28 March 2015

Call for open academic practice at NTEU

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) recently ran a special focus on Fair Use' in Australian Law, and an argument for open academic practices.


Page 38.

It's unfortunate they don't publish in an open format or use hypertext, so here's a copy of my contribution.

David Day wrote for the Advocate last November, advocating for academics to take membership with Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) - an Australian agency that collects royalty fees for the use of restricted literary works and pays some of that revenue to some of the authors whose work was used.

I contacted the National Tertiary Education Union about the article in their journal, and have been offered space in this issue for 500 words. In these few words I’m going to offer an alternative to David’s advocacy for CAL and outline the opportunities and benefits of working toward an intellectual commons. I want to propose a coming together around the issues David touches on and open up more dialog in the establishment for how we might help accelerate the building of this Commons and our own intellectual relevance within it.

There appears to be a growing interest among academics, the public sector and private enterprise toward ideas of openness. Practices that include open research and data, open publishing and open education. ‘Open’ here does not mean simply free access, it includes transparency of process, and the freedom for anyone to reuse - including to copy, modify and redistribute works. These practices are gradually building an intellectual commons, and are a radical inversion of the kind of ‘knowledge economy’ imagined 30 years ago when CAL was conceived, and that are established today. You can find this Commons in many open journals, media repositories like Wikimedia Commons or Archive.org and projects like Wikipedia. The things that generally govern these practices are the use of the Creative Commons Attribution and Share Alike copyright licenses, open documentation of process, and the use of free and open standard software and formats.

In the university sector these practices offer a few noteworthy opportunities including the reduction or replacement of proprietary teaching media with free and more flexible equivalents; legally seamless collaboration in authorship; wider access and use and improved recognition of authorship.

Open academic practices have developed in spite of otherwise very restrictive copyright and intellectual property policies, and in spite of the monetary rewards that help to perpetuate those policies.

In 2010 a handful of staff at the University of Canberra proposed an intellectual property policy that would enable and strengthen open academic practices without undoing the established norms of restrictive copyright, and the agencies that facilitate user-pay fee systems. They documented a wide range of consultation and comment to the proposal, as well as key policy directions from Federal Government that relate to and inform the proposal. NTEU went so far as to call it a benchmark in IP policy. You can see that proposal here: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Intellectual_Property_-_proposed_policy_and_procedures_for_Australian_research_and_education

If the Intellectual Commons continues to grow at the exponential rate it has done so over the last 10 years, individuals, institutions and governments will inevitably come to question the role of the likes of CAL and the usefulness of the fees they extract and distribute. Some authors believe they are already suitably compensated by the wages and grants given to them by taxpayers and fee paying students, and don’t wish to add more burden to that revenue stream. Many struggle to see the relationship their work has to the financial incentives standing around them. Most simply wish their work to be seen, appreciated and used, free of commodification.

I hope readers of Advocate and CAL will continue to consider their relationship to the Intellectual Commons and open academic practices. Perhaps the proposed intellectual property policy cited here will give new frames of reference to aid that consideration.


26 March 2015

Using video for assessment feedback

<img class="" src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/France_in_XXI_Century._Correspondance_cinema.jpg" alt="" width="378" height="222" /> Video telephony in the year 2000, as imagined in 1910. From a French postcard by Villemard, 1910. Paris, BNF, Estampes. Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

It is said that using video to give feedback offers a more personal dimension to the feedback, as Michael Henderson and Michael Phillips from Monash University attest to in their recent submission to Ascilite: <a href="http://ascilite.org.au/ajet/submission/index.php/AJET/article/view/1878/1247">Video-based feedback on student assessment: scarily personal</a>. It might also be a way to solve a problem of storing assessment items in Design and Social Context.

A question was raised about RMIT's obligation to store assessment items for a number of years past a student's graduation. <a href="http://www.asqa.gov.au/news-and-media/retention-requirements-for-completed-student-assessment-items.html">The national regulation for vocational education is 6 months</a> and RMIT stipulates storage of assessment pieces for 1 year. (As I've been advised by an RMIT Senior Advisor in Academic Policy and RMIT Archives).

Presumably this regulation is to enable third party auditors to double check the legitimacy of an individual's qualifications, or an organisation giving the award or qualification over all. Obviously storing actual works used in assessment can be very difficult, especially the art and design world. Large, fragile and valuable works that may be needed for other purposes can't be expected to be kept in a vault for a possible audit.

So, while we wait for the laws, policies and procedures to make sense and align, video assessment feedback might be a practice that satisfies the intent of these storage requirements, while also improving the value of assessment feedback overall.

Practically it means turning on some sort of video recording devise (like a phone, webcam or screen recorder) and recording the appearance of the thing being assessed, and giving a voice over for feedback toward the assessment, then uploading that video to a folder that the student can access, and that the School can store for a time. The video evidence of the piece is captured, satisfying the regulation. And you can imagine what a compelling form of feedback and assessment this might be for teachers and students. It might offer some flexibility and new dimensions to the feedback and assessment process over text only practices, and it offers some flexibility on the location of the thing being assessed, as well the physical space needed for its display and storage.

I'd be keen to meet anyone already doing this in the College of Design and Social Context, or help and support anyone willing to give it a try.

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!