In Common List

In Common this Week: Dipping a Toe in Open [Source] Waters

Hi folks–

One of the ideas, embedded in the name of the CUNY Commons, is the idea of shared resources. It’s also a simple idea that is important to a public research institution such as the CUNY Graduate Center and should have profound impact on the way each of us situates our own research.

Of course, a “digital commons” can also seem contradictory when you consider issues of open access. Not everyone has access to fast internet, unlimited data, or significant computing power. It remains, in some sense, a goal rather than an achievement. OpenCUNY, another CUNY WordPress community, has published remarks from Dr. Scott Dexter who spoke last semester about issues at the center of movements driving digital commons and open source communities. It’s a helpful introduction to the politics behind these issues and why projects like the Commons matter.

In this weekly round-up, I want to draw attention to three open-source initiatives and tools that have their roots here in the Commons. They’re each simple and offer opportunities for even the least technically inclined to get involved in “open” activities. You’re already participating in an open source community if you’re reading this blog. You’re already a contributing member if you’re running you’re own blog here, helping to edit one, or even if you’re commenting. These projects and initiatives are routes to be more involved and which may change your perception about what goes into such work.

  • The Visible Pedagogy blog has a wonderful new post titled “Steal this Book” in which Jesse Rappaport discusses the ideas animating his plan to write a textbook for his upcoming Logic course that he’ll offer to his class for free. There is a detailed but well-written discussion of the ethos of “Open Source.” It’s an ambitious project that not everyone has the time to take up. But his work can be used by others, especially the students in his classes who will not have the fork over the $80 for a traditional textbook. At public institutions like CUNY, that can be a significant burden for our students. This is a great example of a type of project that “lives” in the Commons.
  • Doc-A-Thon for Better Docs was a past event, but I think it merits discussion. Doc-a-thon was a movement to increase and improve documentation for free and open source tools (read “Help” and “FAQ” pages). The GC organized a doc-a-thon here at the GC for projects such as DH Box and Omeka. Free to use tools, put together to solve local problems or with limited resources usually have the least amount of documentation. There just isn’t always time for coders to create comprehensive instructions (and really, sometimes they’re not so good at doing it anyway!). The idea behind a doc-a-thon is that the communities that use a tool can help create the documentation. People who have solved problems can write a paragraph for an FAQ. People who are good communicators can read over and introduction and clean it up, clarify and simplify. These types of small, manageable changes ultimately make a tool more accessible and potentially increase the user base. It’s the type of project that can also be used in other contexts. What would happen, for example, if you had a doc-a-thon in your program? Student and faculty created guides to update resources on the first and second exam, methodologies for dissertations, FAQs for navigating the challenges of archival research, etc. Doc-a-thons highlight that we each have knowledge–something that we acknowledge as CUNY scholars–but that even what we imagine as mundane knowledge is still important to document.
  • A GC Digital Initiative long in the process has been the creation of a Maker Space. Last week the Digital Initiatives Commons site sent out the invitation to all to make use of the GC’s new maker space. Maker Spaces are all different, but they are under-girded by the same ethos as the Commons–shared resources enable us all to enrich our shared knowledge. A 3D-printer, computers, pod-casting equipment, audio production equipment, and more are all available so that people can.make.things! If you stop by during the open hours, a GC Digital Fellow will be there to help you explore the equipment and see what you can do.

That’s all for now. Happy sharing.

Until next week,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *