POCKET Workshop

I attended the POCKET (Project on Open Content Knowledge Exposition and Teaching) workshop last Thursday at the University of Derby. This event was particularly timely as HEFCE just announced an initial £5.7 million of funding for pilot projects on Open Educational Content in higher education institutions early last week. The workshop was started by Patrick McAndrew and Tina Wilson from the Open University who gave an overview of Openlearn, the workflow of open content creation and things to consider before starting an Open Educational Content project. Then we worked in groups to look at how to convert an existing course onto OpenLearn and what were the key issues that needed to be addressed.

In the afternoon session, Sarah Darley, from University of Derby, Roy Attwood from University of Bolton and Mike Jeffries-Harris from University of Exeter presented some course units they have put onto Openlearn. What was most interesting to me was Roys experience in transferring existing open content to the OpenLearn platform as an academic. He has spent the entire summer reading the XML books borrowed from the library and OU XML downloaded from OpenLearn. However, he finally found that in order to upload your course to OpenLearn, you dont have to learn XML at all, rather the easiest way is just to download a course unit from Openlearn, delete the original content and then copy and paste your own content in. I hope his experience and tips will really help those who may be thinking about putting their course onto OpenLearn.

We also explored some tools used by OpenLearn, such as FM (Video conferencing), Compendium (Knowledge Maps) and Learning Journal, etc. Tina demonstrated some examples of how Compendium is being used by educators and learners to present ideas and organise large amounts of information and resources on the web. I have just downloaded the Compendium software a few weeks ago and was hoping to create a knowledge map for Open Educational Resources which could display key concepts and issues of OER movement, visual thinking and discussing process and make accessing to various sorts of resources directly via the map.

The POCKET project is also keen to expand the existing partnership, seek partners to join this initiative and provide support and guidance for individuals and institutions to convert their courses to OpenLearn. It is expected that learners and academics at HEIs in the UK would benefit from an enlarged pool of Open educational resources. For more information about the project and workshop, please visit the POCKET web site.

Copyright and the move towards Open Content

My son has spent several days taking pictures and making videos of his hamsters. He finally put these on his school home page at Fronter and showed it to me. He wrote some interesting stories about his hamsters together with those lovely pictures of them. I believe that other kids would love them. It was a pity that the Fronter doesnt support videos at the moment so he had to upload all the video clips to Youtube and put a link on his webpage. What was most interesting to me was a footnote under the pictures: œPlease feel free to copy it, please dont claim these are your own hamsters. When he realised that I was reading this, he was serious and asked œthis is copyright, isnt it?

Copyright was high on the agenda of the recent JISC RePRODUCE (Re-purposing & Re-use of Digital University-Level Content and Evaluation) programme meeting. More than 20 people from different projects which were funded to develop and run high quality technology enhanced courses using reused and repurposed learning materials sourced externally to their institution gathered together. Liam Earney from the CASPER project (Copyright Advice and Support Project for Electronic Resources) gave a presentation on updates and reflections from the project and how CASPER could help the RePRODUCE projects to engage with all of the issues related to IPR and copyright. The questions and issues in relation to copyright that were raised and discussed included:

  1. Lack of awareness of copyright issues among academics. I cant say for sure, but certainly in my experience most academics are willing to share their work with colleagues within or outside their own institutions but most of them are not clear about what they can or cannot do on third party copyrights. Some are not willing to devote scarce time and resources to obtain permission to use the work of others.
  2. Risk of using unauthorised materials for electronic course materials. Some projects reported they have incorporated copyrighted third-party content in creating the course materials for using within the university. However, if putting these courses on the internet for repurposing and reusing in public, do they have to find ˜clean versions, free of copyrighted elements which are often difficult and expensive? What are the risks that institutions face for using third party copyright materials?
  3. Guidance for institutions on how to handle IPR and copyright for digital teaching materials. Few institutions have developed a clear and explicit policy on IPR management and copyright issues. It was agreed that institutions should set policy on IPR and copyrights as a matter of urgency.

As Helen Beetham from JISC pointed out at the project self-evaluation session on the RePRODUCE programme meeting, it is not only about what contents have been re-purposed and re-used by each project but also what lessons we can draw from these projects. Inevitably, copyright plays a major part in the process of provision open access to publication and teaching and learning resources.

Access to Research Resources for Teachers Space (ARRTs) project

Before joining JISC CETIS I worked on a repository project – ARRTs (Access to Research Resources for Teachers Space) for the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland. The project was to set up a repository to make relevant research publications available to educational professionals “at the touch of a button” (it was initially funded for 9 months then extended to 18 months). As a research officer, two thirds of my time was involved in dealing with issues of copyright and IPR. Although this repository was focused on educational research related publications rather than teaching and learning materials, I think the approaches, processes and issues we have to deal with on IPR and copyright would be similar. Here is a brief summary of my experience on getting permission for mounting third-party copyright publications and students theses onto the repository.

  1. Permissions from funding bodies and organisations: At the beginning, the project team sent letters to 40 funding bodies and organisations in Northern Ireland (including relevant organisations from other parts of the UK) which have funded educational research projects and held the copyright of these publications. After several follow-up letters and many telephone discussions, we were finally granted permissions from more than 35 organisations.
  2. Permission from individual academics: After gaining permissions from funding bodies, we then sent a standardised copyright clearance letter to individual authors seeking permission to mount their reports and papers onto ARRTs repository. It was a nice surprise to find that of the 200+ academics we contacted all granted permissions to publish their work onto the repository.
  3. Permissions from Journals: We contacted ten publishers (when authors sent in their paper wishing to upload them onto the repository but permission had to be sought from the journals). Regrettably, we received a positive response from only one journal granting us permission to upload any paper we wished onto the repository.
  4. Permissions from institutions: In addition to research reports and academic papers, the project was designed to include all PhD and Masters theses in the Education departments of the four local institutions onto the repository (at the moment, most of them are lying on the shelves in libraries and hardly used by researchers and practitioners). We set up several meetings with colleagues from the institutions with the purpose of gaining institutional permissions to upload these theses onto the repository. Although all the participants thought this was a good idea and wished to take the action forward, the institutional approval process was very slow. By the end of the project, we had only received writing permission from one institution.

Our experience shows that both funding bodies and academics are positive on giving permission to disseminate and share the research outcomes and data to a broader audiences and users through the repository. However, publishers are wary and most of them are still hostile to open access due to the issues and problems the industry faces. Many institutions dont have clear policies on who should be responsible for copyright and IPR issues and pass the responsibility to library staff. There is an urgent need for more efficient and cost effective mechanisms and methods to copyright clearance and permissions.

It could be anticipated that IPR and copyright issues will move up the agenda of key issues as more and more OER development takes place. In particular, with the forthcoming Open Educational Content call. JISC has already funded several projects to look at the issues and provide guidance and useful tools for researchers, lecturers and institutions to deal with IPR and copyright issues. For example, by accessing the RoMEO (Publisher’s copyright & archiving policies) website, you can check a publishers default policy and permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher’s copyright transfer agreement. The Web2Rights project provides a basic IP toolkit for projects engaging with Web2.0 technologies and emerging legal issues. JISC-SURF Partnering on Copyright programme has looked at University Copyright Policies and developed a set of Practical Guidelines suitable for HEI in the UK. As open educational content projects continue to evolve and expand, researchers, lecturers, students and institutions will inter-relate with IPR and copyright issues as never before. The protection offered to research papers, teaching and learning materials by copyright law is in excess of what is required by most academics who think about open and sharing resources in education. More efforts will be needed to address the challenging questions in order to adapt innovative approaches to educational content creation, reusing and sharing.

I have no intention to talk about the complexity of the copyright issues to an 11 year old child but I might introduce him to Creative Commons and see if he could use it for sharing his work with others over the internet. It may be better to leave some spaces for children to try their own ways to the solution when they have opportunities to think about the same issues as adults. The truth of the matter is that by the time the Youtube generation grows up, there will be a much higher demand for open access to educational resources by learners and reusing and sharing teaching materials among academics. It is clear that deep changes are needed to promote educational ˜fair use in normal copyright law. I hope that some of the barriers we encountered today will not be a problem in the future.

Social Learning Zone, PLE and Cooperativeâ Curriculum Designing for Change

I attended the opening of the Social Learning Zone at the University of Bolton last week. Everyone was impressed by the exciting œone stop shop facilities for students in the campus which brings together a traditional library, 24 hours access to a computer room and a café. In the social learning zone, students are able to bring books in from the library, have access to wireless technology to use their lap-tops and mobile phones and can discuss projects with fellows or tutors in a relaxed environment. As the Vice Chancellor, Dr George Holmes, stated in his opening address: ˜Students at Bolton are the very heart of the university¦ Academic staff develop their understanding and critical thinking that expands the minds of students to create new knowledge. But without the facilities and infrastructure, the pulse is less quickened. The Social Learning Zone that we are in today provides that environment.

The social learning zone is another step forward for the university to shift from an institutional approach to a more learner centred approach to learning and to take into account how students like to work nowadays. To me, this initiative is in line with another two ongoing technology related projects at the University of Bolton.

One is PLE project in which learners can configure different services and preferred tools to develope their personal systems (Personal Learning Environments) in order to bring together informal learning from the home and the workplace, as well as more formal provision by education institutions.

The other is the newly funded JISC curriculum design project which adopts a ˜cooperative model to develop a professional curriculum within the community that meets the needs of the learner and their organisation and supports work-based learning and inquiry-based learning.

It is clear all these programmes are designed with the intention of changing methods of traditional teaching and learning in the university and exploring different ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching programmes. In particular, they aim to enhance the learners learning experience. However, the learning environment, technology and even new curricula do not really bring changes on their own, so what is necessary for desired changes to take place?

Given the complexity of educational change, this will be a much longer and more complicated process and needs to consider organisational, cultural and pedagogical issues within an institution. For example, how do we define knowledge and learning? How do we assess outcomes of learning and in what way do we acquire accreditation? It also needs to take into account wider economic and social change. As Graham Attwell in his article suggested, œit is not educational technology per se that will shape the future of education but wider usage of technology in different spheres of society including in production and work processes and in changing processes of knowledge creation and development that will challenge traditional models of teaching and learning. Thus it is the way we use technology which will shape the social interaction of learning and may lead to profound changes in educational processes and institutions.

Technological innovations have not revolutionised educational institutions yet. However, the current trend towards social learning and personalised learning through networking, social software and tools in higher education has meant that the emphasis has shifted away from promoting effective teaching towards developing an improved understanding of how students learn. There is no doubt that the universities which will thrive are those which treat students more like consumers and adapt to the new just-in-time technology with student-centredness and on-demand approaches to the delivery of education..

I am really interested to know how the social learning zone will be used by students and lecturers at Bolton to develop new learning opportunities and skills and create new knowledge.