Month: March 2015

OEPS Forum and ways forward for the Scottish Open Education Declaration

Open World

Earlier this month I went along to the second Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Forum where I’d been invited to present an update on the Scottish Open Education Declaration.

OEPS Update

The event began with an update from the OEPS Project team outlining their progress in supporting a network of open education practitioners, developing a Scottish open education hub, collating case studies and supporting the development of new content and practice. There was considerable discussion as to the role of the hub, which has been revised following discussions at the first OEPS forum. Although the hub will facilitate aggregated OER search, it will focus more on being a community hub for open education practice. For a comprehensive update on OEPS progress, the project recently published their first report here: First OEPS Project Report.

 An international perspective on opening educational practices – Laura Czerniewicz

Undoubtedly the highlight of the morning, was

View original post 852 more words

Uncensored State of the Union: OER Unfiltered #oer2015

Drawing proceedings at the Hewlett Grantees meeting towards its close is a final keynote by Hal Plotkin, currently Senior Open Policy Fellow at Creative Commons USA and formerly Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education for the Obama administration.  I interviewed Hal for OER Research Hub back in 2013, so am quite interested in where his thinking is right now.

Hal started by reflecting on the way that college presidents are appointed, noting that they are typically people who understand the college system and how to operate within it.  They tend to be people quite unlike the college presidents of yesteryear who were distinguished in several fields rather than rising to the top of the college administration systems.  What kind of leadership is provided by leaders who are not known for their achievements? Although OER has had a profound impact on improving access to education, not a single college president has championed or advocated for the movement.

The talk proceeded with acknowledgements of the support Hal has received from various quarters over the years, and the inspiration drawn from the OER community.  We tend to see our projects in (modest) isolation, but should better appreciate the historical significance of the work we do.

Hal identified the origins of OER movement with the Midpenninsula Free University (1966-1971).  Founded on the idea that anyone could teach and anyone could learn, the movement was inspired by the first opportunities for public use of computers.  Implicit in the mission statement and self-identity of the Students for a Democratic Society was the critique of corporatism in formal education and a mission for social justice.  Universities, it was held, must reform on the basis of dialogue and bold vision.  Free inquiry, free from centralised, disciplinary control, is the central axis of a progressive society, and must be supported.  At its peak, the MFU had hundreds of instructors, including illustrious authors and scientists.   So what happened to it?

The Revolutionary Union (a group of students) gave classes in Marxism and urban counter-insurgency, which triggered the interest of the FBI.  This inculcated a culture of paranoia at the MFU; eventually the headquarters of the MFU was bombed and a campaign of more than 30 bombings ensued.  In Palo Alto, a fundraising campaign was initiated to raise the money to build a university by music concerts.  But without permission to fund-raise in this way, the concerts often descended into the violence of regular ‘Friday night riots’.  Eventually a route around this was found through a clause in the municipal code.  Hal suggests that the real core of the 1960s counterculture was not drugs, or music, but the drive towards free education.

A pivotal moment in this chaos was a fractious meeting where attendees were divided about whether to exclude a hostile journalist; a debate that can be understood to be essentially about openness.  The journalist was ejected, and half the steering committee left with them in protest.  From this point on the MFU dissipated, and was taken over by hardline revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of the government of the USA.  The FBI actively worked to break up the MFU and its organising committees.

Thus, the battle for open education can be understood to start with the MFU, but when it lost its inclusivity and synergistic energy the movement was destined to fail.  When one group imposes its ideology and belief system on others the introduction of pressures to conform become dominant and many leave to find alternative paths. There is a cautionary tale here for the OER movement.

OER was written into the TAACCCT grant program, but the truth about policy is that it is invariably messier in practice than in theory.  Hal has three pieces of advice about getting policy written and passed:

  • have the strongest bladder
  • stay at the table as long as anyone else
  • be the last person to touch the document

Formerly, the Department of Labor allowed its subcontractors to retain intellectual property rights over materials created on behalf of the government (but retaining the right to use it for their own purposes).  There was some debate over whether the OER mandate in the TAACCCT bill was legal (or constitutional).  The Deputy White House counsel was eventually responsible for pushing through the open IP requirements at a late hour.

When dealing with challenges like these we often rely on scripture, poetry, or speeches for motivation and emotional sustenance.  For Hal, Bobby Kennedy’s speech in South Africa is such an inspiration.  Here is a version of the text (not verbatim the same as the version Hal read out, but pretty close).

There is a discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; and millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich; and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere.

These are differing evils, but they are common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility toward the sufferings of our fellows.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a tirne – that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Our answer is to rely on youth – not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress. It is a revolutionary world we live in; and this generation at home and around the world, has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.

Hal concluded by thanking those present for the work they do in working for the greater cause and expressing his gratitude in being part of the community.

Unconference: OER World Map at #oer2015

OER World Map

Today, myself and Felix are representing the OER World Map project in Sausalito, California this week at the meeting of grantees of The Hewlett Foundation.  It’s been great to get the chance to connect with some of the key players in the OER world and exchange ideas about the future aspirations of the movement.  The conference has included lots of group activities as well as some interesting speakers, and as part of the proceedings there is an unconference session which includes time for delegates to come and speak about the OER World Map project and tell us what they would like from the system.  We’ve been joined by, among others, Patrick McAndrew, Susan D’Antoni, Fred Mulder and Tel Amiel for stimulating discussions on the possibilities.  Susan provided some background on the project and its origin in the 2012 consultation she organised.  Many OER practitioners at the time complained that…

View original post 464 more words

Wikipedia in Action #oer2015

Another sunny morning in California and more OER related action from the Hewlett Grantees meeting in Sausalito.  The next session I’m going to attempt to capture is a panel discussion about Wikipedia.  Here are the participants:

  • Pete Forsyth, Wiki Strategies (PF, facilitator)
  • Amin Azzam, UCSF (AA)
  • Dan Cook,Wiki Strategies (DC)
  • Jeannette Lee, Cambridge School of Weston (JL)

PF began by outlining his efforts with Sara Frank Bristow to improve the quality of OER related entries on Wikipedia.  All the panelists use Wikipedia in their work.  JL started using Wikipedia in the classroom when her students couldn’t use part of an article in an assignment.  AA described how medical students are becoming increasingly relaxed about using Wikipedia as part of their studies, which is an example of how the peer-review community is becoming more accepting of Wikipedia. (There is an article here which describes this in more detail.)  DC spoke about his frequent use of Wikipedia as a journalist.  He says that Wikipedia can even be understood as a new form of journalism, but requires an entirely different set of skills.

JL noted that her students are also having to learn about the structure of WIkipedia articles and how referencing, etc. works on the platform alongside learning traditional skills like essay writing. AA notes that Wikipedia is moving to a more central position in learning.  One of the central skills Wikipedia use can help to develop is the navigation of online resources and the evaluation of their reliability and consistency. PF notes that people often make the most contributions to editing while they are learning about a subject and their interest is sparked.

Wikipedia has a variety of projects, such as the drive to improve the quality of medical information available.  Wikipedia Zero partners with cellphone companies in the developing world to give access to the encyclopedia for free.

What is at the intersection between OER and Wikipedia?  JL says that both can learn from each other, and that Wikipedia can be thought of as an OER learning space. AA’s students also use Wikipedia as a way of learning about open resources and open access.  DC asks when students are ready to do this kind of research on their own.  JL argues that there are high school students who are able to do this.

Transparency is an important part of Wikipedia editing, and this can be a useful lesson for journalists, says DC.  We have come to expect the ability to relate content to authors and the idea of anonymous editing is something that is likely to be left behind.  Historically, part of this was down to professionals being worried about being associated with a platform like this but as Wikis have moved into the mainstream this is less of an issue.

PF describes Wikipedia as a sign of the times – something that enables circumvention of historically important institutions. Cable Green speaks about how important Wikipedia is for OER advocacy since this is the first place people will look for information about OER, open access, etc.  But who monitors the quality of these articles?  Advocates need to make sure that these spaces are well tended so that they can be supported in their work while improving their PR strategy.

There’s a further capture of the session available at http://wikistrategies.net/oer-wikipedia-getting-started/.

Learning from disruption #oer2015

I’m in Sausalito, California in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge for the Hewlett Grantees meeting this week.  Today is the start of proceedings proper, and I’m going to blog some of the presentations and seminars.  First off is Douglas Gayeton of Lexicon of Sustainability, which attempts to explain basic principles of economy and environment to a wide audience.

As a film-maker and photographer, Douglas has often reflected on the way that pictures omit as much as they include.  How can a picture capture the full story?  One way is to take lots of pictures and then turn these into a composite image.  This image can then be used to explain the overall message, perhaps with textual cues added.  We need to recast information in ways that people can understand.  (Compelling graphics can also be especially memorable.)  At the other end of the scale of transparency. he suggests, we might think about Latin versions of the Bible, which made religion obscure and opaque.

An underling assumption here is that when consumers are better informed they will make better choices.This seems like a fairly big assumption to me. (What about, for example, smokers who are fully aware of the dangers of their habit and yet continue to chuff away?  Motivation is also important.  Perhaps it is better to say that being well informed is a necessary but not sufficient condition of possibility for making good choices?  Alternatively, a paternalistic approach could make ‘good’ decisions on behalf of consumers without any need for the consumer to know what is good for them.)

Chains like Whole Foods now require clear labelling of products with GMO ingredients – Gayeton compares this to Martin Luther‘s insistence that the Bible be translated into native languages.  Consumers are also demanding transparency around the use of antibiotics to increase the weight of livestock.  Labelling around when and where fish were caught is expected to follow, as is information about grain origins.

It is argued that making improved information about food available to consumers is sustaining a national ‘locavore’ movement where localism, greater co-operation and seasonal eating replace the industrialisation of food production.  The ‘New Corner Store’ movement encourages consumers to ask for better options in their local stores.  Project Localize brings the message into schools.  Douglas take comfort from the various grass roots movements and small holdings: personal stories can be effective for communication.

I must admit that how this relates to OER wasn’t that clear to me, and there wasn’t much exploration of the disruptive elements which might be considered transferable.  I suppose that the idea is to change cultures through improved information though I suspect this is actually only half the battle.  There’s definitely a sense in which the message about OER, nuanced as it is, doesn’t always travel that far beyond the open education movement and its advocates.   But is the idea that we emphasize the hard data, analytics and metrics?  There doesn’t appear to be much of this in the materials we have been presented with today.   Should we instead focus on personal stories and narratives (which seem to be the focus here)?  Both?

Commonwealth of Learning – Progress of OER in 2014: Stock Taking in the Commonwealth

The art of open research

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 11.28.25

Reblogged from: Commonwealth of Learning – Progress of OER in 2014: Stock Taking in the Commonwealth.

Professor Asha Kanwar, President & Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Sanjaya Mishra, Education Specialist – eLearning

Ever since the Commonwealth of Learning was created, it has encouraged sharing of educational materials in the Commonwealth. In fact, when COL was established, its goal was that “any learner anywhere in the Commonwealth shall be able to study any distance teaching programme available from any bona fide college or university in the Commonwealth”. One of its purposes was to “assist[ing] the acquisition and delivery of teaching materials and more generally facilitating access to them; and commissioning and promoting the adaptation and development of teaching materials”. While these were and still are huge responsibilities on the shoulder of an organization that is small in terms of size and budget, the recent developments in the past, including…

View original post 724 more words

Making connections: #OER World Map in 2015 #openeducationwk

OER World Map

As we enter Open Education Week it’s starting be be a really exciting period for OER World Map.  Since funding for the project was awarded to the team there has been lots of activity behind the scenes to build the technical architecture that will allow us to map complex information in an intuitive and useful way.  I will let others who understand the minutiae of these things better than I do the explaining, but it’s really interesting to see things come together while we work as a distributed team.

As technical progress is made, so we move through to a new phase of the project where reaching out to the OER community to identify national champions and build a register of interested parties.  Open Education Week is a great time for this as people all around the world share their experiences and aspirations for open education.  In addition to a series…

View original post 378 more words