Open Education in Europe – SURF’s “diner pensant”

While we were at the recent OER 12 Conference in Cambridge, David Kernohan (JISC), Maggie Stephens (JISC), Martin Hawksey (CETIS) and I were invited by SURF to join a diner pensant with ‘food for thought’. The event took the form of a dinner with three presentations around the theme of “Open Education in Europe: what are the opportunities?” The guests represented a wide range of global initiatives and institutions with a commitment to open education and oer including Creative Commons, the Commonwealth of Learning, UNESCO, JISC, SURF, MIT, along with the universities of Amsterdam, Athabasca, Barcelona, Delft and Leuven. A full list of participants is available here and the programme can be found here.

It was a genuinely thought provoking event and I was lucky enough to share a table and some enlightened discussion with Fred Mulder, holder of the UNESCO Chair in OER at the Open Universiteit, Stephen Carson, Director of External Affairs for MIT OpenCourseWare, Ignasi Labastida i Juan, Universitat de Barcelona and Creative Commons Spain and Catalonia and Willem van Valkenburg, Delft University of Technology. I confess I was too engrossed in the conversation to take notes on the presentation and discussions, however SURF’s Hester Jelgerhuis, project manager Open Educational Resources SURF and organiser of the event, has blogged a report here: Cambridge 2012 Congres over OEr: diner pensent.

To summarise Hester’s post, Fred Mulder opened the event with a presentation called “Fascinated by digital openness in education”. In addition to outlining his own fascination with all aspects of openness, he characterised Open Education as consisting of three elements; open educational resources, open learning services and open teaching efforts. Fred argued that the EU should concentrate its efforts on mainstreaming open educational resources rather than open education which he suggested was unlikely to be widely adopted by higher education institutions due to its diversity. This perspective caused considerable discussion at our table with several guests suggesting that while open education may not sweep away the institution of higher education that we are familiar with today, open education in all its forms will have an increasingly important role to play in meeting the educational demands of a growing global population. It’s interesting to reflect on this discussion in light of yesterday’s press release by Harvard and MITx announcing the launch of edX “a new nonprofit partnership, to offer free online courses from both universities.”

This theme was picked up by Anka Mulder, president of the OCW Consortium, who presented evidence from Tony Bates and Sir John Daniel suggesting that we need to look for new approaches and methodologies to meet the growing demand for higher education. Anka also noted that innovation in the field of open education tended to come from the US, Australia and the UK and she particularly mentioned the innovative impact of the JISC / HEA Open Educational Resources programmes. By contrast, open education adoption and production is more prevalent in Asia, particularly Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, India and Japan. Anka went on to suggest that EU governments and institutions needed to do much more to influence and embed open education by funding projects and policy developments, adopting legislation to ensure openness by default and including openness as a higher education performance indicator. She also suggested we should all take steps to set up an EU Open Course Ware Consortium.

The final presentation was by JISC’s David Kernohan who presented a brief summary of the aims and impact of three years of OER funding in the UK. David’s presentation was particularly thought provoking and sobering as he reflected on the impact on UK higher education funding cuts on the reality of academic practice. With many of the teachers and academics driving open education in the UK employed on part time and temporary contracts David reflected on whether there was any way to sustain open education adoption and innovation without exploiting the academic staff that make these new and open approaches to education possible.

The diner pensant certainly achieved it’s aim of providing “food for though”. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank SURF for organising this interesting and thought provoking event and for inviting JISC and CETIS to participate.