Monthly Archives: April 2013

OER Policies in 26 countries – POERUP at OER13

One of the highlights of OER13 for me was the opportunity to meet with University of Leicester’s European partners in the POERUP project. One of POERUP’s main aims is to find out what is happening in terms of OER policies in countries around the world, and to disseminate this information in order to stimulate the uptake of OER policies.

The first presentation from POERUP, on day one of the conference, was by Ming Nie, who gave a snapshot overview of the types of policies in different countries emerging from the research: countries with OER policies (such as the Netherlands, the USA, South Africa and Romania); countries active in OER activities (such as New Zealand, UK, Australia, Spain, Poland and Canada), and countries driving open education (such as Greece, Italy, France Hungary and the Scandinavian countries).

On day two, Terence Karran followed up with his in-depth presentation on OER developments in Mexico. His catch phrase was “the tortoise, not the hare” – in other words suggesting that while progress may be slow here, there are indicators that Mexico might ultimately win the OER race.  The major success factors he listed were: a strong tradition of open and distance learning (ODL); the growing use of ICT in general and technology in learning in particular; an emerging directive approach to national policy; a privatised but gradually opening telecommunications industry; and a strong and growing ICT manufacturing base. These wide-ranging factors were presented to show that although the use of OERs in Mexico has only just begun, we can expect to see much greater engagement in time to come.

Finally the POERUP team presented a fast-flowing “elevator pitch” of OER policies, covering 26 countries in 26 minutes. It was a great team effort involving six of us (Paul Bacsich and Nick Jeans from Sero in the UK, Robert Schuwer from the OU Netherlands, Terence Karran from the University of Lincoln and Ming Nie and myself from the University of Leicester). We presented the OER policy “highlights” from the research so far.  Anyone who is interested in finding out more about the POERUP findings so far can go to the POERUP wiki to read the 26 full country reports, or refer to the longer list of all countries that includes further information about other countries.

Gabi presenting elevator pitch for South Africa

Gabi presenting elevator pitch for South Africa

The next step for POERUP is to conduct case studies of several large OER networks or communities, using social network analysis methodology. Information will be shared via the POERUP website.

OER13: reflections on Doug Belshaw’s keynote address

I should probably start with a disclaimer: I am a strong supporter of open practices, but I am not an activist. My reflections on Doug’s entertaining keynote should therefore be interpreted in that light.

Doug’s keynote at OER13 began with a discussion on types of ambiguity and trajectories. It’s not entirely clear why the audience would be keen to be exposed to this discussion, but it appears that the bottom line was that it is not possible to define “open” in a way that satisfies everybody and that OER belongs in the “creative ambiguity” area.

The focus then shifted to Open Badges (OB), including the rationale behind the Mozilla Foundation’s support of OB. We were taken through the ‘anatomy of a badge’. Not surprisingly, metadata was referred to several times. A badge, Doug argued, constitutes evidence, trusted credentials, somehow captured explicitly in the metadata associated with the badge. Badges, he said, prove things outside of your community: they are a form of recognition and a way of representing yourself and your facets. There’s more to one’s transcript than silo-based qualifications. Badges are explicit by nature and provide a means of ‘jailbreaking formal education systems’. They encourage learner sovereignty and allow non-traditional pathways, Doug argued.

The next part of the keynote focused on web literacy standards. The Mozilla Foundation aims to create a web-literate planet, a generation of ‘web makers’. For this purpose, Doug and others have been working towards a web literacy learning standard, built with the community: an open learning standard for web literacy. People should be able to ‘earn badges around the web’. The OB approach, in the presenter’s view, should be seen as a platform for innovation.

The concluding part of the presentation was about ‘changing the world for the better’. OER and associated OEP are on the cusp of shifting from creative to productive ambiguity. The ‘Learning Registry’ could be a platform for innovation.

I confess that I left the session with as many doubts about OB as I went in with, but perhaps with more concerns. Some of the audience’s questions at the end illustrated similar concerns, and elicited some worrying statements, such as ‘you can award a badge for anything’ and ‘awarding an OB for trying’. In this context, the usual questions about these approaches became evident once more: would you hire someone whose “evidence of achievement” is presented to you in the form of open badges? Does packing a badge with metadata mean that everyone can see (and rely on) what and who is behind it? Does a badge give evidence of any form of achievement or, more importantly, competence?

An example was given of a group of people who apparently ‘provide trusted credentials for the small things they do’. Really?

Explicitness, trust, openness, opportunity, innovation and value are key works associated with OB. Those words can be compared and contrasted with other terms, such as too easy to get, mean very little, prove nothing, unreliable, a distant second best, don’t change much. Although there was a lot of passion, no persuasive argument was made (assuming there is one) to address such queries and concerns with evidence or authority. Who underwrites that trust and those credentials? “The community” is not a valid response, I’m afraid.

In sum, I was far from convinced. Doug referred to his own PhD research several times during the presentation. Indeed he used it a lot in his discussion of theories of ambiguity. Would he be where he is today solely on the back of his open badges? Probably not.

Alejandro Armellini
4 April 2013

OER13 in the press

We were very pleased to have invited Chris Parr from Times Higher Education to observe (and we hoped, write about) the conference and the discussions at OER13. Gratitude is due to one of our conference co-chairs, Jackie Carter, for her efforts in making this possible.

So far we’ve seen two articles, one about the keynote from Toni Pearce (NUS) and one looking more generally at responses to the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) phenomenon, drawing on comments from Professor Patrick McAndrew of the Open University and Darco Jansen of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities.

Unfortunately the publication of these articles coincided with THE’s re-establishment of their paywall experiments of the early 00s. This means that some people may not be able to read the articles when and where they want to – so in the spirit of openness we have attempted to offer a summary of each here.

Toni’s presentation has already created a lot of interest, and you can read full reports from Lorna Campbell and OER Research Hub online already. Chris’ article focused on Toni’s assertion that students were willing to defend the “traditional” lecture and were less demanding of technology-driven alternatives than may be expected.

“I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”

Her presentation was drawn from the findings of a research project conducted jointly between the NUS and the HE Academy as a part of the UKOER programme. A full report will be released later this year, but this early glimpse did give the impression that students are very keen on the personal and community aspects of learning.

“We can accomplish a great deal more when we’re working in a community than when we are working alone”, she noted.

A second article, published today looked at the ways in which MOOC – specifically the larger commercial MOOCs – can constrain this feeling of community. Patrick McAndrew was quoted at length on the matter.

“They are creating a sort of closed community in the open. […] You now have people who have been through a [Mooc] programme saying: ‘I want to talk about what I’ve done. I want to show people what I’ve done. But if the system itself is closed you can’t do those things.”

Patrick argued that the use of closed resources and closed platforms also restricts the opportunity for students to interact fully with the presented material, for example to translate into other languages or reuse in other settings.

Darco Jansen of EADTU was quoted in strident voice on the implications of “open” courses for educators, and the canard of MOOCs as a means of widening participation in education:

“Most students that participate in Moocs already have good access to higher education…or they have already completed higher education. So how can you say Moocs are creating more accessibility?”

Despite the arguments around the inclusiveness and spontaneity of open education practice, Darco is quoted as highlighting the classic transmission model of learning (and the neo-imperialist undertones of this model) employed in MOOCs.

“Who is providing open educational resources? They are rich people, rich companies, rich universities, because they have the money to put out free educational resources and Moocs online […] There is a lot of company money involved. It’s a new Western imperialism to conquer the world,”

It is wonderful to see OER13 reflected in the mainstream education press, and we hope that in capturing a taste of the debates and discussions during the two day conference we can encourage further participation in such debates, both online and in submissions for OER14.