Open content

Is imperfect material better for encouraging participation?

In an earlier post I mentioned that people weren’t adapting openlearn material much. Similarly, the FLOSScom summer university hasn’t seen as much input as we’d like (you can still input, just go there, register and edit pages). There are a number of possible reasons for this, such as the ease of modification, the cultural attitude towards reuse in the audience, the size of audience, the motivation to adapt, etc.

One additional factor that occurred to me was that maybe blank or very incomplete resources are better if you want participation. The openlearn content is very good, and has been through extensive editing and review as part of the OU process. The user may well think ‘there’s no point changing this, I’ll take it as it is.’ The Flosscom site isn’t as thorough, but we did seed the content, and maybe this gives the impression there is nothing to add. This may be a phenomenon peculiar to education, in much the same way as you can have a flourishing discussion in a forum and as soon as a tutor or the course team join in with an opinion, it kills it dead, as if that represents the final word.

So maybe for educational content you need to make it imperfect, empty or activity focused. Simply giving people content and expecting them to adapt it won’t happen – they’ll either reuse wholesale or ignore. This could be a cultural thing, people feel uncomfortable taking someone else’s content and adapting it, probably because we’ve been so thoroughly schooled in avoiding plagiarism – thou shalt not mess with another educator’s material.

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