Closed Worlds and the Open Web


Eat the Data: Reclaim the web, #CNIE2014 keynote by @brlamb expertly DJd by @draggin flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

In a previous post (The forgotten Encyclopedia) I wrote that Encyclopedias pursued a closed-world model for which knowledge was wholly contained within their volumes. Plus periodic update volumes. They used links–internal citations and pointers. They used references, of course. They did this until the Web was born and the hyperlink took over. Suddenly, Jimmy Wales mixed two ideas: Thought number 1– You can have a link from one entry within the Encyclopedia to another out of it. But Thought number 2 was even better: Let It Be Collaborative.

At that point all hell broke loose and of course, that experiment was a huge success. But it was of poor quality, said some. Thus, the stigma on Wikipedia was born, together with a growing admiration.

The point here is the closed-world model. It was supposed that the knowledge to be bestowed upon people (or students) was all (produced and categorized and sometimes trivialized and then) stored within the pages of some book or the bytes of some CD-ROM. Unchangeable. Read-Only. So, you could say it would be delivered in all glory. To be just consumed.

It is surprising that nothing in education has really changed after so much talk about constructivism, connectivism and some other ism’s. Because within a Learning Management System you have but a closed world. Same with Facebook, a full (enchanted) world completely self-contained, with no links to the outside world. Now, newspapers run in defense of the (real) world, which is open, more or less. But news outlets are also closed worlds, with their so few out-links.  Yes, outbound links are so rare today. But think of the possibilities, the fans of knowledge they can spun from one page! I try and teach my students that power. Imagine that when I tried to open one rarest out-link from inside Facebook, I got a warning!!

Leaving Facebook OMG 🙁

Screenshot taken by moi

So, why all this betrayal of the spirit of the Web? Why all these forces working against the force that opened to them in the first instance the brave new world?

Why universities have not educated their faculty (and their students) to the (real) Web, the one open, freely linkable, infinitely accessible, serendipitous learning universe? It must be because they (and their administrators) are trapped within the closed-world model and do not see the power and glory of the open Web. But a few are: Those working on/with the Domains of One’s Own model, or the Connected learning or the Open Ed paradigms. Some experiment here and there. MOOCs have lost their experimentation juice. AI is being mythologized and boiled down to simply neo-liberal quasi-learning instances. So, where is the innovation? Big Data? Spare me.


Antigonish Community Notices flickr photo by Tony Webster shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Mostly, a few people are running as lone Rangers, like Tony Bates was fond of saying. Some do play the good professor, or citizen, and play with the full Web. With little institutional support, and mostly without any institutional recognition of the importance of the work they are doing. Those running their instance of DS106, or those who manage their Web courses freely. Those who run a paper on the Web, and not just a Web version of it. But there is hope. The initiatives for digital and Web literacy, for instance: see >>>>> and EDUCAUSE’s Can Higher Ed Save the Web?  But the most striking example seems to be Bonnie Stewart’s fabulously-named Antigonish 2.0: A Way for Higher Ed to Help Save the Web. Antigonish, yes, in beloved Nova Scotia.

You may think the Web is not endangered as it is, because you love FB or whatever apps through which you get a window-pane of the Web and that suffices to you. But little by little the force of the Web evaporates and nobody noticed.

So, let’s. Reclaim the Web!

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I found some Visual Thinkery on the open Web

Sometimes, the Web feels too big. Like this planet, it instills in me a sense of impossibility: I’ll manage to know but a tiny bit of its wonders. And so I skate through it, sometimes getting tired of the browsing, always discovering something worth pursuing. And thus I have got a number of bookmarks (in diigo), a number of notes (Evernote), plus quite some annotations in my agenda and post-it notes. I keep collecting such information and sometimes I end up actually using it.

The Web is, however, magical in its being full of wonder and grace, and I can’t but pain when I see the declining use of links and of open Web pages. I wonder whether the Web will survive or whether we will in the end lose a fantastic opportunity. In edtech, for instance, I feel the Web is already losing, among apps and closed stores, learning management systems and other content-based materials. Like the idea of trapping some knowledge onto a CD, with all the outward links turned inward. This is what’s happening. A refusal to see the web for what it is.

When I found the work of Bryan Mathers though, I was so pleasantly surprised. Look at his site, his drawings, his thoughs, and all he does is celebrating openness and the open Web. All his images are licensed with Creative Commons (BY-ND), so they can be immediately reused in other web pages or other medium. Hope you enjoy especially this one on the Open Web:

Image from Byan Mathers

The Open Web by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND.

And this from #OER17:

Bryan works also with his site Visual Thinkery by helping clients

articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages, to create visual thinkery[…]

He is also the author of some great logos out there: among all I love those of Hack Education and Reclaim Hosting.

There is so much good stuff on the Web and I don’t have a chance at enjoying it all properly!

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Ma come fanno i marinai — How do sailors do

How do sailors do?

US Military Advisory Trip Opens in Tokyo

US Military Advisory Trip Opens in Tokyo flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license.

That is the title of a famous song in Italy, from the duo Lucio Dalla-Francesco De Gregori. I remember them playing the song on TV when I was some 16 years old. Mind you, Dalla & De Gregori (the former died a couple years ago) are two songwriters and singers of extraordinary im pact. But what’s the point of this remembrance? Well, the song is an ironic reflection on some common-lieu on sailors:

How do sailors manage kissing each other
and stay real men…

But why am I talking about sailors? Because Maha Bali wrote about a “strange” saying in Egypt that has to do with sailors (Lines Not Drawn – and Invitations of Sailors #digciz):

… “invitation of sailors”, which means you invite someone, or offer them something, but you don’t really mean it, or it’s something they can’t really accept.

After which Alan Levine wrote about related expressions meant to attribute Names for Other People:

“Indian giver” is an American pejorative expression, used to describe a person who gives a “gift” and later wants it back, or who expects something of equivalent worth in return for the item.

Or names given to black, gay or other people, more or less each coming out of some prejudice.

So I remembered that in Italian we have an expression which is very similar to the Egyptian one:

Promessa da marinaio,

meaning Sailor’s Promise, with a very close meaning: A sailor’s promise is a promise which you can’t count on. The rationale of such an expression is the same Maha gives:

Because imagine a sailor, already at sea and you can’t reach them physically, holding out their meal and offering that you share it. Yeah. They don’t REALLY mean it.

So be it. However, another such expression came to my mind, and this one racist, but I guess it’s still used (disclaimer: I do love, love Turkey!):

To smoke like a Turk,

which means “to smoke a lot” and likely originates from the custom of using a Narghile or hookah to smoke tobacco in the Middle East, a practice still very popular, I guess.

I don’t even dare open the book of expressions on Italians, do I?

OK, now here is the song, enjoy! [Lyrics here and, in English here.]

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Saturn, 75 minutes ago

The planet Saturn is at its closest to the Earth, at some 1,350 million kilometers. A spectacular image has been shot at Aguadilla, Puerto Rico [by Efraín Morales Rivera and provided by the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe]: here.

This reminds me how beautiful and multi-facet is the Web. One day we see LOLcats and the next, Saturn. However, what came to mind immediately after noting its distance from us is: How long does it take for the light from Saturn to reach us?

Easy: Divide 1,350 million km by the speed of light (approximately 300,000 km per second) and the answer is there: 4,500 seconds, that is 75 minutes, or 1 hour and a quarter.

1 hour and 15 minutes it takes, traveling that huge distance. This means that the image we see is 75 minutes old when we watch it, at least. The actual planet might have vanished in that lapse, or exploded (very, very unlikely for the time being). But this is just a reminder that space gazing is time-travel. We always see the Universe as it was in our past, a few seconds, minutes (8 for the sun), or years away. We may feel this is a terrible limitation, being unable to see the Universe as it is now (on the Earth). But there’s also another side to the same coin. We are thus able to see the Universe as it was one million years ago, when the Earth was young, and learn accordingly. Anyway, this feels to me like a very humbling sense, and a connection magic beyond any scripture.

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The forgotten Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia #fail

[Flickr Photo by A. Vantaggiato, CC-Licensed BY-SA-NC]

The forgotten encyclopedia lies on the boardwalk, close to the street, a couple of meters off dirt, rain and abandon. Not even school libraries want it.

Of course, it is old, virtually obsolete [pun almost not intended] and impractical. Compare it to Wikipedia. Which by the way did not kill the enclycopedia (á la Britannica) –worst, it was Microsoft’s Encarta that did, the living room computer-living CD-ROM-stored encyclopedia that suddenly, for little money, everybody had. [See: Wikipedia Didn’t Kill Britannica. Windows Did. , Wired, 3.14.2012].

Not like Britannica or the best encyclopedias. Those were the patrimony of few. My father bought one (an Enciclopedia Treccani, some 40 volumes, each huge and weighty) which stayed like a queen in our big library shelves. Heavy, mighty, except it was rarely used, even when I was at school. He–like many– bought one in installments. At the time, no respectable family in Italy would stay without one. Now, almost forgotten except in libraries, it is fully available online.

The model of a world closed on itself, all encyclopedias managed to do was not turning their nose up and see the future coming. Nor could they foresee the open and collaborative nature of the future of the encyclopedia and imagine Wikipedia, the mythical Web encyclopedia, likely the greatest collective work of humankind. Full of errors, it showed us the even the best paper encyclopedias actually contained mistakes. Which, as Umberto Eco loved to repeat, one could easily correct.

So here they lay, in a simple space called Libros Libres on the street, an initiative aiming to put some books on the paths of people passing by. But encyclopedias, so big and bulky, don’t really belong on those shelves. And in fact they are left on the boardwalk, and there they remain.

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