Walled Gardens of Technology

Entrance to Walled Garden at Farmleigh

The term "walled garden" once only meant a literal garden that was enclosed by walls.  Though I tagged this post as "tech" and "Open Everything," this topic is not about things being open at all - which of course is a topic of those who discuss openness.

There are literal walled gardens in the world. These gardens are surrounded by walls to keep out animals, unwanted human visitors and in some places, the walls shelter the garden from wind and frost. They can also be decorative and there may be smaller walls within the walled perimeter. These days if you hear the term there is a good chance that it is a figurative walled garden which is a closed platform or closed technology ecosystem. Since we borrowed the term "ecosystem" from nature and have since created manmade ecosystems (or damaged natural ones), it makes sense that we turn botanical garden ecosystems into technology ecosystems.

A tech walled garden is a closed platform or closed technology ecosystem which is a software system wherein the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content, and/or media.With that control, they can restrict convenient access to non-approved applicants or content.

We contrast this with an open platform, wherein consumers generally have unrestricted access to applications and content.

Whether on the broader Internet or a smaller network, a walled garden is a restricted section that only approved users can access. I first encountered this in the earliest days of the Internet with the walled garden of the school nework where I taught. Their server granted access only to students and staff and even that larger walled garden had smaller walled sections withing delegated only to faculty or administration.

It all sounds like something safe - maybe even comfortingly safe. A walled garden can also refer to a closed or exclusive set of information services where a user is unable to leave the closed environment without the owner giving limited points of entry. One example of this comes from Apple’s hardware, software and services work. They work well together as long as you use Apple's devices and services. (see this Wall Street Journal video report)

The Apple walled garden is so closed that it has been targeted for antitrust scrutiny. The recent Epic vs. Apple case is an example of that. The Fortnite video game developer made the case that Apple's walled garden is a monopoly that forces developers to use Apple's in-app purchase system, which gives Apple a 30% cut of all sales.

Walled gardens - literal and figuartive, botanical and technological - have their purposes and will continue to exist, but it is very nice to see gardens and tech ecosystems that are open too.

Schoolhouse World

The organization schoolhouse.house hits a lot of things that I am interested in wth education. It is a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform on which anyone, anywhere can receive live help. It is no surprise that Sal Khan of Khan Academy is working with them (CEO) since the share similar goals.

The thing that sets schoolhouse.world apart from other free services (such as MOOCs) is that you can earn shareable certifications in the topics you learn about. You also have the option to become a tutor in the topics that you have mastered.

Their current focus is on high school math and SAT prep, with plans to expand to other areas soon. All the small-group tutoring sessions happen over Zoom. During the pandemic and learning from home by choice or necessity, this is surely something many of us felt there was a need for in the K-12 world.

But there is also a higher education connection. The University of Chicago is one institution supporting schoolhouse.world in their effort to connect high-quality peer tutors with students around the world. Those tutors also have the opportunity to showcase their contributions on their college applications.

Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions at the University, and Sal Khan joined a group of schoolhouse.world tutors on Zoom to discuss the new program and what it means for the future.

Says Khan, "It was wonderful to hear the stories of these amazing young people admitted to one of the top universities in the world based on their ability to certify their knowledge and tutor others! I suspect more colleges like University of Chicago will value this type of evidence soon."

I hope Sal's suspicion will be confirmed.

Redefining Open Access

Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
Open access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science, CC0, Link

My wife and I have co-authored an article on online education and how it has changed/developed in response to current crises and how we might look at the pandemic as a stress test for online learning. It will be in a special issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology on crises and possible solutions in higher education that will be published in January 2021, and it will be the one “open access” issue that Wiley allows AJES each year.

So, when I saw that Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer at The Chronicle, was writing in her newsletter about "What It Means to Be ‘Open Access’ Now" I was interested and thinking about how many of my colleagues don't know anything about Open Access unless they are publishing in journals.

I have been a longtime advocate of what I call "Open Everything" which is my umbrella term for many open efforts such as open textbooks, open-source software, MOOCs, etc. A typical definition of open access (OA) refers to free, unrestricted online access to research outputs such as journal articles and books. OA content is open to all, with no access fees. 

Why should a journal offer OA? A good example is OA in science. It addresses a basic value of science: to help advance and improve society by providing immediate and unrestricted access to the latest research. That can accelerate discovery and create a more equitable system of knowledge that is open to all.

Blumenstyk writes about keeping access to education open which has been an issue getting more attention during the pandemic.

"To be an open-access institution used to be pretty straightforward, if not easy: Keep tuition low and set admissions requirements forgiving enough to let students prove themselves even if they don’t seem — or aren’t — academically ready. In recent years, consciousness of students’ basic needs, including food and housing, has also grown. The pandemic has not only accelerated that, but also added new dimensions to the definition of “open access.” Now it means a lot more outreach, time on the telephone (yes, the telephone), and a willingness to bend some established academic and financial rules. That’s some of what I heard during a Chronicle virtual forum a few weeks ago on what’s needed for higher ed to be truly open access in this moment. Here are highlights and other insights that stuck with me from that discussion, as well as my takeaways from another panel on complex universities working together while operating remotely."

What struck Blumenstyk in the forum was that "supporting students’ basic needs has become fundamental to how colleges see their responsibilities" and that "'Right now, students’ economic worries outweigh their academic concerns, said Anthony Munroe, BMCC’s president. And as he put it, 'We have a moral obligation to meet the needs of our students.'”

It is great to see conversations about open access education. That is also an umbrella term in that the use of open textbooks, journals, and software is often the way to lower student costs and allow access to learners who are not traditional, enrolled learners.

As you have probably discovered from clicking links to articles in journals and publications (including The Chronicle) not all of them are free and open, even in some partially OQ publications. But there are some. All articles in open access journals that are published by Elsevier, for example, have undergone peer review and upon acceptance are immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download.  

Twenty years ago when I started in higher education and brought up open access to faculty, the most common question was "Why would I give away my [writing, software, courseware intellectual property] for free?" As with science, I could reply that "it's the right thing to do." But Open Access publications reduce permission requirements and eliminate price barriers for readers. In fact, many studies demonstrate that OA literature receives more citations than subscription publications and so get your name and ideas out into the world. 

Conversations about the traits of a resilient college and society before, during, and after this pandemic should include a lot of talk about open access. If this pandemic is truly a black swan event for higher education, then any successes in agility, flexibility, and resilience are critical to students, faculty, and institutions.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.