Claiming my novice badge for #ioe12

Well, this is my 13th post, so in order to claim my novice badge, here is a recap of the most important ideas I have noticed in the assigned topics.


Our current education system cannot scale fast enough to allow everyone who will want to get access to the training they will need to succeed in the 21st century. Even if we threw money at it without limit, it would probably never get to be affordable enough to accommodate everyone, and allow for upward socio-economic mobility.

Open education, badges, and OER are alternative and complementary paths to traditional higher education. They should not be viewed as a threat by higher education institutions, but as a opportunity to engage in a larger conversation, and allow a greater reach than ever in what universities are all about: creating and spreading knowledge.

Not everyone can be an MIT graduate, but their OpenCourseware initiative, in addition to being generous and useful, has increased their brand awareness tenfold. So there are advantages to making your content freely available, if you’re looking at the right metrics.


Openness is not free. It requires efforts to get out of the walled garden of the LMS and make your content legit for open sharing. Opening up content can also have a cost in lost revenue if it’s no done thoughtfully, especially if your institution’s value-added is all included in its content, and not on the learning experience.

Rogue faculty members should open up their course it it makes sense to them, but institutional initiatives have to be examined as business opportunities, as well as philanthropic initiatives.

Awareness is not enough

Most people still see copyright as an enabler of their inner 2 year old screaming “Mine, mine, mine!”. In my opinion, people value what they create too highly. Most of us will never make a career of what we create; most of us don’t have enough followers willing to pay a premium to see us lecture and support us financially (if we weren’t supported by our institutional brand called the university).

As my colleague Pat Sine always says, “How original is your History 101 syllabus, really?”

Even as we expose faculty members to these facts, their first reflex is to hide and protect. Faculty members at research institutions don’t like their ideas to leak, to then get scooped by someone else when they are about to publish their newest paper.

Open policies, both at the governmental and institutional levels, are safeguards against hurtful privacy. They level the playing field for everyone, and send the message that openness is the best way to enable proper and efficient scaffolding of ideas to help society progress intellectually and scientifically.


Making something available online doesn’t make it open. The digital nature of a resource has nothing to do with its openness.

Because of our current copyright laws, most creative work isn’t open, unless specifically stated by the owner of the intellectual property. The wider use of Creative Commons licensing is a good start in making sure “some” of the work created by humans can be reused by others, without legal restraints.

Hopefully, as some point, the tide will turn and copyright will need to be renewed and claimed instead of awarded by default for a ridiculous amount of time. The nature of copyright, as stated in the 1787 U.S. Constitution (Section 1, Article 8) as more to do with the spread of knowledge and its benefit to society than with letting people make money forever out of cultural artifacts.


When making your course or research available online, you’re making the statement that you’re open to criticism, that you’re transparent in your approach to knowledge creation and distribution.

Unfortunately, the academic publishing industry is setting up paywalls and harsh intellectual property conditions, limiting access to knowledge for the less wealthy institutions (and the wealthiest ones as well, as Harvard took a stand for open publishing). The role of the publisher as the middleman of academia has to be reexamined in order to allow researchers and the public to drill down in research and verify the claims of researchers, as their conclusion might influence decisions that might have a life and death consequence to people following advice blindly.

List of posts

Below is the list of posts as evidence of the completion of the novice badge:

Topics My posts
Open Licensing Open Licensing
Open Source Open Source
Open Content Open Content
OpenCourseWare OpenCourseWare
Open Educational Resources Open Educational Resources
Open Access Open Access
Open Science Open Science
Open Data Open Data
Open Teaching Open Teaching
Open Assessment Open Assessment
Open Business Models Open Business Models
Open Policy Open policy

Open policy #ioe12

This topic, mostly covering Cable Green’s pilgrimage for open policy, should be made mandatory for all members of congress. Really, this would be a win-win for everyone, except maybe for our fat cat publisher friends, of course.

We already have a universal learning machine

It’s called the Internet. It’s there, mostly free to use. It’s non-rivalrous, pretty much everyone can enjoy it without taking it away from someone else. It’s a free distribution system that has decreasing storage costs, increasing connectivity and reach, and supports generous sharing behaviors.

In addition to being pretty awesome, it has the potential to actually solve serious problems, such as the fact that there are too many young people seeking a college degree for the capacity of the current higher education offering. So what if more people could access the same quality materials that are used in Ivy leagues schools like Harvard, MIT, or Stanford?

As Howard Rheingold puts in in Net Smart (Kindle locations 1909-1912):

If you can cast your search query, the exact words you submit to a search engine, in precisely the right terms, screens full of up-to-date knowledge in multiple media appear before your eyes, literally out of thin air. Your Internet provider charges you for transmitting the data back and forth, but the knowledge comes to you free of charge. What could be more magical than that?

The capacity is there, and unlike brick and mortar, it scales up as fast as it needs to, because it’s digital.

But it needs to be turned on…

Although technologically possible through the use of the Internet, the majority of learning content used in schools today is locked down, either by keeping the resources in walled gardens, or through copyright and licensing restrictions. The market has not been able to generate enough momentum yet to open up learning content to the extent it needs to to make access to learning materials accessible.

Cable Green stated in his 2011 ALN Conference Keynote that “most of our policy makers do not understand 21st century technical and legal tools that collectively can enable and turn on this learning machine we started talking about.”

Indeed, policy makers are clueless of the potential impact their legislation can have on the business of learning, as demonstrated by the recently shut-down Research Works Act (RWA), that was aimed at restricting the initiatives of government agencies such as the National Institute of Health and their open access publishing policy. Elsevier got some serious backfire from their decision to support the RWA with a boycott movement of a magnitude rarely seen before in academia.

Publishers want to continue leasing the content to academia, keep us renters for life. California recently signed a bill against this, stating that if students have to pay for e-content, they need to own it afterward, taking away the expiration date on e-textbooks. (looking for the reference here, anyone can post it to the comments, please?)

Cable’s point is mostly that if you’ve paid for it as a taxpayer, you should be able to get access to the results. RFPs for open textbooks could be initiated by states to create the content and make it available for free, saving millions to taxpayers in un-bought traditional textbooks.

Education creates and consumes its own content

… so why are we adding a middleman that keeps renting us our own content anyway? Faculty create textbooks, give the intellectual property away to publishers, who, in turn, sell textbooks to schools (in K-12) and to students who use government loans (in higher education). So we’re paying twice for something we created…

Same thing with academic journals. Faculty write articles for free, faculty peer-review for free, publishers make the file pretty and add it to a database, and then the library has to subscribe to the journal to get access to it. It wouldn’t be so bad to outsource the publication if the prices were reasonable, but even a rich Ivy league institution like Harvard says they can’t afford it anymore.

The tide is turning

Some non-profit foundations, aiming at getting the most bang for their buck, are also pushing for open-access, such as Saylor, MacArthur, 20 Million Minds, etc. Countries and states are also starting to impose some strict rules regarding public spending and the use of OER, such as Brazil, Poland, and the states of Utah ($5 K-12 textbooks project) and Washington (OER K-12 bill).

There is a need for a grassroot effort from content creators, to open up their content using Creative Commons for instance, but also from taxpayers and legislators to understand the potential savings and benefits of turning the learning machine on, for everyone


Open business models

Juggler from Fantata on Flickr

Gotta keep all those balls in the air to make your open business sustainable!

This is my post on open business models. This topic, like previous ones, revolved around the concept of sustainability, and how not taking the long term financial impact of your decisions seriously not only reduces your chances of succeeding, but also perpetuates the “free = shaky” misconception.

Opening up education: It’s not for everyone

In A Sustainable Model for OpenCourseWare Development, Johansen and Wiley build their argument on exposing Utah State University’s decision to shut down its open courseware initiative, based on funding issues, and MIT’s astronomical operating costs ($3.5M per year). Many projects, such at the Foothill De Anza Community College District’s SOFIA project, end with the end of external funding.

In order to determine the institutional benefits of opening the courseware, the three questions exposed in the article are the following:

1) What is the cost of development?

How much does it cost to open up a course? In some cases, digitizing materials and scrubbing copyrighted materials (by paying a license fee to use the materials openly or replacing the copyrighted materials by OER) might end up being the most expensive parts of the operation.

2) What is the impact on current business practices?

Would regular students feel left out if the course was shared with non-matriculated students? How would you sell your campus experience as a premium experience?

3) Is the effort sustainable?

Would opening up a course prevent students from enrolling at your institution, or put downward pressure on your tuition fee structure? Does it generate enough new revenues to justify staff and infrastructure investments?

In the case of BYU, it seems the new revenues generated by the open courseware initiative is sustainable, but mostly because of the choices that were made to make the conversion process as affordable as possible. Table 4 reveals that if an open course generates between 1 (higher education) and 10 (K12) new enrollments over 4 years, they have recovered their development cost.

More control = More money

Coming back to MIT’s example, because they are investing to create professionally edited materials that promote the MIT brand, the production costs per course are elevated. Other models, such as Rice’s Connexions are crowdsourced and require less internal resources to maintain. Cases where instructors develop their open course themselves, or with the help of students, have virtually no direct costs associated with them besides the time required to register keystrokes.

My rule of thumb is that the more your public relations people get involved, the more costly your endeavor will become. No offence, marketing folks 😉

What’s in it for authors?

Authors interviewed in Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet reveal many aspects of the new digital economy.

When asked what motivates them to openly publish their works, authors responded most frequently that (1) they had a desire to increase the exposure of the book, and (2) open publishing is, morally speaking, the right thing to do.
Another quote that caught my eye was from Tim O’Reilly:
Publisher Tim O’Reilly once quipped that, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy” (2007)
By making their work available for free, authors increase the chance for people to actually read their work, pumping their reputation up, and allowing them to be recognized as experts. This reputation comes with keynote address invitations, consulting gigs, offers to sit of boards of directors, etc.
Opening up a book also allows for the work to reach unexpected places, such as described by Lessig regarding his Free Culture book.
[…] it “has been translated into seven different languages, audio versions are freely available, and it has been put into sixteen different ebook formats. All of these translations and format changes are freely available for others to download. Allowing others to remix Free Culture vastly expanded its reach.”
In terms of e-textbooks, as stated in A sustainable future for open textbooks? The Flat World Knowledge story, I was surprised to see that authors of Flat World Knowledge books got a bigger share of the sales than for traditional textbooks (20% versus 15%). What the authors lose in the sales price of the textbook, they can probably make up in volume over time.

Flat World Knowledge: Back to a shaky model?

To me, Flat World Knowledge has a pretty solid plan for the short term. Students, in my opinion and observation, are not ready to switch to digital, at least not for reading a textbook as a web site. So as long as the derivative products are marketable and that they keep their production costs under control, FWK will thrive.
I think their new push to sell the All Access Pass is a step in the right direction to play nice with campus bookstores, that still remain the powerhouse of textbook sales (for now anyway).

Open assessment

This is my post for open assessment, otherwise known as the badge topic.

As a prospective badger in the Introduction to Openness course, it’s nice to know that folks are thinking about how they can be displayed and used. Below are some key points I noted in the videos and resources.

Learning happens

Learning happens formally and informally. It is not limited to schools. As Arne Duncan stated in the DML competition video:

“Badges can help speed the shift from credential that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency”

Some people learn faster, or in different settings. What’s important, in the end, is  being able to assess that the person knows what they need to know, and has the skills that are required for a task.

Duncan also referred to badges as being a stepping stone to helping students with special needs, from the ones with learning disabilities to the gifted students. If seat time is definitely going away as a metric, the time spent on acquiring skills can vary from student to student.

Recognition is a challenge

Our society has built this schooling infrastructure that has been in place for over 100 years. This system has enjoyed a quasi-monopoly on credentialing, i.e. certifying that a certain individual had achieved a level of competency required for certain types of jobs (general education, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral degrees).

Badges, without taking away this infrastructure, add to the mix by providing a wider view of the competencies and achievements of individuals. But how many badges does one need to be equivalent to a bachelor’s degree? Or how many (or which) school-issued badges does the owner of a bachelor’s degree need to design an ad campaign for an agency?

Some disciplines, where the skills are easier to demonstrate, will be able to take advantage of the badge infrastructure. Computer science, for instance, is a discipline where most of the accomplishments of an individual can be made visible online, for anyone to drill-down and confirm if the artifact works or not.

There are still some issues regarding plagiarism and the notoriety of the issuer of badges, but the fact that a badge system is transparent should allow potential employers to be able to see through this. This is called “badging literacy”, I guess…

More work needs to be done

As Julia Stasch said in her remarks:

“To design and test badges is a way to help people learn, to assess that learning, to demonstrate the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. Just as important, we’re looking for researchers to explore key questions about the role of badges in learning recognition and accreditation.”

Badges need some serious research work to be done in order to create a framework that society will accept.

The Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure is a step in the right direction, offering a way for badges to be issued, displayed, and distributed across the web, and, most importantly, “reverse-engineerable” (offering a way for people to drill-down and make their way back to the issuer of the badge, the requirements, and the work that has been done by the individual to claim the badge).

I think the work related to the Badges for Heroes initiative, described by Charles F. Bolden. will be very beneficial to society as a whole. Military personnel, trying to reintegrate the civilian workforce, need a way to demonstrate their skills as they translate the military jargon to actual work skills.

Badges as ePortfolio artifacts

I was blown away by the Media Master badge demonstration linked from the Towards a Comprehensive Understanding of Badging Systems: A Participatory Work-in-Progress document. This Voicethread presentation was very well done to demonstrate the experience of that young lady in acquiring those badges, and will forever be a milestone to be showcased, but also referred to as a reminder of the prior learning of that person.

I’ll be teaching a class during the fall about social networking for educators, and I’m planning on using the Mozilla open badge ecosystem to chunk the class in challenges related to social media, media literacy, and personal learning networks, where students will choose what they want to pursue and make their discoveries available in the open.

I want what students learn to stay with them. Therefore, I will stay away from the LMS as much as I can. I plan on offering a discussion forum anyway, in case someone wants to discuss in private, but I will ask them to justify why this discussion need to occur in the walled garden of the LMS for every post.

Badges take the feedback closer to the work

What needs to be done to acquire a badge should be made available in advance, in ways that the prospective badgee should know when it has been achieved. This auto-feedback mechanism (reflecting on the acquisition of the badge) is a powerful motivation and independent-thinking process in itself. It also provides stepping stones to scaffold learning.

Now, most importantly, if I learn of to make honey, would that make me a honey badger? 😉

Open teaching

Open teaching is a different way of thinking about higher education. I really enjoyed this topic, and it really struck a chord with my current concerns about where our industry is heading.

Changing paradigms

The six shifts exposed by Wiley really reveal why I feel so uncomfortable with the way higher education currently runs. Those societal shifts are:

  1. Analog => Digital
  2. Tethered => Mobile
  3. Isolated => Connected
  4. Generic => Personal
  5. Consuming => Creating
  6. Closed => Open

Education, unfortunately, sits on the wrong side of the fence. Student live a highly connected life and have to power-down to attend school. This doesn’t feel right.

The loss of a monopoly

Wiley explains that students are looking for different things when deciding to attend college: quality content, student services, a social life, and degrees. Higher education used to be the only place you could get these experiences. Nowadays, many specialized services can do it cheaply and more efficiently, but they aren’t necessarily connected.

For instance, you can find quality content from trusted sources at the MIT OpenCourseware, in iTunesU, on the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, etc. You can get advice on which professors and classes to take on You can be social all day on Facebook or Google+. And you can get a Microsoft certification that opens more doors that a computer science degree for many jobs, or you can take tests from the Western Governors University without even setting foot in a classroom.

As the higher education model slips even further from reality, the market will start filling the gaps, and will challenge higher education institutions as the only way to become successful in a knowledge economy.

E-learning is not the answer

E-learning was innovative in 1995. I remember taking distance learning classes on VirtualU in 1997, that was something new. But if your institution has missed the boat on e-learning, chance are you’re way behind. But it also means that you have the chance to forget the e-learning model altogether and adopt a model that fits the needs of your current campus crowd and serves an outside clientele without breaking the bank.

Enter the MOOC

Massively Open Online Courses are a new breed of courses, where participants are usually self-motivated to learn something, but most of all, to connect around this event, content and people alike. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Downes and Siemens (2008) and most recently by Sebastian Thrun and Perter Novig’s Artificial Intelligence class, costs, in time and money, can increase dramatically as the number of students increases in MOOCs.

These classes clearly demonstrate that online technologies can be used not only to share course content with the non-enrolled public but also to facilitate learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions in this group. However, these courses also demonstrate that a significant investment of time may be necessary to open a class to learners at a distance, particularly for instructors who wish to facilitate learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions.
The learner-instructor interaction seems to be the bottleneck of MOOCs. Especially when a paying campus course is offered. Campus students must get the top experience, which doesn’t mean the remote non-registered students should get nothing. For the remote participants, getting anything is better than nothing. As revealed in the Wired Campus article (Young, 2009):
In 2007 I began teaching a class that is not offered anywhere else (and still isn’t, as far as I know): “Introduction to Open Education.” I put the syllabus and all the readings online (no extra cost) and planned for all the student writing to be online (no extra cost).

The new certification

The beauty of a MOOC is that the work is all online, for students to keep and showcase, meaning that getting higher education credits is not as much of an issue. If I claim that I have done enough work to get badges in #ioe12, I have blog posts to back it up.
Also, a new trend tends to be related to getting certified by experts and gurus in your field, instead of second-tiered classes offered at your institution. I love the fact, for instance, that I could enroll in an independent study class at the University of Delaware, and work on this course, which is more relevant to my Ed. D. than most of the ones offered here at UD.

The sustainability of open

I did not realize that MIT’s OCW cost $4M per year to maintain… That’s a lot of money, and a commitment to a fuzzy external audience that most institutions are not willing to make. I like the approach that Wiley proposes, where the instructor of the class is responsible for publishing the content online (and providing the commons necessary for collaboration among students).

Such an approach is definitely more sustainable, but also requires a lot more faculty training, and mostly convincing.