Everything Online Is Not Open

open access
 Open Access promo buttons - photo by biblioteekje, on Flickr

Here's my point upfront: Not everything online is open. 

This is the story of an image and a blog post that are mine and that have found their way online in other places. 

I post a lot of things online - mostly articles and images. Almost all of that is marked with a Creative Commons License. That means that with few restrictions you can use and reuse the resources. This blog is labeled in that way.

CC license

But the Open Everything movement of the past three decades has created a generation and an incorrect assumption that everything online is open.   

I found a photo of mine that I had used online in another place. It was the two Buddhas image shown here and I found it on a well-respected Buddhist journal website.

It also shows up in other places. One simple Google image search turned up 10 instances of it being used and it can also be found on other sites. I'm actually pleased to see it used and properly attributed for others to see.  

Buddha phone latte

The really important distinction is that in the case of the Tricycle journal using the photo (as you can see above), they have credited me and linked to their source which is my Flickr site. That "attribution" is part of the CC license I used. That is the way open is supposed to work. Other people have reused the image (which I did clearly mark for reuse) too but without attribution. And others after them have then reused it having no idea where the image originated and whether or not it is open for their reuse. (Another Flick example is at the top of this post.)

I have also seen other mages of mine used in places online without attribution. In some cases, they were images I did NOT license as open (such as an image on Instagram or Facebook). I'm not a professional photographer who makes a living from my images, but there are people who are and obviously this is a critical issue for them. Watermarking images, disabling right-click downloading and using smaller, lower-quality files are some ways they might try to prevent copying. But it's so easy to grab a screenshot of anything online that it's impossible to fully prevent it. Plus, you have to spend a lot of time tracking down where your images are being used and pursue misusers.

When I use free and open images from others (Google allows for that kind of search and there are many sites such as pixabay.com), I still doublecheck to see whether I need to attribute a creator or site. On that popular image sharing site, they have a Pixabay License and it also states when you download an image that it is is "Free for commercial use. No attribution required," there is an opportunity for you to give attribution. I always tag the image name with "pixabay" and I usually will still give credit. For one thing, I want others that see it and know that it's not my work and that they too can legitimately use it. The site tells you that "Crediting isn’t required, but linking back is greatly appreciated and allows image authors to gain exposure." You can also "tip" the creator with a donation. Pixabay, Wikimedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others will give you the correct code to use for attribution and perhaps even for embedding. An example is at the bottom of this post.

I have Google Alerts set for lots of words and phrases. For example, I get updates about the appearance of my name, Serendipty35, and serendipity35.net appearing n the web and I check out the sites. It's always nice to see someone linking to the blog or mentioning me in a positive fashion. It is a lot less appealing to find posts plagiarized and in a few cases, the entire posts feed being fed into some other site as its content.

As an educator for 40+ years, I have always included lessons in the proper use and citation of sources for all kinds of intellectual property. It's a lot more difficult since the Internet came into being because the copying is so much faster and easier. Educating users in and out of school and of all ages about the proper use of reusing content is a lesson that should never end.

open sign pixabay

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

An Open and Shut Educational Case

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

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "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. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.

Creative Commons Certificate Course

In response to the growing use of Creative Commons (CC) licenses globally and the corresponding need for open licensing expertise, CC offers the CC Certificate course.

The CC Certificate trains people in copyright, open licensing and the ethos of working with our global, shared commons using CC licenses. The program is an investment in educators and advocates of open movements, offering a way to build and strengthen their open licensing and “commons” expertise.

This course is open to everyone, from university students and entry-level professionals to experts in the fields of library science and education (more fields forthcoming).

cc certs

The Certificate is a community development program, investing in people like you, who work in and advocate for open movements and the Commons. The CC Certificate powers you with the knowledge to better advise your institution on creating and engaging with openly licensed works. You will learn how to adapt and innovate on existing openly licensed materials–keeping your institution’s knowledge base relevant and up to date. You will also learn how to best support learners accessing a wider array of open knowledge resources. Finally, the Certificate equips you with skills needed to meet open licensing requirements increasingly present in government and foundation grants and contracts.

To learn more about the course, visit certificates.creativecommons.org

The Online Learning Perfect Storm

online learnerAwhile back, edX CEO Anant Agarwal wrote in Forbes "How Four Technologies Created The 'Perfect Storm' For Online Learning." The four technologies are cloud computing, video distribution at scale, gamification, and social networking. A commentary by Stephen Downes doesn't question the impact these four have had on online learning, but he does question Agarwal's claim that each is a part of edX.

For example, he notes that the claim that "social networking" is present is because it uses a discussion board. That is certainly a stretch. For gamification he cites "simulation-based games, virtual labs, and other interactive assignments," none of which is integral to edX.

Downes considers the article "lightweight" but though there may not be a perfect storm it is worth noting the impact of those four things beyond edX.

Cloud computing has allowed exponential scalability in many sectors including online learning. Online learning platforms (Does anyone say learning management systems anymore?) became more responsive and faster.

Scalability was certainly key to the emergence of MOOCs. When some colleges tried their own MOOC offerings they realized that they couldn't handle the jump from courses with 25 or 100 students to ones with thousands of students. Of curse, even if you are still offering smaller online courses, the cloud allows all students to benefit from faster, more responsive platforms.

Video has been a part of online learning for 40 years if you go back to ITV, videotapes, CDs and DVDs. Broadbandallowed video to stream and sharing and distribution really hit about the same time as MOOCs were starting to gain initial momentum. YouTube and Vimeo allowed some smaller institutions a way to distribute high-quality videos.

When I was at NJIT, I got the university to sign on in 2007 as one of the first of 16 universities to use Apple's iTunes U. That gave us a much larger presence in online learning. I wrote about it extensively on this blog. But iTunes U didn't grab the market share the way MOOCs and YouTube did. The interface was not friendly to universities or to users. You don't hear it mentioned much by educators now and I doubt that it will exist in 2020.

iTunes U was important for sharing university lectures and some supporting documents. It was more open than what we would expect from Apple because the content was opened up by the institutions (colleges and also educational institutions like museums). I consider it an early tool in the MOOC movement. 

Gamification has been a buzzword for a long time, but it still hasn't made its way into most learning platforms by for-profits or in colleges. There's no doubt that instant feedback and more active engagement in the learning process produces better success, but I find faculty still back off at the word gamification. Some of that fear or disdain is because they associate it with videogames and gaming sounds less "educational." This is a misconception, but one that has persisted. I always used to say that just say "simulation" instead of gamification and you'll get more buy-in from faculty. Sometimes that worked.

Simulations that use game strategies and components can be used in virtual labs and many interactive activities, knowledge checks (graded or not) and assignments in order to promote higher-order thinking tasks such as design, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The "fun factor" shouldn't be ignored although that is part of the hesitation from faculty. There is this sadly persistent idea that learning is supposed to be difficult and not fun.

Social networking came on strong in the era of Web 2.0. Today it comes in for a lot of criticism. I believe that many educators who were using Twitter, Facebook and other social sites in their teaching have backed away. part of that is the criticism and privacy issues on such sites and part of it is that there are some tools built into platforms that allow for a more private social experience. However, posting your thoughts in an LMS for the rest of the class really doesn't duplicate or approach the experience of posting it online for a large part of the world. Twitter boasts 330 million monthly active users (as of 2019 Q1) and 40 percent (134 million) use the service on a daily basis (Twitter, 2019).    The chance to interact and possibly collaborate across the globe is no small thing.

What will create the next perfect storm in online learning? Agarwal suggests that the next four high-impact technologies will be AI, big data analytics, AR/VR and robotics.