Terry Greene “Having all this work out in the open is really enabling.”

Terry Greene is a Program Manager at eCampusOntario, on secondment from Fleming College, where he is a Learning Technology Specialist. He holds a B.Ed. in Elementary Education from the University of Alberta and a M.Sc. in Instructional Design & Technology from the University of North Dakota. He is interested in both the cutting and trailing edges of uses for technology in education. Especially those that increase the human element in technology-enabled learning. Hint, hint, those are probably the more open ones.


Terry’s Story

Can you start by introducing yourself and giving some background about your project?

My name is Terry Greene. I am from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and I am a program manager with eCampusOntario. So eCampusOntario is a non-profit that’s a consortium. Our members are all the colleges and universities of Ontario and we work for them to enable open and technology-enabled teaching and learning. With most of what we create, including those projects we fund at universities and colleges, we use Creative Commons licensing. We’re working to enable the development of open materials for Ontario students and teachers, but also the world.

Thinking about your work, can you tell me about a specific moment in time where you felt a sense of success?

One of the projects at eCampus that I’m working on is called Ontario Extend, which is a set of modules to develop your abilities with technology-enabled teaching and learning. But it’s also a gateway to a community, a network of people doing that kind of thing. In early March we ran a kickoff cohort of people to join the community from Fleming College in Peterborough. People joined from online as well. The event itself was basically a sales pitch to invite people to come play and see what we’ve made for them.

The ongoing success was dependent on how that day went. We had about 60 people there and online that day and a chunk of them have continued to play along even today. To have sustained people this long since then and get them involved has been pretty exciting.

The way it was delivered is based on this thing called DS106, which is a digital storytelling community. The joke is it looks like a cult of people who play around in the open. It’s one of the original big open courses, so we used the structure of that. They have a challenge called an Open Assignment Bank, where you can put in your ideas and also your responses to the ideas. It’s a bank that you can take from, but it won’t deplete. It’ll just grow. There’s also a syndicated hub of the people’s work. People do their work in the open on a blog and everything’s openly licensed.

The idea is that it’s not hidden inside a school’s management learning management system only for a teacher to see once. Having all this work out in the open is really enabling. And that’s what DS106 did. We used those ideas not for digital storytelling, like that program is for, but just for generally teaching with technology. It’s based on this idea that teachers these days need to be good at a bunch of things. They need to be a technologist, a collaborator, a curator, a scholar, an experimenter, and a teacher. So that’s what the modules are. But then from there, we play in all these places, which is the daily challenge and the bank and the syndicated hub of all the work. So it’s really been an open community that we hope will grow and enable everybody involved to develop their skill and and a network. It’s been fun for sure.

I’m hearing two interesting things there. One is that you’ve had an early success with engagement, which to me links to the fact that you’re delivering something that people need and is of value to them. That’s really exciting because it’s about getting it right. I’m also hearing you talk about building on someone else’s work and adapting their engagement practices and digital community practices to your particular situation.

Exactly. So if DS106 never never did all these cool things that they do in the open and share their ideas, we wouldn’t have had the idea to remix everything for a different purpose but in the same style. They enabled everything for that to happen. Even now there are other places seeing what we’re doing and are thinking of doing the same thing, so it just recurs over and over. Each time people do it better and different. It’s very enabling. It’s cool.

What is the current or recurring challenge in your work?

I’m thinking of the everyday maintenance of it. It’s not a challenge per say, but it’s work. There’s the technology, but it’s very human enabled. There are no algorithms involved.

No magic button.

Yeah. So every day there’s a challenge, which means I’m in the background creating the challenge or collecting the ideas from other people and putting them in. There needs to be someone in the background. I love doing it, it’s fun, but it is still a challenge.

But I think that’s also the best part. A lot of instructional design and e-learning stuff has been focused on very lonely learning, such as making up a software that thinks about what students need next and feeds it to them rather than allowing those students to connect with another human that’s across the world. That’s what’s cool about technology to me, not that the technology itself could could talk to me. I’d rather talk to a real person.

Thinking about this daily challenge or daily task that you have, what are some of the skills or learning that you bring to bear to deliver that?

So the challenge itself has categories, each matching to those modules of being a collaborator or a curator or a technologist. Usually if we’re running a cohort of people together like we are now, if we’re working on the scholar module one week, then that daily Extend is a scholarly challenge. For example, last week we were doing ‘experimenter’, which involved trying out this little technology tool to see what to do with it. So 20 or 30 people tweeted their take on it and we all got 20 new ideas. Today was fun because I tweeted that the challenge today was to pick the most exciting session at the CC [Creative Commons] Summit. If people had no idea what that was, then they had to connect to it and to attendees at the Summit so that they could get an idea of what’s going on here. That could maybe be an entry point to the CC world as well.

Looking back over the last year, what was the most significant change that took place in your work?

My role at eCampusOntario is a secondment, meaning that I am just on loan to eCampusOntario from Fleming College. I guess the biggest change would be last September when I left Fleming College, where I was a learning technology specialist, to taking on a similar role but working with a broader range of clients — the universities and the colleges, who we call our members. It’s great to see that broader perspective. When I’m done with my secondment, I’ll be able to bring those perspectives back to the college.

So you went from one institution to serving a range of institutions working together and then will be coming back again?

Yes, because every university or college has that teaching or learning unit of the people that help the faculty with their teaching. A fun name for this role is a ‘pedagogical therapist’. They’re always called something a little bit different or they have different roles or different amounts of support. It’s cool to see what different universities and colleges do with that, whether they be bigger or smaller or medium sized. In northern colleges and universities typically one person is a central node for that kind of work. But then a huge Toronto college has 50 people. I get see how it works in all these different contexts. It’s been really beneficial.

Still thinking about your work, what are you really looking forward to in the coming year?

Ontario Extend has had that one big cohort kickoff. There was one last summer with people from the northern colleges and universities, which was great. But I wasn’t there yet. Now I’ve been able to run one cohort. This spring, we’re going to try to get a bunch of little cohorts into a big cohort and see how big we can make this network of Ontario educators playing around with Extend. There’s someone who I call an Open Education Subject Zero: Alan Levine, ‘Cog Dog,’ who is from Arizona. There are 1.4 billion openly licensed things, but if he took his out it would probably be down to 0.5 billion. Half of them are probably from him. He’s put so much stuff into the Commons. He’s working with us on Extend and he’s going to help run it through the summer. So I’m excited to get more chances to work with him on it.

Can you describe for me your journey or pathway into Creative Commons?

It started with DS106, as I mentioned before. I was at Fleming College just trying to figure out what I wanted to do for PD, professional development, for the upcoming year. And I randomly came across this digital storytelling thing. It looked like a cool way to practice with technology. I might use photoshop, I might use all kinds of tools that would be at a more base-level. It’s not necessarily about learning technology, it’s just technology in general, but still building skills that would help me. When I got there I saw that everything is openly licensed and I wondered what CC licensing was because I didn’t even know.

From there, I figured out how the licenses work and that you can go to CC Search. I use it the most to get images for the backgrounds of my slides in any presentation. That’s my favorite thing to do. I’m constantly looking for something to do with whatever the slide is. That’s my constant go-to connection to Creative Commons. And I love doing that. I love promoting it so people realize ways they can make their slides so much better looking. The gateway drug to Creative Commons to me is all the imagery that you can get and how that can enhance your work that you then license. I put the same license not just with a slide image but then the main heading on a blog. If you’re making blog posts, then it’s like the rug that ties the room together. I love finding that image. Since I openly license all my writing on my blog, it means that two pieces of the Commons come together for my posts. I like doing that.

And when you say it’s a gateway drug, what are the subsequent drugs?

It’s when you join in and figure out what’s involved. At first you can take from the Commons and you probably take for a while before you feel confident enough that you have something to give. I think they should encourage that. They should invite people to come and take, take, take, and then when they’re ready give something back, then maybe they’ll just give forever. Even just figuring out how to give your photos and make it an easy way.

The harder drugs are contributing to the Commons. It’s good for you to build a name for yourself and a reputation that you are a generous person who has good stuff to offer. There’s huge value in that and there’s a lot of motivation that. That might be the drug. The heroin I guess?

We’re going down a dangerous analogy path. Shifting now to the Commons more broadly, what for you is your greatest worry around threats to the future of the Commons?

I’m from education, and lately there’s been a lot of worry about ‘open washing’ from publishers. I don’t want to name any of them, but companies will take open materials — it’s called open wrapping. They may take a bunch of OERs that are openly licensed, and they put around it a flashy menu or some software that encloses it. Then they say they’re offering something that adds to it and this is what the charge is. The core of it — the questions or the content — could be available somewhere else openly. It’s not in the spirit of CC that they take something and wrap it up and charge for what they’ve added. It’s gross. So there’s them doing that, and then also there’s people not really recognizing that it’s not open and free. They have to pay. They don’t know that there are more open or freer ways of getting these things. Big business meddling with it is the big worry for me.

So OERs are open educational resources. What I’m hearing the concern is, is that they’re taking things that are freely available in the Commons and then instead of adding value in a nice way and making it easier, and then perhaps charging for that, it sounds like it’s a negative barrier and that hides the fact that this stuff is in the open. They’re wrapping it as if it is theirs. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yeah. Or just muddying the waters. They could be more clear and say that they took open stuff that you could get somewhere else, but we did add something that you like, which is worth 15 dollars a semester or something. That’s okay. It would be better if we had a nice infrastructure in the open that anyone could just go to anytime without having to subscribe to it and lose access to it when they stop paying.

What makes you optimistic about the future of the Commons?

There’s so much cool stuff out there and it’s growing every day. Someone somewhere is putting a cool image into Flicker open license right now that I might use in my next blog post. That’s fun.

What I’m hearing you say is that it’s this act of generosity and just the fact that it’s growing.

Yes, that’s what’s cool about it. The bigger it gets, the more opportunities there will be that we can’t see right now. It’s exciting to not know the cool things that might come of all this.

How would you explain to someone else the link between a vibrant Commons and a better world?

That’s tricky. You don’t try to explain that right off the bat. You just say that there’s a bunch of free stuff to use for this purpose. And then once they like that, maybe later on you may say, “See what this enables?” You can’t start with that. You can’t argue that this one picture is going to enable a better world. It’s too much too soon.

We’re back to our gateway drug analogy.

You need to hand them a decision tree or something. Don’t open this. Don’t look at the next page until you’ve used some stuff. I don’t know.

Until you’ve finished this level of the game.


For you, what does it mean to support the Commons?

To me it’s about the invitation to take and take, while always attributing. That’s giving back in a small way, so that someone would know that there’s stuff to use that’s cool. Once I make something, I make sure I openly license it so that I take the step that sometimes people forget to take: actually putting it into the Commons. Just make it a habit to put what you make back into the Commons. This is important. Advertise it openly. Have the logo there. Just a small citation. Show that this came from Commons and this is going into the Commons.

What is a typical license that you like to use?

I’ve been shifting from (CC BY) to the (CC BY-SA) just to give that extra hint that if you use this, give it back too.

So CC By meaning attribution and then the SA meaning share alike?

Yes. So if you take it and use it for whatever purpose, you then share it with the same. You have to take the step of sharing it back with the same license.

Is there a repository you submit to? Or just when you publish them on the open internet?

It’s for when I’ve published or if I make something, I usually would write a blog post about it. So it would be like having a slide that would be linked back in the end. All that would be licensed, not just the slides, but also what I wrote. Sometimes it’s just the act of doing it even though no one is going to be able to use my two paragraph reflection about something.

You’re modeling behavior.

Even though nobody would probably ever share or remix it anyway, at least for some of these things.

You never know though because it could be that your reflection sparks someone to think about something related or that they relate to it in their work. So I wouldn’t sell yourself short.

Yes. It’s modeling that it’s something worth taking just one little extra step.


This content is copyright Terry Greene and is licensed for use by others under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg