Category Archives: community

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

CoPILOT: supporting librarians in sharing their teaching material internationally #abs16- Nancy Graham & Jane Secker


Abstract available at

A number of presentations and conversations, both real and virtual, throughout the conference suggest there is an increasing emphasis on the role of libraries and librarians in OER (I was disappointed not to be able to attend Gema Bueno-de-la-Fuente’s session “Academic libraries and the OER movement: the need for awareness, understanding, and collaboration” as it coincided with my own lightning talk “Libraries, OA research and OER: towards symbiosis?“). and Nick Shockey, the closing keynote speaker also identified it as a major theme of the conference.

This was a workshop with Jane Secker and Nancy Graham who had hotfooted it from the LILAC conference in Manchester (Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference) and began with a little background from DELILA, an institutional project to adapt digital and information literacy (IL) resources to OERs and to make the material available though Institutional Repositories. It identified the potential for librarians to be key advocates for OER as well as identifying a range of challenges when adapting existing resources (e.g. issues around embedded third party content). DELILA also conducted a survey of academic librarians which indicated there was plenty of “closed” sharing happening with a willingness to share openly but an uncertainty of how to go about it – full report available from

Librarians as advocates

Jane and Nancy asked us to brainstorm reasons for sharing IL resources, there were in fact several librarians present in the session and the main ones identified were that core material is relevant across institutions, making it well suited to reuse; information literacy concepts are core to all librarians (though it is useful to share different approaches to the same concept) and IL resources (and the act of creating/adapting) are also useful for new information professionals. The strength of the librarian network also make it ideal for OER which, as we have found throughout ukoer, is most effective when supported by a close-knit community.

In addition to extending a collaboration with UNESCO that had begun with DELILA (and who are themselves very keen to explore synergies between OER and information literacy), a CoPILOT committee was formed in November 2012 with the remit to support UK librarians in sharing openly and to explore further how IL resources might work as OER. In addition there is a mailing list at and wiki at

Outputs of CoPILOT include 250+ members of the mailing list, 19 links posted to English, Spanish, German and French IL resources, a report, case study and post-project survey and a strategy for sharing IL OERs which is currently being finalised.

A final brainstorming session asked us to consider “How can we make this happen?” considering the pros/cons of using online communities and:

  • Building librarian OER advocacy role?
  • Online activities to encourage participation/contribution
  • Comms channels
  • Other Community of Practice functions
  • Face to face events
  • Support from international organisations

Notes drawn from the discussion include:

  • Good to have case studies of how materials were used, reused, adapted
  • Problem with engagement – email is more direct than visiting an online community
  • Time saving? Suggestion that this is perhaps a red herring and impact is crucial to sell to senior management (e.g. it will improve everyone’s teaching resources.)
  • Build in metrics of use and impacts (discussion of how difficult this can be; can be informed by the wider OER community and Jorum, for example, will very soon incorporate usage metrics –
  • Open practice and tracking OERs (DOIs, Webcite)
  • CoP – useful for people working at a distance. Hard to find time to devote to a CoP in day to day work.
  • Resources need to be at right level
  • Badges attached to using CoP

(Personally I am an advocate the immense value of open practice; no doubt preaching to the choir here but if you haven’t already, set up a blog and a twitter account and if you find, adapt, reuse IL – or any other OER – blog about it, post links on Twitter!)

I’m off to join

Opening up our minds to Wikipedia at OER13

Pete and Sarah sharing their knowledge of Wikipedia (and their brown bag lunches) with us

Sarah and Pete sharing their Wikipedia knowledge (and their brown-bag lunches) with the POERUP team at OER13 (CC-BY)

Wikipedia and the OER community – natural bedfellows? One would think yes, but the reality is, according to Pete Forsyth and Sarah Frank Bristow of CommunicateOER, those of us who are involved in OER projects and programmes tend to play a very limited role in creating and editing Wikipedia articles. The focus of Pete and Sarah’s session today was to raise our awareness of the need for volunteers to improve the existing articles on OERs and related topics. See, for example, the entry on Open Educational Resources, which at the time of writing, has only the briefest statements on “Definition” and “Aspirations of the OER movement”.

One of the reasons for the lack of activity on Wikipedia may be that we feel a bit daunted by the Wiki markup technology that confronts us when we hit the “edit” button. CommunicateOER and the P2PU School of Open are offering a MOOC-type course at the moment, Writing Wikipedia Articles: The Basics and Beyond. It has just started, but is still open to anyone who wants to join in and is willing to catch up.

Reaching out with OER: the public-facing open scholar and the benevolent academy #abs11

Leigh-Ann Perryman and Tony Coughlan presented an engaging look at the notion of a public-facing open scholar, an academic with digital skills and open practice, joining in with a community in order to share knowledge, materials, and be a general help.

Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman shows some examples of public-facing scholars (but are they open scholars?)

Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman shows some examples of public-facing scholars (but are they open scholars?)

In 2012 Tony began collating open material for the voluntary sector and distributing them on the Facebook page CYP Media. But this seemed limited, and he began to look deeper into this issue. He found a very active online child welfare community which had been operating since 2003 on a completely anonymous basis. He spent time reading until he felt he could understand their needs and he shared open resources which could meet some of those needs. Using a framework for understanding community, he found that this community’s ‘creative capability’ was already very well developed and he helped best by joining in the conversation and himself learning how they discovered resources already. Tony learnt about many new sources of information he hadn’t known, from group members. He also found that the anonymity created a level playing field.

Among the implications of this case study: being a public-facing open scholar is likely to take a lot of time. Listening to needs includes learning about culture and interaction modes. A public-facing open scholar may need to explain how resources relate to community needs.

Leigh-Anne and Tony concluded that public-facing open scholars have the potential to extend the benefical impact of OER, to prompt institutions to release new OER to meet the needs of people outside HE, and to help communities. BUT: are academies benevolent enough to let them do these things?

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow

Reflection through transition: the role of OERs in bridging informal to formal learning #abs106

Lindsay Hewitt from Open University in Scotland presented on ‘The Reflection Toolkit’ – a five hour self-study unit which aims to get the user started on thinking about themselves, who they are, what they want to do in their present situation, and how they can work towards doing what it is they want. The platform LabSpace (a subset of OpenLearn as I understand it) was used to build the toolkit.

Lindsay Hewitt of Open University in Scotland on using OER to widen participation in higher education

Lindsay Hewitt of Open University in Scotland on using OER to widen participation in higher education

How is it being used? Glasgow Caledonian Uni’s ‘Caledonian Club’ — community engagement initiative. even to primary schools and feeder nursery schools, has rolled out a 5-week course on reflection which is hoped will open up learning opportunities for local parents and carers. The course is built around the reflection toolkit. I love the idea of open learning materials and open practice being key to widening participation in practical ways such as this. Check out the reflection toolkit here.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

What do teachers need for sharing and creating knowledge circa OER? #abs87

This paper, presented by researcher Beatriz Carramolino, described work on Share.TEC, which I understand as a web portal searching many European-and-beyond repositories of learning material — some open, some not — especially suited to teacher educators. Share.TEC was created in hope of providing a simple way of finding and reusing digital content useful to teacher educators. Beatriz described the attention given to the search facility, searching not just on the usual things such as format (video, sound, whatever), but also on language and on pedagogical qualities. Share.Tec also allows for groups to be formed, and also a section called ‘My Contribution’ encouraging the sharing of resources.

Beatriz Carramolino presenting on Share.TEC

Beatriz Carramolino presenting on Share.TEC

Beatriz told us that only 52% of the resources were OER, the rest were not only not openly-licensed, they also require payment. An important finding of her research is that most users of Share.TEC take but do not share back, a common situation with online environments that have attempted to encourage sharing. Beatriz also told us that overall they concluded that not enough attention had been given to the design of the portal to encourage community.  Apparently, it is not enough to include a facility to form online groups. Another finding was that teachers were not putting tags on their materials. Tags and other metadata seem to be the boring bit, the part for someone else to do, but they are really just as important as the item itself.

Building a community around the give and take of OER has, to my eyes, only worked well in a few places. HUMBOX is a good example — humanities educators share and take material in a trusted environment in which they know each other to some extent. YouTube allows for discussion and a form of community. But I cannot really think of any others. If you know of other examples of good community forming around open materials, please let me know in the comments!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

T n T – sharing practices between two different scale OER developments #abs61

Theresa Connolly and Teresa Connolly both presented on this project, and so I simply couldn’t help myself thinking of this presentation as T ‘n’ T. OpenLearn, the platform of open courses developed at the Open University and focused on the HE community, was originally funded as a 2-year project, but many more years later is still going strong. ORBIT, a Cambridge project, drew from existing teacher practices, encouraging teachers to edit and craft and create. VITAL was a wiki project, providing educators with access to free, innovative and dynamic teaching resources as well as peer-to-peer networking opportunities.

Theresa Connolly and Teresa Connolly discuss large OER projects at the OU

Theresa Connolly and Teresa Connolly discuss large OER projects at the OU and Cambridge

OpenLearn informed VITAL, which supplied re-crafted materials to ORBIT and adapted OpenLearn pro forma. As the two Ts worked on these projects and worked together, it became clear that as in a community of practice model, these open projects and their stakeholders influenced each other freely. Often those who ‘practice openly’ benefit as much as those who receive the ‘products’ of such projects.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester