The School of Open

Some of you may have been privy to a temporarily broken footer on the P2PU website caused by a “School of Open” that was prototyped and demo-ed at the Mozilla Festival earlier this month. As the person responsible for the broken footer, and running the School of Open design challenge at the Mozilla Festival, I thought I might introduce the concept for it here, and talk a little bit about the great results from that session and the further work we did during the P2PU workshop in Berlin.

What is the School of Open?

The School of Open is an idea that has been simmering since P2PU piloted its first round of courses in 2009. The initial pilot included courses called “Copyright 4 Educators” which were organized and run by copyright and Creative Commons experts such as P2PU co-founder and current Board Chair Delia Browne and then CC South Africa Lead Andrew Rens. The aim of the courses was to help educators and librarians learn about copyright law as it pertained to them in the everyday and to take advantage of an existing, and pretty wonderful set of options — open content licenses, aka the Creative Commons licenses, and the creative and educational works made available by them for free re-use and remix — by anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

The School of Open takes this idea and expands on it. When it comes to our professional and personal lives, we run into unforeseen barriers due to closed standards, tools, or practices. For example, default copyright laws turn into barriers for educators and learners who want to be able to collaborate and build upon each others works freely, without a lawyer, university red tape, or the headache of having to obtain explicit permission each and every time. These kinds of barriers exist everywhere there are closed systems, but not everyone knows about the “open” systems that exist right beside them, free for anyone to take advantage of to help improve their current situation.

To make “open” truly relevant to the Average Joe, which is anyone from your grandmother to a twenty-something kid living out their hipster lifestyle in Berlin, we have to explain it in their terms. Talking about how copyright or closed Internet protocol is going to spell the end of the world won’t do anything but bore people to death, or preach to the choir (which is most of you reading this post).

So how do we go about it?

The School of Open — Prototype
At the Mozilla Festival, we explored these questions as part of a three hour Design Challenge where a bunch of us from the open education, data, and media crowds came together to hack together a rough vision of what the School of Open might look like.

The result of that effort is here: Five design challenges and ideas for courses were developed and added by five break-out groups. Each design challenge/course focuses on how a specific “open” standard, tool, or practice affects life around us.

For instance, see the “Open Detective” design challenge created by Cydney Gray’s group:

This course will explore the scale of open to non-open content and how to tell the difference.

1. Students will be taken through a short introduction of open vs non- open web content.

2. Students will explore the web under the guidance of the “Open Detective” icon who will show them how to spot the clues of open source material.

3. Students will demonstrate their knowledge by creating a piece of media made from purely open source material and will be assessed on their accuracy.

In this activity the learner engages directly with “open” material — essentially learning about “open” by practicing “open.” One could also imagine peers assessing each other, or working together to mash/remix media.

The School of Open — Draft Charter

Following on this excitement from the festival, I worked with other P2PU volunteers and staff at the workshop in Berlin to draft a charter, based on the discussion we had with the larger community at the festival. Here’s what we came up with:


The School of Open is a collaboration between Creative Commons and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to create a grassroots learning community focused on “open” standards, tools, and practices and their practical application in life and society.


The problem: Universal access to and participation in research, education, and culture is made possible by “openness”, but not enough people know what it means or how to take advantage of it.

The solution: Peer learning on what “open” means and how it applies to you, powered by mentors and learners like you, self-organized into study groups which themselves leverage existing “open” learning materials.

The goal: Encourage artists, educators, learners, scientists, archivists, and other creators to improve their fields via the use of open tools and materials. Offer skills and certification around “openness” that result in the spread of open tools, content, and practices.


Learning opportunities and certification offered by the School of Open focus on promoting open practices in research, education, and culture. As an example: The Open Courseware Consortium might build a course on how to move your University from closed to open courseware. Similarly, SPARC might build a course teaching awareness about Open Access policies. This focus may evolve and deepen as the School of Open community grows.

To the extent possible, courses should be built around tools that are accessible to any learner free of cost, free to share, and free to modify to suit their personal needs. Participants should also be encouraged to openly share their work. Participants are expected to openly license their work under the CC Attribution-ShareAlike, or compatible license, so that they may review, revise, and adapt each others work.

This is obviously a work in progress, and we’d love your feedback. Many have already signed on to be involved in the pilot for the School of Open, or to just be notified when it launches. You can sign up for announcements here. Like everything at P2PU, this is a community-driven project. Its success depends on us!


There are some other things in the works, like potentially a Project Manager or Lead for the School of Open to help get it running and off the ground. He or she would work closely with the P2PU and Creative Commons staff and community, especially exploring systems of recognition and assessment models, including Chloe’s excellent work in translating game design into design challenges for learning and the School of Webcraft’s badges pilot.

Lots of things are possible with a new School! But we have lots of ground already covered to stand on, and lots left to cover, which is what makes it exciting and real at the same time. I hope you join us.

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