Jack Andraka and Open Source Information

On Saturday 28 August, 2015, I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival to listen to 18 year old, Jack Andraka. As a child he and his brother had an “all things can go” approach to ‘all things scientific’. His parents encouraged this passionate interest in science but asked him just one thing, “Please, don’t blow up the house.”

After losing an uncle to pancreatic cancer, at the age of 15, Jack developed a 30 page procedure for a non invasive method for detecting pancreatic cancer. After being rejected by 199 research companies, Jack overcame the stereotype of being a gay, scientific nerd to have his method supported by a research company. Besides being a great inspirational story, the message for parents, and the rest of the village who raise kids……. whether you have kids who live for English, reading, public speaking, sport, dance, surfing, politics, maths, science, technology etc etc., do you best to let them follow their passion as part of a good education.

As part of his talk Jack spoke about the cost of getting research articles from”behind the paywall”. Jack spoke about the frustration of paying $30:00 for an article which may not have contained what it promised, making his crusade to cure pancreatic cancer another step further away. As an aside, he highlighted the irony, “You can pay $1:00 to download a Katy Perry song that you can play over and over, but it costs you $30 to access information which might help you save the world”.

Soon after, Jack highlighted Albert Swartz who, in 2011, devised a method of downloading large numbers of articles from JSTOR, using a computer hidden in a closet at MIT.

“JSTOR s a digital library founded in 1995. Originally containing digitized back issues of academic journals, it now also includes books and primary sources, and current issues of journals.[4] It provides full text searches of almost 2,000 journals.[5] More than 8,000 institutions in more than 160 countries have access to JSTOR;[5] most access is by subscription, but some older public domain content is freely available to anyone” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JSTOR

Rightly or wrongly, Swartz was considered by some to be brave enough to challenge the unfairness, hypocrisy and inequality of taypayer-funded scientific research held by publishing firms which then charged outrageous fees to access the resulting academic papers. This is exactly the frustration felt by Jack Andraka, hence why he advocates quite strongly for crowd sourcing information which is freely accessible to academics and researchers. His reason for this is that it will far more quickly enable cures for various diseases, including cancer.

Swartz pushed boundaries. What he did may have been ‘victimless crime’, but the fact is, he did steal. Regardless, the pressure was such that in January 2013 he took his own life.  Is it the case that, “people can say more or less what they like online; but the moment they look like mobilising people, then you come down on them like the ton of bricks”? guardian.com 7/2/2015.

Let’s hope that one day we can see the value in the collective sharing of information for the common good of humankind.


Data, Algorithms and Enclosure – Time with Tim Klapdor

On Thursday 13 August, along with approximately ten #INF537 colleagues, I had the great pleasure of engaging in an online colloquium with Tim Klapdor, Online Learning Technology Leader, Charles Sturt University. Very early on Tim stated, “Networks are the key to life”, and quickly emphasised that the nodes/individuals within those networks determine their quality. At their best when individuals are empowered through ownership and autonomy of those networks. However, he soon pointed out that current systems and models don’t exist to support networks in their truest ‘co-operative’ form.

Tim expanded upon his argument by highlighting that there are questions about ‘Data Sovereignty’ such as, “Who owns the data?” and, (for companies who have your data), “How do they define your identity?” Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media groups can produce social graphs which map people to other people, places and events. Such companies then use ‘Algorithms’ to determine what information comes to you, say, for example, when you are on Facebook. Algorithms can also determine how Google ‘ranks’ your searches. The Licensing Terms we agree to when we join these groups, gives them the right to use your information as they see fit. They own the accumulation of information about you; however, do we really know what they do with this information?

Such actions of companies have brought about the question of ‘Enclosure’. Tim referred back to agricultural times gone by and use the example of the Land of Commons to explain ‘enclosure’. Over time, the land owned collectively by numerous people was transitioned to more and more individual and company ownership who put fences up around the boundaries of their land. This prompted the question, “Is the distributed networked nature on the world wide web becoming ‘fenced in’ and owned by persons or companies?” Tim’s argued that the ‘common space’ of the web is no longer there. Are we being fenced in? 

Tim encouraged the thinking, “We want people to own their own data and encourage more cooperative ways of sharing information.” Soon after, I asked Tim about the difference between the ‘co-operative’ and the ‘collaborative’. In responding, he made reference to the work of Harold Jarche. Soon after the colloquia, I went searching for a blog by Jarche, PKM in 2013 because I remembered this rich and descriptive graphic below…..


Some of the excerpts from that same blog help explain the graphic above. They are as follows….

“Both collaborative behaviours (working together for a common goal) and cooperative behaviours (sharing freely without any quid pro quo) are needed in the network era. Most organizations focus on shorter term collaborative behaviours, but networks thrive on cooperative behaviours, where people share without any direct benefit. PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) helps to add cooperation to workplace collaboration.”

“Communities of practice (are) a half-way space between work teams and social networks, where trusted relationships can form that enable to share more openly.”

“Connecting social networks, communities of practice and work teams, becomes an important framework for integrating learning and working in the network era. We seek new ideas from our social networks and then filter them through more focused conversations with our communities of practice, where we have trusted relationships. We make sense of these embryonic ideas by doing new things, either ourselves, or with our work teams. We later share our creations, first with our teams and perhaps later with our communities of practice or even our networks. We use our understanding of our communities and networks to discern with whom and when to share our knowledge.”

Dreaming about the possibilities of the ‘co-operative’ may require us to challenge the notion of data ownership when authentically engaging in true sense of distributed networks though the Network ‘Common’. As such, I am reminded of Elizabeth Stark, founder of Harvard Free Culture Group points out, who suggests that people who are engaged in traditional structures are often threatened by newer paradigms around ownership and control. My question is, “Are companies of the newer paradigm (such as Facebook and Google) capitalising upon old notions of ownership and control?”

Thoughts, comments and feedback would be appreciated.




(More) Reflections and Rumblings #INF537

This capstone subject presents a myriad of challenges primarily because it draws on a large number of topics and divergent thinking. For me it commenced with challenging thinking about ‘The Need for Critical Study’ Selwyn (2010), to encouragement of ‘remixing’ and ‘reconfiguring’ practices (Ross, 2012) and then being introduced to the wonderful resource, ABC Splash, by Annbel Astbury.

Last week we heard from Simon Welsh, Manager of Adaptive Teaching and Learning Services at Charles Sturt University. The focus of his conversation was Learning Analytics. It was fascinating. as our guest host. In defining the topic her favourably referred to the Society for Learning Analytics and Research ( SOLAR) who consider Learning Analytics to be “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs”. For quite some time, this has meant measurement in the form of the ‘behavioural’; that is “the number of clicks” or “the time spent clicking”. However, it was pleasing to hear that the future of Learning Analytics may involve more measuring, or, at least observing, ‘creation of knowledge’ and then coupling that with the ‘behavioural’. Both combined may then give recommendations to the learner about how to progress their learning.

This converges with questions I have about current educational institutions, questions which were confirmed after reading The future of learning institutions in a digital age by Davidson & Goldberg. Although published in 2009, 6 years on, the ‘future’ stills looks like the ‘past’. Schools are still, “holding desperately to the fragments of an educational system which, in its form, content, and assessments, is deeply rooted in an antiquated mode of learning” (2009, p.14). Even though they point out that global business more and more relies on collaborative practices where content is creative, distributed and participatory, and that those coming into our educational system rely on participatory learning for information about virtually everything else in their lives, schools, from a learning perspective, still mainly celebrate learning achievements attained from benchmarked and mandated state/national testing such as the HSC, VCE, NAPLAN, PAT etc. Are we bold enough to ask this question,“How does this very paradigm of measurement and celebration of individual achievement support the effective learning styles of today’s youth?

I am of the belief that schools have to reconsider what they do and how they do it. If schools are about learning, and also preparing students for the future that awaits them, then schools, systems and the leaders of those institutions, have to ask serious questions. Furthermore, they have to openly and honestly answer those same questions. OECD reports, government rhetoric and leading thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson and Ewan McIntosh, regularly articulate that the workplaces of tomorrow will increasingly require employees to work collaboratively, think critically and act creatively. However, the majority of our schools still look like places which are preparing students for 19th century factory-like world in which they were established. This begs another question, “How does the very appearance of our schools, and the classrooms which sit within them, actually prepare our students for increasingly connected forms of civic participation and global connectedness required of them in the future?”

In the Davidson and Goldberg (2009) article, they offer Ten Pillars of Institutional Learning which they state are “foundational to rethinking the future of learning institutions” (2009 p,26). These Pillars include practices and characteristics such as self-learning, networked learning and open source learning, which will require institutions to ‘remix’ so that education is seen and experienced “as part of a continuum with (rather than a resistance to) the collaborative, participatory, networked engagements that our students participate in online today” (2009, p,39).

To grapple with this challenge, and there are already Schools Rethinking Education,  it may well be that we follow the lead of MIT professor and digital learning pioneer Henry Jenkins who “has usefully spoken of the convergence resulting from networking a culture of new models and forms and contributions with older models” (Davidson and Goldberg 2009, p.40). Do we start with the ‘older model’ of school acknowledging ‘new forms’ of learning such as self-learning, networked learning and open source learning in a ‘new model’ timetable? How can the timetable accept and acknowledge networked learning where students collaborate with others in new ways outside of ‘normal school hours’, “where learning was fluid (not governed by set hours and days)” (Lindsay, 2014)? Or do we ask another question; that is, “How can we ensure self-learning, networked learning and open source learning are represented in our current timetable?”

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we ‘flip the thinking’ about mandated hours? For example, in New South Wales, it is a requirement to teach 400 hours across Years 7 to 10 for English, Maths, Science and HSIE. Yet most schools teach way beyond that. Could we limit these subjects to the bare minimum 400 hours? Yes, LIMIT them! Let’s take the example of ‘School A’. At ‘School A’, they deliver 520 Hours of English, Maths, Science and HSIE across Years 7 to 10 when they are only required to teach 400 hours for each subject. That is a surplus of 480 hours across the four subjects over four years; 120 hours per year. Just to give you an idea of what can be done with that time, Music/Visual Arts is allocated 240 hours over Year 7 & 8 (120 hours pre year) and LOTE is allocated 120 hours in Year 8. As per its timetable, that is 3 x 1 hours lessons per week for four years. WOW!

How could those 120 hours per year be used to ensure self-learning, networked learning and open source learning are represented in the current timetable? In other words, how can those 120 hours be used so that the future of learning at schools in a digital age authentically serves the needs and and interests of those we serve, the students?

I know I have more questions than answers. I also know that digital technology and new media need to be of concern to anyone seeking to make sense of contemporary education (Selwyn, 2014). I look forward to pursuing the ‘making sense’ part!

From your comments and feedback, I will lean more. So, please feel free to respond.





Collaboration – On the Edge of a New Paradigm, retrieved 7 March from: http://vimeo.com/77240879

Davidson, C. N., & Goldberg, D. T. (2009). The future of learning institutions in a digital age. The MIT Press. Retrieved from http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/future-learning-institutions-digital-age

Lindsey, J. (2014). Discussion Forum Thread 1.2. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from INF532 Knowledge Networking for Educators: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&forum_id=_14229_1&nav=discussion_board_entry&conf_id=_7274_1&course_id=_6636_1&message_id=_7155_1#msg__7155_1Id

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media LiteraciesEducause Review, 45(5), 14.https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1050.pdf