(Open) Educational practice and (digital) literacy

I’ve been dipping in and out of the JISC online conference this week. As usual, there has been a great mix of live presentations and asynchronous discussion. Two themes have risen to the top of my mind, (open) educational practice and (digital) literacy. I also recently attended the Mainstreaming Open Educational Practices Forum co-hosted by the OPAL and Concede projects and UNESCO. So this post is a sort of summary of my reaction and reflections to issues raised during both these events. Apologies, this maybe a bit of rambling rant!

When working in any new or niche area, terminology and or jargon is always an issue. I’ve always disliked the term “e-learning”, and prefer to talk about “learning”. However I do realise that there are valid reasons for using the term, not least political ones. During both events, the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised ad and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice? Answers on a postcard, or tweet please :-) The work being done by the UK OER synthesis team on Open Practice is one way of trying to address some of these issues, and sharing experiences of developing practice and use of open, or indeed any, content in teaching and learning.

I was somewhat surprised at the UNESCO event that an assertion was made that open educational practice is mainstream, and I was equally reassured via my twitter network that it isn’t. Marion Manton made a really good point “I think it is like the OER use, aspects have always happened but not necessarily called OEP”. This distinction obvious and is crucial as it’s often forgotten. I think we in the educational research and development field too often alienate ourselves from reality by our insistence on using unfamiliar acronyms, jargon etc, and looking at small parts of the picture. Instead of focusing on “open” educational practice, why aren’t we looking at general “educational” practice? “Again, I know there are reasons for doing this, and there a lots of people (and projects) doing excellent staff development work to try and close the gaps. But I keep coming back to questions around why we continue to need to have these false constructs to allow us to get funding to investigate teaching and learning practice.

During the discussion session on digital literacies at the online conference, the notion of empowerment was raised. Increased digital literacy skills were recognised as a key tool to empower staff and students (and indeed everyone in our society). At the open education practice session this morning, the notion of OER literacy was raised. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I have to say I kind of feel the same about OER literacy as I do about e-learning. I see the literacies needed for using/creating/sharing OERs as being part of a wider set of digital literacies, which have much wider application and longevity.

Learning objects also came up during today’s discussion, in the context of “does anyone use the term anymore ?” Now, I’m not going to open up that particular can of worms here, but actually the fundamental issues of sharing and re-use haven’t changed since the those heady days. I think the work done by the open community not only has made great developments around licencing materials but has allowed us to look again at the core sharing/reuse issues and, more importantly engage (and re-engage) with these more challenging issues of educational practice.

On reflection, I think my attitudes and leanings towards the wider, general use of terms such as practice and literacy, are really down to my own development and practice. I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist. When I actually created educational content it was always openly (in one form or another) available. When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice. I do feel though that right now it would be timely to step back and take a look a the bigger picture of educational practice and literacies, not least so we can truly engage with the people we ultimately want to benefit from all this work.

Enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs webinar

This week has been designated “activity week” for this year’s JISC Innovating E-learning conference. There are a number of pre conference online activities taking place. I’m delighted to be chairing the “enhancing and creating student centred portfolios in VLEs” webinar, this Friday (18th November at 11am).

The session will demonstrate a number of portfolio centric integrations and widgets being developed as part of the current JISC DVLE Programme from the DOULS, DEVLOP and ceLTIc projects. Below is a short summary of each of the presentations.

Portfolio redevelopment at the Open University has focussed on incorporating some of the enhanced functionality available within Google, e.g., a document repository, facilities for sharing, collaboration and reflection. The DOULS project (Distributed Open University Learning Systems) has been tasked with delivering integration between the Moodle learning environment and Google. The presentation by the Open University will focus on these integrations and what it means for the student experience.

Part of the University of Reading’s DEVELOP Project has been to look at e-portfolio provision and use, and to develop three widgets to assist staff and students in the creation and maintenance of e-portfolios. The University uses Blackboard as its VLE and widgets have been designed using HTML/JavaScript to interact, in pilot studies, with Blackboard’s very basic e-portfolio tool. One widget, now fully developed for Blackboard, enables students to build a portfolio with all the pages as specified by their tutors/lecturers. This widget also guides the user through the various steps needed to share and maintain their portfolio. A feedback widget is at this moment being developed to allow tutors to provide feedback on specific parts of the students’ portfolios while an export widget is planned to allow students to download their portfolio in a standards-compliant form.

Stephen Vickers from the ceLTIc project will demonstrate how the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specification can offer a simple and effective mechanism for integrating learning tools with a VLE. The session will also illustrate how LTI can enable learners from Moodle and Learn 9 to collaborate together in a shared space within an external tool such as WebPA or Elgg.

Information on registration and how to access the webinar can be found at the conference website, and remember to follow @jiscel11 and the #jiscel11 hashtag on twitter for updates.

A recording of the session is available by following this link.

Innovating e-Learning 2011 (#jiscel11)

Just a reminder that the JISC online conference “Innovating e-Learning 2011” is taking place next month from 22- 25 November, with a pre-activity week starting on 15th November. As ever the programme is filled with a broad range of presentations around the latest developments in the use of technology, and some great key note speakers including David Puttnam (Lord Puttnam of Queensgate).

Over the years I’ve found the JISC online conference really useful both for the range of presenters, keynotes and the mix of synchronous and asynchronous sessions and discussions. Being online it gives a great deal of flexibility and no need for my usual ‘silly-o”clock” start times to get to a conference. A word of caution tho’ – it can suck you in so don’t expect that you can fully engage in sessions and totally keep up to date with your inbox :-) Block out time in your diary for the sessions you want to participate in. I’ve had to surrender thoughts of multitasking as discussions have taken off and I’ll be going through the programme thoroughly and marking in my diary the slots I want to attend. There’s also lots of support for newbie online conferencers too.

The conference isn’t free, but at £50 I think it is really good value for money. More information including registration details and the full programme is available from the conference website.