Over the next six months, we have three scheduled events supporting communities developing open content. The three scheduled events are taking place on the following dates and times:
These events are being run unconference style. We will be documenting the planning (both logistics and content-related) to run a successful event over the next few weeks. Our goal is to create an replicable blueprint that supports anyone, anywhere putting on their own open content event. We will update this post with information on the San Francisco and Portland events in early 2013.
We have also talked with a few other people in different cities, and it is possible that we will add other dates to this list. If you are interested in hosting an event, please be in touch. We want to see community focused open content authoring events become a common part of the landscape.
As part of our work with open content, we are also working on freely available open source web-based software that will allow communities to create, distribute, remix, and redistribute their own open content. This software allows organizations to create their own resources, texbooks, and supporting material, which they can then share if, when, and how they choose. We have already built the tools that allow this content to be exported in ePub 3.0 and .mobi formats, so that any content created within this site can be browsed on the web, and/or exported and read on Android and iOS devices. We are also putting considerable focus on the user experience of authors, and of the design of the site across all devices that connect to the internet. As part of this work (as well as for some client work) we recently built Zoundation, a Foundation-based theme. This earlier writeup provides additional background on Foundation.
Our goal is to be as close to fully transparent in our work as possible; any software we release will be freely available under an open source license, and as an installable site built in Drupal, and we will regularly blog about our progress and our process. After the Open Content event in Philadelphia, we are presenting at Educon on this work, and looking to grow the network of potential collaborators. To be clear, when I say "collaborators" in this context, I mean both technological and educational, as both skillsets are required to make this grow in a sustainable way.
While we have written about open content in the past, we find it both useful and necessary to revisit our definitions and make sure that we're not working on any assumptions that are out of date, or otherwise crazy. In general terms, when we talk about open content, this is part of the foundation holding up the conversation.
When creating open content, it needs to be easy to break a collection of resources up into its component parts. As an example of what we mean, a unit on the French Revolution can stand on its own, but someone coming along looking to adapt the material should be able to extract the information directly relevant to the Tennis Court Oath, and only use that.
Some formats (pdf, flash, SCORM, etc), regardless of how the content is licensed, require work to disassemble into their component parts and reuse the material. At times, organizations that market their work as open put technological barriers between users and content as a means to complicate the process of reuse. Keeping the concept of granularity in mind when designing systems for open content, and when authoring open content, can help ensure that no unnecessary barriers to use and reuse are placed between people and information.
Licensing is a topic worthy of many posts; over the years, many of these posts have been written by people far more knowledgeable on the subject than me.
As a matter of personal preference, I strongly prefer the Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. This license allows for reuse and modification, by anyone, in any work, provided they are not using it it commercially, provided they attribute our original work, and provided they share it under a license that supports non-commercial reuse. Part of the reason I like this license is that if someone wants to reuse my work commercially, all they need to do is ask. The non-commercial clause is a lot better than the status quo, and the need to ask permission is the same as material covered under a traditional copyright.
However, when remixing content from various sources, the combination of the Non-Commercial and Share-Alike licenses can prevent reuse of content from different sources. As an example, a person has content from two sources. One is licensed under the Non-Commercial Attribution Share-Alike license. The second source is licensed under an Attribution Share-Alike license.
The Attribution part is easy, but things start to get dicey with the Share-Alike portion of the license. It's very unclear what license the derivative work can or should be released under. Within the FunnyMonkey office, Jeff Graham has been telling me this for years, and due to my innate stubbornness I have only come to realize the accuracy of what he has been telling me in the last few months. This post on data migration also demonstrates some of the issues at play here; while the focus of the writeup is data migration, the section on License Chaining is directly relevant to open content.
And, until this gray area gets cleaned up, we are advocating for use of the Attribution Share-Alike license. The thinking behind this is that the Share-Alike component of the license will prevent anyone from appropriating open content and interfering with the free reuse of derivative works. It's a good thing the textbook companies don't have many lawyers, and that they aren't litigious about inane details.
The short version: licensing is not simple, but the Attribution Share-Alike license simplifies more problems than it creates.
Sharing, and the various layers of sharing
So far in this post, we have spent some time focusing on the ideal setup, rather than the practicalities.
However, all open content becomes open through a simple act of sharing. There are countless reasons people give to not share their material: It's not good/coherent/clear/polished enough; I only wrote this for me; I need to be able to collect usage data, etc, etc, etc. However, let's set these arguments aside, and ask a simple question:
What happens if a piece of work gets shared out in any format, be it a pdf, a word-processing document, a google doc, something linked within a Tumblr or Posterous - really, just some low level, relatively straightforward mechanism to share?
First, no one might find it. But, that's no different than the status quo. If work isn't shared, no one will find it there either.
Second, no one might use it. See answer above.
But the reality is, if its on the internet, someone, somewhere will stumble across it. And, out of the people stumbling across it, someone will find it useful.
Reuse cannot occur without the initial act of sharing starting things off.
And yes, I realize that earlier, I was talking about granularity, and the need for formats that support reuse, etc. And all of that still holds, but if we look at creating open content as a continually ongoing process of refinement, redistribution, and reuse, information in less usable formats can be curated and converted into more usable formats. The process of bringing good information into reusable formats is one of the key goals of the Open Content Barn Raisings that we are holding.
And it all starts with sharing what you have created under a license that supports reuse.
Web to print
I have seen many open content initiatives get mired in the perceived need to support a web to print (not "ctrl-P" print, but "professional textbook" print) workflow. This is a business or organizational need, not a learning need. It's 2013; between a responsive design that works on the web across devices, .mobi and ePub export, and the ability to (ctrl-P) print sections, we have the majority of learner-centered use cases covered. If an organization needs to be able to support print on demand, they can develop a workflow that makes sense for their organization - this is a problem that has been solved in many ways, but it is not a foundational concern for learners. I haven't encountered many learners reading content on their phone saying, "I really wish I could convert this free ebook into a textbook I could pay sixty dollars for."
Open Content as Teacher Professional Development
If a group of teachers are working together to develop resources to both use in their classes and get reused internationally, that sounds like a great use of professional development hours. One of the benefits of having content reused over time, across geographic areas, is that teachers working within the community will have the benefit of feedback on their work from a broader range of professionals than is possible within a single school, district, college, or university.
We have talked about this before, but a broader use and adoption of open content has the potential to shift how we think about Teacher Professional Development. Additionally, if we look at a body of open content that has been created by a group of educators over time, that body of work begins to look suspiciously like a professional work portfolio.
Open Content is about many things, but a facet that surfaces repeatedly over time has to do with choices. Using open content is a clear way of demonstrating to teachers and learners that we have options. Over the next few weeks, in the lead up to the first event in January, we'll start documenting the planning steps needed to hold an event, and the steps needed to create good open content.
Image Credit: "Climbing" taken by Alex Indigo, published under an Attribution license.