Default to Open: Open Education, Open Government, Open Data, Open Web, and Open Source

My posts on boren.blog connect humane tech, tech ethics, tech regrets, indie ed-tech, open source, open web, open data, distributed work, backchannels, indieweb, neurodiversity, #ActuallyAutistic, the social model of disability, design for real life, behaviorism, structural ideology, mindset marketing, psychological safety, and public education. That jumble of tags is full of connections and overlap. It’s full of lessons on building for humans and the commons. I try to bring these communities together with my writing and sharing, because in connection there is serendipity, and we urgently need a lot of that going on between tech, education, and social model communities. I feel good and reenergized when educators, tech workers, and autistic and disabled people interact in threads I start. These moments are necessary and make a difference. Cheers for being in the space. Cheers for helping make the commons.

Open education, open government, open data, open web, and open source. These are the foundations of the commons. They should be public, taxpayer supported, and open by default. They should be informed by neurodiversity and the social model of disability because systems are better in every way when designed for real life, pluralism, and bodily autonomy.

Software and the internet are at their best when making human systems more inclusive, accessible, and transparent. In my estimation, the web and the open source stack that powers it were built so that public infrastructure, particularly education, could default to open.

We are responsible for humanizing flow in the systems we inhabit. We do that best when we default to open. This is our calling. Let’s build a tech and ed-tech that confront injustice instead of amplifying it. do_action.

For education to fulfill the promise of “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, we need indie ed-tech and the social model. “We need to design learning where there is no option for oppression.”

One of the legacies of the counterculture, particularly on the left, is the idea that expression is action. This idea has haunted those of us on the left for a long time.

But one of the reasons that the Tea Party came to power was that they organized—they built institutions. So the challenge for those of us who want a different world is not to simply trust that the expressive variety that the internet permits is the key to freedom. Rather, we need to seek a kind of freedom that involves people not like us, that builds institutions that support people not like us—not just ones that help gratify our desires to find new partners or build better micro-worlds.

Source: Don’t Be Evil

It’s no secret people are more likely to trust the government and value what the government provides if their local government shares information and involves them in the decisions that affect their lives. And when government organizations do share data, best practices, and code, the government as a whole does better by its citizens. Everyone wins.

Source: Default to open · Code for America

Indie Ed-tech is infrastructure that supports scholarly agency and autonomy.

Source: A Journey to discover what is Indie Ed-tech | Heart | Soul | Machine

For his part, in that Stanford talk, Jim Groom pointed to 80s indie punk as a source of inspiration for indie ed-tech. “Why 1980s indie punk?” Groom explains,

First and foremost because I dig it. But secondly it provides an interesting parallel for what we might consider Indie Edtech. Indie punk represents a staunchly independent, iconoclastic, and DIY approach to music which encompasses many of the principles we aspired to when creating open, accessible networks for teaching and learning at [the University of Mary Washington]. Make it open source, cheap, and true alternatives [sic] to the pre-packaged learning management systems that had hijacked innovation.

The LMS is our major record label. Prepackaged software. A prepackaged sound.

Pre-packaged sound. Pre-packaged courses. Pre-packaged students.

If we don’t like ‘the system’ of ed-tech, we should create one of our own.

“Indie ed-tech” – what we’re gathered here to talk about over the next few days – is inherently ideological as it seeks to challenge much of how we’ve come to see (and perhaps even acquiesce to) a certain vision for the future of education technology. An industry vision. An institutionalized vision. Indie ed-tech invokes some of the potential that was seen in the earliest Web technologies, before things were carved up into corporate properties and well-known Internet brands: that is, the ability to share information globally, not just among researchers, scientists, and scholars within academic institutions or its disciplines, but among all of us – those working inside and outside of powerful institutions, working across disciplines, working from the margins, recognizing the contributions of those who have not necessarily been certified – by school, by society – as experts. Distributed knowledge networks, rather than centralized information repositories. “Small pieces, loosely joined.”

“Indie ed-tech” offers a model whereby students, faculty, staff, and independent scholars alike can use the “real-world” tools of the Web – not simply those built for and sanctioned by and then siloed off by schools or departments – through initiatives like Davidson Domains, enabling them to be part of online communities of scholars, artists, scientists, citizens.

Source: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech

Note: LMS = Learning Management System

We roil at the limitations and oppressive qualities of the LMS. But the problem here is not the LMS-it is that, despite our best efforts at creating other platforms, we still think through our own internal LMS. The problem is that whether we are using Blackboard or teaching in Canvas or building a Domains project, we are most likely not doing thinking that is liberative enough.

The point is not just about platform. The point is about praxis.

the LMS is an outlook, a standpoint, a conviction. Like it or not, it is in our blood as a product of our privilege and our educations. It is not a cage we put students in as much as it is an artificial playground over which we can be masters. It is, in fact, a learning space, but not for the content we put there; rather it is a space of enculturation into an oppressive educative model which each of us has born the weight of, and into which we each believe, to varying degrees, students should be baptized. The same is true of the classroom, the academy, the professional conference. These are spaces we understand, where we are not marginal, but where we can invite the marginal to participate, to become not-marginal. And this invitation to the middle is an act we say is elevating, is doing good.

There are multitudes of voices that we won’t hear because we do not feel safe in their spaces, on the margins. And safe, for educators, usually means expert, superior, capable, competent. When we enter the margins from our roosts in academe, we suffer the surrender of our confidence. In the face of what might be being created in the spaces we don’t occupy, our knees wobble.

By offering a room, we make ourselves the lessors. By making space, we claim space. “These are your walls,” we say. “These are your walls that I’ve given you. These are your walls to hang upon them what you would like. I have made them of plaster and drywall. I have painted them. I have put in the studs and I have raised high the roofbeams. But truly, this is yours. I have made you a space where you can be who you want to be.”

We need to design learning where there is no option for oppression.

Source: If bell hooks Made an LMS: a Praxis of Liberation and Domain of One’s Own

There are other considerations as well. How does this tool represent a politics of oppression-the surrender of privacy, data, authorship, authority, agency, as well as issues of representation, equity, access? Who owns the tool and what are their goals? How is the production of this tool funded? What influence does the maker of this tool have on culture more broadly writ? What labor is rewarded and what labor is erased? What is the relationship between this tool and the administration of the institution? Who must use this tool and who is trained to use this tool, and is that labor compensated? These are all important questions to ask, and the answers may play a role in the adoption of any given tool in a classroom or learning environment.

But in many cases, and especially with the LMS, adoption comes regardless of consent. In only a minority of situations are faculty and students part of the discussion around the purchase of an LMS for an institution. In those situations, we must abide by the use of the LMS; however, that doesn’t mean we must acquiesce to its politics or its pedagogy. In order to intervene, then, we must step back and rather than learn the tool, analyze the tool.

When we do that with the LMS, we find that its primary operation is the acquisition of data, and the conflation of that data with student performance, engagement, and teaching success.

Source: Reading the LMS against the Backdrop of Critical Pedagogy, Part One – OFFICE OF DIGITAL LEARNING

Previously,

The Open Schoolhouse

The Open Schoolhouse is a candid story and practical guidebook for school administrators and educators seeking affordable and powerful technology programs. Follow Penn Manor School District’s open technology journey from the server room to the classroom. Learn how open source software and values helped the district cut costs, design a one-to-one laptop program, and create an internationally recognized student help desk.

The Open Schoolhouse tells the story of collaboratively iterating a school district toward open, 1:1 technology.

We believe this act of human collaboration across an open platform is essential to individual growth and our collective future.

I think of Moodle and WordPress as fraternal twins. Passionate and ingenious founders with ardent beliefs in free and open source software created both software platforms. Global communities of programmers, designers, and end users drive the development of both platforms. They use similar web technologies (LAMP), and subscribe to principles of simplicity and ease of use. They are credited with creating, and disrupting, entire industries. And they made dramatic impacts on our students, teachers, and staff.

Locked-down technology is a symptom of an education model designed for student compliance and defined by the incessant measurement of learning. A factory-like school system values what a student has purportedly learned on a linear path, as demonstrated by a standardized test score. Technology device restraints and restrictions lock students on the assessment assembly line, at the cost of a child’s curiosity and intellectual freedom. Computers were once the spark for a child’s imagination. Now, they are a testing apparatus for assessment monarchs.

The destructive confluence of decimated school budgets, neurotically locked-down technology, and lockstep assessment mandates is taking a toll on progressive educators—and disempowering students.

There is also a deeper ethical problem: reliance on closed source proprietary software teaches students a lesson of dependence on secret technology they are powerless to examine, study, share, and improve upon. If the social mission of schools is to amplify student potential, disseminate knowledge, and prepare students to have an impact on the world, then schools have a duty to help kids be free thinkers and self-reliant architects of their futures.

Source: Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students. Kindle Edition.

Charlie Reisinger (@charlie3), the author of The Open Schoolhouse, is an excellent resource on open learning, service learning, 1:1 laptop programs, student help desks, school IT, and WordPress in education. In his school district, Penn Manor, student IT apprentices write code, write documentation, image laptops, and provide helpdesk support. Their code and docs are open source and available on GitHub.

Here are some videos on Penn Manor’s approach to the open schoolhouse.

Mr. Reisinger poses the vitally important question, “Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”

https://medium.com/@irasocol/real-maker-7f735d3dd8feIndie ed-tech such as that proposed by The Open Schoolhouse is powerful and freeing. Let’s move away from locked-down and often unethical mainstream ed-tech that treats kids as a business model and go indie. We’ll save money, be more inclusive, and control our destinies.

Locked-down technology is a symptom of an education system designed for student compliance and defined by the incessant measurement of learning. A factory-like school system values what a student has purportedly learned on a linear path, as demonstrated by a standardized test score. Technology device restraints and restrictions lock students on the assessment assembly line, at the cost of a child’s curiosity and intellectual freedom.

Source: How leveraging open source solutions helps give students in-demand skills | Opensource.com

Given unfettered permission to revise, remix, and redistribute curriculum material, teachers are trusted to become active agents in the creation of high-quality learning materials.

At Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Linux and open source software are the foundations for more than 4000 student laptops, classroom computers, and district servers. We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going open source in both the server room and the classroom.

To #GoOpenSource means more than simple cost savings for underfunded schools. Like openly-licensed education material, open source values invite collaborative and participatory learning. When a school culture honors learning by doing, students become active agents in their education, and they contribute to the school community in innovative new ways.

Source: Schools that #GoOpen should #GoOpenSource

For more on the open schoolhouse, here’s my humbly-submitted vision for indie ed-tech: Communication Is Oxygen. The best of hacker and open source culture, informed with the social model, fits well with student-directed, passion-based education. Create a technology culture in public education that encourages collaboration and flexible improvisation.

To conclude, here’s another handful of favorite quotes from the book.

Open-minded teachers like Christa gave our apprentices an opportunity to build self-esteem and leadership skills that would transfer to a myriad of careers, whether related to technology or not. Most compelling, I think, is that a whole new school culture emerged. The roles of student and teacher blurred. The classroom hierarchy flattened. We were becoming an open schoolhouse.

Project-based learning? Check. Everything the student apprentices created was part of an authentic technology project. Challenge-based learning? Absolutely. We had four months to do something the high school has never done. How about 20 percent time? Certainly. Innovation was encouraged 100 percent of the time. Hour of code? Plural. Our apprentices were about to log hundreds of hours of programming time. We had created a paradise for student hackers.

Without a course rubric, curriculum, or end-of-unit test, they created software destined to impact 1,725 of their peers, and eliminate hundreds of staff hours typically wasted on manually sorting and scheduling students into sessions.

What if our classrooms pushed aside lecture and standard curriculum, and reorganized as a community of practitioners working toward a common goal? What if every high school junior worked just like a journalist or technologist?

The flat-world technology revolution asks us to rethink our notion of what it means to be educated and literate in the 21st Century. However, one traditional skill remains unchanged: the ability to artfully and effectively self-express through writing. Blogs, reports, essays, and Tweets; writing across multiple modalities is learning made visual–and a full keyboard is still the most efficient tool to hone this skill.

Schools, it seems, are holding computer policies upside down. They shackle incredible, open-ended learning technology in digital chains. An air of distrust hangs over the device and the student. The practice cripples learning and students’ autonomy. Repressive computer device management policies crush learner agency and intellectual freedom.

What I love so much about open source philosophy, and what I strive to replicate on the help desk, is the participatory, inclusive environment where traditional power structures dissolve and students are empowered to act, contribute, express, learn, and think. Together as a team, students and staff shape the world around them. Once we stop treating students like data banks waiting for downloads, once we trust students as equal partners in their education, and once we empower students to contribute to their school community, the open schoolhouse emerges.