The Thing about Transparency

This is an awesome post by Stephen Downes about transparency and blogging.

So – this is the thing about transparency. It requires a lot of courage on the part of the person being transparent, but it requires more that the people observing understand that they are viewing a real person, with real faults, real opinions, real ideas and real fears. We harm ourselves and each other by assuming that everybody must conform to some sort of magazine-perfection.

The role of the audience in understanding blogging is about real people struggling with evolving ideas is well said, and quite useful for understanding why this process is so different from publishing as we have understood it heretofore. As a wise man said to me recently: “writing books is just an excuse for a book tour.”

And for the record, not all Americans cower at the idea of speaking their mind out in the open, as I imagine not all Canadians are as bold as Downes.

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9 Responses to The Thing about Transparency

  1. Amen, Jim. This notion of the difference between a blog and a traditional publication is one which haunts me. I want to know how many of us login to our blog’s backend only to see “draft” next to not more than a few half-baked ideas. Sometimes I read older posts of mine and cringe at how open I’ve been. I’ve paid a price for it. But I don’t know how to have a conversation by contributing well-crafted monologues, and blogs are more engaging as conversation than as exposition. It’s why we need to push our academic blogging to the front of our public web presence: Any University can say it’s awesome in a brochure. Not many can show it through thoughtful, open, live discourse on the part of students and faculty. Keep Hope Alive, Jim.

  2. Tom says:

    Something odd kicked this into my RSS reader now. It’s sort of like time travel so I’ll comment anyway . . .

    I don’t understand why Higher Ed loves Downes so much, especially you. You ought to harbor a grudge for SXSW if nothing else.

    I think he says some good stuff on occasion and his odds are decent given he writes such a huge amount but this post sounds pretty much like everything I’ve ever heard about transparency/blogging etc. Here’s Alan in 2009 saying pretty much the same thing. I could find many others. I like Alan’s take better and it contains no petty sniping or self-congratulations.

  3. Reverend says:

    Look at you, starting the New Year right. But I’ll actually argue that Downs has a unique quality of both seeing and summing up what’s happening in our field, and in the culture more generally. Like this recent gem: Plus, he works hard —very, very hard. Granted he is not the most cuddly guy on the internet, but he makes no excuses for it—which I like. What’s more, he is a stalwart in terms of reading widely, introducing new voices, and generally giving me tons of fodder to think and write about. He’s a filter for edtech I appreciate.

    As for the EDUPUNK panel in 2009, I’m not sure it was such a travesty in retrospect. It was one way to diffuse the idea so it could become re-invigorated as something much cooler in ds106. He was a jackass at that panel and totally derailed it, but as with most folks ego and pride is a hard thing to master. I can;t claim to have it under wraps all the time, but this quote from Pulp Fiction always helps:

  4. Tom says:

    You and D’Arcy both like him and I like both of you. There is probably a reason that you like him that I’ve missed. However, I will respond to your points because I am a jerk.

    That “gem” post just doesn’t do anything for me. That stuff seems pretty obvious and I quickly reached the TL;DR limit. I just don’t care what he thinks about fracking.

    I don’t really care how hard he works. Even if he worked really, really extra super hard I would not care. James Brown worked hard, too hard. I’d prefer he would have relaxed more and not gone crazy.

    There’s a difference between being yourself (cuddly or not) and consistently looking for ways to be an ass. Most of the people I like have an edge to them but usually with a purpose.

    He does appear to read and filter through a huge amount of material.

    It was every bit of the travesty you felt it was initially. Nothing was said or done because of that panel. The egotism on display there was disheartening and epitomized everything I’ve ever disliked about higher ed. I respond with a song I should have played with a boom box above my head Say Anything style. #NSFWlyrics

    • Reverend says:

      I have to say, I feel the same way you feel about Downes about Seth Godin. That guy packages the obvious and sells it at a 5000% markup. It is like selling bottle water, and when you tweet or blog about him, a little piece of me dies 🙂

  5. Tom says:

    I don’t recall ever blogging about Seth Godin but apparently I did mention him in 2009. For that I am sorry.

    Twitter, is Twitter and I have no real memory of anything I do there. I have no interest in defending Seth Godin. Occasionally he says stuff that seems at least succinct.

    I am sorry I hurt you.

  6. Reverend says:


    Listen, all this confirms is we need to work together again. Here is the deal. Running ds106 as a Twilight Zone episodic series wherein people write a 22 minute episode about particular topic and it gets produced. That is where I like my energy to be, in the creating because the pontificating is a long, slow death on the internet. As for Seth Godin, “the Chinaman is not the issue dude.”

  7. Tom says:

    Agreed. I like working with you and apologize for my recent useless comments. Believe it or not, the last one was an attempt at acquiescing.

    Here are a few random thoughts which you can totally ignore as I’m not trying to shoot down the idea, I’m just trying to place it in the context of the class as I know it and bounded by my, perhaps inaccurate, assumption of what students/humans are likely able to do.

    While I like the Twilight Zone, it seems like This American Life would be more approachable (multiple shorter stories with a uniting theme). You could, if you were doing it sequentially, require elements from previous shows to be built into latter shows etc. There was a This American Life TV show on Netflix at one point I believe.

    I can’t see many people able to put together a compelling 22 minute TV show. Most people can’t create 2 minutes of compelling video. Maybe that’s the challenge but I wonder how you scaffold up to that in the short amount of time you have. I would imagine that you’d have to have a heavy focus on TZ analysis in terms of genera, plot lines, script writing, acting, camera angles etc. from the get go. It would seem you’d have to rework much of how the class operates. Maybe I’m wrong.

    I would image that The Twilight Zone would be immensely difficult to write and shoot well.

    The thing that I like about the concept of TAL is that it’s about finding interesting stories around you, more about paying attention to the beauty already in the world (as opposed to constructing it more fundamentally). It’s about narrative, paying attention, and looking for the connections between things. I like that as a concept and while it is lower hanging fruit in many ways, I still feel it’s quite a stretch to do well.

    All that being said, if you want to do a TZ episode I’m game. I’ll have to watch some as it’s been many, many years.

  8. Reverend says:


    The idea, which I wasn’t clear on up front, was to create a series of episodes for the first two or three weeks of a five week class. Use them as introductions to the days theme, play with the idea of a Twilight zone episode around it, and use that as the class “content.” additionally, provide a Q&A with the writer, talk about production. All the while provide space for students to comment around the episodes, provide some discussion of the story form, genre, film the original episode this played on, and see what’s possible. perhaps towards week 4 and 5 a group of students can try and create an episode, but that not be the end all be all of the class. What I am thinking is the class itself becomes a production that we can hopefully pull students into through immersion.

    Given it is a Summer class we can experiment pretty wildly, and if it fails we have a sense of why and have all tried to create something in the failing.

    Finally, I have 82 episodes on my DVR, maybe I’ll invite you over one night for a watching party 😉

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