OpenFiction [Blog]

A badge too far?

Posted in fiction, Open Educational Resources, the OpenFiction Project by scarsonmsm on March 21, 2012
Description of the guild structure

From "Who Was Leonardo Da Vinci"

I was discussing with Philipp Schmidt how best to pair my OpenFiction Project with Peer 2 Peer University’s challenges model, as a see a lot of potential in the model, especially in the possibility of scaling up humanities instruction. The trick in making it work, as I see it, is how to efficiently distribute the subject matter expertise resident in the community, and how to incentivise the participation of subject matter experts.

I plan to offer badges because, well, all the cool kids are doing it, but one of the insufficiencies of badges in my mind is that they are generally all about me and what I’ve done. Sure you can offer badges for being a team player, giving good feedback, etc., but they are still all about me. As Philipp and I were talking this over, I threw out the notion of creating an OpenFiction Project guild, membership in which was earned and maintained through ongoing community participation and writing.

Guild membership would require an ongoing commitment to produce and share writing, to give feedback of sufficient volume and quality on submissions of OpenFiction tasks from other community members, and to give feedback on stories or participate in one or more online writing groups that regularly share feedback with each other. It’s not a badge you earn once, but a status you earn through consistent and ongoing participation and one that can lapse. It might also be a status that is in some way determined by other guild members, through ratings of feedback, etc. There’s the potential for additional benefits as your guild status changes, such as the opportunity to advertise paid services within the community when you reach a certain level, the opportunity to submit work to a community journal, or to participate in the editing of the core materials for the OpenFiction project.

The good thing about this model in my mind is that it encompasses both a commitment to a community and to a craft, and to developing both. It explicitly includes the notion of training those less skilled than you and learning from those with more experience. And that it’s a status that needs to be maintained both through practice of the craft and service to the community. The downside is of course that such communities tend to protect their own entrenched interests. My hope is that this can be avoided through careful structuring of the community. I obviously haven’t fully worked out how this might be expressed in an online community of learners, but as we push forward, I’ll come back and post more. I’ve seen similar models, mostly on bulletin board communities, but if you know any really good ones, let me know.

OpenFiction challenge #1 now up on P2PU

Posted in fiction, the OpenFiction Project by scarsonmsm on December 12, 2011

I’ve gone and done it.  Structured the first P2PU challenge for the OpenFiction Project content.  I’m not 100% sure how well it works, but I guess the best way to find out is to put it up and see what happens.  Now, to figure out how to attach a badge…

Puttin’ the “fiction” back in “OpenFiction”

Posted in fiction, the OpenFiction Project by scarsonmsm on November 30, 2011

It’s been too long since I’ve written anything in this space about fiction in general, and the OpenFiction Project specifically.   Events however conspire to bring both back to the fore.  But first, a detour into advisory work.  One of the real pleasures of my job is that I am asked quite often to provide advice to other open projects, a pay-it-forward activity that pays dividends back to me and MIT OpenCourseWare by helping us keep in touch with the latest developments in open education.

I’ve accepted a few requests to participate in advisory boards for projects, a larger commitment that I try to take on only as I have sufficient time and strong interest in the program.  One of the projects I’ve advised for a while is Peer-to-Peer University, and it’s been a pleasure to watch that community develop over time (though I’m not sure my advising has had much to do with it).  P2PU is a really innovative online learning community that has recently developed a new approach to supporting scalable learning based on challenges and badges.  More at another time on how these work (or visit the P2PU blog for more information).

In discussions with (mostly) Philipp Schmidt, a co-founder of P2PU and fellow OCW Consortium board member, I realized that the challenges model they’d developed for HTML programming might also work very nicely for the OpenFiction Project courseware.  I’d been meaning to do a little pruning on tOFP content for a while anyway, so I took the opportunity to do so, and then created a challenge for the first part of tOFP content on the P2PU site.

I’m not 100% sold on the way it is working together so far.  I have tried in tOFP content to preserve as much of the original language and pedagogy of the online course from which the materials were taken as possible, and that language refers to craftbooks, bulletin boards and other features that were a part of the course structure, but are not part of the current site structure or the challenge structure.  To work effectively with the materials in the P2PU context, users will have to understand the historicity of materials and how to use the P2PU features with the content.  The alternative is to undertake a significant redraft of the content, tailoring it specifically to the P2PU format, something I might consider if the model seems to work.

Also, I’ve been asked recently to join the advisory board of Writing Commons, and this seems to coincide well with the above developments.  I’m going to be writing a piece on tOFP and the above experiment for that site, which will give a better idea of how the P2PU/tOFP combination works.  I will throw that up here as well.

Seems like the only thing not going on in my writing world is actual writing…

The cat’s meow

Posted in fiction, the OpenFiction Project, writing exercise by scarsonmsm on September 10, 2009
The cat mug

The cat mug

A great piece of writing and an interesting project.  The piece of writing is by my good friend, Thomas McNeely, the best fiction writer by far I know personally.

The project is a great type of writing exercise that could be used in conjunction with the OpenFiction Project course materials.

Here’s how the project works:


A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!


  1. The project’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
  2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
  3. Each significant object is listed for sale on eBay. The s.o. is pictured, but instead of a factual description the s.o.’s newly written fictional story is used. However, care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author’s byline will appear with his or her story.
  4. The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author. Authors retain all rights to their stories.
  5. The test’s results — photos, original prices and final sale prices, stories — are cataloged on this website. The project’s curators retain the right to use these materials in other venues and media. For example: Maybe we’ll publish a book.

A great way to generate new stories. I’ll be interested to see how well the story sells on eBay, but so far Tom has done quite well at convincing people to pay money for the same words they already have at home in their dictionary. Please bid to help keep Tom fed adequately.