Aperture & Open & Creativity

Awhile back, a post of mine took off in wild wonderful ways, and I did plan on a follow-up post on all the workshoppery. But then a lot of travel for work happened and this post sat in my drafts folder. It’s somehow already July; we are on the cusp of a new season. 

We like to think of the academic year as being organized by semesters or quarters. Course outlines. Contracts. Paychecks.


For those of us who are trying to support faculty–both in the private and public sector–there are really two seasons. The busy-as-fuck autumn and the busy-as-hell early spring.

Conferences consume The Winters (which are always coming) and the off-contract/research time swallows The Summers. We have two seasons of connection potential, and truly, I applaud all faculty who use the other two seasons to completely ignore us. 

Today I want to reflect a bit on a somewhat recent post by Alan Levine, Mr. Cogdog. (this post has been in draft form for weeks?) Like many of you, I read and ponder the twittery debates between and among my OER heroes and heroines. I usually don’t respond to any of them but I read. And then I watch many others weigh in. Conviction via posts. Snarks. Links. Explanations. Annotations. Empathies. Questions. It’s been quite The Season with the engagement with Open. I haven’t engaged at all with the questions of defining anything–not because I’m worried that people won’t treat my ideas with respect or that they scare me with their genius brains. I’ll just be honest–I can’t distill my thoughts into a witty engaging tweet unless it’s about beer, bikes, or Boston Terriers.

I need more space to think, and thus, I convince myself to not tweet. But I read. I think. I jot down notes in my journal. I watch the frayed threads of defining words and actions overlap, resonate, and expand. The stream turns into a garden of thought for me (high-five, Caulfield).

I’m not one to cherish one definition of any word, and I don’t think that one side—or in this case—all sides are that much different. I see many Venn Diagrams spiraling and engaging with important ideas for teaching and learning. Where they overlap pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they diverge pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they get confused pushes us towards the unknown and somewhat frightening. 

We (meaning anyone who cares to see some change in higher education) need conversations like this and ways into thinking about the history of and state of open education. For example, maybe you high-five Wiley when he posts. Maybe you push an EduPunk fist-bump towards Groom. Maybe you nod enthusiastically with Caulfield. Maybe you can’t keep up with hitting “Like” with everything Maha posts. Maybe you cry reading the stunning beautiful words of Catherine Cronin (wait, that’s me).

These are just a few names–I could go on and on and on.

Maybe you were and continue to be lost as fuck about what any of them are even talking about. Either way, you thought a bit about your own context about teaching. You considered what you care about. What you do. What matters to you. What you need in your little corner of academia. What you need from Open. What you need from being open. What you want. What you need. 

Open, OER, Open Pedagogy, Open Teaching, OERs…whatever you want to call it is really too new to be named in my humble opinion. I’ve written about this too-new-to-be-named before and thank all my lucky stars the fabulous Lee Skallerup Bessette wrote about my thoughts. To watch one of my favorite writers/bloggers use my train wreck of thoughts was so special to me. You may disagree with me about “The This” as it relates to all things open that I think is too new to be named and that’s fine. To me, The This is all about teaching. And learning.

The majority of the teachers that I work with are new to the whole concept of open anything. ANYTHING. These folks that are just learning—just like all us at one point—and like it or not–they are going to shape what open will become. What it can be. I’m honored that I get to tell people that I have a few answers but I don’t have THE answer.

What open was and why it matters is not the most important aspect of questioning the definition(s) of open. Forgive me for conjuring up my go-to way to substantiate my ideas, but it’s all the not-yetness (#Collier&Ross4Evah). 

If you truly subscribe to one way of thinking and defining words, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from people who are new to these concepts. To me, that’s the beauty of open everything. I learn from you and you learn from me in the open. Out in the open. Open to suggestions. Open mind. Open to what works. Open to what does not work. Open to hearing that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Words are just words. I’m interested in the action. I’m interested in the inertia. 

And let me be clear, I am not without strong opinions about open education. I cringe daily—sometimes hourly—when I read grant proposals, RFPs, DMs, policies, emails, tweets, and blog posts. I’m more comfortable stating what it is not than what it is. But that’s not what I want to get into today. That kind of thinking is Big Picture. High-level theory. Being 30,000 feet high. Scholarly. Searching for horizons. Big ideas. 

Let me take you down to weeds. Let’s dig a few holes.

Which brings me to the barkings of the Cogdog. In my little corner of the open landscape (Maybe it’s a seascape because it’s so big. Whatever. Damn, I’m the queen of the mixed metaphor.)

I teach people about Creative Commons licensing almost weekly as part of the jobby job. I’ve been to 57 institutions in ten states over the last year. My jobby job sends me all over the place. I meet a lot of interesting people. I talk to a lot of teachers. And I love them. I adore teachers and administrators equally when they begin by talking about students. Creative Commons licensing, to my target audience, is something very new and all about naming. 

Institutions are paranoid about being sued and many grant projects have strict licensing rules for expanding the use of OER on campuses. I introduce the concepts of CC licensing and why it matters, and I’m advocating for folks to participate in the CC course when its done. I can share my perspective on all things Open pretty easily at this point. I struggle, however, with licensing—not because it’s particularly complex–it’s just always contextual and fraught with history. Fraught with human error. Like words and definitions. Licensing forces binary thinking about a very creative endeavor–teaching and learning. It’s either CC BY or it’s something else.

Teaching licensing and how to use an editable platform is the perfect marriage of pedagogical praxis as it relates to educational technology (oh crap, this might be another blog post. Focus, Indrunas, focus). The CC licenses are the theory behind how to enable sharing and we need dependable platforms to enable that sharing. If I have 90 minutes to open the door, so to speak, on licensing as a practice, then I’ve got to make it easy-breezy-peasy. Dare I say it? Yes. I like to make it fun for faculty.  

Here’s the thing.


I’m always searching for anecdotes or some sort of story to explain all the CC BYs. You can haz all the CC BYs. 

To explain all the CC BYs.

Sometimes I talk about how a colleague gave me her handout and I cut my name and class title out from paper using scissors. I then taped that scrap of paper over the title of her handout to make copies for my students.

Never mind that the handout was on plagiarism and I was plagiarizing my friend (do I say not as I do, students. That’s definitely another blog post).

This is the Remix and the Reuse of the 5Rs. I also Retained that crappyass handout for years because I made a gajillion copies of it as I taught boatloads of Comp courses. I was rocking the 5Rs way before I knew what open meant, yo. I bet you were too.  

Then I share that it wasn’t until my colleague sent me her Word file that I could make changes and revise and retain it.  

I use that same “Ditto-Sharing-Story” in different contexts where the technology is scarce. Like if I’m writing URLs on a chalkboard using chalk. If this surprises you in 2017, I encourage you to travel to a rural community college in your state. If this surprises you in 2017, I can conjure up at least a dozen people from IT and eLearning to substantiate this experience. If this surprises you in 2017 as a high-level administrator, you need to make an appointment to observe a class taught by an adjunct in the evening at your satellite campus computer lab. Watch them struggle with technology when there is nobody around but security to call for help.  

Okay, back to what I say to the teachers–Sometimes I’ll throw an LMS under the bus to get to what faculty hate about LMSs. I’m always willing to host that party, y’all. I do rejoice in introducing folks to writers of e-Literate and their brilliant description of the LMS as a mini-van. This anecdote totally kills a room by the way–kudos to Michael and Phil for the comedy. You guys need to roll that joke every chance you get when you meet faculty who have no idea what the hell EdTech is (you’re welcome). 

Okay, where was I? I’m not a comedian. I teach people. Right. And I have point with this post. Right.

Alan Levine made licensing really easy in his post Open As in Aperture (I’m linking here so that you read it). He admitted in his post that he was “camera-splaining” and I can totally relate to that feeling as a writer. I bike-splain a lot. Maybe this blog is Alyson-splaining (or Indy-splaining) and that’s definitely another blog post I can title “Well Actually.”

I’ve tried several times and failed to explain OER as a bike share. Sometimes I have out of body experiences when I listen to myself heading down the bike-share-lane-as-pedagogical-lens and I see why it all falls apart. Right as I’m about to get out of the saddle, I drop my chain. Every time. I get too deep into the dorkery of all things related to the bikes. I totally get how hard it is to use one interest/love as a metaphor for another interest/love. 

A bike share needs three basic ingredients: 1] policy, 2] infrastructure, and 3] an enthusiastic audience. You need people to carve out the space (policy), make sure it can grow/scale (infrastructure), and people who excited to make it happen (audience). I would also go so far as to say that climate, terrain, and culture also play into the success of bike share. Look at the fucking Dutch culture if you ever want to get depressed about your current town.

What struck me about CogDog’s work—and thus prompted this post—is the short video of the UMW students and his use images explaining aperture. In the video, the first student uses her hands to explain how we “narrow [our] personality down” depending on the social context. Brilliant! Yes, I do that! I may drop the F Bomb here but I would never do that in front of your Provost (unless you want me to. Sounds so fun, btw. Let’s talk).

In the video, the students are discussing online identity—which is connected to our open practice—and I understand how Alan got to seeing the apertures.

I’ve been hunting for a visual for CC licensing, and holyhotdamn, I think Alan captured a framework for me (see what I did? so punny). Without getting into any details about photography, light, and aperture, I think this image works beautifully to somebody who is new to this whole idea. 

From left to right. Everything you own in a box to left. Sorry, that’s Beyonce not OER.

Public Domain (big open space for creativity)

CC BY  (a bit more closed for creativity)

CC BY SA (less space)

CC BY NC (really closed)

CC BY NC ND (if you look really close at this aperture it looks like an anus, amirite? lol)

Admittedly, I have a lot of work to make this visual work both for teaching and learning. But it’s got me thinking.

If you look at this image above, and if you think of the dark space as what’s “open”–meaning what’s available for reuse, then as the shutters close–the less freedom you have to be creative with that work. That’s really what licensing is all about. Creativity.

Moving from left to right, the potential for remixing, revising, and reusing narrows. What does that really mean for teaching and learning? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

I don’t really have an elegant conclusion here, but I know in my gut that this is all connected to the digital space as it relates to teaching and learning. And I just really like this idea and I wanted to share it.

I’m reminded of something Susan Sontag wrote about in On Photography and I’ll leave you with her words.

From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in All The Things and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Aperture & Open & Creativity

  1. Don Gorges says:

    Thanks, Alyson, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and Alan’s ‘Open as in Apertures’ post too.
    “. . . we ought to think about openness as an aperture that is not just fixed at one size, but continually adjusts, [-] with appreciation opportunities and risks. There is no single “open” setting applied to pedagogy or people. It’s variable and shifting all the time, like the student in the video suggests, based on context.”
    The Lytro light field camera = an apt ‘OPEN’ – Aperture metaphor _ See The Creative Benefits of Light Field _ http://blog.lytro.com/the-creative-benefits-of-light-field/


    • Thanks, Don! It really was the video of the student that triggered my thinking along with Alan’s description. I checked out the post that you linked, and there are some very cool images involving lens that I really like. That’s a whole other rabbit for me! Yay!

      When I was an eLearning Director, I was fortunate to have my office in the campus art building and I got to talk to photography teachers daily. One of the teachers shared with me the challenges of teaching in his discipline when everything started to switch to digital. He talked about how loved taking students to the dark room and was very concerned about how digital would change what he loved about teaching. Instead of fighting it, he learned everything he could and started talking students out on field trips around campus to shoot. He told me that now he loves these “Let’s Walk With Our Camera” trips more than the dark room. It’s still all about light, he told me, that’s never going to change. Wow, I really miss those teachers.

      Thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing this link, Don!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s