Brief reflections on Open Practice and OER Sustainability

Lorna and I ran a session at the CETIS conference on the topic of Open Practice and OER Sustainability, we had 10-minute presentations from ten brilliant people who have been involved in the UKOER programme each giving a view from their own perspective on the general problem of “what now that the Jisc money has gone?” It’s fruitless to try to summarise that in full, so what I will do is add links to presentations to the session page linked-to above and give my own very cursory summary of a few of the themes. Lorna has also written a summary on her own blog.

“Scratch your own itch”

One of the most telling comments on sustainability, from Julian Tenney talking about the Xerte project, was that a project would most likely be sustainable if it was about doing something that the people involved needed doing anyway. Not necessarily something that would be done anyway (though in Xerte’s case mostly it was), but definitely not something that was being done just because the money was there. I agree with a comment that was made that there is a problem with the way that Universities treat project funding in this respect (at least in research departments), always the emphasis is on chasing money, getting the next grant. There were many examples of what it might be that “needs doing anyway”, at personal, subject community, institutional, and national/sector-wide level, from the sharing of resources between humanities teachers using HumBox, extra mural studies of the Department of continuing Education at Oxford University, the institutional teaching and learning policy at Leeds Met University, FE colleges in Scotland working in ever closer union and student progression from College to University.

nickbalance(By: Nick Sheppard, Leeds Metropolitan University)

Nick Sheppard asked for a technical infrastructure to support these institutional and other policies. He (and others) asked for APIs and other links between repositories (and the rest of the web, I assume) so that the greatest advantage could be had for effort. Sarah Currier told us about the new offers from Mimas to make your OER effort “Jorum Powered” through a hosted repository, a web interface into Jorum, or by building custom applications using the new Jorum API.

But with technical infrastructure come technical requirements, David Kernohan was worried that these requirements are only bearable by an academic with help, and that once the Jisc funding goes that support will also go. Suzanne Hardy also touched on this.

by David Kernohan, Jisc. The teddy bear is an academic.

The concept involved here was identified by Yvonne Howard as relative advantage, the advantage of something has to be compared to the costs and the costs have to be minimised, as can be done through clever technology such as maximum use of machine created metadata.

“It’s like MOOCs stole OER’s girlfriend”

footpathSo far I’ve mentioned advantages for many people but glossed over the fact that different people will see different advantages; they don’t and for that reason they will pursue different directions, as we have seen with MOOCs. Amber Thomas of Warwick University (but yes, the same Amber as was of JISC) described MOOCs and OERs as distant cousins who used to get on but are now no longer friendly for some reason. And it’s not like the O for Open in the two really stands for the same thing, as Pat Lockley said, their open is not necessarily our open. But, he asked, what is open? a footpath through private land or a National Park with the right to roam where you please (if you can manage to get there)?lakedistrict

(this last photo is mine and is covered by the CC-BY licence of this blog; the others aren’t and are used according to their various licences or permissions from their creators.)

eTextBooks Europe

I went to a meeting for stakeholders interested in the eTernity (European textbook reusability networking and interoperability) initiative. The hope is that eTernity will be a project of the CEN Workshop on Learning Technologies with the objective of gathering requirements and proposing a framework to provide European input to ongoing work by ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC36, WG6 & WG4 on eTextBooks (which is currently based around Chinese and Korean specifications). Incidentally, as part of the ISO work there is a questionnaire asking for information that will be used to help decide what that standard should include. I would encourage anyone interested to fill it in.

The stakeholders present represented many perspectives from throughout Europe: publishers, publishing industry specification bodies (e.g. IPDF who own EPUB3, and DAISY), national bodies with some sort of remit for educational technology, and elearning specification and standardisation organisations. I gave a short presentation on the OER perspective.

Many issues were raised through the course of the day, including (in no particular order)

  • Interactive and multimedia content in eTextbooks
  • Accessibility of eTextbooks
  • eTextbooks shouldn’t be monolithic and immutable chunks of content, it should be possible to link directly to specific locations or to disaggregate the content
  • The lifecycle of an eTextbook. This goes beyond initial authoring and publishing
  • Quality assurance (of content and pedagogic approach)
  • Alignment with specific curricula
  • Personalization and adaptation to individual needs and requirements
  • The ability to describe the learning pathway embodied in an eTextbook, and vary either the content used on this pathway or to provide different pathways through the same content
  • The ability to describe a range IPR and licensing arrangements of the whole and of specific components of the eTextbook
  • The ability to interact with learning systems with data flowing in both directions

If you’re thinking that sounds like a list of the educational technology issues that we have been busy with for the last decade or two, then I would agree with you. Furthermore, there is a decade or two’s worth of educational technology specs and standards that address these issues. Of course not all of those specs and standards are necessarily the right ones for now, and there are others that have more traction within digital publishing. EPUB3 was well represented in the meeting (DITA is the other publishing standard mentioned in the eTernity documentation, but no one was at the meeting to talk about that) and it doesn’t seem impossible to meet the educational requirements outlined in the meeting within the general EPUB3 framework. The question is which issues should be prioritised and how should they be addressed.

Of course a technical standard is only an enabler: it doesn’t in itself make any change to teaching and learning; change will only happen if developers create tools and authors create resources that exploit the standard. For various reasons that hasn’t happened with some of the existing specs and standards. A technical standard can facilitate change but there needs to a will or a necessity to change in the first place. One thing that made me hopeful about this was a point made by Owen White of Pearson that he did not to think of the business he is in as being centred around content creation and publishing but around education and learning and that leads away from the view of eBooks as isolated static aggregations.

For more information keep an eye on the eTernity website

UKOER 2: without the collections strand

An intial look at UKOER without the collections strand (C). This is a post in the UKOER 2 technical synthesis series.

[These posts should be regarded as drafts for comment until I remove this note]

In my earlier post in this series on the collections strand (C), I presented a graph of the technical choices made just by that part of the programme looking at the issue of gathering static and dynamic collections, as part of that process I realised that, although the collections strand reflects a key aspect of the programme, and part of the direction future I hope future ukoer work is going, a consideration of the programme omitting the technical choices of strand C might be of interest.

The below graphs are also the ones which compare most directly with the work of UKOER 1 which didn’t have an strand focused on aggregation.

Platform related choices in UKOER2 excluding the collections strand

Platform related choices in UKOER2 excluding the collections strand

Standards related choices in UKOER2 excluding the collections strand

Standards related choices in UKOER2 excluding the collections strand

I’m hesitant to over-analyse these graphs and think there’s a definite need to consider the programme as a whole but will admit, that a few things about these graphs give me pause for thought.

  • wordpress as a platform vanishes
  • rss and oai-pmh see equal use
  • the proportional of use of repositories increases a fair bit (when we consider that a number of the other platfoms are being used in conjunction with a repository)


now in a sense, the above graphs fit exactly with the observation at the end of UKOER that projects used whatever tools they had readily available. However, compared to the earlier programme it feels like there are fewer outliers – the innovative and alternative technical approaches the projects used and which either struggled or shone.

Speculating on this it might be because institutions are seeking to engage with OER release as part of their core business and so are using tools they already have, it might be that most of the technically innovative bids ended up opting to go for strand C, or I could be underselling how much technical innovation is happening around core institutional technology (for example ALTO’s layering of a web cms on top of a repository).

To be honest I can’t tell if I think this trend to stable technical choices is good or not. Embedded is good but my worry is that there’s a certain inertia around institutional systems which are very focused on collecting content (or worse just collecting metadata) and which may lose sight of why we’re all so interested in in openly licensed resources (See Amber Thomas’ OER Turn and comments for a much fuller discussion of why fund content release and related issues; for reference I think open content is good in itself but is only part of what the UKOER programmes have been about).


  • the projects have been engaged in substantive innovative work in other areas, my comments are purely about techincal approaches to do with managing and sharing OER.
  • when comparing these figures to UKOER graphs it’s important to remember the programmes had different numbers of projects and different foci; a direct comparison of the data would need a more careful consideration than comparing the graphs I’ve published.

Post UKOER? the Saylor open textbook challenge

Are you wondering what to do with your OER next? Are you wondering how to keep the ball rolling in your institution and share some more educational resources openly? Are you looking for a tangible way to get your open content used? or perhaps looking for a way to turn your OER into something a little more tangible for your CV?

well, this might be your lucky day…

If your OER is transformable into a textbook (or is already a textbook) and is entirely licensable as  CC: BY content (either already CC:BY or you’re the rights holder and are willing to licence as such), the Saylor Foundation would like to hear from you. There’s a $20000 award for any textbook they accept for their curriculum.

full details are available at:

key dates

  • round 1 funding deadline: November 1, 2011;
  • round 2 funding deadline: January 31, 2012;
  • round 3 funding deadline: May 31, 2012

There have been a number of UKOER projects working in some of the areas which Saylor are looking for materials, so it’s worth a look.

There’s this whole thing about referrals but (to keep life simple) here’s the referral link which Creative Commons generated: .

If you use this link to submit a textbook which gets accepted those clever folk at Creative Commons get $250.

UKOER 2: Analytics and tools to manipulate OER

How are projects tracking the use of their OER? What tools are projects using to work with their OER collections? This is a post in the UKOER 2 technical synthesis series.

[These posts should be regarded as drafts for comment until I remove this note]


Analytics and tracking tools in use in the UKOER 2 programme

Analytics and tracking tools in use in the UKOER 2 programme

As part of their thinking around sustainability, it was suggested to projects that they consider how they would track and monitor the use of the open content they released.

Most projects have opted to rely on tracking functionality built into their chosen platform (were present). The tools listed in the graph above represent the content tracking or web traffic analysis tools being used in addition to any built in features of platforms.

Awstats, Webalizer and Piwik are all in (trial) use by the TIGER project.


Tools used to work with OER and OER feeds in the UKOER 2 programme

Tools used to work with OER and OER feeds in the UKOER 2 programme

These tools are being used by projects to work with collections of OER, typically by aggregating or processing rss feeds or other sources of metadata about OER. SOme of the tools are in use for indexing or mapping, others for filtering, and others to plug collections or search interfaces into a third-party platform. The tools are mostly in use in Strand C of the programme but widgets, yahoo pipes, and feed43 have a degree of wider use.

The listing in the above graph for widgets covers a number of technologies including some use of the W3C widget specification.
The Open Fieldwork project made extensive use of coordinate and mapping tools (more about this in a subsequent post)

UKOER 2: OER creation tools used

When projects in UKOER 2 created or edited content what tools did they use? This is a post in the UKOER 2 technical synthesis series.

[These posts should be regarded as drafts for comment until I remove this note]

Tools to make OER

OER creation tools in use in the UKOER 2 programme

OER creation tools in use in the UKOER 2 programme


  • Ms Office and Adobe Acrobat are not represented in these graphs or in PROD – their use (or the use of open source alternatives which can produce respective file types) is ubiquitous and dominant.
  • For a number of online tools (typically those considered web2.0) there is an overlap between creation and hosting platforms and are listed on both graphs.


  • Flash is the only tool (apart from Office and Acrobat) that shows use across more than a few projects.