More love for East Van-style DIY

Deposit Work underway... neighbours stop buy to buy the product...
The team cranks it up work

Now in its third year of growth and development, the Garibaldi School Community Garden just came off of a landmark weekend, with a manure sale that raised money to finish the tool shed/play area, greatly enriched the soil at the garden, and distributed tonnes of hormone and antibiotic-free steer manure to neighborhood gardens.

The non-stop shoveling also was a formidable full-day, full-body workout for me. And yes, I did lose count of the wags on Twitter who observed that slinging vast piles of cow dung is indistinguishable from what I do in a typical working day at UBC.

Racking the ale

In other food and booze security news… I’m happy to report we have graduated from beer brewing learning parties to a fairly regular home brew production schedule, with Keira and Rob showing particular initiative. The Strathcona Pale Ale was completed and ecstatically consumed, the Shirley’s Nutbrown Ale is bottled and aging, the Grapefruit Bitter fermenting in the carboy ready to rack. Absolutely blown away by how tasty the ale turned out – and it’s been great fun.

I’m not in the habit of endorsements here, but we couldn’t ask for a better supplier than Dan’s Homebrew Supplies (located in the historic Heatley Block, next to the volunteer-run anarchist Spartacus Books), serving up great ingredients and ample heaps of punk attitude. This video they made sums up so much of what I love about East Van, and why I find it hard to imagine living anywhere else:

Posted in sustainability | Tagged | 11 Comments

The zen of open data


B33 – HorseHead Nebula shared CC by Skiwalker79

The Zen of Open Data, by Chris McDowall

Open is better than closed.
Transparent is better than opaque.
Simple is better than complex.
Accessible is better than inaccessible.
Sharing is better than hoarding.
Linked is more useful than isolated.
Fine grained is preferable to aggregated.
(Although there are legitimate privacy and security limitations.)
Optimise for machine readability — they can translate for humans.
Barriers prevent worthwhile things from happening.
“Flawed, but out there” is a million times better than “perfect, but unattainable”.
Opening data up to thousands of eyes makes the data better.
Iterate in response to demand.
There is no one true feed for all eternity — people need to maintain this stuff.

Shared today by Heather Piwowar during her excellent session on Open Research Data (slides) as part of Open Access Week at UBC.

Posted in Emergence, Open Content, Open Education, sustainability | 1 Comment

On sustaining and reviving culture


No Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom shared CC by Thomas Hawk

When I do my little talks on open education, I like to reference things like learning parties, maker culture, the kind of practical DIY education that is important enough to people that it happens whether it’s provided by an institution or not. I would like open educators to see people in the wider world not just as learners gratefully consuming our generously-provided open educational resources, but as partners in a broader cultural enterprise, and an invaluable source of untapped knowledge and expertise.

If I’m giving this talk at a university or at a typical educational conference, this part usually falls flat. Maybe it’s because I’m wrong, more likely I haven’t figured out how to make the case in an engaging way. I keep doing it anyway.

The classical definition of sustainable development is that we should use the global resources only so that the generation coming after us will [inherit] the planet in as good shape as it was when we were born. We got something from the earlier generations and should past it forward for our children and grant children.

…Social sustainability would mean that all people of the world would have basic living conditions: health, well-being, education, dignity and freedom to do sustainable choices. If you follow any world news you know that we are far from this.

Reaching cultural sustainability we are not doing much better than with the social sustainability. Cultural sustainable development would mean that we protect the cultural diversity of the world. All cultures should have a right to persist and develop. With the fact that humankind is losing a language every two weeks we are far from a cultural sustainability.

— Teemu Leinonen, Sustainable development and education in the digital age


C Concourse shops and restaurants, Portland International shared CC by kevincrumbs

“All culture is being sold down the river by the sorts of people who want to turn the entire planet into an international airport arrival concourse. That’s not the victory of somebody’s culture over another culture. That’s the victory of schlockmeisterism and crapola over good taste and good sense.”
— Terence McKenna

Peter imparting wisdom in his lair

From the Bryan Alexander’s family blog, Scaling the Peak

That darkness is certainly part of our homesteading experience. Time and again we hear laments about lost practices, perished memories, techniques which must have been present but which nobody can grasp now. Setting foot on our land is sometimes an archaeological experience in all kinds of ways, including this one of recovering social memory.

This summer I spoke with a local senior about food and brine. We were both interested in the combination. He wasn’t thinking of brining food for taste and style, though, but about canning practices in the 1930s. He remembers that practice from his childhood, and hearing about it from older family members. I’m not sure how much practical detail he recalls.

The brilliant local contractor who has done so much great work for us often tells me about how much we don’t know about construction. Everything from planking to building sleds: how much do we not know, lost in the passage of only a few decades?



Photo by Sharon Kravitz

I think about the now-retired treeplanting contractor, who smiles in admiration when talking about the forestry students who interned on his projects every year, praising their scholarly knowledge, then noting that the forty years he’d spent in the trade gave him many practical tricks he could still teach them, things that would result in healthier and more viable forests. That resource is gone.

I admire the work of people here with the East Vancouver Garden Project (the source of Sharon Kravitz’s photos here), interviewing and documenting the urban farming that’s been done for decades here in my neighbourhood by people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Or the One Straw Live and Learn project connecting mentors with learners.

Chris giving Harry the news
Chris giving Harry the news photo by Sharon Kravitz

Seems to me it’s not just aboriginal tribes in the rainforest who are seeing their cultures disappear. The airport-concourse homogeneity that McKenna bemoans is being imposed on the supposedly triumphant cultures as well, and the increasingly necessary wisdom of our own elders is fading into dim memories and following them into their graves.

Seems to me that the open web could be an ideal medium for identifying, researching, presenting, aggregating and globally connecting this imperiled knowledge. Call it digital storytelling, community service learning, student as producer, whatever…

Seems to me that sustaining the breadth of our culture, especially the elements that may prove necessary to our survival, should be part of any open educational mission worthy of a “movement”. I suspect it depends on a vision of higher education that is both more permeable and more humble than the one we are holding now.

Posted in Abject Learning, Higher Ed, Open Education, sustainability | Tagged , | 6 Comments

It will be an epic Open Access Week at UBC


Open Access shared CC by AJC1

I have a few more substantive posts brewing, but until I get a few minutes and a few more brain cells to rub together…

I want to offer my congratulations to the team that has put together UBC’s contribution to the global event Open Access Week. The schedule of talks taking place here next week covers the gamut from open scholarship, to open data, to open source, to open government, to yes, open educational resources. And it’s all free of charge and open to the public.

Too many highlights to mention here, but a few of the sessions I won’t be missing:

* An introduction to open access and other open movements by Joy Kirchner, who has done as much as anyone to pull the UBC program together. Joy is just one of the Library people here doing heroic duty to promote openness in higher education.

* Dr. Michael Brauer will discuss the Cycling Route Planner, an essential resource for Vancouver cyclists that I previously blogged here.

* If that’s not enough open data goodness, Heather Piwowar, will be discussing open research data in the academy. And G. Sayeed Choudhury from Johns Hopkins will make The Case for Open Data and eScience.

* Novak Rogic and Will Engle will be showing off the UBC Wiki, which I rave about constantly.

* John Willinsky, Meike Wernicke, Reilly Yeo will be discussing “Scholarly Rights and Responsibilities in the Digital Age”… As longtime readers of this blog already know, I consider Dr. Willinsky to be one of the very best speakers in the business, I never tire of listening to him. I’ll never forget the meeting we had shortly after I started at UBC, from which I emerged an incorrigible open access zealot.

* I’m pleased to have Martha Rans come to UBC to discuss copyright issues as relevant to educators. Martha is Vancouver Project Lead for Creative Commons Canada, and as blogged here previously does indispensable work as Legal Director of the Artists Legal Outreach at the Alliance for Arts. Our intention for this session is to provide a clear overview of the impending Canadian copyright Bill C-32, with special focus on its implications for educators. While Martha is with us, I’ve asked her to discuss Creative Commons from her insiders perspective… and we’ll be sure to leave lots of time for the many thorny, nasty questions that always come up when we discuss this stuff.

* UBC students Goldis Chami and Gordana Panic will discuss “Student Advocacy for Open Access at UBC and Beyond”…

And there’s much, much more open yumminess! Looking at the breadth and quality of local talent strutting its stuff next week, it’s hard not to feel humbled, excited and hopeful at the prospects of UBC doing great things in this space in the years to come.

Posted in Higher Ed, OER, Open Content, tech/tools/standards, wikis | Comments Off on It will be an epic Open Access Week at UBC

Sustain this?


Wind farm and greenhouse gas farm, together shared CC by kevindooley

I’m still finding my way with regards to the ‘sustainability’ part of my job. I know I’m new to this, at least professionally, so I’m trying to focus on getting to know people and to offer support when possible to those who are already doing interesting work. I’m enjoying myself much more than I expected heading in… which says a lot about how much about how much I like and respect the people I am working with…

The David Korten (audio) and Stewart Brand (audio) talks kicked off the UBC Reads Sustainability series in wildly successful style, pulling in remarkable turnouts given the short notice and depending on grassroots promotion. The energy at both events was palpable, and it was exciting to get the sense that here is an opportunity to do some worthwhile work that is meeting an obvious need in the UBC community. The past couple weeks represented something of a guerrilla pilot project, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds…

I’ve been thinking a lot about how sustainability might fit with open education, so I read with interest Teemu Leinonen’s typically smart take on sustainable development and education in the digital age.

I’m still working through Joss Winn’s radical position on a similar question, which I had the privilege of first hearing in person when he presented it.

I grow even more frustrated with how narrowly defined the discourse around “open educational resources” seems to be right now, but am wary of throwing hand grenades at people who are doing work that is well-intentioned and which ultimately I am not qualified to judge. More on that soon.

It’s been a frantic couple of weeks. I told myself to write what I could in the time I had… that sloppy blogging was preferable to no blogging at all. I leave it to you to judge whether that is indeed the case.

No time for reflection, I’m headed in a new direction…

Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.

Posted in OER, Open Education, sustainability | 4 Comments

UBC Reads Sustainability


“books” shared CC by bjornmeansbear

A few changes in my professional profile at UBC in recent weeks… My old Office of Learning Technology has merged with the former Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth to become the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology.

Among the changes for me personally is an assignment to coordinate our Centre’s efforts having to do with sustainability. Along those lines, I am very pleased to announce our participation in an exciting new initiative that originates from UBC’s Alma Mater Society. UBC Reads Sustainability is intended “bring well-known authors on the topic of sustainability to our campus to engage in a campus-wide discussion.”

The idea is to integrate these events with in-class activities, and already instructors from five departments have agreed to take part. Two fantastic speakers have already been lined up:

* David Korten, on “Creating a Real Wealth Economy for a Just and Sustainable Future”. Wednesday, September 29th, 6:00-7:30 PM at the Victoria Learning Theatre in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. Free registration here.

* Stewart Brand on “Rethinking Green”. 7:00-8:30 PM, Tuesday, Oct 5th, Multi-purpose Room, Liu Institute of Global Issues at UBC. Free registration here.

This is a brand-new series, and we at CTLT could not be more excited about how this idea is set to grow.

Posted in Higher Ed, sustainability | 3 Comments

everything not real only a series of tapes being played for us


Philip K. Dick – I consider the universe shared CC by Muli Koppel

I read an excerpt of this Inside Higher Ed article nearly two weeks ago, and I still find myself thinking about it.

At the University of Dayton this fall, the numbers are looking great — 2,065 arrivals for the fall, about 300 more than the university has been seeking. And that followed an encouraging admissions cycle — with more students visiting, more students applying, heightened academic quality and so forth.

Why such strong numbers?

According to Sundar Kumarasamy, vice president for enrollment management, it’s all about pushing the envelope — and he means just that, the envelope. One of the most successful strategies employed by the university involves an unusual arrangement with UPS and DHL that has allowed the university to send its viewbooks and other materials in envelopes with the UPS and DHL logos. Dayton isn’t paying for express delivery of the tens of thousands of items it sends this way — they are mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. But the university is licensing the right to use the envelopes from the two express mail services.

“We’re sending a message that you are important” with the envelopes, Kumarasamy said. “We are saying that you are not going to be like bulk mail to us.”

You are not going to be like bulk mail to us. Instead, you will be like disguised bulk mail to us.

Bonus points for this passionately punctuated comment on the IHE site from Kumarasamy’s colleague at Dayton, Sister Angela Ann Zukowski:

Congratulations to UD’s Office for Enrollment and Management! This reflects quality team work to advance interest toward the qualities that UD has to offer young women and men today! As a Catholic Marianist University, there is no doubt that the qualities UD community strives to make it great, is because of the outstanding work of the Office for Enrollment and Management! You make all UD Alumni proud!

I was reminded of this story by another piece in the business section of today’s morning paper:

As a news conference was kicking off to announce Netflix’s service — which uses the Internet to stream unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month — extras were asked to spill into the street and encouraged to “play types, for example, mothers, film buffs, tech geeks, couch potatoes etc.”

“Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out,” reads an information sheet handed out to extras.

“Extras are to look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada.”

Netflix has me thinking we can take Dayton’s example far beyond enrollment marketing. Why not employ ‘student extras’ (we can probably hire failed students quite cheaply) to show up on campus and make a big show of how hard they are working, how pleased they are by campus services and amenities, and how mind-blowingly awesome they find their courses. With proper ‘preparation’, they could probably ace their exams as well, boosting the outcomes, and fostering an atmosphere of achievement and excellence. I can’t think of any better way to show how important students are to us.

Posted in Higher Ed | 2 Comments

Fear and frothing in England


Freak Out shared CC by Parksy1964

Last July I was honoured to give the closing keynote for the JISC Open Educational Resources International Symposium in London, England. It was a terrifying prospect on a couple of levels… First off, I knew I would be speaking in front of some of the most accomplished people in the field. And of course the backdrop of the event was a rash of near-apocalyptic news about higher education in the UK. I really struggled with how to frame a broad discussion of the role of openness in the academy in such a context.

The trip ended up being a wild and incredibly rewarding experience, rich in discussions that have resonated with me ever since. I’ve since been trying to think of how I could write up what that amazing week has meant to me, but nothing has seemed quite right.

Thankfully, David Kernohan (who I must thank for inviting me to take part in #UKOER10 in the first place) has just published a blog post on the just-wrapped ALT-C 2010 conference. Somehow his words speak to my experience in the UK as well:

The technological is now political; rather than leaping at the possibilities as in the past we are sitting back to ask why? who for? and what is the real cost? There was a sense of a last gasp, we are running out of time, running out of money, and (as Richard Hall and Joss Winn made terrifyingly clear) running out of energy. Even by 2014, we could be living in a radically altered society in which we would either adapt or collapse. Kudos to the pair of them for making it sound challenging and exciting. We’re higher education, we used to love solving problems…

In my own meagre contribution, my colleagues and I tried to highlight the dangers of toying with transformative concepts without at least an aspiration of where we want to end up. We saw three delightful models of how OER could benefit the educational community, and then one neo-liberal corporate nightmare. The oncoming commercialisation of higher education is another figurative crossroads that we stand at, with a genuine and fundamental conundrum about the creative and connective capacity of humankind being used for the benefit of all, or sold back to us to benefit from the few.

But there are strange and magical powers within our creaking old dark-age institutional structures. The gaps, the synergies, the misfiring collegiate neurons and the freedoms within the way we work give us the chance to influence, to build and to organise against the oncoming storms.

Besides David, Joss, and Richard, I was privileged to talk with a number of gifted and inspiring colleagues: Tony Hirst, Josie Fraser, Matt Jukes, John Robertson, Jackie Carter, Pippa Buchanan, Giota Alevizou, Alex di Savoia, and even my longtime Canuck buddy Scott Leslie had his own UK trip align with mine. Most of these conversations took place within reach of a frothy pint of one of England’s many fine ales. To everyone who made my trip so stimulating and memorable, I cannot thank you enough.

Posted in Abject Learning, OER, Open Education | 2 Comments

International study claims higher education is still good for you

Some interesting reading in my morning paper:

In purely financial terms, the benefits of a postsecondary education to individuals and Canadian society at large far outweigh the costs, a new report suggests.

However, as Canada spends more and more on higher education, an increasing percentage of the cost is borne by students and their families, says the annual Education at a Glance report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

…The OECD estimates that the average Canadian man with a college or university education makes more than three times what he put into getting such an education, both in terms of direct costs and lost wages. For the average woman, the gain is more than double the cost. The value to society was similarly pegged at roughly double the government’s investment.

…Economist Hugh MacKenzie, however, said the concept of funding education through student loans freezes out those who are averse to debt, including students from low-income families.

“The implicit assumption behind the student loan funding model is that the student or their family is willing to take on debt in order to graduate,” said Mr. MacKenzie, an economist and research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “The lower your income, the less likely you are to take on debt to finance your education.”

Others argue that the only way to ensure access is to bring tuition fees down and guarantee stable funding directly to postsecondary institutions.

These conclusions are interesting to ponder alongside the increasingly common notion (especially popular on the anti-government right) of a higher education bubble, in which the rising costs of a university education are cast as a failure of public education itself, a crisis that can only be addressed by a good dose of private enterprise from the edupreneurs.

This study of 32 nations from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development strongly indicates that “Even after taking account of the cost to the public exchequer of financing degree courses, higher tax revenues and social contributions from people with university degrees make tertiary education a good long-term investment.”

I suppose I should look into this report from the OECD in more detail, but the full report is only available on a password-protected site to accredited journalists and scholars at recognised institutions. I suppose I might qualify as the latter, but… What possible interest is served by the OECD by restricting access to a document so obviously of public interest? Are they hoping to see this thing hit the best-seller lists?

Posted in Higher Ed, News | 2 Comments

Ooooh, I want one of those iPanopticons sooooo bad


Geek and Hype iPod touch shared CC by pickupjojo

How illuminating… every time Chairman Steve does one of his high-gloss sales-pitches, my Twitter and RSS feeds are overrun by panting consumption lust, usually from people who make their livings as some form of ‘technology expert’… I suppose it’s too much to expect critical detachment or even a modicum of dignity, that gear is so shiny… And really, what says “Think Different” more eloquently than a social network that is built around an online store?

If you are interested in what conspicuous consumers will be drooling over in the years to come, check out the new hotness they are getting ready to patent:

This patent application does nothing short of providing a roadmap for how Apple can — and presumably will — spy on its customers and control the way its customers use Apple products.

…Here’s a sample of the kinds of information Apple plans to collect:

  • The system can take a picture of the user’s face, “without a flash, any noise, or any indication that a picture is being taken to prevent the current user from knowing he is being photographed”;
  • The system can record the user’s voice, whether or not a phone call is even being made;
  • The system can determine the user’s unique individual heartbeat “signature”;
  • To determine if the device has been hacked, the device can watch for “a sudden increase in memory usage of the electronic device”;
  • The user’s “Internet activity can be monitored or any communication packets that are served to the electronic device can be recorded”; and
  • The device can take a photograph of the surrounding location to determine where it is being used.

In other words, Apple will know who you are, where you are, and what you are doing and saying and even how fast your heart is beating. In some embodiments of Apple’s “invention,” this information “can be gathered every time the electronic device is turned on, unlocked, or used.” When an “unauthorized use” is detected, Apple can contact a “responsible party.” A “responsible party” may be the device’s owner, it may also be “proper authorities or the police.”

Apple does not explain what it will do with all of this collected information on its users, how long it will maintain this information, how it will use this information, or if it will share this information with other third parties. We know based on long experience that if Apple collects this information, law enforcement will come for it, and may even order Apple to turn it on for reasons other than simply returning a lost phone to its owner.

Stephen Downes, who somehow manages to outblog us all even when he is camping on a hurricane path, has a nifty take: “You know what would be nice? It would be if Apple succeeded in patenting spyware and then launched lawsuits to prevent anyone else from using spyware. Then all we would have to do to avoid spyware would be to avoid using Apple. That would be great.”

In any event, it will be exciting to watch Apple’s continuing war of innovation continue against Google, won’t it?

Posted in Abject Learning | 6 Comments