I am always interested in ways that the concept of sharing common resources (like open educational resources) does (and does not) translate across cultures. Especially with the recent work we’ve done in supporting the Open Book Project, I was intrigued to come across this piece on the tradition of a physical commons in Arabic cultures:
There was an ancient Middle Eastern tradition of setting aside certain lands, called hima (“protected place” in Arabic), for the enjoyment of local chieftains. Muhammad “transformed the hima from a private enclave into a public asset in which all community members had a share and a stake, in accordance with their duty as stewards (khalifa) of God’s natural world,” according to Tom Verde, a scholar of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations.
In the seventh century, Muhammad declared the region of Al-Madinah, now the holy city of Medina, “to be a sanctuary; its trees shall not be cut and its game shall not be hunted.” Many of the hima lasted well into the 20th century, when the tradition fell victim to modern beliefs about land ownership.
This echos for me the important role that Arabic cultures played in preserving knowledge throughout the dark ages. I like the idea of a cultural and educational hima in which we all have “a share and a stake”—both access to and responsibility for a vibrant common resource that benefits all.
Never fails to amaze me how truly bad AT&Ts approach to customer service really is. Was talking with a coworker the other day, and he mentioned signing up for MIT’s discount with AT&T. I realized from the discussion I hadn’t seen a discount on my bill for quite some time–long enough that I thought perhaps I’d even failed to ever sign up.
Went to the website to sign up, filled out the forms, and got an e-mail back saying they had a previous application for discount on file, so no change would be made. I contacted MITs AT&T rep and was told a) they will only credit back six months (alright, kind of cheap for their mistake, but I should have caught it), and b) I had to produce proof of the previous application that they already told me they have a record of.
Contrast that to a similar experience I had with USAA, a company I absolutely love. Discovered I was overpaying on my insurance bill and contacted them. They refunded the full two years of the discrepancy on the spot. My eight year old son is already asking me if he’ll be able to use USAA when he gets older. My eight year old.
If the AT&T rep had said, tell you what, you’ve been our customer for 15 years–our mistake, we’ll give you back six months worth of the discount, I wouldn’t be pissed enough to be spending my time writing this. For a couple of hundred bucks in charges they made in error, AT&T has bought a whole different impression on my kids and future potential customers.
Jeff Young has a great piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today about what he calls the “bandwidth divide” and how most MOOCs require learners to have persistent high-speed internet access. When we created the Mechanical MOOC course, we built it on existing open resources mostly because we though it was the most efficient and cost effective way to do it–by leveraging the investments already made in creating MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy.
We realized very quickly that a lot of additional flexibility came with leveraging these resources. Because they were from mature projects focused on openly sharing their resources and functionality, they had developed alternate modes of delivery to address bandwidth issues:
- the 6.189 course used an open textbook that was downloadable
- the 6.189 course materials (assignments, notes) themselves could be downloaded in a single zip file
- the 6.00SC videos used were downloadable from iTunes U and the Internet Archive
- OpenStudy was launching a beta mobile interface just as the course kicked off
And our learners downloaded the materials is large numbers:
Beyond that, we were able to also leverage the deep investments made in translating these open resources. The text is available in a dozen languages, and the course materials have been translated into Chinese. By building our course on open resources, we saved money and leveraged the work that these projects have already put into reaching audiences working without persistent internet or in other languages. A win-win-win.