05 April 2013

H817 Activity 9: Ask a superficial question....

Everyone knows the saying: "ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer".  What's unfortunate in that old cliché is the word "stupid", because it casts an implicit judgement on the asker.  Let's take that word and replace it with "superficial".

Ask a superficial question, get a superficial answer.

Isn't that far more constructive?

Now that we've done that, let's move on to the superficial question in question, or rather the superficial learning task:
"For your blog content and other material you produce, consider which of the Creative Commons licences you would use, and justify your choice."
[Activity 9, Open Education, the Open University]
Now I hd initially skipped it, dismissing it as a "stupid question", which was rather uncharitable and unconstructive of me.  But as more and more answers came through the blog aggregator from other course participants, I realised it was a very dangerous question that was leading to poorly thought out answers.  It was a superficial question leading to superficial analysis, which was leading my fellow students to draw conclusions based on inadequate data.

Blogs are atypical

The task asks about "your blog content and other material you produce", but in the end most people ignored that second bit because it was so vague.  The only seed the question planted for active consideration was that of the blog.

A blog is not reusable.  My blog is my opinion.  You cannot sell my opinion.  You cannot modify my opinion just by editing text (that would be putting your words in my mouth).  You may "share" my opinion, but only by virtue of having the same opinion as me, not by copying my exact words (that would be putting my words in your mouth).  Moreover, because it is opinion it is of very little value as a resource.  I do not want people copying my half-thought-out ramblings as though they have the same merit as a properly researched, reviewed, edited and professionally published article.  So there can and should be no "Creative Commons" license on my blog.  Quote me like you would anyone else; link to my post -- fine, just don't exhalt my witterings above their station.

In fact, one of the things I've always consciously tried to do when writing this blog is avoid the trap of the populist bloggers who are all buddy-buddy and effusive, and convince a lot of people that everything's good and great and exactly the way they tell it.

No, my blog is oftentimes abrasive and confrontational, because I don't want to convince anyone: instead I want to make everyone doubtful, skeptical.  I may offer suggestions aimed at resolving the doubt, but my first aim is to make readers ask themselves the right questions: deep, searching questions, not superficial ones.

I get what the course team were trying to do with the task they set -- they wanted to start with something that was relevant to all the students.  As always, though, focusing on relevance to the students distracts from relevance to the course aims.

Let's get one thing clear: a blog is not an "open education resource"!

That doesn't mean that blog copyright is entirely irrelevant, it's just a side issue, so it was inappropriate as the central question of the task.  As a warm-up, a lead in, it's fine.  But at no point did the task throw in anything more relevant for consideration; at no point did it say (for example):
How is the situation different for media resources such as photos, videos and music?
So let's ask ourselves that:

How is the situation different for media resources such as photos, videos and music?

A blog is inherently bound to its subject matter and its intended purpose.  Take this blog post, for example: it would be nigh-on impossible to repurpose it as an article on flower arranging, or an advert for a Mars bar.

But consider one of your wedding photo.  It can be used as a picture of your wedding, or it could be a picture of a wedding.

It could be used as the cover of an expensive bridal magazine, or the poster advertising a huge wedding convention.  Both of those are changing the "purpose" of the picture.  A flower arranger could zoom in and crop to leave just the bride and the bouquet and use it as her business card.  A little copyright notice on the card, and they'd still be adhering to CC-BY.  But it's suddenly become fundamentally dishonest -- that flower arranger didn't make your bouquet but they're implying they did.

And let's take it a step further.  What if someone takes your photo and photoshops it... to use in an advertising campaign for "XXXL Dating" or "Ugly Singles".  Suddenly your big day has been utterly defiled by pictures that are recognisably of you with all your minor imperfections exaggerated and laid bare for everyone to see... that slight gap in your front teeth widen to the width of a cigarette, the kink in the bridge of your nose opened up like one of the bends on the Manx TT course, and your slightly droopy eyelid now hanging halfway over your pupil, as though you've got no sight in that eye at all.

OK, this discussion is all within the ground staked out by the task, but at no point were we, as students, forced to think beyond the effects of licensing on our own blogs, which are in reality little different from the blether in pubs and staffrooms the world over.

How can we start thinking about the effects of licensing of something with high value and utility when they only ask us to consider something of low value and utility?

Perhaps if they had prompted us with something a little deeper than a the swimming pool in Barbie's dream house, we'd all be discussing the fundamental flaws inherent in Lawrence Lessig's original vision for and ongoing direction of the Creative Commons movement.

But that wouldn't do, because if this course encouraged us to look beyond the superficial, we would see that behind the veil of sophistication in this brave new open education world, there is no deeper meaning, no profound insights into the human condition or the learning process.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for commenting on my blog and linking me to yours. I get that the task could have expanded to other examples of materials that might have CC licences and enabled students to think beyond their blog. However I disagree that a blog might not/never be considered an OER or at least valuable enough that an attribution might be required. I've seen plenty of blogs that have beautiful photographs, recipes, artwork, creative writing as well as quite serious scholarly work, which seems eminently reusable. (I quite agree that my own blog is not in this category as it merely supports my Master's study). For this activity, some students have also considered that they might apply different CC licences to different scholarly and other creative outputs.

Nìall Beag said...

Thanks for popping by and commenting.

You are right that some blogs are more valuable/content-rich/reusable than others, but that "some" thing is the core of my problem.

Your words, my emphasis:
"For this activity, some students have also considered that they might..."

"Some" is not enough. A good learning task should prompt all students to think about all the appropriate variables.

Personally, I'm worried that this sort of superficial questioning is a result of the connectivist pedagogy where we're all expected to learn from each other. Perhaps their philosophy is "The information is in the network, and if the teacher gives too much information, they won't need to go to the network," but this means that the information is hidden, and that only some, not all, students will find it.

That's not "open" education; it's not education for everyone. It's a continuation of the status quo of "education for the strong students (and stuff the weak ones)" combined with an "education lottery" for those who just happen to read the most pertinent and useful posts.

That's not the way forward for education.