open & distance learning

reflections and ideas on open and distance learning

Tag: OER

Ten years after: Running the rivers again

A little over ten years ago the BCcampus Educational Technologies Group (ETUG) held their spring workshop at Thompson Rivers University. Titled Running the Rivers: Challenging Currents in Teaching, Learning & Technology, the program included such topics as The Wiki in Post-Secondary Education, In the Moodle, and, presented by no less a luminary than Scott Leslie, Finding Free and Open Learning Resources.

Apart from its use as a metaphor, the “rivers” reference in the program title also acknowledged the flowing-together of the North and South Thompson Rivers in Tk’əmlúps, the local indigenous Secwepemctsín name for Kamloops, meaning “where the rivers meet” (as shown in this blog’s masthead photo).

Another convergence took place today at the same location, with a strategic framework planning session for open textbooks and related initiatives held on our campus. Ably led by Dr. Rajiv Jhanghiani from BCcampus and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the session’s purpose was to combine multiple open educational resource efforts into one combined framework.

The threads being woven together:

  • The TRU student union (TRUSU) open textbook initiative, which has been under way for well over a year now.
  • The BCcampus Zed Cred program, from which TRU, along with two other institutions (Justice Institute of BC; KPU), has received grants to develop a zero-cost textbook one-year academic certificate.
  • Internal funding received by Open Learning from TRU to develop open textbooks.
  • The impending rollout of the first year of OERu studies at TRU.
  • Initiatives in the library to promote and curate OER.
  • The ongoing mandate of the Open Learning Division to provide open education to our students.

This was a big day for us, as we felt excitement and awareness build about our collective strengths combined to promote and expand the reach and benefits of openness in education. As the plan develops, it’ll be shared here and elsewhere for suggestions, and for others to use and adapt as they wish.

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.

An open agenda

Two years ago I attended the inaugural meeting of OERu (Open Education Resource university) founding institutional partners at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. I was excited at the prospect of meeting people from around the world whose institutions were willing to step out and sign on to such a nontraditional project. I was also keen to visit this charming country, as it was my first time there.

Earlier that year, Paul Stacey had written a reflection in which he imagined a University of Open, a concept that “synthesizes multiple ‘open’ initiatives into a common core operating principle that defines the university and the education it provides.” These initiatives included use of open source software for administration and teaching, building programs from OERs developed internally or elsewhere, adoption of open access publishing, implementing principles of open data and government, and use of open pedagogies.

One of the many comments was from Wayne Mackintosh of the OER Foundation, where he invited Paul to participate in an upcoming meeting in Dunedin. Work there had already been under way for some time to develop a likeminded concept, the OERu, which was intended to integrate multiple open practices under one roof. A discussion co-facilitated by Paul and Wayne was set up in BCcampus’s SCoPE to develop the OERu concept further and was followed by the most recent meeting of partners – the one in New Zealand I mentioned at the beginning of the post. A lot has happened since then.

Soon another meeting of OERu partner institutions will take place at Thompson Rivers University, my home institution. As before there will be options for both virtual and F-F participation. A discussion to plan the agenda is taking place in SCoPE again and is open to all. There is indeed much to talk about especially since the higher education landscape has changed so massively in the past two years.

Having an open discussion about the agenda is just one of many reasons I enjoy the OERu concept – gutsy, grassrootsy, based mainly on volunteerism, an authentic mission that is not driven by a profit motive, and a commitment to being open in as many ways as possible. It’s a refreshing change from the growing array of initiatives riding the “open-but-not-really”  bandwagon currently careening through the higher education landscape.

OER as ecosystem

Occasionally you hear something that pops a cork in your brain, lets out some confusion and makes room for fresh insight. That happened to me at the UNESCO World Open Educational Resources Congress in Paris, when Neil Butcher of OER Africa responded to a question by suggesting that reuse of OER is in fact a form of new knowledge construction. That was a clarifying moment for me.

The very act of finding, validating and incorporating existing OER into a program or course requires skill, patience and dedication. Working through licensing and formatting issues is not easy. Either revising OER or building contextual content or learning activities around OER, or even providing translations, are themselves creative acts and contributions of value to learners and to an OER ecosystem at large. By undertaking these activities, reusers of OER are making a contribution to the OER movement.

As noted by several presenters throughout the congress, collaboration and constant improvement are key to the development of high quality OER. Every individual or agency that reuses OER is contributing to its improvement and extension. Even by the acceptance of OER as-is and reusing it without further modification, a vote of confidence is being placed in the resource, giving it more credibility for other reusers. Beyond that, the reuse of OER inherently expands the reach of the original development to new learners, a credit to the intentions of the OER originator. And the lessons learned by undergoing this process can be shared with others at events as large as the OER Congress, or as small as a local capacity development workshop.

I like to think of OER as surrounded by a community of users who continue to reuse and improve them, rather than as packages that are developed and then moved down a supply chain to the next user in a linear manner. I don’t think a producer-consumer concept of OER is compatible with the ecosystem model.

To those who get past the barriers we all face to create content and release it to be reused under an open license, even as a small, tentative experiment: well done. Not only are you addressing the needs of your own learners, but also you are providing an opportunity for others to build on and extend your work; and you are an inspiration for all of us.

css.php