Berlin is played out.

I’ve returned from Berlin on my two+ week adventure at the P2PU pop-up office (previous blog post). As I anticipated: I met a bunch of wonderful people; I worked and I played and the lines between were quite blurred. You can catch up on all the activity from the pop-up office on the P2PU blog, but I’ll give a little recap from my time there below.

sign in front of Agora Collective, Berlin
Agora Collective, by bagaball (CC BY)


I spent most of my waking hours thinking about, designing for, destroying and creating the School of Open. What fun it was. And a lot of work. The two main things I wanted to walk away with after two weeks were a School “philosophy” and an opportunity to build things quickly, even if they fail. Luckily I had an awesome team (Jane Park and Molly Kleinman), so we walked away with a whole bunch more. Here’s what we made:

philosophy for what the School is about

guidelines for adding to the School

user scenarios showing a snapshot of the School’s audience

– new and modified courses/challenges (brand new: Get CC Savvy, Teach Someone Something with Open Content)

badge ideas for School participation

– a workshop toolkit (not finalized)

We also managed to run two workshops, one virtual and one physical (see Jane’s writeup on this), where we built courses, received feedback on the structure of the School, and got to play around with what openness means to a wide variety of people. The P2PU crew ran a third workshop as I was leaving that started weaving together openness and web design. The School will continue building and expanding as long as there are people interested in learning how to incorporate more open practices into their lives.

model of learning processes
Sunflower Model by Pieter Kleymeer (CC BY)


As though all the School of Open work wasn’t enough, I took some time to keep thinking and talking through what I’ve previously called the Sunflower Experiment. I had a few great discussions with Alan Webb, who’s working on developing an Open Masters program that will help individuals outline and complete their own mastery of a particular topic area. Alan’s work tied in well with how I’ve been thinking of independent learners and how they interact with their environment and integrate new understandings of the world into their existing identity. We even came up with an interesting model (or two) to describe some of this. I’m in the act of incorporating this model and my initial Sunflower Experiment process into my “annual review” at Open.Michigan/Enabling Technologies. I’m learning that playing is a lot harder than I thought. Escaping the bounds of identity is difficult, but can result in really fun ideas and fun times.


I met this guy, Sam Muirhead, in Berlin. He’s a filmmaker who’s committing to living a year in openness and I couldn’t help but share in his enthusiasm for showing people what it can mean to do things, everything, in an open way. Open source software is just a small piece of the commitment – read more about his endeavor on IndieGoGo.

Lastly, thanks to all the great P2PU folks I got to work with over the last couple of weeks. I came home inspired and more disciplined and ready to build and make and watch and learn. Thanks especially to Jane Park and Molly Kleinman, my School of Open teammates, and Philipp Schmidt and Bekka Kahn, my P2PU overlords.

How Openness moves us from innovation to transformation

Next week thirteen of the nearly thirty participants in the MELO 3D project will head to the Sloan-C/MIC conference Las Vegas to present on various facets of our two year project. This has been a fun, inspiring and exciting project for me and I’m looking forward to sharing some of our experiences with the broader online learning community. In our various meetings, training sessions and activities over the past year, I’ve come to realize just how important taking an “open” perspective can be in education. Even when faculty, departments and projects are collaborating across units or institutions, by taking the perspective that your team is going to adopt “open” practices you can really shift the project from something innovative to something truly transformative. This is what I’ve seen happen with the MELO 3D project.

Let’s Share

When we talk about “open,” often folks often envision different things. Are we talking about free? Are we talking about legal? Are we talking about public? When I started working with this team last year, they were all on board on some of the basic concepts of Open. This is, after all, the third year of the project. They wanted to be able to use and adapt learning objects created by other institutions or faculty members for their own classroom needs. They wanted to publish their own learning objects in places (public websites) that could be seen by others. They wanted their own efforts to contribute to the broader collection of resources available to the global learning community and they wanted to share best practices across institutions. Finally, they wanted to be able to build off each other’s work within the university,  to catalyze each other to use technology more effectively, and to develop resources to boost common skills (literacy, math, and analytical skills).

To do all these things, however, they realized there was a piece missing: open licensing and the OER perspective. It’s one of the reasons they invited me into the project and this last year has seen an explosion of possibility and creativity from different team members. You see it in the way Dr. Witgen uses a wiki to create an ‘interactive syllabus’ that is responsive to each cohort of students’ needs, interests and challenges. You see it in the way Dr. Calixto uses podcasts to address just-in-time learning needs. You also see it in the way the Organic Chemistry team took much of their work and put it in public online spaces, allowing students to become co-teachers by using Voicethread to analyze each other’s work.  And these are just a few of the examples from the disciplines participating in this project.

Let’s Share Well

Much of this work was enabled, I believe by putting the pieces of Openness together. By thinking about the intent of the resources being developed (to be shared with others and allowing them to adapt the resources), the purpose of the resources (to address students’ needs in dynamic classroom settings and engage them as participants in the learning process), and the delivery of the resources (in public, findable spaces that allow others to see the process of creation, not just the product), the MELO 3D team has embraced open education in effective, transformative ways. This project (and the Open.Michigan initiative) is one of the reasons working at the University of Michigan is so rewarding–our university trusts its community to do great things, and gives us the resources to do it. The MELO project has been funded for several years now through LSA’s NINI grants. These are a great way to jump-start innovation. LSA’s consistent support of this project has shown how projects can evolve from innovation to transformation by iterating, learning, responding and inviting others to collaborate.

I’m looking forward to spreading some of the energy from this group to the broader community at the upcoming conference (and, of course, getting some good food experiences in along the way).

What This Looks Like

You can see the abstracts to all our conference presentations online:

Integration of Technology Into Undergraduate Education through Cross-Disciplinary Pollination (winner: Effective Practice award)

Deconstructing a Puzzle Using Writing and Technology

Online Learning Objects: Affecting Change through Cross-Disciplinary Practices and Open Technologies (winner: Best in Track award)

You can access, download, remix and reuse all of the MELO 3D open educational resources from the Open.Michigan collection:


Learning in the open, about the open: a trip to Berlin with P2PU

P2PU. Summer office. Berlin. Need I say more? Well, probably.

I’m about to leave Ann Arbor for two and a half weeks to work with Peer-to-Peer University at its pop-up summer office at the Agora Collective in Berlin, Germany. I’m expecting this to be not only exhilarating and eye-opening, but super über-productive. I’ll be working on two bits in particular…

1) School of Open: A couple of months ago P2PU and Creative Commons announced the launch of the School of Open – a virtual space for learning about openness and transparency. Ever since Open.Michigan heard about this, we’ve been excited to get involved and now’s our chance. Over the last four years, Open.Michigan has been working with a variety of faculty, students and staff at the University of Michigan to help them learn about open practices and how to integrate those into their academic and research activities. We’ve learned a lot through this process and our goal is to translate those lessons into School of Open challenges and courses at P2PU.

2) Sunflower Experiment: I’m still struggling to describe this other work, so for now I’ll call it the Sunflower Experiment. Remember when we were all kids, just doing stuff? It didn’t matter what we were doing, we were just going at it with all the piss and vinegar we could muster. When was the last time you sat down with a kid and listened to her imagination run off with her until she was playing in her own little world of bliss? Amazing, right? My goal is to help grown-ups do that again. One of the things that’s gotten in the way, I think, is identity. I intend to explore this more with the P2PU crew and see how it ties in with informal, open and social learning (take a look at Carrie’s great post on informal learning).

I’ll try to blog while I’m in Berlin, so stay tuned (here and on Twitter) to hear more about the upcoming adventures.




Interview with August Evrard, Professor of Physics, Astronomy

 I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help educate and empower people in developing nations by simply handing over material sitting idle on my hard drive.

The University of Michigan is known for its leaders and we have worked with leaders across our university who were the first to publish OER in their departments. Dr. August (Gus) Evrard happened to be the first professor in his entire College (of Literature, Science, and the Arts) to publish with Open.Michigan (he’s also a recipient of a 2012 Teaching Innovation Prize). Way back in January 2009, we published Prof. Gus’s General Physics course and for awhile this was the only LSA course we had in our collection. Today we’re proud to have ten courses and three resources from LSA to represent the College alongside Prof. Gus’s courses (he has also published Cyberscience: Computational Science and the Rise of the Fourth Paradigm with us). Prof. Gus has been an outstanding advocate of Open.Michigan as we have steadily gained momentum for our initiative across campus. He recently shared his experiences working with Open.Michigan and his vision for our work in the future.

Could you briefly describe your academic research and teaching responsibilities?

Like most faculty members in the natural sciences, I’m expected to manage a leading-edge research program and to teach at the level of one course per term.  My research in computational cosmology is recorded in  >100 published papers with nearly 10,000 citations.  I’ve also lectured introductory physics to roughly 4,000 students here at Michigan, and the lecture slides for the Fall 2007 instance of Physics 140 were the first open content from the College of LSA.

Why did you decide to make your courses available for sharing through Open.Michigan?

A variety of factors made me think that this is the right thing to do.  There’s a basic altruistic motive (share what you’ve got with others who might find it useful), the competition motive (if MIT is doing it, then we need to keep up), and then the simple desire to try something new and different.  Back in 2007, the pitch that was presented to me involved exposing the course content to sister universities in Africa.  I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help educate and empower people in developing nations by simply handing over material sitting idle on my hard drive.

Why do you think it’s important to share your education resources, or for faculty to share their resources on something like Open.Michigan?

Widely sharing course content is consistent with the universities mission to educate the citizens of Michigan and the world.  Whether this mode of sharing is genuinely valuable to the community, or whether the practice is aligned with the business model of a modern university, are issues that are not yet entirely clear.

What tips could you provide for faculty members interested in working with Open.Michigan?

Be prepared to budget a much longer time for the dScribe process than you might think.  The process is slow, but you’ll end up learning a lot about copyright (maybe more than you wanted to know…) by the end of it.

Have you experienced instances where your open courses have brought you recognition for your teaching outside of the classroom?

I did receive a kind e-mail asking me where a financial contribution could be sent for the Physics 140 material (and I directed the person to the LSA donor site).  I was flattered to learn that my 140 materials have been downloaded roughly 500 times, and in cities that span all continents (see this map), including Kabul, Afghanistan!  To me, that simple fact is a better affirmation than some type of award; it’s a real, non-political, collective statement from a global  population.

Interestingly, I also met a current Phys 140 student last term who told me that he used the open material as an additional study aid.  I frankly had not thought about on-campus use as a potential outcome.

What would you like to see Open.Michigan doing in the next couple of years? 

I think Open.Michigan should continue to sow seeds on campus, but ultimately its activities need to be reconciled with the other university endeavors like Coursera.  These activities need to be done in a way that enhances, rather than threatens, the future of on-site teaching and learning at U-M.  I’m optimistic that Michigan will work alongside other higher education institutions to find a way to do this over the next decade. [Note: we have linked to the free, online Coursera courses taught by University of Michigan faculty.]