The Sixth “R” of Open Educational Resources

The Sixth “R” of Open Educational Resources

The 5 R’s

I’ve seen the five R’s used many times in reference to the OER space (Open Educational Resources). They include the ability to allow others to: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and/or Redistribute content with the appropriate use of licenses. These are all some incredibly powerful building blocks, but I feel like one particularly important building block is missing–that of the ability to allow easy accretion of knowledge over time.

Version Control

Some in the educational community may not be aware of some of the more technical communities that use the idea of version control for their daily work. The concept of version control is relatively simple and there are a multitude of platforms and software to effectuate it including Git, GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, SVN, etc. In the old days of file and document maintenance one might save different versions of the same general file with increasingly different and complex names to their computer hard drive: Syllabus.doc, Syllabus_revised.doc, Syllabus_revisedagain.doc, Syllabus_Final.doc, Syllabus_Final_Final.doc, etc. and by using either the names or date and timestamps on the file one might try to puzzle out which one was the correct version of the file that they were working on.

For the better part of a decade now there is what is known as version control software to allow people to more easily maintain a single version of their particular document but with a timestamped list of changes kept internally to allow users to create new updates or roll back to older versions of work they’ve done. While the programs themselves are internally complicated, the user interfaces are typically relatively easy to use and in less than a day one can master most of their functionality. Most importantly, these version control systems allow many people to work on the same file or resource at a time! This means that 10 or more people can be working on a textbook, for example, at the same. They create a fork  or clone of the particular project to their personal work space where they work on it and periodically save their changes. Then they can push their changes back to the original or master where they can be merged back in to make a better overall project. If there are conflicts between changes, these can be relatively easily settled without much loss of time. (For those looking for additional details, I’ve previously written Git and Version Control for Novelists, Screenwriters, Academics, and the General Public, which contains a variety of detail and resources.) Version control should be a basic tool of every educators’ digital literacy toolbox.

For the OER community, version control can add an additional level of power and capability to their particular resources. While some resources may be highly customized or single use resources, many of them, including documents like textbooks can benefit from the work of many hands in an accretive manner. If these resources are maintained in version controllable repositories then individuals can use the original 5 R’s to create their particular content.

But what if a teacher were to add several new and useful chapters to an open textbook? While it may be directly useful to their specific class, perhaps it’s also incredibly useful to the broader range of teachers and students who might use the original source in the future? If the teacher who forks the original source has a means of pushing their similarly licensed content back to the original in an easy manner, then not only will their specific class benefit from the change(s), but all future classes that might use the original source will have the benefit as well!

If you’re not sold on the value of version control, I’ll mention briefly that Microsoft spent $7.5 Billion over the summer to acquire GitHub, which is one of the most popular version control and collaboration tools on the market. Given Microsofts’ push into the open space over the past several years, this certainly bodes well for both open as well as version control for years to come.

Examples

A Math Text

As a simple example, lets say that one professor writes the bulk of a mathematics text, but twenty colleagues all contribute handfuls of particular examples or exercises over time. Instead of individually hosting those exercises on their own sites or within their individual LMSes where they’re unlikely to be easy to find for other adopters of the text, why not submit the changes back to the original to allow more options and flexibility to future teachers? Massive banks of problems will allow more flexibility for both teachers and students. Even if the additional problems aren’t maintained in the original text source, they’ll be easily accessible as adjunct materials for future adopters.

Wikipedia

One of the most powerful examples of the value of accretion in this manner is Wikipedia. While it’s somewhat different in form than some of the version control systems mentioned above, Wikipedia (and most wikis for that matter) have built in history views that allow users to see and track the trail of updates and changes over time. The Wikipedia in use today is vastly larger and more valuable today than it was on its first birthday because it allows ongoing edits to be not only improved over time, but those improvements are logged and view-able in a version controlled manner.

Google Documents

This is another example of an extensible OER platform that allows simple accretion. With the correct settings on a document, one can host an original and allow it to be available to others who can save it to their own Google Drive or other spaces. Leaving the ability for guests to suggest changes or to edit a document allows it to potentially become better over time without decreasing the value of the original 5 Rs.

Webmentions for Update Notifications

As many open educational resources are hosted online for easy retention, reuse, revision, remixing, and/or redistribution, keeping them updated with potential changes can potentially be a difficult proposition. It may not always be the case that resources are maintained on a single platform like GitHub or that users of these resources will necessarily know how to use these platforms or their functionality. As a potential “fix” I can easily see a means of leveraging the W3C recommended specification for Webmention as a means of keeping a tally of changes to resources online.

Let’s say Robin keeps a copy of her OER textbook on her WordPress website where students and other educators can easily download and utilize it. More often than not, those using it are quite likely to host changed versions of it online as well. If their CMS supports the Webmention spec like WordPress does via a simple plugin, then by providing a simple URL link as a means of crediting the original source, which they’re very likely to do as required by the Creative Commons license anyway, their site will send a notification of the copy’s existence to the original. The original can then display the webmentions as traditional comments and thus provide links to the chain of branches of copies which both the original creator as well as future users can follow to find individual changes. If nothing else, the use of Webmention will provide some direct feedback to the original author(s) to indicate their materials are being used. Commonly used education facing platforms like WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, and many others either support the Webmention spec natively or do so with very simple plugins.

Editorial Oversight

One of the issues some may see with pushing updates back to an original surrounds potential resource bloat or lack of editorial oversight. This is a common question or issue on open source version control repositories already, so there is a long and broad history of for how these things are maintained or managed in cases where there is community disagreement, an original source’s maintainer dies, disappears, loses interest, or simply no longer maintains the original. In the end, as a community of educators we owe it to ourselves and future colleagues to make an attempt at better maintaining, archiving, and allowing our work to accrete value over time.

The 6th R: Request Update

In summation, I’d like to request that we all start talking about the 6 R’s which include the current 5 along with the addition of a Request update (or maybe pull Request, Recompile, or Report to keep it in the R family?) ability as well. OER is an incredibly powerful concept already, but could be even more so with the ability to push new updates or at least notifications of them back to the original. Having the ability to do this will make it far easier to spread and grow the value of the OER concept as well as to disrupt the education spaces OER was evolved to improve.

Featured photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

The Sixth “R” of Open Educational Resources was originally published on Chris Aldrich

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🎙 The IndieWeb and Academic Research and Publishing

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Overview Workflow

Posting

Researcher posts research work to their own website (as bookmarks, reads, likes, favorites, annotations, etc.), they can post their data for others to review, they can post their ultimate publication to their own website.​​​​​​​​

Discovery/Subscription methods

The researcher’s post can webmention an aggregating website similar to the way they would pre-print their research on a server like arXiv.org. The aggregating website can then parse the original and display the title, author(s), publication date, revision date(s), abstract, and even the full paper itself. This aggregator can act as a subscription hub (with WebSub technology) to which other researchers can use to find, discover, and read the original research.

Peer-review

Readers of the original research can then write about, highlight, annotate, and even reply to it on their own websites to effectuate peer-review which then gets sent to the original by way of Webmention technology as well. The work of the peer-reviewers stands in the public as potential work which could be used for possible evaluation for promotion and tenure.

Feedback mechanisms

Readers of original research can post metadata relating to it on their own website including bookmarks, reads, likes, replies, annotations, etc. and send webmentions not only to the original but to the aggregation sites which could aggregate these responses which could also be given point values based on interaction/engagement levels (i.e. bookmarking something as “want to read” is 1 point where as indicating one has read something is 2 points, or that one has replied to something is 4 points  and other publications which officially cite it provide 5 points. Such a scoring system could be used to provide a better citation measure of the overall value of of a research article in a networked world. In general, Webmention could be used to provide a two way audit-able  trail for citations in general and the citation trail can be used in combination with something like the Vouch protocol to prevent gaming the system with spam.

Archiving

Government institutions (like Library of Congress), universities, academic institutions, libraries, and non-profits (like the Internet Archive) can also create and maintain an archival copy of digital and/or printed copies of research for future generations. This would be necessary to guard against the death of researchers and their sites disappearing from the internet so as to provide better longevity.

Show notes

Resources mentioned in the microcast

IndieWeb for Education
IndieWeb for Journalism
Academic samizdat
arXiv.org (an example pre-print server)
Webmention
A Domain of One’s Own
Article on A List Apart: Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet

Synidicating to Discovery sites

Examples of similar currently operating sites:
IndieNews (sorts posts by language)
IndieWeb.xyz (sorts posts by category or tag)
 

🎙 The IndieWeb and Academic Research and Publishing was originally published on Chris Aldrich

An Indieweb Podcast: Episode 8 Interflux

An Indieweb Podcast: Episode 8 Interflux

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Running time: 1h 23m 35s | Download (26.2 MB) | Subscribe by RSS

Summary: David Shanske and I recap the recent IndieWeb Summit 2018 in Portland Oregon including recent developments like microsub, readers, Vouch, and even the comeback of webrings!

Huffduff this Episode

Shownotes

Recap of IndieWeb Summit 2018

Vouch(🎧 00:7:13)

The Year of the Reader (🎧 00:38:32)

Webrings (🎧 00:59:03)

Aaron Parecki posts (🎧 1:12:10)

An Indieweb Podcast: Episode 8 Interflux was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Some thoughts on highlights and marginalia with examples

Earlier today I created a read post with some highlights and marginalia related to a post by Ian O’Bryne. In addition to posting it and the data for my own purposes, I’m also did it as a manual test of sorts, particularly since it seemed apropos in reply to Ian’s particular post. I thought I’d take a stab at continuing to refine my work at owning and controlling my own highlights, notes, and annotations on the web. I suspect that being able to better support this will also help to bring more self-publishing and its benefits to the halls of academe.

At present I’m relying on a PESOS solution to post on another site and syndicate a copy back to my own site. I’ve used Hypothesis, in large part for their fantastic UI and as well for the data transfer portion (via RSS and even API options), to own the highlights and marginalia I’ve made on the original on Ian’s site. Since he’s syndicated a copy of his original to Medium.com, I suppose I could syndicate copies of my data there as well, but I’m saving myself the additional manual pain for the moment.

Rather than send a dozen+ webmentions to Ian, I’ve bundling everything up in one post. He’ll receive it and it would default to display as a read post though I suspect he may switch it to a reply post for display on his own site. For his own use case, as inferred from his discussion about self-publishing and peer-review within the academy, it might be more useful for him to have received the dozen webmentions. I’m half tempted to have done all the annotations as stand alone posts (much the way they were done within Hypothesis as I read) and use some sort of custom microformats mark up for the highlights and annotations (something along the lines of u-highlight-of and u-annotation-of). At present however, I’ve got some UI concerns about doing so.

One problem is that, on my site, I’d be adding 14 different individual posts, which are all related to one particular piece of external content. Some would be standard replies while others would be highlights and the remainder annotations. Unless there’s some particular reason to do so, compiling them into one post on my site seems to be the most logical thing to do from my perspective and that of my potential readers. I’ll note that I would distinguish annotations as being similar to comments/replies, but semantically they’re meant more for my sake than for the receiving site’s sake. It might be beneficial for the receiving site to accept and display them (preferably in-line) though I could see sites defaulting to considering them vanilla mentions as a fallback.  Perhaps there’s a better way of marking everything up so that my site can bundle the related details into a single post, but still allow the receiving site to log the 14 different reactions and display them appropriately? One needs to not only think about how one’s own site looks, but potentially how others might like to receive the data to display it appropriately on their sites if they’d like as well. As an example, I hope Ian edits out my annotations of his typos if he chooses to display my read post as a comment.

One might take some clues from Hypothesis which has multiple views for their highlights and marginalia. They have a standalone view for each individual highlight/annotation with its own tag structure. They’ve also got views that target highlights/annotation in situ. While looking at an original document, one can easily scroll up and down through the entire page’s highlights and annotations. One piece of functionality I do wish they would make easier is to filter out a view of just my annotations on the particular page (and give it a URL), or provide an easier way to conglomerate just my annotations. To accomplish a bit of this I’ll typically create a custom tag for a particular page so that I can use Hypothesis’ search functionality to display them all on one page with a single URL. Sadly this isn’t perfect because it could be gamed from the outside–something which might be done in a classroom setting using open annotations rather than having a particular group for annotating. I’ll also note in passing that Hypothesis provides RSS and Atom feeds in a variety of ways so that one could quickly utilize services like IFTTT.com or Zapier to save all of their personal highlights and annotations to their website. I suspect I’ll get around to documenting this in the near future for those interested in the specifics.

Another reservation is that there currently isn’t yet a simple or standard way of marking up highlights or marginalia, much less displaying them specifically within the WordPress ecosystem. As I don’t believe Ian’s site is currently as fragmentions friendly as mine, I’m using links on the date/time stamp for each highlight/annotation which uses Hypothesis’ internal functionality to open a copy of the annotated page and automatically scroll down to the fragment as mentioned before. I could potentially see people choosing to either facepile highlights and/or marginalia, wanting to display them in-line within their text, or possibly display them as standalone comments in their comments section. I could also see people wanting to be able to choose between these options based on the particular portions or potentially senders. Some of my own notes are really set up as replies, but the CSS I’m using physically adds the word “Annotation”–I’ll have to remedy this in a future version.

The other benefit of these date/time stamped Hypothesis links is that I can mark them up with the microformat u-syndication class for the future as well. Perhaps someone might implement backfeed of comments until and unless Hypothesis implements webmentions? For fun, some of my annotations on Hypothesis also have links back to my copy as well. In any case, there are links on both copies pointing at each other, so one can switch from one to the other.

I could imagine a world in which it would be nice if I could use a service like Hypothesis as a micropub client and compose my highlights/marginalia there and micropub it to my own site, which then in turn sends webmentions to the marked up site. This could be a potential godsend to researchers/academics using Hypothesis to aggregate their research into their own personal online (potentially open) notebooks. In addition to adding bookmark functionality, I could see some of these be killer features in the Omnibear browser extension, Quill, or similar micropub clients.

I could also see a use-case for adding highlight and annotation kinds to the Post Kinds plugin for accomplishing some of this. In particular it would be nice to have a quick and easy user interface for creating these types of content (especially via bookmarklet), though again this path also relies on doing individual posts instead of a single post or potentially a collection of posts. A side benefit would be in having individual tags for each highlight or marginal note, which is something Hypothesis provides. Of course let’s not forget the quote post kind already exists, though I’ll have to think through the implications of that versus a slightly different semantic version of the two, at least in the ways I would potentially use them. I’ll note that some blogs (Colin Walker and Eddie Hinkle come to mind) have a front page that display today’s posts (or the n-most recent); perhaps I could leverage this to create a collection post of highlights and marginalia (keyed off of the original URL) to make collection posts that fit into my various streams of content. I’m also aware of a series plugin that David Shanske is using which aggregates content like this, though I’m not quite sure this is the right solution for the problem.

Eventually with some additional manual experimentation and though in doing this, I’ll get around to adding some pieces and additional functionality to the site. I’m still also interested in adding in some of the receipt/display functionalities I’ve seen from Kartik Prabhu which are also related to some of this discussion.

Is anyone else contemplating this sort of use case? I’m curious what your thoughts are. What other UI examples exist in the space? How would you like these kinds of reactions to look on your site?

Some thoughts on highlights and marginalia with examples was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Defining the IndieWeb

The concept of IndieWeb is something slightly different to many people and it’s ever evolving and changing, just like the internet itself.

Trying to define it is somewhat akin to trying to define America: while it has a relatively well-defined geographic border and place in time, its people, laws, philosophies, and principles, while typically very similar, can vary and change over time. What it is can be different for everyone both within it as well as outside of it. It can be different things to different people based on their place, time, and even mood. In the end maybe it’s just an idea.

A basic definition of IndieWeb

In broadest terms I would define being part of the IndieWeb as owning your own domain name and hosting some sort of website as a means of identifying yourself and attempting to communicate with others on the internet.

At its simplest, one could say they have an IndieWeb site by buying their own domain name (in my case: boffosocko.com) and connecting it to a free and flexible service like Tumblr.com or WordPress.com. Because you’ve got the ability to export your data from these services and move it to a new host or new content management system, you have a lot more freedom of choice and flexibility in what you’re doing with your content and identity and how you can interact online. By owning your domain and the ability to map your URLs, when you move, you can see and feel the benefits for yourself, but your content can still be found at the same web addresses you’ve set up instead of disappearing from the web.

If you wished, you could even purchase a new domain name and very inexpensively keep the old domain name and have it automatically forward people from your old links to all the appropriate links on your new one.

By comparison, owning your own domain name and redirecting it to your Facebook page doesn’t quite make you IndieWeb because if you moved to a different service your content might be able to go with you by export, but all of the URLs that used to point to it are now all dead and broken because they were under the control of another company that is trying to lock you into their service.

Some more nuanced definition

Going back to the analogy of America, the proverbial constitution for the IndieWeb is generally laid out on its principles page. If you like, the pre-amble to this “constitution” is declared on the IndieWeb wiki’s front page and on its why page.

Some people may choose to host the business card equivalent of a website with simply their name and contact information. Others may choose to use it as the central hub of their entire online presence and identity. In the end, what you do with your website and how you choose to use it should be up to you. What if you wanted to use your website like Twitter for short status updates or sharing links? What if you wanted to use it like Facebook to share content and photos with your friends and family? What if you want to host audio or video like Soundcloud, YouTube, or Vimeo allow?

The corporate social media revolution was a lovely and useful evolution of what the blogosphere was already doing. Thousands of companies made it incredibly easy for billions of people to be on the internet and interact with each other. But why let a corporation own and monetize your data and your ability to interact with others? More importantly, why allow them to limit what you can do? Maybe I want to post status updates of more than 280 characters? Maybe I want the ability to edit or update a post? Maybe I want more privacy? Maybe I don’t want advertising? Why should I be stuck with only the functionality that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and thousands of others allow me to have? Why should I be limited in communicating with people who are stuck on a particular service? (Would you use your phone to only call friends who use AT&T?) Why should I have hundreds of social accounts and an online identity shattered like just so many horcruxes when I could have one that I can fully control?

By decentralizing things to the level of owning a domain and having a simple website with control of my URLs, I can move to cheaper or more innovative web hosts or service providers. I can move to more innovative content manage systems that allow me to do more and communicate better or more broadly with others online. As a side effect of empowering myself, I can help create more competition and innovation in the space to do things I might not otherwise be capable of doing solely by myself.

Web standards

Almost all of the people behind the IndieWeb movement believe in using some basic web standards as a central building block. Standards help provide some sort of guidance to allow sites to be easier to build and provide a simpler way for them to communicate and interact with each other.

Of course, because you have control of your own site, you can do anything you wish with it. (In our America analogy we could consider standards to be like speech. Then how might we define free speech in the IndieWeb?) Perhaps a group of people who want some sort of new functionality will agree on a limited set of new standards or protocols? They can build and iterate and gradually create new standards that others can follow so that the infrastructure advances and new capabilities emerge. Generally the simpler and easier these standards are to implement, the more adoption they will typically garner. Often simple standards are easier to innovate on and allow people to come up with new ways of using them that weren’t originally intended.

This type of growth can be seen in the relatively new W3C recommendation for the Webmention specification which grew out of the IndieWeb movement. Services like Facebook and Twitter have a functionality called @mentions, but they only work within their own walled gardens; they definitely don’t interoperate–you can’t @mention someone on Facebook with your Twitter account. Why not?! Why not have a simple standard that will allow one website to @mention another–not only across domain names but across multiple web servers and even content management systems? This is precisely what the Webmention standard allows. I can @mention you from my domain running WordPress and you can still receive it using your own domain running Drupal (or whatever software you choose). People within the IndieWeb community realized there was a need for such functionality, and so, over the span of several years, they slowly evolved it and turned it into a web standard that anyone (including Facebook and Twitter) could use. While it may have been initially meant as a simple notifications protocol, people have combined it with another set of web standards known as Microformats to enable cross-site conversations and a variety of other wonderous functionalities.

Some people in the IndieWeb might define it as all of the previous ideas we’ve discussed as well as the ability to support conversations via Webmentions. Some might also define an IndieWeb site as one that has the ability to support Micropub, which is a standard that allows websites to be able to accept data from a growing variety of applications that will allow you to more easily post different types of content to your site from articles and photos to what you’re drinking or reading.

Still others might want their own definition of IndieWeb to support the functionality of WebSub, MicroSub, IndieAuth, or even all of the above. Each small, free-standing piece expands the capabilities of what your personal website can do and how you can interact online. But since it’s your website and under your control, you have the power to pick and choose what and how you would like it to be able to do.

So what is the IndieWeb really?

Perhaps after exploring the concept a bit, most may not necessarily be able to define it concretely. Instead they might say–to quote United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart“But I know it when I see it […]”.

The IndieWeb can be many different things. It is:

  • a website;
  • an independent network of websites;
  • an idea;
  • a concept;
  • a set of broad-based web standards;
  • a set of principles;
  • a philosophy;
  • a group of people;
  • a support network;
  • an organization;
  • an inclusive community;
  • a movement;
  • a Utopian dream of what the decentralized, open Internet could be.

In some sense it is all of these things and many more.

In the end though, the real question is:

What do you want the IndieWeb to be?

Come help us all define it.

IndieWeb.org

Defining the IndieWeb was originally published on Chris Aldrich