on openness, walled gardens, community, and ownership

1700kmI left a comment over on Andre’s great post on social media training wheels. Rereading the comment, I wanted to post it here as a fully-fledged blog entry.

We’re at a point where the exact tool selected really doesn’t matter very much anymore. Any of these communities can be built in pretty much any open source web platform. The key is that it’s open source, so it’s easily modifiable (or at least modification is _possible_), and the ownership of the software and community is located within the institution, rather than at a corporate headquarters. That said, most of the most active communities on UCalgaryBlogs.ca are closed to outsiders – walled gardens for use by the class. And I’m fine with that. The goal isn’t to publish content to the open internet. The goal is to engage students, in creation, discussion, and reflection. If they need a walled garden to do that effectively (and there are several excellent reasons for needing privacy for a community) then so be it. If they’d like to do it in the open, that’s just a checkbox on a settings page. That option isn’t available for users of The Big Commercial LMS Platform. If it’s in an LMS, it’s closed. End of discussion. And people only gain experience in using the LMS, in farming for Maggie.

14 thoughts on “on openness, walled gardens, community, and ownership”

  1. This: The most active communities on UCalgaryBlogs.ca are closed to outsiders – walled gardens for use by the class. And I’m fine with that. The goal isn’t to publish content to the open internet. The goal is to engage students, in creation, discussion, and reflection. If they need a walled garden to do that effectively (and there are several excellent reasons for needing privacy for a community) then so be it.

    …seems to conflict with…

    This: That option isn’t available for users of The Big Commercial LMS Platform. If it’s in an LMS, it’s closed. End of discussion. And people only gain experience in using the LMS.

    Why is your second point a problem? Isn’t the goal the same? “To engage [employees] in creation, discussion, and reflection” and the need for privacy.

    I think we need less pissing on the LMS and more conversation about the goals – check box or not.

    1. Because some of the class communities are working in the open, with fantastic results – something that wouldn’t be physically possible under a commercial LMS. The point being, the decision to be open or closed should belong to the class or community, not to the LMS vendor.

    2. and I’m not just blindly pissing on the LMS. I’ve built 2 commercial LMS platforms myself. I understand how they work, how they need to work, pretty thoroughly.

  2. Janet,

    My big issue is why would you want to fork over creative and developmental control to a particular group of people that re often controlled by the logic of profit, when you can work with a much larger community around a creative logic for re-imagining this space. The problem for me with the corporate LMS is how much an outmoded logic dictates the space within which they frame their work. it is all about permissions and closing things off, which doesn’t make open impossible necessarily, but a lot more work.

    Reclaiming that space and re-imagining it makes the work of educational technologists, professors, and students that much richer. And while there may not be a clean either/or in this regard, and the biggest corporate LMS to be may very well be unleashed by Google and even open to boot, I often wonder why we talk about the liberatory logic of the new web while at the same time getting into bed with vendors, corporations, and the rest of them—a relationship that will most likely result in regret.

    Look at a majority of the spaces we have now (and in all fairness there are some terrible examples in both the open source and proprietary code sectors) equally bad open and closed) they are based on this notion of the LMS that is outdated and for the most part irrelevant. And unlike D’Arcy, I think working out in the open should be the rule—or at least default—not the exception, for that is the environment we live in, and to pretend like school is some “safe haven” really points to how warped the educational community is. There is nothing safe about school, and the more we close it down to “protect” them the more harm we do.

  3. @Jim, very thoughtful. I tend to be pragmatic and find that my conversations around open vs. closed environments, open source vs. proprietary, free vs. fee, ‘greater good’ vs. reality of having to take action (even if consequences are not ideal), academic/corporate view, and especially my job (lots of corp LMS work) come off as defensive.

    I struggle.

    Anyway, having looked at ~60 commercial LMSs and I’d have to disagree with the lack of control issue. There are some really nice, “personalizeable’ products coming to market – especially those that are embracing the social aspects of learning. I find it very encouraging.

    The “getting into bed” issue is makes it sound like corp LMS vendors are only out for a buck. Would the LMS world be OK if Mzinga, for example, didn’t exist? Sure – people would replace the system. The purpose of companies is to employ people and we all have our money trail.

    @Darcy – didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t know your stuff.

  4. the purpose of companies isn’t to employ people, it’s to make a profit. if they could do that without employees, they would have to do that because shareholders would demand it.

    the personalization aspect is just one of the problems with using a commercial LMS – becoming reliant on any commercial product means you lose control. The only way to regain control is through open source applications. There are tradeoffs – you don’t need access to the source code for everything, but for something like an LMS where you’re essentially building the online aspect of the classroom I think it’s essential to be able to see the code, and to make changes. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of a company, who does not know your needs as well as you do, and who is answering to shareholders and other customers first.

  5. @dnorman: “becoming reliant on any commercial product means you lose control.. The only way to regain control is through open source applications.”

    It goes even further than that when they patent some part of the product, so that it becomes impossible to reimplement it freely… as is the case with Blackboard. It might even be said the medium is the message in that using open source is sending a message to the students… and also getting them acquainted with the idea that they are free to implement their own. That is what worries companies the most, that you’re destroying their market in favour for another one with less profit. It’s funny how complex the implications the choice is.

  6. Sami, that’s an excellent point. By choosing commercial, closed applications, we tell students to become consumers. We need to do better than that, especially at an institution of higher learning.

  7. I was going to say that one should do what is in their best interest, as it is the utilitarian doctrine our society expects from us.

    In the case of students, as we are providing a service to students for which they are paying us, we should give our customers, the students, the choice to do with the materials that we are selling them. This idea, that the customer is right and deserves the most value possible is common in business – but only when the customers demand such things. However, students today are a dumb bunch, are they not? They demand basically nothing from their educators, other than grades. They couldn’t recognize the difference between information and knowledge and what value they are actually getting, other than the social value of meeting other people. Most of the information is either useless or quickly forgotten or quickly made useless so that the value of such a degree can be said to be in the eye of the beholder, which I guess is society at large. This is exactly what business school tells you, you are here to meet people more than to “learn”. To sum it up, the customer might be right, but when he or she demands then it is up to the supplier to decide what to provide to them. The majority of students are there ideally to get knowledge, in reality, they are there to get drunk and party and be put into significant debt while the learn how to “live” which against is a transient experience as the game for a great many of them changes quickly after that. Is that not our society?

    Conversely, are the universities not acting in their own self-interest by not giving students free access to information. Controlling information creates a sense of authority and is that not what professors want? As a professor, you don’t really want your students, or future students, or people who have not even paid for the course to have access to the course material. Doing so might corrupt the grading process if your material is straight forward and easy to learn. It would devalue the meaning of a “grade”, if it was established that universities are not in the business of giving people knowledge, but just indoctrinating with information and pretending as if that indoctrination has value.

    Further, you don’t want other professors to have use of your notes, as if “knowledge” is a zero-sum game, however what they are conveying isn’t knowledge, it is information otherwise there would be no need to guard it. A bigger question is what to teach, as the tome of information is so large and the little information which is shared so worthless, that I don’t have any notes from school and I don’t regret that I don’t have any notes. The large collection of books that I have, a fraction of which were taught in school, are much more useful. The other day my roommate was talking about how he was going to throw away boxes of notes he had stored up because they were of no value to him.

    Finally, is it not in the interest of universities to help maintain the way things are, lest it become worthless. Like is there not an implicit idea in any educational institution about the proprietorship of the supposed knowledge it purports to offer its students. Therefore, the same idea should carry over to the mediums it uses to communicate what it is as an institution? Also, there is a question of cost, as universities pass on all costs to students who seem to have a vertical demand curve, so they really don’t care what the cost is or its implications as they are simply concerned with collecting the money from the students and once that part is done and over with, they could care less what happens. Businesses are acutely aware of that, and therefore use that knowledge to do the best businesses they can. If universities were more demanding and that means students more demanding, software would be more open and portable. But both parties are who they are… which brings us to edupunks.

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