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Open Assembly is cloud-based platform for collaborative knowledge creation with open educational resources (OER)

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Julie

Julie is currently finishing her senior year at college studying engineering physics and environmental studies with a plan to work as a consultant after graduation.

Minoring in MOOCs

I have either the gift or curse of having eclectic interests. I major in engineering physics and environmental studies at a school that requires I take a range of liberal arts courses to graduate. Even so, I find myself interested in even more, to the point that employers have told me I have too large of a range of interests.

That’s where MOOCs come in handy. I have used online resources to supplement my education, and the ability to do this continues to grow. Since my school does not have a large course offering for engineering and I have little room to add courses that are not for my major or graduation requirements, resources such as MIT OpenCourseware (MIT OCW) come in handy. MIT OCW specifically is an amazing source, because it is not required to follow a class- although for many you can- lecture notes and videos are available just for reference! I also used MIT OCW in order to get an idea of what I would be dealing with when I took ‘Modern Physics,’ (totally mind boggling ideas in case you were wondering). From learning more about a topic I want to work with or preparing for next semester courses, their potential is invaluable.

Large universities are much more capable of providing of these courses. I have no way of taking courses specifically in nuclear energy and engineering at my home school, but online, the possibilities are endless. I can now tailor my skills to specific jobs, and while my transcript will not reflect it, I can still market myself in the workforce with the learning I have gained.

Beyond that, those of us that crave knowledge just for its sake have the opportunity to pursue it from open, high-quality sources.

Julie’s Journey: Make It Open

As in my last post concerning collaboration, I have been doing some research about Open Research. More about that in a moment.

What am I researching? My goal is to extend the thesis I will be turning in for a grade this semester into an on-going research project that collects data about air quality on my school campus. The whole point of this project is to make more people aware of greenhouse emissions, something we cannot directly see, so it is a given that my results will be open access. The end goal is to create a website with the data, similar to what UC-Berkeley has done with BeACON.

So, I have found out a few new things. What I will be doing with my project is called “open access data.” Meaning all of the data, and results models and graphs, will be available to anyone. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is a great example of efforts to create ways that data and research can be more available.

Then what makes “open research” different than what I described above? The answer: collaboration. A project can be considered open research if the “end goal,” or the final output, is likely to change, since multiple research entities are adding input and thoughts to the overall research. Besides the availability of data and results, as in open access, the experimental methodologies and techniques are also available for your studying pleasure and are open to improvement.

There are many websites that are trying to support this type of collaboration, and while Open Assembly is not specifically designed for research, it IS optimized for collaboration. As such, its tools can be adapted for any collaborative teaching or learning context. For example, with a research topic or project taking the place of an official college course and syllabus, the “Comments” feature allows other users to add notes, pertinent resources, and materials.

My current project has a certain end goal, but if you’re interested in providing input or getting a closer look, be sure to email me at julie@openassembly.com to gain access to the course and experience how I am using Open Assembly for Open Research.

Julie’s Journey: Collaboration, or Why My Project is Getting Better Each Day

While my thesis and research this semester are technically independent, I’m starting to learn that not much can be done without collaboration. My work has developed and changed so much from when I first started, and a lot of that is due to discussions with peers and mentors. Going into the thesis, I only had an idea of what I might possibly want to accomplish. I went from broad ideas of different environmental issues to write my thesis on, to a project in which I am able to complete relevant and interesting research to include in my thesis as well as provide data on air quality around campus. It’s through conversations and trial-and-error of different ideas that I came to realize what would be possible, and what was too much of a stretch. Beyond that, the support I have received from my mentors is how I have gotten so far. This is my first time working with Arduinos, the micro-controllers I’ll be using to collect data on air quality, and with environmental monitoring in general. It’s also my first project that is this complex and large.

Embracing collaboration is just the culmination of how my education has been built. From English class in high school to my current physics courses, discussion and collaboration have played, and do play, important roles in how my peers and I have been taught and developed our knowledge. The tools available to support collaboration have come a long way from our 40-minute, in-class discussions about Shakespeare in high school. Now, courses use Blogger, Blackboard, Google Groups, and other resources to facilitate collaboration. Each has their own appeal, but these platforms are also lacking as far as trying to be the virtual classroom that teachers are attempting to create. Currently, my thesis class uses Google Groups as an email notification system and Blackboard for discussion. I find these limited compared to what I can do using Open Assembly.

Throughout my project development, I have had people sending relevant documents and information, others who just want a more detailed idea of what I am doing, and peers who have input and thoughts on my work. I have found that Open Assembly caters to all of these needs, more so than anything my professors have used to date. By inviting my mentors in my “course” with the role of  “Instructors”, they are able to upload pertinent material directly to the platform. Those collaborators invited as “Students” can comment on the work I have done, as well as upload other resources they think might be relevant and helpful. This set-up allows for fluid collaboration and discussion that would not be possible otherwise.

I’ll be sharing more about the collaborative power of Open Assembly further down the line. Stay tuned!

Julie’s Journey: Keeping Tabs on Tabs

If you’re anything like me, the more tabs you have open on your computer screen, the more time you spend browsing the Internet. When I’m doing research, it only gets worse.

As I’ve worked on my thesis, especially looking at preliminary materials, it has gotten to the point where I cannot see the complete titles of the tabs. Even worse is when I close a window or click another link and “lose” a link or document (because my screen is so crowded with tabs and open windows) and cannot find the web page that seemed to be exactly what I needed.

Luckily I came to my senses and realized I was not using Open Assembly’s platform to its full potential.

Instead of keeping a tab or document open if I like it, I try to immediately upload it to OA. Not only does this force me to quickly evaluate the link for description, use, and citation, it also enables me to go back and review all of the uploaded material in one place. Once I upload a tab and then close it, it can stay closed, since everything I put on the OA platform opens on the platform. And my screen can be a little tidier and less crowded.

Another feature I’ve been using is the CrocoDoc on the PDFs. This is an HTML5 feature that can be embedded within a platform, such as Open Assembly, to enable comments and highlighting on the uploaded documents.

A lot of the resources I am reading are downloaded from databases as PDFs. Since my work is on an environmental-oriented thesis, I would be a hypocrite if I wasted paper printing each piece of material that caught my interest. Instead, I have been highlighting and commenting on my uploaded documents using CrocoDoc on the OA platform.

While it is not completely the same as physically highlighting and writing on a hard-copy printout, it comes fairly close. It will make actually writing quite a bit easier because of the organization it provides, at least compared to the messes of physical papers and bookmarked webpages; plus the added bonus, again, of not having an unmanageable number of documents open.

I won’t lie and say that I don’t have a ridiculous amount of tabs open anymore, but my research organization just got easier.

As promised in the last episode, I’ve taken some time to tackle the question of copyright. It can certainly be confusing, but I’m finding it worthwhile to learn more about how to share content responsibly.

When uploading content to Open Assembly, there are three main license types to choose from, with a few options in the underlying tiers. I have outlined them in hopes of making the laws and pertinent court-case decisions a bit more clear and concise.

Public Domain (“No Rights Reserved”)

CC0

This is when the creator of the material waives all copyrights. It means that anyone can build upon, enhance, and reuse the work without any restrictions.

A Public Domain (abbreviated as PD or CC0) license should only be applied to your own work unless you have the right to apply CC0 to someone else’s work, as well.

Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”)

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. The CC license allows creators to retain copyright while permitting others to copy, reuse, distribute, and make specific kinds of use of the work. There’s an alphabet soup’s worth of Creative Commons licenses, each defining how much liberty the creator will let others take with their work. All of them however require attribution to the author(s).

CC BY

Others can distribute, remix, tweak, and build on the work—even commercially—as long as the user gives credit to the creator. The gold standard of “open” works.

CC BY-SA

Similar to CC BY but all derivative works and new creations must apply the same license. This means that anyone who changes or reuses the work, must keep the material as CC BY-SA instead of something more open or more restrictive.

CC BY-ND

Allows for commercial and non-commercial redistribution but must remain unchanged and intact as well as credited to the original creator. This does not allow for any derivative works.

CC BY-NC

Others can remix, tweak, and build upon the work, but the original must be credited and new, derivative works must be non-commercial.

CC BY-NC-SA

Similar to CC-BY-NC but all new creations must be under the same licence as the original. This means all others that change or reuse the work, must keep the material CC BY-NC-SA instead of something more open or restrictive.

CC BY-NC-ND

Others can download and distribute the material, but it cannot be changed or used commercially, and the user has to credit the creator.

If you love charts, here’s an easy-to-read illustration of what we’ve covered so far:

distribute and share with others

must credit the creator

remix, tweak, and build upon to the heart’s content

only for non-commercial use

must have the same license as the original creation

CC BY

x

x

x

CC BY-SA

x

x

x

x

CC BY-ND

x

x

CC BY-NC

x

x

x

x

CC BY-NC-SA

x

x

x

x

x

CC BY-NC-ND

x

x

x

CC0

x

 

x

And, here’s a helpful interactive tool for determining which CC license might best apply to your material.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of CC copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day.

Traditional Copyright (“All Rights Reserved”)

This is the default for all works unless noted otherwise. There are many nuances to copyright and intellectual property, but I will try to keep this as basic as possible. In short, if all rights are reserved under a traditional copyright, the creator of the work is the only one who can reproduce the work, make changes (remix, tweak, or build upon) to the work, and use the work commercially. This copyright does expire, typically 70 years after the creator’s death, although this is another area with exceptions and limitations.

Fair Use

Under “all rights reserved” falls the often-misunderstood “fair use” designation. Fair use is is a set of guidelines (rather than legal directives) permitting limited use under certain conditions, based on four factors: purpose, nature, amount, and effect. It can be quite a murky area but is especially important in education. It really can only be said that a certain utilization of the work “favors” fair use. Below are some explanations that are pertinent to education. Check out this checklist here for more detail and examples.

When the purpose of the work is  criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, it is usually favorable for fair use. There is also favor for “transformative” uses such as being quoted in a paper or altered art for a mixed media project

The nature of the work is not favorable if it is not yet published or if it is and easily available material in the educational market.

The amount used can be difficult to determine, but it is not fair use if it is capturing the “heart” of the work, or too large of a portion of the work. This is qualitative as well as quantitative and really is a judgment call.

The effect concerns how the use will affect the market of the copyright. If it will cause market changes or loss in value for the original work, it is not favorable under Fair Use.

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Hopefully this information will help you as much as it’s helped me understand which license to use when uploading material. At the moment, Open Assembly has the default copyright set to CC BY as this is the “gold standard” of open licenses, especially in education, where it is enabling access to free textbooks and other resources for over a million students in the US alone.

If CC BY does not apply to your uploaded content, be sure to change it. Remember that this is a VERY BASIC guide and if you have ANY doubts about copyright licenses, err on the safe side and assume that all rights are reserved and carefully follow Fair Use–or look deeper into it.

Also, not to be forgotten, especially given the topic of the post, all my information was gathered from Columbia University’s Copyright Advisory Board, the Creative Commons website, and the U.S. government’s copyright site.

If you want to help the cause of Creative Commons for students and teachers in your circles, pass this info on. Let your teachers know about CC-based open textbook publishing, a growing and important trend improving access to education. You might even benefit one day with a much smaller textbook bill!

Julie’s Journey: Uploading the Details

This is the second in a semester-long series taking an up-close look at the functionalities and potential of the latest release of Open Assembly’s platform for networked learning in open education environments. Open Assembly is a powerful framework for easily developing or remixing courseware, curating content, and managing research projects. Work on your own—or better yet, in teaching and learning networks you create by inviting others into your process.

After a few weeks of discussion and honing, I’ve finally determined my thesis topic. There’s nothing like a deadline to help things along, and since research grant applications were due this past Sunday, I needed to bring all of my outlying and random thoughts into a more detailed and clear plan. I had a big talk with my advisor, which helped me put together the preliminary bibliography, research abstract, budget and explanation, and project description. And as a double major, I’m incorporating pertinent research that covers both of my majors, into my thesis.

My thesis will explore whether household gas sensors that provide routine notices about air quality are a viable method to abate pollution. I will be experimenting with testing the air quality around campus, sending out reports to a number of students, and then surveying students on whether they believe that being reminded of gas emissions had an effect on the decisions they made. From there, the thesis will explore the cost-benefit issue: Was there enough of a change in decision-making to make household sensors cost-effective? How cheap they would need to be to make “cents?”

All of this work and topic-honing led me to the uploading experience on Open Assembly. Among the important items I uploaded were my materials for the research grant application, which I wanted to make accessible to share with anyone checking out the OA platform or my thesis.

The form to upload documents was tedious to use, but I ended up appreciating the process. It forced me to be extremely organized and fairly detailed about the documents and files I was uploading. I like having all my materials in one place in the cloud, and the ability to organize, or not organize, my “course” or project is intuitive and easy. Modules do not all need to look the same, and I can nest another group of topics with the module. At the same time, I can upload files that do not have a specific location in a module or topic of the course. The versatility really fits me and the project.

Resource Upload

The one thing that was not as easy for me was determining copyright. I uploaded a few of my own materials as well as some resources that my teachers had sent from journals. Everything I have uploaded is set to Copyright, “All Rights Reserved,” because I’m not sure how many of the documents are under that type of licence versus a more open type, like Creative Commons. Since I would like for everyone who can to use what I have compiled to the greatest extent possible, I will be looking further into all of the different options concerning licenses of the materials I use and create. Look for a blog post about this soon.

This is just the start, and there’s a long way of exploring and creating to come. Again, if you want to have a closer look to the journey, contact me at julie@openassembly.com. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below!

Julie’s Journey: Pilot Season Starts

This is the first in a semester-long series taking an up-close look at the functionalities and potential of the latest release of Open Assembly’s platform for networked learning in open education environments. Open Assembly is a powerful framework for easily developing or remixing courseware, curating content, and managing research projects. Work on your own—or better yet, in teaching and learning networks you create by inviting others into your process.

I’m Julie. I’ve been working at Open Assembly for several months, and after seeing the development of the revamped platform, I was beyond excited when I got the go-ahead to use v2.0.

Some background: I’m a junior at Fordham University studying engineering physics and environmental policy, with interests in technology, coding, and economics. The time has come for me to write a thesis for my environmental policy major; my thesis, at the moment at least, will concern dangerous gases in the atmosphere.

I will be using the Open Assembly platform as a project management tool, compiling materials, resources, and drafts for my thesis. I will be blogging about my progress, experience, and varying relevant topics every week. I will also be curating the topic “Julie’s Journey: Developing a Thesis on Open Assembly” on Scoop.it. You’ll be able to find my posts, as well at other relevant material on my thesis topic, educational technology, and other pertinent information.

If you’d like to follow closer and have even more of an inside look, contact me at julie@openassembly.com, and I can give you access to my course. Not only will this let you experience Open Assembly as I develop my thesis during this pilot season, but you will also be able to comment on anything I’ve posted—and even post content and links you think might be relevant to my research!

Episode 1

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