Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hiding Our/Their information

Just been working on an Open Educational Resources bid which is designed to establish a greater culture of sharing and change across our academic communities. As is often the case I observe some synchronicity in my experiences (actually an artefact, created by the focus of my attention, but here you go... )

Now I am someone who despairs at how off the shelf systems steer us to hiding information away. Let me give you a few examples...

Those who know me will remember that I believe that BlackBoard ( and indeed all such learning environments) is the tool of the devil.
Now I admit that part of this idea could come from blind prejudice, but
  • my experience as a tutor setting information up,
  • my experience as a user who gets frustrated using the system
so let's identify a few problems...

1) successive levels of indirection act as a barrier to use
  • its like sending students an extra long way round the campus to get to their lecture
  • its like making the academics spend an extra 15 minutes of admin each time they begin teaching
2) consistent look and feel is a barrier

  • its like making all the corridors and all the lecture theatres look identical,
  • we get confused, we get lost
3) dynamically allocating a different url to each instance of a document is a barrier
  • its like never letting anyone save their paperwork in their own folder to take home,
  • but forcing them to go to a special room whenever they want to take a look
  • ( oh and then making them go through some bizarre ritual before you hand the document over)
4 ) and did I mention that you can only look at a course if you are registered
  • you can't go back to look at a course notes for something you studied last year
  • a teacher can't go and take a look at colleagues notes
  • a student can't go and sit through a class which they are not actually registered for
its all a bit closed....

and then there is the university portal.. using that portal triggered this post.
I began of the arcane route which I had to take to find some notes for a special interest group.
  • login (annoyed already because they force you to change your password every six months)
  • got the the groups section (another click)
  • select the group (another click) - and the system decides to pop up a new window (when I want a new tab!)
  • another click neeeded to select my activity
but.... this is for the group only, and if I want to make my activities/information visible to the rest of the world
  • I have to create another copy, in another place, using another system
  • so any effort invested in the group site, and in the learning site, will have to be replicated for every different use
is there any sense in that?
  • its not findable by general engines
  • great for secret societies
  • not so good for things which benefit from being in the public domain)

compare the open systems I use, EPrints and EdShare.
  • OK, depositing information into the system is a bit arcane and could involve a few more steps than listed above
  • but don't begin to get me on the rigmarole of putting documents and information into Blackboard
once it is there
  • anyone can find it
  • it is indexed, findable and public
OK I can hear you thinking, so where is the synchronicity?

first off, I had been following a link on twitter this morning about user experience and found some insightful words on the A List Apart blog titled Look at it another way talking about how we should take the user perspective when designing systems.

and then, as I cycled home from work to catch up on my sleep after having submitted my bid JISC OER bid, what should I hear on the radio but James Boyle from Duke University being interviewed by Laurie Taylor on Thinking Allowed on the topic of copyright, digital commons, and all things open. Boyle is based at the Centre for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University, and has just published a new book titled The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.

There were a lot of fabulous ideas touched upon during this short interview, and you can get a sense of the breadth of what's covered by following up a few search result on for James Boyle book commons copyright duke university on google (like I did)

Inevitably I found myself muttering to Laurie, ' if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, copyright is like homosexuality. Ultimately, mass law breaking will lead to a change in the law'. It would be a miracle if publishers (of all types of media) did not try to defend their hegemony, but it does not mean that they will win.

But Boyle is a man who has made a career out of this study, and my trite comment is not backed up by his insight and understanding of the labrynthine realities of the law. In fact Boyle's title The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind is rather chilling, especially for us in the UK, who see how little of the commons persist, and observe how little of the commons' right have survived.

And his message was chilling too, for he argues that the exercise of ownership is a dead hand on creativity. ( ...and I think... and for post industrial societies, destroying our creativity is surely a route to our ultimate demise? )

And it is this reference to the blight on creativity which chimes most strongly with me when I think about what we do as academcs by locking up our intellectual resources. As an educationalist I think it is irresponsible not to make available to the widest possible community the outputs of my educational activities. Many times those resources may be fragments, better understood when they are situated with their context, the class, the duscourse. But they may have value, and surely I am being wasteful if I do not make them freely available.


steve said...

I am interested in the topics you cover but would suggest that you try to use a less jargon.

Anonymous said...

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