JISC/ Academy OER start up meeting

I attended the JISC /Academy Open Educational Resources Programme start-up Meeting at the Congress Centre in London last Tuesday. The meeting brought together all funded projects from three programme strands (Individual, Subject and Institutional), JISC/Academy programme managers and JISC programme support services to share and discuss various aspects and issues of the OER pilot programme.

To me, the day was very interesting and useful. Firstly, it was to develop a shared understanding of the purpose of the pilot programme and clarify some “myths” about the OERs projects. Following an introduction to the event by David Kernohan, Tish Roberts gave an overview of the programme. In her presentation, Tish emphasised that successful projects need to be sustainable beyond their funded life, and they also need to explore changing process and policies so that the release of materials becomes an important part of academic practice in institutions. Secondly, the meeting provided guidance on programme management, support and dissemination. Heather Williamson talked about budget, staffing, programme meetings and project reporting. She also pointed out that the projects need to share “when things go wrong”. A range of existing JISC services, including JISC Legal, Jorum, CETIS and InfoNet demonstrated a variety of support functions provided for the projects which cover technical, legal, strategic advice, toolkit and support for the deposit and aggregation of materials. Patrick McAndrew from the OU “SCORE” project shared the lessons learned from OpenLearn and how to support OER projects through OLnet and the community of practice. The evaluation and synthesis for the OER programme intends to develop a common framework tool to look at individual, subject and institutional aspects. Helen Beetham explained that this approach is to encourage shared evaluation. Finally, the event gave delegates an opportunity to get to know one another. The strand meetings provided a small and relaxing environment for successful bidders to talk about their projects and discuss some common issues.

Presentations from the day are available here. Nick and Tom also provided very useful summaries about the event on their blog posts.

Open Educational Resources programme: call for projects

Bidding for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funded  Open Educational Resources (OER) programme is now open. This pilot programme will be managed jointly by JISC and the HEA and projects will run for 12 months. There will be three separate project strands to the programme: Institutional, Subject Area and Individual. The goal of the programme is to make a wide range of learning resources freely available and easily discoverable so that they may be routinely re-used by both educators and learners. For further details about the grant funding call and associated documentation, please visit: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/fundingopportunities/funding_calls/2008/12/grant1408.aspx

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.

Managing Quality of Course Resources in Repositories

Quality is the primary concern for most people looking for teaching and learning materials from open educational resources and repositories. Phil in his blog has indicated the difficulties in creating high quality materials for individual lectures, in measuring what we mean by the term ˜good and in communicating the results so people know where to look for the resources they need. In the OER briefing paper, we discussed several approaches that have been used by OER initiatives in dealing with quality management issues, such as MITs and OpenLearns institution-based approach, the peer review approach for Open Source Software projects and Open Access journals and Rice Connexions open users review approach.

Recently, a colleague pointed me to the National High Quality Course Resources Repository in China and told me how these resources had been developed and selected from different institutions throughout China and used by other educators and learners within the country. It seemed to me that this is quite a different approach to quality assessment and enhancement that might be worth looking at for developing large scale OER initiatives and national repositories. I then spent some time to explore relevant websites for the programme and the resources in the repository. Here are some of my findings and thoughts that I would like to share with people who might be interested.

In 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Education launched the œNational Excellent Courses for Higher Education programme, which aimed to encourage institutions in developing and sharing high quality course resources and improving the quality of teaching and learning in HE as a whole. Each year, institutions submit their best courses to the National Centre for Excellent Courses in HE. The centre uploads all the courses on the website and invites the public to vote. The highly rated courses (around 80% of all submitted courses) enter to the next selection process “ expert reviews. Around 20% of courses are recommended as national excellent courses through reviews by expert panels drawn from different subjects and the results are published via various communications channels. Those selected include syllabi, lecture notes, videos and courseware and are mounted into the National Excellent Courses Resources Repository for educators and learners to re-use and re-purpose in their own teaching and learning. The individuals, faculties and institutions who developed the courses receive funding for their work so that they can further invest in the courses or develop other courses. From 2003 to 2007, 1,798 courses were developed and awarded the ˜excellent title and it is expected that another 4,000 courses will be made available from 2008 to 2010.

This centralised selection approach gives us an example of a large scale and long term quality assurance mechanism for OER and repositories at a national level. In particular, this approach might help to address the quality issues for creating, assessing and reusing resources in large repositories and OERs.

  1. Quality of the materials: ideally, the courses selected and stored in the national repository should be the best in their subject areas as a result of the comprehensive submission and selection process, from subject groups, faculties, and institutions to provincial and national levels, public rates and expert reviews. Most importantly, all the courses submitted, and not just those that are selected, should be well-designed and prepared as they are showcases for other resources in their own institutions repository as well as advertising their courses.
  2. Measurement and assessment of the quality of course resources: both users views and subject experts views are considered to decide what course resources are good and useful to other people.
  3. Communication results and promoting sharing: As a national annual programme, many people in HE are involved in developing courses resources or participating in the selection processes. Institutions, faculties and individuals pay attention to the new courses submitted, selected and published each year and know where to find the resources when they need them.
  4. Value for money: faculties and institutions need to invest in course resources so the funds only go to those courses which are selected. The funding bodies are more confident about which resources they should fund in terms of the quality of the resources and how they may be reused and shared by others. For institutions, encouraging individual and faculties to create and develop high quality courses not only secures further funding but also improves the quality of resources in their own repository.

Unfortunately, I was not able to access to the course resources in the repository from outside China. However, I finally found that some courses have been translated into English and published on China Open Resources for Education (CORE) website. I therefore explored several courses on this site, such as Traditional Chinese Culture Course which was produced by educators from Northwest University. The course resources include a course description, teaching plan, teaching materials assessment, reading list, teaching video and multimedia courseware. However, I had difficulty downloading the videos and multimedia courseware. I then looked at the lists of excellent courses from 2003 to 2007 published on the National Centre for Excellent Courses on the HE website and recognized several well-known experts in educational technology field in China who have been involved in developing courses. I believe that most novice lecturers or learners who teach and study educational technology, in particular educators and learners in under-developed areas in China, would wish to access and reuse these resources, and watch teaching videos. The centre for national excellent course resources website which publishes course information and links to the resources has 0.2 million views per day and the repository for storing the excellent course resources for reusing and sharing receives 0.4 million views per day.

A briefing paper on Open Educational Resources

Recently, I have been working with my colleagues, Sheila and Wilbert, looking at the latest developments and trends in Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives worldwide. JISC has a long term record of interest in sharing and re-using digital content and has already supported many institutional repository projects in the provision of free access to teaching and learning materials in HE/FE (such as Jorum). It appears that OER will have a significant impact on managing and accessing the existing repositories and in taking these initiatives forward as part of a global movement. We thought it might be useful to carry out a review of OERs that might benefit the JISC community in planning funding programs and in opening up discussions on future research directions concerning the use and re-use of digital content.

The work took much longer than we expected due to the complexity and rapid development of OERs. In the last few months, we have studied several well“known OER projects, such as MIT OCW, OpenLearn, Rice Connexions and have drawn invaluable lessons from them. We have reviewed a number of large scale studies on OERs to help gain a better understanding of the main issues in the field. In addition, by following OER blogs , David Wileys and Stephen Downes s blogs, we have been able to draw upon the latest thinking and debates on major issues. We also had a number of discussions with colleagues in CETIS, such as Phil and Lorna, and they have given us lots of valuable suggestions. We finally produced an OER briefing paper as a quick introduction to funding bodies, institutions and educators who are interested in OER initiatives. The paper includes three sections: a) the conceptual and contextual issues of Open Educational Resources; b) current OER initiatives: their scale, approaches, main issues and challenges; and c) trends emerging in Open Educational Resources, with respect to future research and activities.

The briefing paper is an initial attempt to get some input from the wider JISC community and get further debate started around the OER initiatives. It is intended to be a fluid document since the landscape on this subject is changing so rapidly at present. One of the ways we would like to keep it current would be to draw a group of people who are interested in OER together to continue to explore the issues, to share some thoughts and to participate in our discussions. Please contact Li Yuan (l.yuan@bolton.ac.uk or 01204903851) for more information about Open Content working group and further events at CETIS.