Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Openness means to me

With coursera MOOCs kind of slow this time of year, I decided to try out a MOOC on the subject of "Open" on P2PU. After my first P2PU course, #rhizo14, I thought I would flex the mental muscle a bit and get some P2PU experience.  The topic of this week asks us to ponder what Openness means to us as individual participants.  To be honest I haven't really sat down to write up what I think of Openess.  I've certainly discussed the topic with colleagues and friends over beer or coffee, but it's been on specific topics, like MOOCs.  Many in the xMOOC arena consider "open" to mean "free".  The previous post I wrote should have you convinced, to some degree, that Open isn't free. There is some cost associated with it whether or not you get it gratis.

That said, for me Open is about a philosophy.  It may mean a number of things:

1. free-of-cost:  In some instances, such as all those free MOOCs that you can sign up for (even this one!) you can get something for nothing.  It doesn't mean that there wasn't some cost associated with it, such as labor-hours, or server space and bandwidth, but to you as the end-user, or consumer, it's available at no cost. As an aside, I was download Ubuntu the other day, and right before the download link appeared it asked you if you wanted to donate to the project.  If I ever built and offered a MOOC I was thinking of having a tip-jar link to see if people would contribute, and what they would contribute for (similar to Ubuntu's site indicating what you'd like to support)

2. Open Access: When I think of Open, I often tend to think of Open Access, and Creative Commons. These would be academic articles, professional publications images and media that I can use for free for a variety of tasks (depending of course on the compatibility of the license). The reason that CC and Open Access is important is that our academic output costs us time and effort, however someone else (journals and book publishers) are profiting for it by selling our work back to our institutions. I don't want to open up a whole can of worms here by starting a "down with journals" debate, but I am a firm believer that my work, which I am not compensated for, should be free so that people can read it and let me know if they found it useful, or if there are flaws in my work, so I can improve my work. Sure, these things go through peer review, but you usually only get one or two people to peer review your work. Open Access means that the whole world can peer review your work and make it better. 

3. Looking under the hood: One of the things I do each semester (at least when I teach) is to post my syllabus under Creative Commons to Scribd. I do this for a couple of reasons.  First, the students have access to it before the semester starts so they can mentally prepare for the course if they need to.  Secondly I am hoping that other educators will look at the modules I've designed (or modified if I based it off someone else's work) and take whatever is of use to them as professionals.  I do the same thing. When I come across syllabi on the internet that are similar to the course I teach, I look at what they do, I look at their sources, and if I find something that escaped my radar, but it's useful and it's in someone else's syllabus, I use it in my course.  By contributing my syllabus out there, openly, I am part of this ecosystem that drives toward perpetual improvement

4. Open Data: Now, this is something that I don't think of very often when I think of Open because I am not in the physical sciences.  That said, this past spring I  co-authored a paper for a special issue of a journal. This paper was a typology of MOOC issues (or rough spots) that need further investigation and thought.  This was a meta-analysis of published MOOC literature, but not just academic literature, but also professional and blogs from people who have established themselves as influential MOOCers (like Siemens and Downes for example).  The academic articles came from open access journals and materials that were available on the open web via Google Scholar.  The reason for this methodology was quite simple: this is open data, and if someone wants to verify our work they can do it.  We didn't bother explaining this, so at least one reviewer was wondering why we didn't go with journals like the British Journal of Educational Technology.  While I, and my colleague, has access to this, it's "open" only to a select group of individuals, so it's not really open in the traditional sense. Our article was not accepted, and we did get some wonderful feedback which we will use to improve our article, but at the end of the day, I don't think our methodology of using Open Data will change.

5. Finally, Open to me is a conundrum! I've been trying to get a couple of books out on the subject of MOOCs.  I, as editor, emailed a number of people who would have fantastic things to say about specific subjects on MOOCs and invited them to contribute a chapter.  Some said yes, some said that they only publish Open Access so they would not be able to contribute to a closed access traditional book.  I think that following your belief in open is great, especially when you're well established and can have your pick of where you publish, but as someone new to the game, what does one do? It seems that at the very beginning you may need to publish in closed access, to get the gravitas in the field, to be able to only publish open access in the future.  Furthermore, finding publishers to do open access book is like searching for a life in the cosmos ;-) They exist somewhere, but pretty hard to catch. So, my tactic at the moment is to give up on books, and focus strictly on OA journals.
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