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#phonar : An holistic approach to post-photographic learning

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Robert Farrow
27 October 2011

Jonathan Worth & Shaun Hides

"Photography thrives as its industry dies.What if you used those same destructive forces to work for you, your photography and your teaching?


DTU's have a keen interest in course exchange. More often than not, however, course exchange turns out to be highly complicated due to the differences between DTU's, both in terms of their pedagogic and educational traditions and in terms of all kinds of legal issues. This is why the concept of complementary course production ( this concept was developed by Trevor Herbert of the OUUK )  is interesting in that this concept involves international co-operation without students having to travel abroad. Complementary course production is tantamount to the following: several DTU's agree on a specific theme for a new course. Each participating institution makes its own course, on the understanding that all materials which are produced and used by the participating institutions are offered as open education resources. In this way each participating institution may profit from, and use and adapt, all the materials prepared by all the participants."


The presenter (Worth) began by noting that he was a reluctant adopter of openness.  As an editorial photographer, his business model relied on being paid for the mode of distribution, where access to his work would only be enabled by buying a magazine.  When people started to access his images online his revenue streams dried up.  Syndicating images relies on images being in some sense 'scarce'.

This prompted him to monitor the use of his images online, sending angry emails threatening legal action... running into innocently-minded bloggers!  

But over time he came to realise that someone else was doing a good job of distributing his images... and, at the same time, it was impossible to police the use of his images.

He spoke to Cory Doctorow to find out how he might be able to somehow make money while giving away his content.  Together they formed a plan (accounted in The Power of Open).  Cory introduced him to the CC-BY licensing model.

He would print a run of 125 and stagger the pricing, with free versions available on Flickr and numbered versions carrying a charge - with the 'first edition' being the most expensive.  He made substantially more from this activity than from trying to charge for every image.  

So, recently, when he was asked to write a photography class (by Coventry University) he decided to proceed on a 'free and open' basis, removing barriers to entry and running it through a blog.  It got more server traffic than other pages in the department.  The university were not pleased to discover that 'knowledge was being given away'.  But this was just the start on an ongoing process of mediation with respect to ownership of the course, moving from a broadcast model of education to the provision of contextual links between individuals and climate for learning.

(The course is incredibly popular - over the last five weeks, more people have started the course than NYU has undergraduates.  There are more students in #phonar than the whole of the rest of the university.)

There was no money available to set up platforms, so, rather than building bespoke systems (as universities typically would) he turned to systems like Flickr and Vimeo.  These were more accessible to students... even though the course is now the hardest to get into (oversubscribed?) in the university.

The interest in the course provides a global network of interested people for those on the course.  However, just being 'open' isn't enough; there is also a question about how to distribute the learning experience so that people can take ownership of it.

Worth advocates being 'actively' rather than 'passively' open.


Extra content - Access the Phonar site and course videos.

Chris Pegler
22:16 on 30 October 2011

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