GEORGE SIEMENS: What were you doing as you made your shift from Utah State to BYU to Lumen Learning?

DAVID WILEY: So I'll tell that story, but then I want to hear yours, too. For me, when I look back at it, I think of it in five year chunks. There was a period of time when I pretended to be an IP lawyer, which was dangerous and terrible and nobody without the right qualifications should ever do that.

There's the open content license. I worked with Eric Raymond on the open publication license, that which the Cathedral in the Bazaar is published under still to this day. There was a period of time where just basic licensing work had to be done because we couldn't share, and we couldn't do any of the other awesome things that come along with open until you had that mechanism in place.

So there is a period of time of pretending to do, like creating licenses and advocating for that. And then Creative Commons came along, people who actually knew what they were doing. And as soon as that existed, I deprecated our work and said please go start using theirs.

From there it seemed like there was a period of time where we were trying to persuade people that if you share things with other people under these open licenses, the universe won't end.


DAVID WILEY: So there was a lot of talk when MIT OpenCourseWare launched that they had undercut their own funding model. They destroyed their business. They were going to go under because if you give away all of the MIT content, what's left?

Of course, as we understand, there's lots to education beyond the content. But so there was this period of advocating for people to share, and part of the work-- maybe in some ways the core work-- we did at Utah State during that period was saying--

In some ways, it's kind of crazy that MIT has this whole message around open and sharing all their content. But the platform that they use to do that is proprietary. So we developed a platform very similar to theirs, which was open source and then went around the world advocating for people to share their material and to share it. Here's a platform to use to manage that process.

And then once there is a lot of content out there and people have begun sharing, then there needs to be work around encouraging people not just to share, but to actually begin to use things that other people have shared. Because there is a lot of press releases about hey, we put 12 courses online. We put 20 courses online.

But you could not find a person anywhere that had said, I'm going to stop using the textbook or the materials I've used previously in the course, and I'm going to adopt this other person's material and use it instead. That just wasn't going on. And we realized pretty quickly that there were a bunch of conceptual problems that people had or misunderstandings people had that prevented them from doing that.

And so then my work kind of turned into a phase of empirical research, published and peer reviewed outlets, so looking at the impact of OER Adoption-- of Open Educational Resources Adoption-- on student outcomes, on faculty happiness, on things like that.

And then once that research base was sufficiently built up that you could end an argument by saying, hey, what about? And then you could lay down several journal articles, and people could read through them and understand why their concern had been addressed.

Then it just became-- The last several years have been purely practical on the ground trying to support this adoption of open educational resources. So for me personally, that's how I see my journey of infrastructure work, enabling that infrastructure work from licensing to software; and getting people actually involved in sharing; trying to understand what happens when we share, and make sure that we're not going to destroy the endeavor of education with this; and then going to try to make it happen.

So I've shared a bit of my story now of my perspective of where this started and where it came from. But these kinds of stories are really unique to each individual. So I'd love to hear you just riff a little bit on how you came into this work, and how you saw it progress, and how you've moved through it personally.

GEORGE SIEMENS: Well for me, it was I think almost accidental. So, as I mentioned before, I was at a small system in Manitoba, Red River College. And the experience-- Ours was the first college in Canada that went with a laptop program, and by going with a laptop program, basically it meant that all the students in the program received a laptop. And by received I mean they paid a lot of money for them.

And what would end up happening-- and this part fascinated me. I think in some ways, even though I wasn't conscious of it at the time, continues to be a driving question for me. But the students in the back half of the classroom, everyone had a laptop.

And of course they did cool things that kids do, which at that point it was all ICQ and whatever else, and sharing information. The teacher in the front the classroom, though, moved from transparencies to PowerPoint. And I was really struck by what changed. I mean, the teacher didn't change practices very much, but the students changed their actions significantly.

And so we had a tool that was used for online testing. And when you start to find out that the landscape changes-- it's very hard to be a control freak in a network. And so when the landscape changes where the students had control, in the middle of a test students would be ICQing one another questions and answers to the test; which, from a faculty end, we hadn't thought of because we were still thinking of a traditional control structure rather than a networked information exchange structure.

And so I think that question was probably one of the most pronounced ones is how does technology alter the experiences of knowledge development for those who traditionally were providers of knowledge versus those who would be classified more as seekers of knowledge.

And it made a far more equitable landscape, but also created a whole series of challenges and problems. So I think for me that would be one starting point, was realizing that being open-- and by open at this point doesn't really mean open source software. It just meant part of the process of learning was open. And--

DAVID WILEY: And by open, you mean visible to the public.

GEORGE SIEMENS: Transparent. Visible. The teacher couldn't control who says what and when. And around that time, as I mentioned, I was starting with blogging and just experiencing how easy it was to just FTP your posts. At that time, that's how Blogger operated. Eventually it went to movable type, and then of course these days most people are on WordPress.

But it was just that experience of I could have a voice that absolutely no one would necessarily need to listen to. But I found being able to share and post my ideas was a learning experience for me. And I found later that it's a teaching experience, as I mentioned earlier, when I'm learning transparently.

Then over a period of time, coming across the work of a number of individuals that were similarly involved in a shared journey, not necessarily directly interacting with them, but very much being aware of them. And of course this is people like you and Stephen Downs and others that were playing in this landscape at the time.

Then in 2004, I wrote not a very good article but still has far more citations than anything else I've ever written. It was called Connectivism, you know digital theory or theory of learning for the digital age. And what I was trying to communicate there was crystallize the experiences of being open; the experiences of me being able to share my knowledge.

And then the fascinating thing that would come by is I would post-- put a blog post up. Somebody would come by and comment on it, and then on their own site would perhaps take that idea and extend it. And all of a sudden, there's this idea of if I create an artifact and I make it openly available-- And at this point, it was just Access. It wasn't even-- We just had it as Ethos that you share.

And so it wasn't that yeah, it might have been a copyrighted post, but that doesn't mean that someone can't take it, refine it, improve it, or whatever because it was an ethos of just--

DAVID WILEY: That was the expectation.

GEORGE SIEMENS: Yeah, exactly. And so, that part I think was the second marking point for me was this idea of connectedness, and that by being connected-- being transparent and connected-- you produced this huge array of potential knowledge futures in these areas.

Anyone could come by, argue with it, rather than going through a journal pathway-- like, I write an article. Three years later someone comes by and says George, you don't know what you're talking about. This is what it really is. The culture was amazing. There was people like Darcy Norman and Alan Levine and others that-- you'd have an idea in the morning, and by the afternoon somebody would have produced a script or somebody would have told you that your idea was absolutely nonsense, very convincingly, and the list goes on.

So that was a really significant marking point-- those two experiences.

DAVID WILEY: So let me just interject here because what I hear you saying is that the relationship between open and this connectivism work is that you can't connect to something that's closed.

GEORGE SIEMENS: Yeah, or you can, but the lag is so long that you can't have that frenzied-- There really is a type of frenzy when you're developing an idea with someone. Like picture it, you're sitting with a group of friends and you're planning a vacation. There's a frenziness that exists there.

Or you are sitting with a group of colleagues and you're trying to solve a problem of access. And if a group of bright people sharing ideas can feed off one another quickly, there's a magic aspect to that moment. And that's the part I'm referring to.

You can create ideas through the long arc of traditional publishing, but you just don't get that glow of frenzied knowledge generation that you get when it's open and transparent and connected. And so then from there I ended up, in 2008, with a colleague that you know well and have debated many, many times-- Stephen Downs. And we created an open online course.

I was at University of Manitoba at the time, and Brian Alexander and Dave Cormier termed a MOOC, a massive open online course. And so we ran that, and we had far more students than we expected. We ended with 2,300 students, which at that point the term massive-- I mean nowadays, it's a rounding error when you look at x and other providers that have far larger populations per course.

But that was the idea then. It was this sense of you just put it online. Your idea of the calculator. It didn't cost us anything to put the content online that we might have just kept for 20 students previously. The fascinating thing that arose though was there was an emergent-- I'll use the word pedagogy.

But there was an emergent pedagogy that happened where students and others started playing this role of being a teacher. One section I looked at how long did it take for someone who posted a comment to have a response or an answer to that comment in a discussion forum. We were using Moodle at the time.

And typically it would be within a few hours, maximum. So when you have 2,300 people, you can't function with just one teacher. You essentially have 2,300 learners and 2,300 teachers because someone in that group of 2,300 knew the answer to anyone else's question. And if they didn't know the answer, they could debate and dialogue and hash it apart.

So that was another experience was running this open online course. And then subsequently, in 2011, I started getting involved with the data that's produced when we learn online. And so I sent e-mails to a few colleagues, and I know you were involved in the conversation, and enjoyed time in sunny, hot Banff at the end of February.

And it was the first Learning Analytics Conference, where we really looked at now that we're learning openly or now at least we are learning digitally, we're throwing off a lot of data; and what does that data tell us. The intent of that was again, a spirit of openness, which is how we make decisions with that data needs to be as transparent as the content and the learning interactions are transparent, and so on.

So that's where I ended up with a lot of interest in learning analytics within MOOCs, with collectivism, with openness. More recently though, with the work at the Link Research Lab, I've turned to the broad question of what does it mean to be human in a digital age. And that question is really shaped by--

We're now supposedly entering an age of labor automation. We're going to have self-driving cars in the next few years commonly on our highways. How do we co-exist with the technologies that have cognitive capabilities that, in many instances, could exceed ours. And so then it's about what is it to be human in this kind of an age, in this kind of an era.

And to me, everything is prefaced on our ability to openly engage with, exchange, and share knowledge. When things are close, whether it's an algorithm or whether it is a piece of learning material or learning content, we sacrifice a little bit of our capability to be active, involved participants in our own future.