research

Open Cyborgs at #altc

I’m in Liverpool this week for the annual ALT Conference. I’m primarily here as part of the UK Open Textbooks project to assist and understand the adoption strategy used by OpenStax.

In the opening keynote Bonnie Stewart encouraged us to understand embodied work and embodied perspectives as important as the ‘rational’ perspectives that have traditionally informed academic inquiry.  She appealed to Haraway’s (1985) socio-feminist conception of the cyborg as a model for open practice in education.  “The cyborg gives me a model of hope and possibility… not faithful to norms (as in a bell curve) but capable of inspiring actions and projects.”  My own reading of Haraway identifies this position with the following adjectives: genderless; un-alienated; independent; oppositional; un-hierarchical; rhizomatic; irreverent; subversive; quintessential; bodily; illegitimate; monstrous; inorganic.  (Most of these appear to be negatively defined – i.e. defined by what they are not. This is also common for open approaches.)

Representation Simulation
Bourgeois novel (realism) Science Fiction (postmodernism)
Organism Biotic component
Depth Surface
Perfection Optimization
Organic division of labour Cybernetics of labour
Reproduction Replication
Community ecology Ecosystem
Freud Lacan
Sex Genetic engineering
Mind Artificial Intelligence
World War II Star Wars
White capitalist patriarchy Informatics of domination

I found this table more helpful in explaining the difference between traditional, hierarchical positions and the “informatics of domination”. (I left out some of the more esoteric elements of the table.) Here are a couple of quotes that also seem to be useful for understanding the position:

“The cyborg is not subject to Foucault’s biopolitics; the cyborg stimulates politics, a much more potent field of operations.” (p.302)

“One important route for reconstructing socio-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the system of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations. The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self. This is the self feminists must code.” (p.302)

I am not sure I understand the cyborg theory outlined in the paper well enough to say whether it really makes sense – but it’s an interesting take on how to identfy the normative dimensions of openness. For me it’s perhaps close to the kind of contrarianism presented in Deleuze & Guattari’s (1972) Anti-Oedipus, perhaps because of the common interest in Lacanian decentralisation of the psyche.  (Similarly, they also speak of ‘desiring machines’ and ‘rhizomes’.)(Wikipedia reports that feminist Lacanians like Irigaray also an influence.)

Haraway summarises her argument as follows:

  1. The production of total, universalising theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality (probably always and certainly now)
  2. Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts

Cyborg theory is anti-essentialist and aims at overcoming the patriarchal dualisms, taxonomies and logics (self/other, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial) that have characterised Western history.  This belief in emancipation and freedom is one that many open practitioners share, but here the approach is deconstructive.

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Research, Impact and the UK Parliament

This event took place in the Darwin Building at University College London on the 7th June 2017 and was organised by the Universities programme at UK Parliament Outreach and Engagement Service.  These are my personal notes which may be of interest to any researchers who wish to improve the profile of their work among policymakers.

 

An Introduction to the UK Parliament

The UK Parliament is made up of The House of Commons; The House of Lords; and The Monarch.  The Monarch’s role is mainly ceremonial and is not a focus for impact activities.  There are typically 650 MPs in The House of Commons.

The Commons is the democratically elected chamber of Parliament.  The party (or parties) who can command the confidence of the House of Commons form the UK government – typically the party with a majority of members.  If no party commands a majority then a a minority government or coalition government may be formed.

The House of Lords used to be largely filled with hereditary peers.  The 1958 and 1999 reforms did away with most of these and most current Lords are life peers.  It is possible to become a Lord through hereditary title; public nomination to the House of Lords Appointments Commission; or (most typically) Prime Ministerial prerogative.  Traditionally the 26 highest ranking bishops and archbishops of the Church of England sit in the Lords.  Life peers can choose to retire but they typically serve for life.  There are 92 places for hereditary peers.  Many peers have an allegiance to a political party, but there are also cross-benchers who retain independence. The House of Lords does not conventionally block bills that were in a government manifesto, and can only delay and request amendments of legislation, not block it.

What does Parliament do?  The main activities are:

  • Making new laws
  • Raising and debating issues
  • Scrutinizing the work of the UK government

Parliament is not the same thing as Government (the party or parties that command the confidence of the commons).  For the development of policy and legislation the focus should be on the Government.  If the focus is on applying pressure or criticising a piece of legislation then Parliament is likely to be a more appropriate place to start.

How does Parliament use academic research?

  • House of Lords/Commons Select Committees (groups of MPs/Lords involved in an inquiry into an area of government activity or spending)
  • Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
  • House of Commons Library
  • House of Lords Library
  • Public Bill Committees

How can you contribute to legislation?

  • Respond to consultations (before it goes to parliament, e.g. green & white papers)
  • Make sure the subject specialists at the House of Commons Library knows you and your area of expertise
  • Submit evidence to pre-legislative scrutiny committees and/or Public Bill Committees
  • Brief opposition/backbench MPs and Peers to assist them in legislative debates

You can send 250 word summaries of subject expertise to papers@parliament.uk for the attention of subject specialists.  This means you will be entered onto a register of experts.

 

Academics and the UK Parliament

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) supports and advances the use of research evidence in Parliament.  Core activities include:

  • Producing 4 page briefings for MPs and Lords on topics deemed to be of policy relevance. The process includes literature reviews, interviews with stakeholders, etc.
  • Supporting Select Committees and Libraries (providing contacts and bespoke briefings
  • Connecting Parliament with researchers through events, fellowship schemes, etc.
  • Capacity Building through providing training to Parliamentary staff about using research and research methods

 

There are four POST areas:

  • Biological sciences and health
  • Energy and environment
  • Physical sciences and ICT
  • Social sciences

 

As part of the social science strand some work has been done on Parliamentary engagement through analysis of REF2014 case studies.  20% of impact case studies (N=1282) referred to engagement with Parliament.  88% of UK universities are engaged with Parliament in this way (from all 36 subject areas).  The universities which engaged the most were UCL, Oxford, Cambridge, KCL, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh.  The areas of Parliament that were engaged with most commonly were Select Committees (35%); Individual MPs or peers (28%); legislation (11%); debate (11%); APPGs (10%); libraries (3%); parliamentary questions (3%) and POST (2%).

The most typical form of engagement is through citation or mention (37%).  The next common is to provide evidence (18%).  Other examples include giving evidence, consultation, speaking or presenting, or through direct correspondence.

The POST note process provides a way to engage:

  • Written by postgraduate fellows over a period of three months
  • Topics are approved by the POST board
  • You can propose a POST note, or contribute to notes that are presently being worked on
  • First drafts of POST notes are usually written by non-specialists
  • Finished drafts are sent to all MPs and peers and made available through the Parliamentary website
  • The website shows notes that have been approved for drafting as well as work currently in progress
  • There is a mailing list and a Twitter account (@post_uk)
  • It can also be useful to follow the social media accounts of Select Committees or Library Sections, etc.
  • Fellowships are available through research councils, learned societies and charities
  • Academic fellowships are available for academics at institutions which hold an ESRC or EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (currently being piloted, deadline 30th June 2017)
  • Fellows are increasingly offered the chance to work directly with a Select Committee or Library Section

 

Libraries are keen to work with academics but often too busy to seek them out.    The Commons Library is made up of specialists who produce briefing papers and debate packs; the Lords Library comprises generalists and is a smaller team who focus on answering enquiries.

The contact email address for Libraries is: papers@parliament.uk

 

Engaging with UK Parliamentarians

The first step is to contact your local MP, who can be found on the Parliament website (www.parliament.uk) or by calling the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272.  Many MPs have a constituency office where they can be contacted.

It may be appropriate to contact other MPs – one approach could be to ask which other MPs might share an interest.

Members of the House of Lords have no constituency, but neither do they have the staff support that MPs have.  Many Lords are busy and have jobs outside of Parliament.  It is important to identify peers who will support your campaign. The email address  contactholmember@parliament.uk can be used to contact any peer.  Don’t bulk send information – if more than six copies are received all are deleted.

Individual parliamentarians are free to evaluate your communication and act in whatever way they feel is appropriate. There is no formal quality assurance process, so finding a sympathetic ear can be useful.  Targeting communication is important; having some sense of the action that you wish Parliamentarians to take helps to structure and strategically focus the communication.

Ways to find out more about Parliamentary interests:

  • All-Party Parliamentary Groups
    • These informal groups function like clubs and have been demonstrated to be a good way for researchers to gain influence
    • APPGs typically focus on a particular issue (‘subject groups’) or country
    • They can operate in wildly different ways because they are not uniform in their organisation or structure and they are self-run
    • There is a register of APPGs on the parliament.uk website
    • It can also be useful to identify Parliamentarians who might be obstructive to your legislative agenda through searching APPGs
    • Granularity can be an issue: ‘health’ is quite a broad category but there can be groups for specific areas of medicine or even specific medical conditions. Find the right group for your particular agenda
    • Ask for a list of contact details for members of the relevant APPG
  • Hansard (records of debate)
    • These can be searched for key words
    • Useful for identifying Parliamentarians
  • Early Day Motions (suggestions for future debates)
  • Select Committees

Another inquiry point could be to identify clerks or co-ordinators and contact them directly.  They are likely to be organised and quick to respond.

If you’re going to contact an MP or peer, how should you present yourself?

  • Be polite
  • Have a clear purpose for contacting them
  • Try to stand out from the hundreds of other emails they have received that day
  • Be clear about the new knowledge that has been produced by your research
  • Communicate broad lines first and drill down into the details
  • Parliamentarians are ‘intelligent non-specialists’ who are used to taking in complex information – there is no need to dumb down research for them but it is good practice to minimise jargon and communicate the main points clearly

 

What is good Select Committee evidence?

Select Committees:

  • Are intended to hold the government (or relevant governmental department) to account
  • Are independent in terms of their focus
  • Examine expenditure, administration and policy of each Government department
  • Do not investigate individual complaints
  • Are cross-bench and reflect the makeup of the House of Commons – serving ministers are not part of Select Committees

 

How Select Committees work:

  1. Choose inquiry
  2. Announce Terms of Reference (narrowing areas of focus)
  3. Open the call for evidence (typically open about 6 weeks)
  4. Collect written evidence
  5. Commission research (this is infrequently done, but still happens)
  6. Visits (to relevant stakeholders)
  7. Take oral evidence (these sessions are open to the public and sometimes televised)
  8. Discuss conclusions & recommendations
  9. Draft and agree report
  10. Publish report
  11. Receive a response from the Government, who are obliged to respond to each of the specific recommendations

Recommendations may be accepted in full or in part, or rejected.

Why engage with Select Committees?

  • Evidence based policymaking
  • Publicise research
  • Impact

How should one engage with a Select Committee?

  • Submit written evidence
  • Oral evidence
  • Act as a specialist advisor
  • Highlight relevant research

What is good evidence?

  • Relevant to the inquiry
  • Accessible, not academic – minimise jargon
  • Provides context and assesses the significance of a piece of research
  • Gives clear recommendations to the Committee
  • Avoid political point-scoring since Select Committees are cross-bench
  • Bear in mind the original terms of reference (and possibly use this to structure the report)

One area of focus for Select Committees is to improve the diversity of those who are asked to provide evidence.

The best place to start when thinking about approaching a Select Committee is Twitter – every SC has a Twitter account where requests are made.

Things to think about:

  • How is your research relevant to public policy?
  • Which inquiries could you submit evidence to?
  • How will the REF influence your research?

On the subject of REF:  it is not entirely clear how one might use Parliamentary activity as a way of demonstrating impact.  Keeping records of engagement (e.g. a letter of thanks) is a good idea because this could potentially be used as part of a case study.

Select committees have no role in legislation, though they may be asked to provide scrutiny on bills that are in early stages.

Bill committees also take evidence on a particular subject and related legislation.   Bill committees are run by the Public Bill Office and chosen by party whips.  They are more political and controlled by political parties.

 

 

Rethinking the Open Society #oer17

Here are my slides from yesterday’s presentation at OER17.  All feedback welcome.

Abstract

This presentation explores open education ideologies in light of educational technologies; recent political discourse; and the political philosophy of Karl Popper.  Since the latter half of the 20th century, “openness” has developed within stable frameworks of liberal/social democracy, and is now often tacitly assumed in many areas of society (such as open government, a free press, freedom of speech, etc.).  Over the last year we have witnessed considerable and sustained political upset around the globe, causing many to proclaim a crisis of liberal democracy. In the Anglo world, we observe a surge of support for ‘closed’ political positions, including ‘Brexit’ and the USA presidential election (Knapton, 2016).  There are indications that openness might form the basis of an alternative politics; the Píratar political party evolved from a single-issue focus on copyright reform to become the biggest party in Iceland, standing on a platform of civil rights and participatory democracy.  Slaughter (2016) proposes that the web is the new geopolitical theatre, and that the USA “should adopt a grand strategy of building and maintaining an open international order based on three pillars: open societies, open governments, and an open international system.”

Moe (2017) describes the difficulties inherent in developing and teaching critical thinking, especially within standardised education.  In the connected age, access to information and control over media narratives are paramount to governance.  In the age of ‘post-truth’ we need more than ever educational systems that promote information literacy and critical thinking. There is reason to think that there is a need to reconsider the ideological basis and commitments of open education and its practices, many of which remain wedded to traditional academic structures.  This may seem counterintuitive: as Weller (2014) suggests, the ‘battle for open’ is in many senses won, with a growing body of open access publication; open textbook uptake; open source tools for building learning environments; massive open online courses; and open sharing of research data. However, Rolfe (2016) has demonstrated through content analysis a fundamental shift in the discourse around open education.  Articles from the 1970s tended to understand openness in terms of widening participation, and with this came a concomitant promotion of humane values, fostering autonomy, facilitating the development of others, and a wider social mission. This approach has in turn been disrupted by the rise of flexible learning in higher education and the wide availability of educational materials.  By the time the OER movement had grown to a global force much of the debate had moved on to licensing, technical and implementation issues (Weller, 2016).

A reconsideration of the role of ideology in OER will be framed by elements of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (1947).  Popper’s approach was hugely influential for Western liberal democracy, and remains arguably the most sustained attempt to develop a vision of society from the idea of openness.  Popper’s critical approach to education – which emphasizes the role of learner as so-creator of knowledge– serves as a model for making explicit the connection between critical rationality and openness, and provides tools for systematically reflecting on educational practice (Chitpin, 2016).

References

Chitpin, S. (2016). Popper’s Approach to Education. London and New York: Routledge.

Knapton, S. (2016). Donald Trump is a ‘vulgar, demented, pig demon’ says Hillary Clinton’s ex adviser. The Telegraph, 30 May 2016.

Moe, R. (2017). All I Know Is What’s on the Internet. Real Life Mag.http://reallifemag.com/all-i-know-is-whats-on-the-internet/

Popper, K. (1947a). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol. I: The Age of Plato. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/stream/opensocietyandit033120mbp.

Popper, K. (1947b). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol II: The high tide of prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/details/opensocietyandit033064mbp.

Rolfe, V. (2016). Open.  But not for criticism?  Open Education 2016.http://www.slideshare.net/viv_rolfe/opened16-conference-presentation

Slaughter, A.-M. (2016). How to Succeed in the Networked World: A Grand Strategy for the Digital Age. Foreign Affairs. (Nov/Dec.) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2016-10-04/how-succeed-networked-world

Weller, M. (2014). The Battle for Open. Ubiquity Press.

Weller, M. (2016). Different Aspects of the Emerging OER Discipline. Revista Educacao e Cultura Contemporanea, 13(31) http://oro.open.ac.uk/4

Critical issues in contemporary open education research #srhe

This presentation outlines some key considerations for researchers working in the fields of open education, OER and MOOC. Key lines of debate in the open education movement is described and critically assessed. A reflective overview of the award-winning OER Research Hub project will be used to frame several key considerations around the methodology and purpose of OER research (including ‘impact’ and ‘open practices’). These will be compared with results from a 2016 OER Hub consultation with key stakeholders in the open education movement on research priorities for the sector. The presentation concludes with thoughts on the potential for openness to act as a disruptive force in higher education.

#liveblog: Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education #srhe

Today I’m in London for the Digital University Network Seminar at the Society for Research into Higher Education. Lesley Gourlay began proceedings by noting that openness is an area which needs to be looked at in the context of the ‘digital university’ series.  Here are my notes on the presentations by the other two speakers.

Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices for teaching in higher education

Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway)

Catherine’s talk was focused on how actors in higher education make sense of OEP. She emphasized that “education is inherently an ethical and political act” (Michael Apple). As educators we face fundamental questions about the role of higher education in the future, and the kind of skills and literacies we are trying to develop. She believes we need more criticality, more theoretical work and more focus on privilege.

In her PhD work the focus is on the ethos of transparency and sharing. Some of the learning spaces in higher education are experiencing changing boundaries, becoming more networked and less bound by physical space. In ‘open’ spaces different voices and interactions are emphasized. Much has been published on openness. There are many different interpretations, but there are few empirical studies, or studies that adopt a critical approach. How do people make choices around the benefits and risks? It was noted that openness cannot it itself be considered an educational virtue.

OEP are perhaps even harder to define than OER. Some approaches include open pedagogy, critical (digital) pedagogy, digital scholarship and networked participatory scholarship. Further complexity is added by the different levels of application (from individual to institutional, for instance). Catherine’s research looks at shared values, the use of OEP in teaching and way that decision-making about OEP adoption takes place. A constructivist grounded theory approach is taken (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) with analysis that acknowledges the subjective and interpretivist understandings of individuals (Charmaz, 2014).

So far it has been found that it is hard to determine who qualifies as an “open practitioner” because there is a wide spectrum of practices and pedagogical choices. A minority of participants use OEP for teaching (e.g. social networking, open VLE, use & reuse of OER, . Most perceive potential risks with OEP. Findings include:

  • 2 levels of OEP use identified:
    • “Being open”
    • “Teaching openly”
  • 4 dimensions shared by educators
    • Balancing privacy and openness
    • Developing digital literacies
    • Valuing social learning
    • Challenging traditional teaching

Catherine suggests that these are intimately connected. For instance, it is impossible to effectively manage online privacy without developing digital literacies. Valuing social learning involves implicitly challenging traditional learning approaches.

Some educators talk about openness as a kind of ethos or way of being. Others see it as a distraction, or as a pragmatic approach. These differences can be observed as the nano, micro, meso and macro levels. Most guidance is offered at the macro level, but the day-to-day decisions are smaller and less well supported. Other issues that were highlighted were the anxiety and stress experiences by individuals who feel that by being open they are inviting observation and possibly controversy; and the sense that institutions are not providing adequate support.

Some general conclusions:

  • OEP use is complex, personal, contextual and continuously negotiated
  • More evidence is needed on the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students
  • Open education strategies need to reflect the real benefits and risks
  • HEIs should provide support for developing digital identities, navigating tensions between privacy and openness, and spaces to reflect on changing roles in a more participatory culture.

 

Exploring higher education professionals’ use of Twitter for learning: issues of participation

Muireann O’Keeffe (Dublin City University)

Muireann’s research focused on use of Twitter by 7 HE professionals. Martin Hawksey’s TAGS explorer was used to collect data. Semi-structured interviews followed – these underwent thematic analysis. Some important theoretical influences:

  • Eraut (2004) identifies three factors for informal learning: feedback; challenge; confidence/commitment.
  • White & Le Cornu (2010) on ‘spaces’ rather than communities of practice and the distinction between ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049)

‘Visitors’ tended to be information gatherers, with little social presence. They tend not to ask questions of others.

  • Barriers for this group include time, cautiousness, vulnerability, capacity to participate, confidence
  • A tendency to lack confidence in their own knowledge
  • Tendency to think of themselves as an observer rather than participant
  • A belief that the platform was designed for someone else – not them
  • Feel marginalized and excluded

‘Residents’ positively experience questioning, challenge, and other forms of academic debate on Twitter. They engage in non-educational commentary.

  • Unlike the ‘visitors’, this group tended to speak in terms of enablers
  • They are confident with Twitter etiquette: playfulness, tone, etc.
  • They were more likely to have a professional confidence, and a capacity to participate

The Open Research Agenda #opened16

Today at Open Education 2016 I presented the provisional results of a research consultation exercise we have been doing at OER Hub over the last year.  Several people asked for copies of the slides, which are available here and on the OER Hub SlideShare account.

All feedback welcome.  You can still take part in the project by completing the form at tinyurl.com/2016ORA.

#opened16 liveblog: OER Research Fellows Update

This session began with an introduction from John Hilton III, who leads the OER Research Fellows programme.  The project is intended to build future research capacity in the OER field.  Most of the work done by this group uses the COUP framework, which focuses on cost savings and learning outcomes.  At present there are:

  • 43 Fellows
  • 18 articles submitted
  • 1 article accepted
  • 1 article published

Marcela Chiorescu of spoke about her work at Georgia College.  On an algebra course, $86 was saved per student, and students expressed gratitude for monies saved.  Between Spring 2014 (78.2%) and Spring 2015 (84.3%) there was a significant uplift in students receiving a C grade or above.  There was also a statistically significant increase in the proportion of students receiving the top grade.

Christina Hendricks and Ozgur Ozdemir spoke about their work with the COOL4ED project in California.  They focused on faculty motivations, cost savings for students, perceptions and impact on other factors.  The OER included an OpenStax textbook on Sociology and a Libretext on Chemistry.  They found that students has some negative attitudes towards the content of open textbooks as being rather basic.  The impact on learning and retention outcomes were less clear because fewer faculty reported back on these.  However, no-one reported a decline while some reported an improvement.  Cost savings was the most prominent aspect for both faculty and students.  Only 4% of faculty and 12% of students had anything negative to say about the open textbooks.

Tsung-han Weng (University of Kansas) reported on a qualitative case study involving students from economics and statistics.  He found that students tend to have ambivalent attitudes to open textbooks.  They appreciated the cost savings but had some reservations about content and quality.  This ambivalence was also found in teachers, whose main complaint was that using the open textbook required them to spend more time preparing assessments and supplementary materials.

Royce Kimmons (Brigham Young University) told conference about allowing students to select which textbook a project management studies class would use.  Students decided the evaluation criteria (not including cost).  What were the effects of this approach?  The two most popular choices were subjected to a more detailed evaluation.  They arrived at the conclusion that an open textbook was the best offering.  Kimmons recommends involving students in the selection prices, arguing that textbook quality metrics are not objective, but relative to the needs of a particular class.

Christopher Lawrence (Middle Georgia State University) spoke about the Affordable Learning Georgia initiative, which aimed to replace proprietary textbooks on American government with open versions.  It was found that most students obtained used or new copies of the traditional text.  On the whole, they felt that the proprietary version should continue to be used.  In comparison with the traditional book, the quality of the open textbook was perceived to be lower.  The online version of the open textbook was found to be a useful supplement.  However, there was no significant difference in results between those using commercial and open textbooks.  Particular challenges in this context included a poorly funded production process which led to a lack of polish in the open textbook; fixed textbook content; and a lack of ancillary materials.  An emphasis on the need for sustainability was mentioned.

There was a question from the floor about open access publication of results.  The Open Research Fellows are not committed to open dissemination – indeed, there is funding set aside for publication fees – but anonymised research data could be shared.

 

Irons in the Fire

The blog has definitely felt a bit neglected of late.  This is partly because I’ve been quite busy over the summer and blog updates are usually the first thing to go when you have a lot of writing on.  But I’ve been posting at OER Hub and OER World Map, so it hasn’t been a complete hiatus.

I thought I would write a summary of the various piece of work that I have on at the moment.  This is partly about facilitating later reflection on these projects and how they have developed, but also to offer some online record of my activities in case they are interesting to people who might want to connect.

I’ve also just come from a ‘Developing Researchers’ workshop in IET where we discussed online presence and how we present our activities, so I have some impetus to get this done.  First of all, here are the various projects I’m working on right now:

Open Education Research Hub (OER Hub) has managed to establish itself as an ongoing identity for various pieces of work around OER and open education.   The main recent deliverable work we have been doing as the OER Hub itself is designing and delivering a range of open courses (including several which can now be called ‘award winning!).

There isn’t as much of a dedicated focus on evaluating the impact of OER implementations as we used to have, but I have recently completed some preliminary analysis of the OER Wales Cymru project that could be developed further.  Another strand of OER Hub work that I am leading is one we call  ‘The Open Research Agenda’.  This project takes an action research approach to trying to develop an understanding of the research needs of the open education / OER movement.  We started off with a simple online survey that anyone can take.  The results are then taken to face-to-face meetings with representatives of the OER community for discussion.  Data is collected at these meetings, becoming part of the data set for future sessions.  So far we have held sessions at:

Still to come we have the following sessions:

Once the last of these is done I’ll be writing up the results.  The experimental action research approach seems to work in terms of promoting engagement, so hopefully it will produce something interesting from a research point of view.

I haven’t written much about OER World Map here but the project has come on a really long way since I joined it in 2014.  The best way to catch up is to check out the project blog.  Although I have some input into the design and technical side, my main role is to act as a conduit to the OER community (which happens through running the Twitter account, collecting data from practitioners, and, recently, drafting papers).  Having worked on the OER Impact Map which took a much more basic approach to the underlying data, I continue to be impressed with the developers, designers and library scientists I work with on the project and the meticulous approach to data.  Now we have a pretty good infrastructure in place I’m hoping the next year will see a real uptake by the OER community.  Earlier this month I hosted the first UK meeting of the OER World Map project here at The Open University, UK.

Another big element of the OER Hub portfolio is the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) which we took over the administration of last year.  GO-GN is a global network of support and research capacity building for doctoral students working in open education.  In addition to running a webinar programme, we hold a face-to-face two-day seminar once a year and bring students together.  This year we met in Krakow, Poland, and in 2017 the meeting will be held in Cape Town, South Africa before OE Global 2017.  I also built the GO-GN website, where using Reclaim Hosting for the first time has allowed all kinds of experimentation that vanilla WordPress wouldn’t readily permit.

The most recent project I’ve taken on is working as part of an IET consultancy team for the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) who are looking for input into the redevelopment of their online learning portal.  This is a bit of a departure from the focus on open approaches (since there are operational issues around the security of the information) and there are other concerns perhaps unique to law enforcement training.   I’ve primarily been involved in shaping some thoughts around the vision and design principles, but also carrying out some qualitative evaluation of the legacy site.  It’s been quite stimulating in a number of ways.

There have been various bits of travel associated with these different projects, including several trips to Germany for OER World Map and to Budapest for CEPOL.  I was was invited to give two keynote presentations this year:  at the Open Education Symposium at Utah Valley University and at the 3rd e-Learning and Distance Education Conference at Virtual University Pakistan.  I was also pleased to be invited to the annual OER meeting of The Hewlett Foundation which took place in Louisiana earlier in the year.

But having done a fair bit of travelling over the last five years I’ve attempted to slow it down a little in the latter part of 2016 in the interests of completing writing projects.  I’ve published several papers so far this year, and have a couple of book chapters in the pipeline.  Currently, I have these writing projects on the go:

  • I’m contributing to a post-project analysis on forms of OER implementation in the Bridge to Success project with  a couple of colleagues
  • Writing a history of the OER World Map project that will serve as the basis for a couple of articles
  • Re-working a manuscript on OER policy
  • I started writing a piece of Popper’s concept of an open society and how this might provide insight into wider normative understandings of openness
  • I’ve been considering putting together a monograph based on several papers written over the last few years; or an edited collection (or both).

One theme that I’ve been considering for the last of these is that of utopian approaches to educational technology.  I’ll be examining a PhD thesis related to this theme in the new year, which gives somewhat of an impetus to brush up.  But I find myself often thinking of Adorno’s work on utopia (which I mainly know through the work of a fellow doctoral student from the University of Essex).  Critical theory frameworks are still very relevant to what is happening in educational technology and education more generally.  But it can be hard to find the time to work meaningfully on a book-length proposal with lots of project work and shorted writing commitments taking up headspace.  The last few weeks have been particularly intense from a grant application writing point of view as the deadlines seem to coincide with the start of the academic year.

I’ve also become more involved in course production at The Open University:  specifically in relation to H819: The critical researcher: educational technology in practice where some of the insights we’ve gained through exploring open practices are being shared.   The transition from IET student to course writer will hopefully soon be completed by the award of the MA in Online and Distance Education for which I recently submitted the final piece of coursework.  I started the MA in 2010 when I was still new to educational technology, and it hasn’t always been easy to find enough time to devote to studying, but it has been really useful for improving my understanding of research practices in educational technology as well as providing insights into the lot of the distance learner.  That said, I will be glad to have some more weekends available for other things in the future.

Alongside all this I have been learning to drive for the past year or so, and my exam isn’t too far away.  I failed my first test as a teenager nearly twenty years ago and never retook it, so it does feel as if some long-delayed gratification is within reach…

So, basically I feel like I have many irons in the fire at the moment – and if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post then I salute you.  Reflecting on what I have written, it strikes me that it can be pretty demanding to work across such a wide range of activities, but having the connections between theoretical and empirical work, between evaluation and design, and between research and practice allows for a very productive synergy.  Getting the balance right can be hard, though, especially when projects have competing timelines.

One thing that’s also of great benefit is being able to draw on the expertise of several strong project teams in moving your own thoughts forward.  I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of collaborative work in academia and note that we rarely tend to frame research skills in terms of the way people collaborate.  It strikes me that we should both consciously strive to be  catalysts for others while being open to allowing others to act as catalysts for us.  I don’t suggest that as a grand theoretical statement (although a connection could perhaps be made with open practices) but rather as an attitude towards effective collaboration.  Not allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good is essential here. With lots of different stuff happening concurrently it’s also really important to keep track of how much time and effort is going into each element to make sure one doesn’t suffer at the expense of another; and on that note I sign off.

The Open Research Agenda

Here are the slides I’ll be using today for my presentation at the CALRG Annual Conference.  The Open Research Agenda is an international consultation exercise focused on identifying research priorities in open education.

You can read more about the project here:

The Open Research Agenda (2)

The Open Research Agenda (1)