Openness and TRUST

The folks at the Indiana Department of Education’s elearning group are working on an OER #GoOpen initiative, which includes a series of Twitter chats (#INeLearn). Last night I participated in one of these lively conversations.

After this chat, I was struck by how important TRUST is to open learning, and again, how OER doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with open learning. (Below is an excerpt from this chat that brought this home to me. A fuller storify of this chat is available here.)

The distinction between open learning and OER has been a recurring theme in my work and my writing here. OER can be implemented without open pedagogy, though in my opinion that misses the whole point. In my mind, the most important benefits come from open learning, which can likewise be done without OER. Of course, the best approach is a combination of the two.

Several of the discussion points in last night’s #INeLearn conversation brought this home to me, and they all revolved around TRUST of educators (and of learners):

  • The oft-mentioned topic of materials evaluation and curation was brought up. Who should do this? How should it be done?
  • The questions of sharing rights, access, etc. came up. Related to this is the question of whether educators should be allowed to modify materials.
  • Who should be designing our curriculum? How is personalization to be done at the classroom or individual level? (“fidelity” issues)

All of these are points that I have heard raised at schools, districts, states, and national organizations. There seems to be a fundamental lack of trust in our educators (and even more so, our learners) to make these decisions.

To me, this is an issue of professionalism. The teachers I have worked with nationwide are thoughtful, high quality folks. They have the best interests of their students at heart and, by and large, know how to address their needs.

Unfortunately, education in the US has turned into a negative blame game, and teachers have bore the brunt of this. It’s time we reverse this, and let teachers do their job.

Open learning demands not only that we trust and empower not only our teachers, but also our learners. Doing this, I believe, would result in a more positive learning experience all around. Teachers and the learners they inspire are the most important part of any learning experience — more important than any textbooks, standards, content, electronic resources, or other resources. If we don’t trust and empower our teachers and learners, no resources are going to be effective.

On the positive side, thoughtful professional development that engages teachers in finding, evaluating, curating, and modifying open resources is one of the best ways to deepen our practice. And this benefits everyone. This may in fact be one of the greatest benefits to OER.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and hope to see you on future #INeLearn chats.


Remix attributions

I think attributing borrowed work is important, and I see a lot of remixes that don’t include attributions to the borrowed work. Instead they attribute only the remixer/compiler.

Best practices for attribution require that “when you are using a work that is an adaptation of one or more pre-existing works, you may need to give credit to the creator(s) of the pre-existing work(s), in addition to giving credit to the creator of the adaptation.” (Creative Commons).

So for example, for a photo that includes other (open licensed) photos from someone other than the creator of the adaptation, the attribution could read:

“Photo by Karen Fasimpaur, © 2016, licensed under CC BY 4.0; includes picture of apple by Alan Levine, licensed CC BY 4.0 and illustration of the moon by Brad Emerson, licensed CC BY 3.0″

Here’s another example (see Source section).

This gets more complicated with all the web sites that produce images for you (e.g. memes, quotes) like the one created with

Image credit: Created by Karen LaBonte with

In this case, I know who wrote the words and compiled the image on (Karen LaBonte), but I don’t know where the typewriter image came from. Most likely though, this composite image cannot be open licensed unless it can be determined that the components are themselves open licensed. While this can sometimes be sussed out from the creating web site, often it can’t. ( for example doesn’t appear to have any info on the licensing terms or even terms of use. The site is marked “Copyright 2015 | All rights reserved.” but this doesn’t tell us much. Obviously it is designed to create images that are meant to be reshared, but there is no supporting license for this. As is often the case, the creators probably didn’t think of it. In other cases, the licenses seem to run counter of the intent, most likely because of overzealous lawyers.)

The credit I included above was the best I could come up with. No Creative Commons license on the composite image.

This may seem like a lot of nuance for most people, but the salient points are: 1) you should include attributions for all the works that made up the final piece and 2) you can’t open license something that contains borrowed work that isn’t open licensed.


Student voices: An invitation

This year, I’m convening a strand on Student Voices for the K12 Online Conference, and I’d like to invite you and especially the youth you work with to get involved.

There are several ways you can participate:

We think having a strong student voice both as an input and an output of our learning environments is super important. We hope you agree and that you’ll help us make this part of this year’s K12 Online conference.



Credit: gurmit singh

I am often prompted to reflect on why people don’t borrow and remix high quality, open licensed educational content more often than they do.

There are many projects that have created amazing content and licensed it under a Creative Commons license. But the degree to which this content is used and especially remixed is often lower than people expect.

The reasons for this are many — ranging from the culture of some schools that holds instructional materials as sacrosanct to the lack of time and/or expertise to do this work. In addition, the engagement timeline on this kind of work is long, and many projects don’t have the wherewithal to endure that. However, I think another key element is the very nature of instructional materials.

When I think about the thousands of open licensed items I have created and published, two categories stand out to me as having gotten significant uptake in terms of being reused and remixed: Flickr photos and the open dictionary. I am particularly pleased with the fact that I get regular requests to reuse the content in our public domain dictionary. This has been a long term labor of love that we’ve put a lot of time in, and it’s good to see it being used. Unlike Flickr, this is a relatively unknown and unpublicized site, so this speaks to some real need.

Something both these categories of content have in common is a very small level of granularity. Photos and definitions are not only very granular but they are relatively generic and can be used in a wide variety of contexts without a lot of rework.

This contrasts with most instructional materials, which by their very nature are complex and carefully designed, often with spiraling content, interwoven assessments, and a variety of pedagogical features. It is possible that such materials do not lend themselves well to being chopped up and reassembled in new and different ways. And in fact, the history of various designs that leverage chunks or learning objects has not been one of great success.

So is the quest to allow customization through OERs for naught? Or does it make more sense to look at customizing OERs in terms of larger “full course” materials? I’m not sure, and I believe that customization and open learning bring a deeper level of learning. But the fact still remains that uptake on these materials can make it difficult to justify the investment.

What I can say is that if your goal is significant reuse, think granular.


“We need textbooks!”

It’s time for education to move past standardization and textbooks.

Several conversations lately have made me ponder the importance of community understanding and support for various new initiatives like open learning and OER adoption.

In particular, I was at a meeting with the mayor and city manager of a local community last week. The topic of the meeting wasn’t really education per se, but the conversation quickly moved there as we talked about various challenges the community faces. I was surprised to hear one participant, someone who I view as a progressive and forward thinking person, rail against the lack of textbooks in the schools. This brought agreement from the group and led to a litany of complaints about Common Core and other practices in the local schools.

As a progressive educator, I was shocked — I believe that the use of textbooks and the rigid adherence to pacing and standardization is one of the most troubling aspects of education today. To me, not having textbooks and instead empowering our teachers and students to a greater degree would be one of the best things we could do to advance learning.

Clearly, though, this is not the view of many community members. As we’ve seen with other progressive trends, there is often a negative reaction to methods that are different from what was “good enough for us” when we were in school.

This relates to OER as well. OER, and even more so open learning, look different in the classroom. There are different assumptions, different methodologies, and different intended outcomes. If we don’t acknowledge those, and make sure that the community, as well as teachers and students, understand and support that, we are fighting an uphill battle.

If we are looking at OER as merely a lower cost way to provide the static textbooks that are otherwise in use, we’re missing the real benefit. The opportunity of OER and open learning is to jump forward; to move past textbooks, worksheets, and standardized curriculum; to progress to a place where there is more and deeper learning for everyone. But to get there, we need consensus on that.