The Internet As Café

caféI was quite charmed last year when I made my first visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had in my mind a Romanticized version of the city and its famed café culture. In my imagination, it was people sipping coffee on sidewalk table and talking about art and literature. When my wife and I went for coffee and dessert at the Café Imperial, it was certainly much grander than anything I had imagined.
We did find those little cafés too, so I was able to embrace my Romantic version of the city. There is also the well-documented role of  the coffeehouse in the Age of Enlightenment. These informal gatherings of people played an important role in innovation in politics, science, literature and religion.
Next year, I hope to visit the Café de Flore which is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, it is known for its history of serving intellectual clientele. At one time, those tables overheard conversations from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,  writer Albert Camus and artist Pablo Picasso.
In science, breakthroughs seem to rarely come from just one person working alone. Innovation and collaboration usually sit at the table together. We are currently in a time when, at least in American politics, collaboration seems nonexistent.
This notion is what caught my attention in an interview I heard with Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From.
He writes about how “stacked platforms” of ideas that allow other people to build on them.  This way of ideas coming together from pieces borrowed from another field or another person and remixing feels very much like what has arisen in our digital age.
One example he gives is the 1981 recordMy Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. It is an innovative album for that time in its use of samples well before the practice became mainstream. Eno was inspired by the varied voices and music and advertising on New York AM radio which was so different from the straightforward BBC radio he grew up with in England. He thought about repurposing all that talk into music.
We call that “decontextualizing” now – in this case a sound or words taken out of context and put in a new place. But this borrowing and remixing also occurs with ideas in culture, science and technology.
Unfortunately, ideas are not always free to connect with each other. Things like copyright and intellectual property law get in the way. We often silo innovators in proprietary labs or departments and discourage the exchange of ideas.
I didn’t know that Ben Franklin had a Club of Honest Whigs that would meet at the London Coffeehouse, when he was in England and they would hang out and exchange ideas.
Johnson describes these as “liquid networks” – not so much for the coffee, but for the fluidity in the conversation. These informal networks work because they are made up of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity is not just necessary as a biological concept but as an intellectual one.
The Internet was built on ideas stacked on top of ideas. A whole lot of code and ideas are underneath this post. At its best, when I write online I am connecting, if only virtually, with other writers, artists and thinkers, and connecting literally through hyperlinks to those ideas.
I know there are “Internet cafés,” but what about Internet as a café?

Why Create and Use Open Educational Resources?

open textbooksI'm currently working on redesigning courses to use only Open Educational Resources (OER). Ever since I have worked in higher ed, whenever I have discussed open resources that are offered for free some faculty will always ask "Why do people create these things for no money?"
Most of us do our work and create our "intellectual property" (some of which is called that isn't really IP) in order to make money, and in academia to gain promotion and tenure too.
Some of the main motivations for creating OER are the same as the reasons for using OER. In my current project at a community college, we are trying to create course that save students money. Ideally, the course has no cost after students pay their tuition. The biggest cost is almost always textbooks, so using free, open textbooks is important.
I feel that too much course design is based on the textbook used, so OER redesign offers an opportunity for real course redesign. 
On the pedagogical side, open textbooks solve the problem of students simply not buying the book and trying to get by without it. I taught in secondary school for years and all the textbooks were free and I will always say that a free book does not solve the problem of students who do not read the books.
We also know through many studies that students who are strapped for money often choose courses when possible based on low or no cost for textbooks.
Students get annoyed when a professor only uses a small part of the textbook. Using open textbooks allows us to select the sections that we really want to use. Many OER courses use portions of several texts - a few chapters from one and a few from another.
If you not totally happy with the content in an truly open textbook, you can edit it yourself. You can add your own content, add your own images. Of course, in most cases those edits also have to be made open to others to use. I think of an open textbook as a starting point.
Which brings us to the point that creating an OER course takes work. Finding resources is very time-consuming. Editing them is work. If you do it, you do it for your students, for education and for a love of learning that you want to share with the world.
OER creators don't usually make money from their efforts, although there are platforms that offer resources in printed formats for a price. But creators can get recognition and exposure for their efforts and that can sometimes help in the job-hunting and promotion and tenure processes.

Making Educational Content Accessible

disability symbols
You might have read earlier this year that the University of California, Berkeley started removing more than 20,000 video and audio lectures from public view that they had made freely available online. Why? It was the result of a Justice Department accessibility order requiring them to make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.
UC Berkeley was one of the colleges in the forefront of posting to YouTube, iTunes U and their own site. Accessibility for people with a wide variety of disabilities has been an issue with online courses for many years. Mostly, schools have "gotten away with it" when it comes to following requirements that largely came into focus primarily after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.
It's curious that the Justice Department’s investigation did not look at how Berkeley actually serves students with disabilities, but only the accessibility of content it offers to the public. As a result of this order the university will also require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them.
This is a scary ruling for other institutions who have been "getting away with it" and now may have to do the same as UC. 
All it took was complaints from two employees of Gallaudet University, the world's only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students. The employees said that Berkeley’s free online educational content was inaccessible to blind and deaf people because of a lack of captions, screen reader compatibility and other issues.
Unfortunately, to remedy these issues any university would need to implement measures that are very expensive to continue to make these resources available to the public. Since they were offered for free, there is really no business model that applies here other than charity. So, the immediate solution was to make them "inaccessible" to everyone by removing them. 
Berkeley can continue to offer massive open online courses on edX. They also plan to create new public content that is accessible.
One concern that many educators have is that this ruling will result in the disappearance of much Open Educational Resources.

Moodle Goes MOOC With Academy

Academy home page May 2017

Academy is Moodle's version of a MOOC) platform, It's not that some people and institutions haven't gone done the MOOC road using the Moodle platform that was originally developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas to help educators create online courses. The Moodle platform was conceived with a focus on interaction and the collaborative construction of content and it has evolved over the past 15 years quite successfully. But it was not designed with the aim of hosting a course that contained tens of thousands of learners with different (and perhaps more limited) interactions and less emphasis on student-centered content creation.
There was an announcement about Academy in May 2016 and the Academy platform is still a preliminary version. As far as I have read, it is being used by only one institutional partner (Dublin City University) and for seven courses that are currently in the pre-enrollment stage).
At first mention, Moodle Academy was being compared to the Canvas Network because it seemed that Academy would be a centralized MOOC hosting platform run and managed by Moodle. This would be ideal for institutions (or individuals?) who wanted to offer a MOOC but needed not only a platform but the servers and bandwidth to deal with massive users and activity. I taught a meta-MOOC called "Academia and the MOOC" in the spring of 2013 in Canvas Network, and have used Canvas to teach undergraduate courses at a university since then.
I signed up for an Academy account and pre-enrolled for a course to test out the platform. (No start date listed yet.) The course is "21C Learning Design" and described as being for teachers who want to develop 21st Century skills in learning design. There is currently no content, but the platform itself looks very much like a Moodle course. For example, filling in my profile information, photo etc. was the same, and the home page with topics also looks the same as what I have used when I teach in Moodle at NJIT. 
AS with Canvas and Canvas Network, I suspect that Moodle and Academy will differ more behind the scene and screen and feel very comfortably similar for Moodle users.
If you want to try out Academy, go to and register. If you decide to take the 21C class, please message me there. It would be interesting to meet some Serendipity35 readers in a MOOC platform. 

Drawing on MOOCs for Lifelong Learning

I recently took a free online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on "Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration" that is offered by the University of Newcastle (UOM Australia) that is now included in the edX platform. Readers here may be familiar with MOOCs, but if you are new to them, they are online courses that are offered for free. They are usually university courses, though many are hosted by MOOC providers (edX, Coursera etc.). To many people the experience will not be at all like "taking a course" at a university. It might be your first time learning online, and that is odd for anyone. They are "massive" because you probably will be one of thousands of students in the class. The "lectures" are probably videos and probably (thankfully) much shorter than the 90-minute ones you had in college.
This particular course is an "archived course" which means there is no active instructor. The six-week course was first offered with an instructor in October 2016. EdX keeps courses open for enrollment after they end to allow learners to explore content and continue learning. All features and materials may not be available, and course content will not be updated, but courses are sometimes offered "live" again.
Learners may take a MOOC for credit or to get a certificate of successful completion (it is an option for many courses) and pay a fee (generally far less than typical tuition). But the majority of learners take them for lifelong learning and perhaps professional development with no desire to get credit.
UON has a prestigious Natural History Illustration program. I do some drawing and painting, but I am certainly not an aspiring scientific or medical illustrator. That is one of the great things about these MOOCs. There is very little pressure and no prerequisites to taking a course. A middle school student could attempt one. You need no artistic background. You might want to take it to learn about the topic and not even expect to try drawing yourself.
I audited a few art courses as an undergraduate. I was an English major and they didn't count towards my degree requirements - and I wasn't really good enough to be in those courses, but professors often allowed a few extra students. Professors made it clear that you needed to attend classes and do the assignments, but you would not get the same attention as the tuition-paying students. The MOOC model is similar.
This course is about observing and illustrating subjects from nature, science and culture, with their linkages to the environment being central. My interest is half art interest and half my interest in nature.
My own artwork is not "realistic" so it was a challenge to try creating accurate replications of subjects from the natural world.
Topics included:
- Core scientific observational skills
- Field drawing and sketching techniques
- Concept sketch development
- Composition for natural history illustration
- Form, proportion and structure essentials
- Drawing and rendering techniques
There are sample videos from many edX courses on YouTube and that's a good way to get a taste of what is in a course.
Here is an intro from the illustration course.

This article first appeared on One-Page Schoolhouse.

Open Everything 2017

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Back in 2008, I first posted here about what I was calling "Open Everything."  That was my umbrella term for the many things I was encountering in and out of the education world that seemed relevant to "Open" activities based on Open Source principles. The growth I saw nine years ago continues. I had made a list of "Open + ______" topics I was encountering then, and I have updated that list here:
educational resources (OER)
source as a service
source licenses
source religion
source software

All these areas overlap categories that I write about on Serendipity35.
David Wiley makes the point in talking about one of these uses -"open pedagogy" - that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions."
Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 
A colleague sent me a link to a new book, Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science . The book also crosses many topics related to "open": affordable education, transparent science, accessible scholarship, open science, and courses that share this philosophy.
That last area interests me again of late as I am taking on some work on developing courses using OER materials for this fall at a community college. These courses are not what could be labeled as "open courses." They are using using Open Educational Resources. They are regular Gen-Ed courses with the traditional tuition and registration structure.
So, why remake a course using OER? 
Always on the list of reasons to to lower the cost for students by eliminating (or greatly lowering the price of) a textbook and using open textbooks and resources. But there are more benefits to OER than "free stuff." This course redesign is also an opportunity to free faculty from the constraints of a textbook-driven curriculum. (Though, admittedly many faculty cling to that kind of curriculum design.)
David Wiley's warning is one to consider when selecting OER. Is a text "open" if it does not allow the 5R permissions? Wiley would say No, but many educators have relaxed their own definition of open to the point that anything freely available online is "open." It is not.
For example, many educators use videos online in YouTube, Vimeo or other repositories. They are free. You can reuse them. You can usually redistribute (share) them via links or embed code into your own course, blog or website. But can you revise or remix them? That is unlikely. I fact, they may very well be copyrighted and attempting to remix or revise them is breaking the law.
You might enroll in a MOOC in order to see how others teach a course that you also teach. It is a useful professional development activity for teachers. But it is likely not the case that you have the right to copy those mate rails and use them in your own courses. And a course on edX, Coursera or another MOOC provider is certainly not open to you retain, reusing, revising, remixing or redistributing the course itself.
There are exceptions. MIT's Open Courseware was one of the original projects to offer free course materials. They are not MOOCs as we know them today, but they can be a "course for independent learners." They are resources and you were given permissions (with some restrictionssee their mission video) to use them for your on courses.
I didn't get a chance to fully participate in the OpenLearning ’17 MOOC that started in January and runs into May 2017. It is connectivist and probably seems like an "Old School MOOC" in the 2017 dominated by the Courseras of the MOOC world. It is using Twitter chats, AMA, and Hangouts. You can get into the archives and check out the many resources.  It is a MOOC in which, unlike many courses that go by that label today, where the "O" for "Open" in the acronym is true. Too many MOOCs are really only MOCs.