Tag Archives: open culture

“Art + Reconciliation” – a learning and sharing platform

Adrian Stimson, residency output Adrian Stimson printed out this piece, and writes this about it on his fb page: “First work printed large scale, now to frame it then figure out if I am going to add a couple elements to make it an installation… the piece is called ‘Aggressive Assimilation’”

I unplugged last week, and when I returned to work Monday reoriented myself by reviewing the OLDaily that I had missed. Among the many goodies was a pointer to 40 Days of Dating, a creative and engaging investigation by an oddly-arranged couple in New York City. I was struck by Stephen Downes’s assessment: “I don’t think people understand yet that this is online learning. Not courses and stuff.”

I found myself relating to Stephen’s observation while watching the rapid evolution of the newly-launched “Art + Reconciliation” (AKA rMOOC) site, which is being driven by TRU professor Ashok Mathur and a wide range of collaborators:

“Art+Reconciliation,” is a MOOC that will address how artistic practices can engage in questions of reconciliation, most particularly in the Canadian context of residential schools and the associated and ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As part of our process we will examine the history of the residential school system in Canada, discuss strategies of creating and increasing an awareness of Indigenous practices and histories from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspectives, engage in a critical inquiry of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools, and all the while think through how artistic media can be a driving force in this articulation.

…This is a no-fee, non-credit course whose purpose is to create a learning and sharing platform where all participants can become better informed on the various histories, contexts, and politics that surround the topic of Truth and Reconciliation. Our particular lens will be on artistic practice, and one of our major contributing events is an ongoing arts residency, with twelve participants coming to Kamloops to work in the Thompson Rivers University visual arts studios, for a four-week program.

We hope/plan to have these artists contributing dialogue to this MOOC, through their own posts but also through various forms of video and photo examples of their ongoing processes.

Youth workshop

Collage of images from the youth workshop on graffiti

So while Ashok has chosen “MOOC” to characterize this activity, the rMOOC site itself behaves a lot less like the venture capitalized disruptions we usually read about, instead drawing on the form’s Connectivist roots, and more explicitly modeled on recent manifestations such as DS106 and #ETMOOC. That should not be so surprising, as we are immensely fortunate to have a big bad CogDog providing his unmistakable brand of wizardry. I’ve known, worked with, and avidly read Alan Levine for about a decade now, so it’s not as if I was unaware of his gifts. Nonetheless, watching how he has so fluently drawn on his bottomless bag of tricks to match tools/techniques with the special requirements of this project has taken my admiration and appreciation to a whole new level. The site is syndicating contributions from an array of sources, inviting contributions from multiple platforms, even publishing from email. The site is not designed to push pre-packaged learning at consumer/students. It’s hoped that that it will serve to facilitate, capture, share, and augment experiences.

Skookum Sound System will be in Kamloops this Friday, July 26, playing the Yacht Club! The vid above is a mashup called “Vampire Slayer-Buffy St Marie remix”.

So far contributions to the site have focused on the activities of the resident artists, while also pointing to relevant events such as the video feed for this week’s hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from Hobbema. Soon, a series of featured guests will share perspectives and initiate discussions. And to be honest, I expect that the coming weeks will see rMOOC go in all manner of unexpected directions… I think this online space will have a different shape when the scheduled run comes to a conclusion September 30th.

In addition to all the formal and technical elements, I also anticipate being challenged in a number of respects throughout the experience. I’ve alluded in the past to the dark history surrounding Canada’s residential schools. It’s a history I’ve only begun to learn, and horrible new wrinkles continue to be unearthed. Over the past couple weeks, Canadians have been confronted by news reports drawing on research from Historian Ian Mosby demonstrating that in the 1940′s and 1950′s our leading nutritional experts (including the co-inventor of Pablum), on behalf of Canada’s government, systematically withheld food from starving aboriginal children in order to perform “controlled experiments” on the effects of malnutrition. The scientists believed they were working toward progressive ends, hoping to demonstrate that “many characteristics, such as shiftlessness, indolence, improvidence and inertia, so long regarded as inherent or hereditary traits in the Indian race may, at the root, be really the manifestations of malnutrition”. Supporters of the experiments hoped to apply these lessons in education, arguing that “Constructive teaching in the residential school will lead the Indian people away from indolent habits inherent in the race”.

If you are interested in participating or following “Art + Reconciliation”, please sign up.

How resilient is “open”?

Cliff dwelling – Keet Seel – Kawestima – Navajo National Monument shared CC by Al_HikesAZ

I noted the apparent efforts by unknown actors to alter the history of MOOCs on Wikipedia in my previous post. Partially in response, Darren asks “Am I safe in assuming $ has something to do with so many anxious to rewrite history?”

I’m pleased to see that Audrey Watters is indeed looking into this process:



To respond to Darren’s question, I suppose it is possible that this effort is motivated by simple (or unfathomably complex) ego, but I think money is a far more likely explanation.

It brings to mind a fascinating discussion from Jimbo Wales’s User talk page on Wikipedia. Like so many questions of ethics and process on this platform, the discourse descends into an intertransdimensional series of rabbit holes that I find difficult to navigate. For you prudish types that wish to avoid a powerful sensory derangement experience, here’s a simplified version:

For the past year, Arturo Silva, a full-time employee at BP’s Corporate Communications department in Houston, Texas, has evidently been writing draft articles about BP and asking Wikipedia editors to upload his content to BP’s official Wikipedia page.

Silva, whose Wikipedia moniker is “Arturo at BP,” is the head of BP’s Wikipedia engagement team, which interacts with Wikipedia editors to improve BP’s Wikipedia page, according to a statement provided to The Huffington Post by Scott Dean, a BP spokesman.

Silva’s Wikipedia user page clearly labels him as a BP employee, and he appears to have stayed within Wikipedia’s guidelines by not directly editing the BP article himself. However, at least two Wikipedia editors posted his content to Wikipedia’s BP article and did not indicate that they had obtained the information from a BP employee.

A comparison of Silva’s draft articles to BP’s official Wikipedia page shows that some of the official BP article had been copied and pasted from Silva’s drafts, including sections on sensitive environmental topics and the controversial practice of drilling in the Canadian oil sands. Other sections appear to have been paraphrased from Silva’s content.

Wikipedia editor SlimVirgin estimates that “around 44 percent” of BP’s Wikipedia entry “has been written by BP.

Attempts by various actors to influence Wikipedia articles are nothing new. To me, the most fascinating phrase here is “he appears to have stayed within Wikipedia’s guidelines”, a fact repeatedly argued in the Wales User talk page referenced above. Indeed, Arturo at BP insists “my affiliation with BP is abundantly clear to all parties I may interact with on Wikipedia.” His efforts have proven to be uniquely successful.

I can’t mount an argument one way or the other right now, but I’ve wondered for some time about ways that openness may in fact leave systems uniquely vulnerable to dedicated manipulation. As Stephen Downes notes, rewriting history favours “those with time and money to do so.” Just to say it again: British Petroleum has a “Wikipedia engagement team”. A team.

It’s not as if “closed” systems are particularly resistant to the influence of money and power. But resting assured that “openness is the best disinfectant” is likely to fail us as well.

The velveteen touch of a dandy fop

Closed until further notice shared CC by simon.hucko

I may not get a lot of readers here in my cozy little lovenest of ed tech subversion, but I couldn’t ask for a better class of visitor to drop by… Witness the comments I received on my most recent missive. Affirmation from the Bava, an offer of assistance from D’Arcy, thoughtful feedback and kind words from a UBC Philosophy prof (who is killing it with a series of #etmooc-inspired posts lately), humbling bordering on embarrassing praise from a longtime friend and mentor, and over on Twitter even some acknowledgment of that RSS Wake I was moaning about…

But my favorite comment in ages was posted by Pat Lockley, an excerpt of which reads…

Would perchance offer, as one galivants out the door like a behankerchiefed Georgian Cad, the suggestion that the open web is but an ether of both space and intoxication with which to sedate ourselves from the true hope, which may be, the democratic development of software

A suggestion that carries a little extra whiff of perfumery in the wake of Google Reader being shuttered, the category of “open like Android open” is worth thinking about. If I understand Pat correctly, he is also making a broader point that what qualifies as the “open web” may well not be building the commons. Something like the distinction between “cost-free” and “open”, and the dangers of mixing those things together.


Before I move on, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a shout-out for the truly impressive set of WordPress plugins that Pat has developed and openly released, many of them directly focused on enhancing the capacity of highly usable open source software to support open education. If you haven’t checked them out, do so. The dude walks the talk.

The notion of ‘free but not open’ is one I have poked at before, perhaps most substantively in an article I co-wrote with Jim nearly three years ago. We argued that educators’ needs could never be a real consideration in the evolution of corporate Web 2.0. More troubling, we suggested was that the dependence on “free” Web 2.0 tools further entrenched the pre-eminence of advertising as the defining principle for a whole set of social interactions.

I don’t have a whole lot to add to that now, except that nothing has changed since then to allay those concerns.

Which brings me to a video entitled Memorex, posted by Smash TV:

Digging up long forgotten memories for a generation who spent their formative years glued to the boob tube, Memorex is a veritable nostalgia nuke for children of the 80s. Endless beach parties, Saturday morning cartoons, claymation everything, sleek cars, sexy babes, toys you forgot existed, station idents, primitive computer animation, all your favorite sugary cereal mascots, and so much more. An ode to the hyper consumerism and sleek veneer of a simpler time.

Memorex from Smash TV on Vimeo.

“A tribute to an entire generation who grew up with only a TV and a VCR for a babysitter”. Watching this video, I’m unnerved at how much of this cultural detritus is familiar. I suspect that many North Americans of… umm… a certain age will experience something similar if they watch it. People of my generation grew up immersed in this aesthetic.

Yet as I entered what passes for adulthood, I remember harbouring a fierce antipathy to advertising, fed by exemplars of the time such Negativland and Bill Hicks, Adbusters and culture jamming. The sentiment was not limited to nihilistic undergrads, a wider anti-marketing sentiment was in the air in the early 1990′s, as ably described in the first chapter of Naomi Klein’s No Logo:

The bargain craze of the early nineties shook the name brands to their core. Suddenly it seemed smarter to put resources into price reductions and other incentives than into fabulously expensive ad campaigns. This ambivalence began to be reflected in the amounts companies were willing to pay for so-called brand-enhancing advertising. Then, in 1991, it happened: overall advertising spending actually went down by 5.5 percent for the top 100 brands. It was the first interruption in the steady increase of U.S. ad expenditures since a tiny dip of 0.6 percent in 1970, and the largest drop in four decades.

…Around the same time as Marlboro Friday, the ad industry felt so under siege that market researcher Jack Myers published Adbashing: Surviving the Attacks on Advertising, a book-length call to arms against everyone from supermarket cashiers handing out coupons for canned peas to legislators contemplating a new tax on ads. “We, as an industry, must recognize that adbashing is a threat to capitalism, to a free press, to our basic forms of entertainment, and to the future of our children,” he wrote.

Despite these fighting words, most market watchers remained convinced that the heyday of the value-added brand had come and gone. The eighties had gone in for brands and hoity-toity designer labels, reasoned David Scotland, European director of Hiram Walker. The nineties would clearly be all about value. “A few years ago,” he observed, “it might have been considered smart to wear a shirt with a designer’s logo embroidered on the pocket; frankly, it now seems a bit naff.”

I realize I must sound like a baby boomer nostalgic for the glory days of Woodstock, but thinking about our acceptance of marketing and advertising infiltrating our daily lives today, the contrast in values with that era is striking. I wonder how much of our current complacency results from the Devil’s bargain we’ve made for access to “free” tools that Google, Facebook, et al… provide us. The techniques are more subtle than those on display in the Memorex video, but the implications run deeper. Certainly, it’s hard to argue against the notion that the most prominent instances of digital innovation these days are driven by marketing. And as the wheels come off of what was once quaintly described as “civil society”, these values are increasingly the models for reform of education.

A recent statement on the advertized life, one attributed to an artist who reminds me of the early 1990′s, Banksy:


Title of this post is a riff off of Pat’s “behankerchiefed Georgian Cad”, and the title of an episode from Mr. Show… itself another bit of 1990′s satire on marketing: