liveblog

#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.

 

#opened16 live blog: Gardner Campbell

Kicking things off here in Richmond, VA. we have our first keynote, Gardner Campbell.  The presentation began with a video montage featuring (among other things) a young Bob Dylan; quotes and graphs about different educational models; sections of It’s a Wonderful Life; Indie music; and end scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.  

We were then introduced to Robert Wagner Dodge, a ‘smokejumper‘ who escaped a raging forest fire by acting rather counter intuitively.  He lit a fire in front of him, reasoning that once the smaller fire had burned out he could shelter in the ashes.  None of his companions would follow him, and they perished.  Campbell refers to this kind of learning as ‘insight’.

‘Insight’ is a term that has grown in use as civilisation has become more complex.  There are many synonyms for insight (both formal and informal) and the word is used in many ways.  We normally understand it as:

  • an accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing
  • the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing

From psychiatry:

  • a breakthrough in understanding one’s own mental illness

Insight-oriented psychotherapy relies on conversation between therapist and patient.  (It can be contrasted with biomedical approaches that place the emphasis on medication.)

The question is posed:  why do insights come to us in the way they do?  A typical process might look like this:

  • Concentrate
  • Search
  • Mental block/Impasse
  • Distraction/Relaxation
  • *space*
  • Problem is somehow solved; a solution presents itself
  • Feeling of certainty – the Eureka!

The solution can’t be forced or rushed. What happens in this *space*?  From cognitive science there is a suggestion that certain regions of the right hemisphere of the brain become unusually active before an insight is reached (a related area is related to appreciation of jokes).  Gamma wave activity (the highest electrical frequency of the brain) spikes at this moment.

Campbell invites us to think about these kinds of ‘Eureka!’ moments in the context of formal education.  We make novel neuro-chemical connections between existing parts of our knowledge.  This goes beyond the classroom:  the pattern of making new connections prepares us for some fresh insight where we generalise about categories of our understanding.  Campbell employs a couple of quotes from Bruner to support the idea that this way of understanding learning is unlike traditional pedagogy.

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Trying to force an insight can actually prevent the birth of an insight.  This is a counter-intuitive outcome:  we learn by avoiding the learning activity (or at least waiting until the appropriate psychological state is arrived at).

Campbell refers to some students essays on their responses to The Eureka Hunt.  Rather than thinking about it for themselves, many obviously just searched online for ‘the right answer’.  Their goal was evidently just to ‘succeed’ rather than authentically engage with the text.  There is a whole industry devoted to mantras of student ‘success’.  Campbell invites us to question this idea of ‘student success’.  Some of the claims associated with it (“4 deadly mantras of student success”) include:

  • “Students don’t do optional” – life will be a matter of conformity, not the exercise of freedom – why encourage it now?
  • “Define more pathways” – restriction of unique pathways, enforced rubrics
  • “We need to graduate more students” – Campbell suggests that students in fact graduate themselves
  • “Our students are our products” – !

Such approaches, it is contended, do not encourage the right kind of insights.  Essentially they all treat the learner as passive in their own education.  An open, Connectivist course for AAC&U faculty and collaborators will explore these issues from January 2017.

 

Liveblog: #oeglobal Keynote: Dirk van Damme

The first keynote of the Open Education Global conference is Dirk van Damme.  Professor van Damme acts as an expert in higher education, policy, quality assurance and accreditation.  His report, Open educational resources: a catalyst for innovation will be published later this year.

The presentation began with the observation that OER retain an incredible potential to change educational systems, but the transformative impact of ‘open’ is greater in science and research than in education.  Arguably, MOOC have stolen the thunder of OER without delivering the kind of systemic change that was predicted.  van Damme remains to be convinced that MOOC are truly open.

OER are partly a technical innovation, but rather can be seen as a force of social and educational innovation made possible by technology.  To unlock the innovative potential of OER it is necessary to align with the needs of educational systems.  When we examine these systems we see that there has been a relentless expansion of educational systems over the last couple of generations.  The impact of eduction on other social outcomes like earnings and status is also increasing; education contributes to a range of social outcomes, and we might even say that education is one of the most important factors of all.  Governments invest an enormous amount of money in education, with expenditure per student increasing in most countries.

The challenges facing education in the present day include:

  • equity of opportunity for education
  • ensuring the quality is maintained/improved/expanded
  • efficient use of limited resources
  • meeting ever growing expectations

We see deepening social problems and inequality which intensify the political and ideological differences in debates around education. Can we continue to assume that the industrial model of education that we have inherited is appropriate for our future?  What kind of jobs do we prepare young people for, and how do we meet the demand for skills?  If we fail to get this right there are burdens in other areas, such as welfare.

Curricula needs to be well aligned to actual need – but what are the core curriculum elements of the future?  They could focus on citizenship, lifelong learning, social learning, etc. But what we often see in practice is a focus on maintaining credentialism, and processes of screening and selection which discourage the kind of learning society that we need. We need to focus on the social and emotional aspects of learning, and tune assessment to support this.   We need approaches that are learned centred with structured design, and profoundly personal approaches which respect difference.

What role could OER play in this vision?  Six possibilities have been identified:

  • Foster new forms of learning
  • Support collaboration between educators
  • Reduce public/private costs
  • Improving quality of resources
  • Improving distribution of resources
  • Removing barriers to learning

The first two are the ones identified as most important in a survey of government staff, though all are relevant.  In general , governments do not need to be convinced of the benefits of OER, but want to see evidence of successful application in facilitating the learning process.

This kind of support could include:

  • A move from passive to active learning
  • Fostering peer-to-peer learning
  • Stimulating problem-based learning
  • Enriching learning resources through collaborative practice
  • Enhancing the social and emotional context of learning

The use of ICT has been identified as a major challenge for professional development. Professional collaboration is also a major challenges, and highly contentious for many teaching professionals, many of whom do not see this as part of their role.

Government support for OER through policy can take several forms:

  • Provision of OER & repositories
  • Support for communities of teaching practice
  • Framework conditions of educational settings (more important in some countries than others)
  • Supporting evidence based research for policy and practice

The talk concluded with some provocations:

  • Being ‘open’ is not a sufficient condition for changing education
  • The systemic impact of OER will ultimately depend on the contribution it makes to improving teaching and learning
  • Content and pedagogy are not distinct but interact
  • OER should be able to exploit and demonstrate its intrinsic superiority over proprietary materials in terms of both quality and capacity for educational innovation

Uncensored State of the Union: OER Unfiltered #oer2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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