The last session I attended at the SUNY CIT 2008 conference in May was conducted by three terrifically interesting scholars from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Steven Zucker, Beth Harris, and Eric Feinblatt. [read about my poster presentation on my Second Life blog].
Titled “Whose Technology is it Anyway?” they blew me away with the concept of opening up the source code of our institutions to allow the kinds of collaboration we see in open source software that lets the larger community of software developers, professional and amateur, work to create better tools. The open source movement attempts to harness “the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in” (http://www.opensource.org/).
What would it mean to open the source code of our institutions? Here are a few thoughts on that topic. Pardon the randomness and the thinking out loud:
- first we would have to identify what that concept means in terms of an organization instead of software. I guess we could start with an organizational chart, but those seem to me more like the friendly user interfaces that mask code. What lies beneath the organizational chart?
- what community would we be inviting to join in development? The session moderators suggested students as the primary users of the technology tools we deploy. I agree, but would add faculty who may use a tool for research, in which case, are we also inviting faculty peers in their disciplines, wherever they may be?
- are we inviting chaos and dumbing down a high level of sophistication for a low and common result? That’s the old highbrow/lowbrow argument, as well as the argument against such collaborative enterprises as Wikipedia. Are we inviting the end of expertise in favor of consensus?
I don’t know any of these answers, but I’m fascinated by them, partly because the question of why students need traditional education in a world where so much information and collaboration is just a click away keeps nagging me. So the big question in my mind is “what would students build or modify if they could get their hands on the source code of our institutions?”