As educators we should be advocates for “open web publishing.” Open web publishing is sharing content on the Internet’s World Wide Web which does NOT require a login or password to access. “Closed web publishing” is sharing digital content online which is password protected. There are good reasons to interactively share content on the closed web, but I think our “default” as educators should be (in most cases) to the public web. Closed web publishing makes sense when we’re sharing confidential information like student grades, student attendance records, individualized feedback on student assessments, etc. Open web publishing makes the most sense for sharing curriculum, online activities, course syllabi, conference presentation materials, etc.

In a few weeks, during the first week of August, I’m looking forward to sharing a keynote address at the 1st Annual “speaks VOLumes, Virtual Online Learning Conference” sponsored by the Texas Virtual School Network. I am honored as well as enthused to share a presentation at this conference, but I want to point out how this “free, online event” risks losing a great deal of its potential reach and power because of closed web publishing.

A March 1, 2011, post on the official TXVSN Posterous blog explained:

The speaks VOLumes conference is held in a blended format with presentations being provided via the Internet and/or face-to-face at Harris County Department of Education – Houston, TX, using synchronous and asynchronous technologies. Forget about the costs and hassles of travel! What you WILL get is even more interactively with presenters than you get at a face-to-face conference alone, and access to archived sessions after the event is over. The cost to participate in these 4 days, packed with unique learning experiences is FREE. Ya you read that right, FREE!

Posterous blog for public event, linked to a "closed-web" webpage

In addition to the Posterous blog post linked above, TXVSN has created a Facebook Event for the conference.

Public event linked to closed website

The link for “more information” about the conference on these pages (http://pd.txvsn.org/course/view.php?id=32) directs visitors to a page explaining NO GUEST ACCESS is permitted to the online conference materials.

speaks VOLumes 2011: No Guest Access

When visitors click to continue to the site, they are presented with a Moodle account login and account creation screen.

Closed Web Conference Example

Once you have created a free account on the site and logged in, the conference information is accessible.

TxVSN Conference

Moodle, the learning management system TXVSN is using for the “speaks VOLumes” conference, is a fantastic open-source tool and offers many benefits relative to tools like wikis and blogs which can be configured for open web publishing. Moodle DOES offer the ability to authorize guest access to courses, or (as TXVSN is doing with this conference) restricting access to only people who have created an account and joined the site.

I’m NOT wanting to say “using a closed-web tool like Moodle for a free, online conference” in situations like this is categorically a bad thing. I do, however, want to challenge us to think about the potential benefit of curriculum materials shared behind a login, versus those shared on a public website which can be indexed by search engines as well as curriculum-building sites like Curriki.

It’s interesting to see the different approach people take toward educational networks. My friend Kevin Honeycutt has configured his WONDERFUL Ning Network, “Art Snacks,” so no content is visible on the site (or indexible by outside sources, human or otherwise) unless a user creates an account on the site AND has their membership request approved. This “forced gatekeeper” setup is similar to the required registration process TXVSN is using for their conference. With TXVSN’s Moodle Site, however, access is granted immediately after creating your account to view network/website content. The creation of an account, however, is “the gate” one must go through to access content.

Through a child's eyes IMG_3629photo © 2009 clrcmck | more info (via: Wylio)

I think I understand why TXVSN and Kevin have used this “closed web” content publishing model: They want to “capture” the identities and email addresses of everyone who is accessing their content. There are persuasive reasons to do this, and I’m sure many marketing gurus would accept this model as “the right one” without question. I know, however, there tend to be FAR more “lurkers” than active content contributors online. When you erect a barrier to entry on a website, it’s certain you keep out some of those “lurkers” who might want to check out what you have but may not be sufficiently motivated to create an account (even a free one) in order to do so. What you have on your site may be VERY compelling, but if people don’t get to see it, they may never know.

I think we all need to be much more vocal advocates for open licensing of educational content and open sharing. We need to question the use of “closed web” publishing models when we encounter them. We need to ask questions like:

  1. Why isn’t this educational content being shared on the open web?
  2. Could content contributors be supported in ways so they can openly license and share their content, instead of “locking it up” behind a login screen?
  3. Will the goals of our conference / organization be amplified and advanced more by adopting a closed web or an open web approach to publishing?

Hybrid approaches are definitely possible, and may be appropriate in some cases. TXVSN could, for example, setup an accompanying wiki for its conference which openly lists and links presenter resources as well as presentations. Metrics which track participant activities are far less robust for a wiki than they are for a closed Moodle site, but the benefits of open web publishing can override those.

In past decades, the value of content increased when access to that content was tightly restricted and controlled. Our experience with that model encourages us to default to closed web, versus open web publishing, in many cases today. The chance to digitally share ideas and knowledge with a global audience at “zero opportunity cost,” however, is a game changer. Chris Anderson addresses this challenge well in his book, “FREE: The Future of a Radical Price.” (The book is available free via Audible, btw.) There ARE important, valid, and good ways to make money by creatively restricting access to content in different ways. Our “default” behavior today in our interconnected, digital world, however, does not have to be and often times should not be to “private” or closed-web publishing. Karen Fasimpaur‘s ISTE 2011 presentation, “Open Educational Resources: Share, Remix, Learn,” further fueled my thinking along these lines.

What are your thoughts? I think these issues are really important.

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  • Rational Thinker100

    Noticed that the teacher professional development units will be given, think that’s why registration is needed?

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