Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Visualising Openness

I've been revisiting my work around the Open Content Movement lately (both in prep for a presentation at last week's #Solstice2012 conference and also for a paper I have had accepted for Research in Learning Technology). In turning back to some of the literature alongside results I received from questionnaires, one particular quote sticks out for me;
"Openness is not like a light switch that is either 'on' or 'off'. Rather, it is like a dimmer switch, with varying degrees of openness" (Hilton iii, Wiley, Stein & Johnson, 2010)
I really like this quote and something I referred to earlier in the year when questioning if the OER movement was mainstream and sustainable. I also refer to Schaffert & Geser (2008), who suggest openness has four principles: Open Access; Open Licensing; Open Software; Open Format.
So in considering the quote alongside the four principles, I wondered a) if it's possible to somehow visualise openness, and b) has anyone already made an attempt? I don't know for either, so thought I would give it a go...

My initial thoughts centre around a Radar Diagram, but it would involve plotting the 4 principles with various points for each. With this in mind, the following diagram attempts to visualise varying degrees of open practice 
(for want of a better phrase). The coloured area represents the degree of openness, where a larger area (based on plot on each axis) demonstrating greater openness;

If this could be a method of visualising openness, a detailed breakdown of each principle would be required. To this end (and by no means correct or complete), this could be a start;
Open Access (A) points (might include)
  • Closed VLE 
  • Internal (Institutionally Owned) Repository 
  • Public (Institutionally Owned) Repository 
  • (National Repository) Jorum/Merlot

Open Licensing (L)
points (might include)

  • All Rights Reserved
  • Creative Commons
    • CC-BY-NC-ND-SA 
    • ...
    • CC-BY
  • GNU Public license

Open Software (S) points (might include)
  • Flash
  • Dreamweaver
  • MS Office
  • Google Docs
  • Xerte/GLO Maker

Open Format (F) points (might include)
  • Flash Movie
  • Document (.doc, .ppt, etc)
  • PDF
  • HTML

(N.B each of the points range from lowest to highest, closed to open, etc)

So to take a specific case to plot as an example, we could consider the development of an interactive Flash movie file that has been licensed with Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC) and placed within Jorum. The resulting visualisation might look like this;

The diagram/graph shows this case is a bit weak on the format and software side of things, but they are doing well in relation to Open Access and Licensing.


This is just a quick attempt at visualising openness - it's by no means complete and requires much more thought. Immediately I can think of the following points;

  • Automation of a radar chart based on form input could reduce individual interpretations towards the 4 principles (this would require more specific details within each though)
  • More knowledge/understanding needed (both of Openness and Technical), and perhaps crowdsourced, required to flesh out points within each of the principles
  • The points on each axis could relate to the specific 'criteria' (as above)
  • It might be worth highlighting that software and format are inextricably linked, however this is not to suggest a 'closed' software produces a 'closed' format; for example consider the expensive Adobe Dreamweaver which produces open HTML formats.... 

I would really appreciate your views on this. Is it stupid? Worthwhile? Does it already exist?

Please use the comments to share your thoughts.

Creative Commons License
This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


  1. The problem is one of approach. I tend to think of .doc as open as many apps can read it while pdf can be closed to many readers

    1. Hi Kieron

      I think you're right.
      .doc is relatively open - although Word can still be pricey, lots of people have it, and there are tools like GDocs that can create/edit.
      .pdf I see as relatively open as the software to read it is free, but editing can be difficult.

      So there are grey areas...
      Individual perceptions undoubtedly impact, and therefore so do understanding of formats, etc, thus reinforcing the need for collaboration/crowd sourcing to agree. This in turn would lead to community acceptance. That's if something like this is needed/beneficial of course.

    2. I agree pdf is like Creative commons no derivatives.....free to browse and use with attribution but limited in terms of adapting adopting and adding too....

      I agree with approach being the key....is work the laying of foundations on which to build or is it the fitting of windows and doors to keep out the riffraff?

      Dont know if you've seen these but thought they might be appropriate




    3. Cheers Christophe

      Hadn't come across these before so thanks. Didn't have you down for a renegade 'starting movements' though ;-)

      Interesting metaphor of keeping out riffraff - we should discuss more!

  2. Liking this very much!

    I had a go at a very similar model here: http://fragmentsofamber.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/opensunlight/ see slides 6-9 - though i haven't cracked it by any means and it doesn't express these things:
    I'd factor in somehow the cost of devices and how that relates to the cost of the software/content (i.e the cost of the technology stack), and increasingly I'm wanting to factor in the way you might have to pay with your data rather than with cash.

    The radar style chart is exactly what catherine bruen and I tried to sketch out last year but failed to follow it through - i think you've got the right sort of structure, its about refining the headings?

    So in answer to your question ... no, not stupid, and i'm interested to see what you do next!

  3. Hi Amber

    thanks for the comment. I like your sunlight metaphors :-)

    As you say above, factoring in paying with data rather than cash is an interesting perspective.
    I think they're classed as 'opportunity costs'; any barrier (even a sign-up form) is still paying (perhaps to a lesser degree). If something is at the 'highest' level of the Open Access scale, users should be able to access it immediately.

    In terms of Software, do we measure openness by cost of the software itself, or its user base? Word/Excel are by no means cheap, but i'd be hard pushed to find an academic who doesn't have access to them... Cost of Devices is increasingly important with device-specific formats (iBooks for example). So this needs unpicking further too.

    I can feel a new post coming on to break down each of the 4 principles further - perhaps they shouldn't be staged in hard terms as I have done above e.g. by defining software, but rather on a scale related to cost, or by defining Access points by availability/opportunity costs rather than listing repository/Jorum, etc. This would make it more future proof as well I guess.

    As an aside, In your presentation you mention the 5 stars of open data and suggest using URIs and linking data for context, so it's quite interesting to see an overlap with some of Doug Belshaw's Digital Literacies work (http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2012/06/14/web-literacies-v0-2-beta/#.T-LRHitYugR)

  4. Good work, Pete, but I can't help but think that openness is an *attitude* and a way of being rather than something you can quantifiably measure.

    Let me explain.

    You can measure the *outputs* of openness - whether something is CC-licensed, etc. but it's difficult to get at *intention* by doing so.

    Does that make sense?

  5. Hi Doug,
    Thanks for the comment. If I understand what you're saying correctly...

    I think to some degree, everything is a case of attitudes, and therefore people won't be open if they don't want to be.
    At the same time people engage with openness to different levels, both intentionally and not intentionally. I think it's these different levels of engagement I'm really trying to visualise. As a result, people could use the radar chart to plot their actions and use this to reflect upon their intentions - it might be that one thinks they are being really open when in fact they're not. In that sense this would measure the outputs but also get at intentions (in a roundabout way).
    Furthermore, we know informal, local sharing happens a lot. Enabling users to visualise this could be useful, and could suggest steps to take a more open approach by identifying aspects that might not be so open. It could also be a step people go through when planning to develop an OER.

    Have I missed the boat there?

    1. Hi Pete, what you've suggested certainly has value - for example to map trends or to flag up something for attention.

      I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that people have to have a *reason* to hold their beliefs (including that education/data/etc.) should be 'open'. I'm not sure a graph does that?

      But I think I may have missed the point.

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