Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington D.C. 20554

June 6, 2014

Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai, and O’Reilly:

My name is Patrick Masson and for the past twenty years I have worked in various roles within Information Technology, including as Chief Information Officer at the State University of New York College of Technology at Delhi, Chief Technology Officer within the University of Massachusetts’ Office of the President, and currently as the General Manager, Director and Secretary to the Board of the Open Source Initiative. I am also an elected Board Member of the North Colonie School Board, in Colonie, New York.

It is from this perspective, with over 20 years of experience in technology, but not as a representative of any of my former or current employers, that I write to express my personal support for a free and open Internet. While the FCC has already received letters from dozens of technology and Internet-based corporations opposing rules that “would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them” [1], I write to voice concerns related specifically to the education sector.

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I recently presented at the OER Summit, sponsored by the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, UMassOnline, University of Massachusetts and Mass Colleges Online. Hosted by Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning, Creative Commons, the panel included: Marilyn Billings, Scholarly Communication & Special Initiatives Librarian, UMass Amherst; Paul Dobbs, Library Director, Mass College of Art; Karin Moyano Camihort, Dean of Online Learning & Academic Initiatives, Holyoke Community College, and; Jonathon Sweetin, NCLOR System Administrator, Learning Technology Systems, NCCCS System Office.

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Last week I posted a few comments pointing to a frustrating phenomena I’ve seen with the acceptance (dare I say popularity?) of open source software: we’ve got too many new projects (over a million) in categories already inundated with viable options. Rather than joining an existing project, folks are creating their own. I used 230+ open source learning management systems (and apparently at least one open source “authoring tool“) to make my point.

However, the phenomena is not limited to learning management systems (or authoring tools) or, for that matter, even software, as the problem appears to have crossed over into other sectors capitalizing on “openness” (fauxpenness?) as a development and distribution (promotion?) method. The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement suffers as well from the “starters over joiners phenomena.” Thankfully, there is tremendous interest in both the use of OER broadly and, just as importantly, open source’s foundational practices that enable it–OER is all good and I am way for it. Massive Open Online Courses (OK, I’m not too “for it” with MOOCs–but that’s another post), Creative Commons licensed learning objects, open access journals, open courseware, etc., all harness the collaborative and community processes of co-creation first ascribed to open source software.

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In an ongoing theme with this blog (I can’t help myself) I’ve lamented, while the acceptance of open methods for development and distribution has grown across a variety of sectors, the result has been an influx of new projects (i.e. starters), by well meaning converts/proponents, rather than the creation of broader communities of collaborators/contributors (i.e. joiners).

Well another open source LMS announcement was made today by The Adapt Learning Community…

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After my previous post, I received a few comments about the “real costs” of open source, a-la, “open source isn’t free,” and “open source actually costs more due to a loss in productivity.”

Basically folks said to run Linux on the desktop, required a high skill set, and that “the average user” could not maintain a Linux-based operation system. These “maintenance cost,” i.e. hours wondering through discussion forums chasing down answers for complex Linux issues, leads to decreased productivity, thus costing folks more in lost time (when they could be earning money), than other “out of the box” options. In addition, folks argued, because open source applications are feature poor compared to commercial options, there are things you just can’t do with open source tools, again reducing productivity.

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I just updated my desktop from Ubuntu Lucid Lynx (10.04 LTS) to Precise Pangolin (12.04 LTS) and like always after any new version or functionality from Ubuntu (Linux), excited by the new features, I can’t help but leap up on my soap box (well, to be honest, my “high horse“) to bemoan the lack of awareness and adoption of Linux on the desktop–OK really to chastise and ridicule many in IT (especially decision-makers), but especially those working in and with open communities of practice who don’t eat their own dog food.

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Why those excited by the Stanford & edX open source platform collaboration (and many other “open” initiatives) don’t get it. It’s “reuse, revise, remix, redistribute,” not “reinvent, redo, redundant, replace.” The below article appeared just this week, in 2004 [May, 2014].

Sakai Project [EdX] launches groundbreaking open source collaboration

By Nancy Connell of News Service [Patrick Masson]

The Sakai Project [EdX], a landmark venture to create open-source course management tools and related software for the higher education community, has been launched by a consortium of four [three]universities, with U-M [Stanford] in a leading role.

The project—a collaboration of U-M with Indiana [Harvard University], the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford—will release its first software next summer. It has received a $2.4 [$60] million grant from the Mellon Foundation and $300,000 from the Hewlett foundation in funding, and it has attracted the interest of at least 13 additional colleges and universities since its launch in December [May of 2012], says Joseph Hardin [Anant Agarwal], director of the Sakai [edX] project.

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