Simon Buckingham Shum [mozilladrumbeat]

[as with my other Mozilla Drumbeat posts this can be found originally on the Festival site – I broke the new rules this time and convinced the editorial team to publish it in full as I really enjoyed Simons answers and didn’t see an easy way to condense them..]

Given its name it is probably not surprising that the Open University (OU) in the UK has been at the forefront of the latest surge of ‘open education’ thinking and activity.

Simon Buckingham Shum is a Senior Lecturer in the OUs Knowledge Media Institute, was previously the director for the OUs ambitious SocialLearn project and is currently working on trying to build collective intelligence systems around the ‘open education resources’ movement.

As you can see Simon is a man used to juggling many tasks and luckily he was able to squeeze one more into his to-do list and answer some questions for us here;


What are you going to do in Barcelona?

Flitting between OpenEd and Drumbeat like a mad thing I expect… I’ll be at OpenEd presenting thoughts on how Collective Intelligence and system resilience relate to the Sustainability theme, and we’ve proposed a Drumbeat thing in the Peer Learning Lighthouse on annotation/bookmarking/knowledge mapping, at which we hope to demo our Cohere prototype for annotating the web and making meaningful connections between, well, anything you can annotate [come tell us how to make it better… free Ltd. Edition T-Shirt for the best feedback!]

I’m also working on a project called SocialLearn, in which we’re trying to figure out what it means to tune open, social media for learning, inquiry and sensemaking. A real juggling act between staying super-low entry threshold in the UI, but also trying to provoke reflection which, guess what, takes effort! It’s an Open U. internal innovation pilot right now, but at OpenEd we’ll be giving an update

Who are you most excited to meet up with in Barcelona?

I keep failing to connect with UOC people due to my manic diary, so this trip should fix that. And it’s always good to catch up with all the other OER people, whom I’ve gotten to know since we launched our OER OpenLearn.

Drumbeat’s energy around disruptive innovation is pulling in a whole new group of very bright, passionate people many of whom I don’t yet know but can’t wait to meet! Badge Lab looks important: as soon as accreditation of open social learning starts to have credibility, new vistas will open up, but disrupting who gets to accredit may be one of the biggest challenges since it’s so regulated. Also interested to see what Anya Kamenetz has to say since hearing her earlier this year.

<leftfield>Since learning is all tied up with meaning, identity, community, transformation, values, synthesis… I’m interested in what we can learn from spiritual traditions, which have lots to say about these deep human processes. I secretly hope that some people who read this will collar me for a chat!</leftfield>

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening today w/ learning and the web?

My favourite new acronym (courtesy US army) is VUCA: Volatile/Uncertain/Complex/Ambiguous. This is the world Drumbeat seeks to thrive in. Unprecedented uncertainty in our hypernetworked world draws me to people working on complexity in human systems, and the new literacies for reading, writing and relating. The emergence of open platforms is tranformational in this respect: we can harness learner+educator commitment, creativity and cognition that exceeds what any single person or institution could rustle up in response to novel problems. Now we need to figure out how to tune them for sensemaking.

Second, we’re witnessing the opening up of the educational market to commercial providers who may disrupt the status quo by stealing low-end business (to start with) from established names. This makes it an exciting time as new innovation exploits a tough financial climate, but we’re also forced to ask which educational values an open market may discard, which must be protected.

What are your expectations of the Festival given its somewhat unique approach?

You’ll I normally find me at traditional academic conferences, which Drumbeat clearly is not. I’m approaching it more like an arts festival. Big Ideas Fest 2009 blazed this trail beautifully, and Drumbeat looks to be in the same mould — but maybe with more edutech geeks, sausages and paella :-) So, I want to meet lots of new people and have Conversations That Matter.

What have been your highlights in your dealings with open education/open web in the last 12 months?

Depressed with the state of my blog, I recently made time to play with some WordPress plugins and was impressed (all over again) by the power of an open source platform enabling myriad people to add immediate value to a platform.

The Power of Pull is the most recent book to seize me by the throat: I’ve been following John Seely Brown since I was a EuroPARC student in 1988, and his thinking around learning and tech always switches me on.

With 3 kids going through school right now, I’m also very occupied with how we prepare our children for life. My collaboration with Ruth Deakin Crick at Bristol University has been hugely stimulating, as we figure out how her cross-cultural/generational work on learning-to-learn could inform social learning analytics.

What does the term ‘open web’ mean to you?

The Open Web for me means the WEB OF INTERPRETATION open to diverse perspectives. Something becomes meaningful when it’s set in a context, ideally a narrative. Our hearts and minds leap with excitement when we suddenly see an idea reframed, acting in a new story, dancing in patterns we never saw before.

So, I’m obsessed with evolving web infrastructure that allows us to weave myriad, meaningful, narrative connections across each others’ material. Important patterns in learning, such as Arguments, and particular kinds of relationships (e.g. causal; analogical; challenging) can now become tangible first class objects: they have an address, can be linked meaningfully, can be tagged and embedded, debated, reasoned about by machines, visualized, and improved as social artifacts. So, the Open Web provides ways to negotiate meaning that are better fit-for-purpose given the challenges confronting us. It really all goes back to “augmenting human intellect”: thank you Doug Engelbart!