Open Development

Ross Gardler, Manager of the JISC  OSS Watch service, visited UKOLN yesterday to give a seminar on open development. Although OSS Watch’s main interest is in the application of this methodology within open source software development, as Ross made clear open development can also be applied in other contexts, including the development of content and in learning contexts. Ross has recently commented on the application of an open development approach by the JISC-funed WepPA project.

I am very much in favour of the approaches which Ross described, and personally have been making much of the materials I have developed available with a Creative Commons licence for a couple of years.  I have also participated in Wikipedia, creating a number of entries and helping to improve the quality of content created by others. This very much fits in with Ross’s views on open development, I think.

Open Development and Amplified Events

UKOLN has been taking a similar approach to the exploitation of networked technologies at events over the past few years. Lorcan Dempsey coined the term “Amplified Conference” to describe events in which the content and the discussions aren’t restricted to the closed community of participants who are physically present at the event, but can be freely accessed by all. A paper on “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” presented at the EUNIS 2005 conference described our initial work in this area, which was subsequently followed up by a series of briefing papers which provide advice on best practices for doing this.

Open Development and UKOLN’s “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks” Workshop

The UKOLN workshop on “Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks” will take place in Birmingham on Monday 26th November 2007. Although the workshop is fully subscribed, with about 100 participants, we intend to allow remote participants to access the workshop materials and, we hope, either view a live video stream of the plenary talks or event view the video stream within Second Life.

The live video stream and use of Second Life service will be provided by Andy Powell, Eduserv Foundation (sponsors of the workshop). Andy has described the plans for the technological infrastructure which will be used to make the talks available to a remote audience, so I won’t repeat this here. What is worth commenting upon from Andy’s buy generic antibiotics online post is the openness about the potential problems we may experience: “Sounds complex?  Probably.  Do-able?  I think/hope so.  It’ll be interesting to see how things work out.” But rather than having a low profile experiment with a closed group of friends, the approach Andy and myself are taking is to be open about this experiment (on both our blogs and on a number of mailing lists), which we hope will maximise the learning of the potential benefits of this approach, but perhaps also more useful, the problems we may encounter and the things we might do differently things next time.

As well as the technical challenges which Andy will be addressing, there are also various non-technical issues which I have been focussing on.  I have been in contact with all of the speakers informing them of our plans and getting their agreement to be streamed to a live audience (additional pressure on them, but I’m pleased to say that they are all willing). We have produced an Acceptable Use Policy document for the event, intended for participants who plan to make use of their laptop (or other networked device) during the workshop.  And Andy and myself and currently discussing the best ways of providing real time chat during the talks. This can be used to support the remote audience, for example to inform them of the slide which is being displayed. But should we have separate channels for the various media – would the video streaming audience be interested in the Second Life discussions “nice avatar“)?

And, of course, as well as the work which Andy and I (and my colleagues in UKOLN’s events team) are involved in, this open approach encourages input from potential participants and others who may have taken part in similar amplified events. Such open development also involves shared responsibilities (for example, we would expect remote participants to try out the various tools in advance of the event and to take responsibility for fixing any local configuration problems) and sharing the risks (being supportive if not everything works as planned).  But the open source development approach of ‘release early, release often’ in order to maximise the feedback can also be provide benefits in many other areas. 

We welcome your thoughts.