Critical Open Education Studies

I don’t know what to make of David Wiley’s latest blog post ‘MOOCs and Digital Diploma Mills: Forgetting Our History‘. I am astonished, to put it politely, that one of the leading thinkers in the Open Education movement is still sitting on the fence, despite having written about the proletarianisation of teaching in his early work. Of course David Noble’s critique of distance education (later expanded in a book) is applicable to open education. Noble’s concern about “the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property” is not remedied with the simple application of a Creative Commons license – if only it were that easy. Many academics are already free to choose how to distribute their scholarly work (this simplifies the traditional transferral of copyright to the journal publisher resulting in more effective impact of the institution’s outputs), but what Noble was concerned with was the systematic interference by institutions in the re-production of teaching and learning, which is what xMOOCs are undertaking. xMOOCs are capturing value in teaching and learning where it was previously shared at the whim and will of the individual teacher. In choosing to license content under a CC license, such institutions are converting an under-commons into a valorised commons.

David Noble died in 2010 and did not revise his views about distant education in light of the open education movement. I suggest that this is because his argument remains apposite for OER-based teaching and learning, too. The content may be ‘free’, but the teacher is drawn further into the valorisation process of the institution.

As can be seen by David Wiley’s significant number of articles relating to open education, the movement has had over a decade to reflect critically on itself, yet there remains a void of reflexive, critical work that attempts to develop the open education movement and protect it from threats such as those which Wiley draws out of Noble’s article. There is no doubt that the work of David Wiley and others to advocate open education and grow the movement is a sincere and important contribution to a notion of the ‘public good’, but the movement still remains largely inward looking and self-referential. It is dominated by learning developers and technologists who are necessarily focused on implementation and have little time, motivation or opportunity for critique.

Where are the scholarly papers that examine open education from the range of disciplines within the social sciences? What has open education demonstrably learned from the tradition of popular and critical pedagogy? How have the critiques of open source been applied to OER? Similarly, the movement has much to learn from critiques of P2P, but where is this critical, scholarly dialogue occurring?

In the UK, the OER movement has been tightly coupled to state (JISC/HEA) funding, which has now ended. I was the recipient of two grants in this programme of funding. The synthesis evaluation of #ukoer clearly presents the instrumental agenda of the programme. Related conferences are mostly one project after another attempting to demonstrate their ‘progress’ with robust critique almost entirely absent. My experience at Open Education 2010 was the same. Academics seeking funding are naturally keen to satisfy the expectations of their funders and the effect that these funding programmes have had on the fundamental direction of open education in the UK has yet to be critically examined. What would open education look like if we hadn’t taken the money? Similarly, in the US, state funding and, to a greater extent, philanthropic funding has steered how the movement has developed. Funding is provided based on the premise of open education’s public good and we feel obliged to demonstrate this. There is a history of state funding influencing the outputs of academia, what effect has it had on us?

Clearly if this work is being undertaken, I have not found it, and so I am hoping that others will join me in reviewing the existing critical literature so that we might identify what has been written and therefore what needs to be done. I have made three contributions in the last two years. The first paper, with Richard Hall, addressed the potential role of open education to sustain higher learning. The second, was a critique of the valorisation of institutional OER. The third, was a paper with Mike Neary, which critiqued the idea of ‘commons’. While I am trying to develop a critique of open education within the framework of a critique of political economy, I know that approaches from other disciplines within the social sciences will prove insightful and fruitful, too. My next paper will be a critical examination of the historical role of academia in the development of hacker culture (and therefore notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘openness’ that have returned to the university via the success of Creative Commons). I think much remains to be done to uncover the historical forces, structures and conditions that gave rise to open education. Without this, how can we understand ourselves?

I have looked for literature reviews of open education and found little that satisfies my requirements for texts that are critiques of open education. For example, Mendeley groups point to the usual plethora of blog posts, news articles, reports and project outcomes. A Google Scholar search is not encouraging either. In the apparent absence of ‘critical open education studies’, I hope that you will recommend papers that offer David and I robust critiques of open education, OER and related practices. I think that the development of this area of scholarship would demonstrate the maturity of the movement and protect it from manipulation, co-option and coercion in the future.

Open bid writing

Last week, I submitted a bid to JISC’s OER Rapid Innovation programme, proposing some work to turn BuddyPress profiles into both a consumer and producer application of open content. You can read the bid on Github. It’s the first time I’ve written a bid on Github, having previously use Google Docs to write bids that are publicly accessible during the bid writing process. With software development projects such as this latest one, it made sense to use the same source code repository that will be used to manage the project code as the bid writing process is an important part of the project’s history and code benefits from proper documentation, including in this case, a Use Case.  With the exception of having to format the text for the final PDF submission, it was a nice way to write the bid, too, working solely with a text editor and knowing that the documents were properly versioned and backed up on Github.

I see no benefit to writing bids such as this in private, other than hiding the process by which I write grant applications. The projects I propose and the outputs they generate are all open source and usually promote some variation of openness (open access/source/education/data), so why not start with the writing of the bid? Perhaps someone will be generous enough to contribute in some way or even learn something from being able to see the bids in their raw state. It also stakes a claim on the nature of the proposal, too and with a CC license, the idea is sufficiently ‘protected’.

Sometimes there is a lot at stake when proposing a project (e.g. people’s jobs) and, I’ll admit, I didn’t share the Orbital project bid as I was writing it. In hindsight, I don’t think it would have changed anything had I opened up the bid writing process on that occasion either.

It would be nice to write a bid using Github with a partner institution. There are tools which allow you to visualise the activity around the Github repository, which might be interesting to look at. Perhaps something might be learned about how academics undertake this part of their work. It is an exercise I seem to undertake several times a year and a reflective part of my work that I actually enjoy. I was also thinking that Etherpad would likewise be a nice tool to use for collaborative bid writing, because you can literally play back the entire authoring of the document. A version of Etherpad was developed at the DevXS conference, which uses Github as a back end, offering us the best of both worlds it seems. We run our own Etherpad-lite server here at Lincoln, so I should look at how we might integrate it with Github.

One aspect of this latest project proposal is that we work with Matt Gold and his team on the CUNY Commons In A Box project. Matt and I have talked in the past about collaborating on an open data project and this will be a nice rehearsal for something bigger that I hope we can work on together. On that occasion, Matt, we should write the bid together over Github ;-)

Misunderstanding capitalism and OER

David Wiley has just posted about Openness, Socialism and Capitalism. Comments are turned off on his blog, so I thought I’d reply here.

David’s post makes a good point: tax payer’s money that funds research, teaching and learning, should correspond to the tax payer being one of the recipients of the outcomes of research, teaching and learning; in other words, Open Access and Open Educational Resources. He refers to this as BOGO (‘Buy One, Get One’). To most readers, I think this will appear to be common-sense.

The problem I have with David’s post is this common-sense view that ‘capitalism’ and ‘markets’ are synonymous and that if the ‘flaws’ in the market were fixed, capitalism would serve tax payers well. David makes a common error in confusing capitalism with commerce. Capitalism is a historically specific method of organising social relations among people while commerce, which sometimes takes place in markets, existed prior to the development of capitalism in the 16th century.  I found Ellen Meiksins Wood’s book on the Origins of Capitalism very useful in understanding this point. The Monthly Review published a relevant chapter from the book which is a quick read. My point here is that in simple commerce or trade in non-capitalist societies, you might have expected to get a fair return on your money, but under capitalism, you should always expect to receive something worth less than you paid for it. I paid £400 for a TV, but I know that the cost of producing and selling that TV did not cost £400. Profit is extracted at every step in the production and exchange process, making my TV cost more to me than the actual cost of that TV. Under capitalism, we accept this for the private sector, but I think that David’s point is that publicly funded goods and services, such as educational outputs should be treated differently. I agree that seems fair.

David writes about a ‘fundamental social contract that allows markets to function’, giving the example of buying a pizza. A discussion around this ‘social contract’ can tell us more about capitalism than simply referring to ‘markets’. The ‘social contract’ refers to our shared understanding of the role of private property in society and an acknowledgement of the laws in place which protect private property. When the enforcement of social order breaks down in society or when someone exists in absolute poverty, this ‘social contract’ is often ignored and we call it looting or theft. In short, the ‘social contract’, although not an explicit written contract at the time of transaction, is underwritten in law and enforced through the role of the police and to a lesser extent other social institutions, such as education. Mark Neocleous has written a nice book about this called The Fabrication of Social Order, where he discusses the historical role of the police in enforcing ‘order’ (the functioning of private property and waged labour) in capitalist society.

The main point where I think David is mistaken is the expectation that under capitalism, epitomised by the functioning of markets, tax payers should expect to receive goods and services equal to the amount that is paid in taxes: you pay for a pizza and you get the whole damn pizza; you pay for education and you get full access to education. This makes sense but in my view is a naive view of the functioning of capitalism.

One of the defining features of capitalism is the extraction of ‘surplus value‘ from the work or labour that we are forced to undertake. The basic idea is that I work 8hrs/day but the value of the output of that work is worth more to my employer than the wage I am paid for 8hrs work. This is the basis for exploitation in capitalist society, which most of us participate in. We’re all aware that capitalism relies heavily on technology to improve the creation of surplus value out of labour (Meiksins Wood writes about the word ‘improve’ – very interesting and relevant to this discussion). Marx wrote about the shift from the formal subordination of labour to capital (the creation of a labour market in early stage capitalism) to the real subordination of labour to capital: the discipline of technology on labour and the transformation of the role of labour in the production process, which in turn effects a chain of social relations throughout society, from worker to shareholder. The important point here is to recognise that capitalism is not isolated to private trade or the markets but impacts all aspects of a capitalist society. It is a social totality subservient to the production of value.

Marx referred to two forms of surplus value. Absolute surplus value is basically the value created by extending the working day or cutting rest time, forcing people to work harder and other methods of discipline such as increased supervision. A situation of high unemployment can also lead to the creation of absolute surplus value because people are forced to work for less as wages are squeezed and workers have less bargaining power. However, there are obvious limits to the production of absolute surplus value: e.g. there are only 24hrs in the day, people get sick and even die if you work them too hard, workers organise into unions and can resist downwards pressure on wages. Relative surplus value is basically value created through efficiencies and innovation. Rather than extend the working day, efficiencies are introduced into the production process which ensure that labour does more work in the same time. These efficiencies can come about through better organisation of the production process and innovation through the use of technology, for example.

Having a basic understanding of surplus value, essential to capitalist accumulation, we can now situate the role of the tax payer and public services, such as education, in the production of surplus value. Marx made the distinction between productive and unproductive labour. This is a fairly simple distinction with widespread implications: Labour employed to produce surplus value directly is productive (i.e. labour directly involved in the production of commodities). All other labour is unproductive. This includes most government employees, managers in both private and public sectors, people involved in sales, finance, etc. In this view, most of my work for a publicly funded university is considered unproductive. However, unproductive labour, although not a direct source of surplus value, is still exploited by being paid less than the value of their wage. As Fine and Saad-Filho write in their excellent introduction to Marx’s Capital,

From the point of view of capital, unproductive sectors, for example retailing or banking, capture part of the surplus value produced in the economy (and, therefore, obtain the wherewithal to pay wages, other expenses and their own profits) through transfers from the value-producing sectors, via the pricing mechanism.

Although unproductive in the sense that this work is not directly involved in the production of commodities, it is still essential work in the economic reproduction of capitalist society, e.g. educating and training workers, keeping us in relatively good health so we remain productive, loaning us money to buy a house (because we are property-less) and selling us essential and non-essential commodities.

So, in this view, the publicly-funded education sector captures part of the surplus value produced in the economy (i.e. through taxes), and uses this value to maintain institutions for research, teaching and learning. What is of interest to me (and probably David), is that since Marx’s time, the appearance (though not the fundamental attributes) of a ‘commodity‘ has changed and the term now encapsulated a much broader range of ‘things’ than it did 150 years ago. I’ll leave a decent discussion about what a commodity really is for another day, but I want to note that Marx began Capital with that discussion and it forms the basic reference for much of his work on value and labour. Research papers and books sold by commercial academic publishers are commodities and I have argued elsewhere that OERs are being treated as commodities that may or may not create value for universities. So far, I am not aware of the production of OERs (involving the application of technology to labour) actually creating surplus value for an institution (MIT appear to be breaking even with the help of philanthropic grants). When we refer to ‘sustainability’ or the ‘business case’ for OERs, I think we’re talking about the potential to create value.

What’s particularly interesting to me is that the production of OERs through institutional means seems to be very much in line with capitalist production elsewhere and I agree with David that what Martin calls ‘big OERs‘, are ‘completely compatible with capitalism’. However, I don’t agree that OERs, because they are open, are ‘completely compatible with capitalism’. I don’t think openness has anything to do with it. The institutional production of OER is compatible with capitalism because it is clearly being situated within the overall production of surplus value for the institution. When we talk about the sustainability of OERs or business cases for the production of OERs, we’re talking about how to measure the value of this endeavour and usually this is through attracting external grants and raising the profile of the institution in some way.

So, where I disagree with David is the ‘common-sense’ expectation that tax payers should expect an equal return on the taxes we pay. From the point of view of capital, those taxes are potential surplus value that has been captured and transferred away from the direct capital accumulation process (M-C-M’ : Money is invested to produce Commodities that are sold in order to create Money and so on). From the point of view of capital, taxes are captured surplus value that are reinvested into the perpetuation of capitalist society, into educating workers, keeping us healthy and so on. Once these basic responsibilities are performed through the welfare state, capital will inevitably seek a return on this surplus value captured in taxation and seek to encourage the production of more surplus value wherever possible. e.g. selling publicly funded research outputs.

So, if David and I think it’s unfair that we don’t get a fair return on our taxes, it is no surprise really. It’s just a continuation of the exploitation that most of us are forced into under capitalism, where private property and waged labour are the organising principles of subsistence. In my view, a fair return on our taxes (or BOGO, as David calls it) through openness doesn’t ‘fix a disfunction in the market’; it is completely incompatible with a society where there is an imperative (partly through competition in the markets) to accumulate capital undertaken through the exploitation of working people, be they academics, housewives, students or car mechanics.

Conjuring value out of OpenCourseWare

I came across a post by David Wiley the other day, concerning MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative and it got me thinking about MIT and OER in general…

I would like to suggest that OER can be viewed as another example of the mechanisation of human work, which seeks to exploit a greater amount of collective abstract labour-power while reducing the input and therefore reliance on any one individual’s concrete contribution of labour. It’s important to understand what is meant by abstract labour and how it relates to the creation of value, which we’ll see is at the core of MIT’s OCW plans for sustainability. Wendling provides a useful summary of how technology is employed to create value out of labour.

Any given commodity’s value can be seen either from the perspective of use or from the perspective of exchange: for enjoyment consumption or for productive consumption. Likewise, any given worker can be seen as capable of concrete labor or abstract labor-power. Labor is a qualitative relation, labor-power its quantitative counterpart. In capitalism, human labor becomes progressively interchangeable with mechanized forces, and it becomes increasingly conceptualized in these terms. Thus, labor is increasingly seen as mere labor-power, the units of force to which the motions of human work can be analytically reduced. In capitalism, machines have labor-power but do no labor in the sense of value-creating activity.1

The use of technology in attempts to expand labour’s value creating power is central to the history of capitalism. From capitalism’s agrarian origins in 16th century England, technology has been used to ‘improve’ the value of private property. In discussing value, we should be careful not to confuse it simply with material wealth, which is a form of value expressed by the quantity of products produced.

Marx explicitly distinguishes value from material wealth and relates these two distinct forms of wealth to the duality of labor in capitalism. Material wealth is measured by the quantity of products produced and is a function of a number of factors such as knowledge, social organization, and natural conditions, in addition to labor. Value is constituted by human labor-time expenditure alone, according to Marx, and is the dominant form of wealth in capitalism. Whereas material wealth, when it is the dominant form of wealth, is mediated by overt social relations, value is a self-mediating form of wealth.2

MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative provides a good example of how Open Education, currently dominated by the OER commodity form, is contributing to the predictable course of the capitalist expansion of value. Through the use of technology, MIT has expanded its presence in the educational market by attracting private philanthropic funds to create a competitive advantage, which has yet to be surpassed by any other single institution. In this case, technology has been used to create value out of the labour of MIT academics who produce lecture notes and lectures which are then captured and published on MIT’s corporate website. In this process, value has been created for MIT through the application of science and technology, which did not exist prior to the inception of OCW in 2001. The process has attracted $1,836000 of private philanthropic funding, donations and commercial referrals. In 2009, this was 51% of the operating costs of the OCW initiative, the other 49% being contributed by MIT.3

In terms of generating material wealth for MIT, it is pretty much breaking even by attracting funds from private donors, but the value that MIT is generating out of its fixed capital of technology and workers should be understood as distinct from its financial accounts. Through the production of OERs on such a massive scale, MIT has released into circulation a significant amount of capital which enhances the value of its ‘brand’ (later I refer to this as ‘persona’) as educator and innovator. Furthermore, through the small but measurable intensification of staff labour time by the OCW initiative, additional value has been exorted from MIT’s staff, who remain essential to the value creating process but increasingly insignificant as individual contributors. As a recent update from MIT on the OCW initiative shows,4 following this initial expansion of “the value of OCW and MIT’s leadership position in open education” and with the private philanthropic funding that has supported it due to run out, new streams of funding based on donations and technical innovation are being considered to “enhance the value of the materials we provide.” As the report acknowledges, innovation in this area of education has made the market for OER competitive and for MIT to retain its lion’s share of web traffic, it needs to refresh its offering on a regular basis and seek to expand its educational market footprint. Methods of achieving this that are being discussed are, naturally, technological: the use of social media, mobile platforms and a ‘click to enroll’ system of distance learning. Never mind that the OERs are Creative Commons licensed, ‘free’ and, notably, require attribution in order to re-use them, the production of this value creating intellectual property needs to be understood within the “perpetual labour process that we know better as communication.”5 Understood in this way, the commodification of MIT’s courses occurs long before the application of  a novel license and distribution via the Internet. OCW is simply “a stage in the metamorphosis of the labour process”.6.

MIT’s statement concerning the need to find new ways to create value out of their OCW initiative is a nice example of how value is temporally determined and quickly falls off as the production of OERs becomes generalised through the efforts of other universities. Postone describes this process succinctly:

In his discussion of the magnitude of value in terms of socially-necessary labor-time, Marx points to a peculiarity of value as a social form of wealth whose measure is temporal: increasing productivity increases the amount of use-values produced per unit time. But it results only in short term increases in the magnitude of value created per unit time. Once that productive increase becomes general, the magnitude of value falls to its base level. The result is a sort of treadmill dynamic. On the one hand, increased levels of productivity result in great increases in use-value production. Yet increased productivity does not result in long-term proportional increases in value, the social form of wealth in capitalism.7

Seen as part of MIT’s entire portfolio, the contribution of OCW follows a well defined path of capitalist expansion, value creation and destruction and also points to the potential crisis of OER as an institutional commodity form, being the dimunition of academic labour, which is capitalism’s primary source of value, and the declining value of the generalised OER commodity form, which can only be counteracted through constant technological innovation which requires the input of labour. As Wendling describes, this is part and parcel of capitalism, to which OER is not immune.

Scientific and technological advances reduce the necessary contribution of living labor to a vanishing point in the production of basic commodities. Thus, they limit the main source of the capitalist’s profit: the exploitation of the worker. This shapes the capitalist use of science and technology, which is a use that is politicized to accommodate this paradox. In this usage, the introduction of new machinery has two effects. First, the machine displaces some workers whose functions it supplants. Second, the machine heralds a step up in the exploitation of the remaining workers. The intensity and length of their working days are increased. In addition, as machinery is introduced, capital must both produce and sell on an increasingly massive scale. Losses from living labor are recompensed by the multiplication of the small quantities of remaining labor from which value can be extorted. In all of these ways, capitalism and technological advancement, far from going hand in hand, are actually inimical to one another, and drive the system into crisis. In this respect, a straightforward identification of constantly increasing technicization with capitalism misses the crucial dissonance between the two forces.8

The example of MIT given above is not intended to criticise any single member of the OCW team at MIT, who are no doubt working on the understanding that the initiative is a ‘public good’ – and in terms of creating social wealth, it is a public good. My suggestion here is to show how seemingly ‘good’ initiatives such as OCW, also compound the social relations of capitalism, based on the exploitation of labour and the reification of the commodity form.

Furthermore, being the largest single provider of ‘Open Education’, MIT’s example can be carried over into a discussion of the Open Education movement’s failure to provide an adequate critique of the institution as a form of company and regulator of wage-work.

As Neocleous has shown,9 in modern capitalism the objectification of the worker as the commodity of labour serves to transform the company into a personified subject, with greater rights under, and fewer responsibilities to, the law than people themselves. As the university increasingly adopts corporate forms, objectives and practices, so the role of the academic as abstract labour is to improve the persona of the university. Like many other US universities, MIT award tenure to academics who are “one of the very tiny handful of top investigators in your field, in the world” thus rewarding but also retaining through the incentive of tenure, staff who bring international prestige to MIT.10  Through an accumulation of “top investigators”, effort and attention is increasingly diverted from individual achievement and reputation to the achievements of the institution, measured by its overall reputation, which is rewarded by increased government funding, commercial partnerships and philanthropic donations. This, in turn, attracts a greater number of better staff and students, who join the university in order to enjoy the benefits of this reward. Yet once absorbed into the labour process, these individuals serve the social character of the institution, which is constantly being monitored and evaluated through a system of league tables.

“…the process of personification of capital that I have been describing is the flip side of a process in which human persons come to be treated as commodities – the worker, as human subject, sells labour as an object. As relations of production are reified so things are personified – human subjects become objects and objects become subjects – an irrational, “bewitched, distorted and upside-down world” in which “Monsieur le Capital” takes the form of a social character – a dramatis personae on the economic stage, no less.”11

To what extent the Open Education movement can counteract this personification of educational institutions and the subtle objectification of their staff and students, is still open to question, although the overwhelming trend so far is for OER to be seen as sustainable only to the extent that it can attract private and state funding, which, needless to say, serves the reputational character (a significant source of value, according to Neocleous) of the respective universities, as institutions for the ‘public good’. Yet, as Postone has argued, the creation of this temporally determined form of value is achieved through the domination of people by time, structuring our lives and mediating our social relations. The increased use of technology is, and always has been, capitalism’s principle technique of ‘improving’ the input ratio of labour-power measured abstractly by time, to the output of value, which is itself temporal and therefore in constant need of expansion. And so the imperative of conjuring value out of labour goes on…

  1. Amy Wendling (2009) Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. p. 104 []
  2. Postone (2009), Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory in History and Heteronomy: Critical Essays, The University of Tokyo Centre for Philosophy, p. 40 []
  3. See David Wiley’s blog post on MIT’s financial statement []
  4. OpenCourseWare: Working Through Financial Changes []
  5. Söderberg, Johan (2007) Hacking Capitalism. The Free and Open Source Software Movement, p. 72 []
  6. Soderberg, 2007, p. 71 []
  7. Postone, 2009, p. 40 []
  8. Wendling 2009, p.108 []
  9. Neocleous, Mark (2003) Staging Power: Marx, Hobbes and the Personification of Capital []
  10. Unraveling tenure at MIT []
  11. Neocleous, 2003, p. 159 []

Open Education and Sustainability

I’ve just given a 15 minute presentation as part of a session on ‘sustainable practice in OER‘. My slides are below. I’ve presented as one of a number of speakers on this subject before, discussing the more obvious ideas around sustainability that have arisen from leading the ChemistryFM project. I didn’t really go over them again today, preferring to think about sustainability in the wider social context and beyond the specific outcomes of our project.

A few ideas that we, in the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), are working on and leading at the University of Lincoln, are included in the slides below, but I’d like to highlight them here so you don’t miss (or dismiss) them based on the outline in my presentation.

The main message about sustainability that I tried to push across in the presentation is that for OER and Open Education in general to be sustainable, we need sustainable societies and a sustainable planet. These are, arguably, not sustainable in their current form, so how can Open Education both contribute to sustainability in general and therefore become sustainable in itself as a paradigm of education?

Following Prof. Mike Neary’s lead in my department, I suggested that the ideas of ‘student as producer’, ‘pedagogy of excess’ and ‘teaching in public’ are attempts to not only change education at the university so that it is sustainable (among having other positive attributes), but can also be usefully adopted by advocates of open education and help develop a wider framework of sustainability for the ‘revolutionary’ changes in education which proponents of Open Education keep referring to.

Under those three headings, I have highlighted a couple of other ideas worth engaging with by ‘open educators’. They are ‘mass intellectuality’ and ‘commonism’, both of which have been developed in the area of political critical theory. The best thing to do if you’re interested in these terms, is to follow the links in the presentation, some of which I also include below.

There’s no certainty that any of this will achieve our goals of sustainability, but personally I am satisfied that it is a practical and intellectually rigorous direction to pursue with all the critical energy I can manage.

On ‘Student as Producer’ see the book chapter that Mike and I wrote and read about how this is starting to be developed as a core principle and practice at the University of Lincoln.

On ‘Pedagogy of Excess’, Mike and Andy Hagyard, who also works here in CERD, have a book chapter due out in September. If you want to read a draft, I’m sure they will oblige, so please do ask.

On ‘Teaching in Public’, I have a few notes from a presentation, and we have just got the go ahead from the publisher, Continuum, to write a book on this subject, which all members of CERD are contributing to. I will be writing about Teaching in Public in the context of open education, thinking about Burawoy’s statement that “students are a teacher’s first public”.

On ‘mass intellectuality’, we write about it in the Student as Producer chapter (see above), but are drawing on a history of this terms’ development in political critical theory. Most sources seem to lead back to Negri and Hardt, which draws on the work of autonomism, which has developed Marx’s ideas around the ‘general intellect’. I would strongly recommend Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, for a good discussion on both the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, especially how it might relate to open education. We drew on this book for our book chapter.

On ‘commonism’, again, see this article by Nick Dyer-witheford, where he attempts to elaborate the idea. I think that those who are advocates of ‘the commons’ and P2P might like the ideas that are developing around ‘commonism’.

Finally, here are today’s slides:

Towards a manifesto for sharing

One of the conclusions I’ve come to over the course of the ChemistryFM project is that sharing doesn’t need institutionalising. I don’t think we need to develop policy and processes for sharing the work we do. I’ve been drafting the final report for the ChemistryFM project this week and have written that “the overall approach taken throughout the project was to not treat it as a project.” Basically, despite being Project Manager, I’ve just let the teachers and students get on with the work we said we’d do and prompted them simply to remind them of obligations we have to finishing the project on time.

The idea of formalising the process of sharing teaching and learning materials is something I’ve found myself increasingly resisting throughout the project. Academics don’t need more constraints on their working practices, they need less. They need more freedom to share and a hand in doing so when they’re hesitant about how best to share their work; they need support when they’re unclear about how to license their resources.

I’ve been reminded of a paper by David Noble where he argues that universities are responsible for “the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property.” He goes on to bemoan

the commoditization of the educational function of the university, transforming courses into courseware, the activity of instruction itself into commercially viable proprietary products that can be owned and bought and sold in the market. In the first phase the universities became the site of production and sale of patents and exclusive licenses. In the second, they are becoming the site of production of — as well as the chief market for — copyrighted videos, courseware, CD–ROMs, and Web sites.

Of course, the OER movement is in part a reaction to this very commoditisation of education and an effort to counter the transformation of courses into commercial courseware.

I worry though that by institutionalising OERs, we’re producing constraints that go against sharing. Scaling up the production of OERs to an institutional level where sharing is considered in terms of an IP Policy, business case, marketing and ‘best practice’ will kill the potential that already exists to share. We have the Internet, we have the licenses, we have an abundance of resources to share. We don’t even need to measure success in terms of resources shared. Rather, we should be measuring the success of the OER movement by our willingness to resist the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital. To justify OERs in terms of a business case is just another way of creating capital out of immaterial labour.

In terms of our contribution to the academic commons we’ve already argued that the teacher-student relationship needs to be defined by an alternative organising principle where the student is a co-producer in the construction of mass intellectuality.

this requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced… creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons.

When there’s equity between teacher and student, then sharing will come naturally, it will be unstoppable and grow exponentially. When teaching and learning materials are evaluated, packaged, branded, standardised and archived, they’re turned into learning objects consumed by objectified ‘learners’. That is, if they ever get as far as becoming learning objects as each step in their production is another barrier to sharing.

Scott Leslie has got it right when he says, “if you want to share, you will”. If we help create a desire, (a compulsion is what I feel), to share in both teacher and student academics, then any existing barriers will be irrelevant. We do that, not by institutionalising sharing, but by showing the humanity in sharing; the joy of giving and receiving; the immaterial wealth of knowledge that already exists and the pleasure of creating social relations that resist the organising principle of private property and wage labour.

I’m currently reading Do It Yourself. A handbook for changing our world. It’s basically a book about taking direct action. There’s a section in there on ‘popular education‘, which I think the current debate around the institutionalisation of OERs, as clearly seen from the comments and pingbacks on Scott’s post, could learn from. It’s written by the Trapese Collective, and walks through the key aspects of popular education:

  1. A commitment to transformation and solidarity
  2. Learning our own histories and not his-story
  3. Starting from daily reality
  4. Learning together as equals
  5. Getting out of the classroom
  6. Inspiring social change

There’s no emphasis on technology or networks or even the conscious act of sharing. The emphasis is on grounding education in the reality of our social relations, the struggle of daily life, the hierarchical relations between institutions and people, and between academics and students. The desire for autonomy is also a desire to re-instate the commons, to break the enclosures that currently inhibit sharing. The conscious act of sharing is both a move to resist oppression and a drive towards autonomy. After all, we share our work in education so that one-day we might become free through education, don’t we?

The title of this post is ‘towards a manifesto for sharing’. If we were to write such a manifesto, what would it contain? Feel free to start writing it in the comment box below. Thanks.

Pencils and Pixels: Publishing OERs using WordPress (and EPrints)

I’ve spent much of today trying to finish off a site for anyone interested in learning how to sketch.  Pam Locker, a Principle Teaching Fellow and lecturer on the Design for Exhibitions and Museums degree, had produced (with her colleagues) ten, good quality videos on learning how to sketch and wanted to make them widely available. We discussed Creative Commons licensing and how we might publish them on the web and, well, this is what I’ve ended up with… For me, it’s a kind of rehearsal for the HEA/JISC-funded Chemistry.fm project.

[As I write, I've still got to upload a couple of videos and podcasts, but it's complete enough to discuss here].

Pencils and Pixels

http://pencilsandpixels.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/

All the original materials are in our Institutional Repository (IR). <– that’s the direct link which you might want to have a squint at. Although the IR transcodes video for preview on the web, we weren’t satisfied with the quality of the web versions for display on the WordPress site. Due to the nature of the content, it’s important to be able to see considerable detail on the screen and so we looked around for third-party hosting that would accept 50 mins+ videos at 2Mbps each. I ended up opting for a Vimeo Pro account.

So, at this point, we have all the original source materials in the IR, as well as copies of the high quality videos on Vimeo which we could use to embed on a WordPress site. From the IR, you can preview and download the videos as well as download all the accompanying support materials as a .zip file.

The WordPress site consists of fourteen pages. One Overview page, is a parent page for all ten videos and their related resources. It’s basically a map of resources linking to the individual files in the IR. There’s also a License page and a page with information on how to Download all the OERs. In addition to the license page, I’ve added the CC license code to the theme footer. This could have been achieved with a plugin but I just hard coded it in the theme. The site also has the Dublin Core for WordPress plugin (actually, it’s activated across all blogs on our WPMU platform – hell, why not!) and the OAI-ORE plugin for WordPress is activated, too. I wrote about these plugins recently and following a comment from Andy Powell, updated the DC4WP plugin to reflect current standards.

Because much of the content is constructed using WordPress pages and not posts, I also used the RSS includes pages plugin, which does exactly that. Then, I adjusted the publish dates of all the pages so that they are included in the RSS feed in the right order.  Actually, ‘right order’ is questionable here. I’ve opted to publish them backwards so that when someone subscribes to the feed they get the course dumped in their reader in one go, with the first video first. By default, they would be in reverse order and I guess Tony Hirst would say that’s a better way of doing it and I should use his daily feed plugin to drip feed the OERs. Ack! I dunno. Personally, I like the way you can click on the feed and get the entire resource ordered correctly in Google Reader :-) Go on, tell me what I should do…

OERs in Google Reader

In addition to the embedded video, I also created versions of the videos for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I used WordPress posts for this because you can add categories to posts and from the category, you get a nice feed which can be subscribed to separately from the main feed (which also includes the video podcasts). I added a clearly visible link to the video podcasts on the front page and a link on the Download page.  The main feed and the podcast feed are both auto-discoverable.

As well as these feeds, I also created an XML/RDF block of links in the sidebar to advertise to geeks the OAI-ORE Atom resource map and other stuff. A bit pointless, but you might like to have a look.

I also thought that it might be nice to watch the videos using Boxee. The site RSS feed doesn’t really work (you can’t control the embedded video), but there’s a Vimeo app for Boxee that can be used to subscribe to any particular user’s videos. This works nicely, although if I start using the account for other, unrelated videos, it’s going to get cluttered. I guess you could run a search for ‘Pencils and Pixels’ which would only pick up the videos we want. I need to think about Boxee and other broadcasting applications a bit more. I’d be interested to know how you might have approached this project differently.

Pencils and Pixels on Boxee

UPDATE: I forgot to add (maybe because it’s just so trivial with WordPress), that the Pencils and Pixels site also has the Media RSS and WPtouch plugins activated. It will look really nice on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry and maybe other phones, too. The MediaRSS plugin should allow me to embed media in the RSS feed. I wonder whether it can improve the Podcast feed but I think that by default, it’s only set up to work on images. I’ll work on it. I’ve also used FeedBurner to enhance the podcast feed. The nice thing about this is that you can quickly prepare the feed for submitting to iTunes, which I’ve done and it should appear in the next few days. A direct download link for iTunes is here ;-) UPDATE: Here is the approved iTunes link.

iTunes

The FolkSemantic Widget for OER discovery

I like this. A widget that analyses the content of your web page and suggest related Open Educational Resources (OERs), using FolkSemantic, a collaborative website that allows you to “browse and search over 110,000 OERs”. You can see the widget in the sidebar of this blog under the heading of ‘Related Educational Resources’ –>

So, if I dump a load of text relating to ‘physics’, say, you should see physics-related OERs… Does it work? :-) Some random tests on other blog posts, suggests it is a bit hit and miss, but is certainly matching some OERs to the content. I wonder if we could use this approach to find related documents on the JISCPress project?

Physics (Greekphysis – φύσις meaning “nature“) is a natural science; it is the study of matter[1] and its motion through spacetime and all that derives from these, such as energy and force.[2] More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the world and universe behave.[3][4]

Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines, perhaps the oldest through its inclusion of astronomy.[5] Over the last two millennia, physics had been considered synonymous with philosophychemistry, and certain branches of mathematics and biology, but during the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century, it emerged to become a unique modern science in its own right.[6] However, in some subject areas such as in mathematical physics and quantum chemistry, the boundaries of physics remain difficult to distinguish.

Physics is both significant and influential, in part because advances in its understanding have often translated into new technologies, but also because new ideas in physics often resonate with the other sciences, mathematics and philosophy.

For example, advances in the understanding of electromagnetism led directly to the development of new products which have dramatically transformed modern-day society (e.g., television, computers, and domestic appliances); advances in thermodynamics led to the development of motorized transport; and advances in mechanics inspired the development of calculus.

Physics covers a wide range of phenomena, from the smallest sub-atomic particles, to the largest galaxies. Included in this are the very most basic objects from which all other things are composed, and therefore physics is sometimes said to be the “fundamental science”.[7]

Physics aims to describe the various phenomena that occur in nature in terms of simpler phenomena. Thus, physics aims to both connect the things we see around us to root causes, and then to try to connect these causes together in the hope of finding anultimate reason for why nature is as it is.

For example, the ancient Chinese observed that certain rocks (lodestone) were attracted to one another by some invisible force. This effect was later called magnetism, and was first rigorously studied in the 17th century.

A little earlier than the Chinese, the ancient Greeks knew of other objects such as amber, that when rubbed with fur would cause a similar invisible attraction between the two. This was also first studied rigorously in the 17th century, and came to be calledelectricity.

Thus, physics had come to understand two observations of nature in terms of some root cause (electricity and magnetism). However, further work in the 19th century revealed that these two forces were just two different aspects of one force – electromagnetism. This process of “unifying” forces continues today (see section Current research for more information).

Physics uses the scientific method to test the validity of a physical theory, using a methodical approach to compare the implications of the theory in question with the associated conclusions drawn from experiments and observations conducted to test it. Experiments and observations are to be collected and matched with the predictions and hypotheses made by a theory, thus aiding in the determination or the validity/invalidity of the theory.

Theories which are very well supported by data and have never failed any competent empirical test are often called scientific laws, or natural laws. Of course, all theories, including those called scientific laws, can always be replaced by more accurate, generalized statements if a disagreement of theory with observed data is ever found [8].1

  1. Source: Wikipedia []