Interview with: Lauren Walker, dScribe and open advocate

As a current MSI/MSW candidate, Lauren Walker has somehow found the time to dScribe not one but two classes for Open.Michigan: one at the School of Social Work and one at the School of Information. She received her bachelor’s degree in Social Policy and African American Studies with an emphasis on urban affairs from Northwestern University. Her hometown is Detroit, Michigan. She was also involved in founding the School of Social Work’s new Michigan Journal of Social Work and Social Welfare, an openly licensed student peer reviewed journal. We recently asked to interview her because of her growing contributions to the open educational resources movement and here’s what she had to say: 

Why did you decided to become a dScribe?

I became a dScribe because I heard there was an open content project for Joan Durrance’s course, Information Use in Communities. I enjoyed that course very much because it complemented my social work background. I contacted my former classmate, Kathleen Ludewig (MPP/MSI ’10), to learn more about the details of the assignment and the training process. I became a dScribe in February of 2010.

How did you get involved in the Michigan Journal of Social Work and Social Welfare?

I will start with a brief history: Patrice French (MSW ’10) used her leadership skills with the student union and her networking skills with the administration to draft a proposal and leverage funding for the creation of a student journal. Michigan was the only social work school among its peers without a peer-reviewed student journal. She conducted extensive research on the journal process and recruited social work students for the first editorial board. Patrice was amazing for executing such an awesome task.

I joined the editorial board because I had previous experience in editing and publishing. I also supported the vision of creating a venue where social work students could share and publish scholarly research. I started as an Assistant Editor and became Co-Editor in Chief in September of 2010. This experience has exposed me to several different areas, including editing, marketing and managing an editorial board.

Why did this journal decide to become an Open Journal?

The editorial board made the MJSW an open-access journal for two purposes. First, it tells the world that the journal wants others to share and build upon the authors’ work. Second, the Creative Commons copyright licenses gives authors greater control over their work. This is often the opposite of many large publishing companies where authors are forbidden to revise an article for a future publication.

What is your favorite part about contributing to the creation of open content?

I like making educational resources more accessible to people. I also enjoy learning the different types of Creative Commons copyright licenses. I have participated in another project for Neel Hajra’s course, Policy and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, which he taught at the Ford School of Public Policy. Overall, becoming a dScribe has taught me more about the benefits of open access.

What do you hope to see Open.Michigan doing in five years?

I hope Open.Michigan continues to expand to other schools and colleges within the university. With greater awareness, I believe students, faculty and alumni will recognize the significance of sharing their work on the Internet.

Michigan Library has a New Copyright Notice

If you’re particularly perceptive, or you spend a lot of time in libraries, you’ve probably noticed this little sticker on the copiers, telling you in 14 point font and in no uncertain terms that by using this machine you are in grave danger of becoming a Copyright Criminal.

You know the notice, this one:

Notice:  The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The person using this equipment is responsible for any infringement.

Well, that notice only tells half the story. Yes, it is true that the Copyright Act does cover making photocopies, and libraries are required to post notices like this on what the law calls “reproduction equipment,” but the law doesn’t only protect author’s rights, it protects the rights of readers as well. So, to help explain that, we added a section on fair use, the balance to the exclusive rights part of the copyright act.

Authors only get rights because users get rights, that’s just the way the law works. Well, here at the Copyright Office at the University of Michigan, we’ve taken some steps to bring the user’s side of the balance to the fore.

Here is our copyright notice:

Notice for Unsupervised Copying Equipment – US copyright law requires that libraries post notices on unsupervised copying equipment reminding patrons of copyright law and serious penalties for infringement.  The law also provides for fair use – our notice reminds our patrons of both their responsibilities and their rights.

Much better, right?

Oh, of course, this is released under a Creative Commons attribution only license, so get mixin.’

Don’t forget the edupunks

This is not a comprehensive recap of my week in Barcelona – there was just too much going on. First off, visit these various blog posts and sites for recaps of presentations and events that week in Barcelona:

Now for my take:

Overall I had an extremely positive experience in Barcelona. The OpenEd Conference gave me a chance to see where the general OER/OCW community was at in shifting to open education more generally and I was not surprised to see that very few open initiatives were embracing both OER and open education into their efforts. What I saw was a lot of individuals or organizations either focused on mass-production of OER/OCW as an end-goal, or individual instructors focused on shared and open learning experiences with little regard for legal constraints (privacy and copyright, to name the two we worry about most) or the OER ethos. That’s not to say there wasn’t some co-mingling of ideas and practices (the University of British Columbia open wiki might be a good example), but generally I see more of a divergence in interest between these two segments when it seems there should be greater overlap and collaboration.

Last year was the time for the edupunks at OpenEd and while a few were still present in Barcelona, the conference was aiming to be more professional than years past. I saw more ties and jackets than ever before and I think that was an indicator of an influx in private, commercial entities as well as university administrators (and maybe European culture). While I welcome the higher-level policy discussions and commercial interest in making OER useful to people, I felt the edupunk urge to break free from the constraints of budgets and laws and oversight that seem to make higher education a commodity business as opposed to a cultural and societal catalyst. The group that got most people talking and debating was a few individuals from the UK talking about communism, education, and flattening the hierarchies of higher ed. Read this paper and then this blog post for some potentially enlightening and infuriating perspectives.

The Mozilla Drumbeat Festival brought some much-needed energy to the trip. After doing a lot of thinking the first two days in Barcelona, I was excited to actually “do” and “build” with engaged people. The motive behind the Festival was that educators (of all varieties) and hackers (slang for whimsical software developers?) rarely get to work together, but when they do, incredible technologies and tools can be built that can solve very interesting problems in education. So, being both educationally and technically inclined, this was quite a bit of fun. While Ali spent two days in the video lab, I worked mainly on an open badging system that allows trusted entities to award individuals badges that serve as credentials for achievements, identity, authority, and qualifications – think foursquare badges applied to education (not only did you show up to class, but you raised good questions, created an awesome class project, and proved your excellence to the instructor – badges, not credits or degrees). I see these as being incredibly useful in both open education and encouraging open content creation/adaptation and we’ll be working on this project over the next 6 months.

Based on everything that happened in Barcelona, I came away with three main focal points:

  1. Open.Michigan is exploring the right areas for sustaining itself and the open culture at U-M. From OER integration into the Library to our evaluation and metrics project to our constant outreach and engagement activities, we are well-positioned to make an increasingly important impact at U-M in the realm of teaching and learning.
  2. Openness brings a number of advantages to education, but also a number of difficulties. We need to be cognizant of these difficulties and explicit about the advantages. Knowing when openness makes sense and when it doesn’t will be critical to gaining faculty, student and administration trust over the long-term.
  3. The world is full of interesting ideas, people, and projects, and while we need to engage in new opportunities, we also need to remain focused on a mission and objectives that make sense to us and the University. Developing our strategic goals and objectives over the next few months will help us align our efforts with end-results. I don’t think exploration and researching new ideas is bad, I just think we should consider how that development work can create opportunities leading to reaching our objectives. (and a quick note: objectives and goals can and will change over time – we need to remain agile.)

Health OER Documentaries from Ghana

The University of Michigan Medical School has had partnerships with health professionals in Ghana for over 20 years. We continue to partner with the two Colleges of Health Sciences in Ghana as part of the African Health OER Network.

The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and University of Ghana (UG) launched an OER initiative within their respective Colleges of Health Sciences in late in 2008. I have had the privilege to work with both universities to create documentaries, which showcase their experiences with OER over the past couple years. These films feature interviews with faculty, staff, and students involved in OER activities at UG and KNUST. Common themes include the motivation for producing OER, the impact of OER on health science education, and their plans for using OER to advance health education.