Archives for category: education

My son’s school was inspected in December. The report was released on 26th February. The reason for the delay was that Ofsted changed their approach to reports and all reports have been rewritten to the new framework.
My son’s school was judged inadequate, which doesn’t tally with my understanding of the school. What happens now is that as a result of being placed in special measures, the school automatically starts moving towards academy status. I don’t want that to happen. We have been told we have 10 working days to appeal, which by my calculation takes us to 12th March.

I am curious about this rewriting of Ofsted reports. Why? Could it be linked to the desire to push more schools towards academy status? As John Harris suggested in a Guardian article back in September 2013, “There may be reasons why primary schools are now finding themselves downgraded and pushed into the clutches of outside sponsors: 49% of secondary schools are academies, but only 7% of primaries are”.
I went to look at Ofsted’s data view site to see what the ratio of outcomes of Ofsted reports have been. How many primary shools are judged as “inadequate”?
This table is based on primary schools only, and the categories are (from left to right) outstanding, good, satisfactory and inadequate.
So, in the annual data up to august last year, the number of “inadequates” is very small, a steady 2%.
According to the schedule for releasing data, the data on these most recent reports will be released on 12th March. There is a change in categories now, to outstanding, good, requires improvement, inadequate. But they are pretty similar categories so perhaps the latest bunch of reports might show a change in the proportions of “inadequate” ratings.
I went to look at the most recent reports. I filtered for primary schools, and came up with 150 reports. I started the laborious process of logging the outcomes into a spreadsheet. Luckily, the wonderful Tony Hirst came to my rescue, when he realised I was attempting this “by hand”. He applied his data wrangling skills and built a process to scrape the data. He has documented his method. That man deserves a medal for usefulness.

So: 150 reports published in the last week that have been subject to the rewriting under the new regime.

outstanding good requires improvement inadequate total
13 55 59 23 150
9% 37% 39% 15% 100%

and when I formatted it for comparability, it looks like this:

So in August 2013 the % of primary schools judged as “inadequate” was 2%. In the 150 reports released this week, that percentage is 15%.

That looks like a statistically significant change to me.

With thanks to Tony Hirst for data scraping help and Linda Scannell for the Guardian article link.

The oer-discuss list caught fire recently, on the history of reusable learning objects and open educational resources. If you’re not familiar with those concepts, look away now, this post isn’t for you!

A while back I wrote a paper with David Kernohan where we tried to give a narrative with a UK context: OER – a historical perspective . In fact I have been a bit obsessed with open content for many years but I have been silent for a while.  I’m going to jump right in here, a few themes I’ve been thinking about.

Use Value and Exchange Value

In the discussions about whether content has value, there is often a question about whether content can be bought and sold, whether it is “monetisable”. In marxist economics that is the type of value called exchange value: where a commodity can be exchanged for money. There is another type of value: use value.  That is the extent to which a commodity is useful. It is about its utility, not its cost or price (see below). I think most teaching resources can have a high use value both for primary use and secondary reuse, without that ever translating into an exchange value. They might be valuable but you can’t sell them.

Does that mean “content is free”?

I don’t think so. Teaching materials cost time and effort to produce. One of the arguments for sharing teaching materials is that of public service: we taxpayers/citizens pay the wages of teachers and academics and have some stake in their outputs being used as much as possible by others to benefit from the use value. Its the same line of argument as the “public paid, public should benefit” open access to research outputs. The cost model does not translate into a price model. The cost model is situated in a broader context of who paid for the labour of producing the content.

Enter open licensing as a different model of value

Instead of pricing teaching materials, open licensing focuses on getting a greater use out of the materials: a greater utility: a greater return on investment. Openly licensed digital content is also non-rivalrous (see pedagogy of abundance chapter by Weller ) so it doesn’t reduce its value when you copy it. Open licensing turns value on its head: the value is in use, not in exchange.

The learning object economy

This was the idea of a marketplace for reusable content. The last decade we have seen the maturing for apps markets and the ebay marketplace: enabled by micropayment models making small payments convenient for consumers and efficient for sellers. We have seen pyramid economics  meaning that enough micropayments can fund a product. The ebay for reusable learning materals never materialised, partly because this type of content doesn’t have exchange value.  In the meantime, the idea of an ebay marketplace gave birth to other models that connect consumers and sellers together. Perhaps there is a future for a freecycle for learning materials.

Collective commissioning

It is in seeing the education system as a system that we can really benefit from openly licensed teaching materials. Open textbook initiatives pay the content producers for their labour: they cover the costs of their production so that use can be free. Collectively commissioning textbooks is the purest illustration of this. Commissioning at scale. We need to look to kickstarter models of publishing, at “patron-driven acquisition” to scale up our collective commissioning. There are also models of funding the clearance of content of existing books: buying out the content in order to share it. It’s a bit like someone I know who buys a bottle of sambuca from the bar so that he can shower his pals with “free” shots 😉

What next?

If I understand the correctly, tools like mozilla’s popcorn maker  and open tapestry  allow you to remix resources without copying them. Online curation tools could be a growth area. What will they mean for creative commons licenses? There’s something going on there that I don’t understand yet. But I like the idea of not having to orphan content from its context in order to use it. I am still not convinced that many people “repurpose” content, and I don’t mind that: managing teaching materials is good and reuse of any kind is great. I have no big conclusion to this post, but hopefully it will make sense!

The Lib Dems have announced a new pledge from government to make school meals free for 4-7 year olds.

School meals

I am a fan of school dinners. We pay £10 a week for my 6 year old to have school dinners, and my younger child would benefit from such a policy. I do think a well fed child is better able to learn.

Indeed the evidence has been there for a long time. A search on the academic database worldcat on “school meals educational outcomes” returns 544 results. There is a strong body of evidence that there is a link between diet and performance. But from the news reporting it sounds like it was two entreprenurial restaurateurs (we checked and there’s no ‘n’ in that word!) who were commissioned to create a report that finally got listened to. Ok, so maybe that makes the report more media friendly. The soundbite I heard was one of them saying that a pilot school they had visited was “transformed”. I have worked in education research and policy long enough to know that the first trial of any big change can create a big response: just being in the spotlight and having researchers take an interest can change the tone of the school. For a while. That first phase is not an indication of a lasting change of the same magnitude. (See “hawthorne effect“). That is why research methodologies need to be rigorous to truly assess the overall impact of proposed polices. I suspect that the literature agrees with the soundbite conclusions, but surely too much weight has been given to anecdote?

So … make free school meals universal. If they are so good for learning and wellbeing then all children should benefit. I find myself wondering which schools will get subsidised? all schools? state schools and private schools and everything in between? The boundaries are so blurred now that I fear that private schools are subsidised by my tax. I would not be happy with that.

But leaving that aside, a purported benefit of universal free school meals is to remove the stigma. Now, I remember at secondary school, there was a discrete system. I queued up with my cash-carrying friends and there was a dinner lady with a tupperware box full of plastic coin-shaped tokens and a clipboard. She handed me my token, and I paid at the till along with everyone else. I remember being curious about who else had tokens, but never felt stigmatised because it was handled sensitively. I can’t remember how it worked at primary school. And I definitely can’t remember how it worked at infant school. So, wait … is there evidence that 4,5,6 and 7 year olds suffer any stigma? And … wait … my 6 year olds meals are paid for in advance via an online system. So there is no distinguishing between subsidised and non-subsidised children in that school. There is already a way to remove the stigma: using a system like that not even the teachers or lunchtime staff need to know.

And now we get on to what I think might be the key issue here.

If you read about schools, Ofsted reports, league tables etc you will find mention of “proportion of children in receipt of free school meals”. There’s a reason for that: free school meals does act as a proxy marker for low income households. As I understand it schools don’t know the economics of a pupil’s home, the only signifier they get of a low income home is if that child is on free school meals. This allows them to direct funds for things like subsidising school trips, and rightly so.

It also means that when comparing an inner city school in an area of low income with a school from a wealthy suburb, the “proportion of children is receipt of free school meals” percentage signifies the additional challenges the former school faces. The “free school meals” marker is the main indicator of the uneven playing field between schools. It is part of how schools signal to the regulators that SAT results are not their only priority, that they are doing their best in areas where parents are out of work.

If 4-7 year olds all get free school meals what does that marker get replaced with?  I would like to think that it would just be a simple marker of “children from low income households”. There should be no shame in being on a low income. It’s not a moral issue as far as I’m concerned, it’s just an economic fact. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to being from a low income household. (I’m less sure that the current government agrees with that, but for what its worth let’s continue to remember that being poor is not a moral failure).

My suspicion, however, is that the marker won’t be replaced by anything. Schools in challenging circumstances will not be able to point to evidence of their challenge. After all, that inconvenient fact that this is not a level playing field has made the present government a little uncomfortable. Gove would like to present schools as “businesses” that “with the right leadership and values can all compete and collectively raise their standards”. That is not an actual quote but I can imagine him saying it.

I don’t think the removal of the marker is the purpose of the policy: I think the Lib Dems probably want it for all the right reasons. But the side effect described above might be partly why the Conservatives are not challenging it. This is the government that is trying to reduce the number of unemployment claimants (which forms a major indicator of economic health) not by creating jobs, but by tightening the criteria for unemployment benefit. The government seems to treat economic statistics as key performance indicators (KPIs) to be met at any cost. I can well imagine that it would be a rather “beneficial” side effect of universal free school meals to make that marker disappear.  First for infant schools, then perhaps further. And then finally the government will be able to paint their picture of a meritocratic UK, where any school can become top of the league tables, and any child can rise to their chosen profession, if only they eat their greens and work hard. I hope I’m wrong

Free School Meals? Yes. But.

I spent 12-13th April at the CETIS conference, with a focus on OER and open practice, and 19th-20th April at Beyond the PDF 2 conference with a focus on open access and open research. I feel very lucky to have a foot in both worlds.

The view across the bridge was raised  by both Suzanne Hardy and Nick Sheppard in the OER session at CETIS. After a conversation with Laura Czerniewicz, who regularly crosses the bridge, I decided that it might be useful to share some of my thoughts on how these two worlds relate. This post is more about supporting infrastructures than it is about changes to practice. It is about some areas where the problem spaces feel similar, even if they are not exactly the same issues. To the few people that cross the bridge I hope it reflects your take. To the majority who live on one side of the river, I hope it might encourage you to borrow a little more from your neighbours where it fits.

oresund bridge

Oresdund bridge between Sweden and Denmark (image sourced and stamped via  )

Slight differences

OER Workflows: a) frictionless sharing OER exhaust, sharing as a byproduct of teaching, collaboration. b) open development prior to use c) collaborative tools
Open Research: Workflows: a) data management as part of research, b) open notebooks c) collaborative tools

OER: Learning designs as a) a common language to develop practice, b) a framework for executing services
Open Research: Experimental designs as a) a common language to develop research, b) a framework for executing services

OER: Repurposing (I suspect this is a red herring and an unattainable goal)
Open Research: Reproducability (Carole Goble suggested this might be a red herring and an unattainable goal)

OER: student as producer, participative learning
Open Research: citizen science

OER: information about usage: paradata
Open Research: information about usage: altmetrics

And there is plenty where they have directly in common.

  • Creative Commons Licensing. Gratis/Libre debates, the CC non commercial clause and the role of publishers. I’d like to see both groups take note of the importance of machine-readable and embedded licenses because content in this distributed open ecosystem easily gets detached from its host page (see that chapter in Into The Wild). Ross Mounce pointed out to the BeyondthePDF2 conference that we should be improving embedded metadata.
  • Reward and Recognition for reaching out beyond traditional realms of academic practice, for crafting materials, for reviewing and commenting on other people’s work. Career risks taken by digital scholars.
  • An ecosystem approach: small pieces loosely joined rather than silos, interoperating pieces of the jigsaw, jorum and humbox, figshare and PLOS, giving people choices in how to assemble their services without locking them in.
  • Identifiers – Open Research world is ahead on this, with ORCID and assignment of DOIs, OER world should take note.
  • Provenance – the ability for a user to evaluate a resource: part of digital literacy, part of research skills.
  • Bundling linked outputs – Open Research world talks about metajournals, macropapers, nanopubs, OER world talks about curations. This is potentially a very fertile meeting ground – both worlds can lay claim to slidedecks, explanatory videos: both worlds aspire to the idea of the topic being at the centre of a whole range of outputs. A research output can be a teaching resource, a videoed lecture can be a research dissemination tool.
  • Blogging, tweeting, aggregating, data mining, the social graph of knowledge. We’re all talking about the public academic, what it means, how to surface the richness of the conversation, how to be an academic online.

Lastly, and most importantly: Public engagement. I talked about this a little in my piece on 21st Century Scholarship and Wikipedia and yet I was surprised by the number of mentions of MOOCs at BeyondthePDF2. I shouldn’t have been. Open access and open education may have forked away from simple principles but at heart they both share a founding principle: the opening up of access to what goes on in universities. They are not the same, they are rife with nuance and sometimes even passionate internal disagreements. But the energy behind the activists, developers and reformers is immense and I’d love to see a little more talking across boundaries. Take a little trip over the bridge!

Interested to visit but not sure where to start? Open Research developers, read a chapter of Into the Wild, and OER infrastructure people read the formats and technologies section of the Force11 Manifesto. I’d love to hear if anyone sees something from the other side that they can use.

Hot on the heels of my blog book, here’s the main course!

IntoWildCoverThis was the result of a 2 and a half day writing retreat “booksprint” last august with my colleagues/friends from CETIS: Lorna Campbell, Phil Barker and Martin Hawskey, facilitated by Adam Hyde from Booktype. Terry McAndrew wrote an additional chapter and we had lots of input pre-publication. So a real team effort.

You can get it here!

When I was wrapping up my work at JISC at the end of 2012, I was keen to do something with my blog posts. Blogging for work had been a great pleasure, and learning experience, and I liked the idea of capturing my blood sweat and tears into something a bit more tangible than a set of urls. Luckily, I know Zak Mensah. I described what I was thinking about and he offered to create a ebook out of the posts for me. Thus this book was born.

The technical details: it was created out of the wordpress xml export of the posts I authored on the JISC digital infrastructure blog. Zak took the xml, edited it and ordered it as I requested it, created the visuals, added some wordclouds I’d generated, and provided it back to me in the two main formats for ebooks. He gave it to me ages ago but I got sidetracked and the time was never quite right to share them.


We decided to group the posts under the key themes that had emerged out of my work in digital infrastructure for learning materials:

Wordle: chapter_oerturn

Sensemaking: Conceptualising Openness

1. Rethinking the O in OER
2. The OER Turn
3. My Story of O(pen)

Sensemaking: Managing open content

4. OER: Metadata Now
5. Making OER visible and findable
6. OER and the aggregation question
7. Experimenting with the Learning Registry
8. UKOER: what’s in a tag?

Sensemaking: Use and Users

9. Making the most of open content: why we need to understand use (Part 1)
10. Making the most of open content: understanding use (Part 2)
11. Connecting people through open content
12. Sharing Learning Resources: shifting perspectives on process and product

Sensemaking: Licensing

13. Choosing Open Licences
14. Licensing Data as Open Data

We also included a section of Update posts in case anyone is interested in the chronology of the work JISC funded in these areas over this time.


You can download it from my dropbox as epub HERE or mobi HERE. But read on …

I’m on a steep learning curve with ebooks, from this, also my work with CETIS on the book “Into the wild – Technology for open educational resources”, and my involvement in the JISC challenge of ebooks in academic institutions project. My learning so far is mainly “it ain’t as straightforward as you think”. So in case you do want to have a look, please note:

  • epub needs an epub reader. Plenty of readers are available for free: I have adobe digital editions for windows and aldiko for android. In my limited experience most PDF readers think epub is a broken pdf and freak out, so tempting as it is to assume you can open it in a PDF reader, don’t.
  • mobi is for kindle (though the route to get an mobi onto a kindle reader without being on the kindle marketplace is somewhat tortuous). If you get the mobi, follow the instructions on “manage my kindle” for personal documents.

I am indebted to Zak for his hard work and patience on this project. He did it in his own time and I owe him more than a few drinks 🙂

Obviously I would LOVE for folk to read my blog book, and comments here would be very welcome!

(This has nothing to do with Edgar Allen Poe, I just liked the pun. Sorry to disappoint).

Having worked in technology and education since the late 1990s I’ve witnessed several swings in what is deemed to be common sense or received wisdom of “what’s best”. I’m starting to notice patterns, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is nothing particularly specific to the field I work in, but a wider pattern of how fields of practice evolve.

I’m going to be lazy and let you look anything unfamiliar up on wikipedia.

To start off, I love the analogy in Wittgenstein’s semantic river.

Philosophers please forgive me my inexactness, I merely want to sketch out how this concept informs my thinking, not to try to describe it or critique it.

So …

At the top of the river is the fast flowing water of everyday lived experience. Below that the silt, the fluid mud that rolls along the river bed, slower than the water but faster than stones. You can see and touch the silt, it starts to get tangible. Below that the stones, each one a thing with boundaries, each one describable, but slowly moving with the direction of the river. Then the rocks, moving imperceptably slowly. His analogy is that this is what meaning is like, and for him, language is the meaning. Big concepts feel like rocks, unquestionable, but in truth, all is fluid, all is effected by fluid, its a question of time. This past year I’ve been using the word “churn” a lot, and for me this is often what I’m thinking about.

Sidenote – if you want to really blow your mind, there was an amazing programme a while back about waves and how in some ways all life is waves. Its just a question of time and distance in space. I must watch it again.

Next concept: Dialectic

As in … thesis and antithesis. One person says I think A, another says no, not A, its Z. In a process of discussion, the choice of A gets shifted a little for B, Z gets swapped for Y … and the position that comes to be discussed is somewhere between … G and P. It’s not to say that all ideas reach consensus, but that there are forces at play that mean ideas change in relation to each other, and, I think, people change their positions in relation to ideas.

That’s what I mean by the pendulum: there is a natural swing between preferred options, the options backed by the majority. A good example is the pendulum between centralised “vs” distributed technology, local “vs” outsourced technology expertise, etc.

Physicists – this is where my lack of hard sciences show. I know that a true pendulum settles in the centre, but please forgive me some creative leeway. (I’m actually a little scared of how far this whole post could be ripped to pieces!).

Sometimes the dialectic is up at one end of a discussion. So it’s between Z and T: a small but hotly contested arena of debate. An example of a debate up at the far end of a spectrum is the debate between gratis “vs” libre in open source,or  free “vs” open in open educational resources . It’s fascinating to watch that the question of gratis vs libre is starting to gain weight in the space of open access to research papers, taking the shape of “what sort of creative commons licence should be applied to a research paper?”.  By watching the trajectories of other “opens”, I predict that although it hasn’t been a big focus, it will start to become more important.

It’s interesting the way that a tussle within a short strech of the pendulum, say between P and S, can be really important to progress of a field, but to the folk aligned to the left of M, it looks like silly in-fighting. I fear that the political left sometimes confuses the internal discussions with the external discussions, and could do with a bit of the brash confidence of the right in the pretence that there is common-sense position. Folks who believe that rocks don’t move much can too easily interpret the movement of stones as a lack of a bedrock.

So … a case study in this is the open source movement. And the promised Git of the title. I mentioned above the gratis vs libre concept. I think the big pendulum has been swinging from the A as “economically foolish” to Z as “economically sound”. Meanwhile open source has branched off into a diversity of approaches, from purist to hybrid. At the purist end we find git hub.

I am not a programmer, but I think understand the concept of github. Don’t just share the source code like on sourceforge: host the source code in a shared place where it can actually be used/played/run. Taking the concept of open source one step further to where it can be worked on together. Github is clearly an amazing thing, but to assume that it is the only trajectory of open source would be to misunderstand the way fields develop.

[postscript prompted by the comment from Graham Klyne: I refer here to a tendency to see the live editible source model as an answer to everything. That tendency doesn’t necessarily come from users/advocates of github but of people like me who grasp what it offers. I call it “githubification” and I mean that not as a negative comment on github, but as a caution that a borrowed model cannot necessarily be applied to a long standing problem space like sharing learning materials, and magically work. I think that sharing learning materials is a socio-technical issue, like sharing code, and that though the technical solution might look the same, the sociological/human factors might not be.]

So there we have it. No doubt riddled with inaccuracies and misunderstandings, but this is my take on the Git and the Pendulum.

This is in response to a survey by Alice Bell about education bloggers

Blog URL

I contribute to my team’s work blog and I have a personal blog, fragments of amber, where this post is published. Links to both are available on my page

What do you blog about?

Team Work Blog: I blog about my work: projects, events and areas of interest. That is things like digital learning materials, digital infrastructure, intellectual property, openness and some other topics.

Personal: I blog thoughts about work that are a bit more opinionated, and I blog about issues around technology that fall outside my role at work, some politics, and some more personal stuff.

Are you paid to blog?

I’m not paid to blog, but I see contributing to my team blog as part of my job.

What do you do professionally (other than blog)?

I’m a programme manager which means I design, commission, oversee and develop work that other people do! So my job is very networked. I see myself as a knowledge worker.

I often write for work but it’s things like reports, plans, evaluations: objectivity is really important. And sometimes for work I need to write for guidance purposes: clarity, advisory, aiming at certainty.

How long have you been blogging at this site?

I started a blog in January 2005 on my mum, Sue Thomas’s, suggestion. She actually gifted me a blog as she was already a keen blogger by then (she’s always ahead of me). But lack of focus and then two babies intervened, and I didn’t start in earnest until 2010 with a personal post about babies . I found a tone of voice that was personal, discursive and a bit humorous with that. My first important work blog post was “The O in OER”  (Dec 2010). I confess that I sought help on that post from an excellent blogger who knows about the area, Tony Hirst . I’ve had a lot of encouragement from colleagues too. I’ve found my voice and my pace now, I think.

I think my personal and work blogging are very connected, sometimes I’m not sure where to publish a post.

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?)

I sometimes contribute to papers, journal articles, newsletter pieces and webpages, depending on what i need to do at work.

Can you remember why you started blogging?

In earnest, 2010, to express myself, I think. To have a focus for articulating my thoughts and to find my own voice. I blogged about why I blog a while back and there are some interesting comments!

What keeps you blogging?

I’m continuing to think about it, and I have recently realised that permitted subjectivity is part of it. For work I have to aim at being objective, analytical and rational, and/or at being clear and directive. A blog post allows me to be more discursive, and a bit more opinionated. I want to back my opinions up, but I also want to have a voice. Both blogs are an expression of me, of me making sense of things and sharing that. Sensemaking needs to be subjective, I think. I thought about this in mapmakers and storytellers: how does someone communicate how the world looks to them? Those questions about subjectivity and sensemaking have stuck with me. I love it when people blog their uncertainties and questions. I also sometimes love a bit of rhetoric, a strong voice or story told with conviction though I don’t enjoy rhetoric that I don’t agree with: its only satisfying when it reinforces my own views. Choosing the right voice with which to capture the point I’m at in my own sensemaking is a key part of the process.

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How?

I am always interested in who retweets my posts (work and personal). I think my returning readership is probably quite small, but some work posts get reused as content elsewhere. I shared some numbers in why I blog .

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog?

I love comments. A couple of times I’ve felt I’m being wilfully misinterpreted and baited by people I know. Usually though, it’s hugely rewarding to get positive comments from people I don’t know. Often my commenters are other bloggers I know, and I’m already having a conversation with them on twitter or facebook. But basically I LOVE comments.

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology)

Technology and education. More broadly I very much feel part of the public sector and like to read other public sector work blogs.

If so, what does that community give you?

The intersect between technology and education is very multidisciplinary, which suits me because I’m neither a techie or a teacher! People in this space talk about politics, economics, sociology, psychology, history… as a personal with a philosophy background it is a space I find dynamic and one that I feel I can have a voice in. For me, my blogging is very much connected to my tweeting. A blog post is a larger contribution to a social conversation, but I am usually responding to things bubbling around in my social/work network.

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?

There have been times I’ve blogged for work instead of waiting for the standard communications processes to kick in. That messes up planning. But when i’ve written it I tend to want to post it straight away.

More examples of advantages on why I blog, for example:

“When I blogged an extract of a funding Call I’d released (Post: OER Rapid Innovation Extract) I unleashed the power of trackbacks. The director of a project in the US contacted me to correct an error. Not only did he see a reference to his project that would otherwise have been locked inside a PDF, but he was able to correct an error within an hours of the post going live. And now I follow him on twitter”

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss)

Most of my family are tweeters and bloggers! I sometimes link to my posts on facebook so they reach a nonwork audience that way. But some of my close friends have never seen any of my posts.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?

I’ve deliberately written this without reading anyone else’s responses. No doubt now I read them I’ll realise what else I should have said!


Excited to be heading off tomorrow to the Flossie 2012 Conference.

I’ll be speaking as myself, sharing an overview of different forms and characteristics of openness in universities. For me this is a chance to meet with other women working in open tech and open culture, and to reflect on the sorts of initiatives I’ve been working on for nearly a decade.

Here’s my slides

Looking forward to it!

This post has been bubbling around my head for months now, so it’s time I exorcise it.

I think that there are a number of ways in which “the open content agenda” parallels “the green agenda”, and there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn.


All-or-nothing is a minority sport

When green was only an all-encompassing lifestyle choice, those pioneers were part of a counter-culture, objects of curiosity, they were “other” to most people. As green objectives have become more mainstream, it became less all or nothing, and less intimidating to do a few green things.

My conclusion is: the die-hard open purists are free to pursue their approaches, but I’m not one of them. It’s too big a sacrifice for me to make. I want to live a normal digital life, I want to use facebook and twitter, but i’ll do my bit with CC licences, attribution, and reusing images from flickr.

The green ecosystem has many agents playing many roles (and some of them care about money)

In some ways the content ecosystem is about providing content that is reusable, and others reusing it. Provision AND use of content is important to the ecosystem. There should be no talk of being “selfish” by not releasing content. There is space for both.

Evidence of this is the way recycling works (in the UK at least, I’m not sure how other countries handle it). Some manufacturers use recycled materials in their packaging, and they label it as such: reuse is good. Most manufacturers label how their packaging can be recycled: reusable is good. Some packaging is just one of those things. Its still better than none of those things. Some manufacturers go further, making a feature of their green credentials. Others just comply with regulation. Also, think of the role of the consumer. We read the packaging labels, and recycle accordingly. A sector of businesses specialising in aspects of the recycling collection, processing and redistribution chain sits around the consumer and their local council. The business, the councils, the consumers, and the manufacturers all have parts to play in the labelling, assembling, recycling and reuse of materials. I think the same is true of open content.

Consumption is not infinite

Not every item can be reused and recombined indefinitely. Materials can decay, get too mixed up, to keep the cycle going. But every step that prolonged the life and therefore the potential reusability is good.

At some point, openly licensed content will be used in a closed environment, whether in a face to face setting  or an authenticated online place. That is not a failure of the open ecosystem, it is a fact of life. the fact the content has been re-used is still a good thing. Our licencing approaches need to somehow accomodate that, to allow wide ranges of end use, without giving up on the pass-it-on share-alike ethos.

Organic, fairtrade, foodmiles

It seems to me that there are also some interesting parallels with in our attitudes towards the food chain. This is a very rough definition but here goes:

organic: made without GM, without pesticides, nothing artificial added. its about the process of production.

fairtrade: producers are given a decent price for their produce. its about the economics.

food miles: the carbon footprint of storing and transporting the food is reduced. its about managing the negative impact.

These do not necessarily go together. Fairtrade Nicaraguan bananas are pretty heavy on foodmiles. And fairtrade producers might use pesticides to help them farm in sufficient volume to merit big contracts.

Fairtrade and organic, in particular, are also terms for marketing the products values to consumers in the supermarket.


Of course, there is not just supermarkets. I remember when you had to go to a wholefood shop to buy things like hummous or sunflower seeds. Remember those pioneers I mentioned in the opening? They shopped at places that smelt like pachouili and also ran yoga classes.

But over time, the products that were specialist became mainstream and familiar. The counterculture of alternative whole food shops still exists, but to buy some of those items that were weird and wonderful twenty years ago is now a lot easier. Fairtrade coffee is everywhere now, I think that is a very good thing, I’m grateful to the pioneers. But I’m also glad I don’t have to trip over dreamcatchers and bongos to buy it. (Just me? Maybe just me).

Freegans and foragers

This is where I might really annoy some people. But this is my personal blog and I can say what I want, right? 😉 I think one of the lessons of the above is that supply chains need business models, and that good habits need to fit into existing behaviours. I am all for progress, but when open content is presented as an all or nothing choice, I switch right off, and I suspect others do to. Freegans are people who believe they shouldn’t have to pay for food if they can find it for free, and that includes in supermarket bins etc, which is fine by me. Foragers believe we should understand better our local natural environment and where food can be found. Again fine. And I look forward to the elderberry and rosehip jam. But I don’t have time myself. When I hear open content advocates sound like freegans and foragers I cringe a little, and distance myself. Its not the style of open advocacy that I think will win over many people.

Makers and menders

The makers culture and how that relates to ecosystem thinking and reuse is intriguing. I love the knitters in my twitter stream! And the 3D printing! I’m not very handy myself, or maybe I haven’t found the right sort of making for me. But I do see there that taking the means of production into our hands, and not feeling so alienated from the manufactured objects around us, is a healthy aim. Mending, whether clothes or machines, is also that kind of green approach that is about sustainability of skills as well as resources. There are clearly parallels in the digital space, and openly licenced content is very much part of that reclaimation of production. So, yes, I haven’t got my head round it yet but I do see there is something important happening there.

Conclusions on eco open

…. I’m still not entirely sure …. interested to know what other people think!