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One person’s #TEDxNYED – Openness

I think this topic flowed well from the first (Participation), but perhaps that had to do with the speakers in this grouping. It was at about the start of this session that I noticed that there were many people who, like me, were taking notes the old-fashioned way.  One fellow pen-and-paperer said that this forced him to type up his notes and assess them (something that I much prefer to the live-blogging type of note-taking).

The first, David Wiley, started by defining openness vis-a-vis “educational artifacts” and it as an adjective that traditionally modified such words as “courses”, “software”, “source” and “content” – the implication that it’s about sharing, generosity and giving.

The law, he reminded us, allows us to declare what is Mine loudly – so what is the role of openness in education?  For one thing, if there is no openness, no sharing there is no education (in other words, education implies a relationship of sharing).  The most successful educators are the ones that share most completely with students, and new media have created new sharing opportunities (he stressed that they need to be non-rivalrous relationships, ones that give without giving away) and now we can share/educate better than before.

When you think about the Content Management System that many schools use (we use WhippleHill, but there’s also Blackboard, Moodle, First Class and others), you see that many (Hackley included) have hidden content behind their passwords.  Worse, all that information and sharing is deleted at the end of every semester (or year), thus invalidating the work of the previous students and making it hard for Year Two to build on Year One’s work.  I’ve thought about this as I talk to teachers about class projects: wouldn’t using a wiki or another structure enable them to scale back the breadth of a project, increase the depth and then have the next year’s group build on what’s been done with additional information?

Wiley posits that education is on the edge of a Reformation, an openness revolution.  I’m not sure that’s the case, in part because of what Jeff Jarvis said later in the day: ego.  The big question is whether we want new technologies and media to be open, or whether we want them to preserve the status quo.

It was interesting that he pointed to this lawsuit, which he didn’t quite explain completely.  The professor in question isn’t claiming copyright over students notes as notes (nor, do I think that he’d sue a former student for teaching a similar course).  He is asserting copyright over reprints of those notes, for which a third party is receiving compensation.  Yes, ego’s rearing its ugly head, but it’s also a legitimate question (since he publishes an e-text that students purchase… or not).

It brings to mind the recent NYTimes article about teachers selling course notes on-line.  Is it ethical?  Well… it is work product, so technically the school’s own those courses.  Compare that with MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

As I struggled with this and what it could mean for my teachers and students, Neeru Khosla started speaking about CK-12 (her organization), which produces flexbooks.  Basically, it was a pitch for us to help create content, which made me ask questions about how we deal with a digital divide?  what about constant access (some of my students were without power for four days last week thanks to the snowstorm)?  how do we provide professional development for teachers interested in creating this type of text?  how do we ensure quality control (brilliant as some of my colleagues are, some of them don’t write in a way that is clear and coherent to a student not well-versed in the subject)?  what kind of time will they need to develop all this new content?

There’s much more to all this, but that’s for another post.

Our final pre-lunch speaker was Lawrence Lessig. His talk is over on and I highly recommend you watch it.  The thing that I loved was that he basically said that there are good things about conservatives – not something you hear often at the types of conferences I attend.  He asked if any of us were conservatives, and if we knew anyone that was (yes, I do – the majority of my family are Republicans, and my brother-in-law once compared his wife to Sarah Palin without a trace of irony; diversity at most of “my” conferences does not usually extend to political persuasion).

What can we learn from conservatives?  They think the market should be free… they “get” ecology… and they think that free is an important part of cultural ecology.  Example? Julian Sanchez of the “evil” Cato Institute.  Sanchez is defending remix culture, because freedom enables innovation.  Democrats don’t always get that.

Take, for instance, Disney.  Disney is (as we all know) a prime example of a remixer.  What if Grimm or Perrault heirs were around today?  How much would Uncle Walter owe them for what he did to the stories their forefathers wrote down?  Yet Disney is one of the most stringent “thou shall not reuse/remix our content” companies out there.  They (along with Sony Bono) pressed for the most recent extension of copyright.

Yes, we need to respect creators and their rights – but our lives are short relative to the lives of our creations.  Protecting works means that creative sparks are extinguished when they are inspired by, or derived from, previous works (or, as P.D.Q. Bach calls it, “recycling”).  Lessig suggests that we use Creative Commons, which allows for others to take our works and help them grow.

And then – thankfully – lunch.

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