Wednesday, January 07, 2015 or

It is perfectly understandable to have a cloud storage solution for documents on one's own computer - both as a way to retrieve and access the files from multiple devices and as a form of backup.  For these functions security of the information and ease of use are probably the two big features one wants in such a solution.

What about content that you want to share publicly?  What criteria should go into selecting an appropriate host?  I am feeling my way through to an answer of this question.  Before I present my preliminary conclusions, let me air some thoughts on background issues.

First, from my days in the campus IT organization, I know there is an acceptable use policy of campus IT resources.   Here I am more interested in the spirit of the policy than its letter.  The spirit says use campus resources in a work-related capacity.  There may be a thick boundary to enable some non-work use.  Particularly, if most of the total use is work related, then using only the resources you are familiar with is efficient.  To have to use a non-campus resource that will be accessed only infrequently doesn't make much sense.

Second, I am emeritus from the university but continue to teach part-time.  I'm sure the acceptable use policy has something on emeriti faculty, but if it allows some yet a lower grade of access to campus resources, then I'm in the odd situation where in the fall I should have the higher level of access but in the spring the lesser level.

Third, there is the issue of whether what I do is university-related work or not.  I really don't know at this point.  Here are a few examples to illustrate the dilemma.  This coming semester I'm going to have a discussion group made up of students who took my class last semester.  It is an entirely voluntary thing.  They don't get credit for it and I don't get paid for it.  We will meet weekly.  It appears unlikely now, but suppose we end up writing a joint paper on how the discussion group went and why it might be a good idea for others to try it.  Is that university-related work?  Next, consider blog posts such as this one.  They have potential to inform people who work in the learning technology arena - on campus and elsewhere too.  If that audience gets benefit from these posts, is the work university related?    Finally, I am going to return to write a novel that I started many years ago.  Much of it is set in Champaign and has characters who worked at the U of I.  When I started writing it, I was the Director of the then Center for Educational Technologies.  Is that novel university related work?

Without being able to offer subsidiary criteria for making this type of determination, my intuition is that the discussion group is more likely to be work related than the novel, with the blog posts somewhere in between.  (Some of the posts are clearly not work related, like when I write a book/film review, such as a recent post on The Luzhin Defense.  Other posts are about work issues.)

Now I want to turn this on its head.  I don't have policies for me on what should be in my interest, defined separately from the university's interest, but I think it worth asking what those interests are. Do I want to have the university's brand associated with my work?  That's one big question.  Another question follows from this issue.  I am definitely for open content in a teaching and learning situation.  All the learning objects I make are freely available online to anyone with Internet access.  Taking that as a given, should I then not want to have a commercial host of my content?

The two hosts in my title are meant to be exemplars of a larger class of possible hosts.  The U of I has a contract with and my account has U of I branding on it.  In contrast, is a site for a not-for-profit organization.  I have content at both places.

I have content elsewhere too, because the criteria I've mentioned are insufficient for determining my interests.  Functionality in what the host provides is another consideration.  So, for a while I had presentations at because I liked "slidecasting," especially with musical accompaniment.  And then, you can't know if you want to use the host or not unless you try it. So I have content at Scribd and still at many other places.  Some of these hosts have expired my content for lack of use.  That's okay.  I still have the stuff on my own computer.  What I don't have, and I'm not sure whether this matters to me or not, is that there are links to some of this content at the old host in blog posts like this one.

Do I want to go through an exercise of finding all the dead links in my site, identifying which of those are to my own stuff, and then updating those links after I've reposted the content to a different host?  So far my "rule" has been sloth plus a little social conscience.  In other words, I do nothing about it unless somebody expresses an interest in the stuff at the broken link.  I will respond to that query in a way to make the content available again.  Being more proactive than that is not in the cards.  In other words, I don't think of this like a librarian would.  Maybe that is shortsighted of me.  From time to time I wish I had an archive of my email from 1995-98.  That was my formative time with learning technology.  Once in a while I'm interested in reconsidering that part of my development.  But the stuff has vanished into the ether.

In a post on OERs from a couple of months ago, I argued that having the content be discoverable by others is an important thing.  One can think of discoverability as a kind of functionality for the content.  On that, having the standard search engines be aware of the stuff is important.  I'm deliberately not putting in links in this post, just to emphasize the point.  My blog gets robots from Google and Facebook (those I'm aware of, maybe there are other robots as well that I don't see).  Those links make the content somewhat discoverable, with the post itself an alternative to metadata for finding the content.

But for video content, it is different.  Then it is the host itself, particularly YouTube, that makes the content discoverable.  Does your video show up in the the right sidebar of videos that are related to a different one the person is viewing?

At one point I thought I'd use Google services for all my hosting needs.  A convenience they offer is single sign-on, based on gmail.  When Google Docs started to accept any type of content, that began to look attractive.  But I've since abandoned it, because in my teaching the students have Google Apps for Education accounts while my stuff is on the commercial Google site.  For reasons I don't fully understand, Google Apps for Education blocks direct access to the commercial Google.  Even though my stuff was supposed to be publicly available, my students were sending me requests for them to get access.  That was unmanageable.  It is why I moved to

Let me bring up one other criterion and then close.  This is making content available to a commercial interest.  For example, that novel I mentioned might be published by a commercial house.  Where should that content be so they can get at it?  In 2001 I wrote some ancillary content, Excelets, for an economics textbook.  At the time there weren't that many alternatives for content hosting, and the campus had a service called Netfiles that was fairly easy to use and allowed for granular access permissions.  I ended up using that.  It went against the acceptable use policy, but I didn't have a good alternative at the time.  And nobody else was the wiser.  Today I wouldn't use a campus resource for this function.  I'd expect the commercial interest to provide me with access to their preferred host.  That seems the way to go.

There is nobody on campus who educates faculty and staff about their use of non-university IT resources, other than perhaps some admonition to staff about not being on Facebook so much during the work day and something about not using the same passwords.  Everything else in this domain is done seat of the pants.  Maybe its time to rethink this so more sophistication can be brought to answer the question: what is in the individual's interest when that is defined separately from the campus interest?

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