Monday Pulse: What Was Your Open Education "Spark Bird"?

Can you remember a moment, event, person, project, video, article that first sparked your interest in open education? This week’s pulse poll asks for the source of that, and we hope you also reply below and share more about that story.

The term is borrowed from one used by bird watchers “to describe the first bird that got them seriously interested in birding” (source) or more fervently “the species that mutates one’s benign regard for nature into a seething, immoderate interest in avifauna” (source).

What was the source that first sparked your interest in open education? Please reply below with more details of your story!
  • an event e.g. presentation / workshop / professional development activity
  • within my institution - e.g. library, center for teaching & learning, student organization
  • a colleague or individual
  • a project I volunteered for / was assigned to
  • an influential video
  • an article / blog post
  • randomly on the internet
  • other

0 voters

This pulse was seeded by @jan who shared an Ask Hacker News open ended question “Do you recall any book or course that made a topic finally click?” (for technical folks) that we felt could be redrafted here for open educators.

Also ironically, a recent This American Life podcast I heard generated the metaphor of the Spark Bird that seemed to fit.

Let us know, what was your Open Education Spark Bird-- “the event that mutated your benign regard for learning into a seething, immoderate interest in open education” :wink:


I started working on an online graduate degree in digital printing and publishing, in order to learn more about where my field was and where I might go with it. I had been working at a printing/publishing company for 15 years and it was time for a change. The first course had a required $150 textbook that you could get from the instructor, who wrote it, for $100. I found it on Amazon for six dollars, which was a good thing since we never actually used it. All the content and all the tools we used in the course were freely available on the web. It occurred to me that what my very expensive tuition was paying for, besides some occasional feedback, was the selection, evaluation and organization of resources. Maybe I’d be better off studying that. A class discussion brought the academic journal, Innovate: Journal of Online Education, to my attention, which introduced me to the work of future MOOCsters and open ed people, And my career trajectory changed.


For me (and for most of the province of Ontario) the spark bird was a person: @davidp. I’m very curious to know about that 43% of respondents who chose “other”. What falls into that category? Would love to hear some origin stories.


Yes @davidp, but also Mary Burgess, @acoolidge and the rest of the BCcampus folks.


I am an “other,” lol. My spark bird was the experience of being a commercial textbook author (for one of the major publishers). My co-authored text was one of the first digital texts they published. It actually IS “relatively affordable” (currently $79 to access for one term). BUT I became quite disillusioned with how completely powerless I felt as an author during the publication process, and how low a percentage my royalties were compared to the revenue that the publisher received. And about a decade later I had the opportunity to teach a population of students for whom even $79 was a significant barrier (the not-uncommon stories of having to choose between the text and several meals). So this was a series of events that led me to become an advocate for Open.


For me it was a natural transition from my interest in FOSS that I’d developed as a young tech guy during the dot-com boom of the late '90s. IIRC, I started by reading David Wiley’s blog, as I was still thinking of it as “open content” when a friend and I first presented on it in 2006.

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Agreed Lena, @davidp was a very influential presence in the Ontario world of open. My specific spark was an event, The eCampusOntario Open Education Summit. During that summit I had the pleasure of listening to Rajiv Jhangiani and Robin DeRosa. Their passion for Open was contagious to say the least. From their I met many many others who’s enthusiasm fuelled and expanded my own. I would also add you Lena to that list as the lead of the OE Fellows program. :slight_smile:

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Online Adult Ed community had a project with American Institutes for Research (which I’d done a thing with earlier after finding out no, it wasn’t a scam ;))
Still hoping to figure out a way to collaborate and create and curate math resources for all sorts of adults marginalized by their lack of opportunities to develop their numeracy.

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These are great stories, thanks @lena for nudging the responses.

It’s so good to see the impact that @davidp and everyone at eCampusOntario had and I would guess other orgs like BCcampus, ALT-C, MERLOT, OERCommons, have had similar effects.

Hence I clicked “randomly on the internet” but “other” might have been better (no points off here). Like @stevefoerster mine was early before there was even a name for it or licenses, in 1992 when I landed an edtech like position at the Maricopa Community Colleges (the title was "Programmer Analyst/Instructional Systems!).

I was needing to learn/teach myself Hypercard development for a project called Learning English Electronically. I came across an ftp resource that was a companion to the InfoMac email list-- the Stanford Sumex-Aim InfoMac archive . I found that people willingly shared their projects, code examples, unlocked, that I could download, open, and learn from. This planted a seed deeply, that anything I was able to build or figure out would be shared back the same way, and pretty much most everything I learned in tech came from what others had shared on the web (one of my first projects was called Research Mentor).

A lot of my nods for key persons go to @opencontent – I remember seeing the first versions of the Open Content Licenses (see summary post) which preceded by 4 years and likely very much influenced the first Creative Commons licenses.

Oh wait, more! I was fortunate in the mid 1990s to be invited to British Columbia for some workshops, activities organized by the provincial organization that was a predecessor to BCcampus I struggled to remember the name, but it was lead by Gillies Malnarich (??) who gave me that invite, I believe (with a Google lift) it was Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology C2T2?? That led to many key connections in higher ed in the Vancouver region.

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How about The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Steve Raymond?

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Minor correction - it’s Eric S Raymond who wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

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For me, it was an EU ERASMUS+ project I worked on in the GIS Sector (the year 2000) where we developed courses /modules (OER CC BY SA) from 2 min, 2 hrs, 2 weeks, and 2 months up to a full Master program


That’s really fascinating, Ebba, powers of 2!

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Yes it was a real success indeed

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What an awesome story!


Hi @EbbaOssiannilsson - thanks for sharing.

Fascinating story and refreshing to see that the ERASMUS+ projects were already engaged with open licensing since 2000. Wow!

I’m curious - did you use the GNU Free Documentation License like Wikipedia back in 2001 because CC licenses were first released in 2002. Perhaps your project used another license or custom license like the early days of the BCcampus open initiative?

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For me, I was hooked when I read: An Expectation of Sharing - Southern Regional Education Board

“To realize the educational impact from the substantial investments SREB states have made in digital content, SREB recommends that electronic educational resources created with public funding be [openly] licensed to provide as high a level of potential for sharing as possible, both within and outside the state.”


I appreciate that, @Lena! :blush:

Part of the reason I chose “other” is that I’m not completely sure. Plus, it depends on what you mean by “OE”.
My sense is that the path to OERs, for me, came from Open Science and Open Access, which itself came from my interest in Free/Libre Open Source Software. I became increasingly invested in open resources related to everything I did. And OERs were an obvious part of that, even before I knew the term.

For instance:
Instructors and Open Textbooks | Disparate (
(By that time, I was recording some Librivox sections and cared deeply about the Public Domain.)

By then, also, I was involved with a loose group of learning professionals on Moodle’s own instance. Not only has it been important to discuss Moodle as Free Software, the approach to teaching was imbued with the “spirit of openness”. Many of these people now have careers in which they carry the torch… to unexpected spots in the OE universe.

Besides, as I keep mentioning, I was raised by a pedagogue whose ideas on teaching were in camp open based on having studied with Jean Piaget. Plus, my schooling was set in Quebec’s history of «pédagogie ouverte», as described by @tannismorgan.

If I’m thinking of the moment which “sealed the deal” for OERs, it probably was the Spirit of Inquiry conference at Concordia, in 2007. I’ve actually discussed this a few times, in the past couple of years. What happened there is two-fold. For one thing, I was able to do a session on the material we create while learning and teaching. It had a big impact on me, as it brought me to engage with colleagues on topics which had been on my mind for a while.
Creative Inquiry | Disparate (
The other thing which happened then is that I attended a session facilitated by Pierre-Julien Guay, the longtime coordinator of Vitrine technologie-éducation (a nonprofit which since joined other nonprofits to create Eductive, where I now work). That session about what was then called Learning Objects Repositories really sparked my interest for openness in dealing with learning material, including those which aren’t carrying the type of open license we all cherish. Creative Commons had been in existence for five years, at that point (we’re celebrating their 20th). In fact, I was using these licenses with my teaching material (although, some of it was CC BY-NC-ND, sorry to say). It’s just that what sparked my interest was the collaboration in adopting & adapting such resources.

So… Long story short… It was a longterm spark.


Yes, right we were early adopters, and GNU was used at the start

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