academia

Colonisers and edupunks (&c.): two cultures in OER?

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) [1] 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:

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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!


[1] 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.

 

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Beyond the Neoliberal University #criticalpedagogy2015

Today I’m on Coventry at the ‘Beyond the Neoliberal University‘ conference in Coventry, just half an hour on the train from Milton Keynes.

Proceedings began with quote from Brecht on the value of criticism and how criticism is itself an art. The conference brings together (i) those interested in critical pedagogy (as a theory of transformative education); (ii) people from the UCU union facing practical issues on a daily basis. The idea is to bring the two together through a focus on practical issues: job insecurity, tuition fees/loans/debt; instrumentalisation of higher education.

Keynote: Andrew Gettigan, author of The Great University Gamble

  • Financial pressures on HE insitutions will increase, be tighter, and be varied
  • It can be shown that the cuts to the HEFCE teaching grant have been replaced by full time undergraduate fees

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  • The future will be dominated by questions about the extent to which HE improves human capital and future earnings
  • Neoclassical ideas about market competition underly much of the reform
  • Most profitable courses for HE providers are often the ones with the worst return on investment for the government
  • In the last 5 years replacing the teaching grant with fee income made fiscal sense – in future, increasing fees will just increase government costs
  • Since the 2015 election, £150m a year has been cut from teaching grant
  • New export target of £30bn by 2020 – focus on international students, distance learning
  • Quality assurance review and Teaching Excellence Framework aim to ‘double the proportion of disadvantaged young people in HE relative to 2009’
  • Graduate tax acts as a tax on social mobility: poorer students can expect to be paying back their loan for an additional four years, paying back an additional £9k
  • There is no more scope for budgetary tricks to increase university income

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Keynote: Sarah Amsler, author of The Education of Radical Democracy

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What is ‘the beyond’?  A space between utopianism and the status quo – something that allows us to think of radical alternatives in ambiguous ways.  Higher education institutions are increasingly empowered to act undemocratically and autocratically in favour of market forces and neoliberalism.  Managerial power is calibrated and refined, and since the 1970s it has become harder to teach critically, connect with social movements, and provide a space for progressive potential. What makes it possible for people to believe that this is somehow not the case (i.e. that there is hope)?

We experience deep ambiguity towards the university:  e,g, both wanting to save it and destroy it.  We see an exodus of academics leaving the academy because of low pay, unstable contracts, etc.  (The same phenomenon can be seen in other educational sectors as well as the NHS.)  Many feel that the neoliberal university holds little appeal for them.

It is only through practical experimentation that we can explore possibilities for resistance.  Counter-hegemonic forms of resistance must be explored through praxis, and becoming comfortable in an uncomfortable, dialectical space.  We tend not to use the language of grief and loss when discussing the neoliberal university but we should mourn the loss of space in higher education for thinking and acting progressively.  

(I struggled to identify the practical things that can be done from this talk – mainly it seems to be about imagining otherwise, identifying concrete possibilities for social change and spaces for radical democracy but to me these things seem quite abstract.)

Q&A

  •  First question criticised Amsler for concentrating on rather bourgeois concerns – doctors, lecturers, etc. They may be in a position to opt out, but what about those for whom opting out means not paying the rent?
  • McGettigan makes the point that many academics are not really engaged with policy – this shold be something that is brought more fully into the limelight of academic culture
  • Amsler criticised for paying lip service to praxis but not identifying practical forms of resistance: self indulgence?  One person accused the questioner of being dogmatic (I disagree completely).
  • Amsler responds by emphasising autonomous self-organization in response to power, no real specifics though
  • McGettigan notes that UK HE culture is quite robust against direct threats, but is not good at dealing with the indirect threat of financialization and instrumentalization – this does not inspire solidarity between the different elements of the university.
  • Gurnham Singh noted that the neoliberal project has been extremely successful and it’s quite difficult to imagine real resistance.  But McGettigan’s work suggests that it will fall at some stage – hence the need for a reimagining of what is possible.
  • Two sociology teachers emphasized the need for engaging with students and understanding that we have a role in explaining the situation to them.  Students (understandably) are focused on getting a good degree and a good job, not the long term future of the institution.  But how can we do this?  The point is made that for students from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university at all might have been a radical engagement.
  • McGettigan notes that the success of the last 20 years of HE policy has been to establish metrics for success (e.g. participation rates, retention rates, graduate employability, increasing access).  Much of these metrics use the garb of equality and social mobility and this makes it harder to critique.  But questioning this reframing should be at the core of rethinking all this – what would success look like?  What is truly progressive?

Workshop:  Introduction to Critical Pedagogy

Introduction by Gurnham Singh:  Pedagogy is the means by which learning is enabled.  It has its roots in the Greek ‘pedagogeu’, literally meaning ‘to lead the child’.  More generally, the word refers to the science and art of human education and cognition.  Influential theorists include Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Kolb, Shor, Freire, and Knowles.

Critical pedagogy radically challenges traditional, didactic models of education.  Shor characterises this as ‘questioning the answers’ rather than ‘answering the questions’.  It is rooted in the invitation to examine power and the role of power relations in knowledge and cultural formation.  Education is never politically neutral:  it results either in control and subjugation or liberation and greater autonomy.

The methodology of critical pedagogy:  teaching methods may be largely the same an for non-critical pedagogies in practice.  The key thing is the disruption to traditional pedagogical relationships and expectations.

Freire emphasized the importance of literacy:  not just as the ability to read and write but also as an attitude towards personal transformation and social revolution.  He was interested in connecting learning to social action through a pedagogical cycle (Reflection / Analysis / Action ).  Learners must discover new avenues of thought and consciousness for themselves to become better moral subjects who assume greater responsibility for the other.  Only a self-managed life can be call education:  preparation for work is ‘training’ that focuses on conformity and predictability.  Similarly, critical pedagogues often reject classical measures of intelligence and intellectual ability.

Friere referred to his method of teaching as ‘conscientisation’:  it represents a self-awakening and coming to critical consciousness.  This is closely related to Marxist ideas about the emancipation of the proletariat through greater awareness of self and world.  Conscientisation seeks to reverse a prior process of objectification or reification.  In order to move away from false consciousness subjects must come to understand themselves and the world differently.  This usually involves the rejection of fatalism, karmic understandings, naive consciousness and learned helplessness.

For critical pedagogy the vast majority of educational institutions act to maintain the status quo and are thus instruments of power and dominance.  In Marxist terms, a political understanding of power can be developed through understanding the underlying political economy (the example of Jeremy Corbyn was raised).

The distinction between education and training raised in the morning sessions came up again in the discussion.  The mindset of students and graduates is changing and becoming more focused on a return on investment and a way to pay back massive debts accrued while studying.

One delegate noted that universities can easily absorb critical pedagogies and in some sense neuter them by incorporating them into curricula.  How can the critical impulse be retained?  Do we just concentrate on the time spent in the classroom and see this as a possible space for ‘subversive’ activity?

One distinction that was brought out in the discussion was the distinction between self-directed learning (heutagogy); critical thinking skills; and critical pedagogy.

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Excerpt on difference between critical thinking and critical pedagogy. Cowden, S. and Singh, G. (2015). Critical Pedagogy: Critical Thinking as a Social Practice. Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education. p. 565.

Workshop: Today’s Learners – Consumers or Producers?

This session began with an overview of the housing crisis for students in Coventry.  Because university-provided accommodation is oversubscribed many students are forced to use privately rented accommodation which is often substandard.  They also often have to work long hours in employment, and this can also have an impact upon their studies.

Students at the university feel aggrieved at this state of affairs.  Their campaign uncovered that the university had declared a profit of some £25 million while still cutting student provision.  The argument was made that students should have a say about how the university resources are used and prioritised.  The suggestion was also made that student representatives should sit on the executive boards of the university and ensure that the student voice is heard.

Library of Birmingham Occupation Movement:  2.5 million people visit this library per year, with a diverse user base.  As part of the austerity faced by the city they cut opening hours and budgets for new books.  Spaces are closed at key times so they can be rented out to private enterprise (receptions, seminars, etc) and more than a hundred staff have been made redundant.  The campaigning group initially coalesced around reduced opening times, then used the library space as a focus for meeting and planning further activity.  A big rally and occupation is planned for October 2015.

The question is posed: why don’t students who are unhappy simply just go off to a different university, or do something else entirely?  Classical economics makes several assumptions about how agents operate within markets, but can we assume that students have enough knowledge of the situation to act as ‘rational’ consumers?  Neoliberalism assigns value through (‘free’) markets, but are there values which we need to impose upon these markets?

Practical Strategies

  1. Teach ourselves university accounting so that narratives can be challenged with authority
  2. Document and share the outcome of interventions
  3. Break down barriers between different interest groups, promote solidarity between staff and students

Further resources

A series of podcasts on critical pedagogy can be found at https://critped.wordpress.com/resources-3/talks-and-interviews/.

Workshop Notes: #Ethics and #LearningAnalytics

This morning I’m attending a talk given by Sharon Slade about the ethical dimensions of learning analytics (LA), part of a larger workshop devoted to LA at The Open University’s library on the Walton Hall campus.

I was a bit late from a previous meeting but Sharon’s slides are pretty clear so I’m just going to crack on with trying to capture the essence of the talk.  Here are the guidelines currently influencing thinking in this area (with my comment in parentheses).

  1. LA as a moral practice (I guess people need to be reminded of this!)
  2. OU has a responsibility to use data for student benefit
  3. Students are not wholly defined by their data (Ergo partially defined by data?)
  4. Purpose and boundaries should be well defined and visible (transparency)
  5. Students should have the facility to update their own data
  6. Students as active agents
  7. Modelling approaches and interventions should be free from bias (Is this possible? What kind of bias should be avoided?)
  8. Adoptions of LA requires broad acceptance of the values and benefits the development of appropriate skills (Not sure I fully grasped this one)

Sharon was mainly outlining the results of some qualitative research done with OU staff and students. The most emotive discussion was around whether or not this use of student data was appropriate at all – many students expressed dismay that their data was being looked at, much less used to potentially determine their service provision and educational future (progress, funding, etc.). Many felt that LA itself is a rather intrusive approach which may not be justified by the benevolent intention to improve student support.

While there are clear policies in place around data protection (like most universities) there were concerns about the use of raw data and information derived from data patterns. There was lots of concern about the ability of the analysts to adequately understand the data they were looking at and treat it responsibly.

Students want to have a 1:1 relationship with tutors, and feel that LA can undermine this; although at the OU there are particular challenges around distance education at scale.

The most dominant issue surrounded the idea of being able to opt-out of having their data collected without this having an impact on their future studies or how they are treated by the university. The default position is one of ‘informed consent’, where students are currently expected to opt out if they wish. The policy will be explained to students at the point of registration and well as providing case studies and guidance for staff and students.

Another round of consultation is expected around the issue of whether students should have an opt-out or opt-in model.

There is an underlying paternalistic attitude here – the university believes that it knows best with regard to the interests of the students – though it seems to me that this potentially runs against the idea of a student centred approach.

Some further thoughts/comments:

  • Someone like Simon Buckingham-Shum will argue that the LA *is* the pedagogy – this is not the view being taken by the OU but we can perhaps identify a potential ‘mission creep’
  • Can we be sure that the analyses we create through LA are reliable?  How?
  • The more data we collect and the more open it is then the more effective LA can be – and the greater the ethical complexity
  • New legislation requires that everyone will have the right to opt-out but it’s not clear that this will necessarily apply to education
  • Commercialisation of data has already taken place in some initiatives

Doug Clow then took the floor and spoke about other LA initiatives.  He noted that the drivers behind interest in LA are very diverse (research, retention, support, business intelligence, etc).  Some projects of note include:

Many projects are attempting to produce the correct kind of ‘dashboard’ for LA.  Another theme is around the extent to which LA initiatives can be scaled up to form a larger infrastructure.  There is a risk that with LA we focus only on the data we have access to and everything follows from there – Doug used the metaphor of darkness/illumination/blinding light. Doug also noted that machine learning stands to benefit greatly from LA data, and LA generally should be understood within the context of trends towards informal and blended learning as well as MOOC provision.

Overall, though, it seems that evidence for the effectiveness of LA is still pretty thin with very few rigorous evaluations. This could reflect the age of the field (a lot of work has yet to be published) or alternatively the idea that LA isn’t really as effective as some hope.  For instance, it could be that any intervention is effective regardless of whether it has some foundation in data that has been collected (nb. ‘Hawthorne effect‘).

Ethics, Openness and the Future of Education #opened14

By popular demand, here are my slides from today’s presentation at Open Education 2014.  All feedback welcome and if this subject is of interest to you then consider checking out the OERRH Ethics Manual and the section on ethics (week 2) of our Open Research course.

liveblog: Predicting Giants at #altc #altc2014

Here are my notes from this afternoon’s session at the ALT-C 2014 conference. There were three presentations in this session.


Richard Walker (University of York) – Ground swells and breaking waves: findings from the 2014 UCISA TEL survey on learning technology trends, developments and fads

This national survey started in 2001 and has since expanded out from a VLE focus to all systems which support learning and teaching. The results are typically augmented by case studies which investigate particular themes. In 2014 there were 96 responses from 158 HE institutions that were solicited (61% response). Some of the findings:

  • Top drivers for TEL are to enhance quality, meet student expectations and improve access to learning for off-campus students
  • TEL development can be encouraged by soliciting stuent feedback
  • Lack of academic staff understanding of TEL has re-emerged as a barrier to TEL development, but time is still the main factor
  • Institutions perceive a lack of specialist support staff as a leading challenge to TEL activity
  • In future, mobile technologies and BYOD will still be seen as significant challenges, but not top as in last year
  • E-assessment is also a leading concern
  • Moodle (62%)is the most used VLE, with Blackboard (49%) the leading enterprise solution
  • Very small use of other open source or commercial solutions
  • Institutions are increasingly attempting to outsource their VLE solutions
  • Plagiarism and e-assessment tools are the most commonly supported tools
  • Podcasting is down in popularity, being supplanted by streaming services and recorded lectures, etc.
  • Personal response systems / clickers are up in popularity
  • Social networking tools are the leading non-centrally supported technology used by students
  • There is more interest in mobile devices (iOS, Android) but only a handful of institutions are engaging in staff development and pedagogic activity around these
  • Increasing numbers of institutions are making mobile devices available but few support this through policies which would integrate devices into regular practice
  • The longitudinal elements of the study suggest that content is the most important driver of TEL for distance learning
  • Less than a third of institutions have evaluated pedagogical activity around TEL.

 


Simon Kear (Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust; formerly Goldsmiths College, University of London) – Grasping the nettle: promoting institution-wide take-up of online assessment at Goldsmiths College

When we talk about online assessment we need to encourage clarity around processes and expected results but learners don’t need to know much about the tools involved.  Learners tend to want to avoid hybrid systems and prefer to have alternative ways of having their work submitted and assessed.

There are many different stakeholders involved in assessment, including senior management, heads of department, administrators, and student representatives.

Implementation can be helped through regular learning and teaching committees. It’s important to work with platforms that are stable and that can provide comprehensive support and resources.

Simon concluded by advancing the claim that within 5 years electronic marking of student work will be the norm.  This should lead to accepting a wider variety of multimedia formats for student work as well as more responsive systems of feedback.


Rachel Karenza Challen (Loughborough College) – Catching the wave and taking off: Embracing FELTAG at Loughborough College – moving from recommendations to reality

This presentation focused on cultural change in FE and the results of the Feltag survey.

  • Students want VLE materials to be of high quality because it makes them feel valued
  • The report recommends that all publicly funded programmes should have a 10% component which should be available online
  • SFA and ILR funding will require colleges to declare the amount of learning available online and this will not include just any interaction which takes place online (like meetings)
  • There is a concern that increasing the amount of learning that takes place online might make it harder to assess what is working
  • Changing curricula year by year makes it harder to prepare adequate e-learning – a stable situation allows for better planning and implementation
  • Ultimately, assessment requires expert input – machine marking and peer assessment can only get you so far
  • In future they intend to release a VLE plugin that others might be able to use
  • Within 5 years the 10% component will be raised to 50% – this means that 50% of provision at college level will be without human guidance and facilitation – is this reflective of the growing influence of the big academic publishers?  Content provided by commercial providers is often not open to being embedded or customised…
  • Ministerial aspirations around online learning may ultimately be politically driven rather than evidence-based.

Liveblog – Catherine Cronin keynote at #altc #altc2014

For one day only I’m at The University of Warwick for the ALT-c conference where I’m speaking on OER Impact Map.   (You can access my slides for today here.)


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.

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/3363/Dissertation-Couros-FINAL-06-WebVersion

from Couros, A. (2006). Examining the open movement: possibilities and implications for education. (Doctoral thesis, University of Athabasca.)

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.

#oerrhub on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog

This is a duplicate of my article from the LSE Impact of Social Science blog which was published today.  You can find the original here.

rob farrowMuch sharing and use of open educational resources (OER) is relatively informal, difficult to observe, and part of a wider pattern of open activity. What the open education movement needs is a way to draw together disparate fragments of evidence into a coherent analytic framework. Rob Farrow provides background on a project devoted to consolidating efforts of OER practitioners by inviting the open community to contribute directly and submit impact narratives. Through the mapping of these contributions, the data can continue to grow iteratively and support the decisions made by educators, students, policymakers and advocates.

The Open Education movement is now around ten or twelve years old and has started to make a significant difference to education practices around the world. Open educational resources (OER) are resources (article, textbook, lesson plan, video, test, etc.) that might be used in teaching or learning. They are considered ‘open’ when they are openly licensed in ways that [permit] no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions or, more simply their free use and re-purposing by others.

This distinction might seem rather subtle and legalistic at first. But the whole of the open education movement is predicated on the idea that open licensing leads to far reaching and beneficial change. By providing an alternative to traditional copyright, open licenses make it possible to share and repurpose materials at marginal cost. It is often stated, for instance, that OER have the potential to increase access to education through lowering the prohibitive cost of textbooks or journal subscriptions. Some claim that OER allows for more innovative teaching and closer bonds between students and learners as a result of a more reflexive syllabus. Others hold the view that open licensing will align existing pedagogies along more collaborative and networked lines.

Image credit: opensource.com via Flickr (CC BY-SA)

When open licensing in conjunction with digital technology can enable duplication and adaptation of materials almost anywhere in the world at next to no cost, it’s easy to see how the implications may be manifold for educational institutions. Perhaps the strongest evidence for this thus far comes from the open access movement, which continues to leverage academic publishers for better value.

Unsurprisingly, much research has gone into ascertaining the evidence that exists in support of these claims. A good portion of earlier OER research focused on establishing the relative quality of open materials and found that they are generally at least as good as equivalent commercial materials (though there are of course variations in quality). But there are reasons why establishing a clear picture of the wider impact of OER adoption is more complex.

Let’s leave aside for now issues around the much discussed and yet nebulous term “impact”. OER adoption is taking place within a world of education undergoing radical change. Where OER does change practices there are often multiple interventions taking place at the same time and so it is hard to isolate the particular influence of openness. Use contexts can vary wildly between countries and education levels, and cultural differences can come into play. Furthermore, much sharing and use of open educational materials (such as Wikipedia) is relatively informal, difficult to observe, and part of a wider pattern of activity. This is not to say that there isn’t good quality OER research out there, but the typical dependence on softer data might sometimes be thought unconvincing. Further complications can arise from inconsistencies in understanding what ‘open’ means to different groups.

Nonetheless, there remains a need for evidence that would support (or discount) from the key claims expressed in the rhetoric around OER, as well as an overall picture of global activity. What the open education movement needs is a way to draw together disparate fragments of evidence into a coherent analytic framework that can support judgments about OER impact for a range of use cases.

OER Research Hub (OERRH) is a research project in IET at The Open University which approaches these issues through an open and collaborative approach. Our project aspires to be open in both its focus and the methods we use to gather and share data. We’ve taken a mixed-methods approach to research depending on the context, and we’ve also undertaken some of the largest surveys about OER use and attitudes from a range of stakeholders. By using a survey template that is consistent across the different samples it becomes possible to see patterns across countries and sectors. Our research instruments and data are released on open licenses and we have an open access publication policy. By encouraging a culture of open sharing we have been able to consolidate the efforts of OER practitioners and help to build a shared understanding.

We work openly with a range of collaborators around the world to gather data and share practical experience and also have a fellowship scheme that helps to foster a worldwide network of experts. By focusing on collecting data around ‘impact’ in situ we are able to build up an evolving picture of changing practices.

The analytic framework for pulling together the data includes a set of research hypotheses which reflect some of the main claims that are made about OER. These help to provide focus but a further structuring is provided by the use of geospatial coordinates (which are of course universal) and map disparate data types on a map across a shared geographical base.

oer impact map1Image credit: OER Impact Map (OER Research Hub)

Mapping has become popular within the OER world, and there is a lot of interest in maps for strengthening communities and as tools for building a shared understanding of the world. Accordingly, OERRH’s OER Impact Map acts as both research tool and dissemination channel. By using a simple metadata structure for different data types it becomes possible to visualize (as well as simply ‘map’) information. For instance, real-time reporting of the evidence gathered across each hypothesis or visualising the sum of evidence gathered help us to understand the data. Soon it will be possible to browse the project survey data directly as well as interact with more detailed, structured narratives about OER impact. The map itself will continue to help us to see patterns in the data and cross-reference evidence gathered.

oer impact map2Image credit: OER Impact Map (OER Research Hub)

By no means is OER Impact Map complete; by its nature the data set continues to evolve. But openness is the key to the sustainability of a service like this: by inviting the open community to contribute directly and submit their impact narratives to OERRH the data can continue to grow iteratively and support the decisions made by educators, students, policymakers and advocates. Furthermore, open licensing of evidence records allows us to close citation loops and archive data more easily, and the relative ease with which open access research can be found helps it find it way into the evidence base.

It is worth noting that the combination of mapping and curation can be flexibly applied to other research questions in educational and social science. The code for OER Impact Map is available openly on GitHub, meaning others can use it build their own impact maps: or adapt this code to their own needs. The impact map is based on a JSON information architecture which supports multiple programming languages and flexible use of the data (like combining it with other datasets).

What our project illustrates is that the use of openness to solve challenges in the project can lead to innovation in approaches in understanding impact. The combination of mixed-methods research into hypotheses with mapping and data visualization techniques can be flexibly applied in support of traditional research activity.

OER Research Hub is funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Rob Farrow is a philosopher and educational technologist who researches open education at The Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University (UK). He blogs at openmind.ed and tweets as @philosopher1978.

JiME Reviews April 2014

This is the current list of books for review in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JiME) at the moment – if you’re interested in reviewing any of the following then get in touch with me through Twitter or via rob.farrow [at] open.ac.uk to let me know which volume you are interested in and some of your reviewer credentials.

Sue Crowley (ed.) (2014). Challenging Professional Learning. Routledge: London and New York.  link

Andrew S. Gibbons (2014).  An Architectural Approach to Instructional Design.  Routledge: London and New York. link

Wanda Hurren & Erika Hasebe-Ludt (eds.) (2014). Contemplating Curriculum – Genealogies, Times, Places. Routledge: London and New York.  link

Phyllis Jones (ed.) (2014).  Bringing Insider Perspectives into Inclusive Learner Teaching – Potentials and challenges for educational professionals. Routledge: London and New York. link

Marilyn Leask & Norbert Pachler (eds.) (2014).  Learning to Teach Using ICT in the Secondary School – A companion to school experience.  Routledge: London and New York. link

Ka Ho Mok & Kar Ming Yu (eds.) (2014).  Internationalization of Higher Education in East Asia – Trends of student mobility and impact on education governance. Routledge: London and New York.  link

Peter Newby (2014). Research Methods for Education (2nd ed.). Routledge: Abingdon. link

Guerrilla Research #elesig

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/69/Afrikaner_Commandos2.JPG/459px-Afrikaner_Commandos2.JPG

We don't need no stinking permissions....

Today I’m in the research laboratories in the Jennie Lee Building at The Institute of Educational Technology (aka work) for the ELESIG Guerrilla Research Event.  Martin Weller began the session with an outline of the kind of work that goes into preparing unsuccessful research proposals.  Using figures from the UK research councils he estimates that the ESRC alone attracts bids (which it does not fund) equivalent to 65 work years every year (2000 failed bids x 12 days per bid).   This work is not made public in any way and can be considered lost.

He then went on to discuss some different digital scholarship initiatives – like a meta educational technology journal based on aggregation of open articles; MOOC research by Katy Jordan; an app built at the OU; DS106 Digital Storytelling – these have elements of what is being termed ‘guerrilla research’.  These include:

  • No permissions (open access, open licensing, open data)
  • Quick set up
  • No business case required
  • Allows for interdisciplinarity unconstrained by tradition
  • Using free tools
  • Building open scholarship identity
  • Kickstarter / enterprise funding

Such initiatives can lead to more traditional forms of funding and publication; and the two at least certainly co-exist.  But these kinds of activities are not always institutionally recognised, giving rise to a number of issues:

  • Intellectual property – will someone steal my work?
  • Can I get institutional recognition?
  • Do I need technical skills?
  • What is the right balance between traditional and digital scholarship?
  • Ethical concerns about the use of open data – can consent be assumed?  Even when dealing with personal or intimate information?

Tony Hirst then took the floor to speak about his understanding of ‘guerrilla research’.  He divided his talk into the means, opportunity and motive for this kind of work.

First he spoke about the use of the commentpress WordPress theme to disaggregate the Digital Britain report so that people could comment online.  The idea came out of a tweet but within 3 months was being funded by the Cabinet Office.

In 2009 Tony produced a map of MP expense claims which was used by The Guardian.  This was produced quickly using open technologies and led to further maps and other ways of exploring data stories.  Google Ngrams is a tool that was used to check for anachronistic use of language in Downton Abbey.

In addition to pulling together recipes using open tools and open data is to use innovative codings schemes. Mat Morrison (@mediaczar) used this to produce an accession plot graph of the London riots.  Tony has reused this approach – so another way of approaching ‘guerrilla research’ is to try to re-appropriate existing tools.

Another approach is to use data to drive a macroscopic understanding of data patterns, producing maps or other visualizations from very large data sets, helping sensemaking and interpretation.  One important consideration here is ‘glanceability‘ – whether the information has been filtered and presented so that the most important data are highlighted and the visual representation conveys meaning successfully to the view.

Data.gov.uk is a good source of data:  the UK government publishes large amounts of information on open licence.  Access to data sets like this can save a lot of research money, and combining different data sets can provide unexpected results.  Publishing data sets openly supports this method and also allows others to look for patterns that original researchers might have missed.

Google supports custom searches which can concentrate on results from a specific domain (or domains) and this can support more targeted searches for data.  Freedom of information requests can also be a good source of data; publicly funded bodies like universities, hospitals and local government all make data available in this way (though there will be exceptions). FOI requests can be made through whatdotheyknow.com.  Google spreadsheets support quick tools for exploring data such as sliding filters and graphs.

OpenRefine is another tool which Tony has found useful.  It can cluster open text responses in data sets according to algorithms and so replace manual coding of manuscripts.   The tool can also be used to compare with linked data on the web.

Tony concluded his presentation with a comparison of ‘guerrilla research’ and ‘recreational research’. Research can be more creative and playful and approaching it in this way can lead to experimental and exploratory forms of research.  However, assessing the impact of this kind of work might be problematic.  Furthermore, going through the process of trying to get funding for research like this can impede the playfulness of the endeavour.

A workflow for getting started with this kind of thing:

  • Download openly available data: use open data, hashtags, domain searches, RSS
  • DBpedia can be used to extract information from Wikipedia
  • Clean data using OpenRefine
  • Upload to Google Fusion Tables
  • From here data can be mapped, filtered and graphed
  • Use Gephi for data visualization and creating interactive widgets
  • StackOverflow can help with coding/programming

(I have a fuller list of data visualization tools on the Resources page of OER Impact Map.)