When I hear folks in my stream sharing stuff for Open Education Week, my inner cynic wonders what they do the rest of the year. Or speculate a world where we do not have to draw attention in this way to Openness.

I get it. The whole idea is to raise awareness, and most of the people I hang put with are truly Year Round Open Education people- the week is for a broader swath of people. I am not criticizing the week. Ok?

And as open gets washed and wrapped around commercial products, we do and should do, develop our own definition, rather than abiding by someone elses. It takes time and experience.

So I think of it as that light being always on, all night long, heck all day long.

I am not saying that everything open needs to go on for ever, but in a lot of Certain Open Courses That Usually Start with an X, once the last item on the syllabus / schedule passes on the calendar, the tent goes down and the lights are turned off. Do people really hang around their past Coursera/Udacity/EdX MOOCs? Why would they?

The Open Stuff that I am interested in, is not just that anyone can walk through the door, as there are often ONLY IFs. They can walk through the door ONLY IF they create an account and login. They can walk through the door ONLY IF they are in certain parts of the world (geographic limits on media). Openness is not just a door.

And even if the door is open, what good is it if you walk in the door, and no one is there? That’s the Field of Dreams approach of Putting it On the Web and Calling it Done.

Okay, so I am not taking this post in the direction I thought I was in the beginning. That happens.

Rather than trying to say what open is / isn’t, I’m talking about the kinds I personally think are important.

The kinds of things that carry it’s own momentum above, beyond, outside the “course” or even the people who launched it. The ones where people participate in that maybe you do not even know about. That do so sometimes without you even knowing about it.

Of course, in my case I am taking about DS106. I am a proud Cult Member.

ds106 poster by Jim Groom http://bavatuesdays.com/theyre-here-2/

ds106 poster by Jim Groom http://bavatuesdays.com/theyre-here-2/

I think Martha Burtis made this? And yes, Stephen, we are a cult.

I think Martha Burtis made this? And yes, Stephen, we are a cult.

I made this one

I made this one, the faces are Tim Owens, Jim Groom, and Martha Burtis

If folks are spontaneously creating posters, songs, GIFs, videos to celebrate your Open Thing, and it’s not any kind of assignment, you’ve done well.

But this allegiance/affinity thing is not at all limited to ds106. I’ve had a personal theory that you are most rooted/connected to the first cMOOC you experienced a mind-blowing, connecting-around-the-world experience. Others had it with CLMOOC. ETMOOC. MOOCMOOC. The various rhizo14,15,16 gardens.

It’s almost a tribal thing, and sometimes we playfully tease each other

Really we are much more together, in an affinity of “not being like all that other crap.”

And a question becomes, in what ways do you design your open experiences to allow for the kind of serendipity you do not anticipate? Do you leave room/space for that? Because serendipity, the unintended things that happen are, to me, the sources of Great Potential Energy of Goodness – this does not usually happen when you have a strict structural objective compliant design where people are there to collect a certificate or a badge.

It happens a lot on DS106… because, despite what you may think, there is no single DS106 entity. It’s an overlapping un-diagrammable space of multiple iterations of different courses, it’s where people can make use of just portions of it- the Open Assignment Bank, the Daily Create, DS106 Radio, or just floating in and out of a #ds106 hashtag or the Google+ Group that someone else created.

There is a lovely undertow of people playfully riffing on ideas and creations; but that is not limited to DS106. I’ve seen it in CLMOOC, rhizoXX (see recent example from Simon Ensor)– this is stuff you cannot plan for, all you can do is spread some fertilizer, sunshine, water, and a few seeds (to use the metaphor).

There is no boundary to it.

I thought of this recently in watching activity in the #ds106 hashtag in twitter. The lovely thing in this space is, that quite often, you do not always know who is there with what class, or on their own. The boundaries of a “course” or “class” are completely blurred and smeared.

In the last weeks, I notice a lot of daily create tweets with the tag #diglitclass. I thought it might be the group from CUDenver, but that’s a PD class and they sort of have a tag.

So I asked… and when you ask, often you get an answer.


Thanks, Myeasha, who I am guessing is a student. Think about that, a student speaks up to represent her class.

Chadron State College? I had never heard of it, but easy enough to find out it’s part of the public University of Nebraska system. From my years in studying geology, I know Chadron for the name of the fossil rich Geological formation seen prominently in the Badlands of South Dakota but it is named for it’s location to near Chadron, Nebraska.

Now I know more. There is a class there in Digital Literacy using part of ds106, and we have no idea why, how. They did not need to ask permission to use the Daily Create.

This is a porch light being on, the door being open, and people freelt coming and going from inside and outside.

This is open.

Have nice week.

Top / Featured Image: The metaphor I sought for this post (I don’t write until I have one and an image) was the Motel 6 ad line “We’ll leave the light on for you” (for some reason I thought it included “porch”, so my metaphor is “wrong”?). But I was hoping for an image of an outdoor porch light on at night.

A Google Images / Licensed for Reuse search for “porch light” was dismal. There are musical references, and about 3 rows down all you get are porches. Compfight too was slim. Then I thought, “I have a porch light and I bet I have taken photos of it” — the obvious of search your own photos. And BOOM! a perfect image I did not even envision, this from a box of switch plate covers at a thrift store near me, with the “Porch Leave on Label”. I did not even see this one in my mind; that’s what I love about digging for metaphor images.

The image is my own flickr photo https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/12098712106 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. We see eye to eye on leaving plenty of space for serendipity to happen. Here’s one for you:
    1. I met Cathleen Nardi via DS 106
    2. Peter and I visited her in Maui. Instant connection.
    3. Cathleen meets two other women in a MOOC they love
    4. After MOOC light goes out, those three band together to form http://creativist.io
    5. Take a look at their mission statement. And who is currently featured as their Creative Leader flavor of the month? Ha!
    And so it goes …

  2. Alan,
    Beautiful post, really captures the spirit of open that attracts me like a moth to the light of ds106. I love being and seeing people inspired to create on the web. I think it’s humanity at its best. And the web provides so many small, creative crevices wherein this can take root and grow, the “course” or “resource” or “site” just being a few educationally branded shells that have the potential to bring these forces to bear. ds106 was that, and for many (including me) still is.

    I also love how it is a blueprint for trying to Rube Goldberg together the web you want with free and open tools: WordPress, syndication, internet radio, daily creates, assignment banks etc. The generosity undergirding openness provided many a tool for building out this treehouse in the web forest. But, in fact, open was just as much a MacGuffin as anything else in the end, open doesn’t really seem an end in and of itself, it is more akin to a position, an approach, a spirit that defines your work rather than a set of licenses or rules to religiously adhere to. And as we see open become more and more a part of the infrastructure, the harder and harder for it to comprehend the sense of wonder it has wrought as pure potentiality. The codification of open isn’t really.

  3. Yes yes yes and no ;)
    Love this post and agree with so much of it… But sense something is missing. Openness more than a door yes. Serendipity yes. Light always on so folks feel welcome – yes, but do these cult communities feel that way to outsiders? Probably not. They probably look more like the noisy neighbors having an outdoor party 24/7. Open to watch, possible to participate in, but intimidating to just jump into even tho members turn your way and smile. Wonder how virtually Connecting falls into this spectrum. Connected conferencing rather than learning?

    1. I fully understand what you are saying Maha, but what else can possibly an open group / community do to change the perceptions of other people?

      You cannot get inside people’s heads. You cannot undo past wrongs done by others. You cannot remove the cultural influences that have created these feelings. If there is no effort to exclude, if welcomeness is genuine (and this is where we can at lest try to push against the things we cannot control), yet people feel excluded — beyond some kind of science fiction mind warp beam, I am lost to what can be done.

      This reminds me of something that Dave Winer wrote today about recognizing the difference between an image we have versus the thing itself https://medium.com/@davewiner/the-image-vs-the-thing-itself-ea435dc2be17#.kynpouw33

      1. I know I know, it’s this unsolvable thing that haunts many of us who are doing this. I just think we need to own it, to know that while we try to be open, the more we know a small group of us and do things together, the less open it will be perceived by outsiders. And it’s ok. Just to recognize it and when it makes sense to try to counter it (e.g. for virtually connecting, i think we have improved but still. Survey results will show something I hope, as we ask about this directly).
        Reminds me of the lurking thing. It’s a thing you can tell ppl it’s ok to do, that they’re learning… But what ur really telling them is they can watch until hopefully one day they feel ready to participate (or else they’re unequal partners in the experience). I hate the term lurking. Every time I read ur blog and don’t comment I am lurking, right? Sinister :)

        In real life (Professional context) if ur always open and sharing and others aren’t it really isn’t ok. It doesn’t stop me and it isn’t their obligation if they don’t want to. But it bothers me. And now i am totally off topic

        1. Maha,
          You said, “I hate the term lurking. Every time I read ur blog and don’t comment I am lurking, right? Sinister.” So here is the flip side of that: I make an effort to write replies to blog posts I read, believing in the Code of Reciprocity (which states if someone goes to the effort to write something I enjoy reading and makes me think, I owe a return flow of energy in the form of a comment). But if I am the only one consistently commenting, I start to look like a stalker. What the hell?!

          I don’t worry about the deeply engrained human desire for claiming insider/outsider status. At feral root, we are all wolf packs. People just love to sort themselves out in a perceived status hierarchy any chance they get, viz the Downton Abbey craze (which has never even remotely interested me as I am truly bored by upstairs/downstairs politics).

          I remind my poetry students of Oscar Wilde’s wisdom to “be yourself; everybody else is taken.” One aspect of that for me might be to not worry about other people’s perception of the Open Ed movement. I keep the porch light on and go about my creative business.

          1. I do not see readers who don’t comment as lurkers nor people that do as stalkers. In fact I do not even know they are there. I don’t blog to get comments, they are a bonus when it happens, but never my goal (but thank Sandy, for providing me a lot of bonuses!)

        2. We have no constraints of topic around here! Yes, I agree that in the midst of our happy group activities to consider how it might appear to others. But like “lurking” (a term I abhor and never use), maybe we should rephrase the “insider” / “outsider” language, because it reinforces an existence of a boundary. An “outsider” for virtual connecting is just a potential buddy!

          While I am not religious, in thinking about what we can do, the Serenity Prayer works (I just leave off the “God grant me” part, as this is what I can do as a human) — “to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

  4. Hi Maha, this is a useful contribution to the discussions we had yesterday in our Open Education SIG webinar (recording will be posted here https://www.alt.ac.uk/about-alt/special-interest-and-members-groups/open-education-sig) I do hope you will get a chance to listen to it. The Open Ed SIG has a new community space (currently in beta) and we aim to facilitate fully open discussions.
    The many different shades of open we see and lack of any single definition can be seen as a weakness but in many ways it is a strength. It allows us to decide our own paths, take ownership of the decision making process and increases our agency. There may be many porch lights on but we will not all flock to the same one, our choices may be influenced by many factors. Open Ed week gives us an opportunity to keep supporting each other across our many different contexts and to learn from each other and I know that is in the spirit of openness that you embrace.

  5. In an attempt to build affinity and connect some open practices, I’ve added a few annotations with Hypothesis and will invite graduate learners with ILT5320 to swing by – hopefully they’ll appreciate that the light is on, and that the door is open…

    1. Ha – I jumped straight into the annotations and almost forgot to look at the comments at the bottom. :)

  6. I am not sure that the word “open” is helpful.

    I get an idea of space within which we will penetrate (he hesitates at using the word but feels it apt) a sanctum or perhaps a shop – [add your version ]

    I like the idea of shining a light or speaking softly.

    I wonder about these “cult(ures)”… that constantly merge and separate. I worry about the M in MOoc.

    Massive is too like a masse – mallet in French.

    Une masse c’est pour casser du béton. Ce n’ est pas fait pour caresser une fleur.

    Nous sommes fragiles plus qu’on le croit.

    Yes I prefer the picture of a universe of little lights which twinkle and give us the feeling that there is life present out there in the

    There are moments when little lights disperse to be joined by others.

    There are moments when someone brings a song a story to stoke the fire.

    We should stop worrying about englobing humanity.

    Little lights can reverberate from afar.

    Soft voices carry further than to those ears who care to listen.

    1. Soft voices and twinkling lights, these are such a beautiful metaphor, thanks Simon. And you know what? Sometimes I do not want to explain it- you know it when that connected feeling– that “touch of sense” — is truly felt strongly, at a physical distance. As your words do here. Merci.

  7. Thanks Alan for a post that spawned a really helpful conversation. Like Simon says in his post (One) thinking together is helpful. Next week I will be over in Clermont Ferrand and I look forward to some more IRL conversations. Open, accessible, collaborative – these are principles I hold dear. In the UK at the moment education is increasingly restricted to the wealthy and the risk takers, support for those with disabilities is disappearing, equality of opportunity is under attack. It is time to acknowledge the privileges we take for granted and stand up for those who are less fortunate.

  8. Have you ever heard people say they’d rather read the book before they see the movie? They tend to argue that seeing the film first stops the imagination. Some creative porch light going off.

    Now caption that. I am sure you can turn the argument around.

    Some here and there thoughts now.

    Yes, Jim. Openness is an attitude. When you are in that zone and feel creative, well, you feel la gioia di vivere (joy of living). The next creative moment, you start feeling joy just to see your creative buddies showing up online. Regardless of what they have created. I am quite sure I have felt happy to see a profile pic on a tweet before I read the content. Many times. If you answer or react enthusiastically, onlookers may think they are witnessing a private conversation. They may think we are old office mates or even live in the same city. Imagination is for free. They will easily feel outside. They might as well be right to feel so. Being inspired requires proximity, readiness to connect the memory with the new, the tweet and your fingertips. It’s kind of intimate. It is most definitely a personal experience as opposed to a massive one.

    One. I read it, Simon. About the question of inclusiveness, I think the problem is that it implies that some people are outside a place, which clashes with the definition of openness as an attitude for me. But you solve the conundrum in your own words above! You go from the image of space to mass to light. Your comment is a gem.

    Maha, Sandy, If I had a penny for every unwritten comment of mine on this blog…
    No, there is no correlation between the times I have read here or felt inspired here and the number of comments I actually wrote down. It doesn’t really matter. A small thing like an email can mean so much.

    Do I hear a dog barking? Okay I’ll stop digressing. Alan’s question is, in what ways I design open experiences to allow for serendipity? (Long silence).

    I think I haven’t become that much open at teaching after years learning online. I think I have always done something I was quite sure could have been labeled as improvisation. Not the whole class, but the most significant moments where both, students and me could recognise meaningful learning going on, those have been unexpected.

    What I do is plan my objectives, more than a series of steps. I have resources ready for each step , but I know I am going to break the plan. I probably enter the room with a predisposition to do so. Once you reach the turning point between the plan and the new, I am not sure who guides the learning in my group anymore. I keep hold of a recognisable teaching role, only that they own it.

  9. Discovery and serendipity are essential for learning. A lot of “open” feels overwhelming to me as a student and a teacher. I struggle with how to focus attention, awareness of process and change, replication (in the experimental sense)–as well as accident and luck. “Open” at its best means transparency, equity, inclusion, too.

    1. The overwhelmed feeling is understandable and familiar. I’ve felt what helps is to let go of the idea of taking it all in, and seeking the focus areas I care about the most. By tapping into a network, they can help signal what’s important.

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