I’ve started writing this post at the Open Education 2015 conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver because I want to try and capture some thoughts about the evolution of this movement and community. But I’m finishing it from home after a little bit of time to digest and also after attending OpenUpTRU in Kamloops earlier in the week.
This has been my fifth consecutive Open Education conference and I’ve been privileged enough to hear from a lot of different people from around the world about their use of OER and the impact it has for them. Over these years there has been a steady move towards raising the game with research into impact and strategising ways to mainstream the adoption of OER; perhaps the clearest example of this is the may presentations that have been devoted to open textbook adoption and efficacy studies at this conference. This is entirely understandable given the co-ordinated focus in the USA on open textbook adoption as a tangible and measurable goal for advocacy and research.
Great things have been achieved by researchers working with the Open Education Group in this regard. In terms of controlled studies which attempt to isolate the effects of moving to an open textbook while controlling for other variables (like instructors, etc.) there really isn’t any other game in town that comes close. And there is a real need for this kind of work, since it is creating the body of evidence that can be used to reject the claim that open resources are of inferior quality. The endgame here is to support widespread adoption of open textbooks in colleges. This is something that can be measured and the savings calculated, so it’s a great strategic choice for advocates in the USA.
Now we have established that this research is great, I feel there are a couple of points to raise. Firstly, a methodological issue related to the tension between two virtues of open textbooks that we like to put forward: that they are ‘efficacious’ (they ’cause’ learning)  as established by controlled studies; and that they can be freely adapted. How much adaptation can a text withstand before the efficacy studies – which are based on carefully controlling variables – must be repeated? Of course, in many cases the textbooks are just adopted wholesale. They are mapped onto common curricula and so can be used to teach a whole programme. But if someone decides not to tamper with the textbook, isn’t the net result of all this just that the commercial textbook has been replaced by an open textbook? But if they do ‘tamper’ with the textbook, might they be in danger of making their textbooks less ‘efficacious’?
Maybe that depends on how good they are at teaching. What I mean by this is that, aside from all the fantastic savings made by students, the course may be taught in exactly the same way as before. In effect, the open textbook strategy might (when fully realised) leave us with more or less the same educational systems as before (although a lot more affordable for many, and this would undoubtedly be a fine thing).
In effect, this is an attempt to ‘colonise’ an existing system by taking it over from within. Maybe something more radical follows from this – open textbooks are a great way to introduce students and faculty to OER, and who knows what might happen a few years down the line in a situation where everyone knows about open?
For now, though, nothing much need change except using an open textbook. Except it’s not just an open textbook, because to scale up and keep making the case for efficacy the data gathered must grow, which means more metrics, open learning analytics, and possible homogenization of the learning process.
This was how I captured the thought at the time:
Are there signs of a creep towards technocratism at #opened15? Metrics, efficacy, scalability, replicability, homogeneity, predictability
— Dr. Robert Farrow (@philosopher1978) November 18, 2015
What was less obvious at the conference this year were the voices coming from a different part of the OER movement: the people who emphasize the radical potential of OER.
This end of the spectrum may be hard to clearly define. They might be edupunks or critical pedagogues. They might identify with the open source, copyleft, open data or open government movements outside of education. They might just be libertarians who like the idea of greater personal freedom. But the thing that unites them is that OER is, for them, more about challenging existing practices and forms of knowledge transmission than replicating commercial provisions on open licences.
Because they’re a disparate bunch it’s hard to put a label on this group, even though by the title of this piece I’m referring to them as ‘edupunks (&c.)’. The important thing is that they are more radical in ambition, and in that sense they occupy the opposite end of the spectrum from the ‘colonisers’.
Here are some illustrative comments shared on Twitter at the time.
— David Kernohan (@dkernohan) November 19, 2015
The unfortunate equation of open education w/ free text books has made the movement seem more and more myopic and less and less compelling.
— Jim Groom (@jimgroom) November 19, 2015
Just going to say it, in a spirit of love and optimism: “open textbook” is an oxymoron. #OpenEd15
— Robin DeRosa (@actualham) November 20, 2015
There were plenty of others to choose from, as well as plenty of support for what is being achieved with open textbooks. Robin actually went a step further and wrote a blog post which expressed her frustration with the dominance of open textbooks and outlined the kinds of things that she wants from a conference like Open Education.
- Engage learners in contributing to their learning materials so that knowledge becomes a community endeavor rather than a commodity that needs to be made accessible. To that end, let’s stop fetishizing the textbook, which is at best a low-bar pedagogical tool for transmitting information. OER is better than that.
- Make open licenses the focus of our advocacy for learners, teachers, scholars, which means explaining how the open license enables us to do more with the ideas that we ourselves as learners, teachers, scholars are generating. It’s not the open textbook, it’s the open license that matters here.
- Consider public funding models for open education (OER, open pedagogy, open access). “Philanthropy” is the wrong word for a model in which the public pays itself for what it needs and can generate on its own. And I am not buying that private, for-profit companies– while capable of being good community partners– are the only way we can build a public infrastructure for publishing and organizing and economically supporting open work.
- Build a better mission statement for why we work in the open. I took a stab here, but it was just one tiny specific start. I need help explaining this why. We need the why before we can develop the what (who cares about our open tools and apps and platforms? that’s the easy stuff, so let’s do it second). We need the why before we can assess whether or not we achieved success. Will working in the open serve a social justice vision? improve retention and enrollment? increase interdisciplinary collaboration and improve the quality of our scholarship? Yes? Why? How? And what will it look like if our vision succeeds?
So, should the open education movement seek to colonise education, or transform it? In can be tempting to think that the difference here is really between evolution and revolution. The colonisers want to evolve formal education in a helpful way while the ‘edupunks (&c.)’ are more interested in empowerment and the freedoms provided by open licensing.
We might also surmise that this is a false dichotomy. Most people are somewhere in the middle, and relatively few people go around calling themselves ‘edupunks’. In some ways this can be seen as the return of the familiar gratis (‘colonisers’) vs libre (‘edupunk (&c.)’) distinction that has been with the OER movement since the very early days: is the OER movement about freedom, or about things being ‘free’?
C. P. Snow famously wrote about the divergence of science and the humanities in the influential The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Snow foresaw that the aspirations, language and standards of validity of academic cultures were moving apart in ways that prevented cross-pollination of ideas and findings. Thus, we have science professors who have never read Shakespeare, literature professors who cannot explain the laws of thermodynamics, and so on. Now arguably there are more interdisciplinary thinkers than there used to be but education does still tend to siphon learners off into one or the other camp.
Without getting too far into that debate, I think we can use the basic idea of ‘Two Cultures’ as a way of thinking about changes in the OER movement, and being aware of people pulling in different directions. Everyone is still part of the same conversation at the moment, but it doesn’t feel like it would take much to see new, more niche conferences and journals springing up. In my view, both of these cultures need each other, because each ameliorates the vulnerabilities of the other and encourages attentiveness to the bigger picture. So keep talking!
 I’m a little uncomfortable personally with the language of efficacy, which risks being scientistic – I’m not sure that isolating a lot of variables and then attributing any difference to the intervention is reliable in education research per se – though it is certainly commonplace and there is of course a need for evidence.
For the morning of Day Two of the workshop the group split into working groups. I floated between the groups and tried to capture a sense of what was being discussed in each.
Qualitative Data Analysis (led by Freda Wolfenden & David Porter)
Freda presented some key things to consider:
- What does data analysis mean in the context of a research inquiry?
- The relation of data analysis and research dissemination
- Alternative forms of data analysis
- Drawing conclusions from data analysis and evaluating evidence
- Findings should be relevant and credible
- Be aware of the relationship between the research rationale and data analysis
- Several approaches to data analysis might be taken within one research project in order to meet different needs or ask different questions
- Four types of analysis: thematic, frequency, discourse, causal
David then spoke about qualitative data analysis and OER studies. He said that qualitative data is really important for understanding how practitioners perceive the influence of OER on their own practice. He then connected this to the idea of communicating research findings through images and stories, using the ‘Artic Death Spiral’ an as example.
David joined BC Campus in 2003 he become involved in the Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), a programme fubnded by the Canadian government to develop online learning materials under open licence. It became apparent that liberal arts, health and science were the subject areas with most interest in this approach. These projects were seen as successful, but the worry of the funders was that there were pockets of activity rather than wholesale adoption, In 2012, the Canadian government tried to further stimulate adoption by funding the production of open textbooks.
To support this work, research was done into the impact, successes and failures of the OPDF project. They proceeded by interviewing and looking at the existing literature to structure the study, identifying gaps in knowledge and any potential methodological barriers. Seven themes (comprising quality, instructional design, technologies, business models, cultures, and policies and localisation) were identified. This also afforded an opportunity to reflect on the important of establishing how well OER was understood in the various institutions.
Ultimately (Third Generation) Activity Theory (Engestromm, Nardi) was selected as a model for understanding the impact of OER as a whole, and and as a framework for producing and aligning interview questions. Interviews took about an hour and were subsequently transcribed.
Qualitative data analysis can produce richer understandings of context (Weiss, 1995). Coding was done through Nvivo and ATLAS.ti (special software for thematic analysis). 203 codes were identified, and their frequency and proximity to each other were analysed. This was still too many for a reasonable analysis, so these were then clustered into nine overall themes (some including as many as 46 sub-themes). (It’s worth thinking carefully about the relationship between the questions asked and the themes that emerged, since themes are bound to be in the transcript if questions are asked about them – RF.)
The outcome was that a deep understanding of OER implementation was still lacking, and new tools and practices would have to be introduced in order to drive open textbook adoption. This influenced the design of the new framework for reviewing and distributing open resources.
Quantitative Data Analysis
When the Q&A session began I headed over to the discussion of quantitative data. I was coming into the discussion that was already getting into the nitty gritty, but here are some of the points that I took away:
- A consistent approach to categorising resources and how they are used (driven by subject understanding rather than data-driven)
- There are different ways of categorising OER – according to the reason they were produced; formatting; level of production (individual/institutional)
- In producing a matrix for analysing quantitative data there should be some flexibility so as to account for regional / cultural difference, etc.; different groupings might be appropriate for different regions / countries
- Piloting the method with 2-3 studies from within ROER4D is a good way to evaluate the approach taken
- Stratification of the sample can be achieved by categorising the institutions according to size, level, purpose, etc. This would allow for comparison across and within countries
- One approach could be to use respondent codes (or some other naming convention) consistently across both the qualitative and quantitative analysis processes
After coffee the focus moved to strategies for data curation and communication.
Data Curation and Communication
The commitment to Open Research is the foundational principle that guides ROER4D in its approach to creating and sharing research data, documents and other outputs. The five key aspects of Open Research so far identified are:
- Transparency in the research process
- Open licensing on all project outputs
- Maximising human readability and accessibility through multiple locations and open formats
- Maximising machine readability through online open formats (such as .xml)
- Long-term preservation curation and accessibility of outputs through a multi-platform data management plan
However, openness is a concept with which many researchers will be unfamiliar, and that an uncritical approach to openness may result in problems. Thus, the commitment to openness is qualified through the two considerations below:
- Open access to resources where openness adds value
- Protection of the dignity and privacy of individuals involved
Information needs to be organised and communicated if it is to have impact and good visibility. This is especially important for ROER4D in raising awareness of OER use in the Global South. Once this is in place then it can be communicated to different audience in an iterative feedback loop. For ROER4D, there are particular challenges around languages, diverse culture, and measuring the impact of the project. Effective use of metadata is crucial here – we might even call it a ‘love note to the future‘! URI / DOI should be employed to track the use of data by others. It’s also important to make sure that you comply with your own institutional data curation policies.
When thinking about whether to release data on a CC0 licence it’s important to realise that this does not require attribution and there’s nothing to stop anyone working with this data and failing to give any attribution to the original researchers. Effective registration of metadata about the project outputs on repositories will encourage better propagation of the research.
One thing we didn’t have time to discuss was how it was anticipated that people would arrive at the UCT repository in the first place. (Maybe the idea is that the OpenUCT repository has good integration with search engines.)
Both a book summarising the ROER4D project and an interactive research report are anticipated. The latter could include multimedia content summarising different strands of the work and link through to the more detailed reports and the open data itself. Through a modular approach to reporting it should be possible to generate reports with different emphases or geospatial dimensions.
After lunch, Atieno Adala gave a neat summary of things to think about when writing research articles and gave an overview of good practice.
I then presented some work from the OER Research Hub and OER World Map projects. This was an impromptu activity, but a good opportunity to bring the map project to the attention of a network who are potentially really important for uptake among the global community. Here are the slides I used, some of which are taken from the OER 15 presentation last week.
Next Patricia Arinto gave an overview of the different dimensions of impact that the ROER4D Impact Studies will look at. These covered a range of the spectrum of potential OER impact such as educator and student practice, institutional impact, effect on quality of resources,
From this point on the meeting broke into smaller working groups and I drifted off to the GO-GN Global Graduate Network meeting of PhD students, some of whom are likely to spend more time at The Open University (UK) which is taking over administration of the network.
Both the ROER4D project and the GO-GN network have tracks in the OER Global conference as we progress through the week in picturesque Banff.
Today and tomorrow I’m in Banff ahead of the OE Global 2015 conference at the invitation of the ROER4D project to take part in their latest research workshop. I’m interested to learn more about aspects of the project I’ve yet to encounter, and to meet more members of the wider ROER4D network. (This blog present my impressions of events rather than a verbatim record of what was said.)
ROER4D is a big research project. There are 18 sub projects and there are 86 researchers working across 26 countries and 16 time zones. For a lot of the people who have travelled to Banff, Alberta in Canada this is the first time they have met face to face, and about half of them are new to me.
For such a diverse group to work together in the project, it has been necessary to develop a shared conceptual framework and collaborative working practices. The ROER4D Bibliography of research into OER in the Global South is an important part of working towards such a framework. Here’s an infographic which shows the different strands of work across the project:
The range of data collected by the project is diverse, and to maximise the chances of combining data in useful ways will be increased by co-ordination of methodology and research practice where possible. Some aspects will be highly contextual but where possible the project should strive to identify themes held in common. Some research questions will be emphasised in some strands more than others but there is still value in pulling together all the relevant data for the key project clusters. By mapping what is already known and sharing this throughout the project everyone should benefit from not having to tackle al the research in isolation. The different aspects of the project should complement each other. This workshop provides an opportunity to create new connections and better coordinate across the project. The workshop will focus on updating the collective understanding of progress made so far; sharing ideas for data analysis and data visualization; and discussing the ROER4D final outputs and their anticipated formats. There are several projects looking at specific areas of OER impact and opportunities for working together on similar issues and themes should be identified.
There was some interest in the OER Research Hub survey questions so I made these available to some of the group via http://tinyurl.com/OERRH-surveys. Anyone is free to re-use our questions under a CC-BY licence – we only ask that attribution back to the OER Research Hub project is forthcoming in return.
After some brainstorming work the main objectives for the workshop were identified. Most are keen to try and establish agreed methods for data curation and analysis which can be applied consistently across the project. Another theme that emerged was the idea of making best use of any data collected through a consistent strategy for exploitation and evaluation.
Sarah Goodier presented some work on the workpackage which looks at the role of public funding in supporting OER adoption and advocacy in South Africa. This comprises desk research and interviews with policymakers and officials. A country report is expected early in 2016. This presentation provoked some collective reflection around the difficulties of building up a holistic picture of change.
Amalia Toledo (Columbia) spoke about OER policy and advocacy in Chile, Columbia and Uruguay. They are recording the current methods used by governments in the region to promote OER and Open Access. Data was pulled from public databases as well as through desk research and interviews. Country reports are being produced (in Spanish) and there is a summary report that was written for UNESCO as well as a publication in Open Praxis. The overall findings are:
- A variety of funding sources for public education are identified
- There is a lack of clear policy support in Columbia and Chile, but less so in Uruguay
- Programmes in science, technology and innovation are being developed
SP10.1 Freda Wolfenden (UK) – the OU team will work with teacher educators in West Africa to understand their engagement and response to OER, looking for changes in their understanding of their own practice; their understanding of their own subject; and social order changes within and beyond their institution. The data will mostly be self-reported by teachers in training and will include attitudinal data as well as self-reported changes in practice. Some baseline data will also come from more general surveys.
SP10.2 Atieno Adala (Kenya) – this study looks at the impact of OER adoption on expanding access to quality teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a lack of well trained teachers. 12 universities across 10 countries will comprise the locations for the study. Some existing research (e.g. Diallo, 2013, Niang, 2013) suggests that access to an improved curriculum can strengthen institutional capacity. Evidence will be sought to defend this claim. The secondary hypothesis will examine whether OER has a positive effect on the quality of the curriculum. A quantitative analysis of student performance and institutional reporting will be used as evidence.
SP10.3 Michael Glover (South Africa) – study of 3-5 MOOC at University of Cape Town, which is developing a wider MOOC strategy working with FutureLearn. How do adoption of OER (in a MOOC format) impact upon educator practices? The study will focus on post-MOOC teaching and research practices. The definition of open educational practices by Beetham et al (2012) which identifies six indicators for OEP will be used to measure changes in practice. Generally, this seemed like a good approach to measuring impact of this sort. Interviews and classroom observations will also be conducted, and analytics from the MOOC portal collected. Activity theory will be used as a conceptual framework.
SP10.4 Lauryn Oates (Canada) – Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan is running the ‘Darakht-e Danesh‘ programme which makes educational materials available openly as an online library. Once registered, users can search for OER by type of resource, subject, language, etc. The research will focus on whether access to OER improves teacher subject knowledge or pedagogical practice. Analytics from the website will provide most of the data for the impact study, with surveys as a follow up.
SP10.5 Yasira Waqar (Pakistan) – investigating impact of OER on secondary and tertiary education in Pakistan. OER is not popular in Pakistan and possibly associated with ‘devaluation’ of intellectual work (because it is ‘given away’). Open access is less of an issue in Pakistan as copyright is not particularly well observed or respected. (It might even be that ‘open’ in Pakistan just means ‘free and online’.) The main research questions here try to evaluate impact by measuring adoption and identifying benefits to educators and learners, using Fullan’s theory of change as a framework. Interviews, surveys and classroom observations will be used to collect data about changes in pedagogy, but it will be important to demonstrate the specific efficacy of OER.
SP10.6 Shironica Karunanayaka (Sri Lanka) – the concept of OER is new to Sri Lanka, and this study will introduce teachers to the concept and ascertain whether or not this leads to some changes in teaching practice. The hypotheses being investigated is whether integration of open materials into teaching leads to a change in perception of the practices of student teachers and improved quality of teaching and learning materials. An action research approach will be taken following a professional development programme for student teachers.
The day concluded with discussion in groups according to the different workpackages across the ROER4D project. Because of the structure of the World Cafe session, it meant that the presenters did not see the presentations of others. We had a discussion around ‘impact’ and the difficulty of establishing a causal relationship between adopting openness and the impacts that result. It was felt that a general theory of impact as ‘change’ could be a practical way of proceeding and specificity can be brought out in the subsequent analysis.
The impact study leads wrote their main research hypotheses on post-it notes and then tried to categorise them into three or four main themes. Out of this exercise can the following rubric of central themes:
- IMPACT ON TEACHING PRACTICES
- IMPACT ON PERCEPTIONS
- IMPACT ON STUDENT LEARNING/ACHIEVEMENT
- IMPACT ON QUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS
- INSTITUTIONAL IMPACT
- IMPACT ON SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE AND CONFIDENCE (OF EDUCATORS)
Of course, there are other possible ways to perform this categorisation (.g. 6 might be reducible to 1.), and it could be further broken down by subject and teaching level. Wordings of survey and interview questions should be as consistent as possible, and demographic questions should be absolutely consistent across both the impact studies and the ROER4D project as a whole. The project leaders agreed to work together to harmonise their questions across the key hypothesis areas.
The OER Research Hub question bank might provide some inspiration for the wording of questions asked across the impact studies.
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.
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.
Volunteer Wikipedia editors create a user account page identifying who they are, so there is full transparency. I have one… #oer2015
— Sara Frank Bristow (@SalientResearch) March 26, 2015
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.
— Jim Vanides (@jgvanides) March 26, 2015
There’s a further capture of the session available at http://wikistrategies.net/oer-wikipedia-getting-started/.
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?
Here are my slides for today’s presentation at the ALT-C conference at The University of Warwick.
Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway) – Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education
Catherine began with a quote that illustrates her view of eduction:
“Education is inherently an ethical and political act.” (Michael Apple)
Catherine spoke about growing up in New York and the political milieu in the 1960s (including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy that helped her to grow to political awareness and the role of education for supporting healthy political life. Different people have different parts to play in the political process. Education thus conceived necessitates criticism of what exists, pointing to what has been lost, and identifying possible futures.
Openness: Catherine identifies this with sharing resources and thoughts in a freely available way. Lots of resources that claim to be ‘open’ aren’t necessarily licensed in appropriate ways, and open practices should be understood as a more radical level built on top of this.
“Openness is an ethos, not just a license. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that builds a community of learners” (Jim Groom)
Catherine was keen to identify openness with a kind of humility rather than the hubris of seeking greater attention for one’s work:
“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.” (Joichi Ito)
As networked individuals, we need to overcome the distinction usually recognised between formal and informal learning. Students come with different expectations and experiences that they bring to the spaces within which they learn. Couros (2006) refers to the ‘networked’ teacher who makes use of a range of digital technologies.
Learning spaces can be physical or online, and tend to be bounded in different ways. Different spaces can facilitate community building to different degrees, but in any space there will be some voices that are privileged and some which are excluded. When online we experience fewer markers of identity, with differing ideas about the effects of presence and telepresence on pedagogy. Open online spaces tend to disregard institutional, national or physical barriers to entry and so facilitate greater sharing and connectivity.
The network is the organising principle of open online spaces – but how should this work in practice? Openness here refers not to licensing but to the practice of facilitating this connectivity.
When students enter institutions, we can ask them about the tools they use and their views on transparency, privacy, and experimental pedagogies. These discussions can be open, and help to form a shared understanding and expectation. Open discussions can take place on social media which draw on the idea of networked learning. Students should be encouraged to connect across cohorts and levels to build community and learning skills.
We can minimise the power differential between student and teacher through open approaches, though it should be noted that some students worry about being judged for thoughts and contributions shared in the open. Identity is key to understanding these concerns because identities are constructed through dialogue and sharing. Students should be supported in building and trying out different identities because so doing will help build digital skills and confidence. Online identity doesn’t so much transform one’s own sense of self but it can help us become more aware of the contingent and contextual nature of our identities, and help us to see possibilities for being otherwise.
We can see open learning spaces as ‘third spaces’ which are neither formal nor informal but draw on both the skills of formal learning and the informal identities that have a kind of authenticity. One risk with developing e-learning is in believing in a kind of subjectless learner who does not bring their own identity to their learning. We need to recognise difference: gender, race, religion, disability and other potential sources of ‘Otherness’. Open practices are a brilliant first step towards this.