Monday, 19 March 2012

Open, closed and the need to just survive! – Week 9 CCK12


The readings this week on openness and transparency were extremely interesting. I believe deeply in the concept of openness in education for the following reasons:
  • It is an extremely helpful way to build up educational resources, curriculum, ideas, AND strategies that result in better teaching and more effective learning experiences
  • It is a powerful tool for building educational communities of learning and peer relationships
  • It develops global linkages and knowledge sharing
  • It is a cost-effective way for small organizations with scarce resources to learn and grow
  • It prevents the constant need to reinvent the wheel and allows educators to build on and adapt existing sources of knowledge
  • It allows for sharing of promising practices and tools across wide and diverse geographic and economic areas 
  • Ordinary people and organizations get to chose what is worth sharing and publishing, not large publishing houses or government. 


The non-profit organization for which I work has in fact as long modeled this sort of open and transparent information sharing. We have freely and openly shared (via the Internet) all of our resources from printed guides to webinars to online self-study websites to podcasts to e-communiqu├ęs and newsletters. Although we are a small organization with just four staff, our resources are extremely well-regarded and thousands upon thousands of resources are downloaded each year from our website – and all for free.

Small as we are, we’ve been inspired by other large organizations to openly share for the benefit of others. We are energized when others write and tell us how much our publications have helped them.

HOWEVER! As much as we value this openness, we’ve become a bit jaded by it and are changing our philosophy. We are really wrestling with this abundance versus scarcity philosophy. Perhaps we are doing something wrong in our free and open approach – advice would be appreciated! Here is the situation:

We find that the sharing often goes one way. From us to others and not back. We find that sometimes because we give things away for free that they aren’t valued as much as resources or webinars that people pay for. Sometimes people think “free” means poorly done and that experts and quality cost money.

Mostly importantly, we receive a very small amount of government funding; in fact, we must raise over 50% of our budget from other sources of income. Soon, we will need to look at cutting back our staff, especially given the poor state of the Ontario economy when government funding may in fact decrease. Therefore, for fiscal reasons, we are planning to start a social enterprise in order to make money from the resources that we have normally given away for free.

Here is a perfect example of why we have to change our strategy. Last year, a colleague and I wrote a resource that we freely posted to our website. This Guide was so popular that it was downloaded over 50,000 times in just two months (with no advertising). On our website, we have a paypal link that said “We are pleased to share this resource with you. However, we are a small nonprofit and we would request that each person or organizational downloading this report make a minimum donation of $2 towards our organization”. And, while 50,000 people downloaded our report, NOT ONE PERSON made a donation to our organization. This led us to think that we are not just open sharers of information as we’d always liked to think, but instead, we are perhaps suckers?

During our 10 years of open information sharing, we always hoped (naively I’m sure) that some philanthropist would notice our excellent and free resources and our generous spirit of sharing and offer to sponsor us. But that never happened either.

We sadly cannot afford to be so generous any more – perhaps larger organizations with deeper pockets can. Instead, we are moving towards a social enterprise and moving our resources over to Amazon.com. Our resources will continue to be free for our members, but outside organizations will need to start paying for them.

Do you think there is a better solution than our planned social enterprise? We want to keep being open and generous, but it doesn't seem sustainable. Are there models whereby organizations can share and yet receive some kind of compensation for their generosity and skills and talent? Stephen Downes mentions several helpful funding models in his paper "Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources" (http://ijello.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p029-044Downes.pdf) but those models seem to apply more to the formal world of academia than to the informal world of nonprofits. Your ideas would be most welcome!

We hope our social enterprise will give us the money to continue doing what we do best – helping small literacy organizations to survive and thrive! And, we will find ways to continue some open sharing however, as it is deeply embedded in our culture.
Joanne

Friday, 16 March 2012

Power, the Long Tail, and e-publishing on Kindle – Week 8 CCK12

Power and authority, always interesting topics! I agree that new medias have allowed for an unprecedented level of communication and collaboration which in turn has resulted in a strong voice for ordinary people. Whether it is politicians who quickly respond to Facebook protests from constituents (for example, Premier Dalton McGuinty changing his policy on the process for licensing young drivers due to a Facebook campaign from young Ontarians), or companies who change products and policies based on Twitter feedback, or nonprofit organization such as Invisible Children who immediately respond via all forms of social media to critics, ordinary people can effectively use new technologies to make their opinions known.
One of this week’s readings “Revisiting Multiliteracies in Collaborative Learning Environments” by Vance Stevens (http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume10/ej38/ej38int/) discusses the fascinating concept of “the long tail”. Stevens notes that in traditional print media, publishers decide what is worthy of publication, often based on the perceived ability of a book to be marketable to large amounts of people. However, due to new medias, ordinary people who want to share their voice, can easily use new medias to create a blog, develop a website, gain a following on Twitter, or even publish a book.
According to Wikipedia, “The term Long Tail has gained popularity in recent times as describing the retailing strategy of selling a large number of unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each – usually in addition to selling fewer popular items in large quantities .” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail)
Amazon is an amazing example of the long tail concept. Amazon through its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows authors to publish and market digital books. It is free for authors to use this service (Amazon takes a percentage of sales). Under KDP, E-books are created based on the interests and passions of authors. Few are best sellers, and the Amazon model is based on selling small quantities of many types of diverse books. Amazon makes a HUGE profit either way.
 I am most interested in e-publishing and, in order to learn how to write, format, publish and market e-books, I wrote a book for Kindle this December on something I am personally interested in. Based on my experience with KDP, my non-profit organization is in the process of moving many of our instructional books to Amazon KDP and selling them as a social enterprise. In this time of government cutbacks, we nonprofits must be more innovative than ever!
So “power to the people” I say, and give thanks that new medias exist where we can share our stories, voices, and resources without someone on high saying they aren’t worthy. We can engage stakeholders directly ourselves and use our creativity without someone in power stopping us. Hurrah for the long tail and new medias such as KDP!

Joanne

p.s. Happy Saint Urho's Day everyone - the day St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland! A time to wear purple and green and celebrate!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Complex Adaptive Systems – Martin and Rosa and Joseph - Week 7 CCK12

The idea of complex adaptive systems rings true – and leaves me feeling oddly hopeful. My own instinct and experience have long told me that the universe is an unpredictable and complex place. It is not as easily subjected to unwavering laws and unbreakable rules as some would have it. It is not a giant jigsaw puzzle or a machine, that with time, effort and study you could understand, fix, and replicate. Such theories of a complicated universe do not account for the ability of interactions, whether human or in the natural world, to greatly impact and change events in unpredictable ways.
There may be some elements that are predictable. For example, from a demographic point of view, many people once they reach 50 will start to become more interested in health and fitness and typically, more young people are interested in extreme sports than are middle-aged or elderly people.

However, the actions of individual humans can be highly unpredictable – as can the response from others with whom they interact. Tiny stones throw in large ponds can occasionally have dramatic impacts which can only be understood through a complex adaptive system lens.

For example, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg in 1517 he wanted change. Others made the same requests for reform and were killed or ignored. Yet Luther’s words had an enormous impact on others and this unleashed a massive revolution and reformation beyond anything Luther could have imagined.

And, to use a more modern example, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she could not have predicted that her actions would greatly impact others and ignite the civil rights movement. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ1OO5iBWCQ



As I write this, the Kony 2012 movement going viral on the Internet. There have been 71 millions views (and counting) of this 30 minute video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc&feature=share). I sit here wondering: Will a small group of people from Invisible Children impact enough other people in this complex adaptive system in which we live? Will a brutal killer be captured at last?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Personal Learning Networks / Environments - CCK12 / Week 6

A Personal Learning Network is a network of people that you connect with for the purpose of learning. PLNs are often informal and are always personalised based on the needs and interests of each individual. I would like to further develop my personal learning network. Upon reflecting on this week’s readings and the Thursday night lecture, I think that my network is not diverse enough.
George noted during the Thursday class: “If you agree with everyone in your network, your network is probably not diverse enough”. It is true that sometimes those we heartily disagree with force us into deeper thought and new perspectives. I think my current personal learning network is mostly full of people with whom I share many common perspectives.
This course has expanded my horizons since other members of CCK or the MOCC come from different countries and workplaces than do I. I learn a lot from these diverse perspectives and look forward to particularly the Thursday nights when I get to listen and read the the chat and think: “How interesting! I would have never thought that way or perceived that issue in such a manner”.
A Personal Learning Environment is a technical environment you create to support your learning. This environment varies for each person. In fact, a PLE is your very own, personalised, customized learning environment. It is built on tools that you find helpful in your own learning process.

The main tools I use in my PLE (in ranked order) are:


·         Blogs
·         YouTube
·         Podcasts
·         Webinars
·         Facebook
·         Photosharing
·         Social bookmarking
·         E-books
·         LinkedIn
Here are a couple of examples: GCLearnFree’s blog: http://blog.gcflearnfree.org / YouTube for Teachers: www.youtube.com/user/teachers and  iTunes University: www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/