OpenFiction [Blog]

Another tOFP experiment

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 23, 2005

Turns out it is ridiculously easy to become an Amazon affiliate, and add links back to their store, which I’ve done on the tOFP textbook page. I will get something back from anyone who follows the link and buys books from Amazon. Another way to try and cobble together the $7 a month I need for tOFP to become self-sustaining.

Updates on a few other experiments:

• I’ve gotten 19 visitors from Google Base so far. I was delisted for about a day while the folks at GB considered whether “opencourseware” was a valid keyword. Happy to report they decided it was.

• So far, no-one has taken tOFP survey (except me), but it worked very nicely when I did it.

• I’ve got the bulk of the content reformatting done for tOFP [ Print ] version. When I finish editing, I’ll make the PDF available for free (or maybe the .doc), and visitors will be able to purchase an on-demand perfect bound copy from Cafe Press for around $15 ($1 of which will go to support tOFP. Probably another couple of weeks on this…

More updates to follow.

A rare species

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 21, 2005

My wife and I had our anniversary dinner over the weekend at Solea in Waltham Mass. We’d never been to Waltham before and it’s a bit of a drive from our house, so we left quite early and arrived an hour ahead of our reservations. Solea is on Moody Street, in amongst a number of really nice–if pricy–restaurants and shops, so we decided to walk around a bit before dinner. As it turned out, we didn’t walk too far because there was a really nice used book store–of course I’m forgetting the name–right next door. I don’t think until that moment I had realized just how big a hole in my world the absence of a decent bookstore really was. We’ve been exiled to BarnesandNobleland since we moved out of the city, and there really aren’t any good used bookstore on my downtown commute path (The MIT Press Bookstore is relatively convenient, endlessly fascinating, but pretty expensive and new books only).

This place in Waltham was really inviting, with oversized couches, local art on the walls, and a layout that was spacious and well organized. The literary criticism and poetry sections were not huge, but there were plenty of great titles and I ended hauling an armload of books back to the car while Lori shopped for ceramics. I’m a big fan of buying books online, and love that Amazon sells used as well as new, but online browsing just doesn’t replace the experience of walking amongst shelves of books that others have read, made notes in, given to others as gifts. I’ve heard many people complain about there being too much information on the web, but when it comes to items like books, I’ve found that Google and Amazon have made it very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and very hard to find exactly what you weren’t. I left the store with a book on teaching creative nonfiction, an anthology of journals from the age of exploration, and Gould’s Mismeasure of Man–a combination I’d have never arrived at online.

Lori picked up a copy of The Prophet that had been given as a gift in the 50’s, and had a touching inscription (Gibran, Lori discovered over the summer, has a close connection to the town in which we live; Louis Day–whose family was one of Norwood’s most prominent–was a patron of Gibron’s, and the young poet apparently came to Norwood a number of times). In finding books such as these, there is a sense of continuity, a sense of community with others for whom the written word has meaning.

And another thing

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 17, 2005

I created an item type “Open Educational Resource” on Google Base. We’ll see if it sticks.

Further experiments in open sharing

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 17, 2005

So I’ve listed tOFP on Google Base, just for kicks. It looks a lot less focused a resource than I had hoped (“Wanted Ads”?), but we’ll see. I suppose if anyone can pull off what looks to be essentially a massive human-generated metadata system, it’ll be Google. I’m wondering what the implications of GB are for LO referratories (as opposed to repositories that actually publish content) like MERLOT, though. If GB has a category called “Learning Objects,” with really kick-butt search, LO referratories would seem to only offer peer-review as a value-add–and everything I’ve heard about peer-review systems developed so far seems to indicate they are really slow and labor-intensive.

Anyway, I’ve also posted a quick survey on tOFP home page, using Advanced Survey, which was really easy to do. It’ll be forever and a day, I think, before I get anyone to take it, but the tool was really easy to use, and the paid services look well within the budgets of even very modest projects.

New tools for open sharing

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 16, 2005

I mentioned a while back that I was working on an on-demand print version of tOFP, and at the time I was looking at Lulu Press as a printer; I’m still at work on the version, which is taking way more time than I’d hoped, but in the end I’ll make the PDF of the print version freely available on the site and make the on-demand print option available for those who’d like the nicely bound copy. I’ve actually switched to Cafe Press for the most banal of reasons. I can get tee shirts and mugs made, and I want a tOFP mug. They’ll be available for others as well, though I’d be shocked to see any sell. But for any of the above that are purchased, I’ll get $1 to plow back into tOFP, so if I sell seven a month, I can stop losing money on the project, and become the first sustainable open sharing project (other than Universia maybe) that I am aware of.

One of my wife’s students also discovered Advanced Survey, which provides free and low-cost survey tools. I’m setting up a short survey for tOFP users right now to test it out, but the free service is a workable tool so far, and the paid accounts are really very reasonably priced. More on this one later.

Survival of the imaginative

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 15, 2005

Thought this was an interesting post. I’m not a literary darwinist for sure, and I won’t make broad claims for the importance of creative writing as opposed to other disciplines, but I obviously find imaginative thought to be important…

When we last saw our hero…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 14, 2005

A post about writing–or rather, not writing. It’s evaluation silly season at OCW, which means I’ve pretty much suspended work on the novel for a few weeks. The history of this novel includes work stoppages such as this, ones that last anywhere from a few weeks to a year or so. The protagonist, Foster, spent the entire year after my son’s birth sitting in a pickup truck in the rain, waiting to go into a town meeting at the local VFW. Annabel and Foster are currently sitting on a bench in a cemetery overlooking Edenboro. She’s giving him a walking tour of the town on what is essentially their first date. I wonder about these pauses, and whether a reader will be able to sense a shift in the writing or the skill of the writer in these moments that pass quickly in the reading, but lasted so long in the writing. Generally during these pauses, I feel like my understanding of the characters grows, but my ear for good writing gets lazy. In the plot section of the coursework, I discuss the various chronologies that apply to a work of fiction. From a producer perspective, it’s interesting to think about the drafting time of a story, or how much time passes in the drafting. So far the drafting time of the story is way longer than the present time of the story….

October by the numbers

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 10, 2005

A little late, but good news.

Total Pages: 3237
Total Visits: 1144
Total Unique Visitor IP addresses: 323
Pages per Day (Ave/Max): 104/448
Visits per Day (Ave/Max): 36/195

Top 10 URLs:

1 /wiki/
2 /
3 /wp211.css
4 /asgnmt/
5 /units/basics/descript/
6 /units/
7 /anthology/
8 /units/flow/
9 /submit/
10 /units/basics/


There were 5 downloads of the site .zip file.


I’m beginning to really see evidence of real visitor activity, mostly through the search phrases listed below

Non tOFP referring pages (referred visits):

(# Referred) Referrer

One piece of good news in the above: tOFP is obviously appearing in non-English search results as well.

Top search phrases:

narrative arc
openfiction project
psychic distance and point of view
psychic distance third person
what is a fictional narrative
dramatic tension
character description exercise
critical reflection on project
define psychic distance fiction
definition of descriptive prose
developing a prose style
example of explaination letter
fictional narrative
fictional narrative/ examples
is style teachable writing
metafiction realism
michael stephens emerson college
narrative arc plot

When cometh producer culture? Now, according to Pew…

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 10, 2005

So I apparently commissioned Pew to do research supporting my thesis on producer culture. Here’s the headline from their most recent release:

More than half of online teens are Content Creators.

Some 57% of online teens create content for the internet. That amounts to half of all teens ages 12-17, or about 12 million youth. These Content Creators report having done one or more of the following activities: create a blog; create or work on a personal webpage; create or work on a webpage for school, a friend, or an organization; share original content such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos online; or remix content found online into a new creation.

• The most popular Content Creating activities are sharing self-authored content and working on webpages for others.

33% of online teens share their own creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos.

• 32% say that they have created or worked on webpages or blogs for others, including those for groups they belong to, friends or school assignments.

• 22% report keeping their own personal webpage.

• 19% have created their own online journal or blog.

• About one in five internet-using teens (19%) says they remix content they find online into their own artistic creations.

Hmm. How long ’till these guys become more interested in what they are creating than what mass media is sending their way?

Still more from the IIEP-OER forum

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on November 9, 2005

A post I was really happy to receive in the IIEP-OER exchange, from Boris Vukovic of McGill University:

This is a reply to recent forum exchanges about the commitment of faculty to OER, the “quality” of OER, and the state of higher education today.

Once again the discussion develops as a result of what seem to be two
distinct visions of the function and purpose of OER:
1. OER as distance education
2. OER as course publication

John Petroff’s position exemplifies the first one. The expectation of complete courses that can on their own educate the user, faculty who are fully committed to scholarly OER production, and centralized OER consortia, all fit the model of distance education. In contrast, Steve Carson’s arguments support the second vision, OER models that focus on opening course content to the public for the purposes of individualized mix-and-match learning, academic exchange and comparison, and modeling institutional OER practices for developing nations or projects.

Rather than thinking the two visions are incompatible, I see them positioned at different points on the OER development continuum. I believe we are currently at a stage of gaining momentum and recruiting support for OER, at the start of the development continuum. This is where I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve Carson. John Petroff is standing miles down the road on this continuum, when OER becomes another standard for academic excellence, when faculty culture transforms to accept technology as the means to promote education for all, and when the Internet use and infrastructure the world-over become sustainable. I want to stand with John Petroff eventually, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

To use Steven Lerman’s metaphor, at this point in time we need to gain critical mass in the OER movement. This will lead to the development of standards of practice, which should result in the establishment of the practice itself. We cannot gain this critical mass if we set the bar too high. If you were to approach me as a university instructor and tell me that my OER should be as comprehensive and self-sufficient as a textbook, I would turn away because I don’t have time to put together a textbook, I want to protect my intellectual property, and I put more pedagogical emphasis on in-class collaboration and constructivist meaning-making (“I” here is a hypothetical professor). We do not want faculty turning away from OER right now. So, OER should not be perceived as giving away complete courses for free, but rather as cultural showcasing and exchange of academic course content, where “culture” refers to countries, institutions, or departments. If you were to approach me and tell me that my OER will serve to exemplify the teaching of Psychology 101 at McGill University, offering course content for comparison and adaptation to other Psychology 101 professors around the world, I would definitely sign up for it. Different visions notwithstanding, it is important that we are all traveling down the same road and will eventually reach the same milestones in the OER development.

And my reply:

I whole-heartedly agree that the two visions are not incompatible at all. The internet can function as a mode of distribution for open educational resources that are designed for classroom instruction, and can also serve as the medium for self-guided instruction through open educational resources, and there’s no conflict at all between the two. I’d also add that in addition to the critical mass of people involved, we need to work toward a critical mass of open materials that can later be used to create the resources John describes. By setting the bar low on the sharing end, we encourage materials from all cultures (in every sense) and with these materials we can create new OERs that are richer and more diverse.