SFWH: Creating our own personal little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles.

“But the answer is simple. Love is a mix tape.”
― Rob SheffieldLove is a Mix Tape

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.

Video 1

And then this one:

Video 2

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?

Silence.

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.

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About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, #OER, professional development, adult education, and the federated wiki. A Memoir.
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11 Responses to SFWH: Creating our own personal little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles.

  1. Maha Bali says:

    May I say,this is a genius post? It clicked with me on so many levels i don’t know where to begin! Love the music analogies.
    Ur blog somehow seems to be talking a million (or ok maybe 3?) threads but they are all related in the end.
    U may be onto a loy of somethings here but key to me is that some of us like to get our hands dirty while others just want direct help with the thing. To be honest i saw lots of Mike’s posts and some of Ward’s videos before but didn’t “get it” til i started playing collaboratively with you guys (still not 100% sure i get it all, but i get most of it). I don’t know how to explain it to someone without them trying it or at least talking them through it as i use it. Will watch the vuds u link tho i hate watching vids ib general coz i get sleepy (also coz i am usually watching late at night or v early morning).
    Obe question – the musical video example seems to work well for both OER and SFW – that’s how you meant it, right?

    Like

    • Thanks, Maha! You are so kind. This post is my attempt to connect the SFWH to the work I SHOULD be doing. I realized yesterday that I’m going to hate myself in February for not getting more done now. So yes, that half-baked idea is something that I hope to use with the teachers I’m working with who are really, really, really new to OER. If I can get them to think about using OER in another way, then I’m hoping they won’t see it as such a daunting task. By the middle of the quarter/semester, you know how it is. All of your good intentions go down the drain and you start to panic about the next quarter. With the music comparison in this post, I’m hoping to help them see OER implementation in another way.

      And right back at you: I’m not sure I get it either–I’m not even sure how to answer Mike’s question about how I can tell who is who. Talking through this experience with you as been really helpful. Now get some sleep:)

      Like

  2. markcj says:

    Great post Alyson. Maha is right, there is so much to consider here. Thanks Maha, for linking to this.

    I really enjoyed your discussion of music to illustrate how creativity works. I also noticed Ward’s comment that “copying is a creative act”. He slipped this in and moved on quickly – don’t know if the audience noticed or not. Then, they were computer programmers and he had already mentioned Alexander’s Pattern Languages, which are based on reuse of forms and informed Object Oriented Programming Languages in the late 90s.

    Had he said this in a room full of English teachers, he might have been lynched. You said, “for some reason, we don’t extend that creative right to the written word” – but I think the reason is clear. Publishers buy and own authors’ words, and they defend their propriety rights over those words. Writers cannot even quote themselves without permission. OER is up against this same power and as soon as OER begins to attract significant attention, enormous resources will be mobilized against it.

    Looking at SFW reminds me of Pattern Languages in another way. I did some work with Pattern Languages a couple of years ago and found them very difficult to grasp. I found this very difficult to explain to others in my field – Technology Enhanced Learning. Dianna Laurillard, at the London Knowledge Lab, has been doing a lot of work with this (Teaching as a Design Science) that resembles Ward’s work in many ways, but from a learning design perspective, rather than from data management and programming.

    I agree that using OERs is very time consuming at the moment. Much of my time over the past five years has been spent doing the kind of re-purposing that Mike describes in his video, and no matter how good you get at this, it is still a huge time sink. No matter how easy or how quick it becomes, we will still need to convince instructors that using this type of resource is “better” than using published materials and one thing published materials give them is authority – or rather, it usurps their authority – and this is significant when we come to consider the accountability culture that continues to devalue teaching and learning, rendering education into a homogeneous product measured against politically determined standards.

    OER connects us to very fundamental and unique values of American education, rooted in democratic traditions. This is another point of confluence with SWF, especially referencing the discussion of how SFW was applied to governance issues – Ward referenced New Hampshire and Washington state.

    You also allude to this in your defense of Liberal Arts before the cult of STEM. This then takes us to the real purpose of education: this is not without contention either.

    Finally, I think that Ward may be somewhat naive in his implied expectation that people will agree if only they have easy access to data. This may be due to his background in IT. Education, as we know, is an evidence free zone. We do what we do because we believe it is right and we do not need data for that, only faith. In the humanities, data is not necessarily king. Our use of data may be much more problematic than “hard science” expects.

    Still, SFW is a fascinating initiative. I just wish it were a little easier to understand. I suppose I will also “get it” eventually. Thanks again for a great post.
    I really enjoyed your discussion of music to illustrate how creativity works. I also noticed Ward’s comment that “copying is a creative act”. He slipped this in and moved on quickly – don’t know if the audience noticed or not. Then, they were computer programmers and he had already mentioned Alexander’s Pattern Languages, which are based on reuse of forms and informed Object Oriented Programming Languages in the late 90s.

    Had he said this in a room full of English teachers, he might have been lynched. You said, “for some reason, we don’t extend that creative right to the written word” – but I think the reason is clear. Publishers buy and own authors’ words, and they defend their propriety rights over those words. Writers cannot even quote themselves without permission. OER is up against this same power and as soon as OER begins to attract significant attention, enormous resources will be mobilized against it.

    Looking at SFW reminds me of Pattern Languages in another way. I did some work with Pattern Languages a couple of years ago and found them very difficult to grasp. I found this very difficult to explain to others in my field – Technology Enhanced Learning. Dianna Laurillard, at the London Knowledge Lab, has been doing a lot of work with this (Teaching as a Design Science) that resembles Ward’s work in many ways, but from a learning design perspective, rather than from data management and programming.

    I agree that using OERs is very time consuming at the moment. Much of my time over the past five years has been spent doing the kind of re-purposing that Mike describes in his video, and no matter how good you get at this, it is still a huge time sink. No matter how easy or how quick it becomes, we will still need to convince instructors that using this type of resource is “better” than using published materials and one thing published materials give them is authority – or rather, it usurps their authority – and this is significant when we come to consider the accountability culture that continues to devalue teaching and learning, rendering education into a homogeneous product measured against politically determined standards.

    OER connects us to very fundamental and unique values of American education, rooted in democratic traditions. This is another point of confluence with SWF, especially referencing the discussion of how SFW was applied to governance issues – Ward referenced New Hampshire and Washington state.

    You also allude to this in your defense of Liberal Arts before the cult of STEM. This then takes us to the real purpose of education: this is not without contention either.

    Finally, I think that Ward may be somewhat naive in his implied expectation that people will agree if only they have easy access to data. This may be due to his background in IT. Education, as we know, is an evidence free zone. We do what we do because we believe it is right and we do not need data for that, only faith. In the humanities, data is not necessarily king. Our use of data may be much more problematic than “hard science” expects.

    Still, SFW is a fascinating initiative. I just wish it were a little easier to understand. I suppose I will also “get it” eventually. Thanks again for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maha Bali says:

      Mark you raise really important points about disciplinary differences in approach to things like copying and data. I think e OER issue is a lot more complex than we usually admit (though we know it deep down). There are power issues, conservativism issues, yes. But equally, OERs are still not easily accessible, and not all easily recontextualized or repurposed without a lot of knowledge by the teacher (of licences searching and how to repurpose), if at all. I try to use all open resources in my courses, and as you say, it’s hard work. For my own student-teachers to find their own and reuse OERs it is muuuuch harder,

      Like

      • markcj says:

        Hi Maha. I’ve noticed that teachers in the K-12 sector tend to share a lot more of their work than do those in HE and I’ve used a lot of material that people in this sector have developed. They usually don’t call this “OER” though. They often share lesson plans, templates, ruburcs, as well as more content-like materials: presentations, prepared texts, videos, and assessments. They seem to be more open to sharing and less self-conscious about it. They don’t create acronyms for it or harp on about copyright and such. Some of the impediments to doing this in HE may not be inherent to sharing, rather they arise from the siloed and competitive culture of HE. If this is true, then large part of promoting open resources in HE will focus on transforming that culture, and this includes pedagogical perspectives.

        For example, I was reading something on a federated wiki titled Essentials for Blended Learning Notes Site

        http://m.blendedlearning.fed.wiki.org/view/welcome-visitors/view/essentials-for-blended-learning-notes-site/view/chapter-3/view/chapter-3-questions

        A student is asking about reusing another instructors materials directly saying something like “Brian’s videos are really good. Can I just drag these into my course?” The facilitator advises:

        ‘Work to establish your own authority in the subject. Make sure the perception is “Brian is working for you” instead of “You are working for Brian”. Disagree, expand, and otherwise comment on the clips. Show that Brian is handling the basics so that you can handle nuance. This sounds egotistical, but it’s actually important.’

        Here, we have a need to establish authority which is embedded in the pedagogical culture of this class. I know this is taken out of context – and I am not criticizing this instructor – I am only pointing out how instructional cultures are important, how they influence what we do, and why we need to be aware of them.

        I agree, this is much more complex than we might first have thought.

        Like

    • Hi markcj,
      Thanks for your thoughtful response to my post! Thanks to Maha, my audience has grown from a few dedicated friends to amazingly interesting folks like you. I need to look up the Pattern Languages that you mention, but for now, the one thing I can respond to is your comment: “Ward may be somewhat naive in his implied expectation that people will agree if only they have easy access to data.” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s the access that will bring understanding but rather the potential to bump into other people’s ideas is unlike anything else on the web (that I know of). I can’t speak for Ward, but it seems like SFW allows for readers and writers to see the history of ideas a lot easier. You’re absolutely right, access will not bring consensus, but if we think of two ideas as a Venn diagram, the SFW makes it easier to see the middle ground as well as the two opposing sides.

      You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I really appreciate your time. Now I want to invite you and Maha over for tea:)

      Like

      • Maha Bali says:

        Ha, love the Venn diagram idea. Alyson ur a genius at analogies!

        Like

      • markcj says:

        Hi Alyson,

        Thanks for the invitation to tea. I’m Middle East based too. Maybe we could all meet in Cairo some time?

        I think it may have been me, not Ward, who was naive about data. Watching that video I did have the feeling that here is a data scientist talking to teachers…. One of my interests is boundaries and boundary space so I often notice this type of thing.

        I agree, much of what he said had to do with bumping into ideas. Thanks for pointing this out. This bumping happens – for instance – when I take something you said and try to work it into my ideas. To do that I need to try to understand what you said. If it doesn’t fit, I need to make it fit. It isn’t about loyalty to your idea, or misrepresenting you skillfully; it isn’t about consensus whether that be forced, implied, or totally mendacious; rather it’s about starting somewhere, taking something and running with it – this is a kind creativity.

        Real creativity is to think of or do something no one has ever thought or done before: space is the same as time (Einstein); something can come out of a black hole (Hawking); life evolves from less complex forms (Darwin); I can make a picture with lots of dots (Saurat); I can write a poem without rhyme, meter, or alliteration (Whitman).

        This is quite rare. Everything else is imitation and re purposing. Re purposing is reflective and doing it skillfully is what learning is about.

        So, maybe I misread Ward. Maybe his focus was on creativity rather than consensus.

        As for history, attribution in SFW seems to be something of a problem. Ward rather dismissed this as unimportant – he said things were “automatically attributed” via the system tracking of cut, paste, and edit. This means that ideas in SFW are forensically tracked. This is fine for building ideas and saying where they may have come from, less good for building arguments that rest on authority. Sure, argument to authority is a lesser order of evidence, but it is still central to what a lot of us do. What would a thesis or dissertation look like in SFW?

        Like

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