation.

The students know they can get far bettter solutions to their problems for free elsewhere. They don’t need a eportfolio system to post their resumes on.

So enough of letting assessment vendors tell us what facilities we will be forced to use in their walled garden, and expecting us to be excited about it. Enough with assessment vendors selling us “environments”. What we should be doing is describing the the enviroment that might exist — students using WordPress, Blogger, S3, GDrive, email, messaging, etc. And then we should ask if they have a tool that can evaluate that. How will their tool interface with the learning environment we’ve constructed?

Anything else is insanity.