This is not my web

I saw this tweet pass by my stream earlier today, so went to read the post. Then I started digging around the site and realized Audrey has not just turned off comments for future posts, but has removed all comments from her blog. Period.

I had a bit of a back and forth with Audrey, hoping that she might reconsider her decision to delete all the comments on Hack Education. In my opinion, the conversations that have happened there constitute an important record in the history of EdTech as we go through a critical period of change. She has been one of the most thoughtful and vocal critics about the business of EdTech at a time when we need critics the most, and I have seen many thoughtful comments and conversations take place in the comments.

But there have also been assholes. And worse. Much worse.

This makes me incredibly sad and angry.

“Stupid bitch”, “fuck you”, and “stop being such a bitch.” While that content is highly offensive, it’s the pseudonym that this coward uses that casts a cold chill on the message and takes it from vitriolic to menacing threat. Jack the Ripper. The very name conjures up horrific images of violence against women. A name chosen as a pseudonym designed to do one thing and one thing only: silence through intimidation.

You could chalk it up to it just being the internet. That comments like this are part and parcel of the game. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be.

It can’t be.

When I see comments like this, I become painfully aware of the existence of the types of terrible gender barriers that prevent many woman from participating in open spaces. It is one thing to have ideas criticised and debated. It is quite another to be attacked in a manner designed to threaten and intimidate and make you fear for your safety.

I don’t know if this specific comment had that effect on Audrey, but I do know that comments like this have led her to not only stop accepting comments, but to remove all comments from her site. It is a decision that I know she did not take lightly.

I know she will not stop writing or being a sharp critic. In fact, I hope that this may prove to be a liberating exercise for her as it frees her from having to worry about dealing with the assholes on her site.

But I do mourn the lose of conversation. I know, I can always leave a comment here, link back to her blog and signal her that way in hopes of having a discussion through pingbacks and trackbacks. That is still possible, but in reality what you end up with are a hundred individual voices scattered all over the web. It becomes a monologue and not a conversation. And I actually do read comments and often find them illuminating. In the case of Hack Education, much of how I think about the Silicon Valley attitude of education has come from comments left by people on one of her blog posts. Through their own words I see their plans.

Let me make this clear – Hack Education is Audrey’s space. She can do with it what she wants. And while I do feel that we in education have lost an important part of our history with the deletion of the comments from Hack Education, I respect her decision. No one should be subjected to the kind of abusive anonymous threats like those left by idiots.

We cannot accept this. Especially if you are male and reading this; we need to stand up and shout – loudly – that this type of language and behavior will not be tolerated.

Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a “women’s issue” allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women’s issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men. Donald MacPherson

This cannot be our web.

This cannot be our culture.

We cannot have discourse silenced because of intimidation.

We cannot have women hesitant to enter into these open spaces because of crap like this.

This is not my web.


Remix my words


A tweet from Emma (@sunnydeveloper) just made my day.

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The backstory

A few months ago I wrote a blog post titled Open is an attitude in which I used a project that Emma and I worked on (Mozilla HackJam) to illustrate some of the ways in which “open” influenced how that event unfolded. Last week, that blog post was remixed by students participating in the #teachtheweb MOOC (Mozilla Open Online Collaboration) event currently underway. The students have the following as an assignment:

MAKE Project this week: Find someone to collaborate with and create a make about why being open is important to you.

So, a group of learners in the MOOC got together and decided to use my Creative Commons licensed blog post (that allows for remixing) as the basis for their project. Among the artifacts they created includes a series of visuals that have been released on Flickr under a Creative Commons license for others to now take and use/adapt, and a CC-BY YouTube video that can also be used and adapted by others.

Needless to say, seeing my work used, reused and remixed in this way makes this open educator very happy.


You don't have to wait for BCcampus

I’ve been on the road for the past 3 weeks speaking to educators in this province about the BC open textbook project attending & presenting at a number of BCCAT articulation committee meetings and various institutional and provincial faculty professional development events. There was also a trip to Houston, Texas in there to attend the 2013 Connexions conference and code sprint at Rice University, which I will write more about now that I am getting my head above water.

Generally, the reception to the open textbook project has been positive (again, I need to write some reflective debriefing posts about what I have learned in the past few weeks beyond the advice to never do a flight transfer to Victoria through Vegas). But the one point I want to make to any faculty who might read this blog post:

You don’t have to wait for BCcampus.

Sure, there is an “official” project underway in this province, and there are timelines and deliverables and all the other stuff that goes along with a project like this. But adopting an open textbook doesn’t have to happen within the confines of a formal project.

Open textbooks are open educational resources – openly licensed with Creative Commons licenses and openly available to any faculty who wishes to use them.

Go. Evaluate them. Adapt them. Adopt them. Use them.

Now, if you are faculty and want to evaluate and adopt an open textbook, you certainly can do it as part of the BCcampus open textbook project (and we are looking for reviewers of textbooks right now), but you don’t have to wait for this or for any other project to make it happen. If you are a Physics instructor and take a look at an open resource like the OpenStax College Physics textbook, for example, and find it useful – go ahead and use it. In fact, we have already heard of 2 Physics instructors in the province who are seriously considering adopting this textbook for this fall, well ahead of the timelines for adoption that we have for our project. Awesome.

That is the beauty of open textbooks and open educational resources in general. You do not have to work within structures of “official” projects. If you – as a faculty – review the resources and are happy they meet your quality criteria, use it. This is how open works. Yes, there is a bit more work involved in finding quality open textbooks – there is no wine and cheese reception hosted by open textbook authors showing off all the latest new releases. But if you find an openly licensed resource with a Creative Commons license and want to adapt and adopt, do it.

This may sound obvious to some, but over the past few weeks talking to faculty, I have noticed that this basic point is not always obvious to those coming at open educational resources for the first time. OER’s are free to use, adapt, remix, adopt. There is no barrier between faculty and resource. No copyright holders to ask permission from. No gatekeepers. These resources are meant to be used by you in your classroom right now.

This is the beauty of open.


OER and Open Textbooks presentation to Douglas College

I was invited to speak on OER and open textbooks to the Science faculty at Douglas College. This is the first time I have presented in my new role at BCcampus, and the first time I have spoken directly with a group of faculty at any institution about the open textbook project so I was very curious as to the types of questions I would get.

Overall, I think it went well, especially when I got to the bits about what students think about textbooks & the cost of textbooks for students. There were many nods of agreement and acknowledgment. And as I spoke about OpenStax College and their excellent open Physics textbook, a Physics instructor was busy downloading the textbook to check it out and declared at the end of the session that it looked “really good.” Positive stuff.

There were also some critical questions. While I was showing off some of the available textbooks, there was a question from an instructor about the sustainability of the textbook. She said that, while these textbooks may be good now, what guarantees are there that it will be good in the future? Who will update the textbooks, and how will a faculty know that the updates are legitimate and valid? I think this question was brought on because I showed an example of a Wikibooks textbook and the discussion page that included a plea from someone who had adopted the textbook asking editors to take care when editing the contents of the textbook because it was an authoritative text. While I saw that as a quality indicator sign for faculty (someone at another institution has adopted this and made it known to the community), it came across as a red flag for those in the audience because it underscored the point that the wiki can, technically, be edited by anyone. And if you are going to build your course around this wiki-based textbook, the fact that someone can edit it at anytime is a concern.

I didn’t have time to delve into the intricicies of wiki’s and how you can mitigate this. Or get into how an instructor who adopts a Wikibook as a text can actually take an active ownership role in the stewardship of that resource. But I think if I am presenting to faculty on this again, it might just be easier to remove the Wikibooks reference and concentrate on projects like OpenStax College and Open Textbook Catalog out of the University of Minnesota.

Another question came from a Geography instructor who was concerned about an American-centric perspective in the textbooks since most of the open textbooks I was showing were created by U.S. based foundations and organizations. My response to both was that these were examples of the beauty of open licenses – that we can take an American open textbook and Canadianize it. That we can update and maintain our own textbooks without waiting for a publisher to do it. That we can take ownership of these resources.

I don’t know if I got that point across really well. Something to improve upon for next time.

Here are the slides for the presentation.


Changing my CC license

This blog used to be licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license (CC-BY-NC-SA). That changed today when I decided to remove the NC and SA clauses and just make it CC-BY.

As part of the BCcampus open textbook project, I’ve been digging deep into researching the various types of CC licenses. After seeing this chart on the CC website outlining compatibility of CC licenses with each other, I realized that the chances of someone being able to reuse my stuff is virtually nil because of the restrictions I had in place.


The problem is the Share-Alike attribution. When I chose the option to force people to “Share-Alike” (SA) I imagined that this would require people to use ANY CC license for anything they created using my material. I thought this would be a good way to prompt the adoption of CC licenses if someone wanted to use things I create.

What I didn’t realize was that, in fact, what I was forcing them to do was adopt a CC-BY-NC-SA license.  The SA license doesn’t mean Share-Alike with any other of the CC licenses – it means that the license of the adapted work has to match my license exactly.  Therefore, if someone wanted to use my work to create a derivative work (say translate this blog into another language) , they could not license that work with any other license other than a CC BY-NC-SA license and by forcing people to adopt a restrictive CC license, I am actually limiting the reuse of my material. My original good intention of adopting a Share-Alike license to try to promote the use of ANY CC license doesn’t make sense.

As for the NC (Non-Commercial) clause. When I first choose the NC clause, I picked it for 2 reasons. First, I didn’t want people taking my content and selling it – somehow make money off it. Really, I could care less about that anymore. I mean, you’ve read what I write. To think someone would actually pay for this stuff. Heh. I am more than a little embarrassed by the hubris of the 10 year younger me. Besides, I can’t see why people would pay for something they get for free right here.

The second was that I wanted to have SOME kind of recourse (however naive this belief was) that I could use against someone who republished the content of this site to drive traffic to another, unrelated site. It is not an uncommon practice for unscrupulous websites to republish content harvested from sites to drive traffic to another site – a practice known as blog scraping. or splogging (spam blog). I thought that by adopting an NC license that might somehow someday protect me by giving me some kind of legal recourse. Well, truth is, my content gets splogged all the time, and I don’t have the energy or time to try to chase the shadows to even attempt to identify who is doing it. And, again, quite frankly I could care less anymore. In the 10+ years of publishing content on the web, that fear I may have once had has left the station aboard a trainload of meh.

Go ahead. Use and reuse.

CC license compatibility chart from Creative Commons used under Creative Commons Attribution license