Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Sharing is Caring - Privacy is Theft.

"Share on Keyboard" by GotCredit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Knowledge as a Public Good?!

“We ought to be [...] making knowledge a free good”, urges Keith Griffin (2003) in his paper Economic Globalisation and Institutions of Global Governance. (a)
And Eamon Bailey, one of the Three Wise Men in Dave Eggers' dystopian novel The Circle, asks, “in this short life [...] why shouldn’t everyone have equal access to [...] the knowledge of the world?” (b)
Let us begin discussing the issue of treating knowledge as a public good by deconstructing the latter. 
By definition a “pure public good” is non-excludable and non-rival; now, for the non-economists among us, what does that mean?
  • Non-excludable means quite literally that no one can be excluded from consuming the public good; it is accessible to everyone. 
  • Non-rival means that me consuming the public good does not lower the utility you derive from the consumption of the same good; there is no first-come-first-serve experience.
A classic example for a pure public good are street lights: we can all walk on the pavement and make use of them guiding us through the night and the fact that others are walking under the same street lights as we are does not make them less useful. 
However, life is not always as easy as that; enter: the Tragedy of the Commons. For those of us who are not really comfortable with this concept, described in the 1960s by Garrett Hardin, here is a brief explanation.
Picture a common land which can be used by everyone. If you were a farmer, you would want to graze as many of your cows on there as possible. Well, unsurprisingly, your fellow farmers would want to do the same. But if you all did, the combined amount of cattle would exhaust the pasture and destroy it in the long run. Excessive use of a shared resource can bring about negative externalities. Long story short, the Tragedy of the Commons conceptualises the short-term interest of the individual versus the long-term welfare of society at large. 
A very relevant and topical example: climate change and the overfishing of our seas.

Now, in order to avoid this dilemma that tends to occur with public goods, there are barriers to entry which either occur naturally (think traffic congestion) or which are constructed by us (think entry fees). See the chart on the right for a classification of goods.
goods matrix.jpg

So,where would we put knowledge on this grid? 
Wikipedia lists knowledge as an example for a public good, do we agree?
Let us investigate the “purity” of knowledge as a public good. 

First of all, we need to ask whether knowledge is a rival good.
Does me knowing something makes knowing the same thing less useful to you?
If you enjoy “intellectual superiority” and like to be the know-it-all, then probably yes. But from a more serious perspective, no. Two people sharing the same knowledge creates a breeding ground for even more knowledge. It feels redundant to provide arguments, so let me remind you that it was Watson AND Crick who discovered DNA - not either Watson or Crick.  

Moving on to the second characteristic, we need to ask whether we can we exclude people from knowledge. Spoiler: this post was written by someone who has taken out a tuition fee loan to go to university. Well, yes obviously, there are ways to exclude people from learning new things and extending their knowledge. And whilst university may be technically free in other countries, textbooks are pretty much equally expensive no matter where you study. Which brings us to another way of excluding others from knowledge: copyright. Whilst I very much agree, that any sort of contribution or discovery should be attributed properly to whoever it is stemming from, I also agree that more open ways of licensing, such as Creative Commons offer great opportunities for sharing and remixing of resources. And it is through sharing and exchange of knowledge that we learn, is it not? 
As Griffin points out, “the function of copyright legislation clearly has shifted from stimulating innovative works to protecting the income generating power of intellectual property”. I like to call this the crux of copyright; we need to find a way of protecting someone’s intellectual property without shutting others out, without “depriving them of something they have a right to. Knowledge is a basic human right. Equal access [...] is a basic human right.” (b)

So where do we stand then? 
Does knowledge fit the criteria for a public good? 
It does not. 
Knowledge may be a non-rival good but it is not a non-excludable good. Referring back to our goods definition matrix, one might even argue that knowledge is like pay TV or a fancy club - if you are privileged enough, you have access to it.

But let us imagine knowledge was a public good. Public goods can be exploited because selfish individuals can free-ride. I still get to breathe better air even though I drive to work by car whilst my colleagues cycle. And I still have access to openly licensed work even though I keep all my work to myself. And sooner or later, others will realise that and jump on the free-riding bandwagon until the race to the bottom is in full swing.

Should knowledge be a public good, or is it good that it currently is not?
Is sharing really caring?
Over to you. 

a Griffin, K. (2003). Economic Globalisation and Institutions of Global Governance. Development and Change, 34(5), pp.789-807.
b Eggers, D. (2014). The Circle. 1st ed. Penguin. 
[note: the title "sharing is caring - privacy is theft" is also taken from Eggers' novel]

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Linguistic Landscape project

This past academic year, my colleague Dr Leticia Villamediana González and I conducted a project with our students entitled Spanish Linguistic Landscape, using Twitter as a mean for an effective communication.

Our goal was to go beyond the walls of the classroom and make our students aware of the presence of Spanish around us and how this presence is a fantastic opportunity for incidental language and culture learning. To achieve this, we asked our students to post pictures about any input in Spanish found in their everyday lives and to reply to some of these questions:

What is it?
Where did you find it?
Why is it in Spanish?
What did you learn?

Twitter was a great tool for this project, we believe that the 140 characters limitation made students focus on expressing their ideas accurately and precisely in the target language. Also, students were using their Spanish language for real purposes and not only in exercises in a classroom. Likewise, Twitter enabled them to foster a critical analysis of the Hispanic world, to communicate and interact with the world and to get to an unlimited source of Spanish language and culture. Thanks to this social network, students interacted with native speakers, used their language abilities in context and controlled their own learning.

I am now conducting an empirical study about this project that will hopefully give us information about how students perceive Spanish in the UK and its possibilities as an additional source of input for language and culture learning. Stay tuned for the results!

Raquel Navas
Teaching Fellow in Hispanic Studies. School of Modern Languages and Cultures. University of Warwick

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Online Activity

As part of the project I have been looking into the activeness of staff members at Warwick on social media sites, with a focus on Twitter. After having researched different accounts and how staff members use them in terms of the topics they tweet about and their relevance to the subjects they teach, I found that some were more active than others, whether it be when writing their own tweets or retweeting other people’s messages.

In a conversation with Teresa, we discussed the concept of students contacting their tutors through their social media sites, and the responses they get. For example, a prospective university student who wants to find out more about the course they are planning on undertaking in a particular institution, or a current student who may be confused about a deadline or the homework set. The tutor may decide not to reply to messages, as it is a personal choice as to whether they use their social media accounts to reply to a work-related message. On the other hand, they may view social media sites such as twitter as an effective way to communicate with colleagues and students. Personally, I would message a teacher using Moodle or email, which is specifically university related. However, if a prospective student wanted to use social media to find out more about a course before coming to university, I think that this would be appropriate as it is an effective way of getting in touch and introducing yourself to a tutor before coming to an institution. For my business, a dance school, I have an Instagram and Facebook page which some pupils use to ask me questions, if they are unsure about which uniform they need to wear for a particular class, or if they are unsure about what time their class is, for example. I sometimes get messages on my personal accounts, which I always reply to anyway, however the separate business page usually keeps my personal life separate from my professional life. As many of my students and their parents are on social media, I tend to be quite closed on these forums and am careful when sharing photos and updates.

Teresa discussed the way in which, when approached about achieving badges, only one of the users replied or acknowledged the message. This led to us thinking about the amount of professionals who have accounts on sites such as this, but rarely use them and therefore do not tweet themselves or pick up any messages sent on the forum. There is the question, therefore, of why they have these accounts in the first place. It may be that they are encouraged to create accounts by the institution that they work for, or it may be that they do not understand how to use the platform effectively and get the most out of it. It may be that they do not have time to use the sites, or that there is another site which they prefer to use. Finally, they may not have time outside of the institution sites to use other forms of communication such as social media.

For those who do use the sites, it is also interesting to look at how open they are online – this is linked in with the conversation which I had with Clare Halldron. We discussed how everything that we put on the internet then stays on there, even if we try and delete it. Nowadays, potential employers look at prospective employees’ online media accounts to check their usage and see if they are suitable for the role that they are applying for. Some people prefer to keep their lives very private, and will only use their accounts for professional purposes, whereas some may not use it for their professional lives at all, and use it as a forum to connect with friends and family. There are those who use it for both reasons. It is interesting to think about the reasons for which one may use social media – different people may use them for different purposes. Personally, I use social media sites for non-professional and professional purposes. I use my accounts to connect with friends and keep in touch with people; however I also have multiple accounts so that I can promote my business too. I own a dance school and therefore use Facebook and Instagram to promote the school, using photographs from classes and shows that we do. I also use it to put up messages about class times and other news that I may need to get in touch with parents about. It is also a way for parents to contact me as well as via phone or email. The more I use these sites, the bigger a following I get, and I have had new people join the school after seeing my pages.  I believe that social media sites used for professional purposes are more and more common, and often replace the formal website that most businesses would usually have, as they are cheap and easy to use. However, this means that we have to be more careful about what we share on them, and think about who could be viewing content. The privacy settings can control this to a certain extent, however it is important to bear in mind that both staff members and students could be viewing each other’s updates.
Grace Bend - School of Modern Languages and Cultures

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Random acts of kindness

Today saw us visiting some of Warwick's many researchers and support staff to share the message of open educational practice.  We hope many of them will read this blog post and engage with the resources and the network we have created.

We have an open G+ community where you can find out about research in open education, connect with other open practitioners both at Warwick and beyond and engage others in raising your online presence to increase the impact of your work.

There are #knowhow web pages on the Learning and Development site here at Warwick pages to offer tips and tools for open practice online.

You can also connect with us on twitter by searching the #wihea #knowhow hashtags.
If you have wildflower seeds from our project (a native UK meadow mix which will entice bees and butterflies wherever you sow them) we'd love to see a picture of them when they bloom. Just share them openly online (twitter, instagram wherever you choose) using the tags so we can find them.

Have a great summer folks!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Do you have the #knowhow you need?

This incredibly lifelife scupture was part of an exhibition at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao last summer. The need to protect and nurture the next generation is evident in the old lady's face and we can only speculate about her fears and hopes for the child in her arms. I found this very moving. 

This image came to my mind today as I was thinking about writing this post to share the #knowhow project work to date. The project hopes to support you as you think about how best to contribute to knowledge creation in the wider community through managing your digital presence. 

Of course there's an open community you can join here to explore our resources and raise your questions or join in with discussions. There's even a guide to navigating a G+ community if you have not participated in one before: 

We are actively looking for Warwick people (staff, students, researchers, teaching fellows, administrators) who maintain a professional identity online in order to recognise the contribution you make to Warwick's online presence, evidencing our vibrant community of enquiry. We have a #knowhow badge for you! Our resources include practical tutorials for digital #knowhow, links to current thinking about open educational practices and a growing community of practitioners from other HEIs who are ready to share their expertise and experience. 

Tomorrow (Thurs 15th June) I shall be at the TEL forum in the teaching grid with some surpise giveaways, I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Sowing seeds for the future.

Photo: Proof of concept CC0 T.MacKinnon

After lots of discussion and metaphor exploration we have decided to set about a wild flower themed guerrilla activity across campus, sharing seeds and open practice with our community. This weekend I tried a little proof of concept activity and prepared a prototype to help us get going. Warwick volunteers are also sowing wildflower seeds on Saturday and we hope to support them. 

Our community here at Warwick is an amazingly fertile place for learning. Learning can happen in unexpected places though, not just in lecture theatres and organised classes. The open spaces between the formal spaces are just as likely to support the growth of minds and foster new and exciting collaborations. Even when the going is tough and the conditions may not seem to support life let alone growth. 
Wildflowers support a whole ecosystem which in turn supports human life. They have never been more important, just as open practice is vital to sustain teaching for the future. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The unexpected benefits of open

Many people assume that being open is all about giving things away. Therefore it is about loss, not something that the business-minded would willingly engage in. I think it is important therefore that we share some of the unexpected gains that result from open practices. 

I was brought up in business, my parents were local business people and I wrote here about the importance of reputation to the business world. We are witnessing the power and influence of social media channels transforming the dynamics of business right now, Facebook and Instagram are good examples of how creating a successful brand does not rely on the cost of your product but rather on the value proposition it offers to its users. This can change quickly if the service or products you supply are no longer considered good value or if you undermine your brand through misuse or misbehaviour. Customers are always right, they can be notoriously fickle, that is their right. 

As a teacher, I choose to practise as openly as I can for ethical reasons. I belong to a community of practice (language education) and I value interaction with my peers and students beyond the immediate borders of classroom walls or institutional constraints. I need international interaction if it is to inform my teaching, languages don't stand still! I have a wide personal learning network who connect with me through twitter and other online open platforms, we contribute to our mutual learning. Education, like medicine, relies on sharing practice in order to reap benefits. 

And so back to unexpected gains of openness:
  • connections increase our influence and help us become aware of future possibilities
  • there is a huge cost to closed: just look at how much brands pay to legal teams to safeguard copyright in the digital age!
  • innovation and creativity flourish where ideas are shared and people collaborate.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Getting to know you!

CC0 Flickr 

I remember watching this movie when I was much younger. I remember the frustration of the female character who had no power or influence over the King and I was certainly impressed with how she managed to break though and find a way to make him appreciate her way of seeing the world. Of course, when I think of the movie now I find it hard to get past the rather dubious assumption of English cultural hegemony but in those days such matters were just part of how we saw the world!

I have chosen this metaphor when I reflected on a recent piece of research I carried out for our #wihea #knowhow project. I interviewed a staff member in order to reflect upon the barriers we face in the successful implementation of this project. It was a very useful little piece of action research which served to underline that we have a major task ahead. It has helped to clarify where we must start and how we can be of help immediately to both students and staff at Warwick. In short we will start by offering resources to support the location and appropriate attribution of images. 

If you are as yet unaware of our project, here's a little video introduction which I hope you will find interesting. And if you, your department or your colleagues want to know more about #knowhow do get in touch!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Setting off

Image: Hot air ballooning CC0 from Pixabay

The WIHEA #knowhow project is underway. The sun is rising and we have much to accomplish before the end of the day. 

The participant accounts have been set up in our online spaces and now our project participants are each rising gently into virtual spaces in order to find their networks and contribute to our mission of exploring how open educational practices will be enacted at Warwick. 

One of our open spaces is here and anyone can join our journey and contribute to the project. You are welcome. The hashtag #knowhow will be used when we share on social media such as twitter. This blog will provide reflection on our progress, events and discoveries. So why not join us for the ride?