Colin's Sandbox


Thoughts on Creating Open Learning Groups

by on Apr.22, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship, #etlead

A recent conversation with some members of my professional learning network made me reflect that there are big lessons to be learned when forming open learning project groups.  In the past I’ve always been a part of organizations / companies that were relatively long-lived endeavors – spanning decades.  The boundaries of collaboration were dictated by people in position of some authority over me for the duration of the project, which was also similarly dictated.

My experience with open learning environments in my master’s program to date have been a luxury for me personally, a safe and secure place to work, so much so that I feel very fortunate.  From conversations with others I know that this is not always the case.  Work can be taken down, debates can occur over comment sections, disputes over domain ownership, and more can all happen.  When forming into these open learning groups there’s quite a few questions that I would seek to figure out and hopefully documenting so it’s understood by all.  I would enumerate those questions as:

  • Who (or what entity / institution) controls the public facing resources (domain name, web site, YouTube channel, Twitter handle, etc.)?  Seems like this is the “project leader”.
  • Can the material be shared freely to any and all through a permissible license?
  • How to handle transition within the organization?
  • How to unwind gracefully out of a project if it’s not working out and not leave others in a lurch? (ongoing reflection)

To me, the second one up there, in conjunction with the effort to put as much of the work as possible out in the open, protects most of the rest.  When projects aren’t going well, or go stale, the disgruntled (or motivated, depending on your point of view) contingent “forks” the project, taking all current (and past) contributions and creating a new project out of it, calling it by a new name.  All previous authors’ names and license terms are retained.   Derived works are typically required to use the same or similar license.  Many forks die, but some go on to live healthy productive lives.  Most all of Linux distributions themselves are produced from three different branches.

When a contribution that someone makes in a downstream branch, project maintainers above may merge those changes upstream.  Everyone wins.

If you ever get a dull moment, check out the Linux Kernel Mailing list.  There are FIERCE DEBATES that are all out in the open.  That first exchange was between the benevolent project dictator for life, Linus Torvalds, and what many perceived as his right hand man, Alan Cox, that resulted in Cox’s departure for a time.   Cox was previously a god in Linux circles, and remained as such after his departure because all the work that is his in the Linux Kernel (and there’s lots, he was an early key player) is attributable directly to him as is the discussion that guided major commits that he made in the Linux kernel.  I think the interesting thing here is that in the Linux world, everything it produces has the luxury of being hosted in a distributed fashion (currently using the protocol Git), verifiable (with all commits signed by author), with revision control allowing you to roll back to any point in time on any file.

One issue is that much of the published work is hosted on proprietary systems such as YouTube, Twitter, and others, so that even though the work is public, it can be controlled by whomever the work was published under, if steps aren’t taken to incorporate the group under some sort of business license and creating business accounts on those services.  Perhaps the key would be to host the work in a distributed system such as Git, hosted by GitHub and mirrored anywhere, by anyone at all as the repository would allow world read-only access.  This would allow anyone, project members or otherwise, to publish documents from there onto any service of their choice as long as they respect the license that was attached to the work.  Maybe something easier to use would be Dropbox or Google Drive, but unless you shell out for additional features it doesn’t look like it meets the requirement to retain revisions.  Neither pass the distributed test.  But using a protocol like Git doesn’t allow for some of the best (and certainly the most popular) collaboration features out there offered by cloud services like Google Apps.

Clay Shirky thinks that this concept of openness and transparency of development should be applied to democracy.

I think it could apply to open learning collaborations as well.  It’s up to individual projects to determine their culture and figure out the tool stack to use that meets their needs.

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Exploring Media Literacy v2.0

by on Apr.01, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

Some of my favorite memories from middle and high school involved examining how media is created and used by individuals and organizations to convey a message.  Getting a feel for the techniques used to persuade others provided me with the tools necessary to critically examine elements of TV and radio advertisements, print ads, as well as political campaign messages.  That is, as long as I remembered to engage in that process.  It’s important to note that engaging in media literacy activities didn’t make me immune to propaganda, just much more aware of it.

In case you were late to the party, the combination of social media, data mining, and mobile devices has made it possible for you to be a target any hour of the day and most anywhere.  The need for understanding the power and reach of the message seems more important now than ever.

To equip individuals for the ever-present battle for their hearts and minds, as well as the dollars and votes that go along with them, Jason Ohler brings us up to speed in the Digital Citizenship MOOC with what he calls “Media Literacy 2.0”.  The new focus with Media Literacy 2.0 is the emphasis on leading students through exercises where they are engaged in creating the message using the exact same tools and techniques that they will encounter in everyday media. (continue reading…)

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A Review of the CyberSavvy Approach

by on Mar.18, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

“Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology,” while defining bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time” (, 2014).

Nancy Willard cites key differences between cyberbullying and bullying. With cyberbullying, the behavior can continue well after face-to-face interaction.  In addition, the power structures can be different; “sometimes less powerful young people are using the Internet to attack more powerful people or groups of people” (Willard, 2007, p28). (continue reading…)

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Tools for teaching digital citizenship

by on Mar.12, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

Due to some professional (ASTE) and personal (hockey tournament, course-load, family) life busy-ness I am having to go back in time a couple weeks and revisit the question about how to incorporate tools that concern themselves with digital citizenship into schools.

Since I do not have a classroom of my own, I approach this topic primarily in the shoes of a father of two preschoolers as well as a graduate student involved with more than a few learning communities.  With the hindsight that I’ve gained after critically reviewing Commonsense Media’s curriculum, reviews, and educator and parent resources, and in some very relevant discussions I was a part of at ASTE I believe that so much of what we do as learners online has a social component.  It’s possible to lead a project that addresses digital citizenship and stresses the importance of digital portfolios as a beginning to your personal learning network. (continue reading…)

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Commonsense Media Review

by on Mar.11, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

So far in this course we have talked about the importance of actively approaching digital citizenship within schools, using this as a piece of a larger character education push, encouraging students to create and maintain a positive digital portfolio.  Over the past couple of weeks we have focused on tools that are out there for educators to utilize within their classroom and at the district level as well.

I spent time this past week going through the materials that Commonsense Media provides to educators, parents, and learners of all ages.  The depth and breadth of the resource is astounding; not only do they provide digital citizenship curriculum units to educators, the site neatly organizes reviews on different types of media out there today, from movies, games, and apps, on down to music and books.  There’s even an area dedicated to “YouTube Sensations”.  With the amount of material that is made available it would be very difficult for one person to review the site in its entirety in a week and make recommendations as to how it should be used.  As the primary information source for this week’s post I relied heavily upon the opinions of the discussion group, since there’s such a variety of experiences there.  What follows here is an overview of the features that I find most interesting as well as recommendations for curriculum integration. (continue reading…)

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