Recently I was asked to speak to a group of student leaders at the Washington State Legislative Academy, and I wanted to give them some advice on how to talk to old people—haters my age—about open educational resources. I decided to use an example that would be hard for a millennial to imagine mixed with a short history lesson.
I got asked to do this, btw, because all of the cool OER kids were at OpenEd 2014 and some folks in the SBCTC system recommended me. Thank you, friends, it was so fun and I floated for days.
Here’s my presentation wiki http://bit.ly/1uO5ZbY
Here’s what I told the students as a way to contextualize Open Education and the rising cost of textbooks. I started with an anecdotal history lesson:
It’s 1986. Say somebody liked you, but this person was kind of shy so he or she would spend hours, and I mean hours, making a mix tape. (Point to cassette tape on screen). By recording songs from records, the radio, other tapes, or other mixed tapes, he or she would make the perfect collection of songs. Just for you.
In the 80s, this was kind of a standard declaration of love. In the 90s, this same idea was transferred to making a mixed CD from computer files. Not the same time investment, mind you, but still sweet.
To this day, when I hear certain songs, I half expect to hear the next song from a lost mix tape from long, long ago. I still hear the squeaks and bad edits from loves that I lost.
I discovered this idea reading Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape. He uses a collection of mix tapes to work his way through unimaginable grief. It got me thinking, so to speak.
The reusing, revising, remixing of those songs created something new. Just for me.
And everyone I knew did this style of copying once cassette recorders became widely available. If you are person of a certain age, I bet you used this song on a least one tape:
I told the future student leaders that we–oldsters my age–bootlegged to create crappy versions of records onto cheap cassettes. Before file sharing online, before iTunes and such, this was how you shared music. I thought if the kiddies could point that out to the haters this bit of history then they might be able to contextualize open education. Appeal to your elders’ nostalgia and see what happens, I advised.
I’ve also been thinking about how to support my 10 faculty members who are a part of my Alternative Textbook Committee (we didn’t use OER because nobody knew/knows what that means). The hardest part of integrating OER into your course is getting over the idea that you have to write everything yourself. Last year, we had several meltdowns that I’d like to avoid. I’m also thinking about ways somebody would teach newbies how the SFWH works.
The faculty I worked with are currently featured on Open Washington. When I first listened to their interviews, I was so proud of them, I cried. Boyoung Chae at the state board made this happen so quickly I’m constantly in awe of this woman. Our committee was the best thing I helped make happen in 2014.
So. This year, I want the experience to be better. Last night, thanks to greater-than-average-sugar-consumption, I couldn’t sleep. So I finally got to watching some of Ward Cunningham’s videos about the SFW.
And then this one:
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Hey loser, shouldn’t you have done that before you went into the SFWH? And if you’re one of the 6,000 people who have watched one of these videos, you may have a strong urge to punch me.
Fair criticism. Hear me out:
I’m very sincere when I say I wanted to experience the frustration of Not Getting It. Of what it’s like to sit in front of something you really want to use, but you Don’t Get It. And you’re a bit terrified of looking like an impostor if you ask too many questions.
You really want to get to the writing and the ideas, but you can’t get to that because you don’t understand the medium.
Experiment successful, folks, it’s frickin’ terrifying. (Pardon my non-academic speak).
People who work with technology—whatever the technology might be—usually have a common spirit of wanting to just getting our hands dirty. We enjoy the challenge. As my friend/colleague Chris Soran says, with a sparkle of excitement and a bit of giggle, “Let’s break it so we can understand how to fix it. “
Only we work with people who don’t enjoy the process. They just want to get to The It.
Here’s an example of what it’s like to work with a teacher or a student who does not have basic computer literacy yet she is trying to use an LMS. (And this is not a joke, nor is this an exaggeration). She calls with problem with our current LMS. She’s using the LMS to store files—handouts—for students who can’t make it to class. Or she’s a student trying to access those files because she missed class. Something has gone wrong.
Me: Okay, let’s start with your browser. What browser are you using?
Me: Thanks for calling me, and I can help if I know how you got online. Did you click on the blue E to get to the Internet?
Confused LMS user: I’m not sure.
Me: Okay. What about the one that looks like a fox with its tail on fire? Yes, kind of the Hunger Games logo, you’re right. Good.
Confused LMS user: I don’t think so. I just click on whatever the Best Buy guy set up so I can get to the Internet.
Me: Okay, I understand. What about clicking on a circle that’s several colors? Did that get you to the Internet?
By then, she is about to cry. Her voice is getting shaky. I can hear kids screaming in the background. Or phones ringing. I tell her, click on the X to shut down your browser—or the window that takes you to the Internet.
We start all over. This person may have had an hour in her day to work on The Thing. And we we wasted half of it because she doesn’t understand basic computer literacy.
I haven’t been in this space in a very long time, and I’m by no means a know-everything-there-is-to-know kind of computer geek. The SFWH made me feel pretty clueless, but I enjoy the process of trying to understand it. And now I’m thinking of ways to explain how it works to other people. I think I have a better grasp on it, but I still have a lot to learn.
So in Video 1 starting from minute 7:00, Ward demonstrates what I bumbled around and tried to teach myself. I wasted 90 minutes of Mike’s time trying to learn what Ward says in those six minutes. (Substitute any techie language for ideas or writing, and it will make more sense, I promise.)
Yes, Ward, “The opportunities are fabulous.”
In video 2, he talks about “wanting to support a community.” So at minute 7:46 , Ward explains his philosophy. He says, “We can all be unique but we can still make choices together.” That’s the forking, DUH! Helloooooo!
Earlier in the talk he mentions that in the blogosphere there are voices on opposite sides of the spectrum and wiki-pedia forces a kind of middle-ground among those voices. The SFWH respects all of the voices by creating what he calls a harmony. He then describes why he made the pages smaller—so it’s easier to see other people’s work.
Suddenly Mike’s presentation at NW eLearn and his blog posts make a bit more sense. The ideas get sharper—more focused for me. During Mike’s presentation, btw, I was in a group with a lovely woman who kept asking me questions about other things. And I was grouped with three people who didn’t know how wikis worked. So I had to go back to his blog and reread his slides because one of my history faculty members was in the front of the room, and she thought the idea just rocked.
She and I spent the previous night talking about how she struggles to get student buy-in working in a STEM-focused program. Two of the Humanities teachers in the program whom I know very well are dynamite teachers, but they struggle against the current cultural of STEM worship that has tricked the students into thinking that the Humanities work takes them away from the REAL work. Working in the SFWH would help them see connections easier. Clearer. Faster. They also work with longitudinal data from previous cohorts, so it would be easier for the students to see what their predecessors did. And how their current work connects to the big project in oceanography. If I could have a SFW, this program is my first choice not because I admire their work, but because they need something like this.
I see so much potential for interdisciplinary programs and OER—I’m so excited I could just spit.
Which bring me back to The Thing–I need a way to explain the SFWH. But I also need to prepare for my Alternative Textbook Committee. Starting Winter quarter, I will co-facilitate our meetings. My co-chair is working on building material for his own class, so I want to do the bulk of the work to prepare for our meetings.
So here’s my stab for today–it might change tomorrow. I’m trying to use this blog to outline what I’m learning, so that maybe it will help somebody in my neighborhood.
Let’s use music as analogy. Only I want you to think about the words not the music. Instead of using the lyrics, I’ll use videos of songs. It will be faster, and more enjoyable I hope.
Here’s a clip of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs singing “Old Salty Dog Blues.” This is an American folk song from the 1900s, and the oldest version I could find the YouTubes. In SFW, this would be one page.
And hot diggity that’s some awesome banjo:
Here’s page 2 created by somebody else: Doc Watson’s version from a documentary. I remember hearing him say that Flatt and Scruggs influenced him. Watson’s version–or page 2–is slightly different but it’s the same song. It’s his yet it’s somebody else’—all at the same time.
And check out the folks dancing in this video. I am totally busting those moves on New Year’s Eve! Those cats know how to party—check out the skirt on Doc’s daughter and the champion step dancer’s shoes. Pay attention to how he breaks it down at the end–style, my friends, is dying art.
Page 3: Now check out Cat Power’s version from her Covers Record. Some critics really diss on her for this album because it’s not original (not the album title, Geniuses). I beg to differ—I think it’s such a creative album. She makes all of these songs her very own.
I might have a hard time stepping to this tune, but I love Cat Power’s version all the same. Just for another reason. I don’t always feel like stepping. Just like I don’t always feel like forking.
So, like Ward says in either Video 1 or 2, the act of copying is creative. The forking—or the copying—is an act of creativity. Cover bands are very popular, people practice by imitating songs they love—that’s how they learn how to play. Art students practice by imitation. Knitters follow patterns created by somebody else. Cooks follow recipes written by others.
There are countless examples of imitation as art—but for some reason—we don’t extend that creative right to the written word. The open education movement challenges this tradition, and it’s hard to ignore its momentum at a time when students are paying more for their textbooks than ever before—the very thing they need to succeed in their courses–they can’t afford.
But you know this. (Preacher, remember your choir).
With the ideas in SWFH, you can take the words of Doc, Lester, Earl, and Cat Power and then make something of your own. All of the voices are always there ready to remix. You can create your own song by clicking and dragging. You can add your own riff or new lyric.
Turns out, Ward and Mike have already talked about this very idea:
At minute 5:50 Mike describes the exact point of frustration for faculty who are new to OER. And why it’s perceived to be so hard. So time consuming. This is what I’m trying to avoid with the next committee.
What I’m interested in beyond my own personal writing for the SFWH is how this can help teachers struggling to curate their own materials for their courses. And it’s nice to see somebody with a much bigger audience than me already working towards this idea. I’m climbing an uphill battle in my own work by trying to convince people who control funding sources that investing in faculty to learn how to use OER is faculty-centered professional development that yields student-centered results. It’s good for adjuncts. It’s good for students. It’s good for libraries. In this next paragraph, the “this” can be either SFW or OER to summarize my current thinking.
How this can help teachers collaborate–especially ones who are not worth the investment because they “part-time” or contingent. How this can help students collaborate with their peers and their teachers.
How we can take this giant sea of information to create our own personal little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles.
And this makes me want to step like that guy in the Doc Watson video.