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CUNY Commons in a Box OpenLab

Earlier this year, at the Open Education Global conference in Delft, I went to a session where members of staff from CUNY talked about ‘Commons in a Box’. The latest version, now referred to as ‘CBOX OpenLab’ has just been released:

CBOX OpenLab provides a powerful and flexible open alternative to costly proprietary educational platforms, allowing individual faculty members, departments, and entire institutions to easily set up an online community space designed for open learning.

Its name brings together two important ideas: openness and collaboration. Unlike closed online teaching systems, CBOX OpenLab allows members to share their work openly with one another and the world. Like a lab, it provides a space where students, faculty, and staff can work together, experiment, and innovate.

It’s effectively a WordPress plugin which transforms a vanilla install of the content management system into something that allows for collaboration in an academic context. I’m looking forward to having a play!

I had to click through several link-strewn pages to get to the meat of it, so let me just share that here, for the sake of clarity.

Sources: Announcement / Showcase / WordPress plugin

"Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity."

(Jean de La Bruyère)

Issue [#322]: Back-to-back

The latest issue of the newsletter hit inboxes earlier today!

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Openness, sharing, and choosing a CC license

The prolific Alan Levine wrote recently about licenses, and how really they’re not the be-all and end-all of sharing openly:

If we just focus on licenses and picking through the morsels of what it does and does not do, IMHO we lose sight of the bigger things about sharing our work and acknowledging the work of others as a form of gratitude, not compliance with rules.

[…]

Share for gratitude, not for rules and license terms.

I absolutely agree. The problem is, though, that people don’t know the basics. For example, sometimes I choose to credit those who share images under a CC0 licenses, sometimes not. Either way, I don’t have to, and not everyone is aware of that.

Which is why I found this infographic (itself CC BY SA 3.0) on Creative Commons licenses particularly useful:

cc-licencse-choo-choo-train

Sources: CogDogBlog / Jöran Muuß-Merholz

 

Tennessee Williams on the problems that come with success

I can’t remember now where I came across this link to a 1947 essay entitled ‘The Catastrophe of Success’ written by Tennessee Williams’ for The New York Times. It’s excellent, and I’m not sure how to keep this down to my customary maximum limit of three quotations.

Williams talks about being suddenly thrust into the limelight and a life of luxury after, well, the opposite:

The sort of life that I had had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created.

Staying in a ‘first-class hotel suite’ didn’t bring him pleasure but rather made him rather depressed. He didn’t feel inspired or ready to create a follow-up to his breakout play The Glass Menagerie and was rather embarrassed not only by the attention, but because he no longer had to perform any menial tasks:

I have been corrupted as much as anyone else by the vast number of menial services which our society has grown to expect and depend on. We should do for ourselves or let the machines do for us, the glorious technology that is supposed to be the new light of the world. We are like a man who has bought up a great amount of equipment for a camping trip, who has the canoe and the tent and the fishing lines and the axe and the guns, the mackinaw and the blankets, but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey but remains where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that, looking suspiciously through white lace curtains at the clear sky he distrusts. Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt.

The biggest takeaway for me is the line I’ve highlighted below. We’re meant to struggle in life. That doesn’t mean a life of poverty or hardship, but it is important to struggle towards something, particularly in creative endeavours:

One does not escape that easily from the seduction of an effete way of life. You cannot arbitrarily say to yourself, I will not continue my life as it was before this thing, Success, happened to me. But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. Once you know this is true, that the heart of man, his body and his brain, are forged in a white-hot furnace for the purpose of conflict (the struggle of creation) and that with the conflict removed, the man is a sword cutting daisies, that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door and that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities and conceits and laxities that Success is heir to—-why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies.

So, yes, the ‘catastrophe’ of success.

Source: Genius.com

What would you do if you were the richest man in the world? Now you can find out!

This is simultaneously amusing and horrifying:

A simple text-based adventure exploring the age-old question: What would you do if you had more money than any single human being should ever have?

It’s a text-based adventure game that gives you options as the richest man on earth, while educating you on how that money was amassed, and the scale of what would be possible with that kind of wealth.

Source: You Are Jeff Bezos

Configuring your iPhone for productivity (and privacy, security?)

At an estimated read time of 70 minutes, though, this article is the longest I’ve seen on Medium! It includes a bunch of advice from ‘Coach Tony’, the CEO of Coach.me, about how he uses his iPhone, and perhaps how you should too:

The iPhone could be an incredible tool, but most people use their phone as a life-shortening distraction device.

However, if you take the time to follow the steps in this article you will be more productive, more focused, and — I’m not joking at all — live longer.

Practically every iPhone setup decision has tradeoffs. I will give you optimal defaults and then trust you to make an adult decision about whether that default is right for you.

As an aside, I appreciate the way he sets up different ways to read the post, from skimming the headlines through to reading the whole thing in-depth.

However, the problem is that for a post that the author describes as a ‘very very complete’ guide to configuring your iPhone to ‘work for you, not against you’, it doesn’t go into enough depth about privacy and security for my liking. I’m kind of tired of people thinking that using a password manager and increasing your lockscreen password length is enough.

For example, Coach Tony talks about basically going all-in on Google Cloud. When people point out the privacy concerns of doing this, he basically uses the tinfoil hat defence in response:

Moving to the Google cloud does trade privacy for productivity. Google will use your data to advertise to you. However, this is a productivity article. If you wish it were a privacy article, then use Protonmail. Last, it’s not consistent that I have you turn off Apple’s ad tracking while then making yourself fully available to Google’s ad tracking. This is a tradeoff. You can turn off Apple’s tracking with zero downside, so do it. With Google, I think it’s worthwhile to use their services and then fight ads in other places. The Reader feature in Safari basically hides most Google ads that you’d see on your phone. On your computer, try an ad blocker.

It’s all very well saying that it’s a productivity article rather than a privacy article. But it’s 2018, you need to do both. Don’t recommend things to people that give them gains in one area but causes them new problems in others.

That being said, I appreciate Coach Tony’s focus on what I would call ‘notification literacy’. Perhaps read his article, ignore the bits where he suggests compromising your privacy, and follow his advice on configuring your device for a calmer existence.

 

Source: Better Humans

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot. (Michael Altshuler)

Designing calm products

As I mentioned on last week’s TIDE podcast, recorded live in the Lake District, this article from Amber Case about designing calm products is really useful:

Making a good product is an important responsibility, especially if the product is close enough to someone that it can be the difference between life and death. Even though the end result might by calm, designing a calm, human-centered product requires some anxiety and perfectionism from everyone on the team, not just the designer.

She’s designed a Calm Design quiz, gives a score card for your product. As the quiz applicable to every kind of product, not just apps, it has questions that you can skip over if they’re not relevant — e.g. whether the products has physical buttons with a blue screen.

It’s a clever way to package up design principles, I think. For example, without reading her book, and over and above regular accessibility guidelines, I learned that the following might be good for MoodleNet:

  • Stable interfaces
  • Grouping frequently used icons
  • Allowing users to prominently display favourite commands
  • Turning Notifications off by default (except the most important ones)
  • Plain-language privacy policy
  • Allow export of user data at any time
  • Include different notification types based on importance
  • Maintain some functionality even without internet connection

It’s a great approach, and it would be very interesting to score some of most favourite (and least favourite) products. For example, as I said to Dai during the podcast when we discussed this, my Volvo V60’s driver display would score pretty highly.

Source: Amber Case

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan."

(Eleanor Roosevelt)