reflections and ideas on open and distance learning - by irwin devries

Tag: open education

Six weeks with Wiki Scholars

The sun is shining, I’m fully vaxxed, and I think it’s time to get back to the blog. I suspect future digital archaeologists will uncover one of those interesting sedimentary lines in the blogocene indicating a world-wide gap in digital ink production during the Covid-19 Era. Anyhow, that’s the excuse for my extended pause in writing. But onwards.

In open education we’re fixated on authentic and renewable assignments; creating, improving or adapting open educational resources; and embracing digital pedagogies in our teaching and learning. Knowing that, I jumped at in invitation to complete a Wiki Scholars class organized for interested writers through the international GO-GN doctoral candidates research network in open education and hosted in collaboration with WikiEducation. This six-week program provides wiki training with the goal that each participant will create or expand one or more Wikipedia articles on open educational resources. The (virtual) classes were expertly run by Will Kent, a program manager with WikiEducation, and it was great to see many familiar faces from our shared open education networks.

Some members of our Wiki Scholars class

Some things I learned

  • The MediaWiki platform on which Wikipedia is based has improved considerably since my previous involvement with the tool in the early 2010s. In particular, the visual editor makes it much more accessible to non-markup and -code aficionados, and the automated referencing tool is a huge time-saver, especially since there is such a strong emphasis on referencing everything.
  • There is a clear system of policy and guidance on ensuring a reasonable degree of relevance, appropriate tone and quality of articles, including a robust community of volunteers who check articles and maintain the platform in good condition. Some volunteers have done this work for many years. Many of these people are invisible heroes.
  • The platform includes a mind-boggling array of ancillary sites, ranging from Village Pump, Tea House, and WikiFauna to events pages and conferences. Xtools can be used to analyze user activity. Tips on writing better articles and methods to recognize exceptional Wikipedia contributors are just a few examples of the many programs and wiki pages active behind the scenes.
  • The Signpost online newspaper publishes articles about Wikipedia by its editors, with articles that include introspective critiques of Wikipedia itself. An example of a current concern — something that is also discussed more broadly in the field — is a critique of Wikipedia’s epistemology and under-representation of minority authors, thus providing a venue for self-reflection and related scholarship.
  • Wiki Education has a program to support instructors in integrating Wikipedia into course assignments.

What now?

Having gotten closer to Wikipedia over the term of the Wiki Scholars class, I’m now planning to join the many other educators who found ways to incorporate it into their classes. Such exercises not only mobilize knowledge in new ways, but also afford an opportunity to include and explore issues of representation, epistemology, sources of knowledge and other such critical matters in our open educational practices. In addition, I’m thinking about which articles I want to review and add to, and what I want to write next (suggestions welcome BTW).

Speaking of writing articles…

For my project in the program, along with some small edits or additions to an article on OER in Canada, I developed a short article on the Open Learning Institute of British Columbia (OLI). While I blogged about OLI some time ago, one blog post doesn’t compare to a page in Wikipedia given the amount of traffic that passes through Wikipedia. OLI was an important, bold and seemingly forgotten part of the Canadian province of BC’s history in open education that existed from 1978 to 1988 before it transitioned to the BC Open University and Open College, among other components, under the Open Learning Agency (OLA).

Its DNA now lives on at Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning (TRU-OL), and the basic principles espoused by OLI and many of its open education initiatives — as well as new ones — continue to flourish. While this history is not directly connected to the OER theme of the Open Scholars course, OER is a product of open education and related movements, the seeds of which were planted long before the emergence and definition of OER in the early 2000s.

Having worked in various capacities with the original OLI, OLA and, most recently, TRU-OL, I’ve personally experienced the mood and tensions of introducing and maintaining open education approaches that run up against existing structures. Then, as now, open education remains a challenge to closed, proprietary, hierarchical, surveilled and corporatized approaches to higher education.

The article is only an early and frail contribution to this part of BC and open education history, but it’s a start. Over time, I hope to add more research as well as images to the article, but it will take some effort as there is not much out there without digging through archives and print materials in libraries. I welcome any related resources, corrections, additions and other improvements, along with discussions in the talk page.

The Words We Use

OER17 The Politics of Open

The recent #OER17 The Politics of Open conference in London generated more discussions and blogging than most conferences I can recall. The conference blog roundup lists almost 60 links, and a number of those in turn curate or comment on other reflections and archives. It seems issues and questions that have been brewing in the OERniverse over the past few years came to something of a head during those tightly packed two days.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.12.37 AM

The OERniverse explained

A quick scan of the titles reveals such words as serendipity, emotion, heart, privilege, voices, reflections, provocations, identity, personal, political, critical — terms that evoke matters somewhat beyond everyday understandings of open educational resources or practices. I myself didn’t escape the vibe, and had to find an outlet in poetry to begin processing that buzzing noise in my head.

A prominent theme in the discussions involved attempts to work the boundaries of openness toward open/critical pedagogy, extending past the perceived affordances of the 5Rs of Openness and other tools of open education practices such as Creative Commons licensing, which continue play a dominant role in open education practice. This theme has been in play for a while, and one of the more recent examples was Clint Lalonde’s blog post: Does open pedagogy require OER? That’s one of those maddening, deceptively simple questions.

OER-enabled pedagogy

Then, when I was in the middle of writing this post, David Wiley took a stand on the language of “open pedagogy” and “open educational practices,” setting them aside in favour of OER-enabled pedagogy:

OER-enabled pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities. – Wiley 2017

This definition is consistent with Wiley’s historical explanation of the 5Rs. For instance, in contrast to the sample of terms from OER17 I noted above, we see language around permissions, permitted activities, free, unfettered, access, copying, personal ownership and control, along with functions that are typically associated with 5R content:

The 5Rs of Openness are about rights

– Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
– Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
– Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
– Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
– Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) [emphases mine]. – Wiley 2014

Wiley’s blog tagline “pragmatism over zeal” seals the deal, if you want to get real. Along with the legal/copyright aspects, practical questions of content formats, discoverability, availability to others, and so forth ensue from the 5Rs, as well as pedagogical activities such as non-disposable assignments and reorganizing or transforming content. Interestingly, a little less pragmatically and a little more zeal-fully, any pushback against onerous copyright restrictions in education comes with an underlying ethic of resistance. It’s about sharing, the commons, hegemonies of commercial publishing and textbooks and ed-tech companies. This battle has been going on for a long time and will continue until the sun burns out. The many good things that breaking down such restrictions enables include lower costs to students, more flexibility for faculty, and improved access to learning.

But then too, this is part of a wider history around open/critical pedagogy and open educational practices. In a recent blog post Tannis Morgan delves into the history of openness with some fascinating examples (and with visitor comments that are worth a read too).


Open education definition – Friesen 2009

Norm Friesen traces emancipatory and critical-pedagogical precursors of open education to the work of such figures as Gramsci, Benjamin and Friere, and offers a Venn diagram to illustrate intersecting aspects of open education. While copyright is an element, it links with other areas including technology and teaching and learning processes.

Among his key points: “Education generally, and open education in particular are about questioning the world and [its] parameters, and about changing them.” This statement could be seen as a fairly classic description of open/critical pedagogy, and stands in contrast against functionally oriented definitions based on OER.

The 5×5 Rs of Ours

Amidst post-OER17 ruminations in an Edinburgh taxi, Brian Lamb tossed out the idea of finding R words that would extend beyond the original 5Rs of Openness. Words with open/critical pedagogical potential. Resist. Reclaim. Renew. RRrrrrwhatever…. It picked up steam. By the time we arrived at our hotel, we decided to get serious and finish this project here and now.


Hard at work in the office

Naturally, the best locale for such work is a pub, especially if you are in Scotland, and even more especially if it’s named The Advocate. And when Michelle Harrison dropped by, we were a full-on R-Team.

We excluded most R words that used “re-” as a prefix, since that could include almost anything. We turned to an online Scrabble dictionary to make sure we weren’t unintentionally bypassing useful words. Toward the end, we went through a fairly complicated process of sorting, gleaning, clustering, adding and erasing. There was an unusual amount of scribbled-on paper on the table, given that all three of us prefer to burn up bits and bites rather than trees. In retrospect, we were pretty methodologically sound, given the locale and its primary offerings.

RteamaAs we approached the finish line, we found that the emerging five groups of five words could be clustered into meaningful sequences — open/critical pedagogy learning design patterns, or at least prompts, if you will. For example, the column that starts with “respect” could be used to prompt a learning design of remembrance. Not remembrance in the manner of the reductionistic Bloom’s taxonomy, where memory (for crying out loud) is demoted to the basement of cognitive activity.


Scribing the Rs

Not that. Think of remembrance as, perhaps, an approach to learning and teaching about Japanese Canadian internments, or the history of residential schools in Canada, or the Komagatu Maru, or so many other histories that call out for critical remembrance:

  • Respect. Begin from that place.
  • Recognize. Try to see it for what it is.
  • Relearn. Don’t stop at what was learned back in school. Dig deeper. Hear the stories.
  • Retell. Share the story with others.
  • Reconcile. Find ways to be part of the healing.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 12.49.50 PM

Of course this list can change, and there’s no reason to be stuck on one letter. But it was fun to try. Can the 5Rs of Openness be helpful with this type of activity? Certainly. Can they be extended outside the permissions frame? I think so — it just means looking at them differently. So, there are Rs, and there are Rs. And of course, there’s the rest of the alphabet too.