IEEE teams up with Connexions to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed engineering OER

Timothy Vollmer, December 3rd, 2010

Rice University’s Connexions and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Signal Process Society (IEEE-SPS) recently announced the release of a set of open educational resources on signal processing. The materials allow engineering instructors to mix and match to build customized courses, textbooks and study guides, and are useful for practicing engineers for their own education and career growth. The high-quality resources are peer-reviewed and available for free on the Connexions IEEE-SPS portal.

From the press release:

While the open-education movement has grown rapidly in recent years, critics have questioned how open-access publishers can ensure the quality of freely authored and edited materials. An oft-proposed option is adapting peer review — the process academic researchers have used for centuries to vet and certify research papers and books.

“All materials must pass thorough a rigorous quality evaluation before they appear on the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s branded portal in Connexions,” said Roxana Saint-Nom, chair of the society’s Connexions Lens Subcommittee.

This collaboration is one of the first between a major professional society and an open educational resource provider. Connexions is one of the largest repositories of OER in the world, and all its materials are available under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization, with over 395,000 members.


CC’s Contribution to Welfare, Field-by-Field: The Separate Contribution to Collaboration & Sharing

Tal Niv, November 17th, 2010

You have probably already noticed that through this series of posts we are proceeding along a trend from general high-level questions to the more practical ones of measurement and evaluation. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that our next nuts-and-bolts step is to start touring the different fields in which CC is active and analyzing its separate contribution to each.

Keep in mind, though, the one caveat, that even once we are done with the field-by-field exploration we would still need to think of the “overflow” contribution of CC. In other words, we would still have to measure its multidisciplinary contribution – i.e., the contribution that is made to more than one field at once and the contribution which fashions new fields.

In part, prophesying the future estimation “overflow” contribution is the reason why I decided to begin this run by describing our preliminary thoughts about CC’s contribution to collaboration and sharing. Now because this is so obvious, I probably don’t need to mention this, but I am: “Collaboration and sharing is not your traditional field of operation and so it might have been infinitely easier to begin with art or one of its sub-genres, or even with OER, basic science, or traditional instances of user-generated-content.” This is because the former are considered true-to-life fields of human enterprise, and as such have (some) ready-made measures for evaluation. Collaboration and sharing, on the other hand, are considered as methods of operation and not as fields in and of themselves. This means that as a method, their independent contribution to welfare is almost never considered. And so, not only is there nobody to learn from when it comes to the evaluation of CC’s enhancement of sharing and collaboration, but the merits of this contribution is almost never acknowledged, not even in the abstract way in which we have been accustomed to, considering CC’s contribution.

Still, abstractly, we all understand that collaboration and sharing have considerable independent benefits! This is why its encouragement is a CC goal.

And to break it down a little, hand-wavingly: As methods for creation, collaboration and sharing tie new ties and promote communities by making firmer existing ones, they expand creation, and groups of creators, they allow creation to evolve based on optimal reliance on the shared creativity of the group, and consumers to freely intake those works, in increasing numbers and in greater capacity. To summarize, those are methods that clearly extend the accumulated value of the single works by manifolds. One way to think of the extended contribution of these methods is by thinking of them as an energizing force that promotes creativity as a whole, by empowering each work created through a collaborative process, allowing it to contribute in a way that goes far beyond its direct value.

End of hymn to collaboration and sharing.

Ok, so I hope you agree that referring to sharing and collaboration as a separate area is not merely the right thing to do because they are an independent realm of contribution, but also that it is the practical thing to do for the purposes of gauging CC’s contribution: As mentioned in the second paragraph of this post, CC’s activity creates innovative enterprises across fields and as time goes by, even generates novel ones. If we don’t recognize the energy that allows that to happen – collaboration & sharing, we will have no way of accounting for this budding activity in our evaluation. After all, these processes are in different stages, and they do not yet have sound gauges to estimate their contribution, even once they fully materialize. On the other hand, if we recognize that sharing and collaboration is a method with its own measures, assessing its effectiveness in different circumstances, then at least we shall have a way of referring to this obviously beneficial activity. In other words, measuring the expansion of collaborative energy is key to our ability to foresee and measure completely new creative enterprises, which cannot be accounted for by looking at the trends that the different fields are undergoing.

So now when we are all convinced, I am going to try and get to it.

For the sake of maintaining order, I will repeat what we are trying to do: Under the collaboration & sharing rubric, what is evaluated is the extent to which CC promotes creative communities and collaborative social capacity. Of course, one constant concern while considering the proper metrics, is to be careful of double-counting: Since social collaboration is pertinent to each field, the value that stems from collaborative energy should be separated from the specific contribution to individual cases of creativity. An important across-the-board distinction is between vertical and horizontal collaboration, which has to do with time and intention: Horizontal collaboration means to refer to mutual, close to concurrent creation of the work, while the participants in the creative act are all intending to create a joint output. Vertical collaboration, on the other hand, are cases where the collaboration amounts in the reliance on creative resources that have been produced in separate processes for the creation of a new work. The importance of distinguishing between the two modes is that they are expected to create different types of works, involve different types of collaborators and to generate different amounts of collaborative energy. This all means that they differ in their contribution.

Collaboration & sharing, and they are enhanced by CC’s 3 pillars of contribution

Tool-by-tool, use-by-use, or the transactional contributions:

  1. Vertical contribution: (a) from the perspective of the original creator: the availability and choice of CC tools facilitate downstream uses and grant the creator with necessary certainty with respect to future uses (b) from the perspective of downstream creators and users: the tools allow the produced work to itself be used as a resource very simply and in a way that can be relied upon.
  2. Horizontal contribution is assisted by reliance on tools that coordinate the usage according to active participants’ expectations.

The operation of CC as an institution:

  1. Reassures collaborating actors that the licenses which are being relied upon are interoperable and that efforts of extended interoperability and standardization will be ongoing.
  2. Reassures collaborating actors that the license choice will be continuously supported and will only gain traction (:Stability).
  3. Stabilizes, guarantees, and clarifies the licenses’ legal meaning and ensures that all actors’ (a) Reliance interests are protected and that (b) Expectation interests are protected.
  4. Stabilizes, guarantees, and clarifies the licenses’ social meaning (for partaking actors and future actors) and ensures that all actors’ (a) reliance interests are protected and that (b) their expectation interests are protected and that (C) their reputational interests are promoted.
  5. Reassures collaborating actors of the existence and proliferation of the CC supporting tools. For example, the search tools for CC works.
  6. Allows for collaboration to happen between actors of distinct geographical locations and across jurisdictions.

The 3rd pillar’s direct contribution to collaboration:

  1. CC weighs in on the normative discussion to highlight the merit of sharing and collaborative enterprises and their importance to the general welfare, countering contrary efforts by other institutions.
  2. Just for the record: the vast positive externalities which the 3rd pillar produces do not allude us. Evidently, the benefits that are produced here are carried over to every activity pertaining to collaboration. Figuring out how to discern the value ultimately induced by CC alone is a challenge which awaits us.

Measuring the Contribution to Collaboration – Quality, Quantity, Variability

As argued earlier, the general importance of social collaboration is found in its ability to charge the existing fields of creative activity with the required energy that would ensure that their measures of quality, quantity and variability improve.

When it comes to quantity, more collaboration is translated into the following: (1) more participants in single creative processes (2) more simultaneous cooperation in a single creative process, and (3) more intake of shared works. From the internal quality perspective, enhanced collaboration means that the cultivation of the creative spark emitted by each collaborator is rendered more efficacious. From the external quality perspective, a collaborative work created in an environment, which appreciates collaboration, will be more useful to the consumers of the work because they will see it as a potential resource. And when it comes to the potential contribution to variability, that translates into new collaborative efforts across fields, within fields and likewise completely novel activities and field-generative ones.

Proposed Measures (including confounders)

So now I am about to propose a set of metrics, aimed towards measuring CC’s contribution to collaboration under the three pillars, and by quantity, quality and variability. Whatever you do with it, don’t treat this list as exhaustive. I am merely trying to demonstrate our general direction, and to maybe instigate some reaction (for example, from YOU):

  1. Number of CC’d collaborative projects of all types. (account for cross-field cooperation)
  2. Number of entities involved in each CC’d collaborative project (a) Separately: People, organizations, groups (b) Numbers, percentages
  3. Type of collaborators involved in each CC’d collaborative project: (a) Lay/professional, (b) Professional: By type, Numbers, Involvement level (size), Geography distribution (real location of contributors, of users),
  4. Level of cooperation or the depth and breadth of the tree-like infrastructure – i.e. measure the number of reuses or reincarnations of a given CC resource.
  5. Newness level, on a scale of newness of the CC’d enterprise
  6. Consumption of each CC’d work: passive use (a) Accessibility measures (b) Consumption levels
  7. Efficiency increase in the use of the CC’d work (productive use: use as a resource)
  8. New collaborative applications; addition of new auxiliary tools for CC’d collaboration (and increased use thereof)
  9. New collaborative enterprises identification tools; search tools, etc. (and increased use thereof)

The breakdown by CC tool is a refinement which isn’t mentioned but is clearly relevant to each.

So far so good. But, even a comprehensive list of these metrics will not be the end of our troubles, because we need to control for non-CC affects on collaboration (confounders). For example, parameters like the general IP environment, legal and social, and the activity of other actors like ones that are operating in the same space as CC, should be carefully discerned. The way to go about it would be to use metrics that will gauge external influence and will thus control for impacts external to CC. So there is an initial list:

  1. Collaborative projects based on other platforms – across disciplines
  2. Creative projects that are not collaborative – across disciplines
  3. IP Lawsuits based on authorship claims
  4. Legal regime changes that pertain to collaboration
  5. Technical platforms for collaboration (dynamic changes)
  6. (other) Legal platforms for collaboration (dynamic changes)
  7. Government grants for collaborative enterprises (easy separation: government will usually define the license to be used)
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Collaborative² Futures

Mike Linksvayer, March 25th, 2010

FLOSS Manuals, true to its name, produces manuals for free software applications. The manuals themselves are freely licensed and often written in book sprints. This January, as part of the Transmediale festival in Berlin, FLOSS Manuals attempted its first non-manual booksprint — a considerably harder task, as no structure is implied. Only the book title, Collaborative Futures, was given — a collaborative experiment about the future of collaboration.

The initial collaborators each had considerable experience with free software or free culture collaborations — Michael Mandiberg, Marta Peirano, Alan Toner, Mushon Zer-Aviv, me, and FLOSS Manuals’ honcho Adam Hyde and programmer Aleksandar Erkalovic.

Initially we thought we’d write much about licenses and other topics much debated by those in the free software and free culture community. After a day of intense discussion of book content and structure, those debates were left in the background as we tackled explaining what kinds of collaboration we intended to write about and speculating about what the future of collaboration holds. As appropriate, we did use licenses — the book is released under the CC Attribution-ShareAlike license and incorporates a fair amount of previously existing material under the same or compatible licenses (surprisingly enough, none from Wikipedia).

A one minute video was made for the book’s New York launch, available at the Internet Archive and Vimeo.

There’s also a licensing (and collaboration?) story behind the video. Producer Bennett Williamson wanted to use “Rolands Vegners” by Ergo Phizmiz & Margita Zalite as the soundtrack. Bennett writes on his Free Music Archive blog:

This was a problem, because Collaborative Futures (and all its related materials) already had a different type of CC license than Ergo’s track; Attribution-ShareAlike and Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike respectively.

I really liked the song and wanted to keep it in the video, so I contacted Ergo and asked him if he’d be willing to change the license type of his track… and he agreed! Score one for copyright alternatives!

So remember kids, when syncing up these jams to your sweet vids, make sure that your derivitive has a license that jives with that of the original work. And sometimes all you have to do is ask.

With that, here’s ten more instrumentals from the Archives ready for you to slap into your timeline. Thanks to those of you who made suggestions of tracks to include; please keep them coming!

All well worth keeping in mind for future collaborations. Check out the book, and more importantly, FLOSS Manuals and the Free Music Archive, excellent free culture projects covering a broad range of tastes.

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The White Cube Remix

Cameron Parkins, January 13th, 2010

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Oslo’s RAM Galleri is currently showing The White Cube Remix, a “sonic art” exhibition that features a collaborative soundtrack created by 68 ccMixter community members.

The project began in November 2009 when Rolf Gerstlauer, exhibit curator at RAM, approached ccMixter users Sackjo22 and Gurdonark about creating a collaborative soundtrack for the exhibit. The pair released two tracks – The White Cube (accapella) and Winter Lights (ambient) – and asked the ccMixter community to build from there. From ArtistTechMedia:

Gurdonark and SackJo22 first composed and recorded ambient samples and spoken word source material, reflecting the central themes of this exhibition — light and winter in the north, which were then contributed to the ccMixter community for remix under a Creative Commons license. In less than one month, more than 94 original compositions, from ambient music to chill beats, were created by international music makers at ccMixter specifically for the White Cube exhibit.

SackJo22 and Gurdonark compiled a playlist of these 94 original compositions onto an mp3 player that [is] installed in the RAM Galleri, thus providing more than six hours of original music as a soundtrack for the White Cube exhibition.

All of the tracks created for the project are released under a CC Attribution license, allowing them to be freely shared and reused as long as the original creators are attributed.

RAM will be hosting a symposium tomorrow (January 14th) between 7-9PM CET to discuss the project generally, how the soundtrack was created, and its relation to participatory culture in a broader sense. For those not based in Oslo, you can watch the symposium online via a dedicated video feed (browser plug-in instillation required) – the required meeting ID number is 64858:

Contained In: The Continuous Production of the Ultimate White Cube?
Moderator: Carl Mattias Ekman (architect, scholar PHD AHO)

Susan Joseph (ccMixter – initiator of the white cube remix project)
Robert Nunnally (ccMixter – initiator of the white cube remix project)
Emily Richards (ccMixter and ArtisTech Media)
Gisle Hannemyr (
Frode Gether-Rønning (IT-director, AHO)
Rolf Gerstlauer (architect, curator of the exhibition, professor AHO)


Intellectual backing for the CC paradigm shift

Mike Linksvayer, December 21st, 2009

Our board member Hal Abelson points us to Modeling a Paradigm Shift: From Producer Innovation to User and Open Collaborative Innovation , an important new paper by Carliss Y. Baldwin and Eric von Hippel. If you’re interested in the theoretical case for the ascendancy of innovation and creativity in the commons — and for policy that does not cripple the commons — read, or at least skim these highly readable 29 pages. Their first policy recommendation should come as no surprise:

The roots of this apparent bias in favor of closed, producer-centered innovation are certainly understandable – the ascendent models of innovation we have discussed in this paper were less prevalent before the radical decline in design and communication costs brought about by computers and the Internet. But once the welfare-enhancing benefits of open single user innovation and open collaborative innovation are understood, policymakers can – and we think should – take steps to offset any existing biases. Examples of useful steps are easy to find.

First, as was mentioned earlier, intellectual property rights grants can be used as the basis for licenses that help keep innovation open as well as keep it closed (O’Mahony 2003). Policymakers can add support of “open licensing” infrastructures such as the Creative Commons license for writings, and the General Public License for open source software code, to the tasks of existing intellectual property offices. More generally, they should seek out and eliminate points of conflict between present intellectual property policies designed to support closed innovation, but that at the same time inadvertently interfere with open innovation.

You can be a policymaker — share, discover, and support the commons. Regarding the last, read and heed Hal Abelson’s personal appeal — in this you’ll join Eric von Hippel, co-author of the above paper (see contributor list on Hal’s page).

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MixedInk: CC-Licensed Large Scale Document Collaboration

Cameron Parkins, January 16th, 2009

bMixedInk is a recently launched service that allows large groups of people to collaboratively work on a single document together online. While many sites of this nature exist, MixedInk seems to be the first to focus on large group collaboration and does so in a unique manner. MixedInk’s submission system is based on a Digg-like voting procedure in which users vote for their favorite draft – the final draft is therefore dynamic and can shift over time if a better draft is decided upon by the community.

MixedInk keeps this type of collaboration open and legally sound by requiring any documents created on the site to be released under a CC BY-SA license. This serves a practical purpose – the articles written offer no restrictions in regards to quoting or editing as long as the original author is credited – and also serves the auxiliary purpose of keeping the MixedInk community open and free, ensuring there are no legal barriers for creating the best content possible. There are already some interesting examples of how this system can be put to use, most notably Slate’s community written Inaugural Address where individuals can contribute and vote for the Inaguration Speech they would most like to hear President-Elect Barack Obama give this coming Tuesday. The top-rated address will be published at on inauguration day.

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