The mighty portable practice studio

Okay, now for a slight change of pace. This is a little open music sharing for my friends and colleagues in the open education multiverse. For some reason, open education seems to go well with guitars, basses, voices, saxophones, drums, keyboards, synths, theremins and other noisemakers that can’t even be imagined let alone played by ordinary humans. Wherever any of us might meet up, it’s not always easy to find a place to Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.

So, in the spirit of disruptive innovation, I’ve been testing a few ideas and gadgets, and it all came together when I discovered how amazing small Bluetooth speakers have recently become. Normally a load of guitar and bass amps, a drum kit, a PA system and other clunky gear needs to be collected, assembled into a special rehearsal space, and then dismantled after the fact, especially hard on us spindly-legged open eds and techs with our carpal tunnels and atrophied arms. So, introducing the Mighty Portable Practice Studio.

The video is a short demo of how the pieces fit together and what it sounds like. Yes it’s a little sloppy and out of tune…all intentional, meant to resemble real live jam sessions (…cough…). I pre-recorded several tracks in place of having live musicians help out, but either way it will work fine. Any suggestions for improvement or enhancement are most welcome. And…pardon the hat…I was doing this between handing out Halloween candies at the door…

Posted in educational technology, music, open education | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A slacker’s guide to OER

I just finished writing the first draft of an online module that is part of a larger multi-university faculty and staff development program in online and distance learning for a developing region in the world. I have been lightly involved with this project for several years, largely because I believe in its longer-term value; i.e., to build capacity in providing locally developed learning opportunities accessible to educationally underserved and remote learners.

It made sense to try to build the module content as much as possible from open educational resources (OER), leaving me more time to focus on other pieces that help to foster engaging learning experiences. The focus of this module was administrative processes and systems integration for the implementation of online learning systems at a large scale in higher education institutions. Apart from finding content at appropriate levels of complexity and avoiding overly corporate examples, the foundational material of this module seemed pretty generic to me.

I started off with that time-honored, highly academic and rigorous approach known as “just poke around and see what comes up.” What did this look like? I suppose I should be embarrassed at how simple it was. I made up a list of key terms and started to search. Apart from a directory of open access journals, I didn’t go to any other directories, repositories or collections of links to open content. I just used Google, Google Scholar, and Google Images. BTW this isn’t intended as an ad for Google; I was just following the easiest possible path that appeared in front of me in the moment.

I was looking for chunks of relevant content that I could whittle into shape for my module. For each section I searched specific topics using key terms (information systems; business processes, systems integration, workflow analysis, process documentation, and perhaps 15-20 others). I usually combined these terms with either “open course” or “open textbook” along with, occasionally, “higher education” or “online learning.” This was not a highly scientific approach and I’m sure any research librarian could have done ten times better. But it still worked for me.

Interestingly, combining my search terms with “OER” led less to openly licensed content in my search term areas, than to material about OER implementation processes. But that’s not what I was after. It was just a reminder of how far we are from a semantic web. (Serendipitously however, that search did produce one useful resource related to OER that I could use as an example of workflow mapping. This was by Lisa J. Scott from Heriot-Watt University, who is a hero not only for putting her content online under a CC license, but also for having a resume with many interesting ed-tech type projects including JISC’s now-parked  UKOER initiative – and  for the fact that she is a 4th Dan karate blackbelt as well. A triple hero, then.)

The open content search-by-poking-around was both simple and productive, leading me to several open textbooks in which I could search for chapters, sections and graphics that were very close to what I was looking for. The two main resources that kept popping up were Saylor Open Textbooks and BCcampus Open Textbooks. I also found helpful material in a Saylor course and in the University of Georgia’s Global Text Project. A cluster of interlinked Wikipedia articles led me to useful schematics from the Wikimedia Commons. Google’s advanced image search with usage rights selected as “free to use share or modify” provided plenty of openly licensed images. Also, going to the page that hosted an image often provided yet other leads, a little like the ancient days of finding a specific book in the library stacks, and then browsing the adjacent areas to find other relevant titles that somehow got missed in the card catalog search. (Yes I used to do that…I suddenly feel so old…).

A major weakness of this method, however, was Google’s algorithms. Searching from Canada unsurprisingly invoked a built-in algorithmic bias toward western resources. It took some intentional effort (i.e. introduce the names of specific countries into the search string) to start to see the many resources that would help at least to some small extent balance out the western bias. Shockingly I didn’t have to put “Canada,” “USA” or “Europe” in the search strings to get those former results…

The Reusability Paradox was not as big a problem as we sometimes make it out to be; any interpretation that explains it as an iron law needs to be challenged. A vast amount of the material I came across was reasonably generic, probably a natural feature of that specific field of study and practice. Contextualization, first in its more trivial sense, consisted of such things as changing “organization” to “university” and “business process” to “administrative process” for educators averse to business jargon. Secondly, in its more meaningful sense, contextualization took place though the use of case studies, which I located mainly in a number of open access journals. By including regional and country names in my searches, I found some very relevant and locally grounded research with a potential to enhance the open textbook and open course content. With the content students could learn about widely disseminated theories and models of practice, and then engage in thinking about and discussing what did and didn’t work in local or regional projects as discussed in case studies. They would then use this knowledge to analyze their own specific situations. Interactions between generic content, local research and the learners’ specific situation seemed to me to provide plenty of potential material for engagement. I’d be most interested in hearing how others handle this issue.

As a dedicated slacker, I was happy to see that my overall approach was much easier than writing my own content, and I estimate I remixed and revised the content in less than half the time it would have taken to write it from scratch. Further, the very process of scanning and selecting content that I could then freely repurpose gave me access to much more expertise than I have on my own, and I could scoop it in good conscience without taxing my paraphrasing skills to the limit. Combining pieces from various sources gave me a very quick overview of different approaches and biases, which helped me to reshape the material in a more informed manner than would have occurred by working on my own. I now look forward to the peer review this newly mixed material will receive.

The other challenges I did encounter were mostly at the nuisance level. As I copied and pasted chunks of text and graphics from Word and PDF documents into my own project, some embedded formatting from the original was difficult to get rid of until I pasted the content into a text editor and converted it to plain text. That solved most problems except for the occasional document infested with those atavistic “carriage returns” that had to be removed manually. (If anyone has a tested and proven solution, please let me know. There are plenty of suggestions online, but alas so far no go for me.) There was little need to mess around with image conversions; a simple screen shot levelled everything into a universally usable PNG file. Almost too easy.

Open textbook projects and open courseware (and there’s not always that much difference between them, from what I’m seeing) seem to be covering off an increasingly wide swath of basic content that I would describe as academic tofu – useful material that can be taken up whole or chopped up as needed, seasoned and stirred into a tasty meal with other ingredients. We need to keep those developments going. Open access journals are, to my thinking, a key piece in finding contextual material based on current research, especially case studies, that can be matched up with the content. And finally, individual scholars, academics and practitioners who develop their own pieces in their work and put them online under an open content license provide an endless variety of condiments that can be added to the meal.

Without a doubt things could be done in many different and better ways, but at least this worked for me and, as far as my own practice is concerned, there’s no turning back.

Posted in educational technology, OER, open education, open textbooks | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

OER and guitar – they rhyme, sort of

About 10 years ago I put out the word among a few musician friends that I was looking for a decent quality but relatively inexpensive 12-string electric guitar. It’s something I seldom use but from time to time there’s just that particular sound that you want, and then of course you have to have it. The truth about 12-string electric guitars that most of them are horrible to play and many don’t stay in tune very long no matter how hard you try. It’s not easy to find the right one. Within a few weeks, by word of mouth, I was introduced to a local guitar tech who had just what I wanted in his rack of guitars, and at a price I could live with. After the deal was done, he asked me if I’d be willing contact him first if I ever planned to sell it. With a wink he was asking me for for first dibs, mainly because his instruments were more than commodities; they were individual things he cared about. The understanding was informal, non-binding; he just liked know to that the large numbers of guitars he bought and sold over the years were safe, pampered and well fed wherever they might have been adopted, and that they would go to another good home when it was time to pass them along. I ran into him not too long ago and let him know I still owned and appreciated the guitar. He immediately knew which instrument I was talking about and acknowledged my update with an approving grin. I’ve heard similar stories to this from conscientious people who sell or re-home pets such as dogs – they don’t just forget the animals after the transaction is complete.

git

It’s not that a story needs a point, and in fact I like this one just the way it is. But also this story came to mind over the past few weeks when my colleague Naomi Cloutier and I were conducting a small research project in preparation for an OpenEd 2015 presentation in Vancouver.

As part of our data collection we conducted video-recorded interviews with a number of faculty and staff in our Curriculum Development department at TRU Open Learning, all of whom are involved in some way with developing, editing, producing and/or implementing BCcampus open textbooks in online courses in our development shop. The interviewees included three instructional designers, two editors, a video producer and a production technician.

We wanted to learn about their experiences working with a number of open textbooks that have been either incorporated into our online courses alone or in combination with the OERu, or edited and produced in our shop. They all expressed their appreciation for the flexibility of working with openly licensed content and told us that they found it meaningful to be part of a project to better serve students and faculty. But one of their main concerns was how these textbooks would sustain over the longer term. After all the work done to develop and use them, what would keep them alive, updated and flourishing?

Now back to the guitar story: in the same way that this loosely formed group of musicians keeps an eye out for the instruments they circulate, I wonder if we would want to see a similar ethic of care for open textbooks. There are many methods and models for releasing open textbooks into the open ecosystem, and with that I think there needs to be at least one person, or better yet a small community of persons or organizations who actually care about one or more specific open textbooks that they’ve been involved with. They keep a benevolent eye on where the textbooks are going, where they’re being used, and when they’re in need of a little TLC, as well as encourage others to take them over and run with them in the same way. Over time creating and maintaining open textbooks and more broadly OER are hopefully becoming part of a natural process of meeting one’s own needs while also doing the things necessary to make it available to others.There is a certain amount of intentionality needed to put an OER, or open textbook, out into the big wide world and have it flourish. To adapt a Nigerian proverb, it takes a village to raise an open textbook.

That village, in the case of open textbooks, may well be communities of developers, faculty, institutions, organizations and others who care about the open textbooks they develop or adapt. Beyond any technical, staffing funding and other solutions and models, they will be very important to the future of open textbooks.

 

 

 

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My summer vacation (and a few lessons I learned)

My unusually lengthy summer vacation of four weeks straight was a pretty rare thing. I don’t remember taking this much of a stretch of time off in many, many years. I got to do some cool, fun and relaxing stuff, as well as some things that were backbreaking but in the end satisfying. In the spirit of learning and reflection, here are a few vacation anecdotes along with some things (among many) learned along the way. Here we go.

In the cool, fun and relaxing category, Jean and I visited and stayed with our daughter and son-in-law in Eugene, Oregon. They met in their mid-teens when we took our kids (back then) camping down the Oregon coast. He was a high school student working at a go-kart track in Florence, and somehow he and my daughter struck up a conversation when we went for rides. They just hit it off, and he seemed (miraculously, in our view at the time) to be able to cheer her out of her teenage funk. They kept in touch for several years through ICQ and MSN (remember?), lost touch, and then about 10 years later re-discovered each other on Facebook and married two years after. They are both fabulous, and we now have a place to stay when we cross the border to spend time on the untamed and funky northwest coast of the USA. We spent some time lake fishing – and while the fish decided to hide, we saw birds all day long, e.g. bald eagles, large flocks of pelicans, kingfishers, turkey vultures, great blue herons, osprey, cormorants, buffleheads, and many more. We also found a small swimming hole under a bridge that reminded me of my childhood in northern British Columbia. The water was icy cold but exhilarating. We jumped in like little kids, skipped stones and jumped off rocks into the deeper holes. I took a mental snapshot of that moment to retrieve on the coldest, snowiest, slushiest, sloppiest day of winter when I again get to slip and slide my way up and down the Coquihalla Highway (aka Highway through Hell) to Kamloops, commuting weekly between my work there and home in Vancouver.

  • Lesson 1: We have absolutely no idea as to what one little chance encounter will do to profoundly change the lives of individuals, families, friends and others, forever.
  • Lesson 2: Nature is a major reset button for the soul. Don’t forget to get out there, as often as possible. (Except in winter, on the Coquihalla. Forget that.)

On the somewhat backbreaking side, this was also a good time to do some badly needed yard work. This included cutting down a chestnut tree in our yard that I had planted about 15 years ago. This work also involved taking the leaves and branches away for chipping, and then digging out the stump. Reason: We liked the tree, but in keeping with the Law of Unintended Consequences, so did the squirrels. After they took up residence in our roof, we had to have them humanely trapped and relocated. Little critters, seriously.

We also cut up and pulled out a massive hedge that had gone insane and overgrown with wild blackberries. As I was pulling up hedge roots, I kept thinking about rhizomatic learning (really). The roots wandered throughout the yard, some deep, some shallow, and some reconnecting in new ways in weird unexpected intersections. There were new shoots popping up all over the place, seemingly randomly, including one right across the yard and through our deck. There were also enough blackberries to make some blackberry-lime jam.

  • Lesson 3: To really get rid of a problem you have to get to the roots of it (ooh that’s so bad, sorry).
  • Lesson 4: Digging out stumps is really hard work. If you don’t have to, don’t.
  • Lesson 5: If you don’t get rhizomatic learning, dig up a hedge. It will help.
  • Lesson 6: Make jam from berries you picked. Every time you spread it on toast or stir it into your yogurt, you think about the time you picked the berries to make it. A very cool connection.

We went to Victoria, BC to participate in a Dragon Boat festival. Well…Jean participated, I watched. This ferocious team of paddlers, who call themselves Gift of Life, is amazing, made up of organ transplant recipients (including heart, kidney, double lung!), a kidney donor (Jean), a mother who donated her son’s organs after a tragic fatal accident, and other supporters.

In competition with about 50-60 other teams including cancer survivors, visually impaired persons, paddlers with MS, and able-bodied groups, they came in with a Bronze in their category. And then…celebrating afterwards in a nearby brew pub, we were told by our server that our drinks were paid for. She pointed to a customer at the counter. When we thanked him and asked why, he told us with a breaking voice that he was waiting for a double lung transplant and had received badly needed hope and inspiration from the team, whose purpose was spelled out on their jerseys. We were stunned, and to this day it still resonates.

  • Lesson 7: In a world where we see so much horrible news, suffering and despair, there is also so much to be impressed, inspired and even overwhelmed by.
  • Lesson 8: We can choose to be on the good side. This includes our rag-tag networks of ed-techies, open educators and other such gifted educators and thought leaders who still have the desire to transform things and make them better for others.
  • Lesson 9: If it works for you, remember to sign an organ donor card. It can give life to others and by the time the card gets used, you really don’t need those parts anymore.

More on the fun side, I reorganized my recording studio and now am fully digital. At the same time I still have my old Tascam 16-track reel to reel tape recorder. I tried but just can’t let it go; there’s something about that tape rolling that makes me feel warm inside, sort of like a sip of bourbon trickling down your throat. I’m now looking for a MIDI interface that can lock it to my digital audio workstation so I can have the best of both worlds.

Lesson 10: There’s no need to assume we need to throw away things that are old, or to avoid things that are new. We just need to find ways to get them in sync.

OK enough for now…this is getting too long. Maybe more next time.

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For a fistful of Doing Something Good dollars

I was browsing the Help Wanted pages of Twitter for part time work in preparation for the impending collapse of higher education and was thrilled to find a great opportunity. Unfortunately it didn’t promise pay in any currency other than Doing Something Good dollars, but it had the potential to keep me busy so I could forestall playing my guitar in front of the local supermarket with an upturned hat on the sidewalk. Which was good enough for me.

The task at hand is participation in a most inspiring project started by Dr. Valerie Irvine at the University of Victoria. The purpose of the project is to interview and gather the stories of long-time (in Internet years) scholars and practitioners in open education, with “open” being defined more by what it has meant over a stretch of several decades than solely by the definitions (both legitimate and mutant) that have emerged more recently. We’re talking the PM era (oh, sorry, pre-MOOC) and of course before Silicon Valley recently invented Ed Tech; e.g.,

“Education is one of the last industries to be touched by Internet technology, and we’re seeing a lot of catch-up going on,” said Betsy Corcoran, the chief executive of EdSurge, an industry news service and research company (NYT Jan 15, 2015).

We’re talking about veteran educators who were committed to getting education out of the classroom and beyond, mainly with the assistance of educational technology as it has developed over a much longer period than ed-tech investors seem to recognize. Our goal is to track down these educators, interview them on camera, curate the videos and share their thoughts, experiences and wisdom with everyone.

So: Fair warning. You know who you are. Wherever you are, we’ll be knocking politely at your door and asking for an interview. Or…look us up and talk to us. It’ll be fun, I promise, and you too will be rewarded with a fistful of Doing Something Good dollars!

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Ed tech really matters: A reminder

A moment ago I followed a link in a Tweet by Stephen Harlow which he posted in response to a query regarding a learning repository:

The link points to an archived 2004 blog post by Alan Levine that includes a discussion between him and Bruce Landon. This caught my attention, not so much because the topic of the discussion is still very much relevant today, but more so because of Bruce Landon himself. This is Dr. Bruce Landon, a brilliant cognitive psychologist, researcher, college teacher and ed-tech aficionado who was also a close acquaintance of mine at the time of that post.

Back then both we worked in ed tech in neighboring institutions, he at Douglas College and I at the Justice Institute of BC. We collaborated on several ed tech projects, and also he was particularly devoted to increasing accessibility of educational web resources for the visually impaired. I’m sure some ETUG members of that time remember his presentations and challenges to all of us to do better in this area.

Shortly after this time I moved on to something else and, as can sometimes happen, we fell out of contact with one another, not by intent but rather by changing circumstances. The last time I talked to him was when he kindly provided me a reference for the doctoral program that I was just starting.

The link to this eleven-year-old blog post prompted me to look him up, and I learned from a local news item that some years ago Bruce suffered a serious stroke and has been undergoing a long period of rehabilitation. The article also linked to a YouTube video of a recent electronic speech by Bruce to students at Douglas College, which I struggled to view through blurred eyes:

As surprised and saddened as I was to stumble across this news via this strangely circuitous route, it was also humbling and inspiring to see how Bruce is now himself using the very types of technologies he advocated for in his ed tech work. It just reminds me that in spite of the many frustrations we run into, ed tech work really does matter – especially with a reminder that we need to remember accessibility in our work. Thanks Bruce for your inspiration, and I’ll be dropping by soon to reconnect!

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Care, or empty chatter – what will it be?

It’s an hour before noon at work on Dec. 24th, and the few people left in the office today are slowly winding down before the office closes at lunchtime. In a cubicle down the hall several children brought in by their parents for the morning are giggling and having fun, while a little farther down the cutest puppy ever is yipping away in an editor’s office. Home-baked goods and chocolates are everywhere. Upstairs on the next floor a potluck lunch is starting and I’m about to head up for a final snack and some friendly chitchat with my colleagues in Open Learning.

Communities everywhere gather around the sharing of food

Communities everywhere gather around the sharing of food

I’ve always appreciated the sense of community in my workplace. Underlying the day-to-day routines I see a lot of collegial respect for learners wrapped around an overtly shared passion for making learning more accessible for everyone.   The atmosphere and ethos are something I never want to take for granted because they grow in communities based on respect, caring and trust. And trust is, seemingly paradoxically, a force that is both incredibly strong and binding, and incredibly fragile once it is broken. I remind myself that one can never understand the breadth of experiences that others have of the same place, and that is the scary thing. The break can happen anywhere, not just over there, but also over here, where we live. Right here. Today.

Against this setting I think about the deeply troubling events that have come to light in the media over the past week at the Dalhousie School of Dentistry, and sadly know that this is only one instance of something that is so much more widespread throughout our society. The sickening trauma to the women who are directly involved, and more widely among all who experience misogyny in countless ways in their day-to-day lives, seems unfathomable. And in this case, as in so many others, incalculable damage has already been done to many and will continue for the foreseeable future, with even more far-reaching effects to come. Communities of all kinds are left shattered.

All our programs, innovations, technologies, papers, presentations and everything else we do in ed tech and open education are empty chatter if we don’t understand that the core of our projects is respect, caring for one another, and building communities. We need to tell ourselves this, speak up boldly when we need to, stay alert, and continue to explore how we all can do our part to both nurture and model that core ethic among our ourselves and our students.

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Learning about learning design with learning designs

It was quite an experience to be in a classroom in Otago Polytechnic with the power trio of Sue Bennett, Shirley Agostinho and Lori Lockyer along with a cluster of very obviously experienced curriculum developers and learning designers at #Ascillite2014 in Dunedin, NZ. The workshop, “Learning design techniques and tools,” was a hands-on session in which participants mined a selection of provided sharable learning designs to address learning design challenges of our own making by means of design sketches using a set of basic symbols and notations. After preliminaries, participants paired up for 20 minute design sprints and reported back an array of extremely interesting and creative design representations that addressed some fairly complex design problems.

The history of learning designs as patterns that can be represented in some way and then shared with others either to copy or to use generatively as inspiration for new designs goes back to the early 2000s, when learning object enthusiasts started running into brick walls. I.e., these objects are pretty and all, but how do we string them together into meaningful sequences? And if learning objects are to be more than just simple media resources, how is their implicit learning design to be described using metadata? Many sharable learning design initiatives came and went over that period and it would take more than a quick blog post to recount those stories here. I think many of the initiatives became entangled in debates about learning design models and metadata, and in concurrent efforts to tie learning design representations to complex design tools including those that would produce digital learning pathways with runnable code, that simply weren’t sufficiently usable and nuanced to allow for the types of adaptations that are made when learning designers work generatively off others’ documented designs. A brief overview of learning design issues can be found in the Larnaca Declaration, which was promulgated in 2012. (While “Declaration” seems a little somber for a discussion on learning designs, I do love Larnaca and I can’t think of a better place to proclaim one.) One item in particular of note in the Declaration is the concept that learning designs themselves can (and do) become OERs for others to use repurpose.

Back to the workshop: I appreciated the simplicity of the sharable learning design concept as implemented in the session: low-tech tools used to spark collaboration and quick design sketches by experienced designers and developers. The process brings to the foreground a lot of interesting questions such as, Ok here’s an artifact created by learners – what now? Is it just a make-work project for points? Where does it go? Where and how could others use it? What activities do we build around it? What support is needed  and where would it come from? How is it connected with the bigger purpose of this learning event? Where are the gaps in this design?

Design sketch

Beyond the immediate design setting, I can also see how such design representations can be used to mentor novice instructional designers and faculty in the creative practice of learning design, expose how the various pieces need to interconnect, and provide a mechanism to consider and discuss which technologies may be most helpful in the implementation of the designs. With the design challenges facing educators engaged in emerging approaches and technologies, more than anything we need creative learning design methods and tools based on sharing and collaboration. And ideally, ones that are simple, intuitive, inspirational, lightweight, sharable and open.

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OER in the land down under

Some smart planning placed the 3rd meeting of OERu Anchor Partners right after the Australian National Symposium on OER this week. That meant a number of non-Australian participants could arrive a few days early and participate in both events. Held in Hobart, Tasmania, the two-day Symposium kept us busy with an engaging mixture of keynotes, larger workshops, institutional showcases, and small group discussions with reports, all centred around successes and challenges in a variety of Australian OER/OEP programs and projects. Impressive numbers of Australian universities were involved in the program, including:

  • Wollongong
  • Southern Queensland
  • La Trobe
  • Charles Sturt
  • Western Sydney
  • Swinburne University of Technology
  • Deakin
  • Tasmania (host university)

Without doing justice to the full program, here are a few quick items that jump to mind from the two-day blur that we were treated to:

Elder Aunty Brenda Hodge‘s warm welcome to participants.

UTAS’s development and Senate approval of a TELT White Paper along with a set of  Curriculum Principles, both with values-based OER focus, and the building of open practices into teaching performance expectations. From the Curriculum Principles document: “We contribute to a vibrant community of practice who share, adapt and reuse high quality resources to enhance and extend our curriculum offerings.” (Like the sound of that!)

The use of OER, flexible and distance programs of the University of the South Pacific in the face of difficult technological and other challenges as recounted by Theresa Koroivulaono.

Doctoral student Mais M. Fatayer’s description of a model used to create a faculty/student community of practice within the classroom that creates and shares OERs for others to use.

Collaborations and knowledge building/sharing about open badges among a committed body of volunteers and agencies such as Mozilla, Creative Commons, MIT Media Lab, Jamlab, Open Knowledge Foundation, and NYU Steinhardt Shool work at P2PU as recounted by Delia Browne.

Christine Ewan’s consultation project with the Higher Education Standards Panel to advise the government on how quality practices may be affected by “disaggregation” in higher education, as with the introduction of credit for MOOCs, RPL and other such alternative methods of assessing learning.

Along with the advances in OER and OEP described in open sessions and small groups, the challenges faced in Australia will sound very familiar to anyone involved in this field. Challenges of understanding and promoting open licensing practices, funding, the need for new learning design approaches and models, finding and sharing OERs, the need to realign our institutions along more “open” lines are just a few examples. However, the sharing of experiences and ideas among participants at the symposium was highly encouraging and the signs are clear that we’ll all be hearing a lot more about OER/OEP in Australia in the months and years to come.

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A little piece of the open education puzzle

At the time of this writing it’s Open Education Week. The purpose of Open Education Week, coordinated by the Open Courseware Consortium, is to “raise awareness about free and open educational opportunities that exist for everyone.” That makes this a particularly good time to think about examples of open education and practices emerging in higher education. Ergo this post.

Having been engaged with the Open Educational Resource universitas (OERu) since its early days, I was pretty happy to see a small but important piece of the puzzle snap into place this week.  This occurred when a distance education student in our Open Learning Division who had completed an open course in the OERu received formal credit for this course by my university. The OERu course is AST1000 Regional Relations in Asia and the Pacific, developed as an open course built entirely from OERs. The course incorporates a “pedagogy of discovery” or “free range learning” as described by Professor Jim Taylor (Emeritus) from the University of Southern Queensland.


Learners can either engage with the course entirely on their own in any way they wish for free through WikiEducator, the MediaWiki-based home of the OERu, or work through it more formally and for credit by registering for the same course in a Moodle environment where the WikiEducator course content is replicated in real time in the LMS. While the course itself is free, students who wish to receive formal support and assessments pay a fee for these services.

Image

Overview of the OERu learning environment for AST1000

As transfer credit was not yet available for this course, a prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) evaluation was conducted by a qualified faculty member through my institution’s regular PLAR process. The process evaluated multiple elements including the course outline/description, qualifications of the instructor, assessment methods, relevant field of study, year level of the course content, and qualification for credit. The course met the required standard and the student received full credit for the course. Snap!

And so a small piece of the puzzle was added to the picture. But it’s not time to blow the trumpets just yet. There are many additional pieces that we need to continue work on. In fact, it sometimes feels like we’re also still filling in the picture on the puzzle box as we move from open content to open practices. Just a few of the pieces of the picture that we’re still trying to paint (and there are many more):

Cost. While the course content is free by the 4-Rs definition as described by David Wiley, i.e. free to reuse, revise, remix and/or redistribute, the optional instructor support and learner assessment cost was approximately a third of the cost of taking a full course at my institution. This is not an insignificant saving, but rather is getting closer to “free” in the sense of “free beer” or at least maybe cheap (but good!) beer. This will be an ongoing project for the OERu as it continues to grow.

Credit transfer. While the PLAR process was successful in gaining credit for our student, a longer term OERu concept has been that member institutions would assess and credit learners taking OERu courses that were provided by their own institutions and then use credit transfer among partners to spread the goodness around using well established protocols. In my own institution we are in the process of completing the evaluation of our open course contribution to the OERu, an adaptation of a previously developed first year art appreciation course that we forked from the Washington State Open Course Library via an adaptation from the Saylor Foundation. (A presentation on my research into the design aspect of this project can be found here.) Alternatively, one or several institutions may emerge that provide this service more broadly across the partnership. This takes time and requires an adjustment as well as some answers that can’t always be fully provided at this point. There is an element of faith in all of this – an iterative process of learning and sharing our experiences as we move step by step down this winding road.

Authentication. Because we knew our student, and a trusted instructor was providing support and assessment, there was little difficulty authenticating the student and the coursework submitted. However, for ongoing students more systematic and efficient approaches need to be found to ensure the identity of students when they are applying to a member institution for credit.

Multiple uses. The value-added from the development and open provision of OERu courses will multiply not only when more students are given credit, but also when partner institutions are able to treat the courses, where desired, fully as extensions of their own program portfolio. In this way internal and external students can mingle in multiple ways and for various purposes, gaining value from the exchanges and engagements that will occur.

There are no quick solutions, technologies, techniques or ed-tech VCs that will solve some of the challenges facing those who desire to see open education practices flourish in and among our institutions. What I like is that to date over 30 public post-secondary institutions and other open-minded agencies in this partnership are committing to working out these issues as educators, in a manner that respects and builds upon the experience, expertise and commitment to learning and students that is fundamental to the ethos of public higher education.

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