Reflections on CETIS Widget Bash

Back in 2009, at a CETIS Widgets Working Group meeting in London, a strong desire was expressed by the delegates that we should provide an opportunity for educators and developers to work together to build widgets that really meet the needs of teaching and learning. We finally managed to have our first attempt at this in the 2-day widget bash at Bolton last week. Over 30 people registered for the event and 18 participated in our pre- event survey. The data showed that 11 delegates considered themselves as developers and 7 as educators, providing an excellent environment of pedagogical and technical engagement.

To help prepare this event, my IEC colleagues, Stephen Powell, Dai Griffiths, Mark Johnson and Scott Wilson agreed to record some videos to share their knowledge and understanding on using and building W3C widgets in education. We put these on the CETIS wiki before the event and they were very well received, helping to spread the ideas and different perspectives on W3C widget development across communities. I hope that we will be able to provide ongoing widget-related knowledge and development updates and support through a collection of videos on “talking and building widgets” in the future.

Sheila’s blog and Scott’s blogs have given detailed reports on activities and outcomes of the two days of widgets building. However, not all of the delegates wrote code or built a widget at the event as some spent their time discussing and sharing ideas on the possibilities of using widgets in education. The following are just a few of the observations and reflections on the event and some conversations among the delegates:

  • It is still too complicated for non-tech teachers to distinguish between widgets/gadgets and W3C widgets and to understand the relationship between W3C widgets, Wookie, plug ins and VLEs. However, most people felt that an event like this helps to clarify the confusions and the widget demos were especially very useful in allowing others to see how widgets have been built and used in educational context.
  • Making widgets is simpler than might be thought but for most teachers it would still be difficult without easy to follow guidance, hands-on practice or support. I made my first widget myself with some support from colleagues in my office: an “Ideas Share” widget based on Scott’s “Share Links” widget. During the event, I also learned how to wrap a BBC online game into a W3C widget. I do think it would be useful if teachers could have clearer guidance for creating educational widgets or if some widget build tools could be built so that teachers can just do some drag and drop, change a few words or click a few buttons to make widgets for their own lessons.
  • Developing W3C widgets (apps) stores for education. If we expect more and more teachers to use widget to engage with students within VLEs or in the classroom, we need to make sure that they know where to find an appropriate widget to meet their different needs and purposes, e.g. institutional management, teaching in VLEs or classrooms and learning support. I like the ideas that resources and tools sit outside an institution’s VLE and teachers only need to think about their students and activities, and to pull resources and tools into the VLE to complete their lessons. There is no doubt that having specifically designed educational apps in a “one stop shop” enabling teachers to find and share widgets could help move towards this direction.
  • Security issues again were mentioned many times during the widgets and DVLE demo sessions. I had planned to embed the “ideas share” widget into CETIS wiki in order to gather ideas for building widgets before the event but failed because of security risk. It seems that lots of work still needs to be done in this aspect before widgets can be widely adopted in institutions.

As one of the delegates commented: “It (the widget bash) was useful to develop my understanding of what widgets are good for and for the things that are possibly too complicated for the ‘widgetisation’ approach”… We hope that we could bring more educators on board to share ideas and participate in using and developing widgets (or other technologies) for teaching and learning in our future widget events. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Widget Bash – 23rd & 24th March at Bolton

A two day CETIS event which focuses on developing and using web apps, widgets and gadgets in teaching and learning, will be held at the University of Bolton on 23rd and 24th March. The event will provide widget building tutorials from the Apache Wookie (incubating) team, examples of a range widgets and mobile applications developed from the current JISC DVLE programme and the iTech project. We are hoping that this event will provide an opportunity for educator and developers to work together to develop widgets for educational purposes. We have created a Widget Wikipage for the event which you can find two videos that discuss developing and using widgets from educational and technical aspects respectively, and the relevant resources from previous widgets events.

Furthermore, we would like to invite educators and developers to share ideas for developing widgets designed to create a range of flexible teaching and learning opportunities, including organisation and delivery of online teaching and learning activities. If you have an idea, then email me or leave your ideas below and we will circulate them to attendees before the event.

Developing a sustainable OER ecosystem in HE

I gave a presentation at the Open Ed conference 2010 in Barcelona last week to share some lessons learned from the UKOER projects for sustainable OER releasing and thoughts on developing sustainable OER ecosystems in Higher Education.

The UKOER programme has provided an opportunity for funding bodies, institutions and academics work together to explore cultural, political and financial as well as technical issues related to OER releasing and reusing. In this presentation, I focused on institutional projects funded by the UKOER programme and discussed how different approaches and models have been adopted to address long term sustainability issues regarding OERs releasing and reusing beyond the funding period. Furthermore, I employed an ecological approach to examine the UKOER programme in order to capture the comprehensive views and interactions between stakeholders around OERs and indicate where change should happen in order to develop sustainable OER ecosystems.

The ecological approach provides a useful framework for analysing and examining the development of sustainable OERs in the UK context. It illustrates how government agencies and funding bodies, institutions, subject centres and individuals should engage in the production and reuse of OERs within the particular educational system and articulate the key interactions, dependencies, and influences in OER ecosystems. In this case, the UK government committed to the establishment of a content infrastructure which is professionally developed and organised to support informal and formal education and catalyse innovations in higher education. The UKOER programme used national funding models both as an incentive and as a steering device to encourage institutions, subject centres and individuals to promote openness and culture of sharing in education and explore issues regarding sustainable OERs releasing and reusing. In order to achieve sustainable OER ecosystems, it is clear that higher education institutions will need to explore new business models and improve efficiencies through OERs, e.g. reduction in cost and improvements in quality. Educators and learners will need to participate in communities of practice where OER development and reuse becomes a normal consequence of educational activities. This meso level (national educational system level) OER ecosystem will rely for success on the sustainability of OER projects at the micro level (institutions, subject centres and individuals) and, if successful, will eventually foster the global sustainable OER ecosystem at macro level. The PowerPoint of the presentation is available at slideshare.

#cetis10: Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions

My colleague Simon, John and I will run two sessions on Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions at JISC CETIS conference next week. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, urged that universities need to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach in “tough times”. The Browne review sets out a great political imperative for institutions to think about new funding streams and innovative approaches to widening participation. There a growing criticism of inefficiencies in Higher Education, including the costs of teaching and of producing learning materials and resources.

So how can we respond to these issues, in the light of political and economic reality, and in terms of the contribution from learning technology? In the first session, we will look at “technology, politics and economics”. Different political and economic assumptions, attitudes or views are likely to give different solutions to our question. In this session, we proposed five models of higher education in order stimulate the debate and discussions.

  • State funded – HE could be a service provided free by governments funded from tax revenue to enable all citizens to develop their talents and interests to a higher level, and to benefit the national economy
  • Free-market – HE could be a business where HEIs charge full economic fees to students in return for giving them knowledge, skills, professional training and qualifications, networks of contacts, and prestige to use later in working life
  • Business-run – Higher-level education and training could be provided by businesses for their employees, as part of a process of managing their talent pool, and as a way to attract and retain the best employees
  • Charity funded – HEIs could be charities dedicated to spreading learning and its benefits to as many people as possible, including the poor and disadvantaged across the world, using volunteer staff where possible
  • DIY U – HE could be a self-organised system through which individuals decide on their higher learning needs and collaborate with other learners to achieve them using freely available resources where possible.

The participants will be asked to form groups around these positions or suggest other positions for group discussion. We expect that a rich picture for the vision from each position will be presented and some bullet points to cover the practical aspects of learning technology developments that could help to get there, and the role of JISC / CETIS.

In the second session, we will focus on “community and learner support” to explore how technology can help in the processes of learner support at different stages, either directly or through facilitating communities which can support the processes. In each case, who would be the members of the relevant community, and how can technology work for them?

Social software and e-portfolio tools are prime candidates to help with community and learner support, but how can this be done effectively? Can other learning technologies help as well, towards the goal of cheaper and more flexible HE provision that is still effective?

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the future of Higher Education to share your ideas and thoughts in those sessions. We would like you to think about how cheaper, flexible, effective institutions could function, in terms of technology, politics and economics, and how low-cost, flexible and effective community and support for learners could be provided, how could we practically get there, and how could JISC and CETIS contribute?

Bridging community approaches and institutional approaches in developing OERs

Two common approaches have been used by current OER initiatives: the institution-based approach and the community-based approach. The UKOER pilot programme funded three project strands – institutional, subject centre and individuals. These provided opportunities to further explore these approaches separately and to look at how they could benefit from each other in institutional contexts.
At the OER in the Disciplines conference in London last week, I attended a workshop which was to look into the differences between discipline focussed community approaches and institutional approaches and their advantages and disadvantages. The discussion was facilitated by a JISC/HEA funded project – Humbox team and participants were from various OER projects from the OER pilot programme and the UKOER2.
The workshop started with a short presentation from the HumBox, a community-driven repository for the humanities which had been developed using community-focussed approach. They shared key principles to make community building easy around repository design and workflow, such as a profile page for users to introduce themselves and their work and interests, clear guidance on self-reviewing before publishing resources and peer review processes for feedback and tracking the usage; open tagging and category process to make materials easy to find, etc. Then EdShare, a well-used institutional repository from University of Southampton shared their experiences on institutions’ approaches to OERs. The presentations provided a starting point to initiate the discussion on how far institutional and community approaches to OERs differ and how far they may complement each other.
There was general agreement amongst participants that institutional-based approaches tend to provide central management and support mechanisms to deal with copyright, IPR, quality control and technical support which are very useful to help academics new to produce OERs. However, this closed model is likely to be used as a showcase for courses by institutions to attract students rather than allowing academics to share and release their teaching and learning materials freely. On the other hand, community–based approaches are discipline-driven, involving academics from different institutions. This greatly increases the diversity of recourses and opens opportunities for academics to work with others in the same discipline from different institutions. The self publishing mechanism and peer review process encourage academics to share and reuse teaching materials and improve the quality of the resources through peer review and feedback.. It also has been mentioned that sometimes community approaches lack protection for academics on copyright and IPR issues and also lack technical support. It has been suggested that there is a need to look into how community approaches could be integrated into institutional contexts and what mechanisms are needed to bridge the institutional approaches and community approaches to best use the advantages of both approaches.

OERs workshop at ALT-C

David Kernohan, Heather Price from JISC and my colleague Sheila MacNeill and I organised a workshop on OERs in HE-trends and scenarios at ALT-C last week. The aim of the workshop was to explore how the rapid development of the Open Educational Resources movement globally can be used as a strategic approach to stimulate innovation in higher education. We developed 4 scenarios in order to stimulate the discussion, namely:
Scenario1: the status quo model in which OERs reach the mainstream; high quality teaching and learning resources are available free of charge, however, the focus is on content rather than changing teaching and learning processes and practice in institutions.
Scenario2: the add-on “credits” model in which institutions are encouraged to explore new ways of assessment and accreditation so that self-learners can gain a university degree through use of OERs.
Scenario 3: the emerging partnership model in which institutions share teaching and learning resources and costs, nationally and internationally, through developing cooperative–university partnerships.
Scenario 4: the radical change model in which a global university appears to serve the different needs of the learners through open access to course materials, learner support and assessment.
More than 20 delegates attended the workshop. Following a brief introduction about the scenarios the audience were invited to discuss issues and concerns surrounding OERs as well as share thoughts and ideas on how those scenarios could be realised. Several themes emerged from the session:
1. Teacher’s roles and perspectives: Although in the presentation, we had a focus on learners (formal and informal) and institutions rather than teachers roles, it was agreed that teachers themselves play a key role in all those scenarios as Open Educational resources. It is important that teachers should not only be involved in content producing and sharing but also engage with open educational resources to transform teaching and learning practice in institutions.
2. National policy on OERs, especially in the school sector: This recognised a need for national policy on developing and using OERs as a whole rather than only within the HE sector. Schools in particular should be encouraged to participate in the OER movement too.
3. Community of practice and network: Some delegates argued that in order to sustain OER practice, it is important that institutions and academics be encouraged to adopt a community of practice approach to create and maintain content and use existing networks to disseminate and share resources.
4. Change mindsets of senior management, academics: It has been found that on the one hand there is resistance to openness and the culture of sharing among some academics and senior management in institutions; while on the other hand, increasingly more institutions and academics are committed to making teaching and learning resources freely available. There is a need to help more academics and senior managers to change their mindsets and bring about an open and shared culture within institutions and among academics.
5. Institutional radical changes: Similar to many other educational initiatives, Open Educational Resources will not be able to bring about radical changes in the education system. However, there is no doubt that OERs will eventually challenge the way of current teaching and learning in Higher Education.
We hope this workshop was just the beginning of such conversations around OERs in the UK HE sector. We would be very happy for anyone interested in looking into the future of OERs in institutions to use those scenarios as a tool to facilitate their discussion in this area and to continue developing those and their own additional scenarios of OER in HE. The presentation of the session is available here on slideshare and we also made a video for the workshop which can be accessed here on YouTube.

Institutional OERs and sustainability – embedding is the key

How to make sure universities and academics continue producing OERs and sharing teaching materials when the OER projects funding run out? This is one of the major concerns for OER programme funders and funded projects. At the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE) event – Making ‘open’ the easiest option: OER and sustainability at Leeds last week, one of the main themes arising from the presentations and discussion around sustainable OERs during the day was embedding the process and policy into institution strategies and academic practices.

Leeds Metropolitan University’s Unicycle project presented a model for supporting the production and reuse of OERs across multiple faculties and whole institutions beyond the funding period. In their presentation, Simon Thomson talked about how to promote awareness of OERs among academics and on how to develop policies and processes to make OERs become normal activities at the university:

  1. A grounding approach to introduce OERs to staff: engaging with a range of staff, creating a workable model and changing academic working practice and culture. In order to do so, they encourage staff to find useful OERs for their own courses and share teaching materials with others. Their OERs focus on the materials that individual members of staff feel are useful rather than the courseware of a whole course. This approach also concentrates on identifying OER related IPR and copyright issues and promoting awareness through staff development;
  2. Central OER support and distributed content management model: The University has a central OER support unit which involves staff from the repository development team, the copyright clearance office and the TEL/ALT teams. Each faculty/department/subject area has a co-ordinator to oversee the quality and manage resources locally.
  3. Developing policy to promote releasing and reusing OERs and policy on reward and recognition: It is expected that the policy on producing and releasing OERs would require staff to use OERs in their courses and release OERs when developing and delivering new courses. Staff will be encouraged to become a learning designer rather than a content creator. It is also important that OERs work should be integrated as part of the professional reward and recognition scheme at the institution.

Unicycle provides an example of how the development of OERs could be embedded into existing institution policy and academic practice and how to encourage cultural change and resources sharing with institutions. The participants at the event were also invited to contribute to a discussion on OER and sustainability and the ‘Leeds Manifesto’ has been produced based on the experience from the UKOER funded projects which hope to help future funded projects achieve sustainability in OERs.

Applying the distributed learning environment models to an online course with China

My colleagues Sheila and Wilbert have developed  five conceptual models of Distributed Learning Environment (DLE) for institutions. In the briefing paper, they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each model and provide some examples of current applications. This timely work should be really valuable in helping institutions and educators to rethink how VLE and social software tools could be used effectively to support teaching and learning within institutions. For example, my colleague, Stephen and I in the IEC at the University of Bolton are developing a course for students who are studying a Masters degree in Educational Technology in universities in China. Both our Chinese partners and colleagues in IEC would like to explore new ways of teaching and learning in a technology enabled environment and the possibilities of developing online learning programmes collaboratively between institutions in the UK and China. At the moment, the University of Bolton is running a new Moodle elearning site and exploring how to integrate the Wookie server for plugging in various widget applications into the institutional VLE. This fits well with the “Model 1” of DLE which is illustrated in the briefing. For our Chinese online course, there are several aspects in relation to the course design and delivery and how this could be implemented through a variety of available technology:

  1. The course will be co-designed and co-delivered by the IEC team and our partners in China, therefore Moodle will be used to prepare and develop course material collaboratively and monitor teaching and learning process and carry out assessment.
  2. The course will be published online so that anyone can follow the course and join in the activities (in China or elsewhere), but only students from the partner university will be able to gain credits after successfully completing the course.
  3. Learners will be encouraged to critically evaluate and use social software tools outside the institution VLE to build their personal learning environments. For example, they can post their blogs on WordPress, create group collaboration sites on Wiki and build shared resource collections with Delicious.
  4. Presentations from lecturers will be pre-recorded with subtitles so that learners can watch wherever and whenever they want and hotseat sessions will be held online by using conferencing software or virtual classrooms to discuss issues with experts.
  5. Widgets will be used to add additional functionality to the existing VLE to enhance teaching and learning experiences online. Furthermore, some specific widget applications will be developed to support learning activities which are designed to meet particular educational purposes for the course.

To me, this course provides a good case study for exploring how an institutional VLE can be extended to provide an open and shared learning space and a protected private space for preparing the course itself and carrying out the assessment. It also presents opportunities to investigate how widgets and web-based tools can be used to support both personalised learning and collaborative teaching and learning within and beyond institutions.

Institution strand of UKOER programme meeting

Last week, seven OER projects from the institution strand of UKOER pilot programme gathered together at Nottingham University to share the outcomes of the projects and common issues they are trying to address which I found very useful and stimulating. The meeting started with OER showcases in which each project presented two resources they have made available through their project. Some of the examples are available on the project websites and JorumOpen. Here is the list of the projects and the features of the resources that were presented:

  1. BERLiN (University of Nottingham) – a 6 credits PGCE international course and resources created in the Second Life;
  2. Unicycle (Leeds Metropolitan University) – virtual maths, a 6 credits course;
  3. Open Exeter (University of Exeter) – a complete modular for self-paced learning;
  4. OpenStaffs (Staffordshire University) – Individual images for reuse and repurposing;
  5. OTTER (University of Leicester) – a framework for transforming teaching materials into OERS;
  6. OpenSpires (University of Oxford) – Oxford seminars and public lectures-based resources;
  7. OCEP (Coventry University) – diverse content types, such as Second Life machinima, looking into how one set of resources could be used in different ways.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for projects to share experiences and discuss issues on reward and recognition for producing OERs, developing sustainable OER models, resources discovery and copyright clearance, etc. There were several themes raised during the presentations and discussions:

  • Quality control: how should institutions control the quality of OERs provided by lecturers? On the one hand, quality is very critical from the marketing perspective since these resources are showcases of universities’ courses. On the other hand, if the goal of OERs is to promote sharing, reusing and repurposing, then the quality of the resources should be judged by the end users rather than institutions.
  • Centralised and distributed models: it has been reported that some projects have adopted a centralised model which means that staff have been employed by the project to provide technical and other supports for procuring and releasing OERs. However, there are concerns about whether universities would continue fund this support when the project finished. One of the projects adopted a distributed model for which no additional staff has been recruited and the responsibilities for producing OERs have been located to representatives from different faculties. It is hoped that these people would continue to do so after the OER programme ends.
  • Shrinking credits: there have been concerns about producing 360 credits equivalent teaching and learning resources at the end of the programme. Some projects found they are struggling to meet this requirement. One of the reasons mentioned was “shrinking credits”. For example, a lecturer may promise to provide 30 credits course materials, however, when the course materials turn to OERs, it might turn out to be much less than 30 credits. This is understandable, when we talk about credits which involve content, teaching and learning process and assessment. In this sense, if it is content alone, credits may be not the most appropriate way to measure the OER projects. However, it is agreed that the UK OER programme does expect to make significant amounts of teaching and learning resources freely available.

According to The New Media Consortium the Horizon Report 2010, open content is expected to reach mainstream teaching and learning within one year or less. In this case, what these institution projects have learned from the UK OER pilot programme would be really valuable to this movement.

OER in action, no limit

I attended the Open Learning conference held by Nottingham University last week. It was a really impressive event which brought together presenters and academics from the University of Nottingham, OER Africa and the JISC UK OER programme. The key note speaker Catherine Ngugi, project Director of OER Africa, gave an inspirational talk about “Open Educational Resources in Developing Countries”. She reflected their experiences in supporting institutions in Africa and other countries to create effective collaboration partnerships for developing OERs on health education. She also outlined how the concept of OER could benefit higher education systems, institutions, academics and students on the continent and around the world. Luke Mckend from Google introduced Google’s YouTube Edu initiative and demonstrated how to use Google data analytic tools to gather useful information for educational usage and how to track where the users come from and how they interact with YouTube’s hosted videos, which I found to be very interesting and useful.

One of the themes of the conference was open learning at the University of Nottingham. Professor Christine Ennew, Pro Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation and Dr Wyn Morgan, Director of Teaching and Learning from the University shared their vision and strategy for making learning materials available openly. A number of academics from Nottingham university also reported the progress and actions on provision of OERs in the University, including The JISC funded BERLiN project, Nottingham’s OER repository “u-Now” and technologies used to support Open Learning at the university, such as “Xerte Online Toolkits”, a tool for creating rich interactivity and “XPERT” for sharing and discovering of OER via RSS. The conference also provided opportunities for a number of other JISC UK OER projects to showcase their work, share ideas and discuss some common issues across different institutions. Jackie Milne from JISC Legal provided advice on IPR and considerations for making material available openly.

It is clear that more and more institutions in the UK and worldwide are joining the OER movement and more and more academics are publishing their course materials on the web for people to use freely anywhere in the world. However, to me, the most inspiring thought from the conference was how we should think about OER beyond resources, institutions and nations. Professor Andy Lane from Open University in his presentation pointed out that designing for Open Learning needed to consider that learners want whole courses with pay as you go and on – demand accreditation. Neil Butcher, Strategist for OER Africa, introduced two OER-related innovative programmes from African universities. One of the universities is developing an entire online distance learning programme based on high quality OERs available worldwide and all learning materials will be delivered to learners’ mobile devices. The university expects the programme to be self-sustaining in 4 years. He suggested that the UK OER community should engage with this demand and build partnerships and networks to make best use of the potential of OERs. I came away thinking that for OER the potential seems boundless and with no limit.