There's a new standard in higher ed: Open Summit launches

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The conversation around "open" in higher education has been happening for some time—but as open source has become mainstream in the software industry the conversation in the educational space has exploded. From universities offering degree programs in open source software, to MOOCs from top tier colleges providing open enrollment courses, to universities around the world creating their own open source software projects, open is rapidly becoming a standard in higher ed.

With all these conversations happening amongst many disparate groups of stakeholders, the Open Source Initiative and the Apereo Foundation both saw an opportunity to break down silos and bring everyone together to collaborate, share lessons learned, and form stronger bonds to advance open in education. The first step is the upcoming Open Summit in New York City, a one-day event taking place May 23 at New York University.

Amongst the many excellent topics on offer to attendees, we are proud to welcome Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst as our keynote speaker. He'll discuss many of the principles for collaboration he's laid out in his recent book, The Open Organization, and show how these principles can be most successfully applied in the context of academia, from the classroom to the IT department.

To learn more about the event, its history, and how open source aficionados in academia (and beyond) should be involved, we spoke with its lead organizers, Ian Dolphin, Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation, and Patrick Masson, General Manager of the Open Source Initiative. Here's what they had to say.

How did Open Summit come about? Tell us more about the history of the event.

Ian Dolphin (ID): It's been apparent for a while, to a number of people engaged in open initiatives in higher education, that we don't necessarily communicate too well. There are two main results of this failure, to my mind. First, we don't necessarily transfer "lessons learned" well. Second, we don't necessarily join up well at the interstices of initiatives. Let's take a couple of examples: open source learning management systems could much more easily author and export open educational resources. They could also better better connect to a variety of repositories. As we began to discuss the opportunities to escape what tends to be a siloed landscape in higher ed, the idea of an event that drew together initiatives for extended conversations—around openness, around good practice, and around sharing priorities—began to take shape.

Patrick Masson (PM): Focusing in on what Ian mentioned about "lessons learned," I'd highlight the real need within higher education to assess the "authenticity" of open initiatives. That is: Does the open initiative provide the level of access and participation the institution expects in order to be a genuine partner in all aspects of the project? Higher education has really embraced openness— open source software, open textbooks, open content, open courses, open research, open data, etc. This has created quite a marketplace for ideas, projects, communities, and companies. The challenge I've noticed with so many emerging projects is: How do institutions engage honestly and directly in order to further their own goals while contributing to others, and how do these same institutions assess the principles and practices of the projects and communities they're considering joining to be sure they align with their own values and direction? Open Summit will provide a forum for all those participating in open initiatives to discover and discuss just how diverse organizations can engage "authentically."

Both of your have backgrounds in the educational space. Why is this topic of personal interest to each of you?

ID: My background is as an educator who got involved in software creation, open source software, and the diverse communities that sustain open source software. For me, diverse, open communities, such as those represented by Apereo, help facilitate innovation. We're at the beginning of a journey around technology and how it might facilitate learning, teaching, and research. Keeping a capacity for innovation and openness in education aligns well not only with the general ethos and values of education, but with the practical need to keep innovation close to educational practice as it evolves.

PM: I guess I come to this from another perspective, with roles ranging from Programmer Analyst at UCLA to CTO and CIO at UMass and the State University of New York, respectively. I've always been challenged with how to introduce and implement open projects in support of either the academic and/or administrative mission. Getting the most of, and providing the best support for, open initiatives requires organizations to change how they operate. When resources are not directly under the control of the institution, when decision-making is distributed across a large community, institutions have to shift from traditional top-down management models. Open initiatives require openness across the organization. I am very interested in how institutions can create open organizations to best engage with open communities of practice.

What do you hope attendees will gain by participating in the event?

ID: I hope they'll gain knowledge of adjacent areas in the open landscape—and indeed a better vision of the landscape as a whole. I believe the event also offers the opportunity to better understand openness across a number of manifestations, and a great opportunity to learn from the practice of others.

PM: Agreed. I'm hoping folks will walk out realizing that despite the outputs of their own projects, there are common principles and practices that span all open initiatives that make both the projects and participants successful.

Jim Whitehurst will be keynoting Open Summit. Can you give us an idea of what he'll cover in his talk? How do you see the principles he discusses in his recent book, The Open Organization, dovetailing with the key themes of Open Summit?

ID: Education, particularly higher education, has seen significant changes in the last five decades, but the way our institutions are organized and run remains perhaps less changed than one might expect. I believe that the opportunity to hear how open principles and approaches can be applied and relate to organization and organizational structures will be extremely valuable. We're often told that higher education needs to learn from business—well here's an opportunity to hear from an unconventional and successful business. Even if you're not from the software side of the house—or perhaps more specifically especially if you're not from the software side of the house—this is a dialog that has to take place.

PM: For many of my former colleagues (and their campuses as well), Linux, and particularly Red Hat, may have been their first experience with open source software. As I mentioned above, I believe institutions and their leaders need to embrace an open ethos in order to benefit most from open initiatives. Jim is uniquely positioned, as a leader and innovator, to offer expertise on the creation and management of such open organizations as well as the principles and practices that foster openness. If your campus is going to engage with open source—not just as a consumer, but as a contributor—why not learn from someone who's done it, and done it very well?

Anything you'd like to tell us that we haven't touched on yet?

PM: Well, of course in addition to Jim, I'd like to tout our other speakers from across the open education community:

  • Nicole Allen: Director of Open Education, SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition)
  • Joel Barciauskas, Engineering Manager, Open edX
  • Martin Dougiamas, Founder and CEO of Moodle
  • Beth Harris, Art historian & co-founder of Smarthistory, previously Dean, Art and History, Khan Academy and Director of Digital Learning, MoMA
  • Nina Huntemann, Director of Academics and Research, edX
  • Ben Kallos, Free and Open Source Developer and New York City Council Member serving District 5 and Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations
  • Deb Nicholson, Community Outreach Director, Open Invention Network, Community Manager, GNU MediaGoblin
  • Steven Zucker, Co-founder of Smarthistory, Art Historian at Khan Academy

Also, to learn more about the conference (including how to register), and to receive updates regarding our speakers and sessions, see the conference website. Registration for Open Summit is open now.

Leslie Hawthorn headshot
Leslie Hawthorn has spent her career creating and cultivating open source communities. She has driven open source strategy in Fortune 10 companies, pre-IPO startups, and Foundation Boards including senior roles at Red Hat, Google, the Open Source Initiative, and Elastic. She currently leads the industry verticals community strategy team within Red Hat’s Open Source Program Office.

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