Values and my work: part 3/leadership

Credit: SteFou!, CC BY

I am a believer in open peer learning. We are social beings and learn best through sharing with others. Whether it is through my education related experiences like those at Peer 2 Peer University and CLMOOC, or through more informal interactions like our seed library, I have seen the benefits of this kind of learning.

Peer learning often implies a decentralized, learner-driven approach.

When I started the P2PU School of Ed, after having done pretty traditional stand-and-deliver PD for many years, I very consciously remade my role as that of an almost-in-the-background facilitator. I knew that peer learning is about tapping into the wisdom of the group and letting them lead, instead of being the “expert” on the stage.

In making this transition, I quickly found two things: 1) The role of an organizer/facilitator can be just as much work as that of a teacher and 2) many participants expected and wanted a teacher and a so-called expert leading the courses. I fought this though and continued to try to inspire self direction and self leadership in each group.

As I got into working with MOOCs, again I sought to create environments that were peer- and self-driven. Recently, the idea of “headless” MOOCs has become popular. The basic idea is to run a massive open online course that has no “teacher” (or even facilitator) but is instead run by the community.

I think the motivations for this type of approach are many. One is the philosophical desirability of a truly peer-managed community. It may be that the absence of a “teacher” allows or even causes informal leadership to rise up. I also suspect that a large driving force is sustainability — many MOOCs are run with little or no funding, and teachers/facilitators/organizers are hard to come on an unpaid basis, especially on a sustained basis.

Now, I think it’s worth differentiating between the more traditional “teacher” role and the “organizer” role. These two roles act in very different ways, but in my experience, the time required is not much different from one to the other. And in the cases I’ve been involved in where there is a desire to go “headless” or peer-organized, the plan is to have no one assigned to this position, except to the extent that peer participants step into that role informally (a necessity, in this model).

Having been a part of several attempts at this, both as an organizer and as a participant, my own belief is that some formal (and I use that term loosely to mean someone who has “signed on” and committed to do this for the duration of the course) leadership is essential to a successful online learning experience. Someone has to do the hard work of building community, encouraging peer learning, and generally making sure the thing moves forward.

(Curiously, after struggling over the need or desirability of formal leadership, I read Seth Godin’s Tribes, in which he extols the need for a strong leader in creating a tribe.)

Circling back to my earlier ideas of equity, inclusivity, and meeting people where they are, I think that in many cases, participants need a leader of some sort to feel comfortable. Peer learning is not how most of us have learned to learn, and many are uncomfortable with the skills involved in self-directed learning and peer communities. I have heard and seen many instances of people disengaging from learning experiences in which they are pushed toward a model of extreme self direction.

While I like to imagine a world of perfect open, self-directed, peer-led learning, the relatively few examples I’ve seen of this are very small and consist mainly of luminaries who are already sold on this model.

How do we increase participation of this sort to those who are not already in the “choir?” This is the central challenge of most of my equity-related values challenges.

I think there are several ways to move toward this. First, we must realize that we have to be flexible. Then as we do with learners of any type, we scaffold the learning. Start with a leader(s) who values what you are trying to create but can also support a wide range of learning styles. Be very welcoming. Meet people where they are. Encourage choice by offering a range of learning experiences from traditional to progressive, and then try to move people along that continuum. Realize that this movement may take a lot of time. Where “open” is overwhelming, probe on what is causing discomfort and give choices. Where the volume of discussions in the community is a fire hose, offer curated options. Provide as much consistent, personal, supportive person-to-person contact as possible. Build peer relationships and build community. (And it is worth noting, that I don’t believe that a single course can create a community. Community is built over time with many interactions and much love and support.)


Open business models, part 5: development costs

Credit: Karen Fasimpaur; CC BY

In the first post of this series, I mentioned that most OER publishers rely on philanthropy to fund initial product development and that I had questions about how sustainable this model is. First, if more K-12 OER doesn’t achieve higher adoption and use rates, I wonder how long funders will continue to fund it. More importantly, as a movement, it’s not wise to be reliant on handouts. In addition, the categorization of development costs as a one-time cost is outmoded.

So what are the options?

One might be to tap into a broader pool of funding that might include government grants, social impact bonds, or partner participation as described in previous posts.

Another is to think about this as a traditional business. Generate revenue streams as discussed earlier that fund not only sales and implementation costs, but also product development.

Now this sounds a lot like a traditional publishing stuff. Sales, costs, maybe even reinvestable proceeds (“profits”). And while the price under this scenario would be higher than under a model under which development is funded through philanthropy, I think it would still be less than commercial products.

Another important distinction is that in this case the primary goal is social impact not profits.

There are a number of other benefits as well.

  1. The affordances of an open license not only make “free” product available, but also lead to other unanticipated benefits.
  2. Teachers professionalism and student learning can increase.
  3. There is a loop for continual product (and process) improvement.
  4. Open collaboration across states and districts using common materials leads to more collaboration and richer learning for everyone.
  5. (and perhaps) OER moves the system toward more openness.

Ultimately, learners benefit.

To me, these things are the foundation of what makes OER appealing.

(This is a part of a series on business models for OER K-12 core curriculum.)


Sharing your photos openly

One of the greatest things about the world of open is how much people are willing to share and what amazing things happen when they do.

In my experience, the benefits are just as much for those who opt to share as for those who “borrow.”

One really easy way to share with others is to open license your photos. And one platform that makes this easy is Flickr.

(Note: Sharing is a personal choice. You can choose to share just certain photos. And all use of something with a Creative Commons license requires attribution.)

Here’s how you can make your photos on Flickr sharable under a Creative Commons license:

(This assumes you have a Flickr account set up. And this isn’t as complicated as it looks. These are very step-by-step instructions. :)

  1. Upload a photo.
  2. On the upload screen, highlight the photo(s) and on the left under Owner settings and License, select the Creative Commons license you’d like to use.
    (Note: Public domain or Attribution Creative Commons are the most open licenses. For a more complete discussion of license details, see this or this. Post questions here if you like)
    flicrk1 flickr2
  3. Make any other changes to your photo such as tagging it or giving a name or description.
  4. Complete the upload.

Want to change your default user settings so all your photo uploads are licensed openly (unless you indicate otherwise)?

  1. Click on your profile picture in the upper-right hand corner and select Settings.
  2. Click the Privacy & Permissions tab.
  3. Scroll down to Defaults for new uploads, and What license will your content have. Click edit.
  4. Select your desired default license and click Set Default License.

(Remember that you can change the license on any individual photo you upload by following the earlier  instructions here.)

Want to search for other open licensed photos that you can use in your work?

  1. Do a regular search.
  2. When the search results appear, change the Any license selector to All Creative Commons.
  3. Don’t forget to attribute your source when you use the photo. (Crediting to the photographer’s Flickr user name is fine if that’s all that’s available.)

Thanks for sharing and making the world a more open, more amazing place. And if you have any questions at all, post them here or message me.


Open business models, part 4: organizational structures

org chart

The amount and scope of work that I’ve suggested in the previous posts as being necessary to successfully implement an OER core K-12 curriculum is not trivial. Most OER publishers don’t have a full marketing team, a sales force, implementation and professional development staffs, or ongoing support and product updates teams. The cost of these resources is significant as well.

However, there are several models that OER publishers can consider for how revenues are collected and services rendered. In particular, for those who are not prepared to manage and staff the various additional project offerings themselves, partnerships provide an option:

  • The publisher could develop and sell these products and services itself. Doing so would require development and sales resources (some of which could be contracted out), but would result in the publisher collecting 100% of the revenues.
  • The publisher could develop these products and services and then license them to third-parties to sell and deliver them in exchange for some agreed upon royalty. This would require a lower level of investment and would result in a lower level of revenue. This model may be challenging because of the typically low margins in this type of work; however, it could work with the right partners.
  • The publisher could cultivate partners who are interested in developing, selling, and delivering these products and services themselves. (In fact, since the publisher’s curriculum is open licensed, it is likely that some third-parties may undertake this with or without the guidance of the publisher.) This would require minimal investment on the part of the publisher, other than cultivating the relationships, and though bringing in no additional revenue, could substantially boost the adoption of the product. Potential partners for this work could include other commercial publishers, schools services providers, or intermediate educational agencies.
  • Some combination of the above

(This is a part of a series on business models for OER K-12 core curriculum.)