Open Educational Resources Discussion at CETIS08

Here, somewhat belatedly, is a summary of the discussions that followed the presentations at the Open Educational Resources session at CETIS 08.

Much of the discussion focused on technical issues such as infrastructure, the role of standards (or not), granularity of resources, metadata and tagging.

There appeared to be considerable support for the idea of enabling projects to make use of existing services and applications such as flickr, youtube, slideshare, etc while at the same time mandating deposit in JorumOpen. However this did lead some participants to question the role of standards in this programme and in the sector more widely. If we say that content can be released in any format and hosted by multiple applications does this mean that we are implicitly stating that open educational standards such as IMS Content Packaging are no longer relevant? Of course this is not the case at all, the real goal here is interoperability and standards still play an important role in facilitating interoperability. However there is no point in mandating the use of standards where they are inappropriate e.g. IMS CP for video of lectures. Andy Powell also made the valid point that:

…the Flickrs of this world are not devoid of standards – e.g. support for RSS “ its just that they aren’t necessarily the same standards that we have recommended for the last few years.

The role of JorumOpen was also explored and John Casey for the Jorum team gave a brief potted history of the Jorum service. John explained that, typically of the education sector more generally, Jorum has been very risk averse in the past, however JorumOpen will see a significant shift towards a more user centric approach based on Creative Commons licensing.

Despite being at pains to avoid the œM word issues relating to metadata occupied a large part of the discussion. It was generally agreed that the programme should take a light weight approach to metadata and that the focus should be on tagging rather than on the creation of formal structured metadata records. There was some support for a minimal set of tags but much less agreement as to what these should be: title, author date, institution, course, subject?? Also is it meaningful to mandate a single set of programme level tags when resources will be scattered across multiple applications such as youtube, slideshare, etc, each of while have their own tagging and metadata conventions?

This also led to a very interesting discussion on the nature of attribution, reputation and digital and academic identity. Pat Parslow, following the discussions remotely via the wonderful eFoundations live-blog suggested:

Contributing materials, and formulating correct tags/metadata helps build your Digital Identity and thus reputation. Should be a major interest for academics, surely?

Heather Williamson of JISC noted some initial findings from the current RePRODUCE programme that suggest that building online presence is an important driver for people to share resources. My colleague John Robertson has already written an excellent blog post on open educational resources, metadata and self description which I highly recommend.

Throughout these discussions David Kernohan and Amber Thomas of JISC reminded us that this programme has two goals: changing attitudes and practice and getting content out into the open. The real aim of the JISC OER programme is to change the culture around content sharing and as such it should be viewed as a œmilestone on a journey.

Patrick McAndrew of the Open Universitys OpenLearn project agreed and cautioned against letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Fear of œnot doing it right shouldnt be a barrier preventing people from opening access to their content. We can all learn as we go along.

As Andy Powell has already pointed out in his blog post on the CETIS 08 Conference the OER session generated

…a good level of debate that could have gone on significantly longer than the time allowed.

In order to enable these discussions to continue we would like to invite colleagues to use the CETIS Educational Content SIG mailing list, as a forum to raise issues, comments and questions relating to the JISC OER call specifically and open educational content issues more generally.

And last but not least here’s the wordle generated from the session’s tweets.

cetis08oer wordle

Open Educational Resources Presentations at CETIS08

The Open Educational Resources session at CETIS08 was a little different from the other conference session in that it aimed to provided participants with some background to the forthcoming JISC / HEFCE OER programme while at the same time giving them an opportunity to comment and provide input. Further information on this call is available from the JISC press release.

(This post summarises the presentations given at this session, Ill cover the discussion in a separate blog post.)

Overview of JISC Open Educational Content Programme
– David Kernohan, JISC

The session opened with a presentation by David outlining the rationale behind this call which is both timely, the OER movement is making real progress worldwide, and opportunistic, the money just happens to be available right now. David also pointed out that HEI business models have changed significantly in recent years as a result of the information explosion. Institutions are no longer the sole repositories of information and knowledge. Information is now ubiquitously availably through multiple channels, not least the Internet. However there is a difference between accessing information and developing learning and understanding and this is where HEIs still have a key role to play.

David acknowledged that there are still considerable barriers to reusing educational content not least of which is IPR. However JISC are not intending to use this call to fund and develop a license structure, rather it is intended to support institutions to develop a process for licensing- whether that be CC or any other type of licence that enables open access to content. Buying licenses is not a sustainable model, changing practice is.

Clearly there is still a risk that institutions and individuals will balk at the idea of “giving away” resources with potential value during a time of recession. However they need to realise that the potential value of new students and enhanced institutional and individual reputation is potentially of greater value than that of the content. This point was neatly illustrated by Patrick McAndrews impromptu presentation which included real evidence of the benefit to the OU of the Hewlett funded Open Learn project.

So while the immediate aim of this call is the online release of existing UK HE learning content licensed for worldwide open use and repurposing the real goal of this programme is to help institutions develop processes and policies that result in sustainable open access to content.

(As this programme is currently at the policy in development stage Davids presentation will not be circulated until the call is released. )

Technical Infrastructure for Open Educational Content
– Amber Thomas, JISC

Next up was Amber who outlined the technical infrastructure approach that JISC are proposing for the OER Programme. Rather than mandating the use of Institutional Repositories and specific licenses, standards and application profiles a more lightweight approach to technical infrastructure is being explored. Content may be released anywhere, in any format, under any appropriately open license however the onus will be on the individual projects to ensure that their content is discoverable, accessible, reusable, attributable, copyright cleared, openly available and supported by stable URIs and a minimum set of tags.

To balance this œanything goes approach there will also be a centralised aggregation of content in JorumOpen. However at this stage it is yet to be decided whether this means all content must be deposited in JorumOpen or linked there. This aggregation of content will enable JISC and HEFCE to showcase the outputs of the programme and will hopefully also provide the potential to build rich services on the aggregated resources

This is a relatively new approach to programme infrastructure and there is still much to be discussed and decided, in particular what constitutes the minimal technical requirements for tagging and persistent identifiers.

The trick here is to balance openness with consistency. The programme will attempt to stitch together an infrastructure based on existing workflows, commonly used tools and the services that can be built around them. Its not just about the content but the role of content in social networks and its not about forcing change but about supporting those that already want to change.

Open Educational Resources “ Opportunities and Challenges for HE
– Li Yuan, CETIS

The final scheduled presentation of the session was from CETIS own Li who presented a summary of her whitepaper Open Educational Resources “ Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education. Im not going to go into the detail of Lis presentation her as her whitepaper has already been extensively blogged about and her slides area available on the OER session wiki page.

We were also lucky to have two additional and unscheduled presentations from Peter Douglas on the forthcoming JISC commissioned study on business cases for sharing e-learning materials being undertaken by Intrallect and Lou McGill and from Patrick McAndrew on Open University’s OpenLearn project.

Good intentions: improving the evidence base in support of sharing learning materials
– Peter Douglas, Intrallect

This study, which will be reporting shortly, focuses on the business case for sharing e-learning materials, sustainability and levels of openness. The study reports that many projects that started in or around 2002 had very similar aims to the current OER programme but ultimately haven’t been very successful. Understandably it has been difficult to learn why these initiatives failed as institutions are unwilling to publicise their lack of success. Traditionally institutional business models and IPR policies are developed by enterprise/knowledge transfer departments, which are often driven by rather more commercial ideology than academic departments. However it appear that many institutions are currently in the process of transitioning these business models. The impact of this transition remains to be seen.

OU OpenLearn and OLNet
– Patrick McAndrew, Open University

OpenLearn has had considerable impact on the Open University, this is measurable in terms of bringing students into the institution. An estimated 7000 registrations are a direct result of OpenLearn and it is 5th on the list of reasons why people come to the OU. OpenLearn is aimed at primarily at learners rather than other educators, content is the attractor, but the push is for education.

The OU has also set up a range of low-level partnerships based on OpenLearn, this was not a predicted outcome of the project, its a whole new approach to collaboration. Initially the OU found it was surprisingly hard to convince people that Openlearn materials were actually free and somewhat surprisingly there has been little demand for OpenLearn content from the JISC RePRODUCE projects.

OER is about giving permission in advance for things that otherwise have to be negotiated and therefore might never happen. Its about “you act openly, we act openly, let’s collaborate”. However things take time, open collaboration really scales up the time element, its impossible to realistically measure impact over a one year period in any sensible way.

The OU and Carnegie Mellon University have now received additional funding from the Hewlett Foundation for OLNet – a network to support sharing methodologies and evidence on the effectiveness of OERs. This next wave is about impact, evidence and effectiveness.

cetis08 Highs and Lows

So that’s it, #cetis08 is all over bar the blogging and the occasional tweet. I’ll be attempting to synthesise the discussions from the OER session over the next few days but in the meantime here are my highs and lows of the last couple of days:

High Points

  • Adam’s “impressively geeky” summary of CETIS activity via our blog posts – lots of +ve feedback on this.
  • Stuart Lee’s closing keynote – funny, thought provoking, informative and an excellent demo of the power of a good lecture.
  • Tony Hirst’s presentation at #cetis08vle – brilliant as always and loved the idea of fractal wrongness.
  • #cetis08oer top trending on twitter
  • The eFoundations live-blog – *huge* thanks to AndyP, great to have questions coming in from remote participants.
  • Inspired silliness and laughing till I cried at the conference dinner.
  • And of course….the zenith….the birth of #eduprog

Low Points

  • The pudding – not much I can add to what’s already been said
  • Coming home with a horrible conference cold

OER Programme Scoping Session at CETIS Conference

My colleague Li Yuan has now uploaded the outline for the OER Programme Scoping Session at this months CETIS Conference which takes place in Birmingham on the 25th & 26th November. This is your chance to comment on and provide input to the forthcoming £5.7 million JISC open educational content programme. The session will include three short presentations covering an over view of the JISC programme by David Kernohan, technical infrastructure for OER by Amber Thomas and opportunities and challenges for higher education by Li. These presentations will be followed by an open discussion which I’ll attempt to chair :-} Given the level of blog traffic and discussion that OER has generated over the last few weeks alone this could be a lively debate!

There are still a few places available at the CETIS Conference so if you’d like to come along and add your voice to the discussion you can register here