Tom's Two Cents

Open Education Tools: The affordances of openness

Open Education Tools: The affordances of openness

Paper list of BBS numbers laying on a keyboard. Top of page says,  "Don't Modem Without It!"

Old BBS list. "Don't Modem Without It!" CC-BY believekevin

I remember back in the old days, in the early 90’s, when the Internet still seemed like a fad to most people.  Back before America Online started flooding the world with its endless stream of AOL CD offers, and you couldn’t just assume everyone had email. Back in the days of dial-up. Back then, posting something online was reserved for computer geeks. It was a real novelty to have your own website, and it usually required special software and special access to a server. More and more people we getting online, but mostly just to read content. Producers were different than users.

The advent of many Web 2.0 sites blurred the lines between Internet consumers and producers. Sites like Blogger, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter allow us to easily post our own content to the web. A host of web-based tools became simple enough to facilitate sharing, and the web hasn’t been the same since. Now we expect to be able to leave a comment or a rating almost everywhere we go online – even as we read the day’s new. The Internet has gone from being a one-way street (producer to consumer) to a four-way street (producer to consumer, consumer to producer, consumer to consumer, and producer to producer). Or you could say that we have all now become online content producers. Many online retailers allow users to share customer reviews to help steer others away from poor quality products and towards better values.

So what caused the shift to Web 2.0? Most folks probably would have commented or blogged sooner if the means to do so had existed. It seems obvious that if there were no comment boxes on web pages, there would be no comments. The comment box adds that affordance, to use Don Norman’s term. The same is true for Amazon’s video reviews and many other new ways we as users are now able to share our perspectives online.

Now let’s apply a similar logic to Open Education and ask some questions. At the end of a most excellent 2010 Open Education conference, David Wiley talked about what open licensing does for content. He asked us to set aside the digital nature of the content and think about the specific affordances of the open license. I think the idea is that understanding the specific affordances of open licensing allow us to better understand the nature of Open Educational Resources. Here’s a quick list of the affordances of openness:

  • tracking content use
    • keeping track of licenses for reused content
  • allowing practitioners and students to create and modify derivative works more easily
  • providing accessible formats (derivative works) and allowing others to do the same
  • others?

So how can we make it easy for newcomers to engage? Let’s face it, most educators don’t know or care about using RDFa to embed a Creative Commons license, in the same way that most bloggers today don’t know or care about inserting an image using HTML.

If you know of software, web sites or tools for creating or sharing OER that are particularly useful and easy to use, please add a comment below. Are the current tools good enough or do we need better ones?

4 thoughts on “Open Education Tools: The affordances of openness

  1. Lisa Chamberlin

    Hi Tom,

    One affordance that we should be looking into is a review or rating system. Just like with reviews on Amazon that you mention, or the RT in Twitter, or even the “like” button on Facebook, if users of OER content find a particular resource or its derivative helpful, having some sort of ranking or rating system to help it float to the top of its repository search certainly would help NOOBs find their way toward recommended items.

    As for new ways of producing OER, have you checked out It’s an open source online rapid authoring tool to create OER. Pretty cool.


    1. tom4cam

      I finally had a chance to try out Xerte, and it doesn’t look like something our faculty course designers would be able to use. It looks like a nice SCORM package editor, but there is too much of a learning curve for it to be useful to faculty in general. That’s my quick two cents.

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