So…what’s next?

[Dear Reader, this is a long post, and a somewhat selfish one, in which I think out loud about the kinds of projects I’d love to work on, in part to get clear myself, in part in the hopes of attracting some leads. You are entirely forgiven for skipping it, though I do hope that buried in here are some gems that you yourself are free to run with if you feel so inspired. I promise to return to regularly scheduled blogging after this. – SWL]


It’s been about a month now since I left BCcampus. It’s been a hugely restorative time, spent writing, reading (both the long overdue “The Whale and the Reactor” and the more recent “I am a Strange Loop“), recuperating and being with my family. And while it was impossible not to ponder a little about my future, by and large I managed to spend the month not worrying about a new job, which was a satisfying accomplishment.

But time has come to turn my attention to the question everyone seemed eager to ask me upon learning I had left BCcampus – “So, what’s next?” Because while this change was a long time coming, I must admit I am without a specific plan (this is the 3rd time I’ve left a position not knowing exactly what was next and so far it’s worked out well – let’s hope the streak holds!)

Blue Skies

I’ve got a number of ideas for ventures, both for profit and non-commercial, that I am exploring, but I will leave those aside for the moment. While I do plan to write about them at some point, I need more time to get parts of them in motion. For now I’ll focus on what to me would be “blue sky” projects/positions I’d love to have a go at in the space I’ve been focused on for the last 20 years, which broadly speaking has been post-secondary education, educational technology and knowledge management. I’ve grouped these into 3 rough themes, “Teaching,” “The Networked University,” and “21st Century Literacies.”


I have had the great fortune to teach in the past, but it’s been too long, and I miss it. In the past the teaching I did was often focused on technology training. I still have a lot to give in that area and would embrace any position that allowed for it, but I also hope to “move up the stack” a bit, as it were, to focus on some issues above the basic use of tools.

There are two “courses” which I am working on outlines and readings for which I would be incredibly excited to teach, because I think both of them have the potential to expose learners to ideas they are not currently encountering and I have yet to see many examples of them out there in the wild.

Network Thinking

The first I am calling “Network Thinking.” Far from being a technical course, it is instead aimed at people from pretty much any discipline other than computing (& sociology) and is an effort to help people understand the magnitude (and type) of changes that occur when the network comes-a-calling in their field. Whether it be in education, medicine, government, businesses of many types, etc, I believe we are still at the point of trying to fit networks into old conceptual models, and in so doing are misunderstanding the size of the disruption they represent, and also misunderstanding their strengths and weaknesses. I do think each specific discipline and sector has differences, ones I wouldn’t want to elide, and hopefully we will see more and more domain specific courses and curriculum addressing these issues. But for now it feels like there is some real potential here.

Philosophy for Programmers

The second one I am calling “Philosophy for Programmers” and while it IS aimed at technical people, it is not at all meant to be a technology course. Developers make all sorts of choices that have deeply interesting philosophical implications (and heritages) when they create applications, and this course would start to explore the background of some of these choices, and possibly other ways to address them. To take but one example – what are the implications to inclusion and exclusion of modelling users via “personas”?  The idea is simply to help technical people become more aware of the implications of the choices they make in how the technology will then shape what it means to be human. The hope is that it will help influence developers to be more reflective and less reductive in the choices they make.

In both these cases I’ve started to collect readings and create outlines (though neither feel like they are quite “ready to go.”) In addition to these, there are many other areas which I know I have the experience and expertise to teach:

  • open education / open textbooks
  • copyright / intellectual property
  • assessing open source maturity
  • evaluating technologies
  • emerging technologies and their impact on education
  • personal learning networks / network learning
  • loosely coupled teaching and learning
  • interoperability in ed tech
  • learning content management strategies and technologies

The Networked University

In an effort to stimulate some employment leads I’m putting the cart a little before the horse here, as my next major series of posts will explore the idea of the Networked University and what it means to create “semipermeable membranes” as a response to the permeating flows of the network. So you’ll have to wait a bit for the full explanation of why I think the following projects and approaches represent an important part of the future (though if you are a regular reader of this blog the reasons are likely already well understood.)

University as hackerspace / libraries and makerspaces

I certainly can claim no ownership of this idea as there are now some great examples out there – Joss Winn wrote an early piece that inspires me; one of my nominations for Open Ed 2012 keynotes was Beth Kolko of the University of Washington for her pioneering work on Hackademia; there’s a blog dedicated to all things Maker and Librarian; and even my local university, UVic, has started a Maker Lab in the Humanities.  This is a trend I hope we will see more of and I would love to be involved with – not only do I think it represents a new turn, as I’ll describe more in my upcoming series I think innovations like this have a real chance of bridging silos, be they between disciplines, experts and “non-experts,” or “town and gown” that will be crucial for institutions remaining relevant to their local communities.

Reputation systems in higher ed; badges, credentialing, formal and informal education

Another area which is already well underway, though I don’t know the extent to higher ed is actually exploring it versus simply resting on their existing credential models. That said, I think they need to, both for the opportunity it represents (to acknowledge prior learning, convert informal credits to formal ones, etc) and for the threat (of people by-passing the increasingly expensive formal option by building up portfolio-based online reputations. The fear I have though is that this isn’t particularly a technology or pedagogy problem but one of business models, and I’m not sure the “owner” of this process (the registrar’s office and others) necessarily see the threat or will be able to adapt to meet the potential.

Interweaving institutional resources and open network learning – wikipedia/library mashup service

For those regular readers, this theme will be familiar – that rather than treat it as the enemy, we should start to envision ways in which students’ searching wikipedia can become a gateway to more scholarly resources.  The first reference I can find in my blog to some of  the underlying ideas was in 2006, which I expanded on in my 2007 Open Ed demonstrator, and more specifically in this 2010 post on annotating wikipedia with OPAC resources. It wasn’t until a conversation with Joel Duffin from Open Tapestry at Open Ed 2010 that they way to implement this at scale for an institution became clear – via proxies and page re-writing. Put simply – I know we can build a system (and hope to demo a prototype soon) that will dynamically annotate any wikipedia page with links into an institutions library catalog to books and articles on that topic. This is but one way in which we can bring our institutions resource back to the forefront for students, and the converse is also true – that we can highlight scholarly resources and educational materials, on the fly, to learners outside the institution with little effort.

21st Century Literacies

Finally, in terms of “blue sky” work, there are (at least) two sets of literacies (and skills) I would love the chance to work on

Expanding digital literacies

Even if we were to just stick with the current list of digital literacies that have been proposed over the last few years, we have more than enough work helping learners, at all levels, improve on these. But as I’ll argue in an upcoming post (tentatively titled “What the digital literacy crowd can learn from makers and pirates”) we don’t go nearly far enough in helping learners cope with the onslaught of technologies (and their accompanying social issues) they face.

Mindfulness in education

This is a topic dear to my heart. I have absolutely no idea how I might get involved with this, yet deep down feel that if there is one change I could help bring about in the world that could make the most difference, it would be to work on getting mindfulness practices (completely agnostic mind you, and very much scientifically grounded) into schools, especially the K-12 system where I think it has the most chance to have a profound effect, but even in higher ed, where it has lots of affinity with study skills and learner success. I only came to serious mindfulness practice myself in the last 5 years, and I WISH someone had encouraged me along this path when I was much younger. Especially in our increasingly distracted, hyper-rational and technologized world, there has never been a more important time to help develop mindfulness.


If any of these resonate with you, if you can see ways in which they might benefit your institution (or indeed ways to move them forward outside of conventional institutions) I would love to hear from you.


What I know I can already do

Still, it’s not always “blue sky.” In addition to the above, there are a whole lot of things I know I can do (and like to do) because I’ve done them before and done them well. You can see my resume for the full blow by blow, but here’s a highlight of the areas of expertise, competencies and technical skills I bring to my work:

Areas of Expertise
Core Competencies
Technical Skills
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Copyright and Open Licensing
  • Open Textbooks
  • Open Strategy
  • Educational Technology tools & architectures
  • Learning Content Management strategies & technologies
  • Personal Learning Networks & loosely coupled teaching
  • Knowledge Management tools & strategies
  • New models of network learning & collaboration
  • Emerging technology & software maturity models
  • Sustainable and Appropriate Technology and Computing
  • Project Management
  • Software assessment
  • Business Modelling, Systems Analysis & requirements gathering
  • Public Speaking
  • Writing
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Critical & analytical thinking
  • Facilitating large scale decision making processes
  • Integration & synthesis of multiple complex inputs
  • Innovating
  • Web Development (HTML5/CSS/Javascript)
  • PHP / MySQL
  • XML / XSLT
  • Application deployment & administration on a wide variety of platforms including
    • WordPress
    • Drupal
    • Mediawiki
    • Moodle
    • Equella
  • Linux
  • Apache

If you think there’s a way my expertise and skills can server a need your organization has, I would love to hear from you <!–. At this point I'm considering all sorts of things, from positions to consulting gigs (a page listing some of my potential consulting offerings is available) –> so please feel free to contact me, either via this form or at And if you got all the way to the end of this post – thanks! – SWL

So…what’s next?

Important Article on Free Culture and Sexism

I noted this on twitter this morning but it felt important enough to flag it here too. This is a good (though not great) article on an important issue – the fact that “despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is skewed.”

I don’t doubt on an empirical basis that the author’s statement is accurate, that even compared to the gender balance in technical fields in general, free culture has a gender imbalance. The author identifies 3 potential causes:

(a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing;

(b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people; and,

(c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.

I’m not particularly sure what to say about (a) other than it seems true. Both (b) and (c) resonate with me because I have been on both ends of these (and they are not always just about gender; “difficult people” and the ideology of freedom and openness can end up marginalizing people for non-gender reasons to. This is something I have been wrestling with for years under the term “the welcoming heart”, cf

Yet both (b) and (c) strike me as issues that can (slowly) be addressed. What I often struggle with though (and this is what I kept tripping up in a session with the HASTAC folks at Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival in 2010, where I WAS that ‘difficult person,’ something I wrote about in “Free & Learning in Barcelona“) is the extent to which one can expand inclusivity and address this problem through structural changes (be they in software, process, governance, policies, etc) versus the extent to which this is a question of consciousness raising and behaviour change that individuals need to engage in.

I don’t mean to set these up as binary choices (though I realize I just have) as clearly to me both are need, and can, happen together. And maybe that is indeed the answer; that each person who can see the issue starts to do their bit, at the level they are able to act at, be it by speaking up, changing their own behaviour, changing a policy, writing code that helps surface the issue, etc., which then help set up virtuous cycles that slowly start to shift this (having just finished Douglas Hofstadter’s “I am a Strange Loop” I am having a hard time not seeing everything in terms of loops now ;-). Does that seem right to you?

Like I keep telling you – I’m a SLOW learner (but have patience, I too may get there some day.) – SWL

Important Article on Free Culture and Sexism

Christmas Comes Early

I woke this morning (Solstice, December 21st 2012) to find in my twitter feed news that has stepped up and freed the entire back-catalogue of FlatWorld Knowledge textbooks in one fell swoop. This is tremendous news, and Saylor, who are in my opinion consistently top of the class when it comes to Open Textbooks, have once again shown tremendous leadership. So Bravo.

I’m only writing this post for two reasons – first so that I can link to it from my earlier call to preserve this tiny piece of the commons and let anyone know who stumbles across it that the deed is done.

But secondly, to give all of the folks who stepped up to my call my sincere thanks and a huge pat on the back. I only turned to this crowdsourcing approach after my old employer decided it was not willing to take the risk and do this themselves (and I understand why given their need to work with highly risk-adverse government funders).

While we didn’t accomplish the entire goal ourselves, we should still feel proud of trying. The Commons is communal; while it is fantastic that we have larger institutional players and NGOs like Saylor (and CC and EFF and FSF and…) that work tirelessly to build and preserve it, we also need to all act individually to do the same, whether it be as Clint Lalonde and Chris Lott  have written recently in donating to groups like these, or taking part in actions like this.

So thanks. Especially because at a time for me when I needed to know my network was there, you showed up. Thanks.

Christmas Comes Early

Some Observations on PLE Diagrams

One of the perennial favourite pages on my edtechpost wikispace has been the collection of Personal Learning Environment (PLE) diagrams I started back in 2008. A couple of years back I wrote a call to folks asking for feedback on what I might do to improve it.

I didn’t get a lot of feedback, but one comment, from Ismael Peña-López really stuck with me – that what I should be doing was some analysis of my own on the collection, which indeed had in fact been the actual goal all along in creating the collection of diagrams.

I know it’s taken a while, but with some time on my hands, here are some reflections on what this collection of PLE Diagrams might tell us.

Caveat Emptor – Skewed Sample

There are currently 79 diagrams in the collection. With the exception of a very few, these were all produced by educators themselves or else people I think we should consider relatively advanced, self-directed learners. This is not surprising given that I started harvesting the images from my own network, typically comprised of educational technologists and educators, and then others were added from people also a part of these types of professional networks my work typically reaches.

But I think this is important to note up front – while some of these diagrams are simply a list of a few tools the person uses, many of them exhibit a HIGH degree of self-reflection, meta-cognition and technological adeptness. This is not to discount them as depictions of “what might become” for network learners in general, but I would caution to assert that they were reflective of how all network learners currently learn (or currently conceptualize their personal learning networks, as first and foremostly that’s what these diagrams are, conceptualizations rather than the things themselves.)

Diagram ‘Orientations’

The first thing that struck me looking at the collection of diagrams is that there are some distinct “orientations” that jump out – diagrams that I describe as tool, use, resource, flow people, or hybrid oriented.

Tool Oriented

By far the most prominent is what I called “Tool-Oriented” diagrams. Likely an obvious enough name, these are diagrams that by and large depict PLEs as simply a collection of tools. These make up the vast majority of the diagrams in the collection, 62 out of 79 (though as I note below, many of these also exhibit additional orientations and there are fewer that are solely tool oriented diagrams.)

For me these are the least interesting of the diagrams. While it is useful to see which tools people typically conceive of in their PLEs (additional analysis of which is done below), these fail to reflect any of the dynamism I typically associate with network learning. Still, the MAJORITY of diagrams take this tact, which raises the question (taken up below) of whether a PLE is best understood simply as a collection of (albeit networked & loosely coupled) tools that stand in contrast with earlier monolithic approaches to learning environments, or if its that AND something more.

Use Oriented

Numbering 32 of the 79 diagrams, “use orientation” was the next most common orientation in the collection, by which I mean diagrams that explicitly list the aims of a personal learning environment. Often, though not always, these are accompanied by the tools used to fulfill these uses (making these into “hybrid” diagrams, see below). These are far more useful in contrasting how people conceptualize learning within a PLE compared to more traditional teaching and learning approaches. As I’ll discuss below, while there are many similarities, there are some key different uses and practices developed by PLE users that differentiate the way they are learning (and what) from their predecessors.

Resource Oriented

While there are no diagrams that are solely “resource oriented,” many of the diagrams do list educational resources, both formal and informal, as part of the PLE. These seems important to note; while many earlier conceptualizations and practices of education, both online and off, have been accused of focusing too closely on content as the mechanism for learning, the critics pendulum has often swung too far in the opposite direction, seemingly content as having little or no role at all in learning. To me, neither of these extremes are correct, and the presence of various resources in the PLE diagrams offers a happy medium – resources, both consumed and created, shared and personal, digital and physical, do have a place in how networked learners conceive their learning and environments. Especially in conjunction with the other orientations.

People Oriented

In some sense, ALL of the diagrams that depicted networked tools or resources were “people oriented.” But I chose this term to describe diagrams that explicitly mentioned or depicted people or groups of people as part of the PLE. As in the case of “resource oriented” diagrams, there are almost none that are solely “people oriented.” But it was surprising to me that only 15 of the 79 diagrams seemed to explicitly depict or mention people as part of the PLE.

Flow Oriented

Flow Orientation” was also a characteristic that rarely appeared on its own, but 20 of the diagrams made real efforts to show how information and connections flowed between tools and people in their networks.


Finally, as I’ve alluded to, 32 of these diagrams reflected more than one of these orientations, and these I have termed “hybrid.” For me these are typically the richest diagrams in that they depict PLEs as dynamic processes in which tools and resource have uses and flow into and out of systems and conversations. This reflects my own experience of being a network learner.

Dominance of Certain Tools

It seems unsurprising, especially given the popularity of certain services and the relative homogeneity of the sample, that the diagrams which identified specific tools (or types of tools) were dominated by a select few. Blogs (59) dominated, but twitter (33), social bookmarking (43), flickr (28), and youtube (21) were also consistently listed. In addition, while I did not tag the diagrams as such, synchronous tools like skype and Elluminate, as well as email and eportfolios were all regularly listed.

Social networking sites were also listed as common elements of PLEs – Facebook was listed in 25 diagrams, and (shocking to me) linkedin in 15. (Shocking because clearly these folks have figured out a use for linkedin that elludes me.)

Given how often they are mentioned in the same breath as blogs, wikis (25) seemed relatively underrepresented in the tools people singled out in their PLEs. Even more surprising to me was how little wikipedia (9) was mentioned to me, given its dominance in search rankings and internet traffic.


In addition to these orientations, I was struck by the use (and sometimes lack thereof) of metaphors to depict PLEs. The main one (and I am not completely convinced that this was not in part an artefact of the digital drawing tools employed by many to create these diagrams, more below) was of a “network.” So commonplace was this that I did not officially code for it in the new collection’s tags.

Interestingly (and again, I suspect an artefact of the tools used to create the diagrams) most of these “networks” were mind-map type drawings most closely resembling hub-and-spoke networks. While they capture the individual user’s perspective of being at the “centre” of THEIR network, these are not actually accurate representations of how internet networks as a whole look. This issue, that “individual” networks are emergent phenomenon that differ depending on the location of the observer/participant is, I believe, a hugely rich avenue of exploration and challenge for network learning and networked society in general, but grist for some future post, not this one.

In addition to the standard “network” depictions were more abstract diagrams. These struck me as worthy of note because they are less easily reducible and for me capture some of the human elements of network learning that is so often overlooked, whether it be “love,” “growth” or simply the ephemeral nature of networks.

Finally, though not exactly “metaphors,” it seemed important to note the number of PLE diagrams that were in essence screenshots. Paradoxically, these were both, in my opinion, the least successful representations of PLEs, and yet some of the most valuable for new comers to PLEs (especially those that were screencasts or presentations) in that they gave specificity to a concept that can be ellusive.

PLEs and Informal/Formal Learning

The concept of PLEs originated both as a contrast to existing (e.g. LMS) models of online education and also out of a new set of affordances offered new Web 2.0 tools and practices. As explicitly PERSONAL learning environments, they start from the perspective of the individual learner. Yet many of the people interested in exploring PLEs and their potential have done so from within existing institutions, educational business models and practices (e.g. courses, cohorts,certification.)

Some of the diagrams reflect this attempt to conceptualize a relationship between PLEs and institutions (and their MLE/VLE) which I tagged as “institution oriented.” In addition, at least 13 diagrams explicitly reference the LMS as a component of the PLE.

Whilst a slightly different issues, it seemed worthy to note in this section the number of diagrams that explicitly noted a difference between private activities and public interactions, signalling, as in the case of the formal/informal distinction above, that in some conceptions PLEs are very much about accomodating and permitting flow between both.

The Effects of Digital Drawing Tools

I had a suspicion that the diagrams are greatly influenced by the tools people chose to use to draw them; that their tendency towards a certain type of depiciton (networks, entities & flows, venn diagrams) were because that is what those tools do well.

To see if this might be true, I coded those diagrams created with a digital drawing tool to contrast them with hand drawn diagrams (of which there were far fewer.)

The results seem inconclusive – if anything, the hand-drawn ones in the collection seem even more dominated by “network-like” drawings.


We know what PLEs are…

So given all of these observations, I’m wondering if there are any conclusions to be drawn. (N.B. in what follows I will refer regularly to wikipedia’s definiton of PLEs. Not because it is the only or best one, but as one developed on an openly editable platform with public standards for acceptability, so hopefully reflecting some sort of rough consensus.)

With the dominance of “tool oriented” diagrams, and the fact that the tools listed are well-known “Web 2.0” tools, Wikipedia’s description of PLEs as “Technically, the PLE represents the integration of a number of “Web 2.0″ technologies like blogs, Wikis, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, etc.” seems spot on. Given also the prevelance in the diagrams of flows and networks, Downes description that PLEs “become[s]…not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications—an environment rather than a system” seems supported too.

Given also the general lack of references to LMS and institutional systems (though there are some), the notions that PLEs “put[s] the individual learner at the center” and are about “the independent learner” seem generally reflected in the diagrams.

…but must constantly find this out for ourselves

However, there is one assertion about what PLEs are and how people use them that is generally not reflected in the diagrams – that PLEs “provid[e] support for learners to set their own learning goals.” A very few of the diagrams do make mention of keeping track of goals, whether this be explicitly as a “use” or in the form of tools like ToDo lists or sites like 43things. But by and large this idea of  “learning goals” seems absent from the diagrams.

I believe this gets at the heart of some of the tensions that exist between existing institutional models of education and emerging visions of network learning. The absence of “goal setting” (and its corollary, learning paths AKA curriculum) on the diagrams is in part by design, but also in part a short coming of the current conceptualizations. By design because, in a truly personal learning environment, the goals and paths one follows aren’t necessarily the predefined ones of the past but instead are constantly emerging based on where one finds oneself and what one needs at the time, or as Downes writes “according to the student’s own needs and interests.”

But this absence is also a shortcoming because it throws the baby out with the bathwater, reflecting a somewhat all-or-nothing attitude towards pre-existing curriculum, practices like instructional design (which attempt to anticipate the sequence and instructional interventions through which something can be taught or learned) as (more importantly to me) towards meta-cognitive skills, practices and tools to support the learners own definition of goals and paths.

Clearly, the appropriateness of pre-existing, curricular-based means of learning depends quite a lot on both what is being learned and the learner themselves. But there are times when it seems beyond question that simply following a set of instructions or looking something up is both the easiest and most common way to learn a fact or concept. Yet the relative lack (only 12 out of 79) of explicit reference to pre-existing learning resources does seem to support a pendulum-swing away from this older content-centric vision of learning. That may not be an entirely bad thing, as it has perhaps dominated for far too long, but in an effort to contrast it I do fear we sometimes overstate the lack of importance of content. I am NOT arguing that curriculum or content-focused education and learning is best or the only way, but that it does still have a place.

More importantly to me though, the absence in the diagrams of methods or tools to set goals and identify learning paths doesn’t speak to their originators’ lack of insight or understanding (these come from some of the smartest people I know) but instead that as a whole we are still grappling with how to reconcile the network age of seemingly infinite content, people, connections and activities, with our limited lifespans, limited abilities to pay attention, and limited energies to expend on any one thing.

This is what I was trying to get at in the revised version of my Becoming a Network Learner talk which I gave at the TLT conference in 2010 in Saskatchewan. That it is great to swim in this vast ocean we call the Internet, but if we do so without reference points, without some direction, we run the risk of finding ourselves miles from shore, out of breath, unable to tread water any longer. The constant lament of information overload, internet distractedness, etc, seem very real to me.

The trouble in actually depicting this on a diagram is that it’s not particularly a tool that is needed (though I do think things like social filters and constrained search, recommendation engines, etc can help.) It’s more about constantly re-embedding (or remembering that they are already, or trying not to extract them from) these tools, these networks, these connections in our lives, in our goals, our dreams, our aims, which themselves WILL NOT magically emerge from the network.

This is also why I consistently resist what I see as the reification of an active process in the term “personal learning environment” in favour of simply talking about “network learning.” For whatever reason, as soon as we start using nouns, we then want to categorize and enumerate every aspect of them, but in doing so too often lose sight that each of them is unique, that the common characteristics are emergent phenomena, and that as much as you can try to describe it for someone else, as much as you want to help them, it is only when we each do it for ourselves, as lived experience, that it becomes real. And for some reason, describing this using a verb/gerund like “network learning” seems to me to resist, ever so slightly, this tendency to try and abstract what needs to be a personal process into a general “thing.”

All of which is to say, finally – the PLE is dead! Long live the PLE!



Some Observations on PLE Diagrams

New Home for PLE Diagrams

I am in the midst of writing a rather long post reflecting on what the collection of PLE diagrams I started back in 2008 can tell us about both PLEs and how people conceptualize them.

But as I started it, I realized that looking at the diagrams on the wiki page was a bit frustrating, as there was no simple way to tag them and categorize them. So this weekend I experimented with moving the collection into an actual image gallery database. You can see it at

I would love some feedback from you all – is this a better solution than the original wikispaces page? Worse? I tried to preserve the ability for people to upload their own diagrams to the server, and this new solution also adds the ability to tag the images and leave comments on them. Please do tell me what you think in the comments below.

I will leave both up for a while and if I decide to move this permanently to this new gallery site will redirect traffic from the old wikispace here.

New Home for PLE Diagrams

All I want for Christmas…

UPDATE – on December 21st, 2012 it was announced that had preserved all of these texts. Read more here.


…is for you to buy a single Flatworld Knowledge textbook, before December 31. And then share it with the rest of the world.

About a month ago news made the rounds that as of January 1st 2013, Flatworld Knowlege had decided to remove free access from their “open” textbooks. This was accompanied by much gnashing of teeth and raising of fists at how FWK had played fast and loose with either the terms “open” or “free” in the past. All of which I agree with.

But then…nothing. As if we were helpless in the face of someone diminishing the Commons. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening. All of FWK’s books are currently published on their site under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. This means that, even with the restrictions, both legal and technical, that they imposed, these books were in the Creative Commons. But because of the technical restrictions FWK placed on the books (they are not at public URLs but behind logins; the content is not easily copyable unless you pay for it) after the gate comes down on December 31 and the licenses removed (because surely they will) unless copies of them are made outside of these walls, they will have effectively been removed from the Commons.

My own efforts to date have been to port web-native versions of 4 books onto the Pressbooks platform (to be clear, this was done ENTIRELY outside of my previous role at BCcampus and on my own pressbooks sites.) They have not gone live yet because one of the things needed for pressbooks to really cook as an open textbook platform is custom book styles and a CSS-driven print engine, which will allow these ported books to come really close to their original.The nice thing about this is that I did this for free (with the exception of the time I volunteered.) I used the free web versions and some handy harvesting tricks (which I’m happy to share) to get the web content off their servers and onto another.

But sadly, time is running out. There are only 17 days before this content becomes lost to the Commons. Thus I urge you to purchase one copy of any of the textbooks on their server and then share it. Sadly, you’ll need to buy the $34.95 version to get the downloadable PDF. The cheaper version is still just the web version which would still need to be harvested.

Buy the one you think is the best or will serve students the most. Or coordinate with others – I have created a sheet of all the FWK textbooks and their status in being placed back in the commons. If you do buy a copy, place a note here (anonymously if you like) that you have. Ideally between all of us, we can cover as much of the catalogue as possible. Also note I am perfectly happy to act as the host for your copy if that is something you feel uncomfortable doing. Email/tweet/comment to me if you want to take up this option.


But why you ask? Don’t the licenses themselves mean that schools who charge tuition will not be able to have their students use this free copies?

Firstly, following David Wiley’s argument, I too feel this is non-sense. Paying tuition is NOT the same as charging for a book, and so it is entirely possible that these can still be used at NO cost by students in formal courses.In addition, unless we actually have opportunities to challenge that FUD, we won’t know if it’s true or not, and keeping these books in the Commons preserves this opportunity.

But on top of that, the whole point (in my eyes) of “open education” is that it is not just about formal learning or formal learners – there is a world of people without access to formal learning opportunities who can still benefit from the Commons.

The other argument I know is “yeah, but if we just download PDFs, all we’re doing is adding static content to the Commons – how un-exciting/un-pedagogically sound is that?” To which I’d say three things

  • PDFs don’t always have to stay PDFs – as I plan to write on in an upcoming piece, being able to decompose or shift previously locked media formats is one of the new digital literacies I think we can learn from the Pirates (arrr!)
  • systems like Evident Point’s ActiveTextbook allow students and instructors to upload an existing PDF and then annotate, discuss and customize it in useful ways, meaning maybe PDFs aren’t the dead end they’ve always seemed like
  • we do the best with what we have – do you have a better idea?

This is not about punishing FlatWorld Knowledge. As cheesy as I think there decision is, it’s their right to make it. All I am trying to do is exercise the rights we currently have to preserve material already in the commons.

So what I’m asking for Christmas is for people in my network and those who care preserving the commons is to take this small step to do so.


All I want for Christmas…

Leaving BCcampus

Today was my last day with BCcampus. To some people this may seem like an abrupt ending, but to those who know me well, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been there for 8 years. Done a lot of stuff over the years, some of which even helped. Learned lots. But a change needed to happen, both for me, and for them. With #opened12 put to bed and Open Textbooks just starting to gear up, the timing was opportune.

For me, the change is more than just one of switching jobs, which is why I’m pleased for a few months respite, through the holiday season and into the new year, to help get my head right, get back on the mat sitting, back to writing, and get me focused a lot more intentionally on what I can give and how I can serve.

So after a little break, I look forward to exploring new ideas on here with you about what this can look like, for me, for you. For now, I’ll turn and face the strange

Leaving BCcampus