Presenting with live slides – OER, literacies, libraries and the future preso

Had a great presentation yesterday and though i’d take the opportunity to lay out what i did and how the process of building live slides works. It’s pretty simple really.

The theory
Well… it may be a surprise to my mom… but i don’t know everything. Not even close. There’s a sense in which being invited to present at a conference, that you are the expert coming in to notify the locals of what they should know. You could also be presenting your own work, or, say, trying to explain a particular point… and live slides might not be best for that. Lets assume you have a broad topic like I was given for this presentation “the future of libraries”.

I’m not a librarian.

So what i decide to do is offer a platform for that discussion and a lens through which it might be useful to examine the discussion. Below are the slides that i put together with a series of questions that are about the work that i do – openness, literacies, digital stuff, learning, rhizomes – all focused towards the topic of libraries. The questions start at a controversial but audience focused (audience was supposed to be mostly librarians) so the first question i asked was “what is a library”.

I took these slides and put them into an eluminate room kindly borrowed from George Siemens and then invited some friends to come along. So, now we have 15 people in a room (i had fifty five on the first go around) and 11 questions on 13 slides. (first slide is a doodle slide to get people accustomed to doodling and the last a participant slide) We go through the questions and the “live slide guide” (me in this case) starts the discussion going. What is a library…? the audience posts their ideas into the slides… I do approx 5 min on each slide and try and present the slides as they are being built, using my own perspectives on the topic brought in through the questions and blending them with the ideas coming live from the collaborators in the elluminate conference. After 50 minutes the slides look like they do below.

At the same time, I was also doing a screencapture of the whole eluminate conference so i could post it later. The fine folks at seem willing to host this kind of stuff for us… here’s the direct link to the big video… embed below.

For me
I love working this way. I learn from the audience, my prep time is lower, and I think people are far more engaged. Both times i’ve done this people seem to have had a good time. I think we learned interesting things. The title of this presentation changed after we did it… it focused far more on literacies than i was expecting and made some very interesting links between teachers and librarians (actually, several people thought there was really no difference)

More theory
I think this presents a far more realistic vision for knowledge. When asked a question like “what is a library” a single person has to come down to a single definition that can’t possibly encompass the full cultural impact of a word. If you look at the first question slide of the presentation you’ll see a very broad ranging definition created by a collaborative of people… the definition is rhizomatic, created in time, and the record presented here is a snapshot of it… an archive of a live moment of knowledge.

I’m really excited about this.

Presentation prep/notes for -> Open Educational Resources – A potential foundation for the future.

Thursday November 5th, 4pm Eastern NA. GLOBAL TIMES

In May i had the wonderful opportunity to try a live slide build as part of the WIAOC (webheads in action online convergence). They were a great crowd, and the build was awesome. It was the first success that I’ve had with that kind of live interactive slide building, and, well, I’m going to try it again this afternoon. Here’s how it works… I put together a dozen or so slides that are mostly blank with a single question on each slide… we import that slideshow into eluminate (or some other program that will allow for whiteboarding over slides). Each member of the audience is responsible for answering the questions, and I, your confused moderator, will present from the slides as they are being built by the audience.

I don’t know the folks who invited me to speak at this conference (although i think i recognize a name or two). I don’t know if anyone is going to show up… which is a bit nerve wracking for a live presentation created by the audience. So… if your interested in libraries, OER, the future, learning or apple pie, please come along, share your ideas and have some fun.


This is the presentation description as it appears on the your school library website and below are my empty slides.
As more people turn towards opening their work to the world we are confronted with a remarkable challenge. We could change our approach to stewarding content, to encouraging learning and to teaching. We could look at this ever changing landscape of work that others have made and find new and interesting ways of working with these resources. We could decentralize the school and the teacher and connect learners directly with some of the content they are interested in. We could empower teachers to the point where they feel comfortable reusing and remixing these resources to promoted collaboration and life long learning in their students. We might also take these new resources and fit them in with existing objectives, use them to leverage our current curriculum and teaching plans. We could promote the centralization and standardization of these resources into national/provincial/state curricula. These are the decisions that stand before us… how to deal with the change from knowledge being scarce, to it being abundant.

If OERs have the potential of being the dictionary of our era. If it will be the common language, the new knowledge base upon which we work, what effect will this have on the traditional stewards of that
knowledge. Wither the librarians? What literacies will be necessary and what are the potential effects of the decisions that we make about how we deal with the new knowledge. This presentation will be a
facilitated conversation around the continuum between openness and standardization, between collaborative learning and content focused study in the context of this amazing new OER landscape. What’s that going to look like? Here is an example of a previous online presentation of this kind that I did on community learning. Come and join the fun but be ready to participate and the audience will be the most important part of this

And this is what the last one looked like when we were finished

Web2landia – what Higher Ed can learn from Henry Ford

(note: this isn’t really finished thinking, but i’ve been rethinking stuff lately and my blog is suffering, so the two of you who are still reading will have to suffer through posts even less coherent than usual. oh. and i just flew a red eye… this turned out a bit more dramatic then i intended. 😛 )

Henry Ford, for the 2 of you who don’t know who i mean, was a very complex man. He was a heartless industrialist, and a social reformer advancing the rights of workers. A vegetarian farm boy who hated cows and tried to impose family values on his employees in return for the best rates of pay in the US. No really, he had a Morality squad that went to people’s houses and checked to see if they were saving money… a very complex man.

There’s a great quote from the book about him and his craziest venture (maybe on the top 10 list of the most outrageous things ever attempted) One of his Human resources people said that the cars were by products of his factory, what Ford was really in the business of doing was creating men. Good modern men, who worked hard and made enough money to buy the cars they were making. And drank soy milk. anyhoo…

This awesome book is called Fordlandia and describes the ‘rise and fall’ of Henry Fords attempt to carve a mid western city out of the amazonian river basin. Oh yes. It had an ice cream parlour, and a theatre, and weekly poetry reading. The water tower of Fordlandia was the biggest freestanding structure in the amazon river basin at the time. He failed horribly, spent a cagillion dollars and left us with a very cool story.

But why? What could possible possess someone to challenge some of the most difficult terrain on earth, and move 5000 americans there?

Short answer. He thought it was his right to impose his point of view on the world.

The why of it, as with many things, seems obvious on the surface but gets a bit more complicated as you dig in a bit. He did, definitely, want to do something about the ‘rubber issue’. It seems that some british folks stole a bunch of rubber seeds in the late nineteenth century, transplanted them in Asia (where they grow MUCH better) and (winston churchill actually) were now threatening to control prices and cost the car baron a fortune. Rubber, as you might imagine, is very important to a man who builds cars. It turned out that this was the only raw material in the process that he did not control. His new super plants in the US had foundries and were built near mines. The trucks were his, the ships were his. He owned everything… but the rubber.

But. And this is a big but. Henry Ford seems to have been an aspiring social engineer at least as much as a Automotive engineer. He was, in his own way, trying to impose his will not only on the jungle, but also to offer a vision of society that retained those small town mores that he valued so highly, and blended them with his modern virtues. (there might not have been a person in human history caught in a weirder paradox… as he was the prime engine of the alienation of the modern industrial methods that brought about the depersonalization he was trying to fight)

Now. what about higher ed. Well… lets take a look at these two corporate agencies. Is higher ed simply offering a product (knowledge) or is this really a bi-product of the ‘making of the man’ [sic] that Henry was talking about. It seems clear that it can’t ‘just’ be about knowledge anymore, as that has become increasingly cheap. And that sense of authority is something that has existed in the knowledge creating community for a long time. We have the research, the expertise…

So, why did it fail? Well it turns out that while rubber trees can grow packed like sardines in Asia, you can’t put them in a grove in South America. South American rubber trees really only work when they’re in the wild, and even then, not so great on an industrial scale. (those poor rubber sappers, the history of business in central/south america makes me want to hit someone) It seems that the bugs really, really like it when you pack them together, as it makes it easier for them to breed and eat. It also seems that when you send a bunch of competent managers of car plants and people who are good at cutting good old american trees and throw them in the jungle a 20 hour boat ride from the next village… bad things happen. Bad things like vipers, who, it seems, don’t like people cutting down trees. Also, as the Romans learned long ago, perfectly obedient underlings tend to stray the further from home they might be.

So. Lets take something that works perfectly well in the wild and industrialize it. Lets take people who are really good at their existing jobs and presume that they’ll be able to apply that expertise to a project with HUGE funding.

(Oh wait. i know. lets build a repository. and fill it with open resources. People will see it and know that we are strong.)

But what does it mean to win? If Higher Ed and these massive repository projects are just about spreading knowledge… then we can do this in easier ways. (see n. Internet) If it’s about spreading OUR knowledge to other folks… imposing our point of view then we’re throwing rocks in a river. gold rocks. with diamonds on them. And little bits of hundred dollar bills.

Some things will be transfered, but they may not be what we want. Our ideas carry our prejudices. They carry our biases… these are the things that will be passed on. But then these two will slowly pass away as project attrition and staling content will slowly turn many of these grand repository projects into digital versions of the now guano filled shingled bungalows that Ford had built for his adventurers in 1928.

OERs shining light, new textbook model, or harbinger of a new imperialism.

Ok. So I’ve been backchanneling all over the place trying to get my mind around what I’ve been trying to get my mind around this week (really… for the past year). I have a couple of questions that I’d like to explore…

What are OERs good for?
When are they a good thing?
Could they be a bad thing?
Whom do they serve?

Sacrilege? Perhaps… so lets take our time and develop out this idea properly. First we’ll talk a bit about different kinds of knowledge and which ones are well suited to prescripted ideas of content, then we’ll move on to a consideration of how OERs can be imperialistic and, finally, on to some considerations of OERs and scale.


straight knowledge
For those of you who’ve ever heard George siemens and I at the same event, our discussions inevitably descend into the same area… about ‘truth’ and more recently the ‘advancement of knowledge’. (This is an eluminate discussion of same) I’ve been particularly concerned that George’s examples of what he calls knowledge are often in the STEM realm (science, technology, engineering and math) and involve people building planes that don’t fall out of the sky. I am a very, very strong proponent of very stringent approaches to building airplanes, and, while I accept that people can have ‘airplane building communities’ I have no interest in the teaching of airplane building being a choose your own adventure. There are, in much of the STEM realm, clearly identifyable things that are WRONG. Airplane falls out of sky. Hadron collider heating up. Bridge falling down. (seems to be alot of falling here) But you see what I mean… these are things that we can all pull out a finger and point at and go BAD. Let’s call this straight knowledge. Straight knowledge, in George’s sense can ‘advance’. Stronger bridges, faster airplanes.

curvy knowledge
This is not true for what most of us call learning. (i have no research to support this, this is an intuition, that’s why I’m writing it in my blog… if you have this research, I would be very grateful) The vast majority of the things we learn are more subtle than this, have multiple possible solutions and no real ‘wrong ways’ of turning. They involve people’s feelings, their histories, their individual goals, the different ways their brains might work… all things that no group of experts would ever actually agree on. It is for this realm of ideas that ‘rhizomatic education’ was intended. A group of staff members trying to learn new ways to make their company more efficient. A group of 12 year olds trying to connect to history. A community of educators trying to come to grips with how new technologies can and have changed their profession and how they can make the best of it. These are the kinds of situations where I’ve used the idea of a community coming together to create it’s own knowledge. They can’t be ‘WRONG’ in the sense that a bridge falling down is wrong. Some of the content can be wrong, they might have misunderstood what someone in their office does, they might have gotten the date of the Boston Massacre wrong (I know you’re out there John Mullaney) or used a fake email address when they registered for delicious and then forgot their password… but their goals – better working environment – connecting to history – empowerement with the technology – were still achieved. These things are the knowledge, the jobs, dates and passwords are simply the content… things that could be jotted down, or googled for when needed but not really the thing they are there to learn. For these people the community, the feeling of using a community to learn… this was the real curriculum. Let’s call this curvy knowledge. Curvy knowledge does not ‘advance’, it changes… there is no ‘linear existance’ for it to follow.

Hold on a second… I thought you were talking about OERs… do you even know what one is?
I know what Seth Gurrell thinks one is, and I’ll take his definition. He works for COSL (the Center for Open and Sustainable learning) and it is this username (and presumably person) that wrote the definition of OERs used on the Wikieducator site.

The term “Open Educational Resource(s)” (OER) refers to educational resources (lesson plans, quizzes, syllabi, instructional modules, simulations, etc.) that are freely available for use, reuse, adaptation, and sharing… included in the many initiatives are

  • developing royalty free textbooks for primary and secondary schools;
  • simplifying licensing of resources for authors and educators;
  • packaging and indexing educational materials so they are easier to find and use;
  • nurturing online communities for teachers and authors; and
  • growing open education as a field and a movement.

Other definitions could be found, and hairs could be split, but essentially we have three big words. Open. Educational. Resources. There are some things implicit in these words that are will bear a couple of words. By Open we mean available with or without copyrights (there seems to be some disagreement about this…) lets call it viewable by anyone to dodge that bullet. Educational means that whatever knowledge may or may not be lurking in the content it has been processed by someone – a professor, an instructional designer, a teacher, a friend – to make it easier for someone else to learn. That educationalizing process is an interesting one… that content is almost always contextualized to the context of the person who has done that. (an important point for imperialism later) And, of course, it is a resource… something in a big old pile that we can draw from when we need something.

OERs and straight knowledge.
Any OER that gives knowledge on how to do something (like build a well) to someone who otherwise would never have access to this knowledge is a wonderful thing. If it helps people build safer cars, earthquake resistent houses, more environmentally friendly office spaces… anything I can point to and go ‘that thing’ I support it. This does not, I don’t think, extend to things like k-12 textbooks. The k12 sphere is not ‘pushing the limits of the advancement of our STEM knowledge’. They might, and that’d be really great, developing new kinds of curvy knowledge, but access to other people’s exclusive knowledge is not necessary for this. If really good free textbooks are needed, any number of organizations could get a bunch of teachers together to write one (and, indeed, this has been done) and then ‘MAKE IT FREE’. tahdah.

OERs and curvy knowledge
This is where i jump ship. I took a cruise through a bunch of courses at one of the flagshipes of the OER movement MIT OpenCourseware (yes, i know some people don’t think this is really ‘open’) I found one in particular that I thought served as a nice example of what I’m talking about “Technologies for Creative Learning. I would call that course curvy knowledge, and no amount of brain research is going to convince me that ‘creative learning’ is a STEM subject… it’s curvy. I would challenge anyone (anyone really… if you’re there 🙂 ) to take a look at that syllabus and ask yourself if you would choose those particular articles… You might. I might not. It’s kinda neat to see what other people use in their courses… I’ve sent some of my own work to other colleagues and have really enjoyed reading their’s… this is a good thing. But. Is it important that this particular list came from MIT? Should it affect the choices that we make when we teach our own courses? How much of an affect will the prestige of the university have over other people’s approaches to curvy knowledge.

Scale and the new textbook
One of my concerns, going forward, is the scale of the process. If, lets say, everyone published their syllabi publicly, along with all of their teaching resources… what happens then? Well, in one sense, we just have the internet all over again. There is no guarantee that because a course is being taught at a institution of higher learnign that the content is going to be good or even correct. More likely maybe, but no guarantee… you’ll find yourself wading in a see of content. This will, inevitably, lead to a number of folks offering to ‘guide people through the sea of content’ some will be free, some will charge and then you’ll have a new economy of people who are collating existing bits of content and/or knowledge into a compendium of things based on themes or categories… LETS CALL THEM TEXTBOOKS.

The new imperialism
The Myoops issue. MITs OER translated in Chinese. The five years I spent living in Asia gave me no end of examples of the reverance with which the American Uber Schools are seen. I have had students for whom the words ‘Harvard and MIT’ (and i do say word… em-ai-tee is a word, not an acronym) are the easiest to pronounce and use in a sentence like – “i want to go to Harvard”. In the places where ‘straight’ knowledge is actually straight, electrical engineering for instance, this is a really cool distribution of knowledge (At least, as far as I know, not being an electrical engineer). In the STEM subjects this offers any number of current and uptodate sources of knowledge that might otherwise be hidden or not there at all. But once things get curvy, the conversation gets more complicated. If the MIT edtech curriculum started being the default curriculum taught in even 10% of chinese universities this gives whatever professor is teaching that course ENORMOUS control over the direction of the industry… and not just in China. Image a course in ethics or social justice. You could argue, and some do, that this is the reason more people need to open their curriculum. I ask you… how will the majority of people be able to choose between the curriculum of a small town Nova Scotia university and Berkely. Easy. They’ll either choose the most famous or the one that they were already in agreement with. This does change the paradigm… I just wonder in what way.

Final thoughts
Freeing knowledge is a good thing. Freeing content, on the other hand, is a bit sketchier. When something is ‘packaged’ into an ‘educational resource’ we’ve left the straight path (however straight you might think that is) of the research process and enter the realm of contextualization. When you design a particular course, you need an audience in mind, a skill set, a number of literacies, goals… you make any number of decisions about how to frame and scaffold that knowledge so that a particular group will assimilate it in whatever way you see fit. If we turn these into tradeable cultural capital, we will, in a sense, not be changing anything at all. The major institution of learning currently do influence a great deal of our public policy. Clever translators of that knowledge (think Gladwell or Friedmann) already make a gazillion dollars oversimplifying the work that has taken others years to painstakingly put together. And we are left to our wits, our time schedules and our demands to judge how deeply we’re going to be able to assess the knoweldge coming in to figure out if there is something in it worth passing on…

All curvy knowledge ends up being like this. For me the last of those list of five goals is of particular intersest. “growing open education as a field and a movement.” This is the part that I really care about… and particular ‘open education around curvy knowledge’. Getting people together to talk about the stuff they need to know… and come out with their own version of it. OERs might be important to this… and they might not… but i just can’t help but think that they will just end up being ‘the internet’ all over again. Who exactly will they serve I wonder?

Thanks to Alec Couros, Jen Jones, George Siemens and Jennifer Maddrell (and others) for pushing my thinking on this subject. (note: by this, of course, i don’t mean to imply that they in any way ‘agree’ with me, but rather, they were kind enough to talk to me which helped me hammer out what i was thinking)

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