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

OEC / OER / OCW – catalysts for change?

Scott Leslie’s timely and thought provoking blog post on Planning to Share versus just Sharing has already generated considerable comment and discussion on Scott’s own blog and on other blogs including by colleague Sheila’s Work Blog and Dorothea Salo’s Caveat Lector. While I wholeheartedly agree with the issues Scott raises I’m inclined to argue with the following comment from Jim Groom.

You nail the inanity and paralysis that pervades the whole conversation around sharing at an institutional level perfectly. I wonder how many big universities are joining OCW and the like because it is a good PR move, or the thing to do currently.

I think institutions can and do have valid reasons for launching OCW / OEC / OER (pic yer acronym!) initiatives that are different from those of individuals. I also think that good PR is arguably a valid reason for institutions to invest in opening access to educational resources. Institutions are business after all, as businesses they need some form of PR and if the route taken also opens access to resources that can then be used by others surely that’s so much the better?

Or perhaps not. This point is being hotly debated over on Abject Learning where Brian Lamb asks

…higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance.

…if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs the publication of more content?

The discussion that follows suggests to me however that there is considerable ambiguity regarding what we mean by “content.” This from Laura:

higher ed *is* so focused on content. Faculty at many places do not get tenure from providing an education for their students, but from producing content (usually for certain journals or publishing houses) and this is what we need to get away from I think. We need to shift the focus away from producing content and back to education, writ large. For that focus on content also leads to the content-based class that’s all about “covering content” rather than encouraging thoughtful discussion, even about content-rich topics like biology or physics.

Tbh I think this is a rather spurious argument. The kind of content Laura seems to be referring to is scholarly publications. The drive to publish can certainly distract from the practice of teaching but does it really lead to content driven education? Maybe I was just lucky but I never felt my higher education was just about “covering content”.

Interestingly one of the most astute comments in this discussion comes from the same Jim who I’ve already quoted above (my emphasis btw):

I think it is the discusion and interaction that is still missing from the OER/OpenEd movement.

What universities need to be thinking about is ways to use syndication and open architecture to provide mechanisms of sharing and bringing together the various resources and inquiry around such a topic

Universities and colleges can seize the opportunity to frame these spaces for they have the unbelievable intellectual resources to help manage these distributed discussions, and interrogate the information that is already out there. The value of the institution is not based in content per se, but in framing the discussion and thinking about that content, and that’s why thinking about open models of self-organization around these ideas for universities is an important next step, for they pay for the intellectual capital of scholars, and those individuals are one key way for making those resources, objects, or things animate into something special.

I also particularly liked Marion Jennsens comment:

“…higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce…”

That is because they still have the one thing that IS scarce, and that is certification.

It seems clear to me that OER / OEC / OCW is curently acting as a catalyst that is surfacing a wide range of issues relating not just to “content” but to individucal practice, institutional culture and the current paradigm of higher education in general.

Given that JISC is about to pour £5.7 million into opening access to educational resources at institutional, subject and individual level it’s going to be very interesting to see how these debates develop.

“Better management and sharing of teaching and learning materials by individual teaching practitioners.”

This was one vision articulated by participants during an interesting and productive meeting earlier in July that aimed to review the JISC Repositories Roadmap produced by Rachel Heery and Andy Powell in 2006. Following an introduction by Rachel Bruce and a discussion of alternative definitions of “repository” led by Rachel Heery the meeting split into groups to discuss the forward looking vision and tactics for three key resource types: scholarly works, teaching and learning materials and research data.

Our brief was to:

  • Note developments and achievements since the publication of the Roadmap
  • Articulate a vision of what we want to achieve and tactics for how to realise this.
  • Identify JISC interventions and priorities for activity.

The group discussing teaching and learning materials consisted of Amber Thomas, Jackie Carter, Andy Richardson, Andy Powell and myself and this post represents a summary of our discussion. I certainly cant claim the credit for all the comments and suggestions here!

Changes and Developments Since Roadmap Publication

  • Shift in focus from learning objects to learning materials.
  • Increased focus on media specific global repositories e.g. flickr, slideshare, etc.
  • Invaluable lessons learned from Jorums experience of license implementation.
  • Focus has shifted from system interaction to user / resource interaction.
  • Mashups have created many new types of content.
  • Mainstream understanding of œreuse relates to single media objects, e.g. jpeg rather than content package.
  • Much less focus on interoperability standards.
  • œContent packaging has become a bit of a dirty word.
  • Continuing growth in the use of virtual learning environments.
  • Open Educational Resources œmovement.
  • Web 2.0.

Vision and Tactics

Vision: Better management and sharing of teaching and learning materials by individual teaching practitioners.

Boundaries are blurred in the teaching and learning space, more so than in the domain of scholarly communication. The language and terminology of the open access debate is not directly applicable to the teaching and learning domain. Do we really want to open access to all teaching and learning materials?

Why bother to manage teaching and learning materials in the first place? Institutions are not currently accountable for the management of their teaching materials. We need a much more developed concept of œuse, never mind œre-use. There are many different levels of use and re-use and subject contextualisation is crucial.

Learning objects are just one type of teaching and learning resource. There has been too great a focus on sharing and reusing learning objects and this has arguably served to mask the much greater issue of how to effectively manage all types of resources, both digital and non digital, used in, and generated by, the process of teaching and learning.

A landscape study of what kind of content is out there and where it is stored would be useful. We make far too many sweeping generalisations and unsubstantiated assertions. It would be useful to take a representative sample of institutions across the sector and study how they are, or are not, managing teaching and learning materials. We also need to know more about policy intentions at a senior management level and resource management strategies at a personal level.

The overall aim should be for institutions manage their materials more effectively to help improve the quality and experience of teaching and learning.

At the same time as considering the role of digital repositories, institutional policy and personal resource management strategies we need to share knowledge of effective teaching and resource management practice and promote opportunities for teachers to develop and engage with new technology.

Among other benefits, better management of teaching and learning content should help to facilitate the disclosure of resources to students. De-duplication of effort should also be beneficial to teaching practitioners and to the institution as a whole.

The JISC vision should be to help individual teaching practitioners to improve the management of their teaching and learning materials and consequently improve the process and practice of teaching and the quality of the learning experience.

This is not a œdigital repository vision, this is a teaching and learning vision but we need to identify how repositories can help to make this a reality.

How can we measure if we are making any progress towards achieving such a vision?

One potential driver for change could be for JISC to work with QAA to make some kind of statement on the management of teaching and learning materials.

Activities, Priorities and JISC Interventions

  • Undertake baseline survey.
  • Identify and embed good practice at different levels within institution.
  • Work with QAA.
  • Improve awareness and practice of IPR and licensing issues among teaching staff.
  • Make better use of pilot license registry.
  • Evaluate existence and value of subject specific services for teaching and learning.
  • Open access to closed learning and teaching content collections (this could include content within vles).
  • Understand benefits and costs of services to individuals.
  • Understand and define range of relationships between repositories, vles, eportfolios and possibly also course catalogues.

An extra day

I’m just back from a very chilled out holiday on Mull in our VW magic bus and have now started working 4 days a week for CETIS, rather than the 3 I’ve been doing since my daughter was born. Hopefully the extra day will make all the difference. I might get round to writing some blogs posts, who knows, I might even manage to read something!