21 November 2014

Worried about the privatisation of public education and research? - Go to the Commons

South Central Farm by Jonathan McIntosh on Wikimedia Commons
Before you are compelled to sign over the rights to works you morally, ethically or legally own - or are custodian to, consider harbouring it in The Commons first.

Some researchers and teachers who are concerned about their publicly funded research reports, teaching materials and data becoming locked into restrictive publishing arrangements, are using the Commons to develop and publish the elements of the project before going to the private publishers. They preserve their own access to the data and elements of the publication, and a wider audience at the same time.

For example, a GIF graph visualising the data collected in the project is loaded to Wikimedia Commons BEFORE the report is written and BEFORE it is submitted for publication through a restrictive publisher. This ensures that at least one key bit of information about the project remains reusable and re-distributable. I personally take this further by making the Commons intrinsic to my data collection and management strategy, including the edit history data for the development of the project and report, as well as the comment and direction from peer reviewers.

Some teachers who are concerned about their course (content, library, curriculum design and assessment methods) being claimed away from them, and/or sold to restrictive publishers or third party providers, they too are using the Commons to ensure a more equitable arrangement for all involved.

This approach doesn't prevent the commercialisation of the work, nor does it block the ambitions of a hosting institution or publisher 'capitalising' the works. It just prevents them doing so exclusively - thus ensuring the original authors maintain ongoing rights, as well as other interests and opportunities not yet known.

What all must do though, is get good with open source exchange models. It's only fair!

20 November 2014

Open Online Courses and Massively Untold Stories

I've been fiddling around with this paper since 2012, when I was confronted with an employing institution's apparent interest in MOOCs, but evidently they had very little internal awareness of MOOC history or linkages to wider social movements.

In response I helped organise an open conference on open education, and proposed educational development in that direction. Unfortunately, interest in iTunesU, Academic Partnerships International, Open Universities Australia - basic, barely access-only, 'xMOOCs' prevailed.

I started drafting this paper to account for a small range of open online courses that helped to inform the early development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It laments the loss of meaning in the word open and its historic alignment to free and open source principles. It calls for more academic work to better represent the histories and range of critical perspectives on open online courses, and outlines how Wikipedia can be used as a central organising platform for such work.

I failed to get it accepted as a Position Paper in the JOLT special issue on MOOCs. First Monday did not respond to my submission, but Ascilite2014 accepted it as a Concise Paper. All this process and a copy of all the feedback I've received to help shape it is on the wiki. It goes toward my casual attempt to build an equivalent of a PhD by publication - an Open and Networked PhD.

I'll get an audio recording of its presentation up here shortly.

23 September 2014

eLearning at GOTAFE

I've been asked up to Goulburn Ovens Institute of Technical and Further Education to give a 15 minute presentation on my vision for eLearning/online learning/networked learning - open education. It was a very last minute request and I haven't had the time to do the due diligence of researching the institute some and contextualising what I would present. So I'm falling back to general ideas.

18 February 2014


Alex Hayes is leading me into the emerging world of web-based tools that help manage a researcher's distributed online presence and impact. Alex has drawn focus on Figshare and ImpactStory. I've just quickly set up my ImpactStory profile.

My new profile is here: http://impactstory.org/LeighBlackall

first up - what a pleasure the site and service is to use. I was easily able to comprehend and use what it was set up to do.. and while I waited to be at a desktop to do it, I can see that it would have been just as easy on my phone.. fresh!

I will recommend my research active contacts to start using this site.

However, as an "early career" researcher, and someone who deliberately operates on the edge of what may be called mainstream (including my use of the various self publishing sites that ImpactStory draws in), I may eventually struggle to use their site. Up until today, I've been trying to get a better control on my Google Scholar profile, but it wants to push me into the mainstream much more so than ImpactStory.

I use Wikiversity to develop and organise my research. I wonder if or how services like ImpactStory might be able to draw in that data? Wikiversity is one of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, I contribute to several of them, so perhaps the likes of ImpactStory would want to go for the data someone has across all those projects. Here's my contribution record.

I'm note sure if they'd be able to mine the impact data of those contributions.. perhaps page views of the works contributed to should be easy enough, but more complicated stuff like number of other editors on those pages, how active the discussion pages are, and which of my contributions were discussed on project pages and which contributions were actually 'scholarly'...

My Wikiversity userpage is: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/User:Leighblackall and there lists a range of teaching, research and community engagement works in progress - the three pillars of academic work in my opinion.

Archive.org is another publishing venue I use, and by now you should be seeing a pattern of free and open source venues as my preference. Here are the search results for works on Archive referring to and authored by me. Basic data on each of those items includes the number of downloads. More interesting data might be the number of seeders of the bit-torrent files..

My personal website (hosted on Blogger) has data in it too: leighblackall.blogspot.com
Other data sources that may or may not be relevant to a researcher's "impact" would be:
  • Published files out of Google Drive
  • Contributions to Google Groups and LinkedInGroups
  • Google search results
  • LinkedIn testimonials and recommendations
  • Twitter and Google+ profile views, connections and reshares
I'm sure they're thinking about this range. The big one for me is the Wikimedia projects. Recognise and crack that nut and I think they'll be on their way toward capturing a unique if small niche of researchers who are particularly interested in web integrated research beyond the simple prosumer idea.

05 February 2014

Are the Wikimedia projects social media?

I used a phrase "socially constructed media" back in 2004 when everyone was using "Web 2". I even coined "socialist media" but let that one go. I've been more than a little agitated by the use of "social media" these last few years, at the exclusion of the Wikimedia projects. Either all the stats, commentary and infographics are based on a poorly defined category, or my understanding of the words social and media somehow missed the new speak.

Does anyone who knows the inner workings of the Wikimedia projects have an argument for me? I find them to be the MOST social of all the user-generated sites I use. From sharing photos, video and graphics on Commons, constructing reports on News, negotiating courses or documenting research on Versity, writing on Books, or attending a Meetup.. Why does this not warrant more than a mention in the stats, commentary and infographics about "social media"? Why do almost none of our public institutions engage in these projects? (State Library of Queensland excepted).

Please don't tell me it's a commercial interest (therefore relevant) thing!

03 December 2013

What is blogging these days?

I've been blogging since it went mainstream in 2004. Over the years it has remained an important part of the web, giving voice to a very large range of interesting people and ideas.

I've been asked to talk about blogging with the Ambassadors at the Summer Foundation today.

The Summer Foundation and their ambassadors advocate for young people living in nursing homes, building support and capacity for improving lives. Jason Anderson is one of their members and is already blogging as an ambassador for the effort.

But how do we talk about blogging these days?

Recently, blogging seems to have merged into the background as web services like Youtube, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter have become central channels for authors and audience alike. I suspect this recent shift is still taking place, so who knows what "blogging" will be a few years from now... whatever is becomes, I hope it will be as great as the last 10 years.

What is Blogging
The Wikipedia article on Blogging is pretty good. Don't forget to check out the Discussion page behind that WIkipedia entry too.

Here's an old Common Craft video explaining blogs.

Setting up and Linking up
The way I approach Blogging is by setting up accounts on a range of channels, and linking them all up so my articles generally go out across them all with one click - no double handling.

For example, when I press 'publish' on this blog post here in Blogger, it will be automatically posted on my Google+ profile, which is set to cross post to my Twitter handle, which is set to update my Facebook wall. This takes a bit of setting up, but it's a set-and-forget - that is, until one of the parts breaks.
  1. Blogger is owned by Google, so the cross posting to Google+ is taken care of.
  2. I currently use ManageFilter to connect Google+ to Twitter.
  3. Twitter and Facebook have integrated their services too.

I also have a Youtube channel, and that posts into Google+ when I upload new videos. I have a Flickr account for my photos, and that is set up to send copies into Facebook and Twitter, but so far I haven't worked out how to get them into Google+.. so I'm posting photos mainly to Google+ now. 

If you check out the dates on the articles I post to this Blog, you'll notice a definite decline in frequency. That's because of microblogging, I think.

Microblogs are very short posts, usually on services like Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and usually relaying a link to something of interest - sometimes with a brief comment included.

For me, I regularly post links and comments to Google+, which in turn updates my Twitter page and Facebook wall. So, more and more, I have less of a reason to update this old-school blog...

That brings me to the most important bit about blogging - reading. It is MOST important because reading blogs helps you write a blog. If you're reading the blogs of people in your interest areas, this will obviously give you ideas for your own blogging, and an awareness of where you fit in. If you comment on people's blogs, they may start reading your blog, and this will eventually connect you with a network of other people online, which will be important if need help, advice, perspective, or getting your message out. 

But reading so many blogs can take a chunk of time, and you want to be sure they're interesting! Have you ever been on the train and wondered what all those people are doing on their phones? Some of them are reading through their list of blogs.

Old school blogs like this one have a file attached to them called an RSS feed. You can subscribe to a site's RSS feed using an RSS Reader. Sadly, Google closed down their Google Reader, effectively killing off a massive slab of people using RSS Readers, driving them to rely on Google+ and Facebook even more. I still maintain an RSS reader through the service called Feedly. It's not as good as Google Reader (RIP) and I find myself scanning through it less and less these days, but when I do I'm reminded how valuable RSS feeds are - they carry in so many incredible ideas!

Over to Common Craft one last time, to explain RSS

13 November 2013

Help for Villa, in Baybay, Leyte

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has affected Sunshine's family.

This past few days I've been trying to help Sunshine get accurate information on the situation for her family in Baybay Leyte. Unsurprisingly, Australian news agencies have been slow to report or update the event, and are spreading misinformation and panic, but Twitter hashtags and Wikipedia edits are helping us cut through all that. 

We finally started hearing from family yesterday, and all are accounted for, but they are without food.

Sunshine's father is on his way there now, taking a boat from Cebu to Baybay to escort food to family asap. To assist with this, Sunshine has started an effort to take donations (not toward the travel, but directly to supplies). So, if you're still wondering if or how you might help, know that this way you're helping directly.